“No, Stiles.” Derek growled, arms crossed definitively.
“Come on Derek! I owe this kid a major favor and he needs one more study pair.”
“Why did he even ask you? You're not even in a relationship.” Not with me anyway.
Stiles scratched the back of his head awkwardly. “Yeah well you see…”
“Oh god, Stiles. What did you do?”
“Well he said he's seen us in the library all the time and I've mentioned we live together and he made some assumptions and I kind of didn’t…correct him.”
Derek stared incredulously at Stiles and his rapidly reddening face for a moment or two before breathing quickly out his nose in frustration. Stiles would think dating him was a complete joke and it hurt more than he cared to admit.
“Can't you just tell him we broke up or something?”
“No!” Stiles answered quickly. “I mean. He’ll keep seeing us at the library and stuff and he'll think I was lying.”
“You are lying.” Derek pointed out flatly. He didn't bother pointing out the fact that a random classmate thought they were dating despite the fact no one but Stiles knew Derek was gay. He didn't bother pointing out that Stiles was almost obscenely affectionate when they were in public. He also didn't mention how much he currently wished for the thousandth time that their relationship wasn't platonic.
“Yeah, but about something different. Come on, Der. Do me a solid so I can get this favor I owe him off my back.”
Stiles knew just the right ways to beg to get Derek to do something and he hated it.
“Fine. What do we have to do?”
That's how Derek found himself following Stiles later that night through the twisting Psych corridors of the science building. Tonight was apparently designated for the entrance interviews which would categorize each couple into one of five types. Each couple had to have been together for at least six months and be living together. He and Stiles had been randomly placed together as freshman year roommates and had just decided to stay together in an apartment when they'd moved out of the dorms.
Derek had spent the greater portion of the last three years staggering under rapidly deepening feelings for Stiles and trying to build his courage to ask him out. It never came and now it was their last year of school and they were looking for jobs. Derek wasn't sure he had the guts to possibly ruin what they had while they still had it. What if they ended up with jobs on opposite ends of the country and never saw each other again? Derek wasn't sure he was willing to risk making the last eight months they definitely had together awkward or painful because he couldn't reign in his feelings.
Stiles stopped in front of a door marked 538B and turned to Derek conspiratorially.
“Now remember, we've been together for nine months ever since I asked you out after missing you so much over winter break our junior year and our first date was at that pottery painting place just off campus.”
Derek's heart clenched painfully. He had missed Stiles horribly last winter break to the point he'd actually given into Stiles’ badgering to get a Skype account, which they had promptly proceeded to use every day afterward. The more involved Stiles made this fake relationship of theirs, the more Derek wasn't sure he'd be able to go through with it and he didn't even know what this study involved yet.
“I remember.” He replied through a faintly disguised grimace.
“Hi there.” A young woman greeted them as they walked in and shut the door. “For the purpose of anonymity in this study, I'm a volunteer interviewer recruited from the surrounding Beacon Hills area. You will be assigned this couple number,” she handed each of them a small card with a number and a letter: Stiles was A, Derek was B. “Those ID’s will be used to keep your data confidential and anonymous but will also allow us to match you up with the appropriate procedure based on your entrance interview. The purpose of this study is to develop new techniques for couple’s therapy. The procedure you will be assigned is intended to match the category your relationship falls into and should serve to make your relationship happier and more fulfilling.”
Derek looked over to find Stiles staring at the floor rocking back and forth on his heels. When he turned his head and found Derek watching, Stiles’ face turned pink and his cheeks lifted into a tight grin. Derek wasn’t sure what could possibly make Stiles so uncomfortable but knowing he was put Derek more on edge.
“Participation in this study does not imply your relationship is in need of improvement, we simply hope to use the information we gather about changes in your relationship to make couple’s therapy more effective.”
Stiles cleared his throat loudly. Derek furrowed his brows in confusion and looked over out of the corner of his eye to see Stiles cross his arms tightly over his chest.
“If you feel your assigned procedure is causing problems in your relationship please stop your protocol and contact the researchers immediately. If at any time you would like to drop out of the study, you are free to do so. Do you have any questions?”
Derek looked over at Stiles as Stiles looked back at him. They raised eyebrows at each other as if to say ‘we still okay?’ and Derek nodded slightly.
“We’re good.” Derek answered.
“Excellent. To begin, please sign these consent forms and then I will give you your entrance questionnaires.”
Derek sat in one of the two chairs separated by a barrier, presumably to ensure he and Stiles couldn't see each other's responses or reactions. The questions, not surprisingly, were invasive and personal and he was determined to tell his truth about them regardless of what Stiles might write. If their lack of consistency disqualified them from continuing, all the better in Derek's opinion.
