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and i'll just keep on stumblin' (right now it feels too humblin')

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1.

It’s taken a couple months to properly sink in, but tensely treading water while fully dressed with two hundred pounds of dead weight in the form of a paralyzed werewolf really makes Stiles realize how terrifyingly ridiculous his life has become since werewolves became a thing.

Stiles thinks this revelation should be shared aloud, even if the present company (limited to the aforementioned immobilized werewolf, a murderous lizard creature, and another werewolf who is unfortunately unconscious) wouldn’t appreciate it at all.

“For the record,” Stiles says, while fervently wishing, again, that he’d had time to kick off his sneakers before committing to the life-saving thing, “I’m pretty bummed that shit like this is almost normal for us these days.”

Stiles can’t really see Derek’s face except in his periphery, but he can picture Derek’s sour expression deepening. “Shut up,” Derek mutters, not for the first time, but the phrase has lost its impact after the fifth repetition.

And because Stiles can’t help himself, he says, “Have I mentioned what a joy it is to be in your company? Seriously dude, stellar conversational stills, one hundred percent would recommend.”

“Excuse me for trying to save my breath for more important things,” Derek snaps, angrily trying to spit pool water out of his mouth with facial muscles that are clearly only working at half their normal efficiency. “Like not drowning, for example.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, immediately regretting it when it causes a renewed stinging from the chlorine. He spares a dark thought for the efficiency of Beacon Hills High School’s hard-working maintenance and custodial staff.

I’m taking care of the not-drowning thing. What, my skinny ass isn’t good enough to hold you up in a body of water? You’re gonna hurt my feelings.”

“You’re doing a shit job of it,” Derek grouses, “And I’m going to hurt your face if you let go of me again.”

“Hey, I was trying to save our lives, and now I’m out another cell phone. The service guy at Verizon is getting pissy about it. I’m gonna bill Scott for it when he gets us out of here.”

Stiles feels it against his side when Derek’s rumbles in a low, derisive growl. “Scott’s not coming. Our best bet is for the paralysis to wear off.”

“Scott’s totally coming, he just sucks at cellular communication; he’ll get here.” Derek scoffs, and Stiles says, “I’m serious, man. He’ll get here, probably pretty soon. And meanwhile, I’m going to start a mental tally of how many times we have to unenthusiastically save each other’s lives because Scott isn’t as attached to his phone as a modern teenager should be.”  

There’s a hard exhale against Stiles’ cheek, like maybe Derek thought something Stiles said was actually kind of amusing, if Derek happened to be the kind of person who indulged in extravagances like laughing, which he clearly isn’t.

“To be fair,” Stiles adds, “You smashed his phone against a concrete wall once, so he’s probably afraid of forming another werewolf/cell phone emotional pair-bond. Pretty harsh of you, by the way. Do you even have a cell phone? Do you have one of those disposable phones, like a secret agent?”  

“I don’t even know what you’re saying,” Derek huffs.

“I’m lessening the tension of a dire situation with humor in the form of unnecessarily complicated word-vomit,” Stiles says, as cheerfully as he can while swallowing pool water on every inhale. “Is it working?”

Stiles doesn’t get a chance to hear what the answer is, because his strength quickly gives out after that, and Scott chooses that moment to burst in and drag them both bodily out of the water.

 

2.

After the Kanima Incident, as Stiles has taken to calling it in his head (if only because it’s a lot harder to call it the Orphaned Lizard/Killer Grandpa/Undead Uncle/Allison Rampage of Supernatural-Induced Rage and Insanity, which is more accurate), Stiles is conscripted into joining the hunt for Gerard, or whatever lumpy mass of semi-supernatural mutant Gerard has probably turned into.

“Why does your infected blood/bile stuff turn black?” Stiles wonders out loud after a half hour of tromping through the woods after a supposed scent-trail. He and Scott are stuck with Derek today, which means a lot of angry tension as Scott and Derek try to out-silence one another. On the bright side Derek’s company is a huge step up from Peter, who’s probably verbally molesting Isaac right about now.

Scott shrugs, because obviously he doesn’t know, so Stiles waits for Derek to answer.

And waits.

“Derek? Any insight on werewolf biology you want to share with the class?” Stiles adds, “Also is there a reason you lose your eyebrows? Isn’t that, like, counter-intuitive, since you’re gaining more hair elsewhere, which I’m guessing is to turn more wolf-like? Like, your crazy sideburns—”

“Do you ever stop talking,” Derek snaps, crouching at the base of yet another tree.

