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no aphrodisiac like loneliness

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there's no aphrodisiac like loneliness
truth, beauty, and a picture of you
-the whitlams, no aphrodisiac

 

Derek walks out of the restaurant and slides his sunglasses on his face. The smell hits him as soon as he turns the corner; he’d recognize that scent anywhere.

Stiles.

His eyes scan the sparse crowd on the street, his nose recognizing the familiar grassy and slightly sweet scent he’d memorized years ago, but there are other scents mixed in, scents of a life Derek is unfamiliar with.

It only takes a few seconds before Derek’s eyes land on Stiles across the street. He’s inside the open-air market, long fingers picking up apples as he talks to the vendor. He has a messenger bag slung over his shoulder, a well-worn hoodie paired with shorts even in the warm air, and thick-rimmed glasses on his face that Derek has never gotten used to. They’d appeared sometime after college, right around the time Stiles started grad school and stopped coming home.

If Derek concentrates enough, he can hear what Stiles is saying. “…as you think. We eat clean ninety percent of the time, because it’s almost impossible to do it all the time. It’s easier in San Francisco than it is here, but this place is awesome. It wasn’t here the last time I was here. Dude, Beacon Hills has needed a fresh market for years.”

Derek knows the market has been there for three years, knows Stiles hadn’t been back in four. The sheriff always visits him in San Francisco now, and the rumor was that Stiles was trying to convince him to go ahead and retire and move out there with him.

Stiles walks out of the market, biting into an apple, and pauses when his eyes look across the street. Derek continues down the sidewalk as Stiles raises his hand to wave. Derek pretends he doesn’t see.

Derek pretends a lot of things.

*

“Stiles is back home!” Isaac says happily as he enters Derek’s house without knocking. He’s followed by a tornado of blonde curls and then Sarah, his wife, who’s holding the baby. The tornado of curls doesn’t stop until it launches itself into Derek’s waiting arms.

“Der-der!” Millie cries, her arms around Derek’s neck as she places a loud, wet kiss on his cheek. He stands, holding Millie, and rubs a hand against the back of Isaac and Sarah’s necks as they pass.

“How’s my favorite girl?” Derek nuzzles the side of her face as Millie rubs her hand down his stubbled cheek.

“Mommy said I can go play with wabbits on the full moon!” Millie hits Derek’s cheek excitedly.

“Did she?”

“Isaac thinks she’s too young,” Sarah says as she sits carefully onto the sofa, trying not to jostle baby Nick in her arms.

“She’s only three,” Isaac says. “What if she…” He gives Derek an exaggerated nod like he’s supposed to know what that means. Fortunately, Derek speaks Isaac after so many years.

“She’s a werecub,” Derek says, nosing along her hair. “It’ll be good for her. My dad ran with us as soon as we started changing.”

“So did mine,” Sarah says. “Isaac’s just a worrier.”

“I don’t want to give my daughter a reason for therapy, okay?” He sits beside Sarah, and she runs a soothing hand over his shoulders. Derek sets Millie back onto the floor, and she runs towards the playroom down the hall.

“Did you hear what I said earlier?” Isaac asks. “Stiles is back.”

“I know. I saw him in town earlier today.” Derek doesn’t want to have this conversation, but he can’t think of a good reason not to, so he sits in his chair.

“Scott wants to throw a little dinner party tomorrow night. He said you should bring beer.”

Derek sets his mouth into a hard line. “Tomorrow? I think – “

“Oh no,” Isaac shakes his head. “You’re not making up an excuse.”

“Isaac, I haven’t talked to Stiles in almost five years. No one will care if I’m not there.”

“You’re coming,” Isaac says with finality, and no amount of Alpha red eyes can make him change his mind. Derek sometimes wonders if his mother had this problem. It seems the older they get, the less they all listen to Derek. At least when it comes to the little things.

*

Scott lives in a nice house in a nice subdivision in town. It’s big enough to hold the small group that will be there – Isaac and his wife, Scott and his girlfriend, Boyd, the sheriff, Melissa, and Derek. Too bad it’s small enough that Derek will have to see Stiles, maybe even interact with him.

It takes Derek over half an hour to pick out an outfit, and he doesn’t even lie to himself about why. It may have been almost five years, but Derek is still as much in love with Stiles as the last time he’d seen him. He’d thought he’d gotten over it finally, but the moment he’d caught his scent in town, it all had come flooding back.

Derek settles for black jeans and a lavender v-neck. Casual, not like he’s trying too hard, but it shows off the body he’s still rather proud of. Maybe it’s playing dirty, but he wants Stiles to notice him like he used to.

He hears Stiles’ laugh carrying from inside Scott’s house the moment he steps out of his car. Derek thinks this is a bad idea, but he’s not a stranger to bad ideas. If anything, he still remembers how to board up his feelings when he needs to.

There’s an entire abandoned shed somewhere inside him labeled Stiles.

Derek finds them all gathered in Scott’s kitchen, standing in a circle holding beers as they laugh. Scott doesn’t stop his story when Derek steps between Boyd and Melissa, but nods in greeting as Boyd claps him on the shoulder and hands him a beer.

Stiles glances at him, frames unable to hide how bright his eyes are or the delicate flow of his lashes as he blinks and smiles shyly. Derek nods, and Stiles turns his attention back to Scott.

Derek notices a few things over the course of the evening. Stiles has gained more muscle, lean and long unlike Derek’s bulk. He fidgets less, seems calmer and more focused. Sometimes that seems to drop and he starts flailing about excitedly, but then he seems to catch himself and reigns it back in.

Derek doesn’t like it. Derek wants to loosen whatever has made this Stiles more controlled, wants to see his long limbs moving animatedly as he tells one of his ridiculous stories. But Stiles doesn’t ramble like he used to. He’s well-spoken and articulate. Derek remembers the days when he had to connect the dots in between translating Stilesian.

But Stiles is 27 now, not 18, with a master’s degree and a career and a house and a serious boyfriend.

Derek watches him through dinner, a stranger with a familiar voice and scent, until Stiles does something like flails his hand over his head or speaks in tangents when he’s telling a story, and that’s when Derek sees him.

That’s when Derek realizes the man he’s in love with is still there.

*

“I’m bored,” Stiles said. Derek wondered how he’d gotten a key to the loft, but this was Stiles, so really, nothing surprised him anymore.

“You just graduated,” Derek said from where he was reading a book on the couch. “Why don’t you go and celebrate?”

“We’ve already done that.” Stiles dropped to the couch. “We got so drunk we – “

“I remember,” Derek interrupted, turning a page. “You called me. Multiple times.”

“Oh yeah.” Stiles was quiet for a few minutes, too quiet. Derek glanced over the rim of the book to where Stiles was eyeing him from the other end of the couch.

“What?”

“We should have sex.”

Nothing surprised Derek anymore. Or he’d thought nothing could surprise him until he heard that sentence come out of Stiles’ mouth. Stiles wasn’t even blushing. He was just looking at Derek like he’d asked him to do something mundane like watch a movie.

“No.”

“Come on, Derek!” Stiles scooted closer, and Derek remained impossibly still. “You know I’m attracted to you, and I’m pretty sure you’re attracted to me. I’m not asking you to date me or anything. I’m going to college in a couple of months, and it’ll be fun.”

“You want to have sex. Because it’ll be fun?” Derek’s eyebrows were about to merge with his hair they were so far up his forehead.

“You know we’d have the best sex.” Stiles grinned. He stood up, and Derek watched his long fingers as they unbuttoned his jeans and slid the zipper down. “If you say no, I’ll leave.”

Derek stared at Stiles for a few moments, weighing the pros and cons. Stiles was oozing arousal, mixed with a bit of anxiety and agitation. As if to entice him further, Stiles pulled his t-shirt over his head. Derek’s eyes raked over his pale flesh, lingering on the light smattering of chest hair and the dark trail leading beneath his boxers.

“Fine.” Derek tossed the book down and stood up, his wolf clawing to get out of him, to claim Stiles like it had wanted to do for so long. But Derek tamped that down, not allowing himself more than what Stiles was offering.

Stiles had tasted better than he smelled, and from the first moment Derek’s lips had touched his he’d been gone. A voice in the back of Derek’s head kept yelling at him as he slid his hands along Stiles’ warm skin, telling him this was a dangerous path. As he licked his way across Stiles’ hips, Derek knew he’d end up getting hurt. But Derek was used to being hurt. He’d rather have this small taste of Stiles than nothing at all.

Derek memorized the way Stiles threw his head back when Derek slid into him, the flush that spread up his chest as Derek rocked inside of him, the sound of his moans as he came between them.

They’d laid tangled in Derek’s sheets afterwards, the afternoon sun hot through the loft windows as they watched TV. Derek held Stiles closely for a bit, nose buried inside his damp hair, but then wordlessly got out of bed and walked to the bathroom without a backwards glance. When he’d gotten out of the shower, Stiles had been gone.

They’d fucked once or twice a week that summer, until Stiles went off to college. The sheriff had moved him to Berkley on a Saturday, and Stiles hadn’t even said goodbye. The only reason Derek knew he’d been leaving was because Stiles had made a random off-hand comment about how his dad was taking him shopping later that week so he wouldn’t be able to come over like usual.

“Shopping for what?” Derek had asked.

“Dorm stuff. Only got a week left to pack.” And then he’d stuffed his feet into his shoes and left.

Derek had ignored it all summer, but when he’d found one of Stiles’ t-shirts under his bed two weeks after he’d moved, he finally admitted he’d been in love with Stiles all along.

*

“Hey!” Stiles exclaims as he joins Derek on Scott’s back porch. His scent hits Derek hard, something he craves but can’t have. It makes Derek’s mouth water, brings up images of Stiles spread out under him, neck thrown back as Derek sucked marks into the skin.

Derek pushes that out of his mind. That was a lifetime ago.

“What are you doing out here?” Stiles stands beside him against the railing, a half-empty beer bottle in his hand.

“I like being outside,” Derek says. “It’s a nice night.”

Stiles nods and takes a long drag from the bottle. “How have you been?”

“Good,” Derek answers. It’s the truth. His life is good, has been good for some time now. He’s built something good here in Beacon Hills, has protected it for long enough that it took root and grew into something permanent. Something like family.

“That’s good.”

“You?”

“Great,” Stiles says, smiling. “I have a great job, I love San Francisco. Have you ever been?”

“No.”

“You should. It’s beautiful. The view of the bay is to die for.”

Derek notices Stiles doesn’t mention him, the boyfriend.

“I bought a house,” Derek says, because he isn’t going to mention the boyfriend either. And he wants Stiles to know he moved out of the loft with the hole in the wall he’d never fixed, wants him to know that he’s settled down.

Derek remembers how angry Stiles had sounded when he’d yelled at him that night in the loft. “Are you ever going to fix the fucking hole in the wall? Or buy some goddamn furniture? You still live like you’re planning on skipping town at any moment. You don’t even have a fucking job.”

Derek had been ready to skip town if he’d needed to, and had planned on eventually moving away from Beacon Hills. Back then, he wasn’t even sure if he’d live to be thirty, so what was the point?

But he is thirty-three now, with a house and a mortgage. He even has a job.

“I saw on Facebook!” Stiles’ face breaks into a wide grin, his eyes so bright in the moonlight they look luminescent. His eyes have been shining all night like someone has plugged in a lightbulb behind them. Or maybe Derek is biased and has just forgotten how much he loved Stiles’ damn eyes. “I couldn’t believe it!”

“Yeah. It’s been about three years now. It was a fixer-upper, and I did the repairs myself.”

“I’m glad.”

Derek tries to ignore too much of what he smells on Stiles. The emotions replay themselves like it’d been just yesterday when Stiles had been on his living room floor, emitting just about everything like he is in that moment. There’s happiness, a touch of anxiety, a hint of sadness, and a thrum of arousal. Standard Stiles.

