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Stiles used to spend study hall in the last semester of his sophomore year of high school in the seat by the window, towards the back, meticulously crafting origami swans. Or, rather, meticulously crafting vague paper shapes that might have looked like swans, but only if you cocked your head to the side and squinted really hard. He'd flick them across the room to smack Lydia Martin directly in her red curls so she'd wind up walking around with an ugly paper blob stuck to her hair all day – it's a shame, everyone was still too afraid of her in high school to even tell her she had something in her hair. As soon as she'd find out, she'd break into Stiles' locker (she had an affinity for cracking locker combinations, among other things – something that both intrigued and terrified Stiles to no end), and dump the remains of her quad-shot pumpkin spice latte all over his things.

Derek would always help him wipe his French books off and say that maybe he should just go ahead and marry Lydia Martin if he was so fucking obsessed with her, and obviously vice versa, and Stiles used to dreamily say yeah, maybe I should.

“What would you two even talk about if you got together?” Derek would ask, something like disgust coloring his tone as he picked apart his peanut butter and jelly like he couldn't even stand to take a bite of it anymore.

“Everything,” Stiles would counter, rolling his eyes. “We have everything in common.”

“You have nothing but mutual hatred in common.”

“The sex would be fantastic.”

“Christ.” He'd push his lunch tray away, cross his arms over his chest, and get that look on his face like he wanted nothing more than to just sort of evaporate. Either way, when study hall came around again, Derek would sit in the desk next to him and laugh whenever Stiles landed a paper wad precariously in one of Lydia's curls. Stiles used to think that Derek just flat out hated Lydia Martin. It's funny to think about, now, when Stiles has a framed picture of Derek and Lydia holding a snake together that time they went to the reptile room sitting on his desk at home.

That's just what happens when you know someone your entire life, almost. Things change, and the three of them got through high school together, and then college together, somehow managing to come out the other side both times in one piece. They did nearly every thing together, Derek and Stiles more specifically, so much that they became more or less a packaged deal at any party or event, and neither of them ever minded that. They spent so much time together they stopped being able to delineate between actually wanting to hang out and just doing it because it was habitual.

Stiles has never known anyone the way that he knows Derek, not even Lydia. For a while there, it got to a point where Stiles started to think – well. He guesses that after enough time has passed, where every thing stays the same, it really doesn't matter what he used to think. No matter what he used to think, things turned out differently.

“I'm not fucking picking him up.” Lydia is filing her nails over an open book, a steaming cup of coffee sitting beside her, and Stiles hasn't even gotten a word in edgewise since he walked inside her study. “After everything he's said to me, he can walk home barefoot and naked in the rain for all I care.”

Stiles runs his hands down his face across from her, and thinks about picking that coffee up and throwing it in someone's face. Not Lydia's – that would be a horrible way to wind up castrated – but just someone's. The nearest possible person. Maybe himself. “I'd love to help mediate this,” he says through grit teeth, “but first of all, I'm fucking sick and tired of always being the middle man between you two dumbasses -”

Lydia snorts, raising her eyebrows.

“...and second of all, you won't tell me exactly what it is he said.”

“I won't repeat it,” she raises her nose in the air and flips a curl over her shoulder. “It was that awful, Stiles.”

Stiles highly, highly doubts that. As many times as Derek and Lydia have gotten into arguments before, and as many times as Lydia has insisted up and down that she was so viciously personally attacked by Derek she can never ever speak to him again, Stiles just knows better by now. One time, Derek told Lydia she was a selfish bitch in the heat of an argument (in all fairness, she can be) and Lydia refused to answer his calls for a solid two months after the fact. Nevermind the fact that she was being a selfish bitch at the time. “Look,” he puts his hands down on the desk, “we haven't seen Derek in a year. Plus. A year plus. I would really, really hate for you to miss out on welcoming him back home just because you're mad about something petty again.”

“It's not petty,” she hisses, and Stiles raises his hands in surrender like he believes her. But he doesn't. For a second, Lydia just files her nails harder, vindictively almost, like they're the entire reason she's in this mess to begin with. Then, she stops altogether and sighs through her nose. “Fine,” she grits between her teeth, conceding the point. “Fine. I'll throw his stupid welcome back party.”

Stiles smiles at her, reaching across the table to pat her on the hand, even as she recoils and scowls. “That's the spirit.” Mild disgust and barely restrained animosity – sometimes it's as good as he can get Lydia, so he's learned to work around it.

“I just know he's going to come back and rub in our faces that we were stuck back in Beacon Hills while he was across the ocean,” she sniffs, pursing her lips.

Derek doesn't rub anyone's face in anything, honestly. It's not really his style to brag or boast, so Stiles just nods his head like sure, Lydia, and leans back in his seat. She's likely still just the slightest lemon taste of bitter over the fact that Derek got out of here before she did, even if it was more of a sabbatical than anything else. Derek was gone and out of here the second they graduated college, even before all the alcohol had run out at Lydia and Stiles' shared graduation party.

He still remembers it like he could be there again, standing out on the balcony of Lydia's second story bedroom, smoking a cigarette and leaning back against the railing. Derek had been drinking more than he usually does that night, and even at the time he was slamming back an entire water glass of champagne like it was nothing to him. Stiles was drunk enough that he didn't notice, much. He thought they were going to talk about what they were going to do next, and he thought he could convince Derek that they should share an apartment, maybe somewhere else, maybe somewhere far, far away, and he thought – he thought a lot of things, at the time.

Derek slammed the last of his drink back, banging the empty glass down on the rail of the balcony, and said, “I'm going to Europe tomorrow.” That made sense, in a way. His sister vanished out to the other side of the world after Derek was old enough to be by himself, probably because she couldn't stand to be in this town for another second, or even the same country. Derek stayed behind – Stiles always wondered why.

Stiles took a drag and let that familiar feeling of distance between them settle like a fog, a pall over the entire night. Maybe if it had been the first time Derek had let him down, he'd have started yelling at him, or asking him to stay, but he knew better by then. Stiles and Derek had a lot of opportunities, and Stiles is petty and vindictive, so he blames Derek for squandering them all. “Okay,” he said.

What else was there to say?

“Aren't you even kind of excited to see him? Instead of just yelling at him over the phone?”

Lydia doesn't answer – she just stares down at her nails harder, and Stiles knows that's her way of saying she most certainly has missed him this past year. The transcontinental phone calls got old after a while, and something about them never made Stiles feel any better. He felt closer to Derek looking at pictures of them from college than he did speaking to him over the phone while people spoke in French or Italian or with heavy UK accents in the background.

“Well, I'm excited,” he jiggles his leg up and down, chewing on a thumb nail. Excited and nervous might be interchangable in this context. Of course Stiles wants to see Derek again, so bad, but he keeps feeling like they didn't exactly leave on good terms. All Stiles ever said to Derek before he left was just that final drunken okay, being stubbing out his cigarette and going back inside the party. On the phone, they've never mentioned that, likely for the best.

The door to Lydia's study opens up with a creak, and both of them look up to see Scott walking inside, holding one of Lydia's purse dogs in his arms with a crooked grin. “Your dogs are mean,” he says matter-of-factly, depositing the fluffy white thing on the ground so it scampers off to hide under a couch somewhere. “I've been bitten about five times since walking inside this house today alone.”

Lydia regards Scott like she might just use that nail file to stab into his jugular, and then promptly adjusts her face, perhaps just for Stiles' benefit. She mutters something under her breath, maybe they only bite dumbasses, and Stiles ignores her in favor of giving Scott a broad grin.

“I guess I shouldn't have left you alone,” he says, motioning for Scott to come and sit in the chair next to him. “Lydia's dogs can smell fear, you know.”

Scott laughs, before sitting down and leaning his shoulder up against Stiles'. “It's a good thing I'm used to it, by now.” True. Scott has been bitten by every single one of Lydia's dogs at least ten times. Stiles has started to seriously suspect she's been training them to attack him on sight. In testament to this, Scott holds up his hand to put the teeth marks in his index finger out on display.

“That's nothing,” Stiles says, pulling up the sleeve of his flannel to reveal a long jagged scar, leftover from a particularly nasty clawing from Prada. RIP Prada the dog, by the way. Stiles and Derek have done a jig on that dog's grave enough times by now that the grass stays brown even in the summer time.

Scott leans forward to examine it, face splitting out into a grin, before he leans back and lifts up his shirt. He points his finger to a puckered pink line across his belly button, and raises his eyebrows. “A cat was mad she had to take her medicine.”

Lydia sighs, long and loud.

“Incredible,” Stiles tells him as he ignores Lydia. “These battle scars.”

“I've been through a lot.”

As he laughs, he leans forward and kisses Scott gently on the lips. When he pulls back, Lydia is sitting there appraising them with a look that Stiles can't easily identify. She purses her lips as though she's about to say something really cutting, and then replaces the expression with an unpleasant smile. “You know what I just realized? Derek is going to get to finally meet Scott,” she grins at them, or, leers might be a more accurate description, filing her thumb down into shape. “Won't that be fun.”

She says it like it's not going to be very fun, not in the least fucking bit.

****

Lydia's house is a much better place to have a party than Scott and Stiles' apartment is – for starters, as soon as Stiles suggested the idea for a welcome home party for Derek, Lydia took the reins and more or less told Stiles to go twiddle his thumbs somewhere because she could do it herself, and also, Scott and Stiles live in a one bedroom and all their furniture has come from tag sales. Not exactly the kind of spot anyone wants to throw a party in, least of all Lydia.

While Lydia works on getting all the food lined up and making sure there's enough ice and drinks or whatever, Stiles and Scott stay in the kitchen and mostly just stand there because they weren't given instructions to do anything else. Lydia had given Scott a look that begged the question of now why the hell is he here, and immediately sent them out of her sight.

Scott leans against the counter nursing a beer, and sighs though his nose. “So – tell me more about him.”

“Who?” Stiles asks, preoccupied in fiddling with his shirt collar again and again until it sits just right. By all counts, he should not be this anxious about seeing his best friend of over ten years again, but here he is, fidgeting.

“Derek,” Scott clarifies.

Meeting Scott's eyes, Stiles gives him a look. “I've told you so much about him, dude,” which is true. Stiles has pictures of Derek all over the place, and of Lydia as well of course, and he's more or less told the story of each and every one of them to Scott. The one with the snake, the one where Derek and Stiles are standing on a field with baseball bats in their hands, the one where Derek is eating a slice of pizza while Stiles shovels cake into his mouth.

“You've never told me what he's actually – you know. Like.”

Stiles thinks about that for a second. “Um. He's my best friend,” he scratches the back of his neck, “he's chill. I don't know, he's kind of hard to explain, in all honesty.”

Scott takes another sip of his beer and motions for Stiles to go on.

“I mean – he's a little scary I guess, if you don't know him,” just because he has a tendency to look and act like everything that's happening around him is the most annoying thing that's happened to anyone ever, even when he's actually having a good time. He has a resting bitch face, it's not his fault. “He's more bark than bite, though.”

“I hope we get along,” Scott says, putting his beer down to pull down on the hem of his shirt just a bit anxiously, then running his hand through his hair in much the same fashion. Stiles smiles at him.

“Are you nervous?” He asks in a teasing tone of voice, taking a couple of steps to bridge the distance between them. “That is so -”

“Well,” Scott says, tone defensive, but he's smiling. “He's your best friend. I don't want to get off on the wrong, like, foot with him or anything.”

“Aw, buddy,” Stiles wraps his arms around Scott's neck and laughs, because it really is just – funny. It's a little endearing, too, because Scott is a lot of things, but anxious he wouldn't say is one of them. He's got too much of a sunny disposition for that.

Scott fits his hands on Stiles' hips and meets his eyes, so Stiles can see the light blush that's coloring his cheeks. “He looks like he'd punch me in the face.”

“He would,” Stiles promises, and he's not even fucking kidding. “But I don't think he's going to barrel into his party just to knock you out, Scott.”

“Why would you even say that?” Scott thumps his head back on the cabinet door and sighs through his nose. “Oh, my God. It feels like meeting your dad all over again.”

That's a hard thing to top or even come close to – Stiles doesn't blame people, least of all any of his boyfriends or girlfriends, for being afraid of his father. There's a certain level of sheer terror that comes along with realizing you've spent time having sex with someone whose father carries a gun around every single day of his life and has the power to throw you in jail. So to hear Scott say that he's as nervous about meeting Derek as he is about when he met the Sheriff – it's just fucking funny.

Stiles can't help but keep the smile on his face as he leans in to kiss Scott, which is more or less the story of all the times he ever kisses Scott. There's just something about him. He makes Stiles really, really happy, because it's near impossible to not be happy around Scott. He's always, as Lydia would say, annoyingly upbeat about everything, and it's more than 75% of the reason Stiles likes him so much.

On the other hand, Stiles has a natural proclivity to be more pessimistic. Having someone who nearly always thinks that things are going to turn out okay, in the end, is a lot like having a personal life coach, or something. Every time Stiles starts drifting off into one of his more depressive moods, Scott is there to help him out of it.

When their lips part, Scott peppers kisses down Stiles' jawline, squeezing his fingers tighter into the grooves of Stiles' hips. “I like you a lot,” Stiles says quietly, like it's something private for just them to know. “So, Derek doesn't have a choice. He has to like you, too. That's the rule.”

“Oh, is it?” Scott laughs, pressing his lips to Stiles' throat.

“That's the best friends code. The bro code, if you will.”

“Gross,” Scott leans back and scrunches his nose up in distaste.

“Section six, paragraph eleven : the best friend has to at least tolerate the boyfriend. I mean, look at Lydia. She tolerates you.”

Scott raises his eyebrows and makes a face. “Lydia wants me to drown in a river.”

“If it makes you feel any better,” he leans away and pats Scott on the back, pilfering his beer to steal a sip of his own, “she wants me dead in a river more than half the time, as well. But, she hasn't punched you yet, so that's a good sign.”

With a bemused smile, Scott nods his head in concession. “Good point. Your friends are fucking weird, Stilinski.”

Stiles has always figured that the three of them have managed to stay friends for so long because there just aren't many other people on planet earth who can tolerate any one of them for extended periods of time aside from each other. Derek is a fucking asshole, and so is Stiles, and Lydia is in another class altogether that Stiles doesn't even think there's a good enough word for. Of course they're all best friends. Who else could they have in the world?

By the time the party is in full swing, Scott is happily buzzed enough that he's more or less forgotten how nervous he is, and Stiles isn't buzzed at all. No matter how many sips he steals out of Scott's drinks, he can't get over how stupidly sober he feels. It's like the nerves and the excitement just won't let him curb any of it with alcohol. Which is more than a little annoying, but the food is good, so he focuses on that.

The crowd is a healthy mixture of college friends and even some leftover from high school who have stuck around in town, including Erica Reyes – who Stiles has not seen or spoken to in about two years, but who looks literally exactly the same as always. She waltzes through the front door with a case of that weird microbrew she likes, dumps it unceremoniously on the drink table, and hawk-eyes her way through the crowd to find someone to torment.

Naturally, she winds up on Stiles. She leers at him from across the room as she starts to make her way over, and Stiles sighs deeply, rolling his head back. He elbows Scott gently in the side and leans in close to his face to talk to him over the music and the sound of everyone else talking. “You're about to meet one of the worst and best people I've ever met in my entire fucking life.”

Scott, moving on from buzzed to tipsy at this point, just smiles at him. “Cool!”

Right, right. Cool.

By the time this exchange is over with, Erica is there and grabbing Stiles by the collar of his shirt for one of her trademark bear hugs. He's sucked into it, his face pressed unceremoniously into her shoulder, so all he can smell is her overbearing perfume and the undertones of creamy makeup. It's a sensory memory of being seventeen and smoking behind the maple tree in her backyard until the light in her mother's room went out, and then climbing in through her bedroom window “Long time no see,” she purrs, and Stiles rolls his eyes.

As they're pulling away, she grabs his face by the chin and smacks a huge red kiss onto his cheek. “Nice,” Stiles says. Really, just like old times. “You look really good.”

“I know,” she says, fluffing her hand in her hair. “Are you excited to have your little buddy back again?” Her hand comes out in way that Stiles recognizes as her about to ruffle Stiles' hair and ruin the hard work he put into it move, so he ducks away and knocks into Scott in the process, who wraps his arm around Stiles' waist and pulls him closer. Erica watches this with the same intensity she probably watches pornography, zeroing in on every last detail as a slow grin spreads across her face. “Is this your boyfriend?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “This is -”

“Scott McCall,” he sticks his free hand out for her to take, and she does, enthusiastically shaking it up and down.

“I'm Erica,” she smiles at him, not having let go of his hand yet. “Stiles and I went to high school together.” Stiles half expects her to also tack on that he and Erica used to “date” - or whatever the word for a year of clandestine sexual encounters would be - but she must be feeling particularly merciful, because she just smirks at Stiles for a fraction of a second before settling her eyes back onto Scott. “How long have you two been together?”

Stiles and Scott exchange a brief look. “Uh – nine months?” Scott answers, looking to Stiles for support. Stiles just nods. Something like that.

“Woowww,” she draws the word out nice and long, eyes going wide. “Long, long time.”

The progression of Scott and Stiles' relationship doesn't seem that long, actually. They met when Stiles brought an injured bunny into the animal clinic after having found the thing with a broken leg out on the side of the highway and gingerly lifted it into an old shoebox he had in the backseat with some rolled up dish towels. Scott patched him up and sent Stiles home with it to feed and care for. About four days later it was dead and Stiles was, embarrassingly, beside himself over this development and called Scott (who had given Stiles his business card) in near tears to yell about it.

Apparently, something about Stiles' mental breakdown was attractive to Scott, because he asked Stiles out, and five months later they were moving in together, and here they are now. Nine months, really, is nothing, all things said and done. To Erica it must seem long as all fuck, because she can't stand to date someone for longer than she can keep a hair style.

“So,” Erica starts up again, swigging at her beer and giving Stiles a very pointed look. “You brought your boyfriend to Derek's party.”

Blinking, Stiles nods. “Yup. Yup, I did. He's my boyfriend.”

She smiles at him, somewhat condescendingly, and shakes her head back and forth. Her hand pats him on the shoulder a couple of times, as though she feels sorry for him, or something. “It was nice to see you again,” she says, still looking amused. “And nice to meet you, Stiles' boyfriend.”

“Scott,” he tries to correct, but she's already drifting back into the party. Scott blinks after her for a second, and then looks to Stiles. “She seems – nice.”

“She's a raging lunatic,” Stiles takes Scott's drink out of his hand and downs it all in one go, dropping it down empty onto the table closest to them. “You need another drink.” Truthfully, if Scott has one more drink he's going to cross the line into drunk. But it's not the worst possible thing, because drunk Scott isn't a hot and disgusting mess like drunk Stiles is. Drunk Scott just wants to be everyone's best friend. Stiles supposes there are worse things that could happen.