The questionnaire was thick, at least 300 questions long, and each one made Derek's stomach a little tighter as he answered ‘frequently’ to the ‘do you and your partner communicate?’ question and ‘never’ to the ‘how often do you have sex?’ question and ‘highly agree’ to the ‘you love your partner’ statement. When asked if he felt like he was truthful to his partner Derek answered ‘most of the time’ because he told Stiles the truth about everything except for his feelings. Once he finally made it through the packet, he felt emotionally spent and looked wearily up at the interviewer to indicate he was complete. She smiled, took his packet, and Derek twiddled his thumbs anxiously for an entire half hour more while Stiles finished.
“Thank you both for your time. Your answers will be a analyzed and you will be called back in at the end of the week to collect your assignment.”
“Will it tell us which category we fall into?” Stiles asked excitedly.
She smiled patiently. “No. You will be informed of your initial category only at the end of the study or if you choose to withdraw.”
“And how long does this go for?” Derek asked tensely. The more times he heard her talk about assignments and protocols, the more anxious he became about what he'd signed up to do.
“In order to give the students enough time to analyze their final data and write up their article the subject involvement will go from next Friday through the beginning of November.”
Four weeks. Derek could last four weeks right? Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
It didn't seem too bad actually. All they had to do was keep a journal about things they did either in or for the relationship and why. They were instructed to write an entry about every time they had an argument or disagreement, did something fun together, or when they wished for something that wasn't happening. The only set rule was that they were not allowed to read each other's journal or tell each other when they were writing in it.
One aspect of the assignment terrified Derek, though. Once a week the researchers would choose one of the things they had wished for in their relationship and assign them privately to act on it.
“We have to do it, Derek.” Stiles insisted as they walked back from the interview.
“We are doing it.” Derek replied, pretending he didn’t know what Stiles meant.
“No we have to follow the instructions. We’re going to do what the study tells us to do.” Stiles’ intensity threw Derek off and he looked over to find Stiles wringing his hands.
“What’s up with you?”
Stiles looked over at him sharply, slightly wide-eyed and licking his lips impulsively. “Oh, nothing. Nothing. I just want to do this right, you know?” He looked forward again and stuffed his hands aggressively in his pant’s pockets. “For my buddy, of course.”
“Right.” Derek answered skeptically. Stiles could get very involved in things sometimes and Derek still didn’t completely understand him all the time.
The first morning of the study didn't start that differently from any other day. Derek woke up before Stiles, went on his run, and came back in time to shower before Stiles sat down with him for cereal. His eyes were bleary and his hair was rumpled and Derek wanted to wake up and see him like this every day of his life.
“What do you have today?” He asked between spoonfuls of Cheerios.
“What? You mean you haven't memorized my schedule yet?” Stiles teased with a waggle of his eyebrows.
“I have.” He answered quietly, feeling the blush creep into his cheeks. “Just felt like asking.”
Derek looked up to see Stiles’ reaction. There were certain things he didn't tell Stiles for fear it would reveal too much, but answering ‘most of the time’ to the question about telling Stiles the truth had left a sense of emptiness in him he felt compelled to fill. Stiles was looking back at him, his eyes slightly widened before he looked back down at his cereal, though not fast enough to hide the small smile that had crept onto his lips.
“Oh. Well I've got my criminology capstone seminar this afternoon and that's it. Why'd you ask?”
“Just wondering if you wanted to get the grocery shopping done early. My morning class got cancelled.”
Stiles smiled and his warm brown eyes lit up at the offer. “Yeah, sure. Let me just go get dressed.”
Derek knew Stiles liked grocery shopping day because it was the only time he let him drive the Camaro. Derek also knew Stiles hated his Friday afternoon seminar, regardless of how much he loved his major, and a trip to the store would do him some good.
Day 1: My class got cancelled so Stiles and I went shopping early this week. He loves driving my car so I figured it would put him in a good mood. He sings at the top of his lungs to the radio and I love listening to him, even when his music taste is questionable. I tried putting bacon in the cart but Stiles told me I couldn't get it because his dad is visiting this weekend and his dad will definitely eat half the pack if we have any in the apartment. I told him he was being ridiculous and he refused to talk to me the rest of the trip. He even refused to drive back home. I know he's touchy about his dad's health, but it was weird. I wonder if he isn't telling me something.
When Derek returned from his run the next morning he stopped abruptly outside the apartment when he realized he could smell bacon through the door.
“Bacon.” He said in a bemused tone as he approached Stiles in the kitchen. Stiles, still in pajamas, was plating bacon, eggs, and toast from their favorite diner down the road and Derek stared at him in confusion. “Did you wake up early?”
“To go get bacon yeah.” Stiles answered, his voice sleepy. “I felt bad about the grocery store thing yesterday and making the day so awkward.”
If yesterday had been mildly irregular behavior for Stiles, this was anomalous.
“You felt bad?” It came out much more judgmental than he had intended and he winced as Stiles glared up at him, but Derek’s stomach relaxed when he wrinkled his nose teasingly.