“I don’t lose my eyebrows,” Scott mumbles, in a slightly superior tone, at the same time that Stiles says, “Nope!”

Derek ignores them both, busying himself by picking up and examining a palmful of something that Stiles strongly suspects is just dirt.

“So, which one of you is going to be the first to admit that we’re not actually following any trail, here?” Stiles asks, after another long stretch of silence during which Derek and Scott stare intently at a tree and a lonely patch of grass, respectfully. They look ridiculous, like kindergarteners forced to stand in opposite corners of the classroom because they were fighting during recess.

Scott looks a little guilty at being caught out, but Derek (who’s kind of an old pro at pretending to know what he’s doing, Stiles is realizing) simply nods once, authoritatively, and says, “We’re done for today,” like he’s doing them a favor.

Stiles snorts a little at that and at the way Scott squawks indignantly. “Yeah, okay, whatever you say, Oh Mighty Alpha.”

Derek shoots him a dirty look, but Stiles chooses to think it’s mostly Derek’s default expression and not a reflection on his personal opinion of Stiles. Stiles subscribes humbly to the belief that he’s hilarious, and a joy to have around, despite nearly seventeen years of evidence to the contrary.

They start the hike back towards their cars, with Derek leading the way and Scott in the rear, leaving Stiles as the physical human buffer between their antagonism. Stiles doesn’t actually mind, seeing as it presents him with an ideal view of Derek’s ass while evading the judgmental look Scott would probably give him for it—which, Stiles would totally deserve that judgment, since Derek is, objectively, a surly asshole who wouldn’t give someone like Stiles the time of day, but on the other hand, he’s really hot, and this could arguably be some form of conditioning to help get over Lydia.

Also, Derek’s pants are unnecessarily tight, and Stiles has eyes, so there’s really no help for it.

Of course, Stiles can only handle walking silently for so long.

“So, what’re the chances that Grandpa Creepy actually did us the favor of dying quietly in an alley, because I gotta say, that would be—”

Stiles stops mid-sentence because, no shit, Derek turns his head back toward Stiles and Scott at the very same moment a beam of, like, glittering sunshine hits his face through the canopy, and Stiles is very suddenly looking at the illuminated angles of Derek Hale’s stupid face: his high cheekbones and sharp chin, and, seriously.

Derek Hale of all people has smile lines, really nice smile lines around his mouth, and even the barest fucking creases right at the corners of his eyes, even though Derek should be way too young (and way too broody and mysterious) to have any lines on his face at all.

“—too easy,” Stiles finishes, lamely.

Derek, miraculously, as if he knows what Stiles is thinking and is trying to kill him, smirks a little at that, but it’s a weak little twitch of his lips, more wry and tired than sincerely amused.

“Heh,” Stiles says, knowing that everyone can hear the haphazard stutter of his heartbeat as it trips over itself.

He avoids Scott’s curious glances as he drives them home, and tries not to imagine what Derek would look like if he was ever actually happy.

*

So, that’s a thing.

It’s not the first time, by far, that Stiles has realized that he was attracted to someone unexpected and then proceeded to act like a weirdo in front of them, but usually that’s all it is (with the very obvious exception of Lydia Martin): minor attractions that rarely even develop into casual crushes.

And Derek Hale is pretty much the worst person in the world to hypothetically develop a crush on, being a murder suspect, a dangerous werewolf, a weirdo who stalks people from the treeline, and also living in a train car, Jesus Christ. Derek Hale is pretty much the pinnacle of Not Socially Acceptable to Develop Even A Friendship With, let alone any sort of—hypothetical!—feelings for.

But a day passes, and then two, and then a couple weeks, during which they find and deal with Gerard in the dramatic, bloody way they seem to deal with most things these days.

In between the running around, haphazard googling for information, and getting no sleep whatsoever, Stiles keeps thinking about the lines on Derek’s face; completely unexpected lines that don’t jive at all with Derek’s actual personality. On a Thursday, during a particularly dry pre-calculus lecture, Stiles’ thoughts drift dangerously towards the subject of loss, and the Hale fire, and, finally, the way his mom had looked in the final months, pale and wane and so sorry that she wasn’t getting any better, that she was leaving her son without a mother; her husband without a wife.

