Stiles is in love with Lydia.
This is something Derek knows, something he’s learned to live with even though it’s been years since high school, even though Stiles is in grad school now and Lydia is destroying mathematicians in MIT.
“Der,” Stiles calls out. “Have you seen my shoes?”
“Under the bed where you kicked them.”
“They’re not under the-“ something drops heavily on the floor followed by silence. “Never mind, found them.”
Derek rolls his eyes and slowly resumes cutting up the strawberries for his smoothie.
“Der,” Stiles calls out again, poking his head in the doorway. “Have you seen my keys?”
“On the coffee table where you always leave them.”
Stiles disappears again, the soles of his shoes clunking on their hardwood floor noisily and then being muffled by the soft carpet as he walks into the living room. Derek listens to the jingle of keys and Stiles’ soft ah-ah noise before Stiles steps announces his return to the kitchen.
“God what would I do without you?” Stiles asks, stretching up to kiss Derek on the cheek and stealing a strawberry.
“Get locked out of the house shoeless, probably,” he deadpans and tries not to preen too hard when Stiles laughs.
“Funny,” Stiles grins and steals another strawberry, getting a mock glare from Derek.
Stiles scrunches up his nose at him and sticks his tongue out.
“Do you have time to eat?” Derek asks, glancing at the cheerfully brightly colored watch on the wall.
Stiles glances at his wrist and flails off the stool.
“Shit. I’m so late,” he hisses, jumping up and dropping a distracted kiss on Derek’s cheek on his way out the door.
Derek huffs a little fond breath, staring after him like the complete smitten moron he is.
Stiles is in love with Lydia, this is something he knows, but by some miracle Stiles loves him too.
Derek grants himself lucky enough to be his second choice.
It’s not like Derek is insecure by nature.
Well, not usually.
He knows how he looks and he’s secure of how smart he is most of the time. He knows Stiles loves him, knows it deep in his bone marrow that it is true by every single little thing that Stiles does and all the ways he finds to say it.
It’s just that no matter how much he reads and studies he’ll never be as smart as Lydia. He’ll never be able to match wits with her like Stiles can, like Stiles obviously loves doing.
It’s like he thrives on arguing with her. He thrums with energy, contentment, every time it happens.
Derek can’t give him that.
There’s also the fact that Derek is the exact opposite of her. Big and muscled where she’s petite, rude and brash where she’s overly polite in that cutting terrifying edge his Aunt Emily was.
Derek isn’t a girl and Stiles- well Stiles has dated more girls than guys, so it’s safe to assume he leans more towards them than he does guys, probably.
Logically, he should know that’s not really an issue for Stiles. Logically he should know that he won’t give two shits about it because to Stiles sex is sex if everyone consents and he never turns down sex.
Well, he used to not do it. And then he and Derek started dating and now he never turns down sex when Derek asks (and he’s learned to ask even if it has taken him months upon months).
The troubling thing about Derek’s lack of boobs, curves and an uterus is that Stiles loves kids. He adores them, looks all smiley and excited at Derek when they’re both around one.
Derek knows Stiles wants a kid in the future, and the thought that he can’t give him that, biologically, kind of crushes him.
Which is ridiculous because adoption is a completely viable option but still.
It’s just one of those things, he guesses.
One of those weaknesses people have and for some reason keep feeding, keep throwing charcoal in to fuel the fire until it’s blown out of proportion.
Even knowing this, it’s not like he can stop himself from thinking about all the ways he’s failing Stiles by not being Lydia.
“Should we get a dog?” Stiles asks, cheek pressed against Derek’s thigh as they watch Cesar Millan work his magic.
Stiles twists in his lap until he’s looking up at Derek, bottom lip jutting out dramatically.
“Why not? I’d be great with a dog. I’d pet it and take it on walks and buy him cool clothes and-“
Derek slides the hand he was using to Stiles’ hair down until it’s covering his mouth.
“No dogs until you’re done with grad school.”
“Why not?” Stiles asks, words muffled by Derek’s hand.
“Because we live in an apartment Stiles. A tiny apartment in without a park for miles. We’ll get a dog when we have a house suited for a dog.”
Stiles eyes crinkle up at the corners and Derek can’t help but feel the familiar little pang in his chest, like his heart is too full, when he sees Stiles like this. Happy, smiling with his eyes.
“You’re adorable with your pet safety consciousness, you know?”
