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this town is only gonna eat you

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It starts when Kate’s body grows cold, when Peter’s blood still gushes from slit in his throat. He stands, silent, in the middle of the forest floor, between the two bodies. It’s been seven years and – it’s over. His bloody knife slips from his suddenly slack hand but never hits the ground. Nimble fingers catch it by the slippery tip and it disappears into a ratty-looking red hoodie. He won’t see it again.

“Well, then,” the little thief murmurs, a smirk tugging the left corner of his mouth up. Derek thinks, nonsensically, that he wouldn’t be surprised to see rows of shark teeth hiding in that mouth. “They’re all dead. What’re you gonna do now?” The sheriff’s son smiles fully, then, showing perfectly blunt teeth, and turns away from the scene.

Derek doesn’t go after him – a murderer following a red-hooded figure through the forest is one cliché he won’t buy into.

 

*

 

Once upon a time, Derek and Stiles were close – as close as two boys with a five-year age difference could be. Their friendship, in actuality, was mostly Stiles following Derek around whenever Derek would generously allow it. He’d spend most of his time out in the woods, exploring with the aplomb of a thirteen year-old, and within an hour or so Stiles would show up and begin nattering on incessantly until they were called in to their respective homes.

That was before. Before Stiles’ mom turned out to be a thief, pulled a disappearing act and ended up dead in Maine, before Kate came and burned every last recognizable piece of Derek away  – ages eleven and sixteen, respectively. Seven years later, Derek’s institutionalized uncle escapes and kills Kate Argent before Derek can get his hands on her and Derek kills Peter in a fit of rage. He’s twenty-three years old. That same year, Stiles graduates high school with his mouth set in a firm line and his eyes wide enough to make him look a little mad. The next day, the sheriff’s handgun is gone, his mother’s file is missing, and so is Stiles. He’s eighteen.

In the town’s resulting panic over the double homicide and the sheriff’s son abruptly dropping off the grid, it’s almost laughably easy for Derek to leave before the sheriff can even bring him in for questioning. In the seven years of single-mindedly searching for Kate, he’d managed to dredge up some contacts, some people he believes he can reasonably trust not to screw him over completely.

He calls Erica once he’s safely lost in the Sonoran Desert. “I think I deserve a fucking vacation, Reyes,” he grumbles, raking a hand through his tangled and limp hair. He needs a shower. “Anywhere cold. No cities,” he adds, not even bothering to keep the pathetic note of hopefulness out of his voice; heat has never agreed with him.

“I’ll send you someplace nice,” she promises sweetly and, of fucking course, sends him to Johannesburg and laughs when he calls to swear at her. “Where did you want to go?” She asks through her mirth. “To Prague? Paris? Barcelona? C’mon, Derek, you have to lie low and the more people there are, the easier it is to stay invisible. Stay there, at least for a little while. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“You think I don’t know that?” He growls into the burner phone, gripping it hard enough to hear the plastic creak. He takes a deep breath “Are they looking for me?”

“Sheriff Stilinski is getting the FBI involved as we speak,” she says, suddenly serious. “Your case is pretty high profile and you’re their only suspect. Be –“ Derek hangs up before she can continue. He knows he has to be careful, and there’s nothing remotely helpful about hearing it said aloud.

For three years, Derek lies low. He moves from overpopulated city to overpopulated city, never staying in one place for more than four months, as a rule. He learns how to disappear completely after several run-ins with several different lawmen that try to jam him into a plane and send him back to Beacon Hills.  He actually does go to Prague and Paris and Barcelona (and they are as beautiful as Laura always said) and even if he’s not happy, he’s at least in his right mind.

 

*

 

It’s been three years since he ran from California and Derek is now twenty-six. He carries serrated knives with him when he walks in public, he’s wanted for the homicide of several people that deserved it, and he’s just slammed the door of his latest apartment in Beijing on Stiles Stilinski’s face. “Oh my God!” Stiles’ voice comes through loud and clear as he curses and pounds on the door with a heavy fist. “That hurt, asshole. Open the door, Derek, come on.”

Later, Derek will convince himself that the only reason he lets him in is because he can’t rip Stiles’ throat out through his door. He’s here under an assumed name and he can’t afford to have his cover blown now and, he rationalizes, if he makes Stiles stay outside he’ll just holler incriminating things the entire fucking time.

It takes him five seconds to open the door, grab Stiles by the back of his neck, haul him in, and slam him up against the wall. “Do you have any idea,” he growls through gritted teeth, “How fucking loud you are–“ 

“Come on, no one heard m–”

“I am trying to keep a low profile here, Stiles! How the hell did you find me?”

Stiles’ expression melts from open-mouthed fear to smugness. It makes Derek want to hurt him. “It’s what I do, Derek.” He slaps the back of his hand against Derek’s shoulder and grins. His teeth are still perfectly straight and perfectly blunt, though he looks just like the cat that caught the canary. “Finding people is my job.”

Derek doesn’t release him, but he does let up on the pressure on his neck. “I feel like there’s a story behind that,” he sighs, resigned. Stiles’ stories always go on for far longer than Derek has the attention span or patience for.

“Oh, there is, my sour-faced friend,” Stiles replies, but despite his jovial tone, there’s an edge to his voice that hadn’t been there mere seconds ago. Derek lets him go, eases out of his space, and prepares to settle in for the long haul.

 

*

 

The short version of how it starts is this: Stiles asks for Derek’s help to kill someone, Derek refuses, Stiles leaves, and Derek follows him. If you asked Derek for the full story, he wouldn’t tell you. If you asked Stiles, he’d only tell you the unimportant parts. What happens is this:

Stiles sprawls all over Derek’s couch and Derek takes a seat on the floor by his knee. They both sit in silence for a moment until Stiles opens his mouth and begins telling him, oddly hesitant, the story of how he ended up the pupil of the man who killed his mother.

“I found him up in Vermont,” he says, staring fixedly up at the ceiling. “I found him, I broke into his house, got past all his guards and security, I had the gun on him and I didn’t shoot. I couldn’t shoot.” He stops briefly to swallow loudly. The back of Derek’s head accidentally ends up pressed to Stiles’ thigh. “He was – he was impressed that I’d found him; that I’d hacked into the life of an ex-CIA agent and was able to draw a gun on him.” Derek draws in a sharp breath and glares at Stiles. 

Ex–CIA?

“More like a gun for hire, now,” Stiles admits, wincing a little and pointedly not looking at Derek. Smart, because right now Derek is seething with anger.

“A mercenary. You walked into the house of a fucking mercenary and didn’t get killed? Jesus, Stiles.”

“He wanted to teach me.” He sounds disgusted with himself even now, and Derek grimaces, running a hand over his face. “So I stayed. And every day I’d say to myself: ‘I’ll kill him today. I’ll pull the trigger this time.’ I never could. He laughed, then he taught me hundreds of ways to kill him, and I never used one of them.” Derek averts his eyes from Stiles’ face out of a probably misguided sense of propriety, but not before he sees a patch of wetness gathering in the bags underneath his eyes. They’re both silent for a few minutes as Stiles pulls himself back together.

“You came to me because you want me to help you kill him.” Stiles nods, returning his gaze back to Derek.

“I do. You of all people should know what this is like. It’s not like you got to kill her–

“I would’ve killed Kate!” Derek roars, suddenly and inexplicably murderously angry. “I would have, but Peter took that away from me; the only thing I’d wanted since she murdered them. He got to her first.” He grinds his teeth together and shakes his head firmly. “I won’t help you, Stiles. You want my advice? Let it go. It won’t help, even after he’s dead. Just let it go.”

“I can’t!”

“You have to,” Derek replies, standing up and looming over Stiles’ sprawl. “Because if you don’t, it just builds and builds inside of you. It takes over your whole life–“

“Don’t you fucking preach to me, you asshole–“

“And you’ll never be able to stop! Stiles,” much to his embarrassment, his voice breaks as he shouts at the young man. He takes a deep breath and continues, voice once again level and without inflection, “Stiles, you won’t want to stop, after it’s done.” Silence stretches between them, makes Derek want to say something more, to put the emptiness he felt after Kate was dead into words, but knows he can’t. Instead, he just says, “I won’t help you.”

It’s the wrong thing to say. That much is very obvious, once Stiles shoulders past him, making for the door. He’s not running, but it’s close. “Stiles,” he sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Where do you think you’re going? Just,” and here he winces, because he doesn’t want the kid here, but he also doesn’t want him wandering around a big city in the state he’s in. “Just stay here. For a couple of nights.”

He reaches a hand to catch Stiles’ arm and finds himself flat on his back in the middle of his living room within seconds. Stunned, he blinks slowly up at the bright eyes above his own. “Don’t touch me,” Stiles warns and twists the wrist already in his hold. It makes Derek’s heart rate spike, makes him want to break Stiles’ hands and maybe his neck and – he takes a deep breath and forces himself to relax, to go slack in Stiles’ hold.

“Fine,” he says and waits until Stiles releases him to take a firm hold of his shoulder, wrap his legs around his middle and flip their positions between one breath and the next. He shifts quickly and plants a knee on Stiles’ sternum and presses down fractionally, enough to make the body beneath his go rigid. “Don’t ever do that again,” he growls, but lets him up after a moment. Stiles is glaring balefully, looking every inch like the petulant boy he knew back in Beacon Hills, and rubbing his chest. Neither of them speaks again and soon enough, Derek is standing in his barren apartment – alone once more.

He stands there for a minute, two, ten; rubs his hand through his hair and resists the urge to put a hole through the wall. “Oh, hell,” he mutters and grabs his phone from the floor. “Erica,” he barks once she picks up, “how soon can you find someone with enough skills to locate someone trained to disappear?”

Because she’s the only thing Derek will ever consider calling a godsend, she replies immediately, “I know exactly who you need.”

 

*

 

Danny’s not such a bad guy. A little too smart for his own good, maybe, a little too young to be able to do what he does, but at least he’s willing and able to help out (for a price). Derek can see him squinting at something on his computer and thinks briefly about suggesting he go to an optometrist. It wouldn’t matter – even through the shitty webcam he’s set up, he can tell that Danny’s not paying a lick of attention to him. After a few moments of silence, he finally looks up and catches Derek’s eye on the screen. “Stilinski, huh?” He asks almost absently. 

