“So, because midterms start way sooner than I would like to admit, I’m refusing to play anything depressing tonight, okay? I think even the faint echo of acoustic guitars may result in a bunch of you throwing yourselves off the top of the clock tower. I will not be responsible for that.”
Boyd is rolling his eyes through the glass of the booth.
"Yeah, Boyd, whatever, I care about our fourteen listeners, okay? Stop it with the face. Anywho, here's Better Things by The Bouncing Souls. Dare you not to smile."
The opening riffs come through his headphones, and Stiles grins as he pulls them to rest at the base of his neck. It's like he can count down the exact second his mysterious Listener Number One's text comes through.
Shiiit. This one takes me back. Consider me impressed. You're killing it tonight. -D
Stiles smiles at the wave of warmth blooming in his chest. This is what he loves. Sure, he had to pick an actual major, and do all the law and media theory and goddamn ethics that came with the territory, but from the first time he sat in his high school's shitty, out-of-date sound studio and was given a half-hour slot during career week, and free rein to just babble and play songs he adored with Scott, it was love.
Stiles was born to be on the radio. Filling silence with his own tangential thoughts and music he likes is practically what he was made to do.
He's a sophomore, which means he gets his own little slot all to himself. He did his time with a co-presenter in freshman year, okay, and he's earned this. Playing dub step and 'modern club hits' with Lydia was, while not exactly excruciating, since he has harbouring a pretty substantial crush on her at the time (but soon got over that once she dragged him to wait in line for Adele tickets because 'buying online is cheating'), just not where his heart lay.
'Linski's Late Night Antidote to Lame' is one hundred percent Stiles-scripted, Boyd-produced, and he only plays stuff he fucking loves. So, okay, it's technically not even on late at night (the alliteration sounded better), but it's been worth giving up the hour between eight and nine on Fridays and continuing the use of the pseudonym that followed him from Lyds and Linski's Pregame Party. Whatever, people recognised the name when he started up his own show, and at least it's more imaginative than Greenberg's, who just used his given last-name for Sports Talk. Peasant.
What he hadn't imagined, though, was building up a little following. He jokes about their listenership, but if the official Facebook page is anything to go by, over two hundred of UBH's student population are at least aware of the show. It's a pleasant surprise to know that his reach extends beyond the group of stoners in Jefferson dorm who routinely tweet him "duuuuude!" every time he blasts a Blink-182 throwback from his and Scott's middle-to-high school days.
The best thing, though? Is his mysterious 'D', who never fails to text in his opinions on Stiles' playlists, or answer his silly debates that he usually dreams up in his Thursday evening linguistics class (on everything from changes in band line-ups to what exactly is living in the mensroom of the English department) to keep the show interesting.
'D' is succinct and concise, has a wicked sense of humour that has had Stiles cut to commercial more than once to get his bearings back (usually by responding to another listener's comment with exactly what Stiles had wanted to say, but didn't want to discourage discourse) and it's kind of ridiculous how much he looks forward to 'D''s opinions. He'd be lying if he said a lot of the thought he puts into his song choices isn't with the faceless person in mind; the guy - and he knows it's a dude for sure after 'D' saved him from trying to be liberal with his pronoun use - is basically his musical twin. The only other person as intimately acquainted with Stiles' iTunes library is Scott, and that's because they grew up together and practically co-owned a CD collection.
He even pulls a few more obscure numbers out of the bag from his Punk-Indie-Alternative repertoire, and 'D' never fails recognise each one within the first eight bars and promptly sing his praises.
Well, as much praise as can be sung in a single text message.
And it's always text messages, much to Stiles' frustration. No matter how many times he plugs the Twitter or Facebook pages, the guy only communicates via SMS and it's completely messing with his research mojo. He's a journalist goddamnit - or, some form of journalist who he hopes will spend most of his career interviewing musicians and reporting from festivals around the world - he should have had this guy's picture pulled up on his phone within ten minutes.
Maybe, he thinks, it's the universe's way of protecting him from disappointment. Like, how could someone so intelligent, informed,hilarious and perfect for him also be good-looking to boot? The world does not work that way. Stiles' life does not work that way.
The Bouncing Souls crossfade into Hot Water Music's Trusty Chords and Stiles just knows what's coming.
And you've officially made me devolve into drumming with pens. Cap just got lodged in some dude's afro. Hope you're happy, asshole. -D
After the song fades out, Stiles is still grinning like a loon. "Well dudes and ladies, I'm extending a formal apology to my loyal listener, 'D', who has channelled his inner Travis Barker with those last two songs. Sorry, man, I can't help being flawless," he chuckles. "So how are we doing with tonight's debate, Boyd? Last I saw, the Facebook poll was up 70-30 in favour of the new armchairs in the library."
Boyd nods back, and Stiles pulls the page up on his own monitor to see the result hasn't moved.
"Seriously, guys? You don't think it'll just be yet another place for strung-out freshmen to take naps? Okay, yeah, I mean me - I do not need another comfortable place to take a nap if I hope to graduate before I'm thirty. And don't even start me on the art-school-rejects I saw getting to second base on one of them yesterday..."
Because midterms are looming (well, according to every professor he has, they are), Stiles takes advantage of the later library opening hours after he's done with the show to get some serious work in. He's still humming the closing song (because The Clash's Should I Stay has pretty much become his sign-off) when he takes the escalator up to the third floor - where there are less armchairs and therefore more chance of getting a spot.
Even up here, it's still pretty packed out - panic is setting in among the troops, evidently - and he can only see one or two places to set up shop. One of which, he realises, has actually been snagged when a girl crawls out from under the table holding a pink, fluffy pen with a manic look in her eye. Okay then.
The last space is nestled between the heater and a free power socket and he just zeroes in on it, practically flinging his backpack on the free chair. So there are a couple of books and a laptop already on the table, whatever - it's big enough for two.
He's just powered up his own computer and is trying to find the paper he'd started earlier when a shadow falls over him from above. He assumes it's whomever's at the table with him going back to their seat, except they don't move, and after an awkward few seconds gnawing on his headphone cable, he looks up.
It's a guy. A pretty huge guy, in fact, from Stiles' seated standpoint, and he's... Well, let's just say that it looks like UBH's scholarship programme could easily have been extended to accommodate ridiculously handsome UFC fighter-types in slouched beanie hats in order to attract more straight girls or male-inclined guys with the pictures in the brochure.
He's got an athlete-slash-underwear-model-cum-lumberjack thing happening that shouldn't exist outside of movies or porn or the CW, with the body and the intense hazel-green eyes and dark stubble. It's like his plaid shirt is guilty of covering up all that fine and is practically bursting at the sleeves to right its wrongs. This dude looks like he kills his own food and has no business in a library. Trying to further his education is downright unfair to the rest of the grunts who have to make do with being either smart or pretty. Both shouldn't be allowed. He raises an eyebrow as Stiles gapes at him.
"That seat's taken," Library Model says, in a voice admittedly less growl-y than his appearance would suggest. With the rugged, unshaven mountain-man aura, Stiles had expected something between Khal Drogo, Chris Hemsworth and Batman.
He scrunches his brows, but before Stiles can take a breath to answer, one of the patrolling security guards shoots them a reprimanding look and a hushing finger. He just glares at the both of them until Lumberjack Porn Star lets out a frustrated grunt and slides back into his seat. Score one for Stiles.
The guy picks up the obnoxiously large headphones sitting on his keyboard and proceeds to pointedly ignore Stiles for the next twenty minutes as he fumbles around on his laptop with a scowl that suggests the thing was put on earth just to fuck with him. Why is that oddly hot?
Stiles just plays the dutiful desk neighbour and digs his glasses out of his bag, answers a text from Scott gushing about the show with a smile - he'd thrown in one from a Jimmy Eat World album they'd spent a whole summer listening to, just because he knew his buddy would be tuned in online from his NorCal campus - and shuts his damn mouth. He doesn't need broodingly-hot hipster-types holding grudges when his Globalisation essay is already kicking his ass.
It's only when he feels eyes on him again that he looks up. His leg has been bouncing out the rhythm of something-or-other without much notice except- oh. He's unknowingly been knocking into Sexy Woodsman's knee under the desk and distracted him from writing his dissertation on Why I'll Probably Use My Degree As A Stepping Stone To Curing Sexual Performance Issues With My Jawline (Title Subject To Change). Oops.