But covering all of it up are scents of other people, of San Francisco and Stiles’ friends, and all over Stiles Derek can smell him. Standing this close, Derek can smell Stiles mixed with the boyfriend, a different smell than them, a scent Derek has mostly forgotten. The smell of the other man is so strong on Stiles that Derek can almost see the man’s handprints on Stiles’ neck like a brand on his skin, and he refuses to think about Stiles spread out beneath someone else. It makes him angry, makes his wolf want to claw out of his skin and howl.

Stiles goes back inside after a few more awkward moments of silence, and Derek stands on Scott’s back porch for about fifteen more minutes before leaving without saying goodbye.

*

Later, Derek gets on Facebook and looks at Stiles’ profile. He doesn’t post that much, mainly pictures from trips. Sometimes he’s tagged in other people’s pictures. Like from a few weeks ago when he’d been at a bar with a bunch of strangers, or the week before that when he’d been at a baseball game.

The most recent album is from a few months ago, when Stiles went to Los Angeles with him. Christopher.

He’s shorter than Stiles, and thin. If Derek was being objective, he’d admit that the guy is attractive, but Derek isn’t objective.

He hates everything about him, from his stupid hipster beard, to his stupid salmon button-ups, to his stupid flip-flops, to his stupid obvious love for bar darts and the San Francisco Giants, to his stupid name. Christopher.

The LA album is full of pictures of Stiles and Christopher doing touristy things, like posing on the Walk of Fame, and eating Pink Berry, and standing by the ocean, and even one of Stiles asleep in the hotel bed.

Derek clicks out of the browser window and opens a folder buried inside other folders on his computer. The folder contains eight photos, all taken with a camera phone and dated years ago.

Derek and Stiles mugging in front of the ocean when they drove to the coast the first summer Stiles came home from college. They’d waded in the water, and Derek had gotten soaked with ocean water to his knees and Stiles had tracked sand in the Camaro. They’d found a secluded beach and had sex in the water, and Stiles had gotten sunburned on his butt.

Derek glaring at the camera while sitting on the couch, Stiles’ bare feet visible in his lap.

Stiles with fro-yo on his nose and chin because Derek had flicked it on him after Stiles had done it first. They’d kissed and licked it off each other’s faces, and the old couple sitting near them had given them dirty looks.

Stiles curled in a blanket on Derek’s couch in the loft, reading a book. A half-cut off photo of Stiles kissing Derek’s cheek, Derek’s face and the inside of Stiles’ jeep visible while only Stiles’ nose, lips, and chin were in the picture. A picture at a bar taken by Isaac when they’d all been a bit tipsy, with Stiles in Derek’s lap with his arms wrapped around Derek’s neck and Derek wearing a rare smile. A photo of them at a group trivia night, Stiles obscuring Derek’s face so all that was visible were Derek’s eyes as Stiles held up their winning answer sheet.

And Derek’s favorite. A self-portrait of Stiles and Derek lying shirtless in bed, kissing. The photo was off-center from where Stiles was holding the phone, but both of their faces were visible, mouths touching as they kissed early one morning after sex, lips parted just enough to see their shared tongues. It had been taken the summer before Stiles’ senior year of college, the last summer Derek and Stiles spent any significant amount of time together.

Derek stares at the picture, familiar longing building inside him. Derek had almost told Stiles he loved him that day, had wanted to say the words that had been on the tip of his tongue for years. Sitting here six years later, Derek can’t remember why he had hesitated, and now Christopher gets to kiss Stiles first thing in the morning, after waking up beside him and making love to him slowly from behind, both of them lying on their sides, just like Stiles liked first thing in the mornings.

Derek clicks out of the pictures and contemplates deleting them, but he just can’t bring himself to erase the only evidence he has left that it was all real.

*

Derek answered the phone blindly, pressing it to his ear without opening his eyes. “What?”

“Derek? I didn’t know I called you. Oops?” Stiles giggled, and Derek could tell he was drunk.

“Are you okay?” Derek asked, rolling onto his back and yawning.

“I’m drunk.” Stiles paused for a moment, and Derek could hear voices in the background. “I don’t know where I am.”

“Berkeley?” Derek ventured.

“I was at a party. I almost scored with this pretty girl. Brunette with very large breasts. She was really smart. I think she wanted to be an astrophysicist. Or maybe she just liked the moon. Maybe she was a werewolf. Wouldn’t that be funny? I leave Beacon Hills and meet new werewolfs.”

“What was her name?” Derek asked, trying to quell the jealousy.

“Um…Star? Maybe that’s why she wanted to be an astrophysicist. Like if your last name is Baker or Cook and you become a baker or a cook.”

“Stiles,” Derek said. “Where are you?”

“On the corner. I sat down on the corner. I don’t feel so hot, Derek. I think I’m gonna just lay down here.”

“No,” Derek exclaimed. “You need to find your dorm.”

“What dorm do I live in? Why don’t I remember where I live? Derek, I did so many shots. It was a game, like Clue or Sorry or…Monopoly! We had to collect all the properties. I didn’t get very many. I think I only had like 8 shots? 10? I can’t remember. Maybe more.”

“It’s Foothill,” Derek said, trying to resist the urge to drive to Berkeley just to make sure Stiles was okay. “You live in Foothill. Ask someone to tell you where it is.”

Finally, Stiles ended up on the right path towards his dorm. “Don’t hang up on me,” Stiles had said. “I’m kinda freaked out. I keep having moments of soberness and it’s freaking me out and I’m still not exactly sure where I am.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“I miss you, Derek,” Stiles said quietly. “It’s lonely here. It’s hard making friends. I wish I’d stayed in Beacon Hills.”

“Don’t say that,” Derek replied, wanting desperately to pull Stiles to him and comfort him. “This is the best thing for you. You’re going to get a great education.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Stiles had snorted.

“You’ll make friends. It’s only been a couple of months.”

“It’s so hard,” Stiles said. “I just miss you. My friends.”

Derek talked to Stiles for the rest of the night, until he stumbled back to his dorm, made it upstairs to his bedroom, and then afterwards, when Stiles was in bed. They’d talked until after the sun had come up.

Stiles didn’t call Derek after that, drunk or sober, and Derek didn’t see Stiles again until he came home for the summer.

*

Derek hears the knock on the door, but before he can react, Millie darts towards it in a blur of pink. Derek glances at Nick, gurgling happily in his bouncer, and follows Millie to the door. She’s already opening it, growling.

Stiles is standing on the other side, staring at them both in a mixture of amusement and apprehension. Derek realizes that he’s wolfed out, just like Millie. Immediately, his face morphs back to normal, his fangs retracting. He looks at the flashing plastic scepter in his hand and quickly throws it onto the floor somewhere beside him.

“Does she bite?” Stiles points to Millie, who’s baring her teeth and growling.

“Millie!” Derek scoops her up in his arms, and runs a comforting hand over the back of her head. “We do not growl at visitors!”

“He smells funny,” she says, her words muffled through her small fangs.

“Hey!” Stiles says, “I showered today.” He smiles and leans close, and Millie hides her face in Derek’s shoulder.

“Sorry.” Derek steps aside so Stiles can enter the house. “You interrupted play time.” Derek closes the door behind him with his foot, his hand rubbing circles along Millie’s back. Her face is still against his neck.

“You make a very pretty princess.” Stiles laughs as he points to Derek’s head. Derek reaches up, having forgotten about the flashing plastic tiara he was wearing that matched the scepter. “I didn’t know you were running a daycare,” Stiles jokes as he bends down in front of Nick, who was making baby talk, his eyes Beta gold. “Werecubs can change this young?”

“Just their eyes,” Derek answers. “They can’t shift until they’re between one and two. It varies from child to child. His eyes change when Millie and I shift.”

“Can I pick him up?” Stiles glances up at Derek over his shoulder, and Derek nods. Millie lifts her head and watches Stiles closely as he lifts her brother out of the bouncer.

“That’s Nick,” Derek says as he watches Stiles cuddle the baby, ignoring the surge of emotions that it causes. Nick squeals in delight as Stiles nuzzles him and places kisses all over his face.

“Der-der,” Millie says quietly, which means she basically yells it. “Who’s that man? He’s got Nick.”

“Der-der?” Stiles asks, laughing easily.

“She’s three,” Derek replies in irritation. Stiles just laughs again. “That’s Stiles. He’s a friend of mine and your daddy’s. He’s known your dad for a long time.”

“You know Daddy?” Suddenly, Millie is much more interested in Stiles.

“God Derek, she looks just like Isaac.” Stiles turns to Nick, who’s reaching up for Stiles’ glasses. “They both do.”

“I know. We joke that Sarah had nothing to do with it.”

Derek puts Millie back down, and she runs over to Stiles, now clutching on to his leg. “Good luck,” Derek says, laughing. “I hope you can survive two werecubs.”

Stiles manages to walk over to the couch, and Millie immediately climbs beside him and tries to push Nick out of the way so she can get all of Stiles’ attention.

“Millie!” Derek sighs. “You know better than this. Do you need to go to time out?”

“No,” she says quickly, head cast down.

“How can you put a face like that in time out?” Stiles asks.

“Guess you’re never babysitting.”

After Stiles plays with the kids for a few minutes, Derek takes Nick so he can change and feed him before putting him down for his nap. Millie helps him, showing Stiles what kind of big girl she is by getting Derek all he needs for Nick. When they finish that, Stiles watches as Derek puts Nick in his crib, already drifting off to sleep, then helps Derek get Millie settled for her nap.

“Stiles!” Millie exclaims, squirming around on the bed though they’d just settled her. “Will you play with me after my nap? PLEASEEEE!!!!!!!”

“Millie, Stiles is busy. Maybe some other time – “

“No,” Stiles cuts in. “It’s fine.” Derek looks at him in surprise, and Stiles smiles. “Can’t break her heart, can we?”

Millie is watching them, holding on to the blanket excitedly. “Will you play? WILL YOU PLAY?”

“I will play,” Stiles says, nodding his head in an exaggerated fashion.

“We can play tea party,” Millie starts, crawling out of bed.

“Get back into bed, young lady!” Derek orders, pointing his finger. She pouts, but crawls back between the covers. Because Derek can’t handle her pouting face, he drops to his knees and rubs noses with her. “The faster you get to sleep, the faster you can play.”

Millie makes a little gasp and then curls onto her side. Derek smoothes her hair and drops a kiss to her hair before leaving the room. After he closes the door, he looks at Stiles and sighs.

“I never thought I’d see that,” Stiles whispers. “You’re amazing with them.”

“I love them,” Derek says as he walks downstairs and into the kitchen. “They’re family, and Pack.” Derek opens the refrigerator and grabs two bottles of water. “What are you doing here?”

It’s the question that has been on Derek’s mind since Stiles had shown up, and now with the kids asleep, he is able to focus on Stiles. Stiles looks amazing, even though he’s just wearing khaki shorts, a t-shirt, and a cardigan with the sleeves pushed to his elbows. Derek thinks about how easy it would be to cross the distance between them, reach out and touch Stiles, curl his fingers into the soft cotton of his sweater.

“I wanted to see your house. I got the address from Scott.”

Derek tries not to read too much into that, into Stiles being interested in his life, interested in him. It’s just curiosity; Derek’s sure Stiles just wouldn’t believe Derek had bought a house and remodeled it if he didn’t see it with his own eyes.

“Then let me give you the tour.” Stiles smiles, and it cuts into Derek, deep into that part of himself he’d boarded up and abandoned.

He shouldn’t fall in love with Stiles again. Or, correction, fall in love with him anymore. After so many years, it only takes Stiles’ smile and Derek is refalling like he can’t help himself. And the sad part is that he can’t. Each moment Derek shares with Stiles, he’s reminded of every single reason he loved him in the first place, and he knows the whole thing is pointless.

Derek loves, and Stiles leaves.