“Yeah, you know him?” Danny nods, bites at his lip and looks away from the webcam again, focusing on something else on his computer screen.

“He asked me for a favor a while ago. I keep tabs on him so I can find him when I want to cash in.” He grins wickedly. Derek sincerely hopes he never gets on this guy’s bad side. “He’s great at what he does; the whole break in, steal people’s secrets, sell them to the highest bidder and avoid getting shot in the crossfire thing, but he’s never been good at covering his tracks. He’s an easy one to find.” He sighs and shakes his head, looking disappointed. “I thought for sure, when Erica contacted me, you were gonna give me something good. Next time, make the job a little more challenging, would you?”

He doesn’t have time for this shit. “So can you find him or not?” He asks sharply, patience finally wearing thin. Danny doesn’t react to his sudden change in demeanor (who is this guy?) and only smiles in response.

“I definitely can.”

 

*

 

Danny tracks Stiles to a private home in Maine, belonging to a man named Travis Goddard. The place, Derek learns when he arrives less than twenty-four hours later, is armed to the teeth with technological security, but with hardly any actual guards. It’s either a spectacular show of reckless arrogance or of sheer strength (intimidation, even if it is a bluff, is at least a power play that Derek is familiar with). If Goddard is Stiles’ mentor, this piece of information would explain exactly why Stiles’ disappearing act is subpar, at best: evidently, he’s been taught to believe he has no need of being careful.

Idiot.

Derek’s not a spy. He hasn’t been trained by an ex-agent; he wasn’t taught to fight, to break in and sneak out efficiently and elegantly, to intimidate for interrogation, to negotiate the business of secrets. All he knows is his own strength and he’s learned, if nothing else, to trust his instincts.

His instincts are telling him to break the fucking door down.

He’s sweating and swearing under his breath and his clothes are splattered with the blood of the very few guards he had to take down on his way in when he finds Stiles.  He’s on his knees before a hardened-looking man, greying but still distinguished, whom has a hand underneath his chin, forcing him to look up. He’s obviously been kicked around – bruised and battered, his breathing labored enough that Derek can hear it from where he is, pressed up against the wall and out of sight.

“C’mon, Stiles,” Goddard sneers, “Get up and let’s finish this.” Derek chances a look beyond the wall and sees Stiles get dragged to his feet by a couple of buffed-up goons. Goddard steps up close to him and pushes something into his hand, making him grip with obviously broken fingers. Stiles’ breathing becomes even heavier; his shoulders are heaving and it’s apparent that if he weren’t being supported, he’d have fallen to the floor. He says nothing as Goddard steps back, but lifts his arm up as far as he can. Derek can see that a handgun has been placed in his shaking hand. When nothing happens for a long minute, Goddard laughs. “You won’t do it. It’s just like every time before. You’re too much like your mother to–“

Goons one and two go down with clean headshots – they had their back to him. It was almost too easy. As Derek steps fully into the room, Stiles makes a choked, surprised noise and drops to the floor, to his knees, while Goddard whirls to look at Derek, shocked. His mouth movies soundlessly and his eyes flick from Derek, his Glock aimed right between Goddard’s eyes, to Stiles, who still holds the gun he’d been given aimed near his gut.

“Derek, what the fuck–“

“Shut up, Stiles,” Derek mutters, cocking his gun and flashing a smile at Travis Goddard – it’s possible that it’s more a baring of teeth than anything else. Stiles, momentarily distracted, glances back at him and his eyes widen. Derek keeps his eyes on Goddard, who is grinning back and slowly drawing a knife from its holster on his belt.

“Don’t you dare, Derek, don’t you fucking dare,” he warns, hoarse, and clicks the safety off of his own gun – except Goddard is throwing his weapon, Derek is tackling Stiles down to the ground to avoid a knife in the throat and immediately comes back up to his knees, pulls the trigger and watches the man crumple to the ground, one wound right between his eyes. It takes a while to realize that Stiles is shouting, but once the ringing in his ears mostly subsides, it’s not easy to miss. “You asshole!” He yells as he scrambles to get to his feet. It’s obviously not easy; he’s cradling his right hand to his chest and his legs look shaky, like they’re about to give out on him. “You fucking asshole, I was going to–“

“You weren’t,” Derek returns, not without sympathy, getting to his feet as well and putting an arm around Stiles’ waist. Unsurprisingly, he struggles to get out of Derek’s grip. Derek only tightens his arm and it must hurt, but Stiles goes wild in his hold, punching as hard as he can with his one good hand, baring his teeth in almost a snarl. He slams his body into Derek’s and they go crashing to the ground, inches away from Goddard’s body.

“I was! You took that away from me, what the hell is wrong with you?” Stiles hisses. Derek stills as hands wrap around his throat and squeeze dangerously. He swallows but doesn’t retaliate. There’s something broken and wild in Stiles’ eyes, ragged in his breathing. His hands are trembling. It’s an adrenaline rush, Derek knows, that’s making this attack even possible

“You weren’t going to kill him,” he says, keeping his voice even. “You couldn’t.”

“I could. I can,” Stiles replies and switches his grip – puts a hand on Derek’s chin and the other on the back of his head. “I know hundreds of ways to kill a man,” he continues, almost conversationally. This is Goddard’s influence. Derek doesn’t like it. It makes him want to set the world on fire. “I could snap your neck right now.” His hands move again, to cover Derek’s mouth and nose. “I could suffocate you.” They move back to his throat and flex. “I could choke you, right now. Or,” he picks up Goddard’s knife, lying near them. “Or I could slit your throat, would that be better? Maybe I should put a bullet in your brain, I think that’d be fair.”

Derek holds his gaze, and then gently moves Stiles off of him. He goes complacently, even though he’s still clutching Goddard’s knife, still looks unhinged. He stands and pulls Stiles up with him, takes the weapon from his hand and tosses it across the room.

“You wouldn’t have pulled the trigger,” he says with a confidence he wishes he didn’t feel. “You wouldn’t have, and I did because I could.” I will always be the more dangerous of the two of us, he doesn’t say. I will always be the one that lacks the control to stop. I will always be more deadly than you because I will always take the shot. 

This time, when he puts a supporting arm around Stiles’ waist, he doesn’t resist. Exhausted, he leans a little bit into Derek, and Derek allows it. He watches Stiles stare down at the body of the man who mentored him and tormented him for years. “What do we do now?” He asks, sounding a little lost.

“What do you want to do?” Derek counters, because despite his success, he’s never planned ahead in his life. Stiles’ response is almost instantaneous.

“I want to destroy him,” he states, matter-of-factly. Derek reaches into his pocket and pulls out a lighter.

“We can do that.”

Stiles smiles, a slow, spreading thing that stretches his lips and bares his teeth, wraps his hand around Derek’s and the lighter. For all that he’s the one wearing the red hoodie, Derek knows he’s not at all the helpless wanderer people seem to believe he is.

(Derek soon comes to the conclusion that watching someone else’s house blow up in flames is cathartic – he feels lighter than he has in years with Stiles standing next to him, laughing a little madly as Goddard’s body and his home are consumed in the inferno.)

 

*

 

That’s how it starts.

 

*

 

At first, it’s not so much that they work together so much as Derek just follows Stiles around. He does it discreetly – when Erica or Boyd or Isaac get wind from one of Stiles’ people that he’s getting ready to wrap up a job, they let Derek know. Derek takes care of making sure Stiles leaves no trace of himself behind, that he can’t be followed easily. He makes people disappear, burns and buries any evidence left. This is, of course, only in his spare time.

Except – well, Derek has more spare time than he knows what to with, and “a few instances” slowly grows into just boarding the next plane after Stiles’, hanging around in little cafés or in parks while he waits for Stiles to do whatever he’s been sent to do, and then get his hands dirty. The man’s not even working with a partner and he still hasn’t learned how to cover his tracks with any success.

Brazil is a different story altogether. It’s boiling hot – in the middle of the summer season and Stiles has been in the country for about a month, much longer than he normally is. Derek’s keeping a discreet eye on him as he works his own job. He’s walking down the crowded street near his hotel when he happens to catch a glimpse of Stiles, walking quickly with another man beside him. The stranger has a tight grip on Stiles’ arm, and though Stiles shows no outwards signs of panic, he looks as tense as a wire, ready to snap. “Stiles!” Derek calls out and Stiles whips around, looks surprised at first, and then his expression turns absolutely murderous.

“Shit,” he hears and the stranger immediately turns to Stiles, asks an outraged question in Portuguese, but Stiles isn’t listening. He draws his gun and fires as Derek rushes to get across the street, to help, to do something – but then there’s nothing but blinding pain radiating from his shoulder.

He goes down hard onto the pavement below him, and by the time he looks back up, both Stiles and the stranger are gone. This is the last thing he remembers before he wakes up, cleaned and bandaged, in a nearby hospital. It takes him nearly a week and a half to escape from the nurses’ forceful care. Once safely ensconced in a safe house in Ireland, he briefly considers leaving Stiles to his own devices, or maybe to shoot him back, it’s only fair –

“Stiles made a mistake in Mumbai. It’s bad this time, Derek,” Erica says when she calls and Derek picks himself back up and is on a plane within three hours.

This goes on for almost two months until Stiles, decked out in his usual unsubtle, bright red hoodie and torn up jeans and scuffed sneakers, drops down in the chair across from him in a coffee shop in the heart of Berlin. He’s got his hand wrapped up and he still has a pretty severe case of crazy-eyes (Derek would know, he’s seen those same eyes looking back at him in mirrors for nearly a decade, now), but he looks better than he did when Derek saw him last.

“You know,” Stiles begins, an all-too insincere smile appearing on his face, voice falsely sweet, “If you’re gonna follow me around the world, you might as well get on the same plane as me.” Derek doesn’t even bother looking up from his newspaper – it’s helping to hide an amused smirk, anyway. Wouldn’t do to let Stiles get the better of him, not now.