At the bar table, Stiles pulls a new plastic cup and starts making Scott's favorite drink for him, while Scott animatedly talks to the person next to him about the shirt he's wearing. He half listens to the conversation, but mostly he thinks about the look that Erica had given him, back there. You brought your boyfriend to Derek's party? As if there's anything wrong with that. She had acted like he brought a picture of Derek's dead fucking family to the party instead of just the guy Stiles lives with.

Scott takes his drink as soon as it's done and has a big sip. “You make the best drinks,” he says, kissing Stiles on the cheek. Then, he pulls back, examines said cheek, and starts laughing. “She left the biggest lipstick stain on you.”

“I know,” Stiles sighs. He never had to see a mirror to know that he had Erica's lipstick on him. Every time they come within five feet of each other, she has to, like, mark him. Swear to God, she does the same to every man she can get her hands on. Scott starts trying to rub at it, licking his fingers and scrubbing, while Stiles just stands there and knows that it's mostly a waste of time. He'll have a little splotch of red on his face for the rest of the night.

“What is this? Military grade?” Scott laughs again, furrowing his brow as he scrubs harder.

“That's a lost cause,” he pulls Scott's hand down and away, intertwining their fingers. “It's my lot in life, now.”

Scott opens his mouth to say something else, but every other person's voice in the room goes louder for a fraction of a second – some yelling, cheering, clapping – and Stiles knows that Derek has just walked into Lydia Martin's house for the first time since grad night. He gets the same feeling he might get on the top of a rollercoaster, right before the drop, and lets go of Scott's hand in favor of taking the drink out of his other, instead.

“I guess he's here,” Scott tells him, watching as Stiles nearly takes the entire cup, ice and all, into his mouth. Then he starts trying to see over everyone's heads to pick him out of the crowd, and Stiles sighs.

He taps his fingers against the plastic of the cup, and reminds himself that Derek is, like he's been telling everyone all night, his best friend. Whatever weirdness was left between them the last time they saw each other and whatever weirdness continued to be fostered in their short, clipped conversations over the phone – that can all be water under the bridge, now. Because he's back, and he's here, and there's way too much history between them for them to ever not be best friends. That's all there is to it.

Stiles looks up and starts scanning the crowd himself, and it's almost comical how short of a time it takes him to find what he's looking for. Derek is standing there looking exactly the same, same style of clothes, same hair, same facial expression, and Stiles feels like he's back at that graduation party. It's like no time has passed since then, and Derek is going to say he's leaving all over again and Stiles will fuck up and ruin everything and say okay and nothing else, not even goodbye.

He's leaning down to talk to Lydia, who looks particularly serious in spite of the fact that she's greeting her friend for the first time in a year. She has him by the shoulders, ignoring people as they walk past and give Derek greetings, and Stiles wishes he could hear what they were saying. Derek looks up at one point and his eyes land dead-on Stiles, so they make eye contact, and then flicks his eyes briefly to where Scott is standing, and immediately looks back to Lydia's face. He nods.

Stiles furrows his brow. Scott, luckily, is oblivious, and now that Stiles has commandeered his drink he seems to be leveling out at good time drunk, which is fine. Stiles chews on his lip. He should go over there right now. There's no reason for him to stand here waiting for Derek to come over, because he shouldn't have to. Derek's right over there, and they're seeing each other again, and – he should go.

So he does. He takes Scott by the hand. “Let's go over and say hey,” he says, and Scott nods. Before they move, Scott quickly presses his lips to Stiles', and he tastes like liquor and cherries.

As they draw closer, Lydia notices them and frowns, which isn't that out of place an occurrence. She gives Derek a quick hug, and then she's walking away, into the kitchen, as though she has important business to attend to there, or something. Stiles swallows and tugs Scott along behind him through the crowd until they break out into the foyer where Derek is now standing by himself, twiddling his fingers together and looking a little lost. The expression on his face, now, reminds him almost exactly, down to the glaze in his eyes, of how he looked at Stiles when he told him he was leaving.

“Hey,” Stiles says, forcing a huge grin onto his face. Derek looks at him, blank-faced. “Hey, asshole. What do you think you're doing here?”

Derek's lips quirk up at the corners, but his eyes keep moving between Stiles and Scott, again and again, as though he can't choose just who to focus on, yet. “I'm here for the party, obviously,” he gestures to the room at large. “To crash it.”

“Of course,” Stiles nods. “What else do I expect from notorious bad boy Derek Hale?” It's an old joke. Derek has always had the look of someone, especially in high school, who smokes cigarettes and rides a motorcycle and wears shirts that say FUCK on them. Instead, Derek was a jock and a frat boy and really liked to surf. Go figure.

They stare at each other for a second, maybe at a loss for words. Stiles knows he can't think of a damn thing to say, the way that it gets sometimes when you have so many things you could say, that you just can't even pick one. Fuck, Stiles thinks. It's been a year. From one Summer to the next.

“Well, come here,” Stiles lets go of Scott's hand and steps forward, opening his arms and wrapping them around Derek's neck for a hug. Derek hugs him back, the same way Stiles has always remembered his hugs being, tight and warm. “I'm so happy you're back,” he says.

“I'm so happy to see you,” Derek says into his ear. “I've missed you, you fucking asshole.” When they pull back, Derek's got his eyebrows furrowed. “You stopped calling.”

Stiles blushes and looks away. “Yeah, I got – you know. Busy.”

For a moment, Derek doesn't move, and then he nods, once, curtly. Stiles knows it's a shit excuse, and he knows that Derek knows that, but he can't exactly have the real conversation with Derek about why he had to, for his emotional well being, stop fucking calling Derek, in the middle of his welcome home party. Instead, he gestures to Scott.

“I want you to meet my boyfriend,” he says quickly, pulling Scott forward and holding him out like he's a trophy. “Derek, this is Scott, Scott this is Derek.”

Scott holds his hand out and smiles wide, all teeth and bright eyes, and Derek just plasters a half smile onto his lips and offers his hand like it causes him physical pain to do so. “It's so cool to finally meet you,” Scott is saying, and Stiles leans his body up against his. “I've heard, like, so much about you. I kinda feel like I half know you.”

“I've got so many pictures up,” Stiles says when their hands part. “Like, the snake one.” That usually always gets a laugh from everyone who's ever seen it – because that picture is fucking funny. Derek, big man that he is, is petrified of snakes, but Lydia forced him into it anyway. The look on his fucking face...there's no words to describe it. It can only be seen.

But, Derek doesn't laugh. In fact, he doesn't even smile. He just looks between Scott and Stiles, and then focuses solely on Scott. “That's funny,” he says, in a tone of voice that suggests it isn't, “because Stiles never even mentioned you to me.”

Stiles has this moment. Where he suddenly remembers, oh, yeah, Derek Hale is a fucking dick. It sucks that he's surprised, really, because even after a year he should remember how prickly Derek has been to every single person Stiles has ever dated – not that the list is very long, but still. For fuck's sake, he aggressively hated Erica for, like, three years after he found out that she had been screwing around with Stiles. Even more to the point, Stiles tried to keep that shit a secret from him, to no avail.

Scott's face falls, and he turns to Stiles, confused.

“Did I -” Stiles starts, scratching at his cheek, “did I never -” of course he fucking didn't. “...that's so weird. I guess it just never came up, I mean – mostly we just talked about Europe, and stuff.”

Mostly, they just talked about nothing. But even so, Stiles should have mentioned Scott at some point, once, but he just...never did. Not when they met, not when they went out, not when they kissed, not when they had dinner at his father's house, or when they went on a trip with Scott's mom, or when they moved in together. Not. Once.

“Yeah,” Derek agrees. “It just never came up.” Stiles thinks, briefly, about socking Derek directly in his fucking mouth for even saying that shit – who says that? Why would any sane, rational person say something like that at a god damn party?

Before he gets the chance, his phone buzzes in his pocket. When he checks, it's his father, who, in spite of the fact that his son is a grown adult, still goes into panic mode whenever Stiles doesn't answer the first time he calls. “I've gotta go out and take this,” Stiles says to the other two men, already starting to walk towards the front door where the porch is waiting for him. “You two just -” he has no idea what these two are going to just. Hopefully, Scott will wander off to get another drink, and Erica will corner Derek and purr at him for the rest of the night, and that'll be that.

As it turns out, the phone call was not an emergency – just his father asking if Derek's gotten back yet, if they've seen him, when they'll be coming over for dinner. Dad stuff. The Sheriff has always liked Derek, probably just because he doesn't know any better. Parents Derek is cordial and friendly and smiles with all his teeth. Normal Derek is another story altogether. Plus, Derek spent two months after senior year of high school crashing on the Stilinski couch after his sister went off to Europe and Derek was waiting for his new house to get finished up - probably, his dad just wants to get the old gang back together for another night of eating hot dogs and potato chips and yelling at the television, like old times.

When Stiles comes back inside, unfortunately, Derek and Scott are still standing there facing each other, and Scott looks markably agitated. He keeps picking up the straw in what's left of his drink and jabbing it around in the ice, and his facial expression is not exactly one that Stiles sees very often. He just looks fucking annoyed, and Derek looks much the same. They're talking, but Stiles can't make out what they're saying for another couple of steps.

“...hate basketball,” Scott says, jabbing his straw around some more. “I just don't see the point in any of it.”

Derek, who fucking played basketball throughout his entire high school career, which Scott knows, just blinks at him a couple of times. “What's the point of any sport?” He asks, not very nicely. “Score point, win game. Not that hard of a concept.”

“Okay,” Stiles cuts in. The second he's within reach, Scott is wrapping his arm around his waist. It feels pointed, but Stiles can't imagine why. “Sounds like you two are really hitting it off.”

“Sure,” Derek snaps, and Stiles just – hates him. In this moment, he really, really does. He wants to fight him. But, if he were to try and punch Derek right now, Derek would fight him back, and then Lydia would scream and yell about how they ruined some furniture or some painting and the dogs would all start barking, and everyone they know in the world would see it all happen.

So, Stiles just sighs. “You know, I think it's time we go,” he says, looking to Scott, who nods in confirmation. “It's getting pretty late, and we've been here since it started. So.”

Derek looks at him for a second, and Stiles looks back. For just a fraction in time, it's like they don't even fucking know each other.

“Yeah, sure,” Derek says finally, and Stiles wants to cry.

“I'm glad you're back,” Stiles reaches out and pats him awkwardly on the arm. “We'll see each other, for sure.”

Before either of them can say anything else, Scott is herding them off towards the door with a final glance over his shoulder, and then they're out the door.

Stiles takes Scott's keys and drives them away from Lydia's house, through the maze of cars parked on the driveway and up against the curb. Scott is quiet for a few minutes, and so is Stiles, because at the moment, he doesn't even know what he'd say.

Scott is, as usual, the one to break the silence. “So,” he starts, pushing his hair around and away from his face. “You think he was just jetlagged, or...”

“I'm sure,” Stiles says quickly, even though he knows better. Scott always assumes the best in people, so of naturally he thinks that Derek was just groggy and tired and annoyed at having just gotten back and off a plane from fucking Europe. But, Stiles knows that that wasn't Derek tired. That was Derek just being fucking Derek.

“Yeah. Because he was kind of a dick.”

“He's not -” Stiles struggles to find the words. At the moment, he doesn't much feel like defending any of Derek's actions, but at the end of the day, the dude is still his best friend. Maybe. “He's really not like that always.”

More quiet. “Maybe he was surprised that you have a boyfriend.”

Stiles half closes his eyes for a second and huffs out a sigh. Of course this had to come up. Of course. Derek didn't have to fucking put Stiles on blast for that shit, but also, Stiles really should've told him about Scott. He can only imagine how Scott would feel, having heard story after story about Derek, to also hear that Stiles hasn't told Derek anything about Scott. “I'm sorry about that,” he says, slowing at a stop sign. “I just – we've had a really hard time talking over the phone. I didn't really tell him anything of substance, much less about you. That's why I stopped calling him a while ago, because I just – it's just been weird.”

Scott mulls that over. “You guys haven't been getting along?”

“I wouldn't say that.” He takes a second to really think about that. Maybe tonight is proof enough that he and Derek aren't getting along at the moment, and haven't been for a while. “Or, maybe I would. I don't know.”

Leaning back into his seat without another word, Scott rubs at his eyes.

“He's really not like that all the time,” he insists further, and Scott just nods along.

“It's okay,” he says. “It would just really suck for him to not like me, is all.”

That, right there, just pisses Stiles off all the more. It's evidently important to Scott that Stiles' so called best fucking friend likes him, while Derek clearly couldn't give less of a shit.

The next time Stiles sees Derek, it's two days later, and he just shows up at Lydia's house. Stiles feels indignant about it the second his car pulls into the driveway, even though back in college when Lydia first bought this place with her trust fund, they used to just show up here all the time. Now, for some reason, Stiles just gets angry. Part of him almost feels like Derek just flat out doesn't belong here anymore, but he knows he's just mad. He'd never really mean that.

Lydia watches as Derek walks through the door from her spot in the kitchen, munching on an english muffin. She turns a page in the newspaper, eyebrow raising like yikes because she knows what's about to happen.

“What the fuck,” Stiles hisses at him from the spot opposite Lydia at the table. “I cannot believe you're standing there right now.”

“What?” Derek asks irritably, stalking into the kitchen and hovering there for a moment.

Stiles scoffs, rolling his eyes. “The fact that you have the balls to show up here after the way you treated my boyfriend -”

With a roll of his own eyes, Derek huffs.

“That shit you pulled!”

“I didn't pull any shit, Stiles,” he sits down at the table and runs a hand through his dark hair, frowning down at the smattering of breakfast that's left over for him to only pick at. “You didn't tell me about him. That's not on me.”

Stiles gapes at him. He really just fucking gapes. “So, that means you put me on blast in front of him and four dozen other people? That means you get to just humiliate not only him, but me?”

Lydia sips at her coffee and offers nothing to the conversation, which is to be expected. Where Stiles usually always gets involved in skirmishes between her and Derek, she never gets involved when it's Stiles and Derek, mostly because she probably couldn't give less of a fuck about what the two of them argue about.

“Maybe it means fuck all to you,” Stiles crosses his arms over his chest, “but it was important to me that you two got along, and you went and shit all over everything. Is that not on you?”

Derek sets his jaw and looks away, so Stiles can only glare at his profile and hope to melt the skin off of his face. At least he has some presence of mind to look guilty.

“You haven't even been back for more than three days, and I already want to just -” he holds his hands up and mimes strangling him, all the way from across the table, and Derek purses his lips.

“You should've told me about him,” Derek says in a low voice, pointing a finger accusingly in Stiles' direction. “I shouldn't have had to find out like that.” He says it as though a grand betrayal has taken place; like he's spent a lot of time feeling hurt and backstabbed by this information and Stiles' refusal to relay it to him. Which nearly doesn't make any sense. But he acted the exact same way when he burst in on Erica and Stiles kissing at a party, so it's not necessarily a surprise.

“Maybe you're right, but what difference does it make?” He holds his hands out, like two halves of a weight. “Dating someone, not dating someone. It has, like, zero percent of an effect on you.”

Lydia looks up, takes another bite of her muffin, and gives Derek an expectant look. As though she knows exactly what he should say, but also knows that he's not going to say it. Not today, maybe not ever. Stiles scowls.

“It's just the principle of it,” Derek mutters, looking away again.

“All right, fine. You wanna know so bad, I'll tell you! He's my boyfriend, we've been together for nine months -”

Nine months?” Derek yells it back to him, eyes bulging out of his head. “That's a hell of a long time to go without telling me -”

“Well excuse the fuck out of me if you running off to Europe without telling me until the night before made keeping you updated on my life a little god damn difficult.”

“So that's what this is about,” he throws his hand up and laughs humorlessly. “You're still fucking angry at me, even after all this time -”

“That's not what this is about,” Stiles insists, leaning forward in his chair so he's half leaning across the table. It might be what it's about, somewhere buried deep beneath every thing else, but it's just one of the many things they have to argue about, and Stiles wants to focus on something relevant. “This is about how you're a fucking asshole. That's what we're talking about. How you're supposed to be my best friend, but you can't even pretend to get along with my boyfriend for five god damn seconds.”

“I'm -”

“It's important to me!” Stiles says this, again, because apparently it needs to be repeated. “Why does that not matter to you?”

Derek runs his hands down his face, up and down, and makes a frustrated noise between his teeth. “It does matter, all right? Jesus Christ.”

“Then why -”

“I'm sorry,” he nearly yells it, loud enough that Stiles startles back and Lydia comes close to dropping her coffee mug. Then, he lets out a breath and rubs his eyes, like he's calming down. “I'm sorry. I know it was – I was just – I was mad that you didn't tell me.”

Stiles stares at him for a second, sizing up this apology for what it's worth. It makes sense, Stiles guesses, that Derek would be a little resentful that Stiles had stopped calling, and then he comes back and Stiles is moved out of Lydia's house and living with some dude he's never even fucking heard of before. He nods his head, scratches at his cheek. “Okay,” he says.

After a reasonable length of silence has passed, Lydia plops her coffee mug down on top of the table and says, “I think we should all go out to dinner. Us, and Scott.

Derek gives her this look like if she says one more motherfucking word he's going to flip this entire table over, but she just stares back at him, raising her eyebrows.

“I think that would be good. Right? All of us, together, clearing the air.”

Derek says nothing, not a word, just stares pointedly down at his hands in his lap, balling them into fists. He looks genuinely angry that this is happening, but maybe he's learned better than to speak his mind on this particular issue.

“I think that sounds good,” Stiles says, noting the way that Derek's jaw tics. “It'll give some of us a chance to make a better first impression.”

Lydia half smirks at that, pushing her chair back and away from the table. “I'll make the reservation.”

She pads down the hallway in her bare feet to go upstairs where her phone is charging in her bedroom, and then it's just Stiles and Derek alone at the table. Stiles shifts in his seat, uncomfortable, while Derek just sort of stares at him for a moment. As soon as Stiles looks over and tries to meet his eyes, Derek looks away again.

Stiles clears his throat. “So – Europe. Was good?”

Derek stares down at his hands where they rest on the table, frowning. “Europe was miserable.”

“Oh,” Stiles blinks, surprised. “That's not what I – well?” Stiles has never met anyone who's come back from a vacation, a gallivant around an entire fucking continent, whose only comment on the matter was it was miserable. Then again, this is Derek we're talking about.

“It was over a year of wandering around to different countries trying to figure out my life,” he goes on, with this grimace on his face like there's a part of him that's ashamed about it, now, embarrassed at having been so childish. To be fair and honest, even when Stiles was so mad about the entire thing he couldn't even think straight, he thought that if he had the means to be so impulsive, he might have as well. Derek got all that insurance money and trust fund money and every single dollar his parents had after the fire Sophomore year, so why the fuck not?

“Well...what'd you figure out, then?”

Finally, Derek looks up. He stares at Stiles' face for a second, meeting his eyes head on. “Nothing I didn't already know.”

****

“Wow,” Scott says when he parks the car right next to Lydia's in the lot outside the restaurant. He takes the key out of the ignition and then just squints at the building for a moment. “I've never even known there was a place like this in town.”