Stiles grits his teeth, chest tight, and thinks about how sorrow can change a person. He imagines, insanely, what it would be like if he was Derek’s age—maybe they would be acquaintances in high school, friendly enough to nod at each other in the halls and go to the same parties and exchange casual, meaningless conversation in class.

 

3.

On a Saturday a month and a half later, Stiles runs into Derek—get this—at the supermarket. Like, actually shopping for groceries, with a plastic basket in one hand and a carton of eggs in the other, apparently comparing the costs and benefits of the large and extra-large sizes.

“Uh,” is the first thing Stiles says, loudly, followed quickly by, “What.” And then he promptly knocks over a stacked display of cans of condensed milk.

“Gllbgr,” is the noise Stiles makes as he goes down with it, landing hard enough on his ass to know it’s going to bruise. “Owfuck.”

“Stiles,” Derek says in greeting, as sardonic as ever, suddenly right there next to him, offering Stiles a hand up.

“Uh, thanks,” Stiles says, and then, after a too-long pause, “Groceries, huh?”

“…Yeah,” Derek says. Stiles feels his ears heating up in embarrassment, and he knows that he looks even younger and even more lame when he blushes like this, so he busies himself by kneeling down to pick up the cans of milk so he won’t have to look at Derek’s face.

“Great! Groceries. Are great. Awesome, even.”

Stiles has never been this bad at talking before.

“Nice to have around, for eating,” Derek agrees, drily, but makes a casual effort to help pick up the cans. This is probably a contender for one of the most awkward interactions of Stiles’ life, which is a pretty impressive bar, considering a whole childhood of ADHD-fueled adventures on the playground, and his habit of showing up at crime scenes.

A very loud part of Stiles’ brain is yelling run, make an excuse and leave and never offer to get the groceries again, this is what being a dutiful and responsible son gets you, but instead Stiles looks up, tries to work his face into an expression that doesn’t convey how uncomfortable he is, and says, “I would say that I’m usually more coordinated but you’ve had the great fortune of seeing me in almost exclusively high-stress situations and I’m pretty sure there’s no way to convince you that I can actually walk and talk at the same time.”

Because there is another part of Stiles’ brain that is inexplicably fixated on the area around Derek’s mouth, and really, really wants to see what those lines looks like in the crappy off-white fluorescence of aisle nine. Also, he has notoriously poor impulse control.

Stiles is starting to really think he’s lacking in the self-preservation gene. Derek levels him with a judgmental stare, and his mouth goes kind of lopsided, like it can’t decide whether to be amused or annoyed. It’s an expression that Stiles is familiar with, and he counts it as at least a half-win.

“Right, uh,” Stiles glances quickly down at his own shopping basket, noting that there are exactly three items in it, none of which he needs urgently. “I’m gonna go, this was nice, a nice meeting—running into you, I mean, uh.”

Stiles promptly gives up, and places his basket on the ground. Derek’s face does something complicated, settling on an expression of supreme confusion.

Stiles flees.

 

4.

The alpha pack starts causing trouble pretty much as soon as the school year starts. Boyd allegedly comes stumbling back to the train station at two in the morning in mid-September, absolutely covered in blood, his face twisted in grief.

In his own words, there wasn’t enough of Erica to try to bring back.

According to Isaac, who relays the information at lunch the next day in a hushed, pained tone, Derek stayed calm just long enough to put Boyd to bed before hulking the fuck out and destroying half a train car.

Scott makes a noise like he’s going to cry.

Stiles closes his eyes and tries to remember Erica in a way she might’ve wanted to be remembered—bright red lipstick and an innate, fearless confidence of self. Stiles thinks about Erica, trying stubbornly to climb a rock wall, twice—and feels sick knowing that all of that, all of her, is just gone, now.

*

Unsurprisingly, Derek doesn’t handle the next couple of weeks very well. It’s a testament to how badly things are going when Scott doesn’t even try to go after the alpha pack on his own and agrees when Derek gravely asks for him to join their patrols. Stiles is delegated to be the pack chauffeur, apparently, since all the wolves—minus Peter, who isn’t allowed in the Jeep ever again—make a show of corralling Stiles back into his car whenever he tries to get out to join their search.

“It’s not safe,” Derek keeps saying, exasperatedly. Derek’s been getting thinner; cheekbones standing even sharper, making Stiles ever-more aware of the phantom lines around his mouth.