It’s a pattern, familiar and true.

*

Stiles didn’t even knock, just came into the loft like it hadn’t been nine months since he’d last stepped over the threshold. Derek breathed in the moment the door opened, a coil of tension unfurling from his shoulders.

Stiles.

“Hey,” Stiles said like they’d seen each other yesterday as he dropped onto the couch beside Derek. Derek looked over at him and nodded. “You have a TV now. Get bored with staring at the large hole in the wall?”

“Pretty much.” Derek felt at ease in a way he hadn’t since Stiles had left for college, but he still felt awkward, didn’t know what to say. Stiles looked the same, but different somehow. Older, more mature, someone who has seen something in the world other than Beacon Hills and a long line of supernatural death staring him down. Maybe that was hope and opportunity shining in his eyes. Derek wouldn’t know; he wasn’t familiar with either of those things.

“How was school?” Derek asked after a few moments.

So, Stiles spent the next hour telling Derek about Berkeley, and Derek listened because he cared about Stiles’ life, even this new life that didn’t include him.

When Stiles finished, he slung his leg over Derek’s hip and settled himself on Derek’s lap. He stared down at Derek with a confidence that hadn’t been there the last time, and he leaned down and kissed him hungrily.

And they picked right back up where they had left off the previous August.

*

Derek rushes back into the house, holding the two bags of take out in one hand as he opens the door. He braces himself for disaster, panic threatening to consume at any moment as he enters the house. Everything looks normal. The house is still standing at least.

Then he hears Nick squeal, followed by Millie. Derek runs into the living room, heart pounding in his chest, to find Stiles on the floor holding Nick, blowing raspberries against his tummy while Millie sits pressed against his side, her stuffed monkey clutched in her arms.

Stiles hears Derek enter and turns towards him. He’s laughing and smiling, his whole face open in joy, and Derek cracks a little. He thinks it’s unfair that it’s been five years and Stiles still can undo every wall he’s ever built with a simple laugh. That Stiles won’t be on his floor after tonight, holding Millie and Nick, holding their own kids one day. That Stiles won’t be laughing as he lays on top of Derek, their naked bodies sweaty and sticky.

“Overreact much?” Stiles gives him a look, and Derek realizes he’s staring at them with red eyes, that Nick has noticed because his eyes are gold as he reaches for Stiles’ glasses.

“Sorry. I heard them yelling, and I had been gone for too long, and I don’t like leaving them – “

“Dude, it’s me. You can trust me.” Stiles smiles again, the words falling so easily from his lips like they’d stared down Alphas just yesterday instead of a decade ago, and suddenly Derek is so angry at Stiles and his own life.

He grips the plastic bags in his hands and bites out, “I trusted you years ago, Stiles. And they’re just babies.”

Stiles’ face falls, a clear moment of unadulterated hurt on his face before he schools his features and Derek stalks into the kitchen.

Derek tells himself it’s better this way, that it’s better if they’re not suddenly friends again, not Stiles-and-Derek, because Derek doesn’t want to be friends with Stiles. He wants nothing to do with Stiles, if he’s honest with himself.

He’s pulling the containers out of the bag when Stiles comes into the kitchen, trying to cover up the awkwardness. “Hey, I’m gonna go, I – “

“I got you dinner,” Derek says, voice harder than he intended. He wants Stiles to get the fuck out of his house, with his eyes and smiles and scent and fucking glasses that Derek’s falling in love with. But Derek shoves the box towards him and walks into the living room with his and Millie’s dinner, because Derek doesn’t really want Stiles to leave, wants him to stay forever.

“What’s this?” Stiles asks, as he follows Derek.

“Cheeseburger and curly fries.” Derek knows it used to Stiles’ favorite, had eaten it with him a thousand times during stake outs and Pack meetings and long nights researching and after hot summer days tangled in the sheets on Derek’s bed.

“Oh.”

“Something wrong with it?” Derek asks, eyebrow quirked as he tries to get Millie settled at the small princess-themed table and chair that’s set up in front of the television. She’s too busy watching whatever movie Stiles had put on from Netflix streaming, and so Derek has to physically pick her up and place her in the chair. “Millie, you can keep watching the movie, but you have to sit here and eat dinner.”

“Kay, Der-der.” She reaches out to touch his face without removing her eyes from the television, and she ends up poking Derek in the eye. Stiles stifles a laugh, and Derek sighs.

“I just don’t eat this stuff anymore,” Stiles says from behind Derek. Derek’s breaking up the chicken fingers into small pieces and opening the small package of apples.

“Crap,” Derek mutters. “Stiles, can you go grab me a juice box from the fridge?” He hears Stiles get up as he hands Millie a fork and a napkin. Stiles returns a moment later, leaning down to set the juice box on the table. His leg brushes against Derek’s back, his arm against Derek’s shoulder when he bends down. A shiver runs through Derek’s entire body.

When Derek gets Millie settled and she begins eating, he checks on Nick, who’s in his swing and not scheduled to be fed for another half hour. Finally, Derek drops onto the couch and grabs his own now-luke warm box of food.

“You don’t have to eat it,” Derek says as he opens his own container, also burger and curly fries.

“No, it’s okay. Cheat day, right?” Derek glances over at Stiles with his eyebrows raised, and Stiles shrugs. Derek doesn’t say anything as he starts eating. Beside him, Stiles picks up the burger and when he finally takes a bite, the sound he makes can only be described as filthy. Derek turns to watch him, and Stiles has his eyes closed, head tilted back slightly to expose his throat, his lips pursed as he moans. He fucking moans. He takes another bite, and Derek watches open-mouthed. “This is orgasmic,” Stiles whispers, finally opening his eyes and looking at Derek. Derek tries to look away, but he can’t. His cock stirs, and Derek ignores how long it’s been since he’s had sex. “Orgasmic,” Stiles states again, not breaking eye contact as he shoves curly fries into his mouth.

Derek glances at his own burger. “It’s really not that good,” he mutters.

“Dude, you have no idea. I haven’t had a burger in like two years. Chr – I don’t eat red meat, so if I eat a burger, it’s a turkey or soybean burger on lettuce.”

“Stiles, that’s not a burger,” Derek points out, choosing to ignore that Stiles almost said his name, but for some reason didn’t.

Stiles laughs. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s really not. I just tell myself it is so I’ll feel better.”

“Why do you eat like that?” Derek asks. He glances at Millie, who has eaten almost all of her chicken fingers and has started on the fruit. She’s slithered out of her chair, though, and is lying on the floor on her stomach. Derek doesn’t care as long as she’s eating and not bothering him and Stiles. He’s a terrible uncle, he decides.

“It’s healthy,” Stiles answers. “With my dad’s heart problems, I don’t want to run the risk of developing the same things. He tells me he eats healthy when I’m not around, but I don’t believe him.”

“He does,” Derek says. He can’t quite read the look on Stiles’ face. “Whenever I see him eating out or go to lunch or dinner with him, he’s eating mostly healthy. Of course, when he goes to someone’s house for dinner, he’s taken care of. Melissa does a pretty good job of policing his food.”

“I didn’t know you saw my dad that often,” Stiles says, that unreadable look still on his face.

“I see him at least once a week. He loves the kids.”

Stiles doesn’t say anything to that, just turns back to the television and pops another curly fry into his mouth.

*

“Where’s your bag?” Derek asked when Stiles dropped into the Camaro.

“We’re only going to be gone for two days,” Stiles answered, slipping his sunglasses on his face.

“Didn’t you bring a change of clothes? Or a toothbrush?”

“I’ll buy a toothbrush at a drugstore, and I’ll just wear the same clothes home tomorrow. I figure I’ll spend half my time out of them anyway, so I didn’t see the point.” Stiles grinned and reached over to drag his fingers across the crotch of Derek’s jeans. “I’ll go commando if I have to.”

“You don’t make any sense,” Derek said as he drove towards the freeway.

The mini road trip had been Stiles’ idea, a reason to leave Beacon Hills and go to the beach. Scott had been working, and so Stiles had begged Derek. It didn’t take much convincing.

Stiles had made a mix CD for the trip, full of songs Derek didn’t know. It was the only CD they listened to for two days, so by the time they returned to Beacon Hills, Derek knew almost all of the words to half the songs.

Stiles made Derek turn off on any exit he found interesting. “There’s an old covered bridge from the 1800s that way, the sign says so…The biggest ball of popcorn? WE HAVE TO SEE THAT…a wildlife safari park? Yes…California’s best bar-b-queue? We gotta try it.”

Instead of two hours, it took them seven to get to the coast. They walked to the water, and Stiles convinced Derek to pull up his pants’ legs and stand so the water would wash over his feet. Then Stiles ran and jumped on Derek’s back, causing him to stumble forward, right as a large wave sent a surge of water towards them. Derek got soaked up to his knees, and Stiles buried his face against Derek’s neck as he laughed hysterically.

“Just take your pants off,” Stiles told him when they were standing beside the car, Derek’s pants soaked and dripping. “It’s the beach. Your underwear will cover more than most bathing suits.”

“I did bring an extra pair of jeans.”

“What if you get something on those? What will you do then?” Stiles grinned like he’d already won the argument. “Look, if it makes you feel better, I’ll take off my pants, too.”

Stiles stripped down to his boxers, and Derek thought what the hell and removed his pants, too. They were mostly alone anyway. Derek tossed his wet jeans in the trunk and Stiles put his sandy shoes and socks in the backseat, getting sand everywhere.

“You’re cleaning this when we’re done,” Derek said.

Stiles made Derek pull over at an ocean overlook. He grabbed Derek’s hand and dragged him close the edge, Derek putting a secure hand around Stiles’ waist so he didn’t topple over the side. Stiles grabbed Derek’s cell phone and snuggled close.

“What are you doing?” Derek asked.

“Taking a picture. Documenting our trip. Gathering evidence that Derek Hale actually went to the beach. If you smile, perhaps I’ll have evidence that you had fun.”

Derek turned his face into Stiles’ hair, nosing along his ear with a small smile on his face as he looked at the camera. Stiles snapped the picture as a car drove by, a bunch of girls catcalling them, and Derek remembered they were both standing in their underwear.

“Huh, you actually look happy,” Stiles said in surprise, and Derek craned over his shoulder to look at the picture. Stiles was grinning happily, and although Derek was looking at the camera, his one massive eyeball visible, there was something tender and intimate about the way he was touching Stiles and smiling. From the angle of Stiles’ arm, the California coastline provided a nice backdrop to them.

If anyone had seen the picture, they might have mistaken them for a couple, for two people in love on a vacation, not two acquaintances who fought supernatural monsters and sometimes fucked.

*

“Millie, it’s time for bed.” Derek walks into her bedroom carrying Nick. Millie is sitting at a small table with a tea set spread over it. Stiles is in the other seat, his long legs nearly folded in half as he sits in the seat, holding a tiny teacup at the end of his long fingers. He’s wearing the flashing tiara that Derek had been earlier.

“But Der-der!” Millie whines.

“Yeah, Der-der.” Stiles grins up at him, and he glares at Stiles because he is not helping. If Derek squints, it almost feels like old times.

“PLEASE!” Millie jumps up and runs over to Stiles, throwing her arms around his neck. “I don’t want to stop playing. Stiles makes the best tea!”

“Does he?” Derek leans back and lifts an eyebrow. “I thought I made the best tea.”

Millie shakes her head as she climbs into Stiles’ lap, accidentally knocking him in the face with her elbow and knocking his glasses askew. Stiles yelps, his hand immediately going to his abused cheek. Derek can’t help but laugh at Stiles, who looks adorable with the flashing tiara and crooked glasses and rambunctious three year old squirming in his lap.

“Nuh-uh. Stiles makes the best.” She finally settles in his lap as Stiles fixes his glasses, and she wraps her tiny arms around Stiles’ neck and nuzzles him, sniffing and then rubbing her cheek against his neck.