Stiles unbuckles his seatbelt. “Now you understand why I made you change your clothes,” he gestures to the only button down that Scott owns, an old black thing with a small hole in the underarm. They didn't have a choice about the shoes – he literally owns not a single pair of anything that aren't work shoes or beat up old sneakers. So there he is, in a barely decent shirt, slacks, and converse, at the fanciest place in Beacon Hills.

As they're walking inside, Scott starts tugging at the collar of his shirt like it's strangling him or something, even though it's not even buttoned up to the top. Stiles just sighs. Scott isn't a – and Stiles is really struggling to word this – high class person. It's not that he's trailer trash or anything, but he grew up with a single mom struggling to pay rent. He went to community college and lived off microwave ramen and drives a beat up old Toyota he fixed up himself to run. Stiles would say that he's not high class himself either, but having a friend like Lydia Martin to push him around to stuff like this gives him enough to pretend.

Inside, Lydia and Derek are already sitting at a table waiting for them. Lydia is buttering a piece of bread, muttering something to Derek, while Derek himself is opening the wine bottle and pouring himself a much larger glass than is entirely couth.

“Hey,” Stiles greets when they reach the table. Lydia sits up straighter and smiles at them both, not even giving Scott a dirty look when her eyes land on him, which Stiles is grateful for. “Sorry we're late – Scott doesn't own shoes.”

“I own shoes,” Scott defends with a hysterical laugh, looking nervously at Derek and Lydia as though it's very important they realize it's a joke.

“That's good to know,” Lydia quips, gesturing for them to sit down. Luckily, Lydia and Derek are parked on the same side of the table, so neither Stiles or Scott has to sit right next to Derek. But, that said, Stiles does have to sit directly across from Derek, as it seems Scott has chosen Lydia to be the lesser of the two evils in this scenario. Which is really saying something.

As soon as they're sitting, Scott grabs the wine bottle, nearly spilling it all over Stiles' bread plate, and examines it. “Damn,” he widens his eyes. “What language is this? Italian?”

“It's French.” Derek says this like Scott had just asked what two plus two is.

“Well, we didn't all get a chance to run around Europe for a year delineating between the languages,” Stiles puts his hand on Scott's shoulder and squeezes it, once.

Whatever insult there was rolls off of Scott's back like so much water, and he pours himself a glass. “You want some of this?” He asks, gesturing to Stiles' empty wine glass.

“Um -”

“Stiles only drinks white wine.”

Stiles has half a mind to kick Derek's balls under the table to get him to shut his fucking mouth. Scott blinks for a second, surprised. “I don't think I knew that.” He doesn't know that. Every time he buys wine, he brings home some cheap red shit and Stiles forces a glass down like he's drinking someone's bodily fluids. Stiles has never had the heart to tell him that he detests it, since the only time he ever brings home wine is special occasions, like Stiles' birthday or their six month anniversary.

“Here,” Derek reaches into the ice bucket where a second bottle is waiting for him and twists the cork out, angling the head over Stiles' glass and pouring. “I got this one just for you.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says, mostly because it's just polite. He picks up his wine and swishes it around in the glass. Lydia is still working on her bread, silently observing this entire exchange with calculating eyes. It's not like she could do anything to diffuse the tension either way, so it makes no difference to Stiles what she does or doesn't say.

The waitress drops off their menus, and Scott stares at it in bafflement for a second. “I guess the menu is in French too, huh?”

Lydia sips at her wine with a smirk on her face. When she catches Stiles scowling at her, she just raises her eyebrows and shrugs. She knew what she was doing when she picked this place.

“Here,” Stiles says, putting his own menu down to lean over into Scott's space. He points at the first entree option. “This is chicken with a honey mustard -”

“You can speak French?” Scott sounds like he just found out Stiles has a long lost secret twin brother, or something.

“I know a little,” Stiles hedges, gesturing back to the menu to get to the task at hand. “Poratbello mushrooms -”

“You never told me that before,” he interrupts again, that same baffled look on his face.

Stiles huffs. “It's not like I was living in an old house in Paris that was covered with vines or anything. I just – know a little.”

Scott looks like he's filing this information away to do God only knows with. Stiles hates red wine, and Stiles can speak French. It's been a night of many revelations so far.

“You should probably just order for me then,” Scott tells him, reaching up to push some of Stiles' hair away from his forehead. “You know what I like and stuff.”

“I do,” Stiles agrees with a wink.

When he turns back around to read from his own menu again, Derek is downing his entire glass of wine in one go and reaching for the bottle to pour himself another.

After that, everything is fairly uneventful. Lydia harangues Derek about Europe, and that takes up a pretty large portion of the conversation. Mostly, Stiles and Scott just have to listen or make useless commentary like, wow!, I can't believe you touched the Pope, that's super neat, and that's all probably for the best. Derek actually starts acting like himself again, instead of just being a massive pain in Stiles' ass. He talks like a normal human being and smiles and laughs, and even if a small portion of that is due to the mass quantities of wine he's ingesting, it's still nice to see it again. Stiles doesn't have to wonder so much anymore why he thinks Derek is his best friend.

Scott keeps relatively quiet, being the fourth wheel in a group of friends. Even so, Stiles has never seen Scott be genuinely quiet before; mostly, everyone likes him, so he has nothing to feel shy about. It's hard not to like him, but Lydia and Derek act like he's a natural at being excluded. Neither of them ever ask him a direct question, so Stiles is left to try and drag him into the conversation, as awkwardly as ever. It backfires every single time, so Scott just starts focusing on drinking.

When the check comes, Stiles takes one look at his own entree and Scott's and knows that Scott isn't going to be able to pay for that. He doesn't make a lot of money at the clinic, because he's really still just Deaton's little apprentice in training. Frankly, neither does Stiles, but he just got paid, so he pulls out his wallet. “I'll get ours,” he tells Scott with a smile, pulling his debit card out.

“I can get it,” Scott says earnestly, with zero idea that he legitimately cannot.

Stiles is just opening his mouth to insist, when Derek beats him to it by slapping his shiny credit card down inside of the book and firmly closing it, holding it up in the air for the waitress to take. “I've got it,” he says, right as the book is taken out of his hand before anyone else can interject.

Stiles figures that's crisis averted, finishing off the last of his wine – but he notices Scott and Derek sharing eye contact for perhaps the first time all night long. They hold it for what seems like an inappropriately long amount of time, until Derek looks away first and shifts his eyes to Stiles. Stiles looks between them a couple of times, confused beyond all belief.

He can't put a name to whatever what going on there – but it didn't look particularly friendly. At all.

Once they're all leaving at the same time to go to their respective cars, Scott and Stiles breakaway from Lydia and Derek with final goodbyes and some waves, and once again, Scott drops the keys into Stiles' hand because he's had too much to drink. Stiles swings them around on his finger, nudging Scott gently in the side as they walk. “I should start cutting you off,” he heckles, rolling his eyes.

“Now you're just making me sound like a drunk,” he starts fiddling with his collar again.

“Well, if the shoe fits.”

Right when Stiles is about to walk around to the driver's side, Scott grabs him by his shoulders and pushes him back against the car. Stiles, bemused, raises his eyebrows. “What's -”

Scott kisses him, hard, cupping his face with calloused fingers. It's surprising, if only a little bit – Scott doesn't exactly shy away from PDA and neither does Stiles – but this, even for them, is a little much. A gay make-out session in the parking lot of the most uptight French restaurant in downtown Beacon Hills. The thought of it has Stiles smiling into the kiss, because it's just so fucking ridiculous.

“What was that for?” Stiles asks when the kiss ends and Scott is looking him in the face.

Scott shrugs. “Just because I can.” He opens his door and climbs inside, leaving Stiles still pressed up against the side of the car with a mystified expression on his face. He turns around to get in on his own side just in time to see Derek's unmistakable car gunning it out of the parking lot so fast you'd think the place had just fucking caught fire, engine growling.

****

“Do you have any idea where my car keys are?” Stiles asks, leaning over the back of the couch right into Scott's personal space. He's sitting criss cross with a bowl of rice krispies topped with mini marshmallows, watching an episode of Law and Order in his sweatpants with no shirt on. This is a typical Scott McCall Sunday afternoon activity.

Dude,” Scott intones, lifting another spoonful to his mouth, “where's your car keys?”

“That joke just gets funnier and funnier every time you tell it,” Stiles rolls his eyes. Every thing Stiles loses, and he inevitably loses a lot of shit, is always met with that exact fucking joke from Scott. Stiles has started wondering why he even bothers asking. “Have you seriously seen them?”

“You know I don't touch your stuff.” He's so engrossed in the show Stiles thinks he's barely even listening.

“Can you help me look, at least?”

Scott balances his cereal in one hand and starts digging around in the couch cushions, eyes still glued to the television. After another few moments he stops and picks his spoon back up. “They're not over here.”

“How very helpful of you,” Stiles mutters, lifting up old mail and magazines from the coffee table to paw around underneath. Scott watches him search for another few seconds, or maybe he's just watching the TV and Stiles just happens to be in his line of sight, before he says anything else.

“Why do you even need to go out anyways?”

Stiles pokes around in their bookshelf, checking all the shelves in case he dumped them over there when he was in a hurry. “I have to get stuff for dinner. There's literally nothing in the fridge.”

After a few more crunches on his cereal, Scott says, “why don't we just get take-out?”

“We've gotten take-out three out of the last five days,” he lifts up one of Scott's discarded sweatshirts, lying in the middle of the living room floor for who knows what reason. “I can't look at another eggroll, I just can't do it.”

Stiles moves to cross in front of the couch to the other side of the living room so he can start digging through the kitchen, but Scott wraps a finger in one of his belt loops and tugs him down onto the couch next to him with a plop. “I think you should just stay home all day with me,” he leans forward like he's going to kiss him, but Stiles holds his hand up.

“It's tempting,” Stiles gestures to the empty cereal bowl on the coffee table and the piles of other stuff Scott's left lying around. “But I really -”

Scott sighs, long and loud, as if he's being put upon. “We can get pizza instead of Chinese, you know.”

“I am going to leave this apartment, Scott,” Stiles pushes his hands against his bare chest, but Scott stays put, hovering over him with an amused look on his face. “As soon as I find my fucking keys.”

“You know, maybe if you can't find them, it's a sign you're not supposed to go out.”

Stiles pinches the bridge of his nose. Scott has a particular affinity for talking Stiles into things – or, more accurately, he's fantastic at wearing Stiles down by complaining and haranguing him into doing something. “Tomorrow, will it be a sign I shouldn't go to work, Scott?”

Scott throws his hands in the air in frustration. “Don't you have a spare set?”

“I lost them,” Stiles admits, and Scott actually laughs. At least he still thinks the quirk Stiles has for losing every thing is cute.

“Take my car, then,” Scott tells him, leaning forward and scooping them off the table to plop into Stiles' palm. “I'll look for yours while you're out.”

Breathing out a sigh of relief, because he really thought he and Scott were just about to get into an argument if Scott kept pressing the fucking issue, Stiles curls his fingers around the keys. “Thanks,” he kisses Scott quickly and stands from the couch, shoving his wallet into one of the pockets of his jeans.

As soon as Stiles gets the engine going in Scott's car, he notices that Scott is running on empty. Which is just another trait of his – he will drive his car until he's got nothing but fumes in his tank. He literally takes the risk of I think I can make it just because he doesn't want to stop for gas. It's a mindset that, as a person with anxiety, Stiles just cannot get into. Even as he just drives the two blocks it takes him to get to the gas station, he's imagining himself running out of gas on the side of the road or in the middle of an intersection.

Luckily, Stiles makes it in one piece and starts filling up. He leans back against the tail of the car and squints into the sunlight, arms crossed, watching as the numbers flick across the screen.

Of course, Derek's car pulls up at the pump across from him. Just – of fucking course.

He climbs out, pushes his sunglasses up and off his face, and smiles at Stiles with all his teeth. “Hey, asshole.”

Stiles' lips twitch. In all honesty, he's not sure where he stands with Derek at the moment. He did apologize for acting like a complete and total fuckwagon the night of his welcome home party, and he really wasn't all that awful at dinner the other night – but he's gone above and beyond to make it known that he doesn't like Scott. At all. It's no different than any of Stiles' other relationships, in retrospect, but Jesus Christ. They're twenty-four years old, now. Isn't it about time Derek, you know, grew up? And got the fuck over whatever weird thing it is that he has with Stiles dating?

All the same, Stiles decides to play along. “Right back at you,” he drawls.

Derek closes his door and comes around to stand on the concrete island in between them, leaning over to get a look at Scott's car. “Do you not have the Jeep anymore?” He asks, frowning at the toyota like it's personally offended him. “I haven't seen it since I got back.”

“Nah, I've still got it. I just couldn't find my keys back at the apartment.”

Derek starts fidgeting with his sunglasses in his fingers. “So it still runs.”

“The thing doesn't die.” It really doesn't. Stiles has done every thing to that car. He's driven it into a tree, smacked one of the side mirrors off against a mailbox, he even rolled it once in the winter time. But, it always manages to come back to life.

“At least some things don't change.”

Stiles knows there's a hidden meaning to that, and he straightens up. The gas nozzle clicks to signal that it's finished, but he ignores it in favor of meeting Derek's eyes. “I haven't changed,” he says, leaving no room for argument. Even so, Derek snorts like he doesn't believe it, shaking his head. “I haven't. I'm exactly the same.”

“A year is a long time,” Derek says evenly.

“I know it is,” he rips the nozzle out of the car and shoves it back into its place.

“Your entire life is different now. You're living with that guy, now,” he says it like Scott is Adolf fucking Hitler, which is unfair on levels Stiles can't even begin with.

Stiles takes a step closer to him, cocking his head to the side. “What did you think was going to happen? Did you think you would come back and everything would be exactly where you left it?”

Derek's jaw tics, but he doesn't break Stiles' eye contact. “If I remember correctly, you didn't seem to care so much when I left.”

Stiles blinks at him, once, twice, and then he laughs. It's humorless, but he keeps laughing, shaking his head. “So that's what you think,” he slaps the lid over the gas tank, just for something to do with his hands. “You know good and well that it was wrong of you to just – to just go like that.”

“I don't see how.”

He realizes that he's about to get into a fight with Derek in public, with two other people within hearing distance, but he just doesn't care at this point. Evidently, this is a conversation that needs to be had before anything else can get better. “You acted like it was nothing! You told me like it was an after thought to let me know at all!”

Derek runs a hand across his forehead, and then through his hair, scowling at the ground underneath their feet. “What did it really matter to you, either way?”

Losing control of his faculties for a second, Stiles can't help but shove Derek by his shoulder, the way he used to all the time when they were teenagers and would bicker incessantly about everything under the sun. “You're my best friend. Okay? My best friend. You never stopped to think about how much it would hurt me for you to -” he stops for a second, clearing his throat. He really thinks he might start crying, and he doesn't think there'd be anything more humiliating than that. “You hurt me. That's it.”

Stiles might have expected a lot of things from Derek. Further argument, an eyeroll, some dick comment just for the sake of being a dick. Hell, Derek's shittiest trait is his proclivity to walk out in the middle of heated discussions, so Stiles expects him to get in his car and just drive away, not to be seen again until circumstance would force them to talk to each other.

Instead, Derek just sort of deflates for a moment, his shoulders slumping, where before they were tight with agitation. Stiles moves to walk away, thinking that there's nothing else either of them could say to each other right now, but Derek stops him.

“I'm sorry,” he says. “I – when I left it was – it was just something I decided and you – I thought you'd try to stop me.”

Stiles thinks about that. He imagines an alternate universe, going back in time to that last week before graduation, and he imagines Derek coming over and sitting him down and telling him he was going to go to Europe for an entire year to go out there and find himself. In his head, Stiles has a dozen different reactions. Laughing, asking him why, telling him that he had all these plans for them, or just crying, or just – or just asking him not to go.

Then, Derek is right. Stiles would've stopped him, if he had the chance.

“What would've been so wrong with that? If I had stopped you, would that have been so awful?”

Derek steps back, towards his car. He steps back, and away, drifting from any kind of resolution. Something about it reminds Stiles of when he left in the first place – that Derek was walking away from something back then, too. “I'm sorry that everything is like this between us,” he says, lifting the gas nozzle and swiping his credit card. “I guess that's my fault, and I just get to – fucking live with it, now.”

Having had enough, Stiles closes himself into his car – Scott's car, his boyfriend's car, not-Derek's car – and drives away.

Derek's not the only one who'll have to live with the way things are, now. But what's scary to think about is that they might both always have to live with it, and there's just about nothing that terrifies Stiles more than the thought of not having that person in his life anymore. Stiles wishes he could go back and say something else, that night, on the balcony at their graduation party, but he can't. He said what he said, and Derek left, and now they're here. Everything turned out differently than Stiles would have thought. And yes, he'll have to just live with that.

When he gets back home, he asks if Scott managed to find his keys. Scott's eyes get big for a second, and then he gives Stiles a sheepish smile. “Whoops,” he says, leaning back into the couch. “I forgot to look.”

****

“Why is it a horrible idea?” Lydia looks at him like he's just personally offended her, and it's an expression that Stiles is so used to by now that it has little to no effect on him. “You're being a little dramatic. Coming from me, that means a lot.”

She's not wrong about that, but Stiles holds his ground. “It is a horrible fucking idea, Lydia. You have to know that by now.”

“Why would I know that?” She sips at her iced coffee and glares at him from behind her sunglasses, the wind tossing her hair over her shoulder. “I thought dinner went fine the other night.”

“Fine as in no one tried to shove a loaf of bread down anyone's throat,” Stiles mutters, and Lydia laughs, like the thought amuses her. She'd probably love nothing more than if Derek held Scott down and pounded an artisan loaf into Scott's mouth until he choked and died, right there on the table. She'd have sliced into her extra rare steak, and kept right on chewing around peels of laughter like the Monopoly man.

“Nothing went wrong,” she insists.

Stiles wipes at the condensation on his untouched coffee, frowning and avoiding her eye contact. “Nothing went well, either.”

“You know it takes Derek a while to warm up to someone. You'll never be able to have them in the same room if you don't get them acclimated.”

For fuck's sake, she sounds like she's talking about a new puppy Stiles has brought home, and Derek is the mean old cat that keeps scratching him on the nose. “I know Derek well enough to know that he's not going to warm up, Lydia.”

She purses her lips and shoves her sunglasses up on top of her head so she can stare at Stiles directly in his eyes. “So, what? You're just never going to invite the two of them to the same things?”

“I -” he breaks off, and scowls. It's unrealistic, and he knows it is. He can't go to shit without his boyfriend without it seeming weird, and Derek always loves to just fucking appear, even when no one thinks he will. Inevitably, there'll be overlap, over and over again. “How about just not this specific thing.” This specific thing meaning the annual trip they've taken to Lydia's beach house every single Summer since they were 16. Well. Every Summer except last summer. There was a bit of a damper on the entire thing since Derek wasn't there, so Lydia went by herself and had a miserable time while Stiles stayed home and ate a lot of ice cream, and also had a miserable time. Stiles would have thought that she might put the tradition to rest, but apparently, she's resurrecting it, and now she actually honest-to-God wants Scott to tag along.