Stiles reluctantly backs down and drives himself home each time, trying not to worry about Scott tromping through the woods; trying not to picture Erica’s body, even more broken than Laura Hale’s had been.

As it turns out, all the caution is for nothing, because a couple weeks later the alphas lure the pack into the empty warehouse they’ve been hiding out in, presumably to do the big showdown-and-plot-reveal. (And seriously, why are there so many abandoned warehouses on this side of town? Stiles is going to start writing letters to the mayor.)

Stiles isn’t even supposed to be here, was literally sitting in his room in sweatpants less than twenty minutes ago, and also didn’t even think to grab his lacrosse stick out of his trunk before tromping into the creepy warehouse. It’s admittedly a huge misstep on his part, since he likes to think he’s gotten better at handling dangerous situations over the past year.

Deucalion starts monologuing the way all over-dramatic villains do, and Stiles tries to discreetly scan their surroundings, knowing that he’s going to have to pick one of those corners to duck into if shit goes down.

At the very least, Stiles promises himself as one of the twins starts flashing his claws threateningly in their direction, he’s going to try to keep his mouth shut and hope that one of the wolves will remember that Stiles is human and very breakable when all the fighting inevitably starts.

But then, like, half a minute later, Kali cuts Deucalion short with an aggravated snarl. “Stop joking around, we’re wasting time. Just kill one of them already.” She surveys the betas viciously. “Maybe the blonde one.”

Stiles unconsciously leans toward Isaac, who’s tensely clenching and unclenching his fists.

Deucalion looks less than impressed at Kali’s behavior. “In time, my dear. You’ve gotten so very impatient. Not very lady-like.”

“I’m not the one who’s playing with the food,” she snipes back, then adds, sort of petulantly, “It’s unprofessional.”

Seriously,” Stiles finally can’t help but burst out, “Seriously, lady, you’re going around clawing people open with your feet, if you don’t see the ridiculous factor in this situation I just don’t know what to tell you. Not,” he adds in Deucalion’s direction, “that I would say that there’s anything un-lady-like about it, because that would be super-sexist, dude.”

In front of Stiles, the tense line of Derek’s shoulders suddenly spasms, and when Stiles glances over, Derek’s mouth is twitching like he’s fighting back a smirk; twitches even more when Scott hisses “Stiles,” sounding about as horrified as Stiles feels about mouthing off to Kali, who frankly has the most feral eyes full of murderous intent that Stiles has ever seen.

She hisses, enraged, and suddenly all the alphas are staring at Stiles, who feels like he needs to reevaluate his whole personality, since it’s working actively against his survival.

“Rein in your human, Hale,” Kali says, glaring at Stiles’ throat.

Stiles glances back to Derek, looking for a cue, except Derek just looks…really, really amused. Like, even though his expression continues to convey how much he’d like to rip Kali’s arms off her body, he might actually be chuckling a little under less dire circumstances. Stiles is really, stupidly proud of himself for a second, and barrels on.

“Was that a reverse dog joke? Because, I gotta tell you, collaring isn’t really my thing, y’know?” Stiles puts a lot of effort into making an obscene gesture with his hands.

Isaac and Scott make identical noises like they’re choking, and Peter barks a single, loud laugh. “Oh my god, Stiles,” Allison blurts out, but Stiles can hear her holding back the urge to laugh.

Stiles turns to Derek to look properly, feeling inappropriately eager, but Derek’s eyes have turned calculating, waiting—

Deucalion rolls his eyes, his posture turning incredulous for a second, and Derek roars and pounces at him. Stiles, who has at least a little self-preservation left, promptly dives out of the way.

*

So they all make it out of the Alpha Situation intact, even though Allison’s got a huge, blossoming bruise on her cheek, and Stiles has matching bloody scrapes on both knees (and another ruined pair of jeans; fighting bad guys is expensive).

“I love you, dude,” Scott says, after, and folds Stiles into a full-body hug, “but never make me picture you having sex with a collar on again, ever.”

Derek, who’s in the process of healing a particularly nasty bite wound from Ennis while Isaac hovers at his side, snorts. “It was a stupid thing to do,” he tells Stiles.

Stiles, feeling uncharacteristically brave from the adrenaline, doesn’t break Derek’s eye contact and winks. “No promises, man.”