He dips his bottom lip in an awkward grimace and mouths 'sorry!', to which Porno Indie Band Member just huffs out a frustrated sigh.
Stiles feels more awkward than he has since high school, and it's not like he can concentrate now, so he digs out a few contraband snacks and messes around on Facebook, trawling the new 'likes' of the show's page in the hopes that every Daniel, Damien or David could be his mysterious 'D'. Just a photo. One measly photo, is that so much to ask?
He's been doing the show just over a month, now, and it's probably more than a little bit pathetic to admit how much thought he's spent on the guy. What's his major? Which dorm is he in? Is he seeing anyone? Would he want to waste an afternoon with Stiles searching The Basement for new-old vinyl and maybe get some coffee and shoot the shit like some lame-ass romantic comedy? Is he even into dudes?
Lydia pops up on his IM with a noise of fanfare that he flails to silence (stupid earphone jack), but ends up knocking the guy's sports-capped water bottle over, narrowly missing his laptop. Stiles mops up the few stray droplets with the sleeve of his hoody and receives yet another harm-promising look from Too Hot For A Diet Coke Commercial. He seems like kind of an asshole.
Lydia: finished Allingham's essay yet?
Stiles: if by finished you mean intro and half a conclusion then yes
Lydia: remind me again why Jackson's party was worth getting slammed up against this deadline?
Stiles: because Jackson wants to slam up against YOU, and you're thinking of letting him?
Lydia: fuck you, Linski. Go get laid and stop living vicariously through me
Stiles clenches his jaw through the silent huff of laughter. She only calls him that when she's reminding him of her dominance. George Clooney's Hotter Little Brother seems to have settled back into puttering away on his laptop after refusing the chocolate subtly pushed his way as a peace offering - fuck you, then - and Stiles steals a glance at him.
Stiles: yeah well I'm stuck at a table in the library with literally the hottest, angriest fucker I've ever seen and I've already managed to piss him off. Vicariously may be the only way I'm getting laid this semester.
Lydia: aww babe, over-exaggerating again?
Stiles: he's so beautiful I think I saw chest tattoos when he bent down to (angrily) get something and I'm already imagining licking ice cream off of them.
Lydia: not what I meant
Stiles: I felt like sharing
Lydia: thought you were still on a mission to track down your number 1 fan
Stiles: what me and D have is special because it's abstract. Esoteric at best.
Lydia: baby's been eating dictionaries again...
Stiles: theoretical relationships do not result in my junk being touched
Lydia: you have a poetic soul. D is probably a chubby mouth-breather with bacne and a fanny pack. Get library guy's number.
He can feel the guy sneaking looks at him over the lid of his computer, but Stiles has done nothing offensive in the last five minutes except grin at Lydia's mockery, so he tries to ignore it. Well, as much as the heat creeping up his neck will allow.
Stiles: I think he'll chew my fingers off
Lydia: whatever revs your engine..
Stiles: you're the worst. Quit distracting me or you'll have to give me a job as your assistant when you become an anchor at CNN
Lydia: you can't even get my coffee right
Stiles: coffee orders shouldn't have more than two parentheses
Lydia: you are SO small town. It's adorable.
Stiles: I can practically FEEL you petting me.
Lydia: This is NOT that kind of conversation, perv.
Stiles can't help it - he laughs, except the half a peanut butter cup he'd been chewing on kind of goes the wrong way and- Oh Jesus, he's choking. In front of I'm So Aloof I Totally Never Do Anything Embarrassing Ever. Shit.
The guy's water bottle appears in front of Stiles' face as he panics, and he grabs it and drains more than half in a single, life-preserving gulp. He sucks in lungfuls of precious air and lays his head on the keyboard, sending Lydia a long stream of gibberish as he claws at the remnants of his dignity.
When he finally gets the courage to lift his head and peer over the top of his screen, Angel of Sexy is just looking at him with a judgemental brow raised, the hint of a smirk tugging at his lip, and Stiles can do nothing but offer the water back with a sheepish look.
Lydia: What the fuck
Stiles: OMG I just started choking and he gave me water and saved my life.
Lydia: Wow. Offer him thank-you sex.
Stiles: I haven't even said thanks or hi or that I'm sorry for encroaching on his fortress of hottitude yet
Lydia: that's just sad. Fix it. I'm bored and need the entertainment. Ask him his favourite ice cream flavour.
Stiles looks up, still blushing, and Boner in a Beanie Hat is- shit, he's (broodily) packing up to leave.
No no no!
Stiles opens his mouth to say something, anything, and surprisingly, the guy pauses and raises an eyebrow expectantly. He doesn't even look vaguely murderous this time. It's the moment. He could introduce himself, apologise, get a fucking name...
So of course he just waves goodbye lamely and crams a peanut butter cup in his mouth. He's such a pussy.
Stiles: he left.
Lydia: with your number? The promise of your first born?
Lydia: you're such a disappointment.
It's the next Friday night, and he's finished gushing about where he was the first time he listened to The Lawrence Arms' Apathy and Exhaustion the whole way through, when a text comes in during the closing verse of Your Gravest Words. He's been giving a tour of his favourite lyrical albums and D's been loving it.
Never really appreciated that song until the 10th anniversary DVD. Amazing. -D
"Oh man, someone just reminded me about the 10th anniversary DVD they came out with a couple years back. That shit was awesome, I really wish I hadn't lost the damn thing moving out of home somehow. Still convinced someone with excellent taste and the knowledge that I'm a broke-ass college student stole it, I'm tellin' ya. Have some Dillinger Four while I mourn my loss."
He kicks back on the desk, half-paying attention to the text feed and bypassing the few inane comments disagreeing with his track choice when another one catches his eye.
Should've ripped it to your computer like I did, idiot. I'll upload it to a sharing site and send the link to you, if you want. Do I just use the show's email? -D
Stiles heart speeds up because this... this would mean interacting outside the show, which they haven't done, and he can't exactly trust himself not to take advantage of it with his sleuthing skills. But, D has to know that, right? It's practically an invitation. But, he feels oddly protective of the development - he's gotten one or two comments before suggesting that he and D get a room.
Before he can over-think it, he's copying D's number to his palm like the creep he's become, but he curses when he realises can't send a text message without interference with the mics. It officially becomes the longest show he's ever done when D stops texting in.
"I'm gonna mix it up a little and play my favourite ever cover of Radiohead's Creep. It's oddly enough, by Ingrid Michaelson. Before any of you purists start getting on my case, listen to this, and thank me later. This is Linski's Late Night."
- Holy shit, dude, I couldn't respond while I was on air... Interference, y'know? But I would do dirty things to get to see that gig again!
- Yeah use the show's email. You're my fucking hero.
- Oh, and sorry for stealing your number from the text line. Desperate times.
He'd been late out of the studio, since he and Boyd had gotten a passive-aggressive note reminding them that the studio 'comes equipped with trash bins and a sink for coffee cups, and the desk needs to be cleared for the Saturday morning community youth class', and he doesn't know if he'll even get a decent spot to study at. He's making his way through the library doors with jangled nerves jabbing at his resolve, still wondering if he's maybe crossed a line by copying down the phone number, when he gets a response.
- It's cool, saves me an entire week of awkward emails trying to figure out if it was appropriate to ask you for yours...
- Linski, I take it?
Stiles flushes all the way to his hairline as he jostles on to the escalator. Way to open up the conversation, dumbass.
- Hah, yeah it's me.
- Sorry, should've said.
- You text like you speak. I got it.
- I'm choosing to take that as a compliment dude.
- 80% sure it was.
- I do cram about 3 hrs worth of crap into one show. It's a gift.
- Regretting compliment now.
Stiles laughs, the light feeling in his stomach not even faltering by the time he gets to the crowded fourth floor and Scowly McWetdream isn't anywhere in sight.
"What the fuck are you grinning at?" Jackson frowns, cappuccino hovering in front of his pout. They're sitting outside one of those off-campus coffee shops which always seem to spring up in college towns, yet still ludicrously over-charge caffeine-starved students for the fuel they depend on.
Lydia looks up from where she seems to be mastering morse code on her iPad and smirks. "He's stalking someone into submission. So sweet."
"Fuck you, Lyds, it's just texting," Stiles says, gesturing pointedly at her using the hand holding his phone, with absolutely no heat at all.