If he didn't know any better, he'd think she was meddling.

“He's your boyfriend, Stiles,” she has that tone of voice that means she thinks the argument is over, she's right, that's it. “I know I haven't always been the biggest cheerleader of your relationship, but that's because he's a fucking idiot.”

Stiles stares at her. “Okay...” He isn't, but okay.

“That aside, evidently, you're not going to break up with him anytime soon, so I should probably learn to -” she pauses, mouth forming a shape like she's looking at a disgusting bit of food she's being forced to put in her mouth, “...find something likeable about him. I'm inviting him, and that's that.”

Stiles pinches the bridge of his nose and silently counts backwards from five in his head. Even though he knows that at this point, he's fighting a losing battle, he has to try just a little bit harder, for Scott's sake, if nothing else. “I really, really have to ask you to not.”

“I promise I'll be cordial, and I'll make Derek do the same. You have nothing to worry about.”

“It's not -” he thinks about picking up his coffee and throwing it against the side of Lydia's house. “It's not about that. I just. I don't think Scott and Derek should be around each other.”

Lydia gives him a very, very steady look, like she's gazing into the very recesses of his soul. Again, it's something he's gotten used to. “Why not?” She says this as though she already knows the answer. She just wants Stiles to say it out loud.

The honest truth is that Stiles doesn't know what to say to that. Lydia might know the answer, maybe has known it for a very, very long time now, but Stiles has yet to wrap his head around it. Somewhere deep down, he knows. What's even scarier about that, and buried even deeper yet, is that Stiles has been waiting for that. A voice in the back of his head wonders for what?, and Stiles grits his teeth.

Even now, he can't make himself think it.

“I just don't, Lydia,” he finally says, looking away from her eyes. “They don't fucking like each other, and Derek is a dick, and Scott is, like, the nicest dude ever. It's unfair.”

Lydia puts her sunglasses back on. “I think it would be beneficial.”

Stiles slumps. That's the final verdict on that, then.

“I can't let the fucking – man bickering continue,” she leans back in her seat and looks out across her backyard, fresh and green with the new summer. “You guys just need some bonding time. Surely Scott and Derek have something in common.”

Stiles knows for a solid fucking fact that Scott and Derek have so little in common it's almost a miracle they're the same species. Like he said, he knows Derek better than anyone else in this fucking galaxy, aliens included. Scott, he'd say he knows pretty well. After nine months, four of those spent living in the same apartment and sleeping in the same bed, he thinks he has some iota of knowledge on Scott's general temperment and likes and dislikes.

And Scott and Derek have, absolutely and completely, nothing in common. Zero. Zilch. The closest they come is that they're both pretty athletic, but even then, the sports they enjoy are polarizing. Derek likes baseball and basketball and Scott likes lacrosse and – well, that's it. Scott doesn't even watch any organized sport on television, while Derek tivo's the fuck in obsessively during baseball season.

Honestly, Stiles can't even think of anything else to compare them on. Scott is actually nice and Not A Fuckbag, and Derek is a fuckbag. What else is there really to say? He imagines them like oil and water, impossible to combine and easy to separate. The fact that Lydia thinks any amount of forcing them together into one room to share each other's oxygen would change anything about this is baffling to him, but once she makes up her mind up about something, it's all Derek and Stiles can ever do to just go along with it, dragging their feet the entire way.

Scott doesn't look particularly thrilled when Stiles invites him, but he agrees to come along all the same. Either he's just literally too nice to say no even when he really doesn't want to do something, or he worried that saying no would just lead to a fight. Frankly, if he had said no Stiles would've bought him a pizza and forgotten the entire thing, but such is his luck. They pack their bags, take days off from work, and climb into Stiles' Jeep to head down South and along the coast.

It might have certainly behooved Stiles, and retroactively Scott as well, if Stiles had tried to speak to Derek before before forced inside a house with him. Even if he just called him and – well. He doesn't know what he would've said. He doesn't know what to say to him now, as Stiles climbs out of the car and Derek moves from his spot on the front porch to help him with his bags.

Stiles slings his backpack over his shoulder, trying to decide if he should say anything as Derek reaches to grab Stiles' duffle bag from the back seat. Matter of fact, he is about to say something, but Scott beats him to it.

Scott reaches in between Derek and the bag, scoops it up like it's personally offended him, and then turns to look Derek in the eyes with a fake smile on his face. “I've got it,” he says, and Derek looks like he's trying to choose between knocking his teeth out or punching him in the throat.

“Oh, for fuck's sake,” Stiles mutters, turning on his heel to start making his way up towards the house. He's not going to deal with it. He's just not. He outright refuses to be some kind of pawn in Scott and Derek's fucking pissing contest.

He pounds his feet up the porch steps, and by the time he's pushing open the front door and being assaulted by the thick scent of Lydia's Coastal Beach scented wax melts (she puts these out at her fucking beach house, because apparently the artificial stuff is somehow supreme to the real deal), Scott has bounded after him.

“Hey,” he says, both his and Stiles' bags hanging off of either shoulder, “are you annoyed, or something?”

Stiles looks at him for a second. He takes in the full sight of Scott McCall, from the confused facial expression and the cowlicked hair, the dirty old t-shirt and the faded jeans, and purses his lips. It is clear, crystal clear at that, that Scott doesn't deserve this weekend of oceanside torture. He has no idea what he's in for. The real urchins of the sea aren't even in the water.

“Let's go up to the room,” Stiles says, pushing Scott towards the winding staircase. Lydia's car is parked out front, so she must be lurking somewhere, but she has yet to show her face – that likely puts her outside at the pool or down by the beach.

“This place is crazy,” Scott says as they walk up the steps side by side, looking up and all around himself, from the carpet to the walls adorned with cheesy but expensive beach décor. “This is just a whole second house? Like, that she barely uses?”

“That's what a beach house is,” Derek's voice sounds from right beside the staircase as he's walking down the hallway. Stiles has a fantasy of ripping his backpack off and dropping it over the railing to smack him over the head, hopefully knocking him the fuck out for at least twenty minutes – it would be a blessed and sacred twenty minutes.

Instead, Stiles just takes hold of Scott by the shoulders and herds him up the remaining steps and down the hallway towards the same room Stiles has always stayed in. Once the door is closed behind them, Stiles dumps his bag down on the bed, and Scott does the same – Stiles grabs him, pushing him back and up against the door.

“Listen to me,” he starts, and Scott looks bewildered. “What you've stepped into is a certifiable California nightmare, do you understand?”

“I -”

“It would be in your best interest to not antagonize Derek -”

“Me antagonize him?” Scott interrupts with a scoff. It's certainly fair, because Scott would never in a million years antagonize someone just for the shit of it. Meanwhile, Derek half thrives on getting underneath people's skin.

“No one knows better than me how much of a real prick he can be, all right?” Stiles fists his hands into Scott's shirt, pulling himself closer until they're almost nose to nose. “I'm asking you to please not engage. Okay?”

Scott is quiet for a moment, holding Stiles' eye contact with a look on his face like he really wants to start arguing. Luckily, he just sighs through his nose and thumps his head back against the door. “Okay,” he agrees. “The guy just – he just pisses me off. I feel like he almost goes out of his way to try and get me angry.”

This naive tropical fish, Stiles thinks to himself. Derek doesn't almost go out of his way to try and get Scott angry – he flat out does it to the best of his ability, just because he can. Of course Scott thinks he's half imagining it, because apparently his mother never taught him that the world is a dark, dark place filled with complete and total assholes like Lydia and Derek and, frankly, Stiles himself. But at least Stiles is self aware.

“Just ignore him. This entire weekend will be painless if you learn to tune him out,” he kisses Scott on the lips, pulls back to give him a smile. “I've been putting Derek mentally on mute since I was thirteen.”

“I don't have as much practice as you,” Scott says, but he's smiling, sliding his fingers into Stiles' belt loops to pull him closer. “He's really a dick. I don't even understand why you two are friends.”

“I'm really a dick,” Stiles shrugs. “People like us tend to stick together.”

“Then how come you and I are dating?” He asks it around a laugh, like it's a joke. Stiles blinks at him and goes quiet for a second, before quickly forcing a smile on his face, as though he's in on it.

Stiles has never been asked that question before – not even by Lydia, who's had nothing but pure and complete disdain for Scott ever since the first time Stiles brought him to her house for dinner. As many times as she's rolled her eyes at the mention of him or called him a fucking idiot, she's never once just flat out asked Stiles why he's with him. So, Stiles has never much thought about it. He knows why he likes Scott, sure, but as for why he'd want to move in with him, or spend nearly all of his time with him?

That, Stiles just doesn't have an answer to. And that is probably, definitely, not a good thing.

The main reason that Stiles has always looked forward to this particular outing is because he loves being a lazy piece of shit every now and again, like most people do. He likes to hoard his sick days at work, where he sits in a cubicle and offers tech support for eight miserable hours every weekday, take them all off at the same time, and sprawl out like an octopus in his bed for days at a time. Is there any greater place on earth aside from Lydia's beach house and its attached private expanse of sand to hide from the world?

Even though it's meant to be a group friend thing, Lydia mostly just tans and pretends like Stiles and Derek don't exist, and Derek mostly surfs and finds starfish to poke at. Stiles, on the other hand, sleeps. A lot.

Which is what he's trying to do right now. He's got his sunglasses on, eight pounds of sunscreen all over his prone-to-burn skin, hiding underneath the shade of an umbrella. He's just starting to doze off to the point where the sound of the ocean blends in with his subconscious, about to contribute to a half decent dream, when a loud thump sounds in the sand beside him and Scott's voice is right in his ear.

“What are you doing?”

Stiles squeezes his eyes shut tighter and hopes that Scott gets the hint. Enough Sunday mornings have given him proof that there's no way in hell Scott is going to go away, but he tries in vain anyway.

“Hey,” a finger pokes into his ribcage. “Are you really just going to sleep on the beach?”

“I was.”

“The ocean is literally right there and you're going to -”

“The ocean,” Stiles sits up, blearily glaring at where Scott has parked himself in the sand beside him, “has been right there for the past hundred million years and will probably still be there by the time I wake up.”

Scott is sitting there in his swim shorts, dripping wet, with a lock of seaweed wrapped around his ankle, all tan and muscled and good looking. He looks like every stereotypical California wet dream come to life. “You don't want to swim?”

“I want to nap.”

Scott scrunches his nose up. “You're being a wet blanket.”

The sheer number of times Scott has called Stiles come variation of a killjoy, a funsucker, or a wet blanket has to be astronomical at this point. Scott wants to light fireworks off the rooftop, and Stiles is the one who has to tell him it's illegal in California to shoot a fucking rocket off your roof. Scott wants to go skateboarding down in the tunnels, and Stiles has to admit he's petrified of rats and other vermin crawling up his pant legs (which Scott calls irrational, because he forgets that this has happened to Stiles before.)

“I feel the term in this case would be dry blanket,” Stiles huffs, moving to lie back down on his towel.

It's quiet for a few seconds, giving Stiles the false hope that Scott will either pipe down and nap with him or go find a seagull to amuse himself with. Instead, Scott says the single worst thing he could possibly say. “I'm gonna throw you in.”

“Oh, my God.”

“Yup,” his wet, cold hands fit themselves around Stiles' once warm and dry hips and he starts trying to lift Stiles up and off of his back. Successfully, actually, because Scott is a lot stronger than he looks and Stiles hasn't been to the gym in – well – Stiles has never been to the fucking gym. He runs on Saturday mornings. That about covers the extent of his workouts.

“Don't,” Stiles tries to push Scott's hands off of him, but it's no use. He's in a standing position and Scott is dragging him bodily towards the wet reach of the tide. He's digging his heels in, but trying to find purchase in dry sand is second to impossible.

“Come on,” Scott laughs, wrapping his arm around Stiles' upper body so he can't squirm out of his hold. “The cold water will wake you right up.”

“If you throw me in that fucking water,” Stiles warns in a yell, still struggling fruitlessly, “I will call the police.”

“Help me, officer, they're making me have fun!”

“It's not funny!” Their feet start slapping against the wet sand, Stiles feels the ice cold water rush around his ankles, and he knows it's a lost cause, now. “Seriously, seriously -”

It's too late. Scott dunks Stiles into the water, only neck deep mercifully but still, so Stiles' entire sense system is infiltrated by salt and wet and blah. He just sits there for a second, a wave slapping him in the neck, and then he glares. Scott has his hands on his hips above him, sillhouetted by the glare of the sun, smirking. “Having a miserable time?”

“You asshole,” Stiles says, but he's laughing. He splashes Scott as hard as he can, splashing himself in the face in the process so his splattered glasses make it difficult to really see anything. Scott splashes him back, squatting for more leverage as he sifts tiny waves of water into Stiles' face so Stiles has to spit salt out of his mouth.

He's gearing up to poke around on the ocean floor to see if he can find something really fucking gross to throw at Scott's head (it is the ocean, after all), when Derek comes sloshing towards them. He's got his board under his arm, hair dripping onto his bare shoulders, and he looks pissed. So, business as usual.

Scott catches sight of him as well, frowns for a fraction of a second, and then looks down at where Stiles is still immersed in the water. They make eye contact, and Scott sighs before turning back to look at Derek. “That's a really nice board,” Scott says, scratching at the back of his neck awkwardly.

Derek looks at him as though Scott just went ahead and told him he dug up Derek's mother's grave, or something. “Thanks.” He's close enough now that he stops, hovering so Stiles would get smacked in the head with his board if he tried to stand up.

“How long have you been -” Scott gestures to the ocean, and then back to Derek. “...surfing?”

Derek's jaw works for a second. Stiles lifts his eyes to the sky, prays for the strength to even, and starts pulling himself up and out of the water. He ducks out of the way of Derek's dumb surf board, crawling a bit as he does so, and rights himself, t-shirt heavy and dripping. “I don't know. Ten years, maybe.”

“Cowabunga, dude,” Stiles drawls, running a hand through his damp hair.

Fucking...” Derek pinches the bridge of his nose, but he smiles anyway. “I hate -”

“I know,” Stiles interrupts, leering. “That's why I said it.”

Derek moves in such a way that the tip smacks Stiles directly in the stomach, and, like the Pillsbury dough boy, he hacks out a surprised laugh and splashes away so Derek can't do it again. “And you hate that,” Derek squints into the sunlight with a smirk.

“Don't do that,” Stiles snaps around another laugh, holding his stomach as if he expects Derek to come charging at him again.

“Shouldn't you be under a tree somewhere?” He raises an eyebrow. “You don't want to go Clifford all over again.”

One time, like, five years ago, Stiles forgot sunscreen on this trip and he turned into, yes, Clifford the Big Red Dog. It was a week of misery, aloe vera, and ceaseless taunting from Derek about his poor, delicate skin tone. His nose peeled dead skin all over the place and Derek started calling him flakes. These are dark memories, to be sure.

“Whatever, Blue Crush.”

“Jesus Christ, that's not funny.”

Both of them laugh anyway, still standing calf deep in the water. That's about the time that Stiles even remembers that Scott is still standing there. When he looks over, his boyfriend has got his hands on his hips, looking between Stiles and Derek with an indiscernible expression on his face.

Stiles clears his throat as the silence starts to become uncomfortable. “I'm wet,” he says, gesturing to his t-shirt. “And you have a wave to catch or something, so -”

“Right,” Derek agrees, shifting his eyes to Scott briefly before turning and making his way out deeper into the water without another word.

He watches him walk for a moment, and feels like he's made a mistake. About what, he isn't sure, but the feeling pools itself in his gut and makes a home there, unmoving.

The first time Lydia makes her presence known after an entire day of being MIA, she bursts into Stiles and Scott's room without knocking. Luckily, all that's happening is Stiles laying back on the bed screwing around on his phone while Scott flips through the television channels. Stiles will be amazed if they make it through this entire trip without Lydia seeing one of them naked – she has a habit of never fucking knocking or understanding what privacy is.

“I'm cooking,” she announces, all pomp and circumstance.

“I'll alert the -”

“I don't need a joke,” she snaps, and Stiles closes his mouth around a smirk. Something about the fresh beach air and the isolation from the annoyances of civilization makes Lydia particularly crabby, even though she does nothing but lay out like a pleased dog in the sunshine and eat cherries all day long. Perhaps the proximity to actual crabs is like her people calling to her, or something. “I'm making dinner, and you two are going to come down and eat it.”

“Of course,” Stiles agrees around a sigh. Lydia actually isn't that bad of a cook, which is always a pretty huge surprise no matter how many times she makes decent meals.

She eyes them both very carefully for a second, in that ethereal, I know what you've done way that Stiles has learned to just roll his eyes at, but that Scott more or less shrinks under. “And it'll all be very civil.”

“Totally. It'll be C-SPAN levels of civil.”

Scott turns around and frowns at him for a second. “The C in C-SPAN stands for civil?”

Stiles, for one, slaps a hand over his mouth and giggles his way through his fingers, but Lydia looks about ready to grab Scott by the neck and ask him just how many times he fell and smacked his head on the ground as a child.

“What I mean is,” Lydia gets her wits about her and talks over Stiles' laughing and Scott's confused expression, “that everyone will be nice and polite. To everyone.”

“I don't think we're the ones you need to talk to about that,” Scott mutters under his breath, and Lydia hawkeyes him hard enough that he lowers his eyes and scowls at his hands.

“Just making sure we're all on the same page.” With one last sweeping glance across the room, specifically at Stiles' dripping t-shirt draped over the chair in the corner, she turns around and closes the door behind her.

A beat of silence passes, and then Scott says, “I don't know what I ever did to make her dislike me so much.”

Stiles sits up and drops his phone on the pillow, moving to wrap his arms around Scott's neck to offer him a comfort. “Don't take it so personally,” he says. “Not everyone can get along with the queen of the underworld. In fact, most people -”

“You're always saying stuff like that, you know?” Scott shirks out of Stiles' arms and twists his body so that they're facing each other on the bed, and he looks...serious. Which might not seem like that big of a deal, but Scott rarely ever looks completely and totally sobered. His face takes on a different shape, almost, with his eyebrows scrunched together and his mouth a flat line. He only ever looks like that when they're about to get into an argument.

“Stuff like what?” He asks, careful to keep his voice neutral.

“Like – how I can't get along with your friends because I'm not like them, or something.”

Stiles scratches at his cheek. He thinks for several seconds about what he's supposed to say to that; because, yes, he's said things like that many, many times, just in the past two days alone specifically, and he's always meant it, too. But the way Scott says it, it suddenly sounds like it's an insult, or something. “You're not like them...”

“So, the two people you care about most in the world absolutely hate me, and that's just -” he gestures, something vague, “nothing to you?”