 

5.

Miraculously, they make it to Spring Break without any crazy supernatural junk happening, with the exception of a minor territory conflict with a family of fae, during which Derek had revealed just how truly bad he is at negotiations. Luckily, as it turns out, the fae weren’t that attached to the area after all—Hale soil is pretty shitty, who knew? (Apparently Peter knew. Derek definitely didn’t, and looked petulantly offended.)

In any case, by Spring Break they’ve gone months without having to actively fight off evil, and Derek finally agrees to rebuild the Hale house.

Derek doesn’t actually need a place to live anymore, having actually, legally rented out that loft on the edge of town, but Isaac and Boyd have been unsubtly hinting about having their own rooms, and Peter keeps popping into conversations and reciting quotes about leaders needing strongholds.

(Stiles doesn’t actually know what the hell the deal is with Peter nowadays, but has been reassured by Lydia in an ominous, matter-of-fact way that Peter won’t be a threat anymore. Despite his curiosity, Stiles is positive that he doesn’t actually want to know.)

But since Derek refuses to let a bunch of strangers do the actual work, Stiles ends up heading straight from Beacon Hills High to the Preserve after classes on Friday.

“I’m going to emphasize, again, that none of us are qualified to build a house, especially me,” Stiles says by way of greeting, but fetches a change of clothes and a pair of thick gardening gloves that probably belonged to his mom from the back of the Jeep.

“Or me,” Scott says as he hops out of the passenger side. “Are those women’s gloves?”

“Shut up, I don’t wanna get splinters,” Stiles says, “At least the rest of you have crazy werewolf musculature; I’m going to throw out my back if Derek makes me haul beams around.”

“I’m not making you do that,” Derek says, suddenly right there, wearing a dusty pair of jeans and not much else. It’s a testament to how long they’ve known each other that Stiles only jumps a little.

His eyes flick over Derek’s chest, bare and kind of sweaty. He wants to lick it, which is nothing new.

Stiles is pretty sure, now, after over a year since his life turned into a nonsensical horror story, that his stupid crush on Derek isn’t going away—he’s seen the guy bleeding and puking and was almost going to cut off his arm, once; and if none of that turns Stiles off from the guy, probably nothing will.

It’s still pretty disconcerting knowledge to live with, since Derek, being the first person of the male persuasion that Stiles has had any persistent feelings about, officially cements Stiles’ problematic preference for intimidating, unobtainable people with scarily perfect faces.

Scott nods amicably if not overtly warmly at Derek before he jogs toward the side of the house where Isaac is tearing paneling off.  Boyd is on top of the porch, probably ripping screws out of wood with his bare hands. Neither of them had shown up to school at all.

“You know,” Stiles observes as he follows Derek toward the house at a more sedate pace. “It’s not very responsible guardian-like behavior of you to let them skip classes.”

“He called the attendance office and told Mrs. Teller we were going on a family trip!” Isaac informs him cheerfully, while demonstrating for Scott the correct way to violently tear at the house with his claws.

“Boyd just showed up,” Derek says in his own defense, but he looks kind of guilty.

Stiles snorts, mostly because everyone in school knows that Derek had become Isaac’s legal guardian last year, and he’s overheard Mrs. Teller gossip disapprovingly with the other office aids about what kind of home environment that handsome troublemaker is providing.

“Yeah okay, I’ll give you a pass, but only because none of us are immune to Isaac’s teddy bear eyes.”

“I don’t ever know what you’re talking about,” Derek tells him, grumpily.

*

Stiles is delegated to a menagerie of Very Important Tasks, including: hauling the smaller pieces of debris into a pile, tripping and falling over pipes, defending his gloves when Boyd starts eyeing them judgmentally, and finding a package of gummy worms in his Jeep. It leads to Stiles sitting on the ground in front of the house holding an old t-shirt of questionable origin against his scraped elbow and tossing gummy worms up at Scott on the porch, who gets remarkably good at catching them with his teeth.

Around dinnertime, Derek lets the betas take the Camaro to pick up some pizza. Stiles, having gorged himself on candy and sunshine, closes his eyes and falls backwards next to the pile of house parts he’d created, electing to stay behind out of laziness.

The yard is a lot quieter after the Camaro disappears down the road, and when Stiles opens his eyes, Derek’s standing over him, with a look on his face like he’s fighting the phantom urge to tell Stiles to get off his property again.