"Constant texting. Have you had to upgrade your plan yet? I swear, when I came to get you up for O'Neill's 9am class you were doing it in your sleep. What could you even possibly still have to talk about?"
Stiles shrugs. "Everything, nothing. Turns out he's here getting his masters. Sound Engineering.." his sigh was extremely manly, okay? "...and he actually appreciates when I nerd-out about production methods."
The subject of his masters was actually a helpful segue into finding out the guy's name; his email had been the infuriatingly vague d_mscsoundeng ubh, and Stiles had just cracked and sent SOUND ENGINEERING OMG COOL BUT WAIT DUDE I HAVE TO ASK WHAT EVEN IS YOUR NAME, to which he'd received Derek, why are you yelling at me as the reply.
There are fourteen Dereks currently attending the University of Beacon Hills, none of whom have an MSc listed on their Facebook profiles, and only one of whom liked the show's page. Stiles felt guilty for a whole ten minutes because of the shallow disappointment he experienced upon seeing Derek Landon's photo. He blames Lydia for becoming so superficial.
"Wow, you actually got more lame with that sentence."
"Jackson, remember how we talked about the fact that if I continue to let you hang around me, you have to start being nice to my friends?" Lydia says dangerously, and he manages to look like a reprimanded puppy.
"I forgot about this one."
Stiles smirks in triumph. "Yeah, Jackson, quit being mean to me."
"Stop making it so hard to resist, then."
Stiles flips him off with the hand not excavating the chocolate chips out of his muffin.
"So you still don't know what he looks like?" Lydia asks, steering the conversation away from the bickering like they're preschoolers. Stiles shrugs. "Does he know what you look like? I mean, he could be a predator. You do have the whole-" she gestures vaguely at him "- barely legal thing happening."
"You don't have a photo up on the show's page, do you?"
"Nope. Grimes only expected me to last about a month, so he didn't bother."
"Huh. Interesting. So you're both just faceless strangers to each other. I mean, unless he's stalked you online."
Stiles thinks about it for a moment. Derek has never called him anything but Linski, that first night. He hadn't even noticed.
"Possible, but I don't think so. I just like talking to him. It's nothing."
It's probably for the best, actually - there's a warning voice at the back of his mind that sounds suspiciously like his dad that reminds him that he doesn't actually know Derek, no matter how much it might feel like he does, and giving out more information than he really needs to may not be the smartest idea.
"Yeah, for now," Lydia says. "Jesus, it's like a period romance. Or a 90s Meg Ryan movie."
"Except he's more likely to be less Tom Hanks and more Elephant Man, so I'm not really thinking about it, because it's my life."
"Still too hot for you," Jackson interjects, and Stiles aims a chocolate chip right under his stupid popped collar.
"Seriously, they told me boys are less bitchy than girls," Lydia mutters, and widens her eyes when Stiles chokes on the remains of his muffin and starts batting the air excitedly. "What is it, Lassie?
"Wye-bree guh! A-gry haw wuh!" he wheezes in a spray of crumbs before downing a searing gulp of his red-eye, because the angry hot guy from the library is approaching from behind her. Stiles hasn't seen him since, although he has been looking. Stupid large campus.
He's wearing a sinfully-fitted leather jacket with the hood up today, and the jeans he has on could easily have been tailored to fit him. Ugh. He should be in slow motion.
Stiles' mouth goes dry, and it's only sixty percent due to the fact his tongue may have third degree burns now and the muffin-mush stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Lydia frowns and throws a glance over her shoulder, and Stiles feels a strange rush of pride as he sees her mouth drop into a delicate oval, and she gives him a look that says 'holy shit'.
"Were those actual words?" Jackson says flatly, looking between them, but Lydia swats his chest and frowns.
"It's a guy Stiles was crushing on in the library who saved him from choking, totally romantic," she hisses. "Shut up, he's getting closer."
Rugged O'Frownyface is too busy with his phone to look up, and Stiles seizes the opportunity to just ogle all he wants. In fact, the dude's so distracted, that he almost walks right into their table, tearing his eyes away at the very last moment and blinking into Stiles' slack expression. He jerks back slightly, and grunts a bashful "Sorry," before a flicker of recognition registers. "Oh."
There are about forty connotations held in that sound, most of them negative for the ego because choking on a peanut butter cup, to which Stiles says... Nothing, because his mouth is a sticky mess and his tongue is throbbing and his brain hasn't caught up to the fact that Broody Tightpants is so close.
He just ends up jerking his brows in a 'sup fashion, and waits until his Cranky Soulmate in an Rise Against Shirt has frowned and walked on before plonking his head down on the steel table with a thud.
Lydia scowls and protectively picks up her coffee, all judge-y. "Wow. Almost actual words. So close."
Jackson laughs and Stiles plots to tee-pee his Porsche.
- So the whole punk-goes-folk movement is because all the people in the bands we love are getting old?
- Bummer, Derek.
- That, and the economy. Adult problems, adult anger, adult songs.
- Not just them. Fans too. We're not 15 anymore.
- Totally doing a folk-punk special after midterms are done
- I've been hooked on anything tied to the Revival Tour.
- Dave Hause, man. Chuck Ragan!
- Tell me about it
- I get what you mean tho
- Any of those guys writing teen problems... haha
- Yep. A 30 y/o writing about high school...kinda tragic?
- And weird..
- True. Blink 182 don't even do it since they had kids of their own
- Yeah, and they still tell fart jokes on stage
- Some humor never ages, man
- You were totally a fart joke kid
- Weren't we all?
- I think my dad's convinced I'm going to freak if he starts dating again
- You wouldn't?
- I mean it'd be weird, seeing him with someone who isn't my Mom.
- She died when I was 10
- So all my memories of them together are like fairytale stuff.
- My parents were the same. They were killed in a car accident 2 years ago, but it still feels like they were perfect when I think about them
- Must be a premature death thing?
- Wow. I'm sorry.
- I wasn't
- I mean, I get where you're coming from, is what I meant.
- I just wanted you to know.. that I get it.
- I understand.
- I just mean to say that I want him to be happy.
- My dad.
- I get that, too.
- It's 3am
- omg did I text the speaking clock again?! What time is it in Japan?
- I was awake anyway.
- But your speech about sleeping through your morning Law class and that it's MY fault is pointless now
- What's up?
- Nature shows
- DYK that pigeons use magnetic fields like homing beacons or s/t
- Does that mean if Magneto was real he'd be like COVERED in pigeons?
- Oh my god.
- Go to sleep.
- No seriously man, you have to give it a chance. Nothing beats the original, but the remake was pretty solid.
- Gave me the willies.
- I'm sorry
- I didn't realise I was talking to a 90 year old man.
- Or Shirley Temple in her prime
Stiles snorts, earning a few disapproving looks from the people either side of him. Whatever, he finished the Quark exercise ten minutes ago. He's allowed to spend the rest of class convincing Derek to watch the Evil Dead remake. Or, pretty much talk about anything that keeps the conversation going.
If Stiles thought Derek was awesome before, the textual relations they've been having have basically ruined him for anyone else. Derek actually could be The Elephant Man, and he'd probably still want a piece. The guy doesn't even seem to mind when Stiles texts him at 8am saying nothing but 'want marry coffee'.
- I'm serious
- And don't call me Shirley.
- Dude I'm bringing back old expressions.
- Will be epic.
- That your next campaign?
- Like forming that Goosebumps appreciation club?
- THAT would've been awesome so shut up. Goosebumps rules.
- And fuck you, it's an appreciation for the English language
- Not "Let's Talk Like Nigel Thornberry"
- You know the little feral kid was voiced by Flea from the Chili Peppers?
- No way!? Marathoning that when I get home tonight.
- Productive use of time.
- Don't you have a dissertation to write?
- In fact, can I be rude and go pretend to do that?
- Little behind this week...
- You're kind of distracting.
That's pretty unfair, because now he can't even be disappointed that Derek's blowing him off for work, since he had to go and be all charming about it.
- Jeez, so rude
- I clearly have reason to hate you now.
- But sure, as long as you take a break for the show later? Otherwise it's just me talking to myself, or AT Boyd for an hour.
- Like I'd miss it?
Stiles chokes a little on his tongue at the sight of him: hair actually uncovered for once, ink-dark and soft-looking, with his forehead braced on his fist, sitting at the usual spot. He hasn't noticed Stiles yet, and there's a whole free table to the left that he doesn't even fully acknowledge before he's setting up camp at it.