He feels completely and utterly put on the spot. This is coming out of literal nowhere, from Stiles' perspective, because before Lydia walked in they had been fine. The last time Stiles told Scott he wasn't like Lydia or Derek it had been fine, and now all of the sudden, Scott is looking at him like he's said something awful. It's all he can do to open and close his mouth a few times, stupefied. “Are you mad at me? Like, where is this coming -”

“No, it's not -” Scott palms at his forehead for a moment in frustration as though he's trying to think of the right words to say. Stiles knows the feeling very well, in this moment. He can't think of anything to say whatsoever, right or wrong. “I'm not mad, just...this situation, and your friends...”

Stiles waits for him to elaborate, blinking at the profile of his face.

Then, Scott just sighs and shakes his head. “Just forget it,” he says, standing up from the bed.

“But -” Stiles starts, furrowing his brow. He can't think of anything to follow it up with, so it just hangs there in between them, this one tiny word that Stiles has to give to try and come to any kind of resolution.

Scott waves his hand like it's all over and done with, before he vanishes into the bathroom and closes the door behind him.

It's a good thing that Scott is decent enough to not start arguing with Stiles right then and there at the dinner table, because whatever weird vibe they left on up in the bedroom is still there between them even as plates start to empty and Stiles drinks more wine than is probably a good idea. He can only imagine what Lydia and Derek would do if they did start a fight. More likely than not, Lydia would immediately start in on Stiles' side and Derek would just sit there and look smug about the entire thing.

But, mostly, Scott stays a little quiet and Stiles focuses on his food. It's easy for him to not argue at this point because he still almost doesn't have a complete grasp on what the problem is. For all that Scott isn't particularly secretive, he does have a tendency to not directly say what it is he really means, sometimes because he's embarrassed by it. Stiles has always had to coax it out of him. Right now, he doesn't have the time. All he knows is that he feels like he's done something wrong, which isn't an unusual feeling for him, but it's terrible to think that he's been doing something hurtful to Scott without any intentions or knowledge of doing so.

Lydia talks about whatever book she'd been reading out by the pool, Derek talks about how the water was, and no one gets openly hostile. Every now and then Stiles will look up from dismally staring at his half eaten lasagna to find Derek staring at him as though he can just tell that there's a problem, that there's something wrong with him, and then his eyes will flick over to Scott like and that's the fucking problem. Stiles mostly doesn't pay it much attention, because for the good of everyone involved, Derek doesn't make any kind of comment on it.

Stiles thought that dinner would end without incident, and then he could get Scott back upstairs, away from Derek and Lydia's prying ears, and have an actual conversation about whatever was bothering him.

Dinner does wind up ending without incident, at least. Lydia drops her fork on her plate with an audible clink, takes a sip of her wine, and says, “I'm not doing dishes.”

“That's fair,” Stiles concedes, nodding his head. “You did cook, after all.”

“Right.” She stands from the table and picks up the bottle of wine, trailing her way out to the back porch. “Stiles, come drink with me.”

Stiles hesitates for a fraction of a second, flickering his eyes to Derek. If he gets up and goes with Lydia, he'd be leaving Scott and Derek in here alone to do the dishes together. Best case scenario, they do them in relative silence and everyone moves on with their lives. Worst case scenario – well.

“Go on,” Scott tells him, wiping his napkin across his face before standing up and piling his fork and knife onto his plate. “I'll stay back and clean up.”

He can't help but feel like he's being dismissed – Scott doesn't much want to talk to him right now, then. That much is evident. With a long sigh, Stiles pushes his chair out and ignores the look that Derek gives him as he walks away, down the hallway.

Outside, Lydia has parked her chair facing the ocean, drinking right out of the bottle, leaving a lipstick stain around the rim. When Stiles takes the chair next to her, she offers it to him, but he declines, resting his chin in his palm.

“Wow,” she intones, shaking her head. “You must really be upset if you don't even want to get drunk.”

“Who says I'm upset?” Stiles mutters, pulling at a loose thread on his t-shirt.

“I know you.”

She does. She really, really, does. Stiles doesn't bother arguing the point. He just slumps further down into his chair and stares out at the sun setting over the ocean, pink and orange tonight. “It's not that big of a deal. Just an argument. Maybe not even. A misunderstanding.”

“A misunderstanding,” she parrots, like it's so ridiculous.

“It's just boyfriend stuff.”

“You can talk to me about it,” she offers after another sip of wine. “I know about boyfriend stuff, after all.”

Stiles is quiet for a moment, churning that offer around in his head. “Thanks, but it's okay,” he decides out loud, shaking his head. “I don't even know what the issue is.”

Her lips quirk into a knowing smile. “I've been there before. Are you sure you don't want a drink?” She holds the bottle out to him and shakes it a little, so the wine sloshes around and around. “You look like you could use one.”

“Getting drunk would just make it all worse, probably. I'm trying to, like, fix it. Not emphasize the issue.”

“Good point,” she pulls the bottle back and has another sip herself. “Maybe that's why you have lasting relationships, and I don't.”

“Yes,” Stiles agrees. “It's all about the wine.”

Lydia laughs and sets the bottle down with a clink on the table top. “Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm always surprised when your relationships go on longer than two months.”

“What is the right way to take that?” Personal attacks from Lydia are as commonplace as rain clouds, so Stiles bears it with barely even a flinch.

“I just mean you've never struck me as particularly...” she trails off, waving her hand in the air as she hems and haws over trying to find the right word. “You just don't seem like you'd be willing to put up with bullshit.”

Stiles gives her a look. “My relationships haven't been bullshit -”

“All relationships have bullshit,” she talks over him and shrugs. “I'm saying that in order to make anything work, you have to be willing to deal with it, or get over it, or, I don't fucking know – resolve it. You've never seemed like the kind of person who would sit around moping over a person instead of just saying fuck it and moving right along.”

Now, there's something to think about. Stiles has been in exactly three long term relationships in his lifetime – then again, Erica definitely doesn't count mostly because they never really talked about anything (insomuch as Erica's mythically hair raising dirty text messages don't count as talking) and it's not like she ever took him out on a real date, or vice versa. Plus, Stiles never thinks about her. He thinks about whether or not she's ever calmed the hell down, and thinks about if she's okay, but it's just not the same.

Heather, he thinks about. Like, he wonders what she's doing sometimes, if she's found somebody else. A couple years ago these were painful thoughts that he'd contemplate over copious amounts of liquor, but now, they're just there, sometimes. A part of his life that he guesses he'll just have to deal with. It's not that he thinks he made a mistake, with her, that he wishes he could get it back, but he just wonders sometimes. She used to be a huge part of his life.

And, he put up with bullshit from her, and she put up with bullshit from him. Erica, he used to just hang up on. “I guess I am willing to mope a little.”

Lydia churns that around in her head, so hard that Stiles can practically see the gears working behind her eyes. “Why?”

“You just said it. It's how you make a relationship, like, work.”

Why do you want certain relationships to work and others you don't give a fuck about?”

Stiles scans his eyes across the sea, because Lydia has that intense set to her eyes that Stiles still can't meet head on, even after all these years. “Fucking – I don't know. Love, or something stupid like that.”

She actually laughs at that. It's the old mocking giggle he used to get all the time when they were still enemies in Sophomore year of high school, and it's just as cutting as it ever was back then. “You feel safe with Scott,” one of her eyebrows raises into her hairline. “You don't love him.”

Stiles immediately turns away and shakes his head again. “You're drunk,” he tells her matter-of-factly.

“Argue with me.”

The challenge hangs there in the air between them for seconds on end. Stiles thinks that Scott is nice, and he's fun, and he's...what? He's a good person to hang around with. He's – he's friendly. He makes Stiles laugh. He can't think of anything else, when there should be more, there should be – there was so much more with Heather, and even with Erica, to the point where if Lydia asked him to defend either of them like this he could do it easily, no hesitation.

Right now, he just opens his mouth, nothing coming out, and then closes it. Lydia doesn't look smug, not at all, which is surprising. She just nods her head something like I thought so, and reaches across the space between them to pat him on the arm. “Everybody does it.”

He doesn't know what that means.

She opens her mouth to say something else, probably one of her long, drunken spiels about something or other, but she gets interrupted by a crash coming from inside the house. She frowns, turns around and glares through the sliding glass doors as though she's trying to see what the commotion is. All either of them can see from this angle is the orange glow of the sunset spilling across the carpet in a two foot square, and then darkness beyond it.

Stiles already knows what the commotion is. Fuck, he knew it even as he stood up to come out here to begin with. He briefly palms his forehead, mutters you're fucking kidding me, and stands up to slide the door open with so much force that it rattles on its way across the tracks.

He stalks inside, Lydia right behind him, and the sounds of a scuffle from inside the kitchen aren't in the least bit surprising to him at all. Of course this is happening. What else did he really expect?

Walking inside the kitchen, the first thing he sees is a plate shattered on the floor. All he can think is Jesus, I hope that wasn't bashed over someone's head – luckily, it looks like it just got dropped on the ground instead of used as a weapon. That's a good thing. At least no one here is out for actual murder. That, Stiles would be much more concerned about.

Lifting his eyes from the ground, he finds that Scott has got Derek by the collar of his shirt, shoving him back against the fridge so hard that the wall behind it shakes. A few sea shell magnets go scattering across the floor, sending old paper mementos down onto the ground in a slow flurry after them. Scott's mouth is trickling a decent amount of blood down his chin, maybe a split lip, and Derek's got a red mark over his eye that's sure to bruise up to purple as soon as time has allowed it.

Stiles can either choose to throw his hands up in the air and walk out, say fuck it and be done with the entire thing and just hope no one winds up in the hospital, or he can get in the middle of it like he fucking always does. Scott cocks his arm to punch Derek in the face, probably again, Derek moves to rip Scott's hand off of his collar to free himself and get the upperhand, and Stiles realizes that he really doesn't have a choice about this.

Part of him wonders, if Scott were fighting anyone else...but that's just Lydia getting into his head. He doesn't have time to follow the entire thought through.

Hey,” he yells, right as Derek is pushing Scott back, shoving him against the opposite wall with a bang that rattles the pictures hanging there. This provides the perfect opportunity for Stiles to step in between them, back to Scott, hands held out in caution towards Derek. Lydia stands back with her arms crossed over her chest, looking surprised but also not at the same time. She should know. Stiles has half a mind to think that she puppeteered this entire thing down to the last fucking detail. “What the fuck is the -”

“I can't stand him,” Scott wipes his bloody mouth with his hand, looks down at his fingers to assess just how much blood there is, and shakes his head as though he's disgusted by it. “I'm sorry, but I can't -”

“He's a fucking asshole,” Derek pipes up, gesturing in Scott's direction and taking a step forward like he's really thinking about trying to punch him over Stiles' shoulder. Stiles shifts to block him, side stepping and backing closer in front of Scott. Derek tracks the movement, narrowing his eyes farther the closer that Stiles gets to Scott.

“What happened?” Stiles looks behind him at Scott, who just glares past him at Derek, and then looks at Derek, who just glares past him at Scott. Neither of them say anything, just puff out angry breaths like hisses between their teeth. Stiles rubs at his forehead, glances at Lydia for some kind of an intervention – she offers nothing aside from a glare and a set jaw. It's all up to Stiles, as it almost always is.

After several more seconds of silence, Scott turns on his heel and starts down the hallway. “I have to leave,” he says, and duh, yes, he does. “I'm leaving, I've got to get the hell away from him.”

“I'll fucking come with you,” Stiles hisses. Scott turns back and looks at him for a second, surprise coloring his features, like that's not what he expected Stiles to say at all. As if Stiles would willingly choose any other option than to get the hell out of here right about now – still, the expression stays. “Go get the stuff.”

Scott stays still only for another millisecond, and then he nods tersely and heads off down the hallway.

Stiles listens to the stairs creak underneath Scott's feet, and then he turns and meets Derek's eyes. They stare at each other, and Stiles has this moment where he thinks both simultaneously that he has literally never hated someone so much as he hated Derek right now, and that he can't hate Derek. Not really, and not like that. It just makes him madder.

Before he knows what he's doing, he's launching himself across the room to bridge the gap between them, balling his hands into fists. He doesn't know if he would've hit him – his best friend of over ten years who he's never gotten into anything but playful wrestling matches with, which just begs the question of how the hell they even got here, to this point – but it doesn't matter either way. Lydia steps in between them and Stiles skids to a stop on instinct, not wanting to accidentally get her caught up in the cross hairs.

But because she's shorter than both of them by a pretty big margin, Stiles can still argue with him over her head. “What the fuck is the matter with you?” He demands, even while Lydia pushes up against his chest to get them to separate. “Huh? What the fuck is your problem?”

“What makes you so sure this is my fault?” Derek holds his hands out to the scene around them – the broken plate, the fridge magnets, the scattered papers.

“Don't give me any of your god damn bullshit,” Stiles scoffs and shakes his head over the sound of Lydia saying calm down, go to the car, just leave. “Scott is too nice to ever start anything like this, and you -”

“Oh, nice,” Derek repeats in a mocking tone of voice. “Is that what he is to you? Is that what all of this is about?”

“What all of what is about?”

“If you two don't shut the fuck up...” Lydia's voice goes into that dangerous range, that doesn't bode anything good, not at all, but for once, both Stiles and Derek ignore her.

“Why are you with him?” Derek asks in a yell, expression so disgusted you'd think that he were asking why Stiles just murdered somebody with his own bare hands, that he's standing there with blood all over his shirt.

Startled, Stiles can only shout, “what?” in response, furrowing his brow.

“Why are you -” he stutters for a second, opening and closing his mouth like he can't even find the words, “with him? What is -”

Stiles stands there, mouth hanging open as though he's about to say something any second, but he doesn't. A dozen thoughts are thrumming at top volume inside of his head right now – things like what the fuck and I never should've agreed to this and what is taking Scott so long. But not a single one of them is an answer to the question that Derek's asked. All the reasoning in the world, and Stiles can't come up with anything. It's just like with Lydia out on the balcony. His brain goes mute.

Derek can tell, too. He gets this look on his face, not smug or arrogant or any of it, just resigned. He shakes his head, rubs at his jaw, and leans back against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. Stiles' hands are shaking, whether from anger or something else he isn't sure, and he swallows.

The silence persists even as Scott is coming down the stairs. Lydia looks tired, and Derek looks sad, and Stiles just – he just leaves. It's the only thing that seems like the right thing, even as he knows that it might be wrong. Even as he knows he might be dragging something on for longer than it has any right to be, that he's leaving everything that really matters unresolved.

In the car, Scott freaks out more than Stiles has ever seen him freak out before. He's seen Scott upset, sure, and he's even seen Scott get truly mad, but this is something else altogether. It's a good thing that they took Stiles' car out here, because he really doesn't think that Scott is in any presence of mind to drive right about now.

“How can you stand it?” Scott rants as they drive along the highway. “How can you honestly stand him? I honestly think I've never hated anyone this much in my entire life,” he runs his hands over his face, and then winces when he remembers his lip.

Stiles opens his mouth to say, for the hundredth time, he's really not that bad, but he doesn't know if he can convince Scott of that anymore. He and Derek just got into a fucking physical fight. Nothing Stiles could say at this stage in the game will make a lick of difference. He stays quiet, because he doesn't know what else he's supposed to do here, and anything he could say would be the wrong thing.

“Do you know what he said to me?” Scott turns in his seat, straining against his seatbelt, and stares at Stiles expectantly, as if he would really know what he and Scott had spoken about when he wasn't in the room. When Stiles does little more than briefly glance in his direction, he goes on. “He acted like – like I had done something to you, to make you so upset, and that just – it just pissed me off. As if I would ever – I mean?” He's right, at that. Scott would never do anything to make Stiles really and truly miserable, or hurt him. Stiles always thought it's because he physically couldn't do something like that of his own volition, but now, he doesn't know what he thinks. He tries to think nothing.

“I'm sorry about him,” Stiles finally speaks up. It's probably the only half decent thing he can say in this scenario. “He's just. You know, we've known each other for so long, and he's never liked any of my -”

“I don't care,” Scott cuts him off definitively, shaking his head. “Look, Stiles, I know he's your best friend,” he says the words like he still doesn't quite believe that they could possibly be true, and Stiles can't really blame him, “but I can't be around him, and he can't be around me. He obviously doesn't like me.”

“This is just -”

“And I don't like him. I just think we shouldn't be around each other, at all.”

Stiles sets his jaw. “That's not...you can't be in a relationship with me, and then not -”

“How can you be in a relationship with me and not give a fuck that your best friend tried to knock my teeth out tonight?”

Before all of this, when Scott and Derek just flat out weren't getting along, Stiles could play the he's my best friend card and get away with it. Now, with everything that's happening, it doesn't make sense at all for Stiles to keep putting them in the same room, and it really doesn't make sense for Stiles to not see Scott's side of this at all. Maybe he's just so used to implicitly siding with Derek that he doesn't know what it's like to not.

“I care,” Stiles contends, keeping his eyes on the road. “But it's not easy to have the two most prominent people in my life beating the shit out of each other. Okay? Stop making me pick a side.”

Pick a side?” Scott repeats incredulously, as though they're speaking a different language. “How about the right one?”

Stiles opens his mouth to argue that it's not that clear cut what the right side of all of this is, but Scott keeps going.

“We live together, Stiles. We share everything.” He lets that sink in for a moment, Stiles sitting there stewing in his own silence because he knows he can't argue the point. Derek might be his best friend, but he also fucked off to Europe for an entire year and punched Scott in the face (because, yes, Stiles still knows Derek started that), so it feels moot.

Moot it might be, and wrong Derek might be, but he just can't fully give himself over to being on Scott's side. Admitting that isn't going to end this argument, so he just clenches his teeth for just another second longer, and then he sighs through his nose. “Okay. You're right. It's – okay. I know he's wrong.”

“I know you know he's wrong,” Scott finally turns in his seat to face front, where the highway is curving and twisting through a mountain pass. “Yet you still always defend him.”

Stiles can't help it. He really can't.

****

It takes a while for things to get back to normal between Scott and Stiles. Stiles might even argue that things aren't back to normal, not exactly as they were before, but that's to be expected. This was their first really real fight. All their others have been tiny little things about Scott never cleaning up after himself, or Stiles turning off Scott's alarm in the morning and making Scott late for work. They have never once had a real, solid, emotionally driven fight.

In the aftermath, Scott more or less avoids him for a couple of days. He goes into work an hour earlier than Stiles, out the door before Stiles has even gotten out of bed yet. He goes over to his mother's house for dinner, leaving a note on the table for Stiles to find when he gets back home, and then doesn't return until late enough at night that Stiles is already brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed. There are a few moments in there where Stiles thinks that Scott is just slowly moving his stuff out in a preemptive move to breaking up, but then Scott always comes back, and they just don't talk.

Stiles can't think of anything to say. He's already apologized and he doesn't think there's much else that he can do. A couple nights, he lies awake while Scott snores on his side of the bed, a sizeable gap of cold space in between them, and stares at the ceiling thinking about what Lydia had said.