Stiles tells him so, and Derek huffs at him like a verbal eye-roll, which is generally how Derek responds to Stiles’ observations, and moves to sit next to Stiles in the grass.

“I thought you were staying behind to finish off the left side,” Stiles says. “Was it a lie so you could slack off for a while and wait for food to be brought to you, like a king?”

Derek raises an eyebrow at him, but doesn’t respond.

“That’s what I’m doing, obviously,” Stiles continues, “with the bonus of slacking off all day, actually.”

“You helped,” Derek says, shrugging a little.

Stiles laughs. “Barely. I consolidated five small piles of house parts into one kind of bigger pile of house parts. It’s okay, I’ve accepted that I’m the only person who’s not the muscle in this group.”

Derek stays quiet for a long minute. Just as Stiles feels himself about to go on another tangent about werewolf super-strength, Derek turns toward him with a thoughtful look on his face. “You helped,” he says again, then, “Thanks. For helping.”

Stiles blinks up at him from his awkward angle lying down, caught off-guard. Derek seems a little uncertain now, runs a hand through his messy hair in a frustrated way, looking unexpectedly young.

Stiles suddenly realizes, horrified, that he might really, really like Derek Hale. He flails his way into a sitting position.

“Um. Thanks. For letting me help, I mean. I know it’s not…” Derek’s expression starts to close up, and Stiles scrambles. His chest starts to feel tight, but he pushes on, “Just, I. Um, after my mom, my dad and I couldn’t touch any of her stuff for months. It felt like if we had to pack up her clothes and stuff, we’d—I’d be putting her memory away, too.”

Stiles looks down at his hands, fiddles with the grass in front of him. “So, I guess I’m saying that I get it. It’s hard to deal with the all the stuff that gets left behind, and, um, I’m glad. That I can help out. I’m…” Stiles hesitates, struggles for the right words.

“I’m glad that you trust me enough to let me be here,” he finishes, quieter than he’d started, and glances up.

Derek’s looking at Stiles strangely, the lines around his mouth held tense; kind of fond and kind of sad, and no, that’s not what Stiles meant to do—

Stiles reels backwards with the intention of changing the subject, and instead slams the back of his head against a brick protruding from the pile.

“Dammit, Stiles,” Derek says sharply, his hand darting out to steady Stiles by the shoulder, but he sounds like he’s laughing.

Stiles is regretful, later, that he’s too busy checking his head for blood to look.

 

+1.

Literally 22 hours before his eighteenth birthday, Stiles almost drowns and bleeds out at the same time while trying to get away from a wendigo. Scott, his dad, and Lydia all yell at him for it later, since they hadn’t been sure if the wendigo would actually stop—none of the research they’d read supported it—but Stiles had definitely seen the thing stop briefly at the edge of a stream in the woods when it’d been chasing them last week. It had paced nervously before it’d realized that being, like, eight feet tall made it big enough to successfully leap over the half a foot of water.

So whatever, Stiles is awesome, and he didn’t die, win-win.

Well, more like, Derek and Boyd had killed the wedigo while it was reeling back fearfully from the creek, while Isaac pulled Stiles from the water.  After quickly realizing that Stiles was unconscious, bleeding way too much and probably going into shock, they’d rushed Stiles to the hospital where four frantic werewolves covered in blood had burst into the emergency room and freaked everyone out.

(Stiles is really, really glad that his dad is now in the know about the supernatural aspect of his life, not only because Stiles apparently said a bunch of stuff in his sleep about cannibalistic monsters and how cool werewolves are when the Sheriff was sitting at his bedside, but also because Stiles is very aware that this was not a situation that he could’ve lied his way out of.)

What it all amounts to is that Stiles spends his actual birthday in the hospital because he nearly got slashed in half, and is on enforced bed rest for over two weeks, so they don’t celebrate his birthday until the end of the month.

*

It ends up an accidental surprise party because Stiles had still been on a lot of morphine when Scott had visited him in the hospital and told him that they were going to make it up to him when he was better, and then Stiles forgot all about his birthday because he was in kind of a lot of pain and his dad wouldn’t let him do anything.