“Millie! You can’t just go around scenting people!” Derek exclaims. “Stiles, I’m sorry. We’re trying to teach her – “

“It’s okay.” He grins and extends his neck to her, letting her nose along his skin. Derek’s mouth goes dry at the subtle action, the act of baring his neck making his wolf want to pounce and bite and claim. “She’s not the scariest wolf I’ve had at my neck.”

“You don’t smell like Daddy and Mommy and Der-der.” Millie pulls back, her face scrunched. “You don’t smell like Pack.”

“That’s because he’s not Pack,” Derek says, shifting a dozing Nick in his arms. Stiles looks at him sharply, and Derek swears he looks pained by the words. There was a time when Stiles was indisputably Pack, Derek’s second in command instead of Isaac, the Pack’s scent so strong on him any wolf within a five mile radius would know that human was claimed and protected. But not anymore. Any hints of wolf on Stiles’ skin has long faded.

“Do you want to be Pack?” Millie asks innocently, and Derek decides it is time for bed.

“Millie, it’s not that simple,” Derek says, walking over beside them and trying to figure out what to do with the baby in his arms and how to get Millie out of Stiles’ lap and to stop talking about things that Derek doesn’t want to talk about. Not with Stiles.

“Why? Why can’t we keep him, Der-der? Don’t you like him?”

Stiles looks at him, another unreadable look on his face, and fuck, when did Stiles stop being like an open fucking book to him? Derek can’t read any of his looks anymore, doesn’t know what goes on in that over-active brain these days.

Derek sighs because he tries to grab Millie’s hand and extract her from around Stiles, but she’s being difficult, and Stiles is just sitting there staring up at him thoughtfully and Derek just needs a fucking drink. “Yes, Millie. I like him.”

“Then why can’t he be Pack? Stiles, don’t you want to be in our Pack?”

“Millie,” Derek growls, eyes red. Both Millie and Stiles jump, and Millie buries her face in Stiles’ neck and starts crying. Nick jolts awake and blinks and starts wailing.

“For fuck’s…I give up.” Derek turns around on his heel and storms out of the room as Stiles murmurs softly to Millie. He’s angry and frustrated and hurt, all because of a damn three year old who asked all the right fucking questions. And now, Nick has sensed his mood and is gold-eyed and screaming at the top of his lungs.

Derek goes into the other upstairs bedroom where they keep the crib, and he calms himself as he walks around the dark room, illuminated slightly by the half-full moon filtering through the window. He rubs his cheek along Nick’s head and his hand in circles on his back as he sings a soft song his mother used to sing to them. It takes a few minutes, but Nick calms and reduces to just whimpering.

Derek lays him down in the crib, covering him with a blanket and stands there stroking his hand down Nick’s small arm until the baby’s eyes drift shut.

“I forgot how terrifying your Alpha eyes can be,” Stiles whispers as he enters the room. He comes to stand beside Derek at the crib, looking down at where Nick is almost asleep. “You know, when they’re not accompanied by a tiara and scepter.”

“I don’t normally use them on the kids. It’s wrong, I shouldn’t.” Derek sighs and makes himself not look over at Stiles.

“Actually, I forgot about what it was like to be around werewolves,” Stiles admits. “With the nuzzling and the eyes and the collective mood stuff.” Stiles is quiet and Derek stares at his large hand next to the small baby, ignoring the way his heart clenches when Stiles says forgot and werewolves in the same sentence. “And I’ve never been around werecubs.”

Derek finally looks at Stiles, pale skin nearly glowing in the silver moonlight. There was a time when Stiles knew everything about werewolves, more than Scott, Isaac, and Boyd combined, had known some lore than even Derek hadn’t known. He almost says something, but realizes it’s futile and turns to go deal with Millie now that his anger has subsided.

“I’m sorry, about Millie,” Derek says as he shuts Nick’s door, leaving it cracked.

“Oh, you don’t have to apologize. I got her into bed, by the way.”

“How?” Derek rounds on him, and Stiles shoves his hands into his pockets with a grin.

“The old Stilinski charm.” His face drops, though. “She thinks you’re mad at her.”

Derek sighs and goes into Millie’s room, where she’s curled into a ball on her side, back to the door. Derek notices that Stiles hovers in the doorway, and he wonders why Stiles is still there, like he fucking belongs with Derek, sharing the responsibility of putting the kids to bed. It’s so goddamn domestic that Derek can’t decide whether he wants to cry or punch a hole through the wall.

“Millie.” Derek walks over to the other side of the bed and sits on the edge. He runs his hand along her hair, and her eyes tear up.

“Don’t be mad at me, Der-der,” Millie says, sniffling. “I’m sorry that I wanted to keep Stiles and said his tea was better than yours, I still love you, Der-der, please don’t be mad at me.” Millie starts crying then, and Derek gathers her in his arms.

“Millie, I’m not mad at you.” He kisses her forehead and noses along her hair. She starts hiccupping and pulls back to look up at him with large, watery blue eyes.

“Then why did you go wolfy and make red eyes?” She sniffs and wipes her runny nose on her arm. Derek looks around for a tissue but can’t find one, so he lifts the hem of his shirt and gently wipes her nose with it.

“You can’t be rude to our guests,” Derek says, thumbs rubbing along her arms.

“But I didn’t say nothing rude, Der-der, I swear. I just wanted to keep Stiles, that’s not rude! Mommy said rude is – “

“Millie, we can’t keep Stiles.”

Her eyes get watery again, her lip wibbling. “But why? You like him, and he likes you, and he told me he loves me. Why can’t we keep him?”

Derek sighs. How was this his life, explaining to a three-year old why they couldn’t keep the man he loved? He still hadn’t figured that out himself, and he’d been trying for years. “Stiles is part of another Pack, a Pack that doesn’t live around here.”

“But he told me Pop-pop was his daddy! Pop-pop is Pack.” Derek rubs his eyes. This is way too complicated, and Stiles is still standing there watching him. “And Stiles doesn’t smell like wolfies. Daddy said that smelling like wolfies – “

“Stiles’ Pack is full of humans, because Stiles is a human, like Pop-pop, and like Daddy used to be.”

Millie’s face wrinkles because she doesn’t understand, and Derek feels too wrecked to try to continue explaining these things to a toddler.

“So, we can’t keep Stiles?”

Derek’s heart breaks. “No.”

Millie glances over to the door, where Stiles is leaning on the doorframe. He smiles weakly, and Millie turns back to Derek. She leans close and whispers, “Is that why you’re sad?”

Derek presses his forehead against hers. “Yes.”

“Don’t worry, Der-der. I love you. And I still like tea party best with you.” She kisses him and Derek arranges the blankets around her. He kisses her again before standing up.

“I love you.” He runs his hand over the back of her neck and down her back as she closes her eyes.

“I love you, too, Der-der.”

Derek double-checks the star-shaped nightlight, and then closes the door behind him.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says. “If I’d have known visiting would have caused such a problem, I wouldn’t have.”

Derek shakes his head and starts downstairs. “Don’t worry about it. I should be apologizing for Millie. She doesn’t interact with many people who aren’t Pack, other than Sarah’s family, and they’re extended Pack through marriage, so it’s different.”

“I just…” Stiles stops at the bottom of the stairs, and Derek turns to him. Stiles looks upset, a look Derek is familiar with, the look Stiles gets when he can’t quite arrange the emotions and thoughts logically, can’t find words to describe what he’s feeling. “I’ve never met Isaac’s kids. Hell, I didn’t even know that Isaac had the baby.”

“I thought you had Facebook,” Derek says stupidly, like that was the most important thing to mention.

“I rarely get on. I sometimes post photos, but I never check up on everyone. I haven’t even talked to Scott in months.” Derek doesn’t know what to say. “They call my Dad Pop-pop?” Derek nods. “He hasn’t mentioned the babies. Actually, he doesn’t talk much about the Pack when we talk. And I guess I don’t ask.”

“Why?” Derek finds himself asking.

“A lot of reasons,” Stiles answers. They stare at each for a moment too long, and Derek realizes he should tell Stiles he loves him, just so he knows. But he lets the moment pass. “I should go.”

Derek nods and walks him to the door. Derek holds on to the doorframe as Stiles steps onto the porch, and then Stiles turns around. “You’re different now,” Stiles says. “I mean, duh, you’re like thirty-three, so of course you’re different, but…the house and babysitting the kids and Der-der and fuck, you wiped Millie’s nose on your shirt. It’s so different than before. You seem happy, grounded, less…fucked up, I guess.” Stiles shrugs and picks absently at the hem of his sweater.

“You’re different, too.”

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Stiles asks, and Derek nods. Stiles stares at him for a beat more before saying, “Goodbye, Derek.”

Derek can’t bring himself to speak, just watches Stiles walks across the yard in the moonlight and get into his Hybrid car, and doesn’t go back inside until after the taillights are long faded in the distance.

*

Stiles didn’t come home the summer between his sophomore and junior year. He studied abroad in England, and Derek didn’t see him for almost two years. By that time, Derek had given up on Stiles, at least until Stiles was out of college. Stiles was only twenty, and Derek thought if they were ever going to have a serious relationship, something that was more than sex and a few dates here and there, Stiles needed to be older.

Derek met a girl during those two years he didn’t see Stiles. Her name was Alex, and she was a secretary at the bank. She was pretty, sweet, liked a lot of the things that Derek did. Isaac and Boyd approved, and they even double dated occasionally with Isaac or Boyd and their girlfriends of the month.

Derek stayed with Alex for a year.

“When are you going to tell her you’re a werewolf?” Isaac had asked.

“When I’m sure. It’s not something you just go around telling people,” Derek said, irritated. “I’m seriously involved with a woman, isn’t that enough?”

Isaac hadn’t asked him again.

Derek thought about telling her, but he still had a few Kate-tinted issues, but he didn’t let it affect his relationship with Alex. It just kept him from divesting his biggest secret and jeopardizing not only his safety, but the safety of his Pack.

Or at least that’s what he told himself.

Then Stiles returned the summer between his junior and senior year, two years older, taller, and with a slight tan. They’d gone to a bar for his return, and Stiles had leaned against him and said with whiskey on his breath, “I hear you have a girlfriend. I’m happy for you.”

The next week, Derek broke up with Alex, told her she wanted a bigger commitment than he was ready for. She’d cried and called him every name in the book, and he deserved every bit of it. He was an asshole. He’d never loved her, had only been using her to pass the time because the moment Stiles blew into town, he hated the sight of her.

The next time Derek saw Stiles, he told him he’d broken up with Alex, and they’d ended up fucking in the middle of the loft’s living room floor.

Derek realized in the middle of sex that sometime over the last two years Stiles had finally had sex with someone other than him, multiple partners if he was right, and the wolf wanted to erase the evidence of the other men and women on him.

He’d asked Stiles about it later, lying naked beside him on the floor of the loft, and Stiles had laughed and told him about his sexcapades, sometimes in great detail.

Derek was a hypocrite, because Alex wasn’t even the only person he’d fucked over the last few years, but he hated that others had touched Stiles, that Stiles was no longer his.

*

Derek sits in the coffee shop at his usual table, manuscript, red pen, and highlighter spread in front of him. He’s drowned out all the ambient noise around him and focused solely on his work. He reads and sips his coffee idly.

“What in the hell are you doing?”

Derek looks up at Stiles, who’s standing by his table holding a large coffee cup and looking at him in amusement. Derek takes note of the odd outfit. Stiles looks like he’s going hiking, which would make sense if it was anyone but Stiles.

“Working.”

Stiles moves behind Derek and cranes himself over Derek’s shoulder, nosily looking at the manuscript. Stiles’ chest is pressed against Derek’s shoulder, warm and solid, his face so close Derek can feel errant hairs brushing his ear, the scent of coffee and soap invading his senses. “On what? I didn’t even know you had a job.”