“Shut up and eat your bacon.” Without warning, Stiles stuffed a broken piece of the extra crispy meat between Derek's slightly parted lips. The action startled him and in an attempt to keep the bacon in his mouth and not on the floor he accidentally licked Stiles’ fingers. Blood flushed into his cheeks and he turned away quickly, pretending he needed his coffee.
They sat in awkward silence for a few minutes after the incident before Derek decided to broach the subject.
“Why were you so weird about the bacon?”
Stiles bit his lip anxiously and swirled his bacon around in his egg yoke for a couple second before answering.
“My dad’s arrhythmia has been getting worse, and his doctor ordered him onto permanent desk duty because the stress of active duty puts him at higher risk for a heart attack. He's visiting this weekend because he's bored stiff.”
“How long have you known about it?”
“A few weeks.” Stiles answered hesitantly, not looking at Derek.
“Why didn't you tell me before?” His voice was raised and Derek realized he was irrationally upset to learn Stiles had kept such a large secret from him. It hurt knowing Stiles didn't view him as as close a confident as he viewed Stiles.
Stiles shrugged noncommittally. “I guess I thought I wouldn't have to deal with it if I didn't tell anyone, you know? Like maybe it would go away if no one else knew.”
“Well why are you telling me now?”
Stiles blushed a bit and Derek's heart leapt a bit at the sight.
“I think it's because of this study thing we're doing. Answering all those questions in the survey kind of made me think that I didn't really have a good reason not to tell you.”
“Oh.” Derek wasn't sure how to answer that. This study was already affecting their relationship and he wasn't positive it was going a direction he liked.
“I guess this procedure of theirs works on friends too, huh?” Stiles pushed on, his voice a little too loud. He seemed uncomfortable and Derek wished he would stop talking- wished he would stop reminding Derek that they're just pretending to be a couple in these journals of theirs. Stiles made it abundantly clear that they were just friends and the word itself took Derek's appetite away but he pushed on because Stiles had woken up early just for him.
“Um, yeah. I guess so.” All Derek could think about as he finished his bacon was the memory of Stiles’ fingers on his tongue and he felt surprisingly dirty. He'd never even kissed anyone.
The sheriff got into town that night and the three of them spent the night playing Monopoly and watching Star Wars. Stiles was squished between them on the couch and fell asleep first, tipping slightly to rest against Derek and at the same time Derek could feel Stiles’ skin burning against his, he could also feel the Sheriff’s occasional, thoughtful glances.
Day 2: Stiles felt bad about getting angry at me for the bacon and woke up early to go buy breakfast from our favorite diner. There was a slightly charged moment in there and I wish we were at a point that we could discuss what happened. He told me why the bacon made him upset, and I get it. He’s worried about his dad. We didn't see each other much the rest of the day until his dad got in at the train station. After dinner, the three of us played board games for a while which was fun. I don't see his dad often but I think he likes me. Stiles wouldn't date anyone his father didn't like, so I've got that going for me. We watched a movie later and Stiles fell asleep on me which is more physical contact than we usually have. I wish we felt more comfortable with it.
‘Set a weekly movie night with your partner. Share a snack as you watch. Establish some sort of contact with your partner during the movie.’ Derek's heart thundered in his chest as he read the email containing his assignment for the study’s second week.
The movie itself wasn't so bad. Derek could definitely get away with that suspicion free. He could not, however, think of any way to touch Stiles without Stiles wondering what he was writing in his journal. Throwing his legs over Stiles’ lap felt too forward, pressing their shoulders together didn’t seem like enough to count.
That train of thought got him wondering what Stiles may have written in his own wish section. Derek couldn't suppress the warmth that rose in his stomach at the dream that Stiles could want more out of their relationship too, but he berated himself for it when he remembered Stiles very pointedly calling them friends. They were only pretending to help out Stiles’ classmate and that was it. None of the things Stiles was writing in his journal were real and Derek slammed his laptop closed in frustration.
“What do you say to staying in and watching a movie tonight?” He asked the next morning. Stiles had woken up early again, but this time he'd cooked the breakfast himself and it smelled amazing.
“Huh?” Stiles’ voice was dopey with sleep. He may have been up and functioning but he definitely wasn't entirely awake.
“Movie tonight?” Derek simplified. “You free?”
“You know I'm free.” Stiles responded, a private smile playing on his mouth. His voice was soft and fond and Derek wished once again he could have Stiles like this forever. “A movie sounds good. I'll make my special popcorn.”
“Great! Breakfast smells amazing, by the way,” Derek added for good measure. Stiles wasn't very confident, even in the areas where Derek thought he excelled, like cooking. Derek knew the compliment had hit home when he saw Stiles bite his lip and try to hide a blush.