He's got two hours before he has to make his way to the studio, and the paper he's writing got about three paragraphs in before Scott lured him on to Skype to plan how they'll spend his visit the weekend after midterms, and to gush about some girl he met at the arcade who kicked his ass at Time Crisis. The structure of the library is about the only thing that he can count on not to distract him too much.
Except for Mr Please Tug On My Hair While We Make Out over there. Ugh.
It's shameless, really, the way Stiles angles himself so that he can throw appreciative glances at the guy, but it's his own fault for wearing soft green plaid that matches his eyes. Did he really have to roll the sleeves up to his elbows? Stiles now knows that the guy's left arm is covered in intricate, vintage-style tattoos. Like a hot, old-timey sailor. He brought this on himself, really.
Just For Men Commercial seems a little distracted today. There's a phone sitting on the desk beside his laptop, and he keeps leaning back on his chair and letting out these bored little sighs and staring at it. It's not even lighting up, when he turns it over in one hand. Doesn't even look like the thing's switched on.
The third time he does it, his eyes tick up and land on where Stiles was most definitely not staring at him, thanks, and he's... smiling? His eyebrows flicker slightly when he notices he has an audience, but the smile doesn't falter. The smile directed at Stiles, that is; it's like looking into the sun. What.
Angry Underwear Model is happy today? Why? Did he get laid? Did someone give him a free bagel for being gorgeous? No, that probably happens every day.
Stiles tries valiantly not to let his surprise show as he holds a hand up in a slow wave, and then furiously focuses back on his paper. Stop looking at the porn star and concentrate, dammit.
It strangely seems to work, and about an hour and a half later, he manages to break out of the zone long enough to see that They Probably Kicked Me Out Of The Navy For Being Sexy now has those giant headphones on, bisecting his perfect hair where it stands up around the head-band, and is tapping a distracted rhythm on the edge of his computer. The ripple of muscles in his forearm is unfairly distracting, as is the little twitch of one toe of his Chucks under the desk. He's just unfairly distracting in general, and Stiles should really file a complaint or something, because he has never so desperately wanted to listen in to anything more than whatever has the guy so relaxed and loose.
He gives up on all pretense of finishing the paper in one sitting and starts to pack up. He could probably get to the studio before Boyd for once anyway.
"Aaand that was Old White Lincoln by The Gaslight Anthem, because I've had the 'sailor tattoos' line in my head for hours," Stiles says, mind slipping back to Library Guy without full permission. He smirks and shakes himself.
"It's officially the week of Le Petit Mort, folks. Yeah, that's right - I like to call it 'little death' because, while it's not the full-on, choking reason to end your existence that finals week is, there is a little bit of that. Although... the gravity of the phrase may be ruined by its sexual connotations..." he trails off. "Huh. Whatever. I would play Plus 44's track by that name, but we're still only playing ass-shakers for the first half tonight, and dammit I need to stick to my own rules. Here's Lycanthrope..."
Boyd is signalling him through the glass because some random guy has shown up at the studio holding a stack of flyers and a beseeching expression. Stiles makes his way through and the guy practically pounces.
"Hey, man, I, uh, I really like the show. I was wondering if you could do me this huge favour?"
Stiles looks at Boyd suspiciously who shrugs, and says, "As long as it's legal, I'm open to most things."
He hands over a bright yellow print-out, advertising an under-21 Local Bands Night at a punk club Stiles has been dying to visit, but never fails to get carded at the door.
"Holy shit, The Break In? I've been trying to sneak into that place since freshman year. They're finally relaxing the door policy?"
The guy grins. "Yeah, a few of us convinced the owner to test out the younger crowd. He's like this old crust-punk who hates everyone, but he agreed to give us a trial. Could you maybe plug it on the show? We're trying to get the word out, but campus patrol are cracking down on the litter problem and keep taking down the flyers."
"Dude, totally. This is awesome. Isn't this awesome, Boyd?"
There's a non-committal grunt.
"Boyd is awesome-ing on the inside," Stiles explains. "I have to get back on air because the songs I play are rarely longer than three minutes - but I will do this, thanks so much, um...?"
"Isaac. I'll put you on the guest list," he says, and then frowns. "I would if we had one. Shit, I have to go set up a guest list." Isaac pauses, and throws Stiles a speculative look. "You're not what I pictured."
"Sorry to disappoint you? The neck tattoos I planned in ninth grade would have been embarrassing. The world is better off if I'm just White 'n' Nerdy."
Isaac smirks and shakes his head. "No, I was mostly talking about the boyband hair and... nevermind. Thanks, man."
Stiles does not have time to refute that comment, so clambers back behind the mic just as It's Time is winding down.
"People, holy shit. As if Imagine Dragons didn't make you feel fantastic already, I also have some amazing news to share..."
- So I noticed you weren't one of the fifty people texting in to gush about the gig at The Break In next Friday.
- Chances are it will be epic. Not just because I'll definitely be there...
It's raining when he gets out the studio, and by the time Stiles makes the very manly dash through the downpour to the other side of campus to the library, Derek still hasn't responded. The persistent thud behind his ribs could easily be from running - it isn't like he's on the lacrosse team anymore, so the most exercise he gets these days is trying not to be late to everything.
(But it's not.)
The worst thing, he thinks, about talking to someone when he can't see their reactions, is that little nudge at the back of his mind that makes him over-think far too much. Derek's probably just busy or distracted. He knows it's a little ridiculous to get this nervous about something so stupid as suggesting they just be somewhere at the same time. It's not like this is completely out of character for Derek, but... the guy has always had something to say about the show after Stiles wrapped up before.
- I was just thinking it'd be pretty great if you were there too?
He's already at the top of the last escalator and chewing on the corner of his phone by the time it finally vibrates against his teeth.
- Not a fan of the Break In.
- I'm sure you'll have fun, though
Stiles resolutely doesn't register his heart sinking. It's not a big deal - it's not like it's obviously Derek expressing his disinterest in meeting Stiles in person, at last, or anything.
- Listen, the show was great, but I gotta get back to work.
- Talk tomorrow ok?
His response doesn't even deliver, meaning Derek's phone is switched off already, and Stiles wanders in to 'his' section feeling a little lost. Maybe Derek's just satisfied with things as they are now? Maybe he actually is some kind of disfigured hermit?
Or maybe the guy's figured out that Stiles' interest in him is already extending further than that of regular friendship.
Maybe Derek doesn't want some dude hitting on him in person, because having to deal with it over the phone is enough? He could actually be annoying the living hell out of Derek, in reality, and he doesn't even know if his text-buddy-bordering-obsession into guys.
Stiles grunts in frustration as he distractedly searches for a seat. His inner-monologue is trying not to berate himself too hard - it was just an innocent suggestion, and it's not like they have a thing. Derek hasn't broken contact, or outright baulked at the idea of being in the same proximity or at the fact that Stiles wants to graduate to, y'know, actual physical presence. It's probably just the classic Stilinski over-reaction.
He'd just like someone to tell the churning in his stomach as much.
Of course, the cherry on top of the situation is the fact that the only space to study is beside Mr Broody Beautiful, who rolls his eyes and begrudgingly shrugs when Stiles hovers behind the free chair. Evidently the Free Bagel joy from earlier has worn off.
Stiles mood has officially gone sour, and even the threatening look Future Old Spice Guy gives him when he spreads his crap all over the table can't do much to intimidate. Dude needs to get the hell over it, it's a public space.
If there's a couple of seconds of juvenile shoving back-and-forth of Stiles' glasses case, and a completely accidental knee-nudge under the table, it's totally Harlequin Cover's fault.
Stiles bites down on the feeling of satisfaction every time the guy gives him a look for popping his gum, or the kind-of-accidental moment where he's twirling his pen and it sort of gets away from him, flying through the air and only stopping when it comes into contact with the immovable object that is Hottie Hulk's shoulder.
Yeah, he's graduated into a ball of agitated energy now; the whole unclear-signals and nerves over the situation with Derek thing has manifested in taking out his frustration on Library Dude. It's complete pigtail-pulling, of course, but if Stiles excels at anything, it's annoying the crap out of and alienating unsuspecting people who encounter him. It's kind of helpful for his ego to know that at least he's doing it to this guy on purpose.
Midterms are hellish as can be expected, but the thought that gets him through the week is the fact that Scott's making the drive down in time for The Break In gig, and Stiles is seriously overdue some bro-time. It can't even overshadow the fact that he's barely had the time or coherency level to talk to Derek much.