Basically, that day Stiles gets a bunch of confusing texts without context along the lines of do you like chocolate or red velvet I can’t remember and are you a dodgers fan? and when he gets back home from getting gas and buying eggs, his house suddenly has a bunch of people in it, as well as a Sheriff who doesn’t look very happy.  (Only for a minute, until Allison hands him the platter of cookies that she brought, announcing that there’s also several twelve-packs of soda in her car.)

“Um,” Stiles says, “Surprise? To me, I guess.”

Lydia is the first to understand the confusion on Stiles’ face. She doesn’t give him an extra minute to process the image of Boyd trying unsuccessfully to hang streamers evenly in the hallway before rolling her eyes and shooing Stiles into the kitchen.

She pulls milk, flour, and sugar out of the pantry to join the eggs he’d brought. “Here, you can make the cake, since Scott forgot to pick one up.”

Stiles squawks indignantly. “I have make my birthday cake? And what kind of cake am I making here, sugar-flavored?”

Lydia’s already leaving the kitchen, tossing a look over her shoulder at Stiles like she obviously doesn’t know or care about any aspect of cake-baking.

“Right, fine,” Stiles sighs, and looks for an apron.

*

Derek shows up fashionably late, which surprises no one. The sight of him walking awkwardly through Stiles’ front door, carrying a bottle of what looks like expensive whiskey in one hand and a shiny gift bag in the other almost makes Stiles drop the cake.

“Is that for me, dude?” Stiles asks, eyeing the bottle.

Stiles’ dad chooses that moment to join them in the hallway, and there’s a moment when Derek very clearly debates just turning around and leaving without a word before he stiffly offers the whiskey to the Sheriff. “No, it’s—here. Thank you for having us, sir,” he says. Derek doesn’t really know how to act around any of the pack’s parents, but the Sheriff seems to make him especially nervous.

The Sheriff starts to chuckle, like he’s enjoying an inside joke, and accepts the gift. “Thanks for coming, Derek.”

“This is weird,” Scott whispers, loudly. “Is Derek going to get shot?”

Stiles feels a flush crawling up his neck, and takes that as his cue to usher everyone back into the living room for cake.

*

It’s a pretty low-key party; they eat cake and cookies and chips and marathon a bunch of unrelated movies in no particular order, and then, inevitably crashing from the sugar rush, start dropping off like flies around one in the morning.

Stiles wakes up with a jolt, disoriented. The television is muted, and the DVD menu of Indiana Jones is playing on repeat, and his dad’s no longer sitting in the armchair. Stiles groans a little when he lifts his head—his neck has apparently been bent at a sharp angle against the couch-arm—and tries to extract himself without waking any of the—two? three?—other people on the couch, only to gracelessly trip over someone on the floor.

“Oh shit, sorry, shit,” Stiles whispers, straining his eyes to check out who he stepped on. “Derek? Did I wake you? Or cripple you?”

“It’s fine,” Derek says, and gets up too. “I was awake.”

“Oh. I’m getting something to drink, you want anything?”

Derek shakes his head but follows Stiles into the kitchen anyway, and hovers while Stiles busies himself pouring a glass of milk and rifling through the fridge. He triumphantly pulls out the fourth of cake from earlier and brings it to the dining table.

“You’re eating more cake. At three in the morning,” Derek says, sounding disgusted.

“Dude, don’t judge. I’m eighteen now, you can’t tell me what to do,” Stiles smirks. He glances up as Derek makes an undecipherable noise and takes the seat in the chair opposite his.

“Eighteen,” Derek repeats, like he can’t believe it. Frankly, Stiles can’t believe it either.

“Yep, I’m a legal adult now, I can go buy as many cigarettes and lottery tickets as I want, whoo-hoo,” Stiles says around a mouthful of cake, and twirls a finger in a celebratory fashion.

Derek goes quiet then, and Stiles swallows, glancing around the kitchen idly before noticing the pile of presents on the counter.

“Hey! I never got to open my presents. It’s probably rude to open presents while the actual gift-givers are asleep in your house, huh,” Stiles says. “Wait, you’re awake. Derek, which one’s yours?”

Derek grabs the shiny gift bag before Stiles can, with a shifty expression. “You should wait until tomorrow.”

“What? Not cool, man. It’s for me, and you’re right here,” Stiles pouts. “Now I’m really curious. Wait, is it really good or really bad? Are you keeping me from opening it now so that I’ll open it in front of everyone tomorrow and you can look smug? Or is it so bad that you’re planning on sneaking out before everyone else wakes up and hide out in your house to avoid mockery?”