Derek feels his ears heat up and he looks away.
“Adorable,” Stiles reiterates, reaching up with his long fingers and lacing them through Derek’s hair, arching up and puckering his lips, asking for a kiss.
Derek dotes a kiss on him, makes it slow and sweet even if it’s hard because the angle is weird, but trying anyway because Stiles smells happy and everything is okay.
Derek’s just thinking about lifting Stiles up and deepening the kiss when Stiles’ phone goes off.
“Someone better be dying,” Stiles huffs, lifting up his hips to take his phone out of his pocket in a way that makes Derek just want to throw him over his shoulder and cart him upstairs.
One look at the caller ID and his face lights up like it’s Christmas, he pushes off of Derek, holds one finger up requesting a minute and starts walking out towards their little balcony.
“Lydia,” he greets. “What can I do for my strawberry blond goddess on this wonderful day?”
Of course Lydia.
Derek sighs out and slumps back against the couch, curling his hands into fists.
“Guess what?” Stiles asks, flopping on their bed and grinning at the ceiling.
“What,” Derek deadpans, quirking an eyebrow and raising his eyes from his book.
“Lydia’s coming back!”
Stiles flaps a hand at him. “Nah, she wouldn’t give up her reign of terror for anything in this world. It’s just for a couple of weeks next month.”
“Oh,” he breathes out in relief. “Okay. It might be nice, she hasn’t been back in a while.”
Lydia’s been too busy with being academically superior to all of her peers and dramatically dating this one girl.
“Nice? It’s going to be awesome,” Stiles cheers and if Derek’s grip becomes a little tighter on his book well no one’s the wiser. “I miss Lydia I haven’t seen her in forever,” Stiles smiles, happy and excited.
Something nasty settles itself on the back of Derek’s head, whispering about how Stiles is so happy because Derek isn’t enough, because Derek isn’t her. Doesn’t have the smarts and the long hair, doesn’t have the curves and the confidence, too broken-
“Hey you okay?” Stiles asks, lifting up on his elbows.
Derek shrugs. “Fine. Rough day.”
Stiles’ face goes soft. “Aw poor baby,” he coos, crawling up the bed, picking Derek’s book off his hands and settling on his lap. “Want me to make it better?”
Derek raises an eyebrow, slowly lets the other join like a little taunt.
Stiles’ smirk turns evil and before Derek can react Stiles digs his fingers into his ribs, making him shy away and bark out an involuntary laugh.
“You didn’t,” Derek gasps, trying to get his breath back and Stiles just stands there, straddling them, blowing on his fingers like they’re smoking guns and grinning.
“Oh I did. What are you going to do about it wolfb-“
Derek flips them until Stiles is under him and proceeds to skim his fingers on the back of his knees and all the secret places he knows Stiles is ticklish until he’s crying Uncle and weakly batting Derek away, happy laughter tears gathered in the corner of his eyes.
Derek wants to get something completely straight here: he doesn’t hate Lydia by any stretch of imagination.
Over the years they’ve gotten to be good friends, to talk. He’s grown to appreciate and respect her and hopefully she’s grown to appreciate and respect them.
They normally have a standing coffee date whenever she’s in town, just the two of them, talking about this and that, about life, how far they’ve come, all the fields Stiles isn’t interested in but Derek has a secret love for.
He likes Lydia, she’s a good friend, a good ally. In many ways she reminds him of his sisters and sometimes it almost feels like she could be a little sister he accidentally adopted, or maybe a distant cousin he’s weirdly fond of.
So no, Derek doesn’t hate Lydia, he just hates the fact that Stiles fell in love with her first, and that’s hardly her fault.
Lydia arrives into town with way too many suitcases and looking as flawless as ever, her little dog yapping away at the leash as she smiles, honestly happy to see them.
She hugs Stiles tight, indulges him by letting Stiles lift her off her feet for a couple of seconds before setting her down in her stiletto heels that can probably cut throats.
She kisses Derek on the cheek and dimples at him.
“God, I kind of missed this hell hole,” she says. “You two look great, now invite me in and tell me how pretty I look. I’ve been on an airplane for too many hours and I need reassurance that I don’t look like I just went rampaging stark naked through the woods. Again.”
They let her into their tiny little apartment, her yapping dog trailing behind her on its leash and lead her to the kitchen. They talk and laugh and Derek attempts to smile, pretending a fist doesn’t squeeze around his heart every time Stiles laughs heartily at something Lydia said or leans over to casually touch her.