“You know, if you’re gonna try to be an international super-spy,” Derek says in the same tone, sweet-as-honey but dripping with venom, “You might want to ditch the hoodie and upgrade to something more subtle.”

“Oh, you mean I should try out your color palette? Morally ambiguous greys and soul-sucking black? Some of us need a little color in our lives – not that you’d know anything about it.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of a three-piece suit. Maybe a tux.”

“Fuck you, I’m not James Bond,” Stiles snaps. More’s the pity, Derek thinks absently.

“Shut up, Stiles,” he says without any real heat behind it. When he next looks up from his paper, Stiles and his horrible sartorial choices are gone. He stays for the rest of Stiles’ job but carefully remains out of sight for the remainder of the job. He gets a tip from Isaac that Stiles is planning to lay low for a while in one of the few apartments around the world that he calls home, and apparently he’s heading for the one in Madrid.

Derek doesn’t get on the plane with Stiles despite observing him, with no small amount of amusement, look around the seating area, as if he’s searching for someone. Instead, Derek watches him board with a slight slump to his shoulders, then shoulders his carry-on and heads toward his flight.

He’s not a sentimental man. There’s very little to pack up in his Beijing apartment. It’s only two days before he’s standing outside of Stiles’ safe house, waiting for Stiles to answer the door. It’s hard to keep a straight face at the utterly gobsmacked expression on Stiles’ face when he sees Derek, of all people, waiting in the hallway with two bags (one for his clothes and one for his guns, respectively – he didn’t fly Delta).

“I couldn’t make your plane,” he says after a prolonged silence. “I had to pack first. I figured I’d just catch up with you here.” He shoves Stiles aside with his shoulder and steps into the apartment without an invitation. A quick look over his shoulder confirms the fact that he doesn’t need an expressed invitation; Stiles is grinning openly, looking truly pleased. How he’s in the business of espionage, Derek will never understand; his face gives everything away.

He can’t help but think this could be good and allows himself to smirk back at Stiles. A fissure of something slips down his spine, slots perfectly into place inside of him, makes something long forgotten jump back to life, as if a bundle of burnt-out nerves have suddenly become whole in his body once more.

 

*

 

Derek and Stiles get by mostly on sheer luck, the first six months or so that they work as partners. They work small jobs; the most notable comes when Stiles is commissioned to steal back the plans for a toy stolen from a small business by Toys “R” Us. (Lydia, Stiles’ handler, as she calls herself, never lets them forget it). They don’t get paid much – they have trouble paying their rent, sometimes, even with the both of them paying equally. Stiles still wears his fucking ridiculous hoodie and Derek still gives him shit for it. They have two very different ways of approaching and doing a job, and so they fight constantly, always trying to come out the victor.

Derek would never admit it, but he knows he usually loses to Stiles. After all, he’s the one that goes in, cracks the safes, finds the secrets and gets out. Derek, for the most part, either follows him in and dispatches anyone they come into contact with or finds a roof with a good vantage point and sets up to take a shot, if need be. He tries desperately to get Stiles to understand the simple concept of radio silence, though it doesn’t do any good. He still gets inane chatter in his ear every time they go in for the job, ceaseless and annoying.

Despite the chatter, they don't really connect while they work. Stiles comes up with the plans, presents them to Derek a few days before it’s time to move (Derek disputes, rails against the stupidity and ultimately loses). Derek cleans his guns and sharpens his knives and follows him into the fray and leaves once Stiles is in the clear.

They’d always had a habit of rubbing each other the wrong way when they were kids, but Derek can tell that their bouts of antagonistic behavior toward each other is new. They don’t like to turn their backs on each other, they lock their respective doors, they hide their weapons, they start fights that all-too-often become physical over small, insignificant things. Stiles still resents Derek for taking the shot he wouldn’t have, and Derek’s always itching for a fight by nature.

“You don’t trust me, I don’t trust you!” He yells in the middle of one of their fights, rubs a hand over the scarred skin on his shoulder and thinks of Brazil in the summer. From the faraway look in Stiles’ eyes, he’s thinking of Maine, of the man who killed his mother felled by a shot that wasn’t his own. They don’t trust each other and they both know that’s the real problem. They’re both determined that they won’t be the first one to address it.

All in all, as both Erica and Lydia tell them, it’s kind of pathetic.

 

*

 

This pattern of mutual distance finally ends just after Stiles has turned twenty-two (Derek is still twenty-six for a couple more months). It’s been a little under a year since the Goddard Affair of Which They Do Not Speak and they’ve been hired by a rich businessman in Toronto to dig up anything compromising on his competitor. It’s a harder task than it should be; requires infiltration and a certain amount of finesse that they, as amateurs, just don’t have. It’s grating on Derek’s nerves, but Stiles seems to be having it even worse, as if it’s his fault. Derek quickly realizes that he doesn’t know the half of it.

Their employer has put them up in a nice hotel while they do the job. Their room is on the top floor, a spacious suite with a living room and two bedrooms. It’s big enough that they don’t bump into each other, don’t get in each other’s way all that much. It progresses like any of their jobs do, except they’ve been here two weeks already and Stiles is being forced to wear suits, since he’s faking being an intern in the competitor’s business. Derek’s been spending more hours in a surveillance van than he’d like. They’re both utterly miserable.

One night, Derek comes awake with a jerk, a nightmare already fading in the back of his mind. He sighs and rolls back over to try and fall asleep again, only to be distracted by the faint sound of tapping and a low curse, every now and then. Curious, he gets to his feet and pads out into the living room, yawning and scratching idly at his stomach. Stiles is exactly where Derek left him almost six hours ago; hunched over his laptop, frowning deeply. The bags under his eyes have increased exponentially. Derek feels a fleeting stab of worry, low in his gut.

“You haven’t slept,” he remarks, keeping his voice low. Stiles doesn’t even react except to hum noncommittally, clicking away at his laptop. Derek sighs and drops down next to him on the couch. “Stiles, this shit can wait until you’ve rested,” he snaps, feeling his patience wear thin. It’s not his damn problem if the other man runs himself ragged, but he has to at least try.

“We’ve been on this job for too long already, Derek, this can’t wait.” His exhaustion shows in the line of his shoulders, in his narrowed eyes. “I can’t find anything on this guy. If our client didn’t want to ruin him personally, this might be easier. But no, he wants to destroy every fucking aspect of his life and there’s nothing. It’s all locked down tight.” He gestures, frustrated, at the computer screen where he’s got old newspaper articles pulled up, blueprints of his private home and his various offices, bank statements, marriage certificates, birth certificates.

How long have you been working like this, Derek wants to ask. Is this what you do every job we have – just sit in the dark in the middle of the night and have panic attacks over getting every single detail right? Jesus. He scoots closer on the couch and turns the laptop so that they can both see it. “You’ve spent enough time observing this guy. If you were in his place and you had a secret, where would you hide it?”

It’s like watering a wilting plant and watching it perk right back up – Stiles sits up straighter, gets more animated as he talks through his thought process aloud. Eventually, they come up with a best guess as to where the man keeps his secrets, if he actually has any (everyone has secrets, Derek scoffs to Stiles, and Stiles only shrugs – but that’s another argument for another day).

They outline a plan of action until Derek’s voice goes scratchy, until Stiles is yawning more than he is talking, until Derek feels the thump of Stiles’ head landing against his shoulder and staying there, until Derek feels buzzed short, scratchy hair beneath his cheek, until they’re both breathing the slow, unhurried cadence of sleep.

 

*

 

The job goes off without a hitch – they find out through records sealed in different vaults in the mark’s main office that he’s been taking funds from his own company to keep his boyfriend happy, instead of his wife. Stiles takes the opportunity to gather the evidence (photographic, pornographic, bank statements) during a company party. He’s dressed to impress, obviously, in a dark three-piece suit and from Derek’s perch on a balcony on the opposite building, he looks sleek and deadly and every inch the spy he’s trying to be. It’s almost enough to distract him from the job itself.

“Eyes on target, soldier,” comes Stiles’ wry voice in his ear, as if he can sense the direction Derek’s thoughts are taking him. He’s fiddling with the safe now, black leather gloves stretching tight over the skin of his hands as he presses his ear close to it. It won’t take him long.

“Three minutes,” Derek warns, tracking the movements of the mark on the floor above Stiles. He’s still busy making the rounds, making polite conversation with his employees, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. One more minute, and Stiles lets out a triumphant laugh, swings the safe open and gathers up what’s inside – those would be the bank statements, then.

Derek starts humming as Stiles slips out the window and closes it behind him, tucking the papers securely into his jacket as he starts to scale down the fire escape ladder. It takes Stiles a lot longer than Derek would’ve thought to recognize the tune. “You fucker,” he gasps, a little out of breath and a lot incredulous, “Is that the fucking James Bond theme? You literally have no sense of humor, Derek.”

“I thought it was funny.”

“You would, wouldn’t you.” It’s not even a question and Derek grins. Stiles can’t see to call him out on it, anyway.

 

*

 

It’s a good job. The client is happy, and Stiles and Derek are that much richer and just a little bit more in tune with each other. On the plane ride back to Derek’s small apartment in Paris (Madrid had been compromised, and that was a shame), they still snipe at each other, but it’s more lighthearted with a little less venom in their words.

“You know, Stilinski, I still don’t know your first name.”

Stiles smirks and flips the page of the magazine he’s reading to pass the time on the flight. “And you won’t know my first name. Stiles works just fine, don’t you think?”

“Mmm,” Derek hums and fights a smirk. Stiles cuts him a sharp look and purses his lips together.

“Do you expect me to talk?”

This time Derek smiles; feels it spread, slow and warm across his face. “No, Mr. Stilinski, I expect you to die.” It’s completely worth the whack to the head with a heavy magazine.

 

*

 

There’s a noticeable shift between the two of them. Derek, for his part, is less outwardly snappish. He’s still, as Stiles describes him, a one-expression wonder, but he feels more stable, more settled in his own skin than he has since he was sixteen years old. Stiles’ tension has been replaced by his old, boundless energy, seems to enjoy the planning and researching stages more – he seems to be settling along with Derek.