That Stiles thinks Scott is safe. As though he's gone and settled after spending too long waiting for something else. It's one of those thoughts that Stiles tries to laugh off and convince himself is baseless, senseless, while deep down, knowing that it terrifies him just how true it might actually be.

Finally, after a solid four days of radio silence and Stiles losing sleep, Scott pats Stiles gently on the arm in the morning to wake him up like he always used to do, before Derek ever came back. He hovers his face over Stiles' as Stiles blinks himself awake, cracks a crooked smile, and says, “get up early and eat breakfast with me.”

Stiles would do just about anything to end the torment, honestly, so even though he's dog-tired and still quite miserable, he gets out of bed forty-five minutes earlier than he has to and plops himself down at the kitchen table where a small stack of toaster waffles is waiting for him. Scott isn't a cook by any stretch of the imagination – mostly due to the fact that he's a homegrown mama's boy – but Stiles likes toaster waffles as much as the next person.

They have their first real conversation since the fight, an actual back and forth with no hostile undertones or eye rolls or sighs. It's not exactly the most prolific chat of all time, but it's something. Stiles is just relieved that he won't have to feel like an unwelcome guest in his own apartment anymore, or walk on eggshells, or constantly feel like he's an awful, terrible person.

Well. Frankly, he still feels like an awful, terrible person. It might be his default setting, lately.

Scott takes one last sip of his coffee, checking the time. With a tired sigh, he leans forward across the table, wrapping his fingers around Stiles' chin, and kisses him. Stiles locks up, mostly out of surprise, and doesn't reciprocate.

When he pulls back, Scott looks Stiles dead in the eyes, their noses almost touching. “I love you, you know.”

Stiles' throat goes dry, tight, itchy – like those very words themselves are trapped there, trying to force their way out, but Stiles can't. All he thinks about is Lydia piercing her eyes straight through to his center and scoffing at him and laughing and saying but you don't love him.

“Yeah,” Stiles croaks, forcing a smile onto his face. “I know.”

 

Stiles ignores every single one of Lydia's calls for an entire week. That's even longer than he and Scott went without speaking to one another – to be fair, he bets if he still lived in Lydia's guest room, he wouldn't be able to avoid her for longer than a single hour, much less seven whole days.

She sends him these clipped text messages once she realizes that her voicemails are being deleted before they're even listened to – things like if you don't fucking call me !! with no threat attached, so Stiles gets to just imagine what she's going to do to him. Honestly, it's an effective psychological method of torture, but Stiles still doesn't call her.

He doesn't even know why he's mad at her. She's not the one who got in a fight with Scott, and she's not the one who caused this whole entire thing to blow up; even if he might suspect she was hoping something would bad would happen on that trip, she didn't engineer anything other than putting Scott and Derek in each other's breathing space. The real person to blame for all of this, i.e. Derek Hale, has stayed away. For his own good.

Really, he doesn't want to talk to Lydia because he doesn't want to hear her keep pressing the issue on his relationship with Scott. It's wrong of him, and he knows it, to keep going on like this, but something keeps holding him back. He doesn't want Lydia to look at him like she always does, laser eye her way inside, and see how genuinely shitty he's being. He doesn't want to have to face the fact that the reason he doesn't ever hurt with Scott is because he's never given Scott the power to do so.

Even more, he's pretending like none of it is wrong. Maybe he just isn't trying hard enough with Scott, maybe he's just so upset about everything with Derek that he isn't thinking right, maybe he's just confused, maybe, maybe, maybe.

Maybe he's just scared of winding up alone. And Scott is just safe.

Safe enough that he starts feeling comfortable with the idea of moving on from this entire fiasco, going along like they would have if Derek had never come back at all. They don't talk about Derek, and Stiles doesn't try to call or go see Derek. For the very first time since they met when they were fourteen years old, Stiles starts to think that maybe he and Derek just won't be friends anymore.

Thinking of that hurts more than thinking about losing Scott. It's a final nail in the coffin, when Stiles chooses to linger on it for too long, but then, he almost never does. He stands still for days on end, maybe waiting for someone to push him in either direction, to hurry up and make a decision. He thinks that no matter what, he has to break up with Scott, because it's wrong and ingenuine – that's his decision.

It was his to make, but Derek comes over and makes it for him.

When Stiles opens the door and sees Derek standing out in the hallway of his apartment building, he thinks he could slam it in his face and wash his hands of the entire situation. His fingers itch where they rest on the knob, telling him to do it, do it, don't fucking talk to him, but of course he doesn't do it. It is Derek, after all.

“Can I come in?” Derek says, pointing a finger behind Stiles' shoulder to where the sanctity of Scott and Stiles' personal space is waiting. It feels wrong for some reason to say yes, but he opens the door wider anyway and lets Derek step through the threshold.

He looks around himself for a moment, at all their quirky tag sale furniture and Scott's sweatshirts and sweaters strewn all over the place. His eyes linger a millisecond longer on a few of the pictures of them together that are scattered around on shelves and tables, but he doesn't react much to any of it.

“I can't think of what I'd even have to say to you,” Stiles starts after the silence has gone on long enough.

“I've got enough to say for the both of us, then.”

“All of it better start and end with sorry.”

Derek moves closer to him, two entire steps so the distance between them is close enough that they could touch. Stiles jerks backwards and then makes a big show out of collecting the clothes strewn everywhere, as if he was going to do that anyway. “I am sorry,” Derek says while Stiles picks a hoodie up off the back of the couch and adds it the growing pile in his arms. “Okay? I'm sorry that I punched him and I'm sorry I've been a dick to him.”

“You know,” Stiles huffs, bending over to snatch a t-shirt off the carpet, “our relationship was already strained enough as it was after you went off to dumb Europe. You showing back up here and shitting all over my boyfriend and barely even speaking to me has just been the salt in that wound. If I didn't know any better,” he dumps the entire pile of clothes on top of the washing machine across the room, “I'd think you were on a mission to completely and utterly destroy our friendship.”

Again, Derek advances on him. This time, he's boxed in by the washer and dryer, nowhere to go and nothing to do except stand his ground. “That's the last thing I'd want,” he says, and he sounds like he means it, so Stiles believes him. “I don't want to not be talking to you, I don't want you to be mad at me all the time!”

“Then why did you go to Europe?” Stiles raises his eyebrows. “If you don't want to not talk to me, then why fly thousands of miles away from me?”

Derek looks away, shame written all over his features. Maybe as a way to sidestep away from his own blame, the same way Stiles does constantly, he says, “why did you let me go to Europe?”

What?” Stiles half yells it, because it's just so fucking absurd. “How could I have – you didn't even tell me you were going until, like, twelve hours before your flight boarded! Are you completely fucking cracked -”

“Did you ever stop to think that maybe I wanted you to ask me not to go?” Derek leans closer, so they're nearly chest to chest, and Stiles grits his teeth. “That night, you had the chance to say you didn't want me to go, and I would have stayed if you'd asked me to. You know that.”

Stiles thinks about that night – in his mind he can still see the way Derek's face looked illuminated only by the lights drifting out from Lydia's bedroom, all the shadows and lines it painted across his skin. He's gone back to that night again, and again, so he knows it well enough by now he could paint a picture from memory.

Everything with he and Derek could've turned out differently if he had said something else, even just something more. Such a stupid, inconsequential moment from the outside, but that's how these things always happen. “Maybe you shouldn't play mindgames with people like that,” Stiles hisses into his face, and something about this clearly just pisses Derek off more than he was to begin with. He gives Stiles this fucking dangerous look, like he's about to rip the door clean off the dryer, and then he points a finger into Stiles' face.

“You've always known how I've felt about you -”

And that – just about does it. He pushes up and away from the washing machine, where he had pressed himself to keep as far away from Derek as possible, and beelines it across the room, because he has to get away. He can't with this right now, he just -

“You've always known that, you know that I'd do anything for you, and you act like you haven't even caught on!”

“I don't -”

“For me, there's never been anyone else but you,” even as Stiles continues to walk away, shaking his head as though he could somehow get out of this conversation, Derek keeps talking. It makes everything worse, but then some things just have to be said. “I went away because I thought I had to get over it, but it didn't fucking work, and all I could think about,” he pauses and purses his lips, as though he's very seriously considering what he's about to say, whether he should say it all. When he opens his mouth again, his voice is even and measured, each word picked carefully and concisely. “All I can ever think about around you is how many times we've almost had it.”

Stiles rubs at his forehead as he starts pacing across the carpeting of his living room, listening to this shit. He thinks...he thinks about when they were eighteen years old and chose to go to the same college together even though Stiles got into schools all the way across the fucking country, and he thinks about when they were seventeen years old and Derek punched a guy at a party in the face for trying to kiss Stiles, and he thinks about when they were fourteen and Stiles realized he might like boys, too, and how for months, up until he started convincing himself it was a waste of his time, Derek was the boy. A dozen memories flit in his mind like a projection screen, movie scenes flickering on and off, and he realizes -

Of course he knew. He's known all this time. But he knew it in that small maybe type of way, in that study hall daydream way, where he thought it could only ever be something he made up in his head instead of something he could actually have as a reality. There were a million scenarios that Stiles made up in his head about he and Derek, and in a way, they really have almost had it.

“All this time between us, just wasted because you couldn't see what was right in front of you.”

“Funny you blame it all on me,” Stiles paces in his direction, stopping within inches of him, “when I don't remember you ever making a move! Oh, you've loved me so much all this time, but you fucking sat there, and you let me – you -” the both of them always went looking for the other in different people. It's scary to think about, now, looking back on it all. No one's ever come close. “You wasted just as much time as I did! You were the one who never fucking did anything about it!”

They stare at each other. Stiles knows it's dangerous, that he should walk away and that he's taunted Derek into doing something they both want but that they can't do now, not now, but he stands his ground. “Yeah?” Derek grabs Stiles by his shoulders, and it's the only warning that Stiles gets before Derek is kissing him. It's a real kiss, too – not just something quick to make a point, or rushed just for the sake of it. But it's the one kiss that Derek has been waiting for since they were fourteen years old, and it feels like that, too. It feels like floodgates opening, the dam bursting.

Stiles has always known somewhere in a part of him that he chose to ignore that he wanted it, too. It was the voice in the back of his head, that what if that Stiles never had the chance to address – now that it's here, in front of him, it's all he can do to kiss him back.

Derek shoves them back, not breaking the kiss even for a second, until Stiles' back hits the wall and a picture frame smashes to the ground. The sound of the glass breaking comes to Stiles as though it's in another room, or another apartment altogether, as though he doesn't have the sense capacity to focus on anything else but Derek. Derek's hands on him, sliding up underneath his shirt, and Derek's breathing, and Derek's taste, and all of it.

He has never, never in his entire life, been kissed like this, like he's so important and wanted and special. Derek bites his bottom lip, squeezes his hip so hard it might leave a bruise, and Stiles can't help but think that Scott would never, ever kiss him like this, could never kiss him like this even if he -

The thought has the same effect as having a bucket of ice water dumped over his head – he jerks, pushes Derek off of him as hard as he can, and walks away from the wall. He slaps his hand over his mouth, eyes wide, and says a muffled “oh, my God,” into his fingers.

Derek stands back, breathing harshly for a second, staring as Stiles backs away into the opposite wall until he can't go any farther. “I'm sorry,” he says, for only the hundredth time since he's come back home. “I shouldn't have – not like this.”

Not like this. Not inside of Scott and Stiles' shared apartment, not with pictures of Scott hanging all over the place, watching them, not when Scott is supposed to be home in under an hour. It's probably the worst thing either of them have ever done.

“I'm sorry, but I – I'm not, at the same time.”

“Oh, my God,” Stiles covers his face with his hands and shakes his head. How could he have done this? Part of him thinks it was just one kiss, but calling what that was just a kiss feels like a massive understatement. That was him as good as ending he and Scott's relationship, in the worst possible fucking way.

There are a thousand things that Stiles should say to Derek, right now. He doesn't know where to even begin – maybe with just talking about how they feel, or telling each other that this is actually happening, or just yelling at each other all over again because lately that seems like what they do best.

Right now, Scott is coming home, soon, and Derek is standing there looking half miserable and half terrified. Stiles knows that this isn't what he wanted to do. He didn't want to torpedo Scott and Stiles' relationship, he didn't want to do all of this, but he did it, and Stiles participated, and now there's a mess to clean up.“You have to leave.”

Derek hesitates. “But -”

“Derek,” Stiles warns him in a dangerous tone of voice, like any second he's going to start yelling at him all over again. “You have to fucking leave, now.”

He stands there for just a couple of seconds more, and then he nods tersely as though he understands, and he really really should, before turning to walk out the door. As he swings it open, he pauses. “I don't regret it,” he says, and Stiles throws his hands up and yells oh, my God!! for the fifth time.

Derek walks out and gently closes the door behind him, and then Stiles sits there. In his guilt and misery, he just sits there, and he doesn't move for a long time.

Truth is, he doesn't regret it, either. That's what makes him feel the worst, out of anything else.

By the time that Scott gets back home, Stiles has already packed all of his essentials into a backpack and a duffle bag. There's no use in pretending anymore, he figures, and there's really no use in dragging this out for any longer than it has to be. Already, it's gone on long enough.

It just sucks, is all. It's awful, and it sucks, and being a halfway decent human being who sucks it up and admits that they did something wrong, maybe many, many things wrong, is hard. You don't ever get any brownie points for doing the right thing – sometimes you just have to do it because you just have to.

Stiles is sitting on the couch and Scott smiles at him, the way that Stiles likes the best. Stiles wants to tell him that he really doesn't deserve that at this particular moment, but he thinks that would be a terrible way to start an already terrible thing, so he just clears his throat and looks at his hands.

“What's up?” Scott asks, dropping his keys onto the bookshelf in the same spot he always does before coming towards where Stiles has parked himself. When he sits down and gets a closer look at him, he stops smiling, and frowns. “You look upset.”

“I'm fine,” Stiles says as a knee jerk reaction, and then he winces. “I mean – I'm not fine. I am upset.”

Scott angles himself so he's facing Stiles head on, cocking his head to the side as he waits for Stiles to explain himself.

There's no rulebook on how to do something like this. Stiles' anxiety at having to sit around just waiting for Scott to get home even prompted him to do a quick google search – how to give someone bad news, because he's still proud enough that he wasn't able to even type out exactly what he did – and all of it was like reading instructions on how to act in a movie. None of it felt authentic at all, and after several months of half-pretending to be completely happy in his relationship with Scott, he thinks he's just about had it with acting. He's acted so well that even he started to believe it.

Stiles glares at his fingers some more, before forcing himself to make eye contact. “I'm moving out,” he says, gesturing to his two bags perched in the corner of the room by the door. Scott turns and looks at them, frown deepening his face, and then looks back at Stiles.

“But -” he starts, voice small. “I thought we were -”

“We were,” Stiles tells him. “We were getting better, but I – I fucked every thing up.”

Scott looks at him steadily, lips parted. Stiles can tell that somewhere deep down, Scott already knows what Stiles is about to say. Scott has known, just like Lydia probably knew, just like everyone might've known, even fucking Erica Reyes, what's been going on. It's why he got into a fight with Derek, why he felt like Derek and Lydia hated him. It was so obvious. “What are you talking about?”

He takes a deep breath, knowing that it doesn't make any bit of difference. “I kissed Derek.”

Scott stands up. Stiles looks up at him from where he's sitting, craning his neck to try and see his face, what expression he's wearing, to gauge whether he's about to punch a hole through the wall or not – but he can't tell from this angle. He just stands there for a second, like he had to do something, and then he's crossing the carpet, throwing his hands in the air. “I knew it. “

“It wasn't like I planned to -”

“I knew this would happen. I knew you would do this.”

Stiles opens his mouth to give some kind of an excuse, but nothing comes to him. He can't talk his way out of it, and even if he could, he shouldn't. He should let Scott have his reaction, however bad it might be, because he deserves it.

“I could tell from the first time I met him that you would do this,” Scott goes on, and Stiles can only palm his forehead and nod along. It's the truth, after all. “Maybe even before that, just how you would talk about him. You were always waiting for him, and I've just been...” he pauses, and Stiles thinks for one horrible moment that he's going to start crying. But, he just clears his throat, and finishes. “...I've just been a placeholder, for you.”

When Stiles doesn't deny it or try to defend himself at all, Scott gets this fucking abysmal expression on his face. It's the look of someone who's just realized that everything they've been denying for weeks, now, everything they've been convincing themselves is paranoia, is made up in their own heads – all of that is true. Stiles has to look away.

“Jesus Christ,” Scott says, voice cracking. “Do you know how – how shitty that feels? That our whole relationship -”

“Not all of it,” Stiles says in a quiet voice. “I really like so much about -”

“Don't,” he holds his hand up. “Don't fucking patronize me.”

Stiles closes his mouth, chastised and ashamed.

Scott starts walking across the carpet again, apparently having picked up the habit of pacing from Stiles' many sleepless nights. “So, what?” He gestures to Stiles' bags. “You're just going to tell me that, and then leave?”

Hearing it like that, it sounds so fucking cruel and evil of him, but at the same time, he doesn't have any other options. “I have to leave,” Stiles insists. “There's no – what else would I do?”

Abruptly, Scott is changing his trajectory so that he's headed straight for the couch. Never once in their entire relationship has Stiles ever thought that Scott would physically hurt him, but he flinches, now, thinking he's going to start yelling right into his face.

Instead, he sits right down beside Stiles, face oddly withdrawn. “I think we could still work things out.”

That's just about the most awful thing that he could've possibly said. Calling Stiles terrible, an asshole, a liar, a manipulator, any of that would've been preferable to this – that hopeful look in his eye, the way he's leaning closer to Stiles like he wants to wrap his arms around him. It's so fucking horrible, it's horrible, and all Stiles can do is shake his head, keeping his mouth shut out of fear of what would come out if he let himself speak.

“I love you,” he says, and means it.

Stiles doesn't think about it. He just says the very first thing that comes to mind, nothing excess, nothing more or less than the truth. “I don't.” Scott visibly shrinks away from him, as if Stiles' words had hit him like a physical blow. “I don't know why, I really don't. I should. I should love you.”

Scott is quiet for a moment, and Stiles doesn't dare speak again, so they sit in silence. In this position, on this couch, all Stiles can think about is the countless hours they must have spent just like this, watching television or playing cards or drinking or just talking. Scott was always so good at talking, about anything, everything. Stiles does genuinely believe that Scott is one of the best friends he ever had, even if he was never in love with him, but of course, Stiles is how he is, so he had to ruin it.

When Scott does finally speak, he's got resignation written all over his features – and that's for the best. “You love Derek.”

“I don't know,” Stiles says quickly, looking away. He doesn't have an answer to that question, just yet. Or, maybe is more accurate, he thinks it wouldn't do Scott any good to hear the truth about that right now.

“He's...” Scott takes a moment to think over what words he wants to use, and Stiles knows there are a lot of colorful ones going through his mind right about now. “...a dick.”

It's more tame than Stiles expected, so he takes it for what it's worth. “You're probably right. You would never do this,” he gestures to the room at large, but he knows that Scott knows what he means.