“I’m a book editor.”

Stiles turns his face and looks at Derek like he just said he was a serial killer, and their faces are so close that it would be so simple just to lean forward and press his lips against Stiles’ lips. He wants to trace his tongue along the line of the Cupid’s bow he used to have memorized, sink his teeth into the plump flesh of his bottom lip.

“How in the hell did you become a book editor?”

Derek shrugs. “It just happened.”

“Why though?” Stiles thankfully straightens, pulls away so Derek can breathe again.

“Well, I can work from home, don’t have to interact with people, I can deal with Pack business and full moons when I need to, watch Isaac’s kids if they need me to. Plus, I like it.”

“What press?”

“I work for a few small independent presses.”

“You know, I hear most people have joined the digital age and do it all via laptop.” Stiles presses his fingertip against the top of the large manuscript, lets his long fingers flutter over the red pens and highlighters. “Still old school, huh?”

Stiles smiles and heads out of the shop. Derek has trouble concentrating with Stiles’ scent taunting him, so after another half hour, he packs up and drives back home.

*

Derek is angry. He didn’t sleep much the night before, Stiles’ scent so strong in his house that it seeped under his skin and into his pores. It had taken his scent forever to fade from the loft, and the new house hadn’t been tainted. Derek hates the way it mixes with his own familiar scent, how there are traces of Stiles on Millie and Nick now.

He hates the way it all seems right.

After bumping into Stiles at the coffee shop, Derek decides to head out to the preserve to run. A few hours in the woods, sweating and working his muscles, sounds like the perfect remedy for his mood.

Derek leaves his shirt in the car, only wearing running shorts in the midday heat. He runs for an hour before he crosses anyone’s path.

Stiles.

He’s furious now. Why did Stiles think he could leave Beacon Hills for five years and then return and traipse all over the town like he belonged? This is Derek’s territory – Stiles lost his right when he moved to San Francisco.

“What are you doing here?” Derek asks, crashing through the underbrush. He stops short when he sees Stiles crouched on the ground, leaning forward as he rubs his fingers over a plant. A clipboard is lying by his feet next to an open bag.

“Working,” Stiles replies, glancing up in irritation. “Didn’t know I had to have your permission, oh mighty Alpha.”

Derek hates the way he settles in to the way Stiles says that, how it feels comfortable. How much he missed hearing Stiles tease him like that.

“Working?” Derek takes a few steps forward, but Stiles holds out his hand.

“Stop!” Derek halts. “You’ll crush the plants. I need them.”

“Why?”

Stiles sighs. “I work for the US Forestry Service and the Department of Agriculture.”

“Doing what?”

Stiles sits back on his haunches. “I’m a botanist. I travel around California doing research on different ecosystems and management of plant resources. I’m collecting samples from the preserve for a project I’m working on. It’s why I’m in Beacon Hills.”

“I didn’t know you were a botanist,” Derek says. “I just knew you had a degree in biology.”

“Decided on botany in grad school,” Stiles says, turning his attention back to the plant he was clipping. “Figured after spending so many years studying herbs and plants for Deaton, I might want to do something with it.” Stiles snips the flower and leaf from a stalk, and the pieces drop into a small glass container.

“Do you like it?”

Stiles looks up at him as he slides the container into his bag. “Yeah, I love it. I spend half my time in the woods, the other in the lab, and I get to travel. It’s fantastic.”

Derek nods and stands there as Stiles collects a few samples near his feet and then stands up. Stiles hooks the bag on his shoulder and starts walking.

“You just gonna tag along now?” Stiles asks.

Derek shrugs. “Why not? I’ve never seen a botanist work before.”

“It’s not that exciting.”

“You just said it was.”

“Yeah, for me.”

They walk in silence for awhile, Stiles stopping every so often and looking at various plant life Derek can’t identify. It all looks the same to him. After they have been walking for about five minutes, Stiles’ eyes keep drifting over to him before he quickly averts them.

“Are you checking me out?” Derek asks. Because he’s angry and knows his body is better than his. Plus, he’s an asshole.

“No.” Derek looks at him incredulously. “Okay, yes. Don’t you have a shirt? Or bigger shorts?”

“I didn’t expect to meet anyone while running.”

Stiles purses his lips and blatantly rakes his eyes over Derek’s body.

“Feel better?” Derek smirks, and Stiles flicks him off. Derek decides he doesn’t care anymore because Stiles has been in his space for too long and he just needs to leave, Derek needs to push him away as quickly as possible. “I guess you have to get your fill. From the photos on Facebook, Chris doesn’t look like he has that many muscles.”

Stiles glances at him in surprise when Derek mentions his name, but that quickly melts into anger. “He has plenty of muscles.”

“Not like you like them. I seem to recall you having a bit of a kink for bulk.” Yeah, Derek is playing dirty, but he fucked Stiles for years before he came into the picture. They share a history, and if he wants to bring up the fact that Stiles got turned on constantly by Derek’s muscled body while only wearing tiny running shorts, he’s not going to feel bad about it. Call it payback for invading his house the night before and leaving his scent everywhere.

“They’re lean muscles because he doesn’t lift weights. And his name is Christopher, not Chris.”

“What does Christopher do since he’s too good to lift weights?”

“He’s not too good,” Stiles mutters. “He cycles. He rides his bike to work and around town. He doesn’t own a car.”

“Of course he doesn’t. Let me guess, he does it for the environment.”

“Not everyone compensates by driving gas guzzling black sports cars.”

“It wasn’t a gas guzzler, you know that.”

“It was still ostentatious.”

“Never heard you complaining. Actually, there were many times I remember you specifically talking about how much you loved that fucking car.” Derek remembers Stiles bent over the hood screaming his name, cramped in the backseat under Derek, their bodies too big for the small space but fucking desperately anyway.

“You’re an asshole,” Stiles snaps as he walks quickly ahead. Derek can feel arousal coming from him, but mixed with irritation and something else, and of course, it’s covered with the scent of him on top of it. And that just pisses Derek off more. “Do you still have it? The Camaro? You do, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” Stiles laughs incredulously. “What? It’s a good fucking car. Why would I buy a new one when I have it and the SUV?”

“Figures you’d still have that fucking car.”

“One day it’ll be a classic.”

“What? You’re nine years from the antique tag?”

“At least I don’t drive some ugly economy hybrid.”

“Derek, just about everyone drives those these days. It’s safe, economically sound, good for the environment – “

“It’s just ugly and boring.” Stiles glares at him and Derek lifts his eyebrows as he sets a wilting glare on Stiles. “Did you get rid of the Jeep? Was it too old or bad for the environment?”

“No. It’s at my dad’s, in the garage.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I left it there after college, when I left for Europe. I just never got it before I moved to San Francisco.”

Stiles stops then, pulls out his supplies from his bag and crouches back down. Derek watches him work as Stiles makes concentrated clippings. Some of his anger dissipates. He thinks maybe he can’t blame Stiles for moving on with his life, but he still can’t make himself stop loving Stiles and approve of him.

“What does he do?” Derek asks, his voice less stable than he wanted.

“He works with an organization that helps non-profits find money.”

“Of course he does,” Derek says, rolling his eyes. Stupid Christopher with his stupid bicycle and stupid organic diet and stupid non-profit job.

Stiles stands up, facing Derek. “Look, just because we fucked for years doesn’t mean you have to hate him. He’s a really nice guy. You might even like him if you gave him a chance.”

“Why didn’t you bring him with you?” Derek steps closer, can feel the heat and arousal and frustration from Stiles. It’s intoxicating. “Why haven’t you ever introduced him to us?”

“Why would I? Why would I introduce him to the asshole werewolf I fucked through college? Especially when he looks like you?” Stiles glares, and Derek tries to ignore how Stiles’ words are like a punch to his gut.

Derek takes a step closer and lowers his voice. “You sure that’s the only reason?”

“No.” Derek starts to smirk, but the Stiles says, “I don’t want him anywhere near all this supernatural bullshit. I left this for a reason, didn’t want this to be my life. I wanted a normal life. I didn’t want to come back to Beacon Hills, I never wanted to set foot in this fucking place again, and I sure as hell didn’t want to see you again,” Stiles yells.

Derek takes a few steps back, his entire body and face closing off. “Then why the fuck did you show up at my house last night?” Derek spits. “I didn’t invite you over, I didn’t invite you into my house so you could bond with a three year old werecub and leave it to me to explain to her this morning why she was never going to see you again.”

“That’s dirty, using Millie against me.”

“It’s not dirty, Stiles. It’s reality. When people get attached to you and then you walk out of their lives, it has consequences. It leaves holes. You can hide in San Francisco and pretend all you want that you have some normal life, but you’ll never be normal.” Derek grabs Stiles’ arm and yanks him close, lifting his shirt to expose three long lines of claw-shaped scars. He runs his fingers down the faded tissue. “What did you tell him about these? How did you explain them?”

“None of your goddamn business,” Stiles snaps, wrenching himself from Derek’s grip. “I don’t have to explain my choices to you.”

“You’re right, Stiles. Because it was okay to just disappear after Isaac’s wedding – disappear from my fucking bed – and never speak to us again.” Derek throws his hands up. “I’m glad you’re happy in San Francisco with Christopher. I’m glad you can live with yourself.”

Derek turns and takes off into the woods, running away from Stiles and the look on his face as fast as he can.

*

Derek dropped to his knees beside Stiles’ body, copious amounts of blood pooling underneath him. The only thing that kept Derek from completely falling apart was the sound of Stiles’ faint heartbeat that he’d locked onto.

Thump. Thump. Th-thump.

“Is Stiles – “ Isaac asked, and Derek pushed him back, pointed to where Scott was chasing after the rogue Pack.

“He’s fine. Go help Scott and Boyd, I’ve got him.” Isaac ran off as Derek turned back to Stiles’ still form. Derek had to assess the damage, had to figure out how bad it was.

Carefully, he lifted the soaked and tattered cotton, revealing three wide, deep gashes from right under his breast bone down to his hip. Please don’t let it have been the Alpha, Derek repeated to himself as he pulled his own shirt over his head and pressed it against Stiles’ side.

“Am I going to be a werewolf now, too?” Stiles asked, blinking up at Derek. Stiles’ eyes were full of so many emotions all at once – terror, panic, trust, relief, and maybe even love. “I’ll be pissed if my first order of werewolf business will be to put in a Pack transfer form. I always thought if I got turned, I’d chase a deer or eat a rabbit or something.” A soft smile covered his wan features, and Derek’s heart twisted and his wolf wanted to alternately go rip apart the other Pack and protect Stiles - his Stiles - with every breath.

“I think it was from one of the Betas,” Derek said, and the relief crashed out of Stiles. “Brace yourself. I’m going to pick you up, but it’s going to hurt.”

“No werewolf pain stuff?” Stiles asked as Derek slid his hands under Stiles’ legs and back.

“No time.” As gently as he could, Derek stood, and Stiles only cried out once. He started running, cradling Stiles close to his chest, protecting him the way he should have only moments ago.

“I thought I would graduate college before I died,” Stiles murmured, a weak laugh coming from him.

“That’s not funny, Stiles.”

“It is. I’ve only got one year left before I graduate. Shitty timing.” Derek thought about how Stiles was going to go back to college in a few weeks, how he’d show up for his senior year bandaged and bruised.

“Hey,” Stiles said, eyes a bit dazed as he looked up at Derek. “It’s not your fault.” Derek didn’t respond, his mouth a hard line as he navigated through the woods. “It’s not. You always protect me, always take care of me. I trust you, Derek. I know that you’ll keep me safe. I’ll be okay because you’ll always be there for me.” Stiles reached up and ran his hand along Derek’s cheek. “You’ll never leave me.”

*

Derek is on his couch watching television when he hears the knock on the door. Halfway to the door, he realizes who’s on the other side and contemplates not answering. But he can’t help himself.