“Thanks. I figured I could start trying to live like a grown up. Cereal every day is kind of lazy and you always say you get hungry.”
It was Derek’s turn to blush now. Stiles had woken up early just to cook him breakfast.
“I could make my own breakfast, you know.” He replied, trying to keep his cool. This was probably just Stiles’ assignment, it didn't mean anything. Remembering the homework sobered Derek’s irrationally rising hopes immediately.
“Yeah but my omelettes are better.” Stiles returned cheekily.
“True.” Stiles blushed again and Derek choked on his coffee. If Stiles was going to start blushing at every errant compliment, Derek was going to have trouble maintaining his usual gruff demeanor.
That night Derek skimmed through Netflix on his computer while Stiles made the popcorn. He had some magical combination of flavoring that he refused to share with anyone and claimed someday he would market it to pay off his student loans. Derek had no doubt it would work.
When Stiles made a move to grab some bowls for it, Derek interjected.
“Let's just eat it out of the pot. Less dishes.”
Stiles looked at him strangely for a second but then just shrugged and headed to the couch. Derek followed, waiting awkwardly until Stiles had settled himself to sit beside him. He silently cursed the pot of popcorn resting between them.
Derek couldn't focus on the movie at all, even though he'd wanted to see it for ages, as he plotted and planned every possible way he could establish some sort of contact. His mind was ripped from these thoughts when he felt his hand holding something warm and Stiles’ voice brought him back to the present.
“Dude. What are you doing?”
“Huh?” Derek turned to find Stiles looking back and forth between his face and his hand which was holding Stiles’ as if it were a fistful of popcorn. Stiles' cheeks were visibly flushed, even in the dark, and his liquid brown eyes were wide and confused. Derek dropped his hand after as moment’s pause and he looked down at his lap hurriedly. “Sorry. I was distracted.”
“Clearly.” Stiles’ voice sounded more confused than annoyed and Derek saw him wiggle his long fingers experimentally out of the corner of his eye. This study seemed like it was on a collision course with their friendship and Derek's heart pounded anxiously. As the movie dragged on, Stiles’ yawning grew more frequent until Derek saw his head droop to the side. He held his breath as Stiles’ collapsed warmly against him, remembering the lingering feel of Stiles’ hand in his and wished he could still be holding it.
Stiles continued to make breakfast every morning and Derek discovered that if Stiles gave himself enough time to properly wake up, he would do Derek’s crossword with him. Those were the only days Derek managed to finish the five star ones. Stiles was too smart for his own good.
“Why are you so grumpy?” Derek asked a few days later as Stiles slammed his breakfast plate down on the table, a piece of toast sliding off the side and onto the table in the process.
“Not grumpy.” Stiles answered tensely.
“My toast begs to differ.” Derek said in mock seriousness.
“I’m conflicted.” Stiles amended. “I got a job offer.”
“That’s great!” Derek cheered before his excitement was quelled by Stiles’ sobriety. “Why isn’t that great?”
“It’s in Seattle, Derek.” Apparently that was supposed to be answer enough, but Derek was still confused.
“That was your dream job, Stiles. You wouldn’t shut up about it all summer. You should take it.”
Stiles whirled back around toward Derek from where he stood at the stove, his whiskey eyes burning furiously. “Take it? Just like that. Just take it?”
Derek felt dizzy and confused as Stiles’ anger berated him seemingly out of nowhere. “Yes, Stiles. Take it. The application you wrote for it was your baby. This shouldn't be a conflict.”
Stiles leaned his head back, an icy smile coating his lips as he released a bark of laughter that made Derek flinch.
“You’re the conflict, Derek. You don’t know where you’ll be yet.”
“You-you’re worried about that?” Derek asked dumbly. He had no idea Stiles intended for them to stay close to each other. “I didn’t know.”
“Forget it, Derek. If you’re not worried about it then just don’t bother telling me when you get in somewhere. We just won’t bother trying to stay close together.” Stiles had turned away from him and was aggressively cleaning the pan in the sink but Derek was sure he heard a sniffle or two over the running water.
“Stiles don’t be like-”
“Just eat your breakfast.” Stiles interrupted coldly. He went straight to his room once the dishes were finished.
Day 10: We argued again today. That's the third time since this study started and the most it's ever happened in such a short amount of time. Our assignments seem so neutral but I wonder if just being in the study isn't making us tense. Stiles got angry when I told him to take a job offer in Seattle. It sounds like the perfect job for him, but he thinks I shouldn't be so eager to get him a job when I don't know what my school offers are yet. I know we've been living together but that was kind of a coincidence. I wasn't aware staying near each other after graduation was a given.
Stiles stayed angry and didn't talk to Derek for days, even as he continued to make breakfast for the both of them. He had left the signed job offer on the fridge and Derek's stomach lurched every time he saw it. Seattle would be a great place for Stiles and the job really was perfect for him. The thing about it was that Derek really had thought he and Stiles would part ways after college like most friends did. It hurt a great deal, but it hadn’t occurred to him that Stiles would care if they moved apart.