“And yet you'd pick him over me,” Scott smiles, and Stiles would never call anything Scott has ever done or said truly cruel just for the sake of it, but this isn't a kind smile. “You always said I was so nice, I guess I see now how condescending that was, coming from you.”

Stiles can't decide if that's an insult, or not, but even if it is, he deserves it. “You are nice,” Stiles assures him as earnestly as possible. “I – you are a much nicer, kinder, more thoughtful person than Derek is, through and through. But I don't...” none of that is what he wants. There might be something fucked up about that, but it's the truth. “I don't know why.”

“That happens sometimes,” Scott says, leaning back into the couch, not looking anywhere in Stiles' direction. Stiles thinks that this is just about the only evidence he'd ever need to prove to everyone that Scott isn't, actually, a fucking idiot. Because he's right.

That does happen sometimes. People don't always want what they should. The truth is, Stiles wants to want Scott so fucking bad but he just – doesn't. He's a good person, and a good friend, and he made Stiles feel better, but Stiles doesn't want him.

Why? It just happens sometimes. Stiles doesn't know what else to say about that.

 

Lydia has an exterior as rock solid as concrete. The thing is, even her interior is about as soft as a nail, so she's not very high up on the list of people Stiles would ever go to for comfort, best friend or not. That said, she's gruffly kind, when she has to be.

She lets Stiles move back into the guest room he used to stay in during the last semester of Senior year of college right up until he met Scott – Stiles didn't ask, but she insisted either way. It was that or go back and live with his dad for a while, which would've been fine, if a little embarrassing. She fixes the room up for him, gives him new linens and freshly fluffed pillows, sets a bowl of tomato soup and an extra cheesy grilled cheese on the bedside table, and leaves him alone. He doesn't know what else he's supposed to do but sit on the edge of the bed, eating and feeling sorry for himself.

No, Stiles didn't love Scott. Not like that, at least, not the way Scott had meant it towards him. Stiles thinks that he did in a gentler way, the way that he loves Lydia, so it still hurts a lot like heartbreak to think that Scott may be permanently gone from his life all because of something Stiles did.

For a day, Stiles allows himself to just be sad about it. There are a dozen things he has to do – arrange to get the rest of his things from the apartment, update his fucking Facebook status so at least he won't have to tell everyone individually but it's no less humiliating, and, finally, talk to Derek – but he stays in the guest room all day, watching the sun crawl across the floor through the slats in the blinds.

It was the right thing to do. It was the most horrible moment of Stiles' entire life, but it was the right thing to do, so at least that'll help him sleep at night.

Lydia doesn't come in to harass him until the next morning. She's got two mugs of coffee in her hands and doesn't even wait for Stiles to sit up all the way. She opens the blinds so the bright early morning sunlight shines in his eyes, drops the coffee on the bedside table next to the empty soup bowl and plate, and sits down right beside where he's propping himself up on his hands.

He squints at her blearily, still blinking sleep out of his eyes. She sips at her coffee, already done up and ready for the day even though it's barely eight in the morning on a Sunday, and then meets his eyes. “So, you broke up.”

“Yeah,” Stiles answers.

“I'm sorry.” He doesn't take offense at the fact that Lydia doesn't really sound sorry much at all – she's not the best at candidly expressing her emotions. She might not actually be sorry that he and Scott are over, but she's certainly sorry that Stiles feels sad about it. “Do you want to tell me why?”

Stiles rubs at his forehead and tries to even pick from the myriad of reasons there are. He could say a half dozen things, like how he never really loved Scott, or how Scott was nice and fun but that wasn't anything to him and it didn't matter in the end, or how Lydia was right all along. Instead, he goes with the facts. “Derek and I kissed,” he says, and Lydia nearly chokes on her coffee.

“Jesus Christ,” she hisses around a coughing fit, while Stiles sighs and slaps her on the back a few times to help her get herself to rights. “Fucking lord. You – kissed? The two of you? Derek and you? Lips? “

He holds back on the sarcastic comments for once, and just nods his head, only to be met with Lydia's dropped open jaw and furrowed brow. She looks like someone just told her the pope is dead.

“I'm having a hard time thinking of what to say,” she admits slowly.

“There's nothing much to say,” Stiles shrugs. “Don't act so surprised.”

“I'm not surprised it happened.” She pauses for a moment, running her hands down her skirt to smooth it out just for something to do. “Or, maybe I am. After ten years, maybe I am surprised.”

“You always knew, though,” he challenges. He thinks that he already knows the answer to that, but a part of him just wants to hear her say it. Because if she says that she always knew that he and Derek were in love with one another, then a part of him will feel vindicated, like this isn't a completely awful thing he's gone and done. “Right?”

She sighs. “Yes. Recently, I'd started thinking maybe not, maybe you'd moved on, but -” she squeezes his shoulder, pursing her lips. “I guess not.”

“Yeah.” Yeah, guess not. “You wanted me and him to -”

“At a certain point it was just fucking ridiculous, so, yes, I wanted you two to hurry up and do it so the torment could end,” she removes her hand and uses it to push her hair behind her ear. “Apparently, you two getting together is even more disastrous than you two not being together.”

“Because Derek can't just tell me how he feels,” Stiles bitches, thrusting his hands out in a frustrated gesture. “He has to go and do shit like this, and be a fucking asshole about it, and just – drag me down into the shitstorm with him.”

“That's fair. But don't pretend like you can blame all of this on him,” she gives him a very knowing, very motherly look, as though she's about to launch into a lecture. “You know that's not fair.”

It isn't, it isn't fair. The kiss was both of them, and the burying of feelings was both of them, and the avoidance and the immaturity and the impulsivity – that was both of them. “I don't blame everything on him,” he says quietly, as though it hurts him to admit it. It does, a little. It's always nice to have a scapegoat.

Lydia blinks at him. “You don't.”

“Scott was right,” he stares at his hands, playing Scott's words back over and over again in his head. “I was always waiting for Derek, and I used other people as stand-ins.”

“Yeah,” she says.

“I've – I really did something fucking terrible.”

“That's not -” before she can get the words all the way out of her mouth, Stiles shoots her a dark look that has her closing her mouth. It is true, he thinks, and he doesn't need Lydia to baby him just to make him feel better about it. But, after another second has passed, she narrows her eyes and goes on. “Okay, yes. It was shit, you were selfish, you've done a terrible thing. But also, this happens. All the time.”

Stiles pinches the bridge of nose and shakes his head, not wanting to hear this. She keeps talking anyway.

“Don't forget that I've known you since we were kids,” she gestures to the coffee sitting untouched to Stiles' left, as though he should hurry up and start drinking it, “I know that you're not a heartless, evil monster. I don't need you to sit around moping and feeling terrible about yourself, because it's a waste of everyone's time.”

Stiles sips his coffee after being directed to do so, and doesn't say anything. He doesn't know what he even would say, at this point.

“Anyway,” she glares at her nailbeds and frowns. “Why don't you and Derek just get together? If there's nothing in your way, now.”

“There's everything in our way,” Stiles mutters. He's not wrong.

On top of everything else, putting aside the conversations they have to have and all the ways that they fucked it up before it's even begun, Stiles is scared. He's really, really scared, in a way that he never was with Scott. Derek is going to hurt Stiles. He already has. Stiles has learned that you can't hurt someone if they don't love you, and that's that bullshit that Lydia had been referring to.

If Derek and Stiles really do this, it'll be nothing but bullshit.

There's a picture in Lydia's library, cubbied safely between two of her favorite romance novels, framed in a dark red, and it's the only picture Lydia has in her house of just Stiles and Derek without herself included. She has a dozen or so of the three of them, a couple of just her with one or the other – but only that one of the two boys alone. Stiles has never given it much thought before, just another picture out of the hundreds that they've cultivated over the years; but for a few days of bumming around Lydia's after work, his eyes keep catching on it.

Stiles scoops it up off the shelf one night while Lydia is out, studying it up close for the first time in years. His lips curve up at the corners in spite of himself, because he remembers this night. It was the summer after Sophomore year of college, and Stiles had dragged them off to the fair – it was the first time in years he'd managed to wrangle them onto the fairgrounds. Derek notoriously hates loud, crowded places and Lydia vomits after every single ride, even after the ferris wheel (one time, on the ferris wheel.) As a matter of fact, the picture in Stiles' hand was taken by Lydia from a picnic table right next to a huge plastic trash can, face pale and ashen after upchucking her fried dough.

Stiles has got his arm around Derek's neck, grinning from ear to ear with a stuffed snake dangling from his free hand. Derek has a red and white striped popcorn box, cheeks a little chipmunked as he chews – the lights from the ferris wheel behind them blend into long slashes in the background and every other person walking past them is just a blur of colors.

Looking at it now, Stiles understands why Lydia wanted to frame it.

Like Stiles has said, he and Derek used to spend a lot of time just showing up at Lydia's house, sometimes for no good reason other than sheer boredom. Lydia's place always has a full fridge and dogs to chase around the yard, if nothing else. It was the hub of their friendship during the final days before Derek went to Europe, and even though it was such a short amount of time, it feels monumental, looking back. Stiles wishes he could go back there, to that one three month period of time, and do everything all over again, make every thing turn out differently.

So, unsurprisingly, Derek shows up today. He waltzes into Lydia's library just like he's done a thousand other times, as though he knew without a doubt where Stiles would be camped out at this time in the evening (because Stiles spends half his time here sprawled like a cat on his dorm room bean bag he stuffed into the corner when Lydia first moved in).

Thankfully, they don't stare at each other awkwardly for longer than a millisecond, and Derek keeps moving towards him without stopping so the moment doesn't last. “What's that?” He asks, pointing to the frame in Stiles' hand.

Stiles glances down at it as though he'd forgotten, and then clears his throat. “Just -” he moves to put the picture back into its place, but Derek snatches it out of his hand and appraises it himself. “...reminiscing.”

Derek studies it like he's trying to memorize it, or pull the moment out of film and back into this room to have it all over again. He smiles a little bit, maybe remembering Stiles bashing him over the head with that stuffed snake like a baseball bat a dozen times. When he looks up to meet Stiles' eyes, he has a pensive expression on his face.

Derek looks like he's wondering if he should say what he wants to. Stiles knows that between them, there have been dozens, if not even hundreds of moments, where one of them wanted to say something and then just didn't. It's the entire reason they're standing here to begin with. The relationship that the two of them have now is built entirely on a foundation of things they never had the guts to speak out loud, and Stiles just wants to rip it all apart and start over, back to ground zero.

Apparently, Derek feels the exact same way. He rubs his jaw for a second, laughs like he can't fucking believe what he's about to say. “I wanted to kiss you so much, that day.”

Stiles nods, because he can't do much else. He's known that feeling very well, many times over. “Should you say things like that, right now?”

“Why not?” He counters, rubbing his thumbs along the frame of the picture. “What's there to stop me, now?”

He must think the same way that Lydia does. That now that the truth is out in the open, and Scott is out of the picture, that means everything must be settled. Derek and Stiles will hold hands and skip off into a rainbow. As much as Stiles wants that (maybe not specifically the skipping and the rainbow, but the general idea of that), but he can't go from one thing to another that quickly. Derek should know that about him. “There's – there's so much, that you did, that you said, that -”

Derek puts the picture down a bit harshly, loud enough that it cuts Stiles off, and sets his jaw. “I don't want to talk about any of that.”

There's Derek's worse character trait. It's something Stiles has told him a zillion times that he really has to fucking work on, but that he's never, ever managed to get over. He never wants to talk about god damn anything that really matters. “Then we can't talk about anything.”

“That's -”

“You – do you understand what's happened between us? At all?”

Derek looks like he knows exactly what's happened, his cheeks reddening just enough to let Stiles know that he's ashamed.

“You ruined my relationship. Think what you want, but I really cared about him, and I really liked him, even with – all said and done, I liked him a lot. I would've wanted to keep him around, but now...” now, Stiles knows that Scott deserves to never speak to him again. Stiles will take what's coming to him in all of this.

“It's not like you were going to be with him forever,” Derek snaps, and Stiles throws his hands in the air, knowing that the fight has officially begun, just like thousands of others between them.

“What makes you fucking think you ever knew enough about our relationship -”

“You never really loved him, Stiles,” he steps closer, and Stiles steps back on instinct, his legs moving before he's aware of it himself. He's always, always stepped back from Derek, always kept him at a safe distance. Arm's length, friends only. “I know you, I know you!”

Stiles opens his mouth to contest that, but really, there's nothing for him to debate. There's no one who knows Stiles like Derek knows Stiles. There are times, like right now, where Stiles just might resent him for that.

“You never would've married him.”

It's the solid, irrefutable truth, that Stiles has always known and spent the better part of the last nine months denying. Still, he's stubborn, and he wants to deny it just for the sake of being contrary. “I might have wanted to,” Stiles turns to move, to walk, to get away, but Derek grabs him by his shoulders and looks him dead in the eyes.

I wanted to marry you!”

Stiles goes a little limp in Derek's hold, and he doesn't know what to say to that. It's one thing for Derek to say he's always been in love with Stiles, that he's been waiting for Stiles for this long. But to flat out say he wants that? The rest of their lives?

Stiles might want that, too. He's never known something so solid like that, before, but here it is. It feels untouchable, even now, but Stiles wants – he wants.

And he's angry, still. “I guess that's why you left, huh?”

Derek grits his teeth. “We've been over that. I know, I know it's my fault that you and Scott even had a chance to begin with, because I ran away.”

“Yes.”

“I was scared of spending the rest of my life watching you love someone else,” his fingers dig just a little harder into Stiles' upperarms, as though he's thinking about someone else taking him away, again. “So I ran away. I don't know what else you need me to say about that.”

“I don't know either,” Stiles says, throat going tight. “I don't know what to do. You can't just walk in here and expect -”

“I just want you to...” he leans forward, like he's going to kiss Stiles even though Stiles is starting to cry and nothing has been resolved, acting on impulse maybe to make up for all the years he spent repressing it. Stiles jerks back, so hard he smacks his head onto the bookshelf, and Derek lets go of him like he's caught fire, walks a pace or two away in frustration.

“You can't just do that!”

“I'm so fucking sick of this. I'm so tired of all the almost, it's – I can't do that with you anymore.”

“What do you mean?” Stiles asks, even though he knows exactly what Derek means.

Derek palms his forehead, looks at Stiles through his eyelashes. “I can't do the bullshit anymore. You and me – it has to be all or nothing, or I can't...”

Stiles gapes at him, face screwing up in anger, his heartbeat quickening. “Are you giving me an ultimatum?”

“No!” He's quick to correct that, and Stiles is grateful, because he doesn't know if he could fucking stand that from Derek – it would be too cruel, even for him. “It's not about you, it's not about making you do anything, it's about you making me! I can't be your friend, I don't want to be your fucking friend, and if you can't be anything else, then I have to...”

What?” Stiles prompts him when the silence goes on for a second too long, and Derek averts his eyes.

“I'll have to leave.”

That's like a physical blow, and Stiles can't do anything else for a second except for stand there and stare. He thinks about what it was like, back then, when Derek first left, how miserable he was. He felt so shitty about himself that he went out and found the first person who didn't make him feel awful and ran with it for as long as he could. Oh, yes, Scott made him feel better, and that's all that really mattered to him. Selfish, selfish, endlessly.

He can't imagine what he would do if Derek left again. Something worse, he's sure.

“Yes,” Stiles hisses, swiping tears out of his eyes angrily. “Come back home, ruin my fucking relationship, and then take off and leave again. Do that, Derek, that sounds like a great fucking idea. You fucking asshole.”

Before Stiles has the chance to walk out of the room, away from this conversation for maybe the last time, Derek grabs him by his wrist and holds him in place, so close their sides are touching. He looks at Stiles directly, nose bumping against his cheek for just a moment. “I can't do that, either. Don't make me do that, Stiles.”

Stiles knows that Derek doesn't mean to put the entire weight of everything on his shoulders, but it's what he does. He understands what Derek means, about having to stand back and watch Stiles live a life that doesn't intersect with his any longer, and he knows that Derek would have to go, for his own mental health, for his own happiness. Stiles deserves to know that if he chooses to walk away right now, then Derek will have no other choice.

But it makes him feel cornered. “I'm – I don't want you to go. But I can't...”

“I'm sorry,” Derek says. It's for everything, and Stiles doesn't need the role call. “I don't want to, but do you understand...”

“Yeah,” Stiles croaks. He does understand. As unfair as it would be for Derek to go away, it would be equally as unfair for Stiles to force him to stay just because he can't make up his fucking mind. They've made it all this way, and now Stiles is bringing everything to a screeching halt all over again.

Derek lets go of Stiles' wrist, and takes a step back. It feels just as horrible as it always has, the space between them. A gap they've been trying to bridge for years, but that just keeps getting bigger. “Do what you have to,” he says.

Stiles hugs his arms to himself and nods his head. “You, too.”

****

It's Junior year of high school, and Lydia Martin is eighteen and beautiful and she looks at Stiles like he's a fucking idiot. They've only really been friends for a year, now, Lydia seamlessly blending herself into the Derek and Stiles show after growing tired of her old friends, but it feels like longer. Stiles is used to that look by now. He just sips his beer and leans back in his chair, raising his eyebrows like well?

“You and Erica are done, I guess,” she says, cutting.

“Me and Erica never even began,” he answers, turning away to watch the rest of the party in the backyard. Jackson's already thrown up in the pool, ruining the fun for everyone else so they have to mill around it instead of inside the water, and it isn't even nine o'clock yet.

“What a waste of time,” she sighs and pokes at the ice in her cup with the hair clip she ripped out two drinks ago. “I thought you guys worked.”

Stiles looks at her steadily, mouth curving downwards. As they hold eye contact, he knows that she's thinking about how fucking weird Stiles and Erica really were, how they barely spoke to one another in school except for when Erica would appear at lunch and spread herself out in the chair beside Stiles, smacking bubblegum between her red lips and making everyone around them uncomfortable. She had a way of looking at him that put a neon sign above their heads that read WE HAVE SEX A LOT in flashing letters. It was cool at first to be somewhat of a low grade Casanova, but after a while, it just got embarrassing.

“Okay,” she concedes. “Maybe not. Still.”

“Still what?”

Still it's a fuck up.”

“A fuck up?”

“Yes. You've fucked up. Not to deal below the belt,” she always deals below the fucking belt – Stiles is half surprised he has anything left down there after the constant attacks from not just her, but Erica as well, “but in what universe are you ever going to find someone like Erica who actually wants to have sex with you?”

Raging lunatic Erica might be, she's still a solid ten and way out of Stiles' league. He can't imagine where else he'd find anyone that good looking and wanted that would want him back. “You and I could still -”

“That isn't conceivable in any realm of possibility,” she cuts him off, and Stiles laughs. He more or less got over her crush on her somewhere around Junior year, the way everyone grows out of their fruitless crushes, but she's still the smartest and prettiest girl he knows. Given the chance, he still would.