They begin to attract more attention, not long after that. They’ve settled into a rhythm, a push and pull, a give and take, a precarious thing that balances out their partnership and helps them settle into something different, something better, than they’d been before. Their jobs begin to go off without a hitch; they are efficient, quick and deadly, working in sync with each other like a well-oiled machine. 

The more jobs they finish with any level of success, the more their names get passed around in certain circles. Lydia fields the commissions, keeps them busy more often than not, which works well enough; Derek likes to be on the move, Stiles hates to be bored.

 

*

 

It doesn’t take the world long to realize that where Stiles goes, Derek is sure to follow. There’s quite a bit of gossip about it, which both Erica and Lydia relay to Derek weekly with no small amount of glee. Stiles seems to find it all very hilarious – he makes Derek put the girls on speaker and smirks irritatingly over at Derek, and no amount of gun-cleaning or knife-sharpening will persuade him into hanging up. 

“So, what is it?” Stiles asks one night as they sit shoulder-to-shoulder, takeout boxes in their laps. They’ve got on the latest terrible horror movie that neither one is paying much attention to. When Derek doesn’t respond, Stiles continues, “Are you my guardian angel? Are you protecting me? Are you pining for me? Is this some weird guilt thing? C’mon, Derek, which one of the gossips is right?”

Derek glances quickly at Stiles’ face and means to look away immediately – except his eyes kind of get stuck on an eyelash on Stiles’ cheek and refuse to move. Derek blinks and studies his expression – teasing and smirking, of course, but there’s a tension there that suggest his inquiry is more serious than he’d have Derek believe. He focuses his gaze back on the eyelash.  It’s somewhat infuriating. “I,” he begins and clears his throat when his voice cracks. Stiles’ expression shifts, turning softer, more open, dangerously –

“We make more money when we work as a team,” he says gruffly and looks back at the television screen. Suddenly, a group of teenagers screaming shrilly in a terrible movie is the most interesting thing in the room. Out of the corner of his eye, Derek can see Stiles watching him for a moment longer. 

“Right,” he murmurs and eventually just shakes his head, turns to look forward as well. (If Stiles settles more of his weight against Derek’s shoulder, neither of them mentions it.)

 

*

 

They’re in Paris and they’re running as fast as their legs will allow. Bullets thud into the wall just behind them. If they were even a little bit slower, they’d be hit. Stiles’ grip on Derek’s arm is just as white-knuckled as the grip on the briefcase he’s carrying with his other hand. “Faster,” he yells and Derek would take a moment to say that he can run perfectly fine without being dragged along, but there are guns being fired and footsteps just behind theirs and there’s really no fucking time.

They burst into the stairwell – on instinct, Derek drops and pulls Stiles down with him. A shot whizzes above their heads and embeds itself into the concrete wall. Derek’s back up on his knees within seconds and pulling the trigger. That’s one man down, but there are voices, more feet on the stairwell and coming up their way. “The roof,” Stiles breathes, pulls Derek to his feet and takes off up the stairs. 

“The roof?” He demands even as he follows just seconds behind Stiles. “How’re we going to get down from the fucking roof?”

“Just wait!”

It’s dark out when they stumble onto the roof, but the city’s lights are shining beautifully and the Eiffel Tower is nearby and Derek would take a moment to appreciate the view more if they weren’t busy being shot at. “I hope you at least have a plan,” he yells as Stiles scurries back and forth, a fucking grappling hook in his grasp. He secures it and steps up to the ledge. Raised voices, shouting in French, become clearer as their pursuers get closer to the (now locked) door. 

“You’re not serious,” Derek says incredulously as Stiles peers over the edge of the building they’re on. “It’s more than a hundred feet up, how are we–“

“Would you just trust me this one fucking time?” Stiles demands, holding out a hand and glaring. He’s wearing that fucking red jacket again and seems determined to continue to do so, no matter how unsightly, and easy to see, it is. 

“Stiles,” Derek begins, but is distracted by the loud thud that means their mark’s hired help are working on breaking the door down.

“Derek,” he replies, “Derek, do you trust me?” It’s unfair for him to say those words and he knows it – trust is an issue between the two of them, even now. He stretches out his fingers towards Derek again and gives him a soft, pleading look. “I won’t let you go,” he promises.

Derek exhales slowly and steps up to the ledge next to Stiles as the metal door screeches beneath the pummeling it’s getting. “Fine,” he growls, and braces himself. Stiles, who is already clipped up to the line, gathers him close, secures Derek in his hold, and grins. He looks mad and terrifying and confident and utterly fascinating, lit up with Paris’ city lights. The door flies open and men spill onto the roof.

“Trust me,” he says against Derek’s ear, and as the shots start to fly he merely tips back, tightens his hold on Derek’s body, and they fall.

 

*

 

On the outskirts of Stockholm, Derek takes down six men out of eight with nothing but a boot knife and Stiles at his back. By the end, he’s covered in an array of bruises and blood and dirty snow, crouched low to the ground. Stiles stands by his back, posture perfectly erect, Glock still raised. He’s got a smear of lipstick on his mouth and gunpowder residue on his sleeve. The men at their feet do not stir.

Derek slowly straightens up, clutching the knife in his hand as he surveys the damage. Five dead (two of them finished off by clean headshots from Stiles’ gun), three still breathing. He turns to ask Stiles if he should finish off the rest, just to be safe, but finds him already close. He’s staring at Derek like there’s something to be learned from his face, like he’s holding a secret in the faint frown lines around his mouth, in the stubble that stubbornly stays on his face no matter how much he shaves.

Before he can ask, Stiles darts forward and puts his lips carefully to the corner of Derek’s. He doesn’t do anything else, just lingers for a few seconds before pulling back, unruffled, as if he hadn’t just done something out of the ordinary. “What–“ Derek chokes, his voice barely louder than a breath on the wind. “Why. Why did you do that?”

Stiles looks thoughtful for a few moments. “I don't know," he replies, running a hand through the mess on Derek’s shirt, and shrugs, begins walking towards the city. “Coming?” He calls over his shoulder when Derek doesn’t follow him. Derek’s rooted to the spot where Stiles left him.

“Coming,” he answers, and follows.

 

*

 

In New York City, Derek watches as a desperate, teenage thug yanks a purse from a young woman’s hands. He watches Stiles take off running and tackle the boy into the grimy pavement. He watches as Stiles jogs back to the hysterical woman, purse in hand, and smiles a little.

Derek supposes that if the father is the sheriff and if the mother is a thief, it’s natural that the child will be predisposed to either a life as a lawman or a life as a criminal.

Later, when he finds a hundred dollars in his back pocket that certainly wasn’t there before, he isn’t surprised at all.

 

*

 

Danny looks thoroughly annoyed, glaring at Derek through their Skype call connection. He’s not ashamed to admit he feels a frisson of real fear run down his spine in the face of Danny’s wrath. “Um,” he says, intelligently, “Danny. How can I-“

“So you’re the one responsible for Stilinski’s sudden skill in disappearance. He’s been off the grid for a while. You haven’t killed him, have you?” Stiles, who is puttering around in their hotel room’s tiny kitchen, snorts loudly.

“No, he’s here,” Derek says as Stiles shouts,

“Alive and well, Danny, thanks for your concern!”

“Remind that idiot that he’s still got a debt to pay,” he says, loudly enough that Stiles can hear him. Stiles wanders into the living room area and closer to Derek, so that he’s leaning over his shoulder.

“Consider the idiot reminded,” he snipes at Danny, but he’s relaxed against where he’s leaning across the couch’s back and draped over Derek’s shoulder. (Derek once tried to get Stiles to tell him why he owed Danny, what favor he’d asked for – he’d assumed it was for some kind of job where Danny’s technical prowess was needed, but Stiles had mumbled something that sounded like gay club and drag queens and glitter and went a little pale. Derek didn’t ask again.) Danny doesn’t even pay attention to him, though there’s a twitch at the corner of his mouth, like he’s trying his best not to smile. 

“How can I get in touch with him if I can’t find him?” He asks, and Derek can tell it’s actually a serious question, for all that it’s dripping with sarcasm. He feels Stiles freeze against him, but he doesn’t move away. It feels like his answer is some kind of test, both on Stiles’ and Danny’s sides.

“Just call me,” he answers, voice kept carefully neutral. Danny just nods, but there’s definitely a smile on his face when he ends the call, and Stiles loses his tension, jumps over the couch and lands gracelessly, knocking his bony shoulder and hip into Derek’s as he settles with a book in his lap.  He doesn’t read it, however, and Derek is the subject of careful scrutiny for almost ten minutes before he turns to Stiles, raising an eyebrow.

“Planning on keeping me around, then?” Stiles asks, casually innocent, like he hadn’t just been freaking out about it only a few minutes before. Derek isn’t stupid – he knows what he implied when he told Danny he could reach Stiles through Derek.

“I can always find you,” he hedges, and while it’s the truth, it’s not the particular truth Stiles is digging for. He keeps his gaze on the computer screen, pulling up blueprints and schematics they’ll need for a particularly tricky mission. Stiles just keeps looking at him. The expectant silence is too much, after only a few minutes, so Derek finally answers his previous question, “Yeah. Until you leave, anyway.”

He glances at Stiles, but his expression is unreadable. He opens his mouth to speak, but Derek uncharacteristically panics, jumps from the couch and makes a babbling excuse about going to get food and nearly runs for the door.

He stays out for far longer than he meant to, just sitting on a bench in a quiet park for a couple of hours. His hands get cold and frighteningly white; it’s nearing the end of fall and New York isn’t exactly known for its mild autumn nights. He very carefully doesn’t think about much in particular and finally picks himself up to go back to the hotel. 

He’s pathetically grateful to see Stiles curled up and sound asleep in his bed when he walks in the door. Coward is not a word he usually uses to describe himself, but right now Derek is sure he can feel it tattooed all over his skin, and it makes him itch.