He finds Stiles on the other side, looking so much like his old self despite the glasses with a graphic tee and worn out hoodie that Derek’s breath catches in his throat. Stiles lifts the bag in his hand like a peace offering.

“I brought dinner. That way we’re even. I hope you haven’t eaten.”

Derek steps aside as Stiles enters, and he follows Stiles into the living room. Stiles sits easily on the couch, pulling out containers of burgers and curly fries.

“Again?”

“Sit down and shut up.” Derek chuckles and sits beside Stiles, and murmurs thanks when Stiles hands him the container. Derek opens the box and checks his burger – swiss cheese, no mustard or onions, extra pickles, mayo on the bottom bun. “I haven’t forgotten,” Stiles says quietly.

Derek thinks it would have been easier to handle if Stiles had forgotten.

“Are you going to shoot your load again when you eat that?” Derek asks.

“Probably.” Stiles grins and picks up the burger in both hands, closing his eyes as he takes a bite. He makes the same noises as the day before, just quieter. “Fucking A, why don’t I eat red meat anymore?”

They eat in silence for a few moments, and then Stiles asks, “Where are the kids?”

Derek looks at him like he’s an idiot. “At home with their parents.”

“Hey, I didn’t know. They were here last night.”

“They sleep here when Isaac and Sarah work nights, which is once every week or two. Isaac’s an EMT and Sarah’s an emergency room nurse.”

“Is that how they met?”

Derek nods. “Scott was an intern, Isaac was training, and she was in Scott’s program.”

“I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to him at his wedding,” Stiles says, his cheeks coloring slightly.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, his own ears coloring at the memory. “I believe I had something to do with that.”

“It was a nice wedding,” Stiles says. “Well, the ceremony. I’m sure the reception was nice. Scott’s speech was nice.” Stiles tilts his head and chews a curly fry thoughtfully. “Maybe it was rude, cutting out of the reception so early.”

“We stayed long enough to hear all the speeches and see them cut the cake. What else were we supposed to do?”

“Mingle?” Stiles suggests. Derek just raises an eyebrow. “I guess that would require you to talk to people. We could have danced.” Derek’s other eyebrow joins the first. “I’m guessing karaoke was out of the question, too, so clearly, sex is the only thing you find appropriate for post-wedding celebrations.” Derek snorts.

A few minutes later, Stiles says, “Did you know Lydia is working on her PhD?” Derek shakes his head. “Yeah, I talk to her sometimes on Facebook. When I get on.”

“Jackson’s still living in London,” Derek responds, figuring that yeah, they’re doing this, the whole let’s-catch-up-on-everyone-we-used-to-know thing. “He’s joined a Pack there, and I think he’s engaged.”

“What happened to Allison and Chris Argent?” Stiles asks, gathering the last bits of curly fries in his fingers. “I haven’t talked to them since before she and Scott broke up that final time.”

“Allison lives in Chicago, I think,” Derek answers, scratching his chin. “Um, Chris and Peter moved to northern California.”

“Like…together?” Stiles’ eyes go wide, and Derek nods, not bothering to hide his amusement. “The fuck?”

“I don’t know. They live on a goat farm, and Peter makes soaps or some shit and sells them on the internet. I don’t know, it’s weird and very hippie. Come to think of it, you’d probably like them. I think they’re all organic, hug-a-tree, too.”

Stiles sighs and sets his container on the coffee table in front of them. “You know I’m not all organic hug-a-tree or whatever.” He gets up and walks towards the bathroom.

“No, Stiles, I don’t know that. I don’t know anything about your life.”

“What do you want to know?” Stiles calls from the bathroom where he’s washing his hands. “Wait, is this Peter’s soap?”

Derek smiles. “Yeah. He sends it to me every birthday and Christmas.”

“Is it laced with anything?” Stiles asks, coming out of the bathroom and wiping his hands on his shorts. “That seems like a Peter thing to do. Try to slowly take over the world or kill puppies through all natural soap.”

“Probably. But nothing’s happened yet.” Derek shrugs as Stiles drops back onto the couch, even closer to Derek than before.

“Seriously, what do you want to know?” Stiles angles himself towards Derek and pulls his leg under him.

Derek shakes his head and puts his container on the coffee table beside Stiles’. “It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to tell me anything.”

“Don’t be like that, Derek. There was a time when we could talk about anything.”

Derek looks at him, sees something in Stiles’ eyes behind the lenses. It almost looks like he’s missed this.

“Fine. Tell me about your life.”

*

Derek was surprised to see Stiles’ name flash across his screen. It was a Friday afternoon late in October, and he hadn’t spoken to Stiles since he’d been attacked a few months prior, and that was right after it happened, when he’d slipped into Stiles’ bedroom window like he had thousands of times before. Something was different in Stiles that night, though, and Derek could feel how he was nervous and timid. The slashes had shaken him in a way nothing else had.

“Stiles?”

“Derek,” Stiles said, and Derek was immediately on alert. Stiles’ voice was wrecked and raw, like he’d just come down from a panic attack.

“What’s wrong?”

“Everything, everything is just too much.”

“Are you hurt? Are you protected?” Derek asked, pulling on pants and trying to find his shoes.

“Huh, what? No. It’s nothing like that. God Derek, is that all you think about? There is more to life than monsters trying to eat you.”

Derek ignores the jab. “Then what’s wrong?” He grabbed his keys, and seriously, where the fuck were his shoes?

“It’s so stupid.”

“It’s not stupid,” Derek said as he found his shoes by the front door of the loft. “You called me. It’s something.”

“School is just…fuck, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.” Derek listened as he locked the loft and ran all the way down the stairs, not even winded when he dropped into the Camaro. “I failed this big test that’s fifty percent of my grade, and I don’t know why. I studied for days, Derek. And it’s like I cracked under the pressure.”

Derek could hear the hitch in Stiles’ breathing. “Breathe, Stiles. It’s okay.”

“No, it’s really not. If I fail this class I don’t graduate, and then I’ll have to transfer or take summer classes and I’ll lose my scholarship and my dad can’t afford it and – oh god, my dad. He’ll be so disappointed. I can’t disappoint him. I’ve disappointed him enough.” Stiles’ breathing was growing faster and faster.

“Stiles, stay on the phone with me. Talk to me. About anything. Just not school right now. What was the last movie you saw? The last TV show you watched? Video game you played?”

“You really want to hear all that?”

“Stiles, your rambling stopped annoying me a long time ago.”

“Okay. What are you doing?”

“Driving to Berkeley.”

“No, Derek, that’s not why I called. I just – “

“I know that. Now shut up and start talking.” Derek stayed on the phone with Stiles the entire way to Berkeley, mostly listening as Stiles rambled.

Stiles was waiting on Derek outside the student apartment complex when Derek showed up, and he immediately threw his arms around him and hugged him tightly. Stiles looked rough, dark circles under his eyes and pale and thin. A different kind of stress than the something’s-trying-to-kill-me look Derek was familiar with. This was something else, and Derek didn’t know which was worse.

Upstairs, Stiles’ roommate gave them a strange look as Stiles led Derek into his bedroom, clutching his hand. Stiles’ room was a mess, clothes and books strewn everywhere. Derek sat beside him on the bed, and Stiles immediately wound his limbs around Derek.

“You didn’t have to come,” Stiles murmured against Derek’s chest.

“You called me out of the blue having a panic attack. What did you think I’d do?” Derek was stroking his hair, running his fingers through the soft strands.

“I failed a test, Derek. I’ve never failed anything before. The professor said I could retake the test, because I’ve had him like 3 times and made A’s each time and he was basically like what the fuck happened were you drunk or stoned and I wasn’t, I haven’t had time to drink this semester, and I just can’t stop thinking about the fact that I’m about to graduate and I have no clue what to do with my life, like I’m 22, how am I supposed to know what I want to do for the next fifty years of my life, and I don’t want to move back home with my dad or really back to Beacon Hills at all even though I miss everyone, but I kinda want to do something different, like see the world, and maybe spend a year or two not having to worry about something slashing me to death, and I haven’t applied to any grad schools and everyone else has and some of the deadlines have passed and some are coming up but I don’t know what I want to study and – “

“Stiles,” Derek interrupted, Stiles so worked up he was about to have another panic attack. “Calm down.”

“How can I calm down?”

“You know you don’t have to figure your life out right now,” Derek said. Stiles shifted so he could look up at Derek.

“That’s where you’re wrong. I do. Everyone’s asking and expecting me to do great things because I’m Stiles and I’m smart and I’ve always been smart and I just feel like I’m going to fall completely apart at any moment and I’m more scared than when I’m fighting something because with a baseball bat in my hand and the Pack at my back, I know I’ll either come through or die. But now? There are like four jillion mistakes I can make and what if I make the wrong one and – “

Derek kissed him. Stiles made a surprised noise, but then started kissing Derek back, and Derek spent the next few hours using his mouth and hands to calm Stiles down enough so that he wasn’t on the verge of a panic attack.

Derek stayed the weekend, helping Stiles study for his make up test in between making out and having sex. He let Stiles ramble to him about his future, about how scared he was and how he wasn’t ready, and Derek didn’t know anything about that, and told Stiles, told Stiles that he’d never had a choice about his future, because his future had been decided for him when he was sixteen.

Derek left Monday morning while Stiles was in class. He left a note on top of the book they’d been using that read, You’ve got this. And you’re allowed to not know what you’re doing. None of us really do. You don’t have to figure it out right away, you can take all the time you need to figure out what you truly want from life. There’s no deadline. Just don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

*

They spend the next hour just talking about their lives, at first exchanging funny anecdotes, and then moving on to more serious things. Stiles talks very little about Christopher, but he does mention him occasionally, and Derek tries to look interested and not like he wants to never hear the name again.

“Do you ever just feel,” Stiles starts, shoes long discarded under the coffee table, his socked feet pulled underneath him where he’s curled on the couch facing Derek, “like you don’t know where the time goes? Like, by the time you look up from whatever it was you were doing, three, six, twelve months have passed and you haven’t even realized it?” Derek nods, knows the feeling well, although it’s not as bad now as it was right after the fire. “Like with Scott. I still call him my best friend, because he is my best friend. Other than my dad, he’s the only one who’s been to San Francisco and met Christopher. But before the other day, I hadn’t talked to him more than a passing text message in almost a year. A year, Derek. Hell, I still think of Isaac and Lydia as my good friends, but I never talk to them. I just think about them all the time, but don’t know anything about them.”

Derek doesn’t say anything, just watches the way Stiles opens up, rambles in a way he never thought he’d hear again. He’s fidgeting on the couch, constant small movements that match the thoughts Derek can feel bouncing around in his brain. All those pretenses from the other night at Scott’s house, the controlled, reigned in Stiles has been replaced by the Stiles Derek is familiar with.

“I just miss my dad, and Scott. I miss…” Stiles pauses, and there’s a brief moment where they just look at each other, and then Stiles says, “I miss everyone.”

“No one made you leave,” Derek says, because he gets what Stiles is saying, but he still feels betrayed.

“I know.” Stiles runs a hand through his hair and uncurls himself so he can grab his soda from the coffee table. When he settles back down, he’s sitting closer to Derek, so close their elbows and knees are touching.

“Why did you leave?”

“At first, it was just to see the world,” Stiles explains. He stretches his hand out on the back of the couch, and his arm is lying flush against Derek’s. “I did that study abroad in England, and then after I graduated, I had some friends over there who told me I should visit. So, I did, and then I just spent months backpacking through Europe, trying to find myself, trying to figure out what to do with my life.” Stiles fidgets with the string on his hoodie. “It’s like when Scott got bitten, I got bitten, too, because my life changed as much as his. Most of high school was one shitstorm after another, and when I got to college, I could breathe again. I didn’t feel like I was drowning anymore. I didn’t have to look over my shoulder all the time, could think about things other than werewolves and the full moon and battle tactics and herbal magic. But then there was a different kind of stress, the stress of real life and decisions and careers and I just couldn’t quite handle it.”