Thursday night brought his new assignment and while it shouldn't have surprised him, it did. ‘Talk to Stiles about what you want for after college.’
Friday breakfast brought Derek to the table where Stiles had already put down a plate of burnt eggs, toast, and bacon and was sitting, tapping his toes on the floor and drumming his fingers on the tabletop. Those were his anxiety mannerisms in full force and Derek hadn't seen them so badly since the day Stiles had a midterm on the anniversary of his mom’s death.
“Um, are you okay?” He asked timidly. Stiles hadn't spoken to him in four days and Derek wasn't sure Stiles would want to share with him.
Stiles turned his head sharply to look up at Derek, as though he hadn't heard him approach.
“Derek! Morning!” He pasted an uncomfortable and overly cheerful looking smile on his face and Derek grew more worried rather than less.
“Something on your mind?” Derek prodded, raising his eyebrows expectantly, trying to stay neutral for Stiles’ sake despite the rising anxiety within himself.
“What makes you say that?” Stiles asked dumbly.
Derek raised a vaguely judgemental eyebrow. “All the tapping.” He said and then indicated the burnt food. “And that.”
Stiles looked down at the food like he hadn't noticed it before. “Oh right. That.” Derek poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down slowly while he waited for Stiles to gather himself. It took a while but eventually Stiles took a deep breath and started. Or tried to.
“Well you see, it's about- No that's not right.” He stuttered. “I was mad because I want-” pause. “You and I-”
Derek’s pulse rose with each failed start and the anxious fluttering in his stomach grew until he felt he might throw up right there.
“Stiles!” The other man looked up at him in shock at the outburst. “Just say something comprehensible. It'll be okay.”
“Yeah, you say that now.” Stiles took a few shuddering breaths and Derek actually felt bad when he saw his shoulders shake in anxiety. “I told my dad about us!”
The words entered Derek's consciousness but he wasn't totally sure he understood and he sat there dumbly blinking.
“Derek? Did you hear me?”
“Um. Yeeeaaah?” He spoke the word long and exaggerated, voice rising to betray his confusion. “What do you mean?”
“I called him the other night and told him about fighting with you about my job offer and he didn't really get why I was upset, so I told him it was because I wanted us to stay together after we graduated. He tried telling me that friends separate after college and it just happens and they have to figure out how to stay in touch as best they can but I tried explaining how you aren't just a friend but I didn't know how to explain it better and got really nervous and I hung up. I felt bad about it because I never hang up on him, so I called him back last night and he tried understanding why I was upset and I guess he kind of interpreted it as we were dating and it was easier to let him think that than try to explain otherwise so I just let him think that.” He finished his rapid-fire speech with a deep shaky breath.
Derek's blood pounded angrily in his ears. Stiles didn't get to keep doing this to him. He didn't get to keep saying they were dating because it was easier for him. Lying about that didn't get to be easy for Stiles when it was killing him. He stood up from the table and walked out of the apartment without a word.
“Derek! Derek?” He heard Stiles call after him but he kept running. This fucking study was ruining everything. Derek was sure telling his dad had been Stiles’ assignment for the week, the timing was too close for that not to be the case, but why had that been the assignment? What was Stiles writing in his journal that would make them assign that? They had agreed to be careful about what they wrote, agreed to keep this dumb experiment contained. Agreed they were only doing this to help Stiles’ friend and then it would be done, a thing of the past. Now Stiles would have to tell the Sheriff they had broken up and the Sheriff was going to hate Derek and Derek liked the Sheriff. He had been well on his way to best friend territory in the Sheriff’s eyes and now he would be just as bad as Malia who had broken Stiles’ heart back in freshman year and was never mentioned again. To the Sheriff, Derek would be the first person Stiles had tried to date since Malia and had fucked it up. He could never be the same kind of friend with Stiles again because Derek wouldn't be allowed within 50 yards of him without a shotgun being pointed at his head.
Five miles later, Derek realized his legs were going to kill tomorrow if he had to run back because he'd already run 10 miles this morning and he was in shape, but 20 miles in a day was pushing it. He still had his phone in his armband so he pushed a few buttons and chewed his lip nervously as it rang.
“Derek?” Stiles’ voice was high and tense. “Where’d you go?”
“I'm at the edge of campus near the pond. Can you come get me?” His anger and pain had finally been drowned out by exhaustion and he sank down into a bench as he waited agitatedly for the Jeep to appear.
He didn't meet Stiles’ brown eyes as he climbed into the passenger seat.
“You can't do that Derek.” Stiles said quietly as he drove back home the slow way. Apparently he wanted to keep Derek in the car.
“Don't tell me what I can't do.” Was Derek's gruff reply.