 

*

 

“I’m dragging you down to my level this time, Mr. Hale,” Stiles says with no small amount of glee, reaching up to tug Derek’s tie a little straighter and tighter. The urge to bat his hands away is almost overwhelming, but he can’t make himself do it. The way Stiles is fussing makes Derek remember his mother, smiling and beautiful in her favorite dress, fixing up his father’s suit and hair before they went out.

“I can’t believe you’re making me do this,” he grumbles, reaching up to rub his hands through his hair but falters when Stiles sends him a vicious glare.

“You touch your hair, you die,” he threatens and Derek drops his hands to his side, guiltily. It did take a long time to slick it back just the way Stiles wanted it. Derek never has understood the big deal about hair – he never fusses much about it. Stiles, now that he’s grown out his hair a bit, uses product and looks sullen all day if it doesn’t cooperate with him.

“And I’m not making you do this,” he continues, later, when they’re walking up to a brightly-lit mansion with a long line of elegant-looking people outside the front doors that somehow make waiting in line look like a work of art and Derek is seriously out of his league, here. Stiles merely laughs when Derek relays this to him.

“You’re fine,” he reassures, lightly patting Derek’s chest. “Look, you make me look even better!”

Stiles is an asshole. Derek should let him know. “You are an asshole,” he hisses. For some reason, Stiles’ expression softens.

“Derek, you’re fine. You look good. When we get in there, just follow my lead. We’re just scouting, getting some information on the mark. We’re not doing anything complicated tonight – wine and dine and subtly interrogate. Nothing to it.”

Derek glares and tugs at his collar. “Nothing complicated,” he mutters as Stiles takes off toward the front doors without looking back over his shoulder to see if Derek follows; he knows he will.

Derek isn’t afraid of much (and he’s not posturing when he says that, honestly), but a politician’s gala might just be the most intimidating event he’s had to endure since he had his first job interview. Stiles, however, is relaxed; his posture welcoming, an easy smile on his face, looking for all the world like he belongs here, among diamond earrings gently bumping against a graceful neck, among the greying and distinguished gentlemen, beneath the golden chandeliers with a slim glass of champagne held in his competent hands.

In contrast, Derek trips over a stiletto and nearly sends red wine down a woman’s front. He’s scowling and tense and Stiles really should’ve known better than to try and drag Derek to this damn thing – “Terribly sorry, excuse us,” Stiles smoothly interrupts the woman’s screeching at Derek for nearly ruining her dress. Ridiculous, since nothing actually got spilled.

“Really, very sorry,” he continues as he grabs Derek’s arm and gently steers him away from the red-faced woman. He leans close to Derek’s ear to speak. “You could try to blend in a little more, it’s really not that hard.”

“Says you,” Derek hisses, wrenching his arm out of Stiles’ grip. Because, in reality, Stiles is nothing more than a fucking child, he slips his arm around Derek’s waist to retaliate. There’s no getting away from that unless he wants to draw unwelcome attention to the two of them. “That’s cheating,” he says, and Stiles laughs, throwing his head back as he does.

As much as Stiles had insisted that Derek looked presentable, Stiles looks better. The suit he’s wearing (incidentally, the only one he has) is light grey, a red (of fucking course it’s red) tie tucked inside the waistcoat, possibly store-bought, possibly tailored, but Derek doesn’t know these things. He does know that Stiles is turning heads, including Derek’s, and for good reason. It fits him like a glove, makes him look older than he usually does. Derek feels hot and uncomfortable in his own suit, picked by an old man in and old tailoring shop that Stiles dragged him to. His is simple, a navy blue color with crisp lines. He can’t possibly wear his half as well as Stiles does.

They take a turn around the room, avoiding the middle of the enormous ballroom where people are swaying slowly on the floor, just to get their bearings. Stiles turns to him and wrinkles his nose in obvious distaste. “Really? What is this music from, the ‘20s?”

“1940s, actually, or a little earlier,” Derek replies absently, eyes scanning the room aimlessly. He’s yet to see their mark – the politician’s father, whom said politician wants them to steal an obscene amount of money from. He hears Stiles scoff beside him and frowns a little.

“Of course you’d know that.”

He feels a flush creeping up his neck and blurts, “My grandmother used to play her old records a lot at home,” and immediately wishes that the ground would open up and swallow him whole. He wipes the back of his hand across his mouth and clears his throat. It feels like there’s something choking him. “She– she liked them. The songs, they reminded her of when she was– you know. We had to listen to them a lot when we were growing up, but I, uh. I didn’t really mind.”

He looks over at Stiles, who is watching him, open-mouthed and obviously stricken. Derek shrugs and offers a conciliatory half-smile. “Sometimes you have to appreciate older things, Stiles.”

“Oh, I appreciate you plenty, don’t I?” They drop the subject.

Just follow my lead, Stiles’ had said earlier, and like a fool, Derek trusted him. He’s bitterly regretting it a few minutes later, when they start the ‘subtle interrogation’ portion of the evening. “My colleague, Richard,” Stiles says, busy with introductions to a few older, important-looking men. He introduces Derek as “My partner, Colin,” to a few older ladies that titter and smile conspiratorially at the two of them. “Miguel. He’s my cousin,” to a couple of young blondes, who stare at Stiles with identical open expressions of interest.

Brother, escort, distant relation, husband, business partner, boyfriend, friend – Stiles makes up a hundred different names, a hundred different cover stories. It’s reckless and stupid but Derek never stops him. Stiles looks like he’s having fun; there’s a glint of mischievousness in his eyes that lights him up, makes him just a little breathtaking.

They find the politician’s wife, Meredith Verne, not long later. Stiles dials the charm down a few notches, as if he can sense that she’s not a woman who enjoys small talk and pleasantries. This time, he just introduces Derek by his name and nothing else. The woman’s eyes, however, are shrewd when she looks the two of them over.

They don’t get much information about her husband out of her. Derek, sensing that she’s about to start asking questions of her own, turns abruptly to Stiles. “Would you get me a glass of that?” He asks, gesturing to the almost empty glass of champagne. Stiles narrows his eyes at him, but acquiesces, stepping away and leaving Derek with Mrs. Verne. “You have a stunning home,” he says after a moment of silence. In order to appear friendly, the parents have hosted the event at their own home.

“Thank you,” she replies, a small smile on her face. “We have not had occasion to use this room in a very long time.” She looks around the gilded room wistfully. “I have not danced in years,” she murmurs, probably to herself. Derek presses his advantage. He holds out a friendly hand to her and she startles badly, as if she’d forgotten he was even there (he knows what that’s like – remembering a life long in the past; it’s easy to lose yourself in your own head). 

She smiles at him, pleased and surprised, and takes his hand, lets him lead her onto the floor where people are still gliding gracefully to the soft music. “Édith Piaf,” she says quietly as he takes her small hand, more frail and fragile than his own, and begins to sway along with the music. “It has been quite some time since I’ve gotten to dance with a handsome young man.”

Derek can’t stop the surprised bark of laughter that slips past his lips. “Your husband?” He asks, innocently curious. Her face falls a little, and he can tell she’s one of the lucky women who has aged gracefully – her hair is perfectly silver, no evidence of a dye in it, and she doesn’t try to cover up her age lines. She must be in her eighties, but she doesn’t seem to be suffering.

“He could not join us tonight,” she answers after a few minutes. He says nothing and is patient, careful to keep dancing slowly and not to step on her feet. “He’s not been well for quite some time. He didn’t feel up to enduring this, tonight.” There’s a note of resigned finality in her voice and Derek knows without a doubt that Mr. Verne has not long to live. It’s both good and bad news – depends what his will says. 

After a few more minutes, Mrs. Verne nods over to where Stiles is leaning against a wall, watching them with interest. Derek knows he’s bursting with curiosity to know what information Derek’s been able to get, but Mrs. Verne doesn’t know that. “You make a handsome pair,” she says, suddenly, and Derek nearly trips.

“I– what? We’re, we’re not–"

“It doesn’t seem fair,” she continues, like he hasn’t spoken. When he makes a vaguely questioning noise, she gives him a pointed look. “It doesn’t seem fair that you cannot dance with whom you really wish to.” She releases him and makes her way to another group of people on the other side of the room. Derek shakes his head and moves to Stiles’ side. 

“What did you get for me?” He asks, cheeky and confident. Derek opens his mouth to answer, automatically, but then stops. Stiles’ brow furrows for a moment, but smoothes out immediately when Derek holds out a hand to him, much like he did to Mrs. Verne. “Really, Derek?” He scoffs. When Derek doesn’t remove his hand, however, his expression morphs into one of surprise. “You want me to dance with you.” It’s not a question.

“I want you to dance with me.”

Stiles takes his hand.

(Derek relays the information he’d gleaned from the wife while they dance, heads bent close together, in the middle of the room. He’s a little less careful with Stiles than he was with Mrs. Verne, but Stiles takes it as a challenge and matches him step for step, like always. He falters only once, when Derek starts to hum the familiar tune, near Stiles’ ear, and pulls back a little to look at Derek’s face.

“You going to sing to me, too, Mr. Hale?” He asks, teasing, but Derek can’t help but mouth the words as they’re sung I’ll be seeing you in all the old, familiar places and Stiles smiles at him and leans in, rests his forehead against Derek’s temple and slows their pace. Meredith Verne catches his eye from across the room and he watches as she smiles at them and blinks moisture from her eyes and she reminds him so much of his own grandmother that he can hardly stand it – but here, in the bright and beautiful home of a dying man, a man they’re about to steal from, Derek listens to a song that brings back memories of warmth and home and love.

He can’t find it in himself to dredge up the anger, familiar and comforting and grounding as it is, even as a bittersweet sadness chokes him momentarily. Stiles’ hand tightens in his and he feels the briefest press of dry lips against his cheekbone, and dances.

He never forgets this moment.)

 

*

 

“You should’ve come into the house with me,” Stiles’ voice says in his ear a few days later. Derek, on the rooftop of a nearby building, shivers in the cold air and tries not to rise to the bait. “He’s playing Frank Sinatra in his study. I know how you feel about Sinatra, Derek.”