“He loves you,” Lydia tells him when they’re sitting outside their favorite coffee shop, sipping overprice flavored coffee and eating overpriced pastries while feeling guilty about all the calories they’re ingesting.
“I know,” Derek says because he knows.
Lydia cocks an eyebrow. “Do you?”
“You’re both being stupid,” she informs him, tearing viciously into her pastry. “And even if I just spell it out, none of you will listen.”
“Lydia, it’s okay. I’m fine with it.”
“He just likes me as a friend,” Lydia snaps. “So stop, stop thinking it’s more than that because-“
“You didn’t notice him for most of his life, you wouldn’t notice this either.”
Lydia makes a high-pitched frustrated noise and pops a piece of pastry in her mouth, chewing on it like she has something against the world.
“If I wasn’t educated I would throw this entire cake in your face and rub it in until you realize what a colossal moron you are,” she informs him lightly, sips at her drink and artfully throws her hair over one shoulder.
“But because I am an educated lady I’ll ask to change the topic before I do throw cake in your face.”
Derek can’t help but smile a little. “How courteous of you.”
“It is,” she confirms and swiftly changes the subject to something Derek is so quietly excited about he can’t help but let himself be derailed from the previous matter at hand.
It all comes to head a scant two days before Lydia is to leave.
They’re in the middle of dinner, something easy and quick they can eat in front of the TV when Stiles’ phone starts ringing.
Stiles grunts in annoyance and fishes it out of his pocket, blindly answering with his usual “Hallo?”
There’s the static-y sound of someone sniffling in the other end and then a high voice, clearly distressed.
“Whoa Lyds, calm down. Okay- Sorry, I know I won’t tell you to calm down just- slow your role I can’t understand what you’re say- oh, she broke up with you? What really? And over the phone? What a bitch- yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be right there, just hang tight, I’ll buy your favorite ice cream on my way there.”
“Where are you going?” Derek asks, watching a little helplessly as Stiles gets up and starts rummaging around for his things.
“Lydia’s girlfriend just broke up with her. I’m going over, obviously.”
Derek sets his bowl down slowly, gets up like he intends to do something. Maybe grab Stiles’ wrist, beg him not to go, promise he’ll try to be better, be more like her but-
But he won’t because he figures that the only thing keeping Stiles from getting with Lydia for the past few years has been Lydia’s constant string of boyfriends and girlfriends.
And now she doesn’t have either and she’s here so close and Stiles is leaving.
He’s leaving because of course he is. Who in their perfect mind would choose Derek when they have someone like Lydia available.
Who would chose the broken shell of a man over their high school sweetheart?
“Just like that? You’re just going to leave?” Derek asks, regrets it when his voice cracks and breaks a little bit.
Stiles stops his frantic chase for his keys and turns to him, brows furrowed.
“Yeah? Lydia just broke up with someone. I have to be there just in case. You understand right?”
If he understands?
Yeah, he understands perfectly, he just thought. He just thought he would have more time until something like this happened. Fuck he thought he might even fit a forever before Lydia realized just what she had let go.
“I understand,” he says slowly.
“Thanks. See you later.” Stiles says juggling keys and wallet and slamming the door open.
Just like that. No goodbye, no I’m sorry but she comes first, no last kiss, not even breaking up with him.
Just up and leaving, keeping Derek here like a failsafe plan. Like the spare if Lydia rejects him.
Derek lets himself fall back down on the couch, feeling suddenly overwhelmingly numb. He presses his fists into his eyes and tries to breathe deep and slow, trying to adjust to the new normal of having the man he loves leave him.
Derek’s still more or less in the same position when Stiles comes back at four in the morning, shirt untucked and looking exhausted.
“Hey what are you still doing there?” Stiles asks, toeing off his shoes at the door and peering at Derek with a tired smile.
Derek slowly lifts his head, blinking in stunned silence.
“You’re back,” he says incredulously.
Stiles frowns. “Yeah, of course I’m back. You know I can’t sleep without my pillow.”
Oh, that’s it. Of course.
“Of course,” Derek mumbles. “Just take it, I can get your stuff in suitcases if you want to-“
“What?” Stiles interrupts, frowning, sounding concerned now. “Derek what are you talking about?”