Derek feels the sadness rolling off of Stiles, and he instinctually reaches forward and rubs his thigh comfortingly. Stiles glances down at it, surprised, but doesn’t say anything.

“Then when I got attacked…I was scared to come back home.”

“Why did you leave the night of Isaac’s wedding the way you did?” Derek asks. It’s the one question he’s always wanted the answer to.

“I was afraid if I didn’t get out then, I’d never get out.”

Derek feels the slight uptick in his heart, the lie. “You’re lying.”

“Sometimes I like being around people who don’t know when I’m lying,” Stiles says with a sardonic smile.

Derek realizes they’ve shifted closer on the couch, Stiles’ legs draped over his, his hand resting on Derek’s bicep. Derek glances down at Stiles’ mouth, then up to his eyes. He can feel Stiles’ heartbeat increasing, can barely distinguish the emotions thick between them.

“The night of Isaac’s wedding,” Derek starts, and Stiles watches him curiously, “I had decided something. I had put it off for so long, but I thought it was finally the right time.”

“What did you decide?” Stiles asks, his voice wary.

“I was finally going to tell you that I loved you. But when I woke up, you were gone.”

Stiles’ eyes go wide, and Derek doesn’t quite believe that Stiles didn’t know that he was completely in love with him, wouldn’t believe it was possible if he didn’t feel the truth coming off him in waves so thick Derek thinks he might choke.

“I didn’t know you loved me.”

Derek leans closer, his lips mere inches from Stiles. “I’ve always been in love with you, Stiles.” He moves forward slowly, ignoring the voice in the back of his mind screaming that Stiles wasn’t his anymore, that he couldn’t kiss him. He hovers just above his mouth, the charged air between them so intense Derek can literally feel his lips tingling. Derek inhales, and all he smells is him. He’s claimed Stiles, and Derek has no right anymore.

“I can’t do this,” Stiles says, and they break apart suddenly.

“Neither can I,” Derek says, looking painfully at Stiles. His heart aches so badly in that moment that he’s not sure he’ll ever get over it. This is a pain he’s never felt before, a different kind of heart ache than losing the family he loved. “You smell just like him.”

Stiles gets to his feet. “He’s a good man, Derek.” He runs a hand through his hair. “He loves me, and I love him. And this,” he points between Derek and himself, “this is unresolved stuff from years ago. It’s nothing.”

Derek crumbles inside, but steels himself and accepts it. History repeats itself. Derek loves, Stiles leaves.

Stiles hastily shoves his feet into his shoes and hurries to the door. Derek follows him.

“I’m glad you’re happy,” Derek says, though the words cut as they fall from his tongue. Stiles won’t be around to see him bleed though, and it’s better that way. It’s always been better that way. He can still believe this is nothing, and Derek will know Stiles is happy. Because that’s all that matters anymore.

Stiles turns around and looks at Derek, and Derek can’t figure out the look on his face. He doesn’t say anything, just gets into his car and leaves.

For the second time, Derek sits on the porch steps and remains there long after Stiles has gone, trying to shift through the pieces Stiles left behind.

He guesses after ten years, maybe it’s time to start putting them back together in shapes that don’t resemble honey-colored eyes, long fingers, and a sarcastic shell dotted with moles.

*

Derek stayed awake long after Stiles fell asleep, face curled into Derek’s chest. Stiles’ breath was warm against his skin, his heartbeat a comforting sound. He should probably feel bad for leaving Isaac’s wedding so early, but Isaac wasn’t thinking about anything but Sarah and wouldn’t miss Derek.

After that weekend in October, Derek hadn’t heard from Stiles, and then Stiles had shown up at Isaac’s wedding. He’d graduated from college, a degree in biology, and Derek had no clue what his plans were now, if he’d figured anything out. All he knew was that Stiles had kept staring at him before the ceremony, and then during the reception had come up and whispered, “Your room or mine?”

The hotel room was small and unimpressive, but the bed was big enough for both of them. They’d left the reception as soon as they could, and they fucked for hours. Stiles kissed him hungrily, touched him with a fervor that surprised Derek. But Derek was so desperate to touch Stiles that he was only focused on the pale skin, the feel of Stiles’ lips, the small sounds he made.

He’d kissed along the three long scars, and Stiles had watched him with his fingers threaded in Derek’s hair. Later, when Stiles was asleep, Derek had run his fingers repeatedly over the scars, thinking about Stiles’ bloody body in his arms. He knew he’d wasted so much time, time he could have been with Stiles, but he didn’t want to rush anything. He wanted to make sure Stiles was ready.

Derek was finally ready. He looked down at Stiles curled against him, his hand wrapped around Derek’s hip even in his sleep, his leg draped over both of Derek’s. Derek had seen Stiles almost bleed to death in Deaton’s office, then gone a year with only seeing him once. He didn’t want to spend another night away from him.

Stiles was out of college, and now maybe he and Derek could finally start a real relationship, instead of just fucking whenever they saw each other. Derek wanted to start a life with Stiles. He wanted to sell the loft and buy a house, or maybe move with Stiles for grad school and then build a house wherever they settled.

It didn’t matter to Derek as long as Stiles was with him from that moment on.

Derek almost woke up Stiles and told him then that he loved him then, practiced it over and over while he watched Stiles sleep.

“I love you,” Derek said as he ran his fingers through Stiles’ hair. Stiles didn’t even shift in his sleep. Derek leaned down and nosed along his hairline and brushed his lips against Stiles’ temple. “Stiles, I love you.”

He glanced at the clock, which read just after 3 a.m. Telling Stiles everything could wait until the morning, so Derek reached over and turned off the light. He snuggled closer to Stiles and wrapped his arms around him, taking comfort in the fact that Stiles would be there when he awoke.

*

Isaac and Boyd come into the house without knocking. Derek’s sitting on the couch, staring at the muted TV.

“We brought help,” Isaac says as they show Derek the two bottles of aconite wine they’d acquired. Derek grabs the bottles and looks at them.

“What are you two drinking?”

As Derek pops open the bottle, he hears Isaac on the phone to Scott, “You might want to come over here and bring more alcohol. I think it’s gonna be a long night.”

Later, Derek isn’t as drunk as he wishes he was. The four of them are sitting on his back deck, each nursing a bottle of wine.

“Are you going to tell us what happened?” Boyd asks. “Not that I’m trying to pry, but we’ve been sitting out here for two hours and you haven’t said anything.”

“Something with Stiles,” Scott says. “He left town in a hurry this morning.”

“Derek,” Isaac groans. “I thought you were over that. It’s been years.”

Derek glares at him, and Isaac awkwardly takes another drink.

“Hold up,” Boyd says, “I knew you two were fuckbuddies back in the day, but I didn’t know it was something more.”

“Boyd, where have you been?” Isaac asks, sharing a look with Scott. “Derek’s been in love with Stiles for like ever.”

“I always thought Stiles was into you, too,” Scott says. Derek just glares at him.

“Is that why you broke up with Alex?” Boyd asks. Derek turns the glare on to Boyd this time. He’s starting to wonder if telling them to come over was a good idea. At least it breaks up the monotony of his own pain.

“Derek,” Scott starts. “I get it. I do. But Stiles is happy with Christopher.” Derek growls at the name, and the other three share a look. “Sometimes the people you think you’re going to end up with aren’t the ones, but someone else will come along. You could try dating again. And maybe not treat them like you did your last few dates?”

Derek takes another drink, tries to think of being with someone else. The thought makes him sick, and he just doesn’t want to expend that much energy. If Derek has learned anything, it’s that relationships and him don’t mix. They always end very badly.

“I told him I loved him,” Derek finally says. “Last night. I told him about Isaac’s wedding, and how I was going to tell him then, but he left. You know what he said? He said the stuff between us was nothing.”

“Damn,” Boyd whispers, and Isaac and Scott sigh.

“I think we’re going to need more alcohol,” Isaac says.

*

Three weeks go by, and Derek has fallen asleep on the couch when he hears the knock on the door. It surprises him, and he gets confused when he thinks he smells Stiles. One day, he thinks, one day it won’t be like this. He sighs as he sits up, and runs a hand over his face as the knock sounds again, more urgent and continuous.

Standing on the other side of his door is Stiles. He’s wearing an old sweatshirt and shorts, a messenger bag on his shoulder and a duffle bag in his hand. Derek just stares at him, thinks he’s finally losing it and hallucinating. Maybe he does need to go to therapy like Isaac suggested, or maybe go get fucked like Boyd suggested.

“Are you going to stand there, or are you going to let me in?” Stiles snaps, irritated. Derek steps aside, apparently his ability to speak broken. Stiles stops inside the foyer and drops his bags as Derek closes the door.

“I hate you, Derek Hale,” Stiles yells. Derek’s eyebrows shoot up, and he’s just so confused, about why Stiles is there, about why Stiles has a duffle bag, about why he hates him. “I hate you so goddamn much. You ruined my life, and not just with your stupid werewolf shit, though I hate you for that, too.” Stiles runs a hand through his hair, his entire body vibrating with overactivity. “I was fine in San Francisco with Christopher. I was happy. Hell, we were thinking of maybe becoming more serious, like buying a house or something. It’d been two years, and he kept talking about making some kind of commitment, couldn’t figure out why I just wouldn’t do something. I thought, fuck, I moved in with him. Wasn’t that a commitment? I mean, he used my fucking toothbrush sometimes and we didn’t even close the door when we took a dump. That’s fucking commitment, dude. The only other person I was ever that comfortable with was Scott, and I’d known him my whole life.”

“Stiles, why – “

“Shut up, Derek. For once, do your not talking thing and let me get this out.” Derek has to bite back a smile because Stiles looks so annoyed and strung out and it’s adorable. Plus, a small bubble of hope has started inside Derek, and it’s making him giddy. His body is just confused because since Stiles left he’s been sad and depressed, and now Stiles is standing there and he’s happy. He has emotional whiplash. “And then I came back to Beacon Hills even though I really didn’t want to because that meant seeing you again, and I knew that if I ever saw you again I’d fall for you like I did every time you were within a five-mile radius. It’s like I can’t help myself when it comes to you. And that’s exactly what happened. I saw you at Scott’s house and it was like I had been having withdrawals for years and you looked exactly the same, but completely different, and I just wanted to kiss you and feel you around me and inside me and get to know you again and it was wrong because I had a fucking serious boyfriend, but I didn’t care because there was you, Derek Hale. It’s always just been you, Derek.”

Stiles starts pacing back and forth in the small space of the foyer, and Derek is stunned and rooted to the spot. “Of course, I showed up at your fucking house because I thought, hey, I’ll just make sure he’s okay and happy and maybe be friends with him, and there were the kids, and I’d forgotten all about werewolves, and that shocked me because there was a time when I knew more about fucking werewolves than even you did and you’d been born one! And then you said I wasn’t Pack, and I went back to my dad’s that night and I realized that was the most hurtful thing anyone had ever said to me because I still considered myself Pack, but I stayed up all night and realized that no, I wasn’t Pack. And it hurt, it fucking hurt that my dad was Pack and I wasn’t, and it was my own damn fault. No one kicked me out, no one told me to leave. I did it myself because I was scared and didn’t know what to do with my life and terrified you’d reject me.”

Stiles laughs hysterically then. “I wanted a normal life, Derek. When I got slashed, that did something to me. I mean, we’d been through everything by that point, and I’d seen people die and get hurt, but I felt like I was invincible, like nothing could hurt me, and then I’d almost died and if it’d been an Alpha I’d have turned, and I don’t want to be a werewolf. I like being human Stiles, and I thought maybe I could just get away for a little while, but then there was real life stress and I just ran away from everything. I woke up next to you that morning after Isaac’s wedding, and I knew I’d follow you anywhere, and I thought you didn’t feel the same way because how could you? We were just fuckbuddies after all, and fuck, I didn’t know you were in love with me and I wish I had known because I’ve been so fucking in love with you for so long that I don’t know anything different.”