Derek can see Stiles through one of the large windows, gliding in and out of the shadows. “I’ve got better visibility up here and you know it, Stiles,” he growls. “Now shut up and do your damn job, it’s fucking freezing up here.” A guard walks past the window of the room where Stiles is one clean shot through the window is all Derek needs. The guard is down in seconds. “Don’t walk through the blood,” he warns.

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles mutters before soundlessly melting out of the shadows. “I could’ve taken care of that one. No need to break the fucking window, you trigger-happy bastard, you’ve just shortened the amount of time I have to crack this thing.” 

“Then you’d better get started, Stilinksi,” he says and grins, lines up another guard in his sights and takes that one down, too. Derek doesn’t like to leave any loose ends, Stiles likes to win – they both end the job happy, Derek with smoking casings scattered around his feet, Stiles with a truly ridiculous amount of money slung over his shoulder and Sinatra crooning bang bang, my baby shot me down faintly in both their ears.

 

*

 

Stiles the spy and Stiles the man are two completely different people. In theory, Derek knows this and has seen proof, but it’s still unsettling, sometimes. Where one is focused and hardened, the other is distractible and unbearably vulnerable, eager to show his hand even when he should play it close to the chest.

He’s seen Stiles scale buildings, slide in and out of shadows, jump up to the rafters of a warehouse and stay hidden there for hours with nothing but a few support beams to hold himself to the ceiling with. He’s also seen Stiles trip on cracks in the sidewalk, bang his head more than once on the same cabinet door carelessly left open. It’s difficult, sometimes, to reconcile the two drastically different parts of Stiles’ life.

That’s not to say the two don’t mix, sometimes, and when they do, it’s usually a terrible thing to behold.

In Montevideo, Derek unlocks the door to an apartment they’re renting after a long day of trailing the mark and immediately knows something’s wrong – all the lights have been turned off and there’s only the sound of someone on the television loudly trying to sell cleaning equipment. He moves quietly through the door, closes it softly behind him and steps carefully into the living room.

He feels a startling sense of stillness descend on his shoulders and immediately knows he’s not alone. Derek has barely a second to react from the time he sees a flash of movement in his peripheral vision before he hits the floor hard.  He bucks up to dislodge the heavy weight that’s settled on his chest before he realizes that he knows the silhouette above him.

“Stiles,” is all he has the time to say before a street light flickers on and comes through the window to catch on Stiles, throws half of his face into an orange light and the other into shadow, and make the kitchen knife in his hand flash dangerously.

There’s an unsettling blankness to Stiles’ expression, a certain detachment that Derek has only seen once in almost a two years of working together, and he suddenly knows that this is Travis Goddard’s Stiles, not Derek’s. It’s for that reason alone he pulls his hand back and punches Stiles’ jaw with every ounce of force he has. It unbalances him, makes his lip bleed, but doesn’t shove him off like Derek had hoped, and a second later he sees the knife come down.

Derek tightens up and arches his body away as best as possible and manages to roll Stiles off of his body, to merely get a long gash near his ribs, but not through them. It’s the small mercies that matter, after all, right? It stings like hell and he’s already bleeding through his shirt but like every other time something in their partnership goes wrong, Stiles is the priority (Stiles is always the priority. Derek probably needs to examine and sort out his obvious priority-related issues).

He’s not proud of what he does next – grabs Stiles’ wrist and twists it viciously, slams him down onto the wood flooring so hard it makes his head bounce sickeningly, looms over him and shouts, “Snap the fuck out of it, Stilinski!” He takes the bloody knife from Stiles’ hand and throws it across the room as Stiles thrashes. His pupils are blown wide and he’s not blinking – night terrors, Derek’s mind supplies. PTSD.

“Stiles, wake up,” he ends up pleading, five minutes later, when shaking him and shouting hasn’t warranted any results. “Come on, Stiles, this isn’t real. Wake up, it’s me, it’s only Derek.” Something inside of him claws up from his gut to his throat, makes him want to say and do stupid, dangerous things. He won’t. He can’t.

He puts his hand to Stiles’ forehead instead, drags it through his hair, grown longer now since he’s stopped cropping it close to his head. Stiles stops struggling, sucks in a surprised, choked breath and says in a very, very small voice, “Derek?” and Derek knows the worst of it has passed.

“Yeah, it’s me. I’m here,” he answers, pulls Stiles to him and lets him hold on, ignores his hitching apologies, feels Stiles’ hands shake with internalized anger as he helps clean and stitch Derek’s gash closed, listens to his tentative thanks and thinks I’d do much more for you than you know but says nothing. 

 

*

 

In between jobs, in between getting shot at and chased and stealing and killing, they rest in Genoa, where they tentatively call home. Derek methodically takes apart his weapons, cleans them, and puts them back together again while Stiles lounges at his side, usually with a game controller in his hand. “You’re twenty-three,” Derek says as he knocks the controller with his hand as he passes by, makes what he assumes is Stiles’ character die screaming and Stiles barely takes his eyes away from the screen, but manages to flip him off.

“Fuck off, asshole,” he replies.

In Genoa, sometimes they go out to eat and sometimes they stay in and cook. They’re not wanted in Italy (not yet, at least) and Derek can go on long runs when he feels ready to burst out of his skin. Stiles can go to all the museums he wants, wander the streets when he feels restless.

Genoa is where they fight about who takes out the trash or does the dishes or who gets to pick the movie (surprisingly, Derek almost always wins this argument). Genoa is where they can take a step back and laugh at the ridiculousness of their lives:

“We’re not crazy, Stiles.”

“We absolutely are! I steal things from important people, you kill anyone who gets in the way. You, you un-ironically love the James Bond movies!”

“You have an entire playlist on your iPod named secret agent songs, Stiles.”

“God, Derek, don’t even remind me.”

This is also, incidentally, where they allow themselves to get absolutely smashed. They don’t do anything, just sit at a bar for a few hours and steadily chug down whatever the bartender puts in front of them until they’re swaying in their seats. Derek and Stiles are usually talkative during this strange ritual of theirs, except this time it’s the twelfth year anniversary of the Hale fire and Derek’s been an asshole all day. He feels marginally better when he’s drunk.

Stiles sits by him quietly, his forearm pressed against Derek’s. They stay for most of the night and stumble home, leaning on each other. Derek, who is the more coordinated of the two of them while drunk, leads Stiles to his room and sits him on the bed, works on untying the bright blue sneakers he has on.

At the light touch of a hand to his jaw, his head jerks up and he stares at Stiles, who’s looking at him, mouth turned downward in that way that says he’s upset. He leans forward, towards Derek, tilts his head down and Derek turns his face away just in time for Stiles’ lips to catch his cheek. With an earnestness that can only be achieved by the truly hammered, he says, “I’m sorry.”

It’s not what Derek wants or needs to hear, right now, so he ignores Stiles and jerks his head away. He pulls off one shoe and starts on the other. “Derek,” Stiles pleads and pushes one hand into Derek’s hair and the other under his chin, wrenching his head up a little less gently than he should. Derek loses his tenuous balance and braces his hands against Stiles’ knee as he’s pulled a little closer.

“I wish it hadn’t happened,” Stiles continues, sounding brokenhearted, as if he has any right. “I wish you hadn’t fallen in love with her,” he says, like he doesn’t know that Derek blames himself, like he doesn’t know how harsh that is to say to a man who gave his heart away when he was sixteen and got his family killed because of it.

He can’t speak, can’t seem to form words, but Stiles hushes him all the same, tugs a little at his hair in warning. “She shouldn’t have made you fall in love with her. Derek,” he says, as if he’s having some kind of epiphany, “Derek, she deserved to die. She fucking – she deserved to die, alright?” He sighs and sways forward, lets his forehead rest against Derek’s. “I wish she hadn’t broken your heart. Then, maybe,” he trails off and shuts his eyes, exhales slowly. He doesn’t seem to be inclined to explain.

“Maybe?” Derek asks – his voice is wrecked, low and scratchy, like he hasn’t spoken in days. Stiles huffs out a laugh, gives Derek a little, crooked grin and nods.

“Maybe,” he answers, opens his eyes and moves away. Derek doesn’t think, doesn’t let himself think, just rises up on his knees a bit, lifts his hands to Stiles’ face and brings him back down, presses his lips to Stiles’ for a brief moment and allows himself to linger.

He doesn’t expect Stiles to respond – a little selfishness never hurt anyone, and tonight Derek deserves to be a little selfish – except Stiles has always loved surprising him. He grips the back of Derek’s neck roughly but is gentle when he kisses back, breathing out, slowly and shaky. “I shouldn’t,” he says after some time, pulling back just enough that his lips brush Derek’s when he speaks.

Derek just shakes his head. “You should,” he replies, because – because it’s been twelve years, because they’re both drunk. If Stiles is willing to give a little, Derek’s going to take it because he doesn’t have a goddamn thing left to have for his own.

Stiles pulls back a little more and studies him. Derek wonders what he’s looking for, what he sees in his expression. He carefully doesn’t shut down, doesn’t close Stiles out. He obviously drinks it in, as if Derek is his favorite book, dog-eared and a bit messed up from all the times he’s been dropped on the floor or had coffee spill on him, but open, spine bent but not broken, easy and familiar to read.

Derek hasn’t asked for anything since he was sixteen years old but he asks for Stiles now, tilting his head up into Stiles’ hands, kneeling between his legs, shadowed where Stiles is lit softly by the flickering streetlight outside of the bedroom window. He asks for Stiles, and Stiles responds kindly, leaning down again for a kiss.

Logically, Derek knows that kissing is just an ungraceful mashing of skin against skin. There should be no reaction to it, nothing special about it. You don’t have to feel anything when someone kisses you, but it wasn’t nothing when Kate did, and it’s not nothing, now.

It’s slow and deep, not a challenge to rise to but like a conversation to have – a natural question and answer. Stiles parts his lips and Derek responds by sliding a hand into his hair, pulling gently on it. Stiles gasps quietly and pulls Derek a little closer, kisses him a little more fiercely. They part, breathing in quickly – oxygen is a little less important to them than it should be, now.