Derek, who seems to have strangely glossed over his little shut-down and is back to answering Stiles' random thoughts whenever he has the time to send them. He never initiates conversation, the fact that they're still talking should be enough, right?
It's probably for the best not to question it.
Before he knows it, Scott's tackle-hugging him and offering to buy him 'a hamburger the size of your fucking head, dude, I haven't eaten in like seven years let's find somewhere' before he starts his show. It's always the same; though he has Lydia and Boyd and friends from class, nobody will ever quite feel like the half to his whole the same way Scott does.
They're catching up as much as they can over an inordinate amount of food - well, as much as they need to when they still talk practically every day - when Scott side-eyes Stiles' phone.
"You're watching that thing like it's gonna explode or something. What gives?"
Stiles pauses mid-chew.
"I'm waiting to ditch you for a booty call. You'll be cool going on your own tonight, right?"
Scott actually looks offended before he detects the note of sarcasm he should have memorised by now.
"No, really. What is it?"
"Nothing," he says innocently, "I'm just... waiting to hear from someone."
"That Derek dude that you're practically writing nineties chick-rock songs about?"
Stiles manages to look indignant with lettuce hanging out of his mouth. "It's not like that, come on."
"It's totally like that. I thought that when it's two guys in the equation, there's less mooning..." He gives a sardonic look."Not with you."
"You're one to talk, Mr 'Allison is my soulmate even though I met her a week ago'."
Scott's grin isn't even slightly ashamed. "At least I've actually met Allison. And she's..." He sighs.
"Oh, pull out the semantics, asshole."
"Do you even know this guy's last name?"
Stiles pokes at his fries casually. "It hasn't come up."
The look on Scott's face is somewhere between alarmed and impressed. "What the fuck do you guys even talk about all the time?"
"Pretty much what we talk about, except with some more, uh, innuendo. At least on my end. I'm a very engaging person, Scott."
"Hey, you asked.."
"I won't anymore," he says vehemently. "Find out his name, for the love of God. I need to know if he's a predator in case it ends badly, and your dad rehashes that speech we got when you were twelve and got a computer in your room."
"He's not a predator, oh my god."
"That's exactly what someone being groomed would say," Scott says, face all scared-serious, just like when he was being implicated in one of Stiles' schemes in high school. The guy was the worst accomplice - one stern look from either of their parents and he snapped like a twig.
"Can't you be a useful friend and smile at the waitress again? We did not order this much fries and I really want a shake now."
"Why would me smiling at the waitress get you a shake?"
Stiles gives a long-suffering look. "Some day, Scott. Some day I will unlock the key to your obliviousness, and then I too will live blissfully unaware of so many things - including cute waitresses being into me."
Scott's brows reach his hairline. "Oh." Then, he manages to look offended. "You're trying to pimp me out for a free shake? I'm practically taken."
"Seriously? This Allison better be worth me missing out on free stuff."
Scott gets that far-off look in his eye. "She's..." He straightens up, looking scandalised. "Holy shit. You're totally deflecting from your weird text-fling thing! I can't believe I-" There's a clench to his jaw. "Find out his last name, Stiles. Right now."
Stiles deflates. "I can't."
"I'm waiting for him to text me first."
Scott groans and slumps in his seat like he doesn't know where he went wrong in his life.
So they're late to the gig because of beer. There had been beer in the studio, smuggled in under Scott's ninja-like skills and Boyd had only given a single judgemental look before Scott broke one off the six-pack and handed it to him. It's probably a little worrying how easily Boyd can be bought.
The club is pretty much heaving, and Stiles reels in the smug grin to the bouncer who turned him away on three separate occasions in the past, because this is his territory now. He's ready to get sweaty and jump around in a basement with his brethren. Even if it is with a super ostentatious hand-stamp.
He spots a couple of people he knows from around campus, a few people he thinks he knows, and after that it's kind of a mix of noise and bodies as the next band take the stage. Scott points to his phone, a throw-back from their days of attending concerts and being afraid to be separated in crowds - since Stiles' dorm is his lodging for the night - and it's only when he pats around his back pocket that he realises that he left his own in the studio.
Scott rolls his eyes and slings an arm around Stiles' shoulder, and they make their way into the crowd as a really freaking hot blonde chick in a skin-tight black dress takes the mic.
"What's up Break in?!" she hollers, holding up a plastic cup of something as her guitar swings idly from its strap. The patrons cheer in response, an atmosphere of community already permeating the crowd - and she hasn't even started playing yet. "Welcome to the first of many Fresh Meat Fridays! We are Hunter Evasion and this is Gravity!"
Stiles and Scott make it to a relatively clear space just as the first lazy notes kick in and the girl starts to sing. Her voice has that husky-sexy quality that suits her pretty much perfectly, but it's not the girl's sultry wiggle, as the notes climb and her voice permeates the sway of guitars, that has his full attention, because-
Because Hot Library Guy is playing fucking bass.
He's hovering around to the girl's right, half cast in shadows in a wife-beater shirt and jeans. The tattoos, which Stiles had only glimpsed before, now extend up the broad arm clutching the neck of his bass and curl in a cluster of bright-coloured images around a muscular shoulder. Novels could be written about the body hinted under that shirt - it's toned and solid; could easily have been honed from hours in a gym or a natural athleticism most men are born without but spend their life trying to achieve. Flawless as always, his hair is parted on one side and swept back, giving him the look of an old-Hollywood icon from the neck up, and his skin is glistening from the heat of the club, sweat and moisture pooling in the hollow of the man's clavicle. The tension and relaxation of his body as he keeps time and gets absorbed in the music is nothing short of hypnotic.
The guy looks introverted and out of place, despite being on stage, looking the part, and clearly knowing what he's doing on that guitar. Stiles' mouth loses all moisture because fuck, those hands.
Okay, he'll admit that there have been vivid fantasies in his past about other bass players' hands - the strength needed to tame the heavier guitar strings; the raw sex appeal of the rhythm they keep; the scratch of callouses on his fingertips as they trail along his-
It's only when Scott's shoulder bumps his as he starts moving around to the song that Stiles actually snaps out of his reverie.
Was this dude put here just to sexually frustrate him or something? He's distinctly starting to regret acting like an abrasive ass the last time they sat together. Ugh.
Hunter Evasion lead into the second song of their set - a Distillers cover - and the crowd goes pretty much crazy after that. Stiles limits himself to furtive glances, because tonight is about letting loose and being with Scott, and the two clutch each other and scream the lyrics they can recall through the buzzed haze.
The lead singer beams as the song ends, whooping along with the crowd before resting a hand on her mic.
"You guys are warming my fucking heart, I mean it," she says, palm to breast and flirting with the entire room. They're just a local band, but the girl has a certain presence that puts Stiles in mind of someone who knows her way around a stage, like she's been touring for years. She holds up a hand, motioning to the future love of Stiles' life, who gives her a threatening look. "I just want you all to give it up for our stand-in tonight. We were up shit-creek without a bassist and I convinced my buddy Hale here to come out of his bat cave and help us out."
The guy mouths bribed back sardonically, but the girl just deftly ignores him.
"He's single, by the way, and his interests include both guys and girls, drinking rum, quitting smoking every three months, and telling you his vinyl collection is better than yours."
Hale rolls his eyes in a long-suffering way as she skips over to pinch his cheek and plant a kiss on it. There's an ease between them that suggests a long friendship - possibly a history - but all Stiles' mind can process is the fact that the object of his infatuation now has a name.
He's never been so glad that Scott isn't a mind reader, because there would be at least one joke about their names inside a crudely drawn heart in his journal.
As their set finishes, Hale gives a half-hearted wave into the crowd, just as he's taking his bass off - and suddenly, he freezes. It's only when Scott pulls back from his drink-fuelled nuzzle and yells, "Dude, why is their bass player staring at us like we shit in his sneakers?" over the piped music that Stiles knows for sure that he isn't imagining things.
An unreadable look is cast between Stiles and Scott, before the guy turns and moves almost completely out of sight, dark hair weaving into the throng of bodies until he emerges close by, jaw set and determined with his eyes flitting around the crowd. Stiles genuinely can't help it when there's a shove some somewhere behind them and he ends up tripping straight into I'll Devastate You With My Manly Fingers' path. It's either the buzz of way too much cheap beer or the sight of him up close, all slick and fucking edible that causes Stiles' hand to catch on Hale's arm and just openly stare at the guy..