Stiles releases a sharp bark of sardonic laughter. “Is that what this is about? Me doing stuff without asking you?”
“You're damn right! You don't get to go out and start letting people left and right think we're dating, Stiles! We aren't!”
“What's so bad about it if they think that? Huh? It doesn't hurt anyone.”
Derek didn't have a good answer to that. Not one he'd ever actually share anyway. If he didn't want to share the real reason he would have to share the next best thing.
“It hurts me, Stiles! You might think this is a big joke, but I’ve never actually dated anyone and you know that. I’m not someone you get to just insert into your imaginary love life because I’m convenient for you. I like your dad. I like your friends. What do you think will happen when this little experiment ends and now you have to tell them we broke up, huh? You think your dad will treat me the same? Or Scott? I am a person, Stiles, and I have feelings and you’re killing me.”
Stiles pulled over rapidly and stared at Derek with the most unreadable expression he had ever seen. They watched each other in a deep, stretched silence as Derek’s pulse calmed and Stiles alternately gripped and released his steering wheel.
“Okay. Okay.” Stiles finally said, his voice rushed. “I'm sorry I pushed all this.”
“It's okay.” Derek said quietly as all the heat of his anger evaporated in a rush.
“Yeah, but I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done all this, and I just got carried away with the story I guess. I didn't realize it would matter so much to you.”
They were quiet for a while before Stiles restarted the ignition and Derek realized that in his anger he hadn't addressed the other matter Stiles had brought up that morning.
“I want to stay together after graduation too, you know?” He admitted shyly. Even though he knew Stiles wanted it, telling him was still scary and he worried Stiles would change his mind.
“You do?” Stiles asked and Derek nodded. “Why did you tell me I should take the job in Seattle then?” His voice sounded shaky and Derek swallowed nervously. This was his assignment. He had to tell Stiles the truth.
“I didn't know it mattered to you. I know how much that job means to you and I didn't want to hold you back.”
“I-I want that job, Der, but I won't enjoy any job as much as I could if you aren’t around.”
Stiles’ tone held no hints of humor or sarcasm and Derek realized he was being completely genuine. His eyes widened as the possible implications of what Stiles was saying occurred to him, but he smashed them down by reminding himself that Stiles only saw him as a friend. They were ‘platonic life partners’ as Boyd had once called them. Derek hated him for it.
“I applied early decision to grad school there.” Derek admitted. He’d meant to keep it a secret till he found out if he got in so Stiles wouldn't get up his hopes.
“For real? When do you find out?”
“I should find out on Monday actually.”
“I'm going to turn down the job offer if you don't get in.” Stiles replied softly.
“Okay.” Derek replied.
Silence held them as the weight of that commitment settled into their bones. They were going to stay together no matter what and Derek didn't know what that meant about them.
That night Stiles picked the movie but he didn't set the popcorn between them on the couch this time, instead settling down right next to Derek. Stiles was unnaturally quiet during the movie, his only noises being a laugh or two at the appropriate time and Derek reveled in the feel of Stiles’ laughter wracked body shaking against his still one. Three-quarters of the way through the movie he allowed his head to lean down against Stiles’ shoulder. He was a little late but he'd completed his assignment.
Day 18: I got accepted into UW-Seattle today and Stiles accepted his job offer. We started looking for apartments but it was a little awkward because we don't know if we should look for one or two room places. We don't have a physical relationship and we don't share a bed either. I'm not sure if I want that as soon as we move into a new place together. I'm not sure if I want to live with him at all to be honest. It might be good to see how we are as a couple living alone for a while. I don't know.
The first part wasn't a lie really. Looking for apartments had been weird for Derek because Stiles had immediately checked the ‘two bedroom’ box and he wished so badly it could be one. What was the point of continuing to live with Stiles if he could never be with him? He considered it unlikely he would ever move on from Stiles but he definitely never would if he continued living with him. He decided he wasn't going to bring that up, even if he was assigned to do so. He would carry this torch until it died if it meant keeping Stiles in his life.
“My dad is coming over again this weekend.” Stiles said awkwardly over breakfast on Wednesday.
“Oh.” Derek struggled to swallow the bite of toast he'd just taken.
“I don't want to tell him we broke up yet.” Stiles continued slowly.
Derek felt a thrill of both anxiety and excitement rush through him. If Stiles was proposing what he thought he was, Derek could have a taste of what dating him would really be like, if only for a night. After their fight and since discovering they would continue living together in Seattle, Stiles had been much more respectful of his emotional boundaries. Scott had come over the night before and told Stiles the Sheriff had asked him ‘to keep an eye on Derek’ and Stiles had very quickly straightened him out on the real situation. Now that Derek was confident Stiles wouldn't take advantage of the situation any further, he didn't want to give up the chance to see what dating him might be like.