“Clothes,” Stiles murmurs, tugging inefficiently at Derek’s shirt. “C’mon, Derek,” he pleads when Derek is a little slow to respond, only because he’s busy planting open-mouthed kisses along the line of Stiles’ jaw and down his neck. Stiles pushes him away, urges him to his feet. He pulls at Derek’s shirt again, and this time is successful in dragging it up and over Derek’s head.

The rest, Derek takes care of himself while Stiles divests himself of his own clothes, a bit clumsily. They stumble into each other and Derek can’t help but catch Stiles’ lips again when he’s knocked into a third time. “Hazard,” he whispers into his mouth and Stiles bites his lower lip in retaliation.

“Fuck you.”

Please, Derek thinks, but doesn’t say. That’s a little too dangerous, a little too much to give away. He releases Stiles from his grasp and climbs onto the narrow bed. Derek rests his back against the headboard, stretches his legs out in front of him and holds out a hand, dragging Stiles on top of him when he gets close.

Stiles’ breath hitches in time with Derek’s as they press together, skin against skin only, for the first time. “Oh,” Stiles says, a little surprised, like he didn’t think it would feel like this. Derek would laugh, except he can’t help but agree. He wraps his arms around Stiles, pulling him even closer, buries his face in his neck and pressing gentle bites where he can reach.

They don’t have much coordination, not when this is so new, not when Derek’s drowning in the feeling of having Stiles above him, pressing against him, raking his nails down Derek’s back as their hips press together in a slow, maddening, grinding rhythm. There’s a hush in the room, only broken by their quiet gasps and swears.

“Derek,” Stiles sighs and uses the grip on his hair to pull his head away from his neck, where there’ll no doubt be bruising, to kiss him as their rhythm speeds up. After a minute, before either of them can come, Derek slides down so that his back rests fully on the mattress. Stiles covers him completely with his body, and Derek slides his hands down Stiles’ slim back to his ass, using his grip to pull their hips together again.

He lets Stiles push him deeper into the mattress, wraps his legs around Stiles’ waist to hold him close. They rock together, Stiles setting the pace; it’s languid and unhurried and driving Derek out of his mind. “Stiles, come on – come on, please,” he very nearly begs and moans aloud when Stiles takes the both of them in hand, moving his hand up and down to the pace of their hips and it only takes a few pulls of his hand to make Derek come, clutching at Stiles’ shoulders.

Stiles follows him soon after and tries to bury his face in Derek’s neck to hide his face and Derek thinks you have seen me at my absolute worst, pulls gently on Stiles’ hair to pull his head back and kisses him hard on the mouth, unwilling to let him hide. They stay like that, wrapped up in each other, not speaking or moving, until they both drop into sleep. 

The next morning, Derek wakes up with a splitting headache, last night’s events replaying in his head in amazing clarity, and Stiles drooling on his chest. This might just be the best way to wake up, he thinks,  and dozes off until Stiles pokes his shoulder and asks, loudly, “Does this mean you’re my Bond girl, now?” And Derek rolls over on top of him and shuts him up in the newest, most effective way he knows how. 

 

*

 

This is Genoa: 

Derek relearns Stiles; collecting information and affection, snatching them up and clutching them closely, like they’re seashells on the shore that could be pulled out into the ocean at any moment, lost forever. 

Within a month (longer than they’ve ever willingly stayed in one place), he knows how Stiles feels under him, above him, how fast he shakes apart when Derek lays hands on him. He learns how softly Stiles can gasp and how loudly he can scream, both in the same night. He tries his best to memorize the way Stiles looks with his head thrown back on the bed, early light spilling over his eyelashes and chest, lips red and a little swollen.

He learns some things about himself, as well – he likes the contact, skin against skin, but too much and too rough of it leads to unpleasant memories and a bruise darkening Stiles’ jaw that Derek feels sick about; all of a sudden, it’d been fight-or-flight and a gasped, “Kate, no,” and a struggle to get away. Stiles had looked stricken and apologized for it, over and over again, which just made it worse. Kate left her claws buried deeply, but Stiles seems to be intent on sucking the poison out. 

In, uh, every conceivable way. 

They still argue about the dishes and the trash and who’s paying what bill. Stiles still goes out and wanders; Derek still goes out and runs for long periods of time (sometimes Derek will lose track of where he’s going and end up in the park Stiles likes to frequent, the one with the little pond and the ducks and the children that run around and scream, so it’s only natural that Derek takes a seat next to him, just for a few minutes). At the end of the day, however, the movie they put on plays, unnoticed, and only one of the bedrooms is in use, anymore – it’s easy, uncomplicated. 

They have no jobs to worry about, no one to run from. Stiles smiles more genuinely, isn’t afraid to slip up behind Derek and wrap his arms around Derek’s waist and cling on, regardless of how hard Derek struggles (he never struggles very much). Derek allows himself to be a little more selfish, takes whatever Stiles will give him and is a little less snappish, even if he’s still an asshole (Stiles’ words). 

Derek gets used to waking up with Stiles in his bed, usually snoring, always wrapped around Derek and unwilling to let him go. Derek has always had a Stiles-shaped hole in his defenses – could never, in good conscience, say no to the wide-eyed little thing, even when he was five and Derek was ten. Laura always teased him about it, about having a little admirer that followed him around like a pup and, Derek thinks as he lays trapped against his own mattress, she’s probably laughing at me right now. She’d probably find this whole thing poetic. She’d always been finding things tragically poetic.

(Derek often wonders what she would’ve said about Kate, what she’d have done to him, if she ever found out that Derek was directly responsible for letting a madwoman near their family. He wonders if she’d have forgiven him or if she would’ve done them both a favor and put a bullet in his brain. 

Don’t say that, Stiles shouts at him late one night, when Derek voices this particular thought. Don’t you ever – Laura loved you, Derek. She would’ve forgiven you. He’s tense, eyes a little wild, and Derek smiles. 

You don’t think I deserve to die for what I did? He asks, feeling a little reckless with himself. You shot me in Brazil, in the summer, do you remember? He says and brings Stiles’ hand up to his neck, remembers the finger-shaped bruises that lingered for a long time, remembers the knife in Stiles’ hand, remembers ‘maybe I should put a bullet in your brain, I think that’d be fair–‘ You’ve threatened to kill me before, he reminds Stiles, almost gently. 

Stiles’ other hand slides up his chest, stopping at his shoulder; over the gnarled and spidery scar he gave Derek years ago. The hand on Derek’s neck moves up to his face, tracing over his brow, down over his eyelids, his cheek, his lips. I was stupid, he whispers and guides Derek’s face into his shoulder, holds tightly to him for a long time.)

 

 

They get restless after another few weeks, pack themselves up and get out of Genoa in search of work. They don their professional personas, slip into their other skins, keep their hands to themselves and once they’ve run themselves sufficiently ragged, they drag their exhausted bodies back to Genoa, and Derek will slam Stiles up against the wall as soon as the door closes. They rest there, quietly tangled up in each other, unwilling to separate unless absolutely necessary. Then, when they’ve healed and rested, gotten their fill of each other, they go back to work when Erica or Lydia calls. 

This pattern becomes a permanent feature of their partnership – when Derek turns thirty-one and Stiles is twenty-six, they still have their small apartment in Genoa, now a mixture of both of them. Derek’s got sleek furniture, Stiles has dragged in ragged and worn-looking tables and pieces of art. 

Despite Derek’s love for cool colors, the apartment is covered in reds and yellows, and despite Stiles’ aversion to cleaning, the apartment is spotless. Here, their lives are saturated in color and warmth and Derek is just enough in love to think this must be home and not feel afraid. 

 

 

Derek’s in the kitchen when he hears a knock at the door. “Stiles, can you get that?” He shouts down the hall, hands covered in flour. Stiles comes jogging in from the balcony and snorts loudly at him. 

“You’ve got flour in your eyebrows,” he taunts and heads off to the door. Derek frowns, reaches to brush it out and realizes he only succeeds in spreading flour all over his forehead. He’s about to turn and try and wash it out in the sink when a loud shout comes from the direction of the door. 

Derek’s sprinting down the hall within seconds, kitchen knife in hand, blind with panic. He just barely manages not to stab Lydia Martin in the kidneys when he realizes she’s hugging Stiles, not mauling him, and breathes out a long sigh of relief. “Hello, Lydia,” he says, pleasant as anything, like he’s not still shaking from the adrenaline. 

“Hello, Derek,” she returns, detaching Stiles’ octopus arms with very little effort (how does she do that? It takes Derek at least ten minutes to do that, not ten seconds). She frowns at him, points down at the knife in his hand. “Didn’t Stiles teach you manners? You don’t wave kitchen knives at your guests, it’s very rude.”

He hides the knife in the wilting plant by the door that they always forget to water. “My sincerest apologies, your highness,” he replies with a sneer, but he catches her smile just before he turns his back on her, and he can’t help but grin. He’s always liked Lydia – her sharp tongue, her genius-level intelligence, her all-around competency. Derek can appreciate it.

He can also see why Stiles is so in love with her; they’re a perfect match – gorgeous, intelligent, capable, and lethal (though Lydia is more the type to kill using her own chemical compounds and Stiles is more likely to shoot you between the eyes or snap your neck with his bare hands; less messy, less noisy, he always says).

The only problem, it seems, is Lydia doesn’t see Stiles as a potential mate. Privately, Derek thinks she’s crazy, but it’s not like he’s going to encourage her. He’s not blind, though, and backs off of Stiles, lets her have him, for now. Lydia doesn’t really trust him with Stiles – for someone not in love with him, she’s weirdly possessive. 

“I don’t like to share,” she’d told Derek, years ago. “You damage him at all, you’ll regret it,” she’d said and Derek had believed every word. He’s since done his best to patch Stiles up to her liking, but she’s a perfectionist and Stiles has several scars Derek couldn’t prevent. He doesn’t think Lydia’s forgiven him for them. 