"H-hey!" he eventually shouts with zero poise, background music almost as loud as the band had been. "You uh, you guys killed it!"
Hale eyes slide from Stiles' mouth to his eyes, and then the hand on his arm, and our hero takes the hint and snaps his grabby paw back. "Sorry, man! Crowd, y'know? Shove-y." He is so not going to have a voice in the morning.
"I have to go," the guy grits out over the clamour, eyes snapping to Scott and back to Stiles. "I need- I have to go find..." He huffs and throws his hands up, putting his eyes heavenward and refusing to compete with the volume of the music. "Thanks for coming, uh-"
"Stiles! I'm Stiles."
With a disinterested nod, he's gone.
"Nice to meet you..." Stiles grumbles in his wake.
"Dude!" Scott says, grabbing his shoulder. "Help me find somewhere to pull my hip flask out of my underwear!"
Stiles glances back towards the space in the crowd that swallowed Hale up, and sighs, letting himself be dragged away because the club is playing his favourite None More Black song ever and he's powerless to resist the call of the dance.
Hangovers for sure get worse as you get older. He's not even - technically - of legal drinking age yet, and he's already four hundred percent done with feeling like someone tied him to the back of a truck and force-fed him sand while dragging him across a parking lot.
But, responsibilities are a thing, and though he and Scott woke up in a strange house with people he has no recollection of meeting (and Scott lost a shoe at some point), he still has to retrieve his forgotten phone from the studio, lest his dad send an actual search party for him. He hasn't checked in with the old dude in almost a day.
He's got the biggest can of Red Bull he could possibly find shoved into the collar of his t-shirt and he gets to the studio to find that his sanctuary has been invaded by noisy, less-than-musically-talented teenagers. The community youth project. Shit.
He slumps into the door, face pressed against the small glass panel and groans. Noise. So much noise.
As if answering his prayers, the class is dismissed and he steps back so as not to be trampled by the herd of sour-looking kids at varying stages of hating their existence. When the last of the stragglers has cleared the room, Stiles walks in nursing the can to his head, intending to just grab his phone and go - but he stops and gapes - because Hale is in the booth. He's clearing up lyric sheets and random bits of garbage left behind by the teens with the lead singer from Hunter Evasion.
Hale runs the youth project? It's been going since the start of semester, in which kids are encouraged to bring along their instruments for the chance to get a glimpse at the recording process or produce demos, and it's pretty fucking unfair that Stiles has been assaulted by the fact that the hottest guy he's ever laid eyes on is a do-gooder (and a fucking morning person) when he's not even running at full capacity.
I'm Clearly Perfect In Every Way bends over to pick something up, because of course; with jeans bordering on fucking illegal and a well-worn Bad Religion shirt, he's practically magnetic and also oblivious that Stiles is hovering behind the mixing desk like a pasty-faced, droopy-eyed creeper. When he straightens, he's retrieved a phone. Stiles'' phone.
"Crap, did one of the kids leave this behind?" he asks, holding it up. The girl turns and shakes her head, hair scraped back into a loose bun, face make-up free and in leggings and an over-sized Blondie shirt.
"Nope, I found that before we started. Someone must have left it here last night. Maybe from the radio show?"
Hale stiffens. "They broadcast a show from here? On the school's frequency? Which one?" He steps closer.
"Just this crappy hour-long clusterfuck," Stiles says, leaning over the mic, and he can't help but grin as the two of them jump. "It''s basically just me, playing songs off my iTunes library and gushing about them." He bites his lip - he's not really undoing the I'm-not-actually-a-dick first impression here. "Sorry, couldn't resist."
The girl smirks interestedly and walks out of the booth, having snatched the phone out of Hale's slack grip. "Look who doesn't have a face for radio," she hums, and presents the cellphone back to him. "This is yours, I take it?"
"Thanks, m'lady," he replies, eyes flitting back to Hale, who is just standing in one spot, staring at Stiles like he's some extra-strange zoo exhibit, which rude. Who looks good when they're hungover? Okay, Hale probably still does.
Stiles smacks the handset off his palm, but the battery is pretty much spent and it won't even switch on. "Nada. Ugh, I would totally have just left it here and died comfortably in bed, but my 4 Pics 1 Word score will make me famous some day."
"Feeling a little delicate?"
Stiles winces. "If I were to describe it, it's kind of like someone extracted my brain, soaked it in Jagermeister, and put it back in the wrong way." He waggles his fingers around by his temple to illustrate the point, and she laughs in response.
"It's weird, but I know exactly what you mean. I'm Erica," she says, holding up her hand in a little wave.
"Stiles, he gestures to himself before nodding to the guitar case resting by her feet. " That monster yours?"
"Yeah...I'm in a couple of bands, I guess, and the brooder in the corner there is-"
"Your temp bass player, I know," Stiles interrupts, managing to smile. "You guys were awesome last night, by the way. Really cool seeing a band from around here that's aware that noise doesn't equal quality.."
"Oh, you made it to the show?"
"Yeah," he says looking back at Hale, who is now hesitating at the doorway to the booth and frowning. Weirdo. "You're a pretty sweet bass player, when you're not saving people from choking on their snacks. How come you're not in a band?"
The guy just stares back for a beat, and he looks pained as his mouth falls open, but no sound comes out.
"Because he's a social recluse," Erica provides, smiling devilishly. "What's this about acts of heroism?"
"I met your friend in the library a couple weeks ago, and he rescued me from death by Reese's."
A slow-dawning realisation comes over her features, and she rakes her gaze over Stiles speculatively. "Is that so? You were the guy who-"
She laughs, bright and filthy. "What? Come on - it's not like you interact with many strangers. I happen to notice when you mention people I don't personally know. Some of them you've mentioned several times." She turns to Stiles in a stage whisper. "He's one of those super-talented hermits who just sits indoors and teaches himself how to master instruments he'll never play in front of anybody. I'm trying to get him out more. Joining the band is step one."
"Yes?" she asks innocently.
"Give up. It's not happening." Hale is starting to flush slightly at the attention focused on him, and stoops to pick up his jacket from where it's draped over a backpack.
"Shame," Stiles says, feeling brave. "I'm pretty sure putting you two on the posters would sell out every single show..."
She raises her brows and casts a look at Hale "Well, that's another contribution to the argument." She frowns at her friend. "What's with you?"
"Nothing," he grunts uncomfortably, and turns his attention back away from her. "I thought you said your name was Stiles, or something."
Stiles raises a brow. "It is. Stiles Stilinski."
"But isn't your-" The guy cuts off and clenches his jaw, eyeing Stiles with - what looks like - betrayal. "We should get going, Erica. C'mon."
She's looking between them with interest, and at Hale's words, she leans back on the mixing desk and folds her arms. "Oh no, I'm good here. I'd like to get to know Stiles a little better."
Hale's eyes focus sternly at Stiles' feet, and his shoulders tense up. "Erica I'm sure he's- uh.."
Stiles takes pity on him, because it's a little disconcerting how someone who should be brimming with confidence due to how he looks and how effortlessly cool he is in theory, seems to be completely agitated. Just like that, it's like the odd little pedestal Stiles had put him on because of how unfairly attractive the guy is, just melts away. He's been humanised, and he's just as awkward and easily embarrassed as Stiles is.
"Actually, I better get going. I promised the dude currently starfished on my bed that I'd come back with something bacon-y."
Erica snorts, and Hale walks straight out of the studio. "Can't renege on a promise of bacon. Nice meeting you, Stiles."
There are four texts and a missed call from Derek when he gets his phone on.
- Hey... so turns out I'm actually going to be at The Break In tonight
- Are you here?
- I looked for you and asked around until I realised that nobody knows what you look like. Stupid huh?
- I guess you're busy. Sorry for screwing you around, I didn't plan on coming until the last minute, so... have fun.
Stiles falls off the edge of his bed, and Scott just looks torn between confusion and worry.
"Derek was at the club last night and I missed him because I didn't have my phone and he couldn't find me fuck!"
-You were there?
- Dude I left my phone at the studio and I never got your messages and I'm literally freaking out right now
- I'm sorry
- I would have totally jumped at the chance to hang out with you
"Can't you guys just pick a place and meet up? It's not that complicated. Wear a flower or something, jeez."