“We can pretend.” He tried and likely failed to keep his voice casual. “He was already watching us the last time he visited so I'm used to his scrutiny.”
Stiles shot his eyes up when he heard that. “He did?”
Derek shrugged. “I think it must be why he already thought we were together.” He winced internally when his voice cracked a bit.
“Interesting.” Stiles said weakly. “Well you're sure? You remember what I'm like when I'm dating someone right?”
Derek did remember. If Stiles was affectionate with him as a friend, he hadn't kept his hands to himself when he'd been with Malia. It was that tactile nature that had attracted Derek to him in the place and he picture of experiencing it for himself was a little overwhelming
“Um, yeah. I remember. It's fine.” His voice was tighter than he would have liked, betraying his nerves and Stiles looked at him skeptically for a moment before getting back to his breakfast.
The room spun a bit when Derek saw his assignment for that week. ‘Ask your partner to share your bed for at least one night.’ He couldn't do that. There was no way. Stiles would see right through this assignment and it would be all over. Derek's head continued to spin as he sat and trembled before those words when something occurred to him. The Sheriff would be spending the night like last time and Stiles would offer his bed. Derek just had to offer to let him stay in his room instead of making him sleep in the couch like he did the last time. It was perfect.
The Sheriff’s visit was not so relaxed as it had been the first time. He was more watchful than before and seemed to scrutinize everything Derek did. Stiles sat extremely close to Derek while they played Monopoly that night. Stiles’ knee pressed against Derek’s and occasionally he would reach over and scratch the inside of Derek's thigh, making his nerves scream and his blood pound as he externally pretended it was a casual, normal occurrence. He vaguely remembered these mannerisms from when Malia had been around and knew that Stiles was doing his best to fool his father. Not wanting to appear apathetic, Derek returned his own occasional gestures: scratching the hair at the back of Stiles’ neck, pressing their thighs tighter together. He watched Stiles carefully when he did these things, pleased and a little confused to find how red and frazzled it made him.
The movie was no easier to deal with and Derek regretted how tight his jeans were when Stiles threw one of his legs over Derek's. He did his best to adjust discreetly but Derek didn't miss the splotchy pink on Stiles’ cheeks or how he licked his lips unconsciously. Eventually he gave up on adjusting and grabbed a blanket, claiming to be cold. Halfway through the movie the Sheriff fell asleep and Stiles got up from the couch.
“Where’re you going?” Derek asked.
“Vodka. I'm too sober for this.”
Now that the Sheriff was asleep Derek didn't see why they needed to be drunk, but he wasn't about to pass up the excuse to loosen up a little. Stiles returned with two shot glasses, vodka, and some Gatorade for chaser, and Derek realized he needed to ask now before Stiles got to drunk to give a straight answer.
“Hey, do you want to stay in my room tonight?” Stiles froze for a moment and Derek rushed to explain. “My bed’s plenty big for two and I feel bad making you stay on the couch again.”
“Oh. Um okay. That would be nice. Your bed is nice. Nicer than the couch I mean.” He added hurriedly, red faced. “Thanks.”
“Shot?” Derek proposed to get the subject on something else.
“We're starting with two.”
Drunk Stiles was a floppy disaster. It had been so long since either of them had bothered to drink that Derek had forgotten. He had not, however, forgotten that he himself was a chatty drunk and was therefore making every effort not to say anything. Stiles seemed to pick up on it, though, because after his sixth shot he flopped lazily onto Derek's still dangerously receptive lap and scratched absentmindedly at his happy trail.
“Why’re you so quiet, Der’k? You're us’lly so chatty when y’r drunk.” His words were slurring and Derek reached over Stiles for the vodka bottle to move it out of his reach. He almost dropped the bottle, however, when he felt Stiles glide his hand up his shirt where it was riding up.
“Stiles! What're you doing?”
“Have abs, Der. Nice abs.”
“You already knew that.” Derek said dismissively, trying to stay calm as he felt warmth pooling in his groin right next to Stiles’ head.
“Did not. You always wear a shirt.” Stiles grabbed at the hem of the mentioned article and made a move to pull it up.
Stiles sat up defiantly and leaned in close to Derek's face.
“Can I kiss you? I haven't kissed anyone in so long.”
Derek's breath was ragged and he knew his jeans weren't doing much to hide anything anymore so he stood quickly and held the bottle of Gatorade out towards Stiles.
“You're drunk, Stiles. You don't get to kiss me just because you want to kiss someone.”
Stiles pouted but then grinned when he looked down at Derek's lap. “Looks like you wanna kiss too.” He slurred out his eyes drooping sleepily.
“Not like this.” Was all Derek responded with. It wasn't too incriminating.
Stiles collapsed against the armrest then and Derek sighed in relief. He propped Stiles up under one arm and heaved him to standing.
“Come on, Stiles. Walk to my room.”