He finishes dinner while Stiles pours himself and Lydia glasses of wine and pulls her toward their balcony. He can hear them chattering, mostly Stiles and Lydia occasionally interrupting with her cutting remarks, from where he is and he can’t help but wish, fiercely, that Erica would show up. 

Lydia hums in surprise when she takes a bite of the chicken stir-fry Derek threw together. She smirks at him, raises her eyebrows. “Seems like the Wolf’s been domesticated.” Stiles groans and throws a hand over his eyes. He’s always more dramatic when Lydia’s around. 

“What did we say about that nickname, huh? What did we agree? We said we never wanted to hear those ever–“ 

“Oh, please, Little Red,” she scoffs, “You have to admit, it fit a few years ago. You practically wore nothing but red, and you didn’t think people were going to pick up on it?” 

“We didn’t realize they’d come up with such fucking stupid nicknames,” Derek interjects mildly, takes a sip of his wine. 

Lydia smiles, truly smiles, and laughs. “Red and his wolf. No one took you seriously back then,” she says, as if it’s been twenty years instead of five. “Look at you two now. It makes a girl proud.” 

Whenever Lydia visits, it’s only supposed to be for a couple of hours. “Anything more is risky,” she says; Derek doesn’t know what she means, but he knows that it can’t be that risky, since she always ends up spending the night. 

True to form, she and Stiles migrate to the couch and curl up together, Stiles’ head in her lap. Lydia makes a face down at him, like it’s such a hardship to start carding her fingers through his hair. He can see the smile threatening to tug the corners of her mouth up and there’s no tension in her shoulders. Stiles is safe and sound, laying on her, using his hands to sketch out some ridiculous story, and she’s happy. Derek can see it. 

A few years ago, this would’ve made Derek want to snap her neck. He’d well and truly hated her for dropping in unannounced, wherever they were, and make nice with Stiles, only to leave before first light, without saying goodbye. He’d be there in the aftermath, watching Stiles mope, distracted and irritable. 

He’d thought it was some kind of power play – showing off her influence over Stiles, keeping his interest in her, playing him for the fool he very much was. Now, he merely shakes his head at them and goes to clean up, feeling an odd weight settle on his chest – not bad, just a little stifling. He can hear their voices, low and even, soothing. 

Derek doesn’t know the whole story of them. He’s never been able to get Stiles to tell him. What he’s been told amounts to this: Stiles had needed a handler when he was working under Goddard and Goddard put Lydia, another of his reluctant protégés, on the job. Lydia spent most of her time ordering Stiles around and ignoring him the rest of the time. Except – well, Stiles has one scar stretching from his collarbone to his stomach (Derek touched it, once, and hadn’t asked, but Stiles had said Lydia and that was it) and Lydia has one to match, though it spans down the entire length of her right arm.

Whatever happened, it formed a bond that hasn’t gone, and most likely won’t go, away. Even if he doesn’t understand it fully, Derek can respect it.

By the time he’s done in the kitchen, it looks like Stiles is well on his way to becoming catatonic. Lydia has a bright, untroubled smile on her face. “You look happy,” she’s saying softly. Her hand’s touching his chest, where Derek knows the scar lies. Stiles has a hand on her right arm, stroking over the raised flesh gently. His lips move, but Derek can’t hear his answer. Lydia flicks a glance up at him as he approaches. 

“Looks like your keeper is here to put you to bed,” she tells him, smile changing into a smirk. “You’re such a bore, it’s only midnight!” 

“I don’t think I can move,” Stiles admits, but manages lifts his arms towards Derek beseechingly. Derek snorts, but hauls him up, steadies him when he overbalances and crashes into Derek’s chest. Lydia shares an exasperated glance with Derek.

It takes the two of them to get Stiles into bed. He’s nearly asleep even before he hits the pillow. Derek’s done this dance before, however, and expertly removes his jeans and shirt, tucks Stiles in beneath the covers and turns back to the doorway, where Lydia waits. A hand darts out and grabs onto Derek’s hand, tugs him back to the bedside. Stiles’ lips are turned up in a sleepy smile and he pulls Derek down into a kiss, soft and slow, either oblivious to, or uncaring of, Lydia’s presence in their bedroom. It could be a ploy to make her jealous. Derek doesn’t know. 

Instead of ribbing him like he expects her to, once they’re out of Stiles’ hearing range, she just raises a delicate eyebrow at him. “I had noticed the guest room hasn’t changed a bit since the last time I was here. Don’t take me for a fool, Hale.” 

“If there’s one thing you aren’t, it’s a fool,” he replies and leads her out to the balcony. He sits, feeling suddenly heavy and tired. She takes the chair across from him.

“Looks like those all those silly rumors are finally true,” she prompts, innocently. Derek can’t tell if she’s happy for him or ready to tear his balls off. With Lydia, it could go either way. 

“It’s not– I mean, we aren’t. He doesn’t actually,” he begins, but can’t seem to find the words. “I’m… Convenient.” She seems to have ignored him. 

“He was in love with me for years, you know.” Derek bristles, because he does know. He probably knows better than Lydia does, and that just doesn’t seem fair. “I’m glad to see that phase has finally passed.” 

“I wouldn’t know,” Derek says through clenched teeth, suddenly on-edge. 

“Oh?” Lydia asks, blinking at him, faking innocence. It’s glaringly obvious that she has an objective, a point to get to. Derek, who has always been more than a little wary of her, doesn’t want to give her the satisfaction. So, he’s really just being stubborn for the sake of it as he lies through his teeth,

“I don’t know what Stiles is like when he’s in love.” 

Lydia fixes a sharp, almost angry look on him. “Don’t you?” She asks, voice hard; her posture screams that she’s getting ready for a fight. When Derek doesn’t answer, she frowns. “Don’t you, Derek?” She asks again. The words, this time, are soft-spoken, gentle. It’s really unnerving.

“Don’t play dumb,” Lydia chides. “We both know exactly how he is when he’s in love, and that little display back there? It wasn’t for my benefit.” Before he’s aware of what he’s doing, Derek’s on his feet, but Lydia is standing a half-second after him, and blocks his exit. “Sit down, you melodramatic ass,” she orders. Derek sits.

“You’re not this idiotic, Derek,” she hisses. “Don’t delude yourself. We both do know what he looks like when he’s in love. He looks exactly like he does now, and he’s not in love with me.”

Lydia angry is a terrible and beautiful thing to behold. He’s never known her to be wrong, but Stiles isn’t some equation she’s working on cracking. He’s human – unstable and unpredictable and she’s wrong, because Stiles has, and always will, love her more than he loves anyone else (except his father, probably).

Still, Derek can’t help but think, what if she’s right? He thinks of the limbs lost to numbness when Stiles falls asleep on him, of how his mouth moves even in sleep, of falling backwards in Paris with nothing but a rope and Stiles wrapped around him, of countless nights staying up too late, pouring over maps and plans together. He thinks of an eighteen year old thief who stole his knife, still dripping with Peter’s blood, right out of midair, thinks of the wide-eyed little boy that followed him around the woods when they were little. He thinks of a man who couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger on a man that gave him hundreds of opportunities. 

Derek thinks, I am in love with a man whose real first name I don’t even know. Derek thinks, I am in love with Stiles Stilinski, and realizes that it’s not a revelation.

“– looks good on you,” Lydia is saying. Derek blinks back into the present and shakes his head at her. 

“What does?” He asks, not even caring when his voice comes out hoarse, as if he hasn’t spoken in days. 

“Love,” she answers, smiling like a shark, lobbing the word like a grenade, aiming to hurt. Derek doesn’t dispute it, and watches in horror as her expression slowly morphs from teasing to weariness. Lydia presses her lips together firmly, stares unrelentingly at Derek. 

“You have no idea how much I wanted to love him,” she whispers, like a confession. “I thought about pretending, but I couldn’t – I couldn’t do it. He deserved better.” She sounds disgusted with herself – not for wanting to pretend to be in love with Stiles, Derek suspects, but because she couldn’t make herself go through with it. 

“I tried,” she says and glares across the table at him. “I wanted to and I tried but I couldn’t love him. You don’t even have to try. You just do.” Lydia sounds angry and jealous, like it’s her fault that she couldn’t love Stiles as effortlessly as she thinks Derek does. “I always love the impossible ones,” she mumbles, twisting a pretty little ring around the fourth finger of her left hand. 

“Can’t be that impossible,” he offers, extending the olive branch, flicking a look down to the engagement ring she wears. She looks down at it for a long moment, as well, and then smiles at him. 

“No, I guess it isn’t.” She sighs and stands. “Don’t damage him,” she says, her customary piece of advice, and leaves him alone on the balcony. It’s a long time before he finally slides, fully clothed, into the bed beside Stiles. 

Lydia, as usual, is gone before he and Stiles wake.

 

*

 

Derek opens his eyes to find Stiles already awake, watching him with a soft, gentle expression. He doesn’t blush or look away or stutter to be caught. He simply smiles, bathed in the early morning light slanting through the blinds. Derek loves Stiles when he is exuberant with success, loves Stiles when he is enraged, loves Stiles when his mouth is a bloody smear, loves Stiles when he smiles, loves Stiles when he is bruised. Derek loves Stiles, and this is nothing new (he wonders what the expression on his face must look like, because whatever it is, it makes Stiles bend toward him and gently press his lips to Derek’s, lingering – he must look like he is in love, because he must be). 

“I don’t know what Stiles looks like when he’s in love.” 

Maybe he does, after all.

 

 

They’re in Paris, in Beijing, in Prague, in Moscow, and they’re stealing a briefcase, they’re cracking a safe, they’re shooting down guards, they’re running for their lives. Stiles’ mouth is bloody and so are Derek’s hands, and they’re both breathless and giddy with the adrenaline of a fight won, a job well done. Stiles stops to pull Derek in roughly, kissing him desperately, spreading the blood on his lips to Derek’s. After a few breathless moments, he steps away from Derek’s clutching hold and begins the walk toward safety. He throws a look over his shoulder, grins dangerously at Derek, and asks, “Coming?” 

Derek shakes his head, halfheartedly hiding a grin, and follows.