"It's not that simple, Scott," Stiles insists, scrunching his nose. "I suggested that before, and he pretty much shut me down, for whatever reason." He holds up his phone. "Now it turns out that he was totally into the idea and I missed my chance."
"He's not a freaking sailor in town for a day, or something. Reschedule."
"What happened to 'he's a predator, Stiles, he's going to tie you up in his basement and eat you'?"
"Maybe I know what you get like when there's a mystery and I'll end up bailing you out for breaking and entering or something if you don't do this the regular way."
"I resent that."
"Doesn't mean it isn't true. Jesus, meet the guy already, will you?"
"Alright, fuck. I'll suggest it as soon as he accepts my grovelling apologies."
Derek doesn't accept his grovelling apologies.
Well, he might have, if he actually had the decency to reply. Stiles is pretending to study in his dorm on day three of The Great Cold Shoulder when he decides he's finally had enough and opens up Derek's contact information to call him. It's a little ridiculous to just ignore someone because they happened to forget their phone one time, and Stiles is sick of feeling like he fucked up more than he has.
It's uncalled for, is what it is.
The phone rings out twice, and just as Stiles is about to hit re-dial, heart racing at the prospect that he's actually going to hear Derek's voice for the first time, and it's to yell at the fucker - the douchebag texts him.
- Don't call again, I can't answer
- What the hell dude? You remembered how to text?
- I get that I missed out on meeting you, but is that really a reason to quit talking to me?
- I thought we were friends
- Or something like that
- We are friends
- Look, I'm just completely swamped here. It's not something you did.
- You can still talk to me ok
- I guess suggesting we try meeting up once more is out of the question?
- I'm sorry, I have to go.
Stiles can be irritating, caustic, rub people totally the wrong way unintentionally, and he can be a complete asshole sometimes - but he's not going to beg.
He gets intimately acquainted with the angsty acoustic section of Spotify over the coming days. He can't shake the feeling, despite Derek's assurances, that he's fucked up somehow. The worst part is that things just haven't gone back to how they were between them, like he'd hoped. It goes like this: he'll make contact, Derek will engage with him for about ten minutes, and then he's unavoidably busy again, and Stiles feels shitty about himself.
If the amount of time Derek spends working is anything to go by, Stiles doesn't think he'll be cut out to pursue a masters degree in the future.
He can't even manage to muster a smile up when Hottie Hale acknowledges him in the library, all tortured-gorgeousness and despondent demeanour. Stiles bites back the urge to ask what the hell the guy has to look so down about, because his face pretty much matches Stiles' emotions. They're clearly brothers in gloom. Yay.
It seems like Hale's thinking the same thing when he averts his gaze away, almost shyly, and clears space for Stiles at his desk without looking up. Whatever, it's not like he's going to pass up the chance to sit all next to that, even if that is wearing an expression to rival a petulant Boston Terrier.
A Boston Terrier who also spends a good forty-five minutes sneaking glances at Stiles past the palm his cheek is resting on, and turning curiously if he makes any kind of noise. It's not even in his usual, shut up or I crush you way - it's... something else. Who knew Stiles was so interesting all of a sudden?
He's been having an on-off debate the entire day with Scott over who won more of their childhood competitive eating contests, so it's not exactly without preamble that Stiles receives a picture of his best friend - who is using that creepy sixth sense of his to know that Stiles is still bummed over something - with a banana crammed sideways in his mouth and attempting to smile. Before he even realises, Stiles snorts loudly into the silence of the library, and Hale looks up once again, giving him a frown. It can only be explained by showing the photo, so Stiles proves he's not just one of those weirdos who laughs to himself at nothing and turns the screen to face his desk neighbour.
Something in the dude's face closes down for a split second, and he looks up at Stiles again, giving him a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. Stiles shrugs apologetically and goes back to work, but a few minutes later, Hale sighs and pushes his chair back, stalking silently out of the study section without a word. Weird.
There's a good ten minutes when Stiles wonders if the guy's just left without his stuff, but the need for the bathroom overcomes his curiosity, and he asks the girl next to their desk to keep an eye on their things by way of hand gestures and imploring eyes. Note to self: if their things get swiped it's totally Mountain Dew's fault.
When he's making his way back, he spots Hale slumped against the wall just past the escalators, nursing a coffee and looking like someone just told him plaid shirts and leather are now illegal.
"Dude, you look like hell," Stiles says, approaching tentatively and shoving his hands in his pockets. Hale blinks with weary extension, and when they open again, Stiles isn't ashamed to admit that his stomach swoops just a little at the piercing intensity in the guy's eyes. They're fucking beautiful, just like the rest of him, but hell if they don't look like there's something fractured in them. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah, fine. I just- was convincing myself not to go get a pack of cigarettes right now."
Stiles gives a rueful pout. "Rough week, huh?"
"You could say that."
Stiles nods towards the paper cup in his hand. "We could go get some actual coffee, if you wanted. Talk about it?" The smell is reminding him that he's due a caffeine hit, so he might as well play the Good Samaritan to the local, totally-out-of-his-league, undiscovered model while he's at it.
He gets a confused look in return, and after an awkward pause in which Stiles just shuffles around, wondering if he should retract the invitation, Hale says, "I... I uh, thought you were seeing someone."
Stiles frowns, biting back a grin. "First of all,", he laughs, "I didn't mean like that. You look like you could use a friend, is all. And secondly, what?"
"Isn't the, uh, banana guy your boyfriend?"
Stiles lets out a laugh and buries a hand in the unruly nest he's taken to calling his hair these days. "Oh Jesus, no freaking way. Scott's like, my best friend in the whole world. Straight as an arrow, too, even if I did feel that way about him, which..." he trails off in an exaggerated shudder.
Hale pushes off the wall, seeming to perk up a little. "Yeah?"
"Totally. I'm like, tragically single. Well, there's this one guy, but we're.. things are..." he sighs, feeling the disappointment reappear. "Things aren't going like I hoped they would, and I'm not, like, over it. So. About that coffee?"
Hale's face falls, and he seems to genuinely think about it, before shrinking back into the wall. "I- I can't. I've procrastinated enough today, and-"
Stiles waves him off - the excuses are sounding painfully familiar, which is ironic. If nothing else, going for coffee with Hale might have taken his mind off Derek's avoidance for a half hour. Who knew people actually studied so much in college, or is it just the guys he's attracted to?
"It's cool, man. just a suggestion, you know? I can make do with the swamp goop from the vending machine," he says, grinning.
It'd be so easy to feel disheartened that Hale turned him down, but curiously, it isn't anything like when Derek had. Maybe it's because he doesn't know this guy, not really; or because seventy percent of their interactions have been based on Stiles' inappropriate ogling, and though he's for sure filing away the frame of the guy's shoulders, the curl of his lip or the flex of his biceps for Private Stiles Time, it's not exactly the building blocks of a strong relationship.
Not like getting three hours sleep because he simply can't tear himself away from talking to a person.
"I'm having a Halloween party tomorrow night and you're coming."
"Why Erica, I didn't see you there, why don't you come in, have a seat, order me to do things?" Stiles gives her a shit-eating grin and she just pops her hip. He's in the studio, prepping for the show, and he isn't sure how exactly she got in here before Boyd even did, but she's not taking any crap.
"I swear to god, Stiles - if you give me shit about 'not feeling like it', I will literally drag you outside by your One Direction haircut."
Stiles mentally considers the electric razor he has back in his dorm, but then his costume wouldn't work. "Jesus, hostile much?"
"A certain someone has been moping around his apartment like a wet rag all week and I'm so sick of it. You have to come, because now I know why."
"Why do I have to come?"
"It's extremely important that you do." Her eyes roam around the studio, and suddenly she gets really animated. "Maybe you could DJ for us! I'll pay you."
"Uh, no thanks. I prefer my 'getting drunk' time to be spent, you know, actually getting drunk." He bites his cheek in thought. "I'll put together a set for you if you like, though. Just hook 'er up 'n' play?"
She steps closer. "So you'll come?"
"I... maybe? I don't know what my friends are doing, so... You know, you could have asked without all the threats and persuasive tactics." He scrutinises her. "What gives, Erica?"
She's already stepping backwards out of the studio, pressing her lips shut. "I really can't say, but, um, all will become clear? I'll send you the address!"
If his show didn't start in ten minutes, he'd totally be chasing her down the hall right now.