Derek interrupts the conversation by slapping his drink down on the glass patio table, and then scraping his chair against the bricks underfoot as he gets himself settled down. “What are you two talking about?”

“Just how Stiles has fucked every thing with Erica,” Lydia says casually, giving him a cryptic look. Derek's reaction to this information is a pause in movement, a quick sweep over where Stiles is sitting, and then he shoves his drink into his face, maybe to keep himself from making a comment.

“We broke up,” Stiles clarifies further. “And Lydia, apparently, thinks that I've peaked with her.”

“You did peak,” she snaps.

“She used to call me at three am just to tell me about her wet dreams,” Stiles says this like it's the be-all end-all of why he had to finally cut himself loose. For a while in there, it was starting to feel like he was being controlled by his own body, because it couldn't have been anything else about Erica that had him sticking around for so long.

“God,” Lydia palms her forehead and laughs.

“Well,” Derek finally starts, looking at his hands where they rest on the table top beside his drink. “That's great.”

Stiles blinks at him. “Great?”

“Yeah,” he says, shrugging. “It's not like you were gonna marry her.”

He has a vision of what he and Erica's wedding would even be like. The possibilities are endless, really, but he imagines floor to ceiling purple like her favorite nailpolish color, and scrunches his nose up. Garish. “No, no I was not.”

Lydia chews her lip, an uncommon habit of hers, as she looks between Stiles and Derek. She's quiet for only a second longer, and then she's standing from the table, the legs of her chair screeching in the quiet. “I'm going to get another drink,” she announces, scooping her empty plastic cup up, vanishing with a bit of a stagger towards the rest of the party. Leaving Stiles and Derek sitting there all by themselves.

The sounds of the party are muted, the occasional shout or holler echoing around the trees overhead, but most people left after Jackson blew chunks, leaving behind only the fuck ups who don't care about the pool and just want to get drunk. That's always been Stiles and Derek, and now Lydia, as well.

“You really think it's great I broke it off with Erica?”

“You know I hate her.” True – Derek has not been quiet on that front. He would sometimes glare daggers through Erica's head at lunch, just to be met with her knowing smile and raised eyebrows, her long nails reaching out to scratch at Stiles' back as though she was dangling a piece of meat in front of him.

“Now I'm doomed to loneliness forever,” he takes a long sip, the bitter taste of the alcohol having faded enough by now that he could down it all, if he wanted to. “According to Lydia.”

“Being with Erica wasn't exactly not being alone,” Derek mutters, looking away into the woods. Stiles knows he's right – being with Erica was a lot like being with...well? There's no words for it. But it wasn't like having a real girlfriend, that's for sure. “You could – you could do better than that.”

“According to Lydia -”

“Lydia's an asshole,” Derek cuts him off. “You can find someone who actually gives a fuck about you, you know.”

Stiles thinks that's just a little farfetched, but he nods all the same, if just to end the conversation then and there. “I guess.”

They descend into silence once more, Stiles thinking about whether or not Erica has already found some other poor schmoe to dick around with, Derek thinking about something Stiles can't even imagine. He's got this look on his face, like he's having a serious inner battle with himself, and Stiles stares at his profile for a second or two, before he's caught, and looks away.

“Do you -” Derek stops, clearing his throat. “Do you...anyone else?”

Stiles meets his eyes. He could say any number of things, right now, looking Derek in the eyes like this, drunk, all alone on the outskirts of the woods. He could say anything, and blame it on the alcohol, blame it on whatever heartbreak he has in the wake of Erica, and maybe even if it wasn't received well, they could laugh it off. It's right there, right there, and Stiles could touch it.

“I don't think so,” he says instead, and Derek looks away. “I don't know, man. I just want to get drunk.”

Derek finishes off his drink, mutters something like me, too, and stands up, presumably to get another. Stiles sits there for another minute or so, inexplicably feeling like he's just made a choice that will do nothing but drag him through the mud in the future, and drinks.

****

The first word out of Stiles' mouth as soon as Scott turns the corner to walk down the same aisle that Stiles is currently standing in is sorry.

He drops what he was holding in his hand back down on the shelf, a jar of spaghetti sauce now awkwardly hovering among the cereal boxes, and starts turning to walk the opposite way. In his mind, the best possible thing for either of them would be if they did not speak or see each other for a while. Or, ever again. Ever again is nice, as well.

“Whoa,” Scott says, holding his hand out in a gesture of peace as an incredulous smile spreads across his face. “Hang on a second.”

Stiles pauses, but he can't stop his eyes from drifting to gaze longingly down the next aisle where escape and freedom from this awkward, horrible moment lies. “Er -”

Scott steps closer to him, and bizarrely, Stiles clutches his basket to his body as though he's shielding himself. The boxed spaghetti rattles as he does so, and Scott tracks the movement with his eyes and smiles even wider, like he thinks it's funny. “You don't have to run away every time we see each other,” he has a can of soup of in his hand, and he fiddles with it as he talks.

That is absolutely what I need to do, Stiles thinks to himself, looking away for a moment as he tries to decide what to say out loud to that. He's said enough shitty things to Scott for the sake of being honest to last a lifetime; admitting that he thinks he will, no matter what Scott says, run for his literal life every time they wind up in the same fifty foot radius would just be adding to the pile. “I think it would be -”

“We live in the same town,” he goes on. “Which isn't a very big town, you know. We're probably going to run into each other a lot.”

Stiles was hoping they wouldn't. He can't say he's ever run into Scott before they first met at the vet clinic, or at least if he did, he didn't notice Scott before. Of course, he hoped that things would stay that way in this particular situation, but the universe has an interesting sense of humor, and a sadistic love of putting Stiles through hell.

“If you try to avoid me every time you see me, you'll spend half your time doing that,” he looks at Stiles like he's just proven the point of the century and there's nothing left to argue; but Stiles would argue he has absolutely zero problem devoting most of his time to avoiding situations like this one.

He adjusts his grip on the basket again, shuffling his feet. He's having a hard time thinking of anything to say – which is funny, because Stiles used to say that Scott is one of the easiest people to talk to. Now, he doesn't know what they're supposed to say to each other. He doesn't much feel like continuing on with this conversation, especially not the specific topic, but just up and walking away would be rude and Scott's gotten enough of that from him, so he word vomits. “I see you have soup,” he says.

Scott glances at the can in his hand and nods his head. “I see you have spaghetti.”

“Yeah,” Stiles shakes the basket so the spaghetti rattles. “Um – my favorite.”

“I remember.”

Of course he remembers. Stiles bites back a wave of nostalgia, or whatever the word might be for this awful feeling in his chest, and takes a step back. “Look – this is fucking terrible, so I really think I'm just going to...” he trails off, turns all the way around, and starts stalking off in the opposite direction. It's what he should have done in the first place, but didn't, and probably now whenever he eats spaghetti he's going to think about this stupid moment.

He thinks he's homefree for a second or two as he skirts past an elaborate display of crackers, but then he hears Scott's feet thudding behind him, closer and closer until they're walking side by side. Stiles has half a mind to shove him, and when he opens his mouth to ask, “are you and Derek together, now?”, Stiles upgrades that to wanting to punch him.

It's a viable, fair question. Maybe a bit of a ridiculous one to ask in front of the snack aisle as a toddler screams about wanting gummy worms two aisles away, but fair nonetheless. Stiles stops walking and turns himself to face Scott head on, who stops as well. He squints his eyes for a second, and he knows his expression looks like he wants to start yelling then and there but he won't do that, and Scott looks like he knows all of this. He smiles a little, nervously.

“Me and Derek -” Stiles starts, and then he has to think about that. The answer should be a simple yes or no, but it just...isn't. Not really. “We're not...”

Scott blinks at him for a moment, as though he's not sure how to even begin reacting to that. He looks away, like he just needs to think for a second, and then meets Stiles' eyes with a bemused expression on his face. “Even after all of that?”

Even after everything Stiles did, even after more than ten years, even after Stiles upended an entire life that he had with another person just because of Derek – even after all of that? “It's complicated,” Stiles says in a small voice.

“It really isn't, though,” Scott tells him. He gives Stiles a look, like he maybe feels sorry for him, and leaves Stiles standing there by himself, frowning at his retreating back.

He feels angry with Scott, after the fact – all indignant and muttering under his breath about it. Mostly, it's nice to feel something towards Scott aside from crushing guilt and disappointment in himself, so he perhaps clings a little too tightly to the feeling, but he convinces himself it's justified.

He thinks, Scott never fucking knew me no matter how hard he tried to know me, and he acts like he knows so much about me and Derek when he knows nothing, not even the start. But maybe that isn't fair. Stiles never let Scott know him, no matter how hard he tried.

And does Stiles even know the start? Where did it begin? Does he have an answer to that? The story has so many elements to it, so many flickers of moments, Stiles doesn't know if he can pinpoint any single one of them as the moment. There might not be a moment, not just one for him to pick out and point to and say, there, then, that's when I knew. Stiles wishes he had a moment. It's possible he squandered every single one he ever got his hands on, and that Derek did the same.

It's even more possible that Scott is right, and Stiles is doing it all over again. The difference between this time and every other time before it is that he doesn't have the time to let it slip again. He always thought that Derek was going to be a constant in his life, no matter what, and Stiles kept waiting because he thought he would have more time. Time has run out. It's pulling him apart, to think of just how much time he's already wasted, that he's wasting more of it now, and now, and now, second after second.

Stiles must sit in that grocery store parking lot, fingers wrapped around his steering wheel, for twenty minutes. Just glaring out into the fading sunlight with his groceries untouched in the seat next to him. When he starts the engine, it roars loud in the quiet he got himself conditioned to, startling him out of his own head.

The decision to take the old and half-forgotten road to Derek's house is more instinctual than it is anything else; he has to go there, for his own good. What's going to happen if he doesn't? He never wants to find out.

He hasn't driven down this stretch of dirt in over a year, now, but it's so habitual that Stiles still remembers exactly when to twist the wheel to avoid the holes Derek always says he's going to fill in and then never does. When he pulls up in the grassy drive right behind Derek's car, he takes a second and observes the house with a critical eye, scanning for differences or discrepancies that stand apart from his own memory.

Derek had ripped down the skeleton of his old house as soon as that trust fund kicked in when he was eighteen, as soon as his sister arranged for him to crash in the Stilinski house until he got himself his own place. The first month of summer before college was spent with the three of them, Derek and Stiles and Lydia, sitting in lawn chairs, drinking wine coolers, watching as a dozen or so hired men wandered around beating the shit out of old, ashen support beams with hammers and the like. Stiles thought it must have been either horribly traumatic or somewhat cathartic for Derek to have to sit there and watch his childhood home (or whatever was left of it) carted away in a dumpster, leaving behind nothing but an empty lot. Then again, he had to watch it burn down with his own two eyes, so maybe by then, he was numb to it.

For a while, Derek let the dirt sit. Respect for the dead, maybe – just one more month out in the open air instead of buried underneath ash and sodden wood. A freedom, in some sense. It wasn't until halfway through that same summer that Derek started building something new over the top of it. Stiles had asked him if he was sure he wanted it there, if he didn't want to build someplace a couple of miles away, out of the woods, or even just – fucking a hundred feet to the left.

Derek said he didn't see the point in treating it like a graveyard, because he's got enough of that inside his own head. Stiles didn't know what to say to that. So, he offered up the names of a few contractors that his father had business cards for tucked away in the kitchen drunk drawer.

Now, the house is exactly as Stiles had left it last. It's small, maybe about half the size or even a third of the size of the original structure – but it's got two stories, and a front porch, and it looks like Derek. Simple, and hidden, but welcoming, if you really dare to approach it. He slowly climbs out of his car, slamming the door hard behind himself if just to alert Derek of his presence. He half expects that Derek will open his front door and stick his head out, to beckon Stiles inside with a hand if only to let him know that he's welcome here.

He doesn't, though, so Stiles has to take the walk through the grass and up the steps by himself. His hand is balled into a fist against his side, so he raises it and knocks, three in secession. As the seconds tick by, he leans back and away from the door, letting out a long breath.

What he hopes to get out of this conversation is as much a mystery to him as it is to anyone else. It doesn't matter that he's not sure what the outcome is going to be – certain conversations aren't really a choice, after all.

Derek opens the door, looks at Stiles with this incredible mixture of surprise and not, and doesn't even seem to hesitate before he's stepping back and holding the door open wider for Stiles to step inside. Stiles clears his throat, glances behind himself to where the Jeep is parked – his last chance at escape – and turns face forward to pass by Derek into the house.

Without asking, he trails his way into the living room. The television is playing almost on silent, sports commentators voices sounding more like the teacher from Charlie Brown, and there's an empty plate with crumbs all over it sitting on the coffee table.

“I'm not interrupting anything, am I?” Stiles asks, just to ask. He doesn't give a rat's ass if he is interrupting anything.

Derek pads behind him on the carpet. “No.”

“I figured,” he says it with no real venom – Derek is notorious for being the person who stays inside and eats chimichangas by himself while everyone else wonders where the hell he is – and turns around to face him head on. “I came to talk.”

There's a definite here we fucking go expression on Derek's face, but he doesn't make a smartass comment about it. He just raises his eyebrows like go on ahead, and Stiles huffs. Of course Derek is going to make him do all the work.

“I ran into Scott at the grocery store.”

Derek deflates a little bit, looking away to make a face. “Why the fuck would I want to know that?”

“It's relevant,” Stiles assures him. “And it's relevant because, I'm not sure if you remember, but Scott is the person I was dating before you showed up -”

“Is that what this is? Round ten of Let's Blame Derek?”

“I haven't blamed anyone for anything,” he says this all benign, holding his hands up in innocence. Derek looks at him like he knows better than to believe that act for even half a second, and he really does.

“I can't do this,” he's succinct, matter-of-fact – like it's just the pure fucking truth that he cannot and will not argue with Stiles, not again.

“I can.” Oh, Stiles can.

With a long, torturous sigh that speaks of just how long Derek has been forced to suffer through the same shit, over and over again, he rubs his forehead. “What do you want to talk to me about?” The stress on talk is harsh, like if Stiles raises his voice for even a fraction of a second Derek is going to lob a pillow at his head.

“Look. I ran into Scott. It's not an attack or, like, bringing up the dark evil past, or anything – it's just the truth. There's a point, if you'd let me get to it.”

“I'm all ears.”

Stiles stands up straighter, squaring his shoulders as though he's preparing for battle. Then, just as quickly, he's relaxing himself again. There's no point in putting on airs about any of this, in pretending like it has no effect on him, or he's over it, or he doesn't want to seem too emotional. Or, too in love with him.

Stiles has been pretending to be just friends with him for so long, tipping his head back and laughing whenever someone would suggest otherwise, that he doesn't know if he could possibly do it for another second.

“I just – he said something. I think you should know it.” Derek looks like he's about to go off on a long rant about how there's not a single god damn thing, Stiles, not a god damn thing Scott McCall could say that I want to hear, so Stiles keeps his pause brief. “He said that, you and me?”

“Yeah?”

“We're not that complicated.”

That is evidently not what Derek was expecting to hear. What exactly he had been expecting, Stiles is loathe to imagine, but the facial expression he has now is sure to be much preferable to any other. “We're not.” Whether that's an agreement or something he's saying out loud to gauge how it feels in his mouth, it doesn't matter.

“If you think about it, I guess we're really not. I want to say –“ he sucks in a breath, trying to let the full weight of this settle over them both, because it's important, and it's scary. “I want to say that you were always the person I wanted to be with, and uh – still. That's still true. That's not complicated.”

Derek nods his head like there's nothing else he can do, frozen still in all other aspects. “It's not.”

“You,” he finger guns at Derek, “feel the same about me. Am I – is that right?”

The millisecond of a pause between the question and the answer feels like forever, in Stiles' ears. It feels like over ten years flashes right in front of his eyes, every time either of them had the opportunity to say exactly this, coming back around to sit in between them, now. It's always been the space between them. Derek opens his mouth and bridges it, just like that. “I've always felt the same about you.”

Stiles nods his own head, now, swallowing thickly. Then, he nods again. And again. “That's easy.” It is. It's so fucking easy, it's the easiest thing in the entire world. Stiles loves Derek, and Derek loves Stiles, and that should be more than enough for anyone – it's more than some people ever get to know or have, and Stiles and Derek are so fucking lucky.

But. Of course it isn't, not really.

“You really are such a dick,” Stiles says, and Derek doesn't refute this or seem at all surprised by the turn in conversation. “I have so much to be so angry with you about.”

“Same back at you,” he says around a shrug. Impasse. “Honestly, you're either going to kiss me, or kill me -”

“Probably both,” Stiles mutters, and Derek half laughs.

“- I just want you to hurry up and choose one so we can move the fuck past it.”

It seems like too much to move past. Stiles looks away, out the window, where the tree line verges dangerously close to the glass. A branch leans down toward it, like if Derek opened the window and left it that way for a month or two, the thing would stretch its way inside.

All he'd have to do is open the window. Is that complicated?

He looks down at his hands, at his feet, at the wall, at the branch again, at anything else but Derek, before clearing his throat and gluing his eyes to the floor. “You know I already chose.” Years ago. A decade ago, Stiles made up his mind.

When he looks up, he locks eyes with Derek, and holds himself there. He dares himself not to look away, to take this and have it, finally. Derek does the same, and it's almost like they're sixteen all over again – it's nice to pretend that they're back when they were kids, that there's nothing between them to stop them, that they haven't wasted so much of their time playing cat and mouse with each other.

“I want to kiss you,” Derek says.

“I want to kiss you,” Stiles agrees.

The echoes of everything they never said to each other reverberate inside of those words, and Stiles doesn't care. He steps forward, and Derek does the same to help close the gap quicker, curls his fingers into the collar of Derek's shirt, and kisses him.

It's nothing like the first time they kissed in Stiles and Scott's apartment. It's not just desperate, done because they didn't have a choice and the tension was just too fucking much.

It's a lot more like what their first kiss would have been like if they hadn't waited so long. Stiles can imagine they're standing out behind the high school building, or on Derek's family's front porch, or behind the bushes at a pool party. Time stands still like it doesn't even exist, and the dust settles, and finally.

“I have loved you,” Derek presses his forehead against Stiles', breathes hotly on his cheeks. “I have wanted to tell you, but I got stuck.” Stuck, like a movie that's been paused right before the big ending.

“I want to start over,” they can't, of course, but Stiles can say it, and Derek can nod, and they can have this. They can nod and act like everything is wiped clean, the slate empty and ready for them to write on it themselves, together.

The truth is, nothing works like that. Every single choice the two of them made forced them into this moment, right now. All the choices, all the times Stiles stayed standing still when he should've done something, all the times Derek kept his mouth shut, all the fighting, and the distance, and the time, and the mistakes – all of that happened. All of it is something they get to live with, now. Stiles knows he really messed up, and did it over and over again.

Standing here right now, Derek's fingers cupping his neck, alone in the woods standing on top of hundreds of years of history – Stiles isn't sorry. Not for anything that got him here.

Finally.