Derek’s conflicted face suggests that he hadn’t thought of any of that, and, after a second, reluctantly hands Stiles the gift bag.

Stiles grabs it excitedly before Derek changes his mind and pulls out a box—

“…Are these arm floaties?”

They are. They are definitely arm floaties, and arm floaties marketed for little boys at that, since they have the Captain America shield on them and the kid on the box is, like, seven years old, posing heroically with his hands on his hips.

Derek shrugs a little, looking embarrassed. “They’re so you don’t drown again,” he explains.

It startles a laugh out of Stiles. “Dude, not fair, I’ve only almost-drowned once. The time in the pool doesn’t count because I had to keep you from drowning.”

“If you don’t like them—”

Stiles clutches the box to his chest. “No way, these are awesome! We’re going to have pool parties.”

Derek smiles at that, and it changes his whole face. “There was a Batman set, too, but I know how you feel about DC since the reboot.”

Stiles can’t help staring. Derek’s hair is messier than usual from sleeping on the floor, and he’s smiling, like, Stiles is actually seeing Derek’s teeth in a non-violent situation.

Stiles goes to make a joke (because he realizes that he’s been wanting to make Derek smile like that for months now) but instead—

“I can’t believe I like you so much,” Stiles blurts out.

And Derek looks gutted. “What?”

What?” Stiles says, mostly directed at himself, wondering if there’s any way to painlessly die right now.

“What, Stiles—you like me?” Derek’s definitely not smiling anymore, and Stiles feels a stab of regret at that as his stomach plummets.

“Oh, haha, I meant, uh. I mean.” Stiles sighs and gets up, briskly picks up the arm floaties and makes a line for the staircase. “I mean, I’m going to go to bed now. Do you need blankets? If you need blankets, they’re in the linen closet in the hallway over there. Goodnight!”

*

Stiles has time to shut himself in his room and fall face-first onto his bed and wallow in his humiliation for almost two whole minutes before there’s a knock at the door.

“Stiles,” Derek says.

“Go away, Stiles is dead,” Stiles says into his comforter.

“I’m coming in,” Derek says, and does, closing the door softly behind him.

“Guh.” Stiles sits up, and tries to look anywhere but at Derek’s face. “Is there any way I can convince you that this was all a cake-fueled dream?”

“I didn’t have that much cake,” Derek says, and sits on the end of Stiles’ bed. On my bed, Stiles thinks, and tries not to think about anything that would make this situation even more awkward.

“Can we not make this a thing? Please? It’s my birthday.”

“Is that what you want,” Derek says, almost like he’s asking himself instead of Stiles.

Stiles, who really doesn’t appreciate being cornered in his own bedroom and thus being unable to run away from having this conversation, snaps, “Yeah, it is. I get it, I’m the lame teenager with a crush, but you could at least not be a raging douchebag about it and let me pretend that we never had this conversation—”

“Stiles—”

“—and not treat me with kid-gloves.” Stiles rubs a hand over his face, suddenly tired. “I still want, I mean, we should still be friends, or whatever—“

“Stiles, shut up,” Derek says, and suddenly there’s a warm hand pulling Stiles by the back of his neck, and Derek’s kissing him.

It’s a pretty fucking spectacular kiss, in Stiles’ opinion. Derek doesn’t let go of Stiles’ face; leans further into Stiles and brings his other hand to press in at the hollow of Stiles’ back. Stiles manages to wind one of his arms around Derek’s neck and moans.

Oh, oh man,” Stiles gasps when they finally pull apart. “Even if I probably taste like cake, that was pretty awesome, right?”

Derek’s eyes are blown wide, and he whispers, “Yeah,” and smiles. “Not bad, Stilinski.”

Stiles can’t help himself, he traces his thumb over one of Derek’s laugh lines. It’s a curious enough gesture that Derek raises an eyebrow questioningly at it, and Stiles just huffs a laugh and shakes his head, because trying to explain that he’s been mildly obsessed with the lines on Derek’s face for the last year is going to come out sounding sentimental and insane.

“Nothing,” Stiles says. “No, wait, not nothing—you’re gonna have to bring my dad another bottle of Jack before we tell him about this, dude.”

Derek laughs, a deep, happy sound, and leans in to press their foreheads together. “Yeah, okay.”

*