“Lydia broke up with her girlfriend right? It’s your chance to-“
“Ohmygod,” Stiles whispers, almost spits it out like it’s something nasty he bit into and can’t believe it was in his mouth. “Are you serious? Are you actually-“
“Look it’s okay. I knew you-“
“Shut up. Just shut up. What the hell Derek?” he demands and he’s angry now, striding forward until he’s towering over Derek and then curling a fist in the front of Derek’s shirt to pull until Derek stands, until they’re eye to eye.
Stiles has always insisted they stand on equal footing when they argue. Neither of them in vulnerable positions, neither of them towering over the other.
“We’ve been together for how long? Three years?”
“And five months,” Derek points out.
“Three years and five months and what? You’ve been thinking all this time that whenever I had the chance I’d get with Lydia? I would just up and leave you? What the hell? Why the hell-“
“You love her,” Derek says simply because it’s true. “You say it all the time, you’ve been saying it since even before I met you.”
“Yes, like a friend. Fuck almost like a sister which granted is weird years after actually having a crush on her. I love her like I love Scott or Erica. They’re my friends, Derek.”
Derek blinks because maybe- no.
He doesn’t dare to hope.
“How could you think that? Are you not serious about us? Are you looking for excuses just to break this up because if that’s the case-“
“No,” Derek rushes. Please god no. “That’s not it, it’s just-“ he shrugs a shoulder. It’s just dumb insecurities. It’s just that Derek is so used to having good things be broken that he’s not used to them lasting.
“Did I not say I love you enough?” Stiles asks and now his look is different, he looks almost self-flagellating.
“No, that’s not-“
“Because I love you. I am in love with you Derek Hale.” He reaches into his pocket and presses something against Derek’s chest, letting it drop so Derek’s forced to pick it up. “And I’m going to marry the shit out of you.”
Derek looks down at his hand, mouth half open in shock at the velvety smooth ring box in his hand.
Stiles grabs his cheeks, forces him to look him in the eye.
“I love you.” He kisses him on the tip of his nose. “I love you because you’re smart.” High on his cheekbone. “I love you because you’re strong, always there for me.” A kiss on his other cheek. “You’re funny and witty and I love your humor.” A kissed dotted on his chin as Derek’s ears start getting redder and redder until he feels too hot for his own skin.
“I love you because you listen to me. You really, truly listen to what I say even when all I’m saying is useless bullshit.” One more kiss, this time on his forehead, laid with so much sentiment Derek shivers a little, drops the ring box and clutches to the hem of Stiles’ shirt.
Stiles grabs one of Derek’s hands and tugs it upwards, wraps it around his own throat, slotting Derek’s thumb to his jugular.
“You can tell if I’m lying right?” Stiles prompts.
Derek swallows roughly, nods.
“Then listen: there is no one in this world who I love more than you, and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. I can’t wait to surprise you when I propose, I can’t wait to get a dog with you.
“I can’t wait to adopt a kid or two and watch them grow up and become amazing people because they have you as a father. I can’t wait to have our own little boring house in the suburbs with a swing set out front and having to yell at kids to get off our lawn while you make those little rascals lemonade.”
Stiles pauses, looks intently into Derek’s eyes, lips quirking up in a fond smile.
“Did I lie?”
“No,” Derek chokes out, impossibly overwhelmed with this, with Stiles.
Stiles who loves him more than. More than he loves Lydia, more than Derek deserves, more than Derek ever could hope for, more than it’s comprehensible to him.
“You love me,” he says quietly, feels it in his core, settling snug around his heart and washing over him like a balm. Years of being slightly on edge, years of being afraid Stiles would leave him, very slowly but surely sliding off his shoulders until he feels lose and relaxed.
Stiles loves him.
“And you better not forget it. Now give me back my ring box, you’re ruining my five year plan for the perfect life with Derek Hale.
Derek picks up the box, still not quite believing it.
Stiles loves him.
He passes over the box, receives the sweetest of kisses, right on the lips. Chaste and loving. So unbearably loving Derek’s breath hitches with it.
“Now come on, we need to go to bed so we can get a good night’s sleep and I can cuddle you and whisper sweet nothings into your ear like in one of your trashy romance novels.”
Derek huffs, lets Stiles take him by the hand and lead him to the bedroom.
“You can’t sleep without your pillow right?”
Stiles loves him.
Stiles looks back with an eyeroll and a smile. “You’re my pillow, you idiot.”