Stiles remembers why, last year, he vowed never to show up to another party as Captain Mal Reynolds again. The pants itch like a motherfucker, seriously, but Lydia, in her skin-tight cat suit (she makes an amazing Black Widow - her Hawkeye, not so much) keeps smacking him every time he tries to drag his butt across her couch, making comments about dogs with worms that he can't pay attention to right now because- because Derek has just broken their stand-off.
- Which Halloween party are you going to tonight?
Stiles grits his teeth. He promised himself that he wouldn't instantly reply if Derek initiated contact; Lydia had made this whole thing about feminism that went totally over his head because, hello, penis, but the message about playing it cool was essentially the same. He tucks his phone back into his Satan pants and hooks his free thumb into his suspenders so his hands won't magically start texting without his knowledge.
What? It's a thing... idle hands and such.
"Why are you dressed as a shitty pirate?" Jackson asks, clearly half-concentrating on trying to get a look at his own butt in Lydia's mirror.
"Why is your quiver so pathetically tiny?"
Jackson looks scandalised. "What the fuck did you-"
"Jackson?" Lydia cuts in, holding out a beer like he's a four year old without juice. "It's the name of the pouch on your back that holds your arrows. No beating up Stiles."
Stiles smirks, and so does Danny, who, yep... Tarzan costumes were invented for people like Danny.
"Yeah, Hawkeye, quit squawkin'."
Lydia gives him a warning look and Stiles obediently swigs his beer and tries not to think about why Derek was asking him about the party. He'd mentioned that he might be attending a party, on the show, and that some of the people from The Break In would be there - but it's not like he was going to tell the listenership at large to show up at Erica's apartment.
Evidently, he thinks, when they pull up in their cab - Jackson complaining the entire time about how constricting body armour is on his 'pecs' - he didn't need to promote the party at all, because Erica's apartment is so full it's basically spilling out into the stairwell.
They make their way in through the crowd, and Stiles keeps a look out for people he knows; Isaac is slumped on a couch, clearly in that stage of drunk where he loves everyone, and Boyd raises his glass at them as they make their way through. He's just about to ask if anyone's seen Erica, when his phone buzzes again in his pocket.
It's a number he doesn't know.
-You're looking for a lone Avenger, Captain, and not the two you arrived with.
Stiles frowns at the phone before looking around, but nobody's smirking at him from afar or anything, so he replies:
- And who might this lone Avenger be?
- I would say, 'you'll know when you see him', but you don't know what 'Derek' looks like, right?
Stiles eyes widen, and he turns to inform Lydia, but she's already disappeared off to greet her public or something.
- Is that all you're giving me?? Who is this???
- Keep looking, Captain
- I gather you're good at taking on tasks no-one else will.
Stiles scans the crowd, weaving his way through, but there's already so many people that it's just a mix of masks and cloaks and tin-foil wrapped homemade costumes. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a flash of blue, and he turns.
Captain America stands, with his back to him, shoulders broad and fitting the costume as well as Chris Evans himself. The look is completed with a helmet, so Stiles can't even determine hair colour, and the guy's completely clean-shaven.
There's nothing for it - he takes a breath, and texts Derek.
- I'm at the party on the corner of Mason and Palm. Are you here?
As he sends it, he looks up, but Captain America is already disappearing further into the crowd, into a hallway that leads to the back of the apartment. Stiles trips over himself to give chase, and his heart almost stops when the guy wrestles his phone out of an unseen pocket, and hesitates.
He literally can't breathe. Derek is standing in front of him, reading his message, and Stiles feet are fused to the fucking floor.
As Cap disappears around a corner, Stiles gets a reply.
- Yes. Where are you?
Stiles starts running, pushing through the throng of people and ducking into the only bedroom at the end of the hall.
It's dark inside, but he can see Cap - Derek, holy shit - silhouetted against the moonlight, sitting on the fire escape.
He licks his lips and takes a step forward, just as Cap pulls off the helmet, and lowers the cowl built into his costume, revealing a mop of sexy dark hair.
Familiar, sexy dark hair.
It's- No. It can't be.
The guy turns, and Stiles will later swear up and down that his heart stopped for an entire five seconds.
"Stiles..." His eyes are wide, and he gets up from where he was sitting to look properly, focus scanning the room to see that he's alone. "What- how did you find me?"
"I got a text," he says dazedly, holding up his phone, and just letting himself drink in the site of Hale - Derek Hale - standing before him, at last, in a freaking Captain America costume. "Erica, I guess.." Stiles frowns then, a slice of hurt cutting through the elation. "You knew..."
Derek holds his hands out haltingly. "Just since Saturday-"
Stiles bristles. "That's a pretty long time to pretend you barely know me..." He takes a step back. "What's even happening here? The library, the studio.. if you knew, why didn't you just-"
"I'm sorry, Stiles," Derek says, looking broken and ashamed. "I thought- After the club, I thought you were seeing Scott... and I didn't- I couldn't..."
"I told you days ago that I wasn't seeing anyone... and you've barely talked to me. What, was I disappointment to you? Is that it? You didn't have the excuse of me being with someone else anymore?"
"No." Derek grinds out. "No, it's the opposite of that. I-" He clenches his jaw shut, almost like he's willing himself to speak. He tries again.
"Look, I'm barely together, Stiles." He presses his fingers to the centre of his chest frustratedly, and then lets them fall away. "The last person I- She wasn't good. She took advantage, after my parents died. We played in a band together, and when I wasn't ready to get back out there, she took everything and left me, and I... I haven't been the same."
Stiles deflates, hating himself and Derek a little more for having - what sounds like - legitimate reasons to be hesitant. "So...what changed your mind?" he says, quietly. "Why now?"
Derek looks to the ground, the darkness seeming less severe the longer they stand in the dark room.
"It was so easy when I didn't know who you were... I wanted to keep it that way because-" he lets out a breath. "I didn't think I was ready, for, you know... and then I find out that you," he lifts a hand to gesture to Stiles half-heartedly, "who I've let in more than I have anybody in years...you're the same guy I've been trying not to let myself want, every time you annoyed the crap out of me around campus." His lip curls ever so slightly, rueful. "I couldn't kid myself anymore that I probably wouldn't even be attracted to you because.... I mean, fuck. Look at you."
Stiles' brows rise, because he did not get a pining-from-afar vibe from Hale, at all. Derek looks sheepish, head turning to stare at the wall, like he can't quite believe what he blurted out.
" ...but when you told me you weren't seeing anyone, I was so happy. I realised-" He takes a step closer, turning back to catch Stiles' eye. "I realised I already was ready, because the thought of you being with someone else felt like a punch in the chest."
Stiles shakes his head, clawing at his reasons to be bitter. "I resent that you think I'd lead someone on like that - especially you."
"I know that now... but... when you said he was your friend, I felt like-" He lets out a breath, elated, awed, before swallowing soberly. "But I'd already fucked it up. I'd pushed you away, and I... I panicked, about you finding out it was me, I guess."
Stiles stands there in silence for a long time, letting the other side of the story - their story - sink in. He has gravitated towards Derek as he spoke without even noticing, and he trains his eyes away, because he's pretty sure the sight of him, paired up with who he is, will just be too much.
Eventually, he clears his throat to speak.
"Did you even want to see me tonight? Or was this just something Erica's doing to try to get you back out there?"
Derek's eyes widen in alarm. "No, I wanted- I didn't know how." He seems to catch himself. "I wanted to see you so badly."
Stiles feels his shoulders sag in relief. "Thank fuck, because dude, you are the sexiest Captain America I've ever seen."
He reaches out and snags Derek by the front of his suit and pulls, feeling his space being invaded, his world setting itself right. There's a moment where they just look, because Stiles knows, now that he's seen both sides of the coin, that Derek needs time, and he needs patience, and someone to push a little less than he's been used to.
As he ghosts his lips over Derek's, sweeping a hand up to thread through that hair - finally - Stiles smiles, and says, "Your pace, okay?" He rest his forehead against the other, letting a breath out, and chuckles. "I gotta say though, is it bad that I think you being shy is a total turn-on?"
Derek lets out a little huff, and looks down. "It's okay," he says, quiet, reserved, completely Derek. "Because you talk enough for the two of us." His eyes darken in mischief. "But if you don't let me kiss you right now, I... I might have to show you my assertive streak."
So Stiles grins, and leans in, and does.