They staggered drunkenly to Derek's room where he let Stiles fall onto the bed and covered him in blankets before getting the Sheriff to bed as well then grabbing the vodka and taking another two shots. He only noticed after the second shot that he was crying. The extra alcohol hit him hard and without thinking he typed out an entry for ‘Day 23’ and pressed send.
His hangover the next day was prodigious and he almost ran to the bathroom to throw up when he noticed a bucket next to his bed. The Sheriff had left before he felt well enough to leave the room and well wasn't that embarrassing. Stiles knocked softly at 3:30 in the afternoon.
“You awake?” He asked quietly.
“Sort of.” Derek groaned.
Stiles stepped in carrying a bowl of something and a glass of water. He wrinkled his nose at the smell of vomit.
“You should eat something. It’s just chicken noodle soup. You should be able to keep that down.” Stiles set down the soup, water, and Advil before grabbing the bucket and heading towards the bathroom. Derek found the soup easy enough to eat and his stomach had finally settled enough so as to not get rid of it immediately. His head didn't hurt too much but he took the Advil anyway.
Stiles sat down criss-cross at the end of his bed and stared at his hands for a while.
“I'm sorry.” He said quietly.
“About what?” Derek figured he might as well try and pretend he couldn't remember, but Stiles just looked up at him crossly.
“You know for what. I went too far and I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking.”
“That you're a horny college student who hasn't been laid in years.” He answered with forced lightness.
Stiles sighed. “I guess. I'm still sorry though. You deserve better than that, Der. Especially from me.”
They were a bit awkward together the next few days but it passed gradually as most things do. It didn't occur to Derek that he didn't remember writing an entry for that day until his assignment came in the following Thursday. ‘Kiss your partner if they are okay with it.’
His breath started coming in shallow as he read the instruction again and again and the panic built until suddenly the room lurched and he fell off his chair. His head smacked with a sharp crack against the corner of his desk and Derek was unconscious before he hit the floor.
His head pounded he fluttered his eyes open slowly in the dim room. He groaned dismally at the intensifying pain.
“Derek!” Stiles harsh whisper came from his side and he turned his head heavily towards him. “Are you awake?”
“Kind of.” He croaked.
“Oh thank god.” Stiles sighed as he let his head fall against the railing which Derek could see belonged to a hospital bed.
“Where’m’I?” He slurred out groggily.
“The hospital. You hit your head on the corner of your desk right near your temple. You didn't fracture anything but they're keeping you a night or two to make sure nothing starts bleeding.”
“They told you that?”
“No they told your mom, since she's your emergency contact at school, and she texted me.”
“Oh.” Derek was starting to remember what had happened now. “I fainted.”
“I had a panic attack.”
Stiles frowned, opened his mouth, shut it again and grimaced.
“What?” Derek asked.
“You panicked because of you assignment?” Stiles asked hesitantly. Derek winced and looked away. “I didn't mean to read it but your computer was open and it was right there.”
“I'm sorry.” Derek whispered.
“We should withdraw from the study.”
Stiles looked confused. “Why should we do that?”
Derek furrowed his brows in frustration. “What do you mean? My assignment was to kiss you. That means I wish I could kiss you. That means I don't want this to be fake.”
“I know. I mean I gathered, after I saw the assignment.”
“Stiles, I ruined everything.”
“Oh Der, you definitely hit your head too hard. No you didn't. I've wanted to kiss you for years.”
Derek stared at Stiles, now completely sure he was hallucinating because of the pain meds. All of sudden Stiles reached forward and pinched him.
“Ow! What the hell?”
“You were starting to think this was some sort of dream. This isn't a dream. This is me telling you I answered ‘strongly agree’ for the ‘you love your partner’ statement and I want to kiss you, too.”
“Well-well kiss me then.” Derek answered obstinately, refusing to let his flaming cheeks deter him from seeming confident.
“But-but you've never kissed anyone. I don't want your first kiss to be while you have a pounding headache and are lying in a hospital bed.”
“Stiles. I have waited three years to kiss you. We're kissing.”
Stiles shot him a lopsided grin and crawled half-way onto the hospital bed, bracketing Derek's head with his hands as he lowered himself down carefully until his face was hovering just above Derek's. His whiskey brown eyes were bright and happy and Derek did his best to memorize every emotion in them as Stiles leaned in. His lips were warm and a little chapped as they pressed lightly to Derek’s. It was a lazy, lingering kiss that Derek felt warm in his bones and never wanted to end. He reached up and cupped Stiles’ cheek in his hand, letting his fingers slip into the long hair behind his ear. They parted eventually and Stiles smiled hazily before nudging Derek’s nose with his own.
“That’s definitely a good start.” Derek whispered.
“Now we just need to go on that first date we never had.” Stiles chuckled to himself. “Pottery painting wasn’t it?”
Day 28: We kissed. About damn time.