“Stiles, I – “

“I’m not finished!” Stiles exclaims, and Derek snorts. Stiles steps closer, reaches out and wraps his fingers around Derek’s bicep. “At first, it was just sex for me. Yeah, we had chemistry and we liked each other, but it wasn’t until after I came back from college that first summer that I realized I loved you. It was different that summer. Yeah, we fucked, but there were times when we made love, Derek, when we made love like we were in some goddamn romance novel. And we’d hold each other afterwards, and I told you about my mother, things I’d never even told Scott, and you told me about Kate and your family and your life before the fire, and I thought maybe you loved me, too, but just when we started to get close, you always pulled away. You were so hot and cold and I was so confused and young and stupid.”

Derek doesn’t know what to do. He can’t believe his ears, can’t believe that Stiles is actually here saying all this to him.

“Why are you here, Stiles?” Derek asks, and it comes out gruffer than he intends because he just can’t get hurt. Not again.

Stiles drops his hand and takes a step back. “Hopefully not making the biggest mistake of my life.”

“Are you…is it?” Derek can’t say the words, but Stiles speaks Derek, has understood Derek for longer than Derek has. Understood everything except the most important thing. Derek guesses they were both idiots, so he calls it even.

“I broke up with him. I loved him, but I wasn’t in love with him. Because I’ve never stopped being in love with you. So, technically, I’m homeless right now, I mean, I guess my Dad would let me stay with him, but – “

Derek doesn’t let him finish. He crushes their mouths together, and it’s harder and more desperate than Derek wanted, but Stiles doesn’t seem to care because he’s kissing him back just as hungrily and wrapping his arms around Derek’s neck as he hoists himself up and wraps his legs around Derek’s waist. Derek can barely think straight because he’s bombarded by the scent of Stiles and arousal, but he still smells like him, so Derek feels the need to mark and claim.

Derek holds Stiles’ ass firmly, fingers digging into the soft flesh, as he moves in the small space, pressing Stiles against the wall a little roughly. Stiles exhales a surprised grunt, his head jerking back against the wall, and Derek sinks his teeth immediately into the exposed flesh of his neck. Stiles moans and rolls his hips against Derek’s, and he’s already rock hard, and Derek can’t think of anything but burying himself inside Stiles.

Derek sucks and licks at Stiles’ neck as he shoves his hand inside the back of his shorts, his fingers delving into the crack between Stiles’ cheeks. Derek searches until his finger brushes the puckered opening, Stiles moaning again so that Derek can feel the vibration under his tongue. Derek pushes the tip of his finger inside, just breaching the ring of muscle teasingly, and Stiles’ legs go tighter around Derek’s waist.

“Lube. It’s in my bag.” Stiles doesn’t let go of Derek as Derek moves and bends down, Stiles just clinging on to him for dear life as he mouths along Derek’s jaw, his teeth scraping against his stubble.

“In the haste of leaving, you remembered lube?” Derek asks with a chuckle when he grabs the bottle, easily standing back up with Stiles balanced on his hips.

“Actually,” Stiles says as Derek presses him back against the wall, “I bought it in a gas station on the way here.” Derek quirks an eyebrow, and Stiles smiles. Derek can’t believe that he’s standing there with Stiles, smiling at him, eyes bright with lust, and this time Stiles won’t be leaving in the morning. He’s staying. He brought a duffle bag, and he’s staying. “I know we’d end up fucking at some point, surprised I got through what I got through without us going at it. I think it says a lot about what good people we are that we didn’t just throw ourselves at each other in Scott’s kitchen.”

“It wasn’t without difficulty,” Derek says as he hands the bottle of lube to Stiles. Stiles unbuttons his shorts as Derek grabs the back of the waist with his hand and slides them and his boxers over Stiles’ ass. With the way Stiles’ legs are around Derek’s waist, they don’t move much, but it’s enough that Derek has access. Stiles has unbuttoned Derek’s jeans and is trying to push them down, but Derek uses the hand not holding Stiles to shove them down his hips.

Stiles squirts lube into Derek’s hand and then Derek reaches around to slide one slick finger into Stiles’ hole. Stiles contracts around him, tight and hot, and Derek growls, his eyes flashing red.

“Oh fuck, I forgot how hot that was,” Stiles says, running a finger beneath Derek’s eyes. Derek inserts another finger and Stiles’ eyes flutter shut as he starts thrusting them in and out. “Fuck me, Derek, for fuck’s sake, fuck me into this wall and make me scream.”

Derek removes his fingers and slicks his cock, and then after a few moments of trying to move the right way, he pushes Stiles’ body down over his cock as he thrusts up. Stiles moans filthily the entire time Derek’s cock pushes inside him, until he’s balls-deep, and then he opens his eyes and looks blissed out just being seated on Derek’s cock.

“Fuck, I love you, Derek,” Stiles says, pulling him into a kiss, and Derek growls as he grips Stiles’ hips, Stiles’ tongue everywhere in his mouth, and Derek is slamming up into Stiles as he moves Stiles down onto him. His wolf starts clawing at him, whining mineminemine with every thrust and noise that Stiles makes, and Derek feels his fangs and his claws extending. “Fuck, yes, Derek,” Stiles says when he notices, and he runs his tongue along his fangs. It takes everything Derek has not to curl his fingers into Stiles’ hips and pierce the skin.

The position doesn’t allow Derek the mobility he needs, so he carries Stiles into the living room, Stiles kicking off his shoes on the way, and sets him on a table along the wall and ignoring the crashes of whatever they knocked off. Derek moves away, takes a breath to gain control as he looks at Stiles perched on the edge of the table, glasses askew. “So beautiful,” Derek says, reaching out and trailing his fingers down Stiles’ cheek.

“Even with the glasses?” Stiles jokes.

“I’m starting to love them,” Derek admits as he removes Stiles’ pants and boxers with one swift movement.

“That’s good since I tried contacts and I couldn’t wear them, and my eyesight is shit these days.”

Derek wants to start fucking Stiles immediately, but he gets distracted by his pink cock, hard and oozing a bit of precome at the tip, so he leans down to take it into his mouth.

“Fuck,” Stiles grits out, his fingers going into Derek’s hair to grip harshly. Derek bobs his head a few times, relishing the feel of Stiles’ cock on his tongue and in his mouth again, before pulling off with a wet pop. “You’re going to be the death of me,” Stiles breathes.

Derek removes his pants and underwear, realizes they’re both still in their shirts and socks, but he doesn’t care, he just wants to bury himself inside Stiles again and never resurface. Stiles moves forward and Derek grabs him around the waist, tilting him back so his head is against the wall and his upper body is in a weird curved position as he slams into him again. Each time Derek thrusts, he pushes Stiles against the wall a little more.

The sound of creaking pierces through his Stiles-filled haze, and Derek lifts him again and carries them over to the couch. He sits down and carefully guides Stiles back down onto his cock.

Stiles laughs breathily. “I didn’t know we were going to immediately start fucking on every surface in your house.” He moans as Derek laughs and thrusts up into him hard. “Fuck Derek, I’m so close. Fuck.” Derek reaches between them and grabs Stiles’ cock, squeezing and stroking just like he remembers Stiles likes, and Stiles throws his head back, his legs wrapped around Derek’s waist tightly, and screams loudly in the quiet house as he comes so hard he gets come all over his sweatshirt and a bit lands on both their chins. Derek continues stroking him, Stiles still making small sounds as he comes down.

“You were…fuck, Stiles.” Derek presses his face into the crook of Stiles’ neck. He drags his nose along the skin, then places a kiss behind Stiles’ ear, right where it always drove him crazy, and is rewarded with a soft moan.

“Have you forgotten anything?” Stiles asks as Derek pulls his ear between his tip and starts to bite it gently.

“You’re the one who remembered my ridiculously picky hamburger order,” Derek says against his ear, then pulls back to lick the bead of come from Stiles’ chin.

“Werewolf,” Stiles says with a fond smile as he leans forward and licks the errant come off of Derek’s chin. “You’re still hard,” he says, moving a bit on Derek’s lap. “I can feel you.”

“Are you complaining?” Derek licks from mole to mole on Stiles’ cheek, rememorizing the pattern, connecting the dots like it’s the map for Derek’s life.

“Not at all.” Stiles turns his cheek and kisses him, slowly and deeply, and Derek feels like he’s coming apart, but in a good way, in a way that’s going to allow him to thread himself back together with Stiles stitched into his life.

Stiles starts moving on Derek’s lap, trying to make him crazy, and Derek stands up and reluctantly pulls out of Stiles and lays him back on the coffee table, pushing everything onto the floor. He leans forward and removes Stiles’ sweatshirt and t-shirt, decides to shuck his own wife beater while he’s at it. Then, he toes off his socks and pulls off Stiles’ socks and presses kisses to the soles of both of his feet.

Finally, Derek stands up and crouches over Stiles, hand on his cock. “Can I?” he asks with a lifted eyebrow. “If not, it’s okay, it’s just – “

“A werewolf thing. A territory thing.” Stiles stretches his arms above his head and smiles. “I don’t mind. I’ve kinda missed your weird werewolf kinks.”

“Like you don’t have weird kinks,” Derek mutters as he starts stroking himself.

“Didn’t say I didn’t. I’ve missed them, too. Maybe if you’re up to it, you can spank me a little later.” Stiles waggles his eyebrows and Derek moans, gripping his cock harder. “Or maybe we can dig into that drawer of toys you used to have, if you still have it.”

“Stiles,” Derek groans, and Stiles reaches up to pull Derek down so he’s hovering over Stiles, holding himself up with one hand on the table beside Stiles’ head. Stiles reaches between them and wraps both his hands around Derek’s cock. “I love you, Stiles,” he whispers, his orgasm close as his balls tighten.

Stiles is looking up at him, his face so open with a wide smile, his eyes shining and full of love, and Derek wonders if Stiles always looked up at him like that, if maybe he was blinded for some reason, if maybe they weren’t as ready as he had thought back then.

“Are you really staying?” Derek asks.

Stiles nods. “I’m all yours.”

“All mine,” Derek growls, eyes going red as he comes with a choked exhale. He splatters come all over Stiles’ chest and stomach, and Stiles leans up to kiss him as aftershocks wrack his body.

When he can breathe, Derek sits back on his haunches and smears the come over Stiles’ chest and belly, covering up all traces of him with the distinct scent of them. Stiles just lays there and watches, his nipples hardening a bit when Derek rubs his hands over them.

“Better?” Stiles asks when Derek is satisfied. Derek actually blushes, slightly embarrassed. Stiles sits up and wraps his arms around Derek, pressing his sticky, come-covered chest against Derek. “It’s okay, I kinda love it, too.”

Derek kisses him, and his wolf is content.

*

It’s after four a.m., and they’re lying tangled in Derek’s bed, reeking of sweat and come. After the first time, they fucked in the shower, then in the kitchen while Derek tried to make them something to eat, then in the living room again, and barely made it up the stairs to Derek’s room before the last time. Now, Stiles has his arms wrapped around Derek from behind, his fingers tracing over the tattoo. Derek’s fingers are interlaced with Stiles’ against his chest.

He’s happy.

And Derek’s not quite sure how to handle it.

“What?” Stiles asks, kissing Derek’s back and then hooking his chin over his shoulder. “You’re tense.”

Derek rolls onto his back, and Stiles moves until he’s settled against him, arm draped across Derek’s body as he looks down at him. Derek sighs.

“Are you okay?” Stiles asks, his face scrunched in concern. Derek reaches up and traces his fingers along his glasses, still getting used to them.

“Yes. It’s just…overwhelming. One day, you’re not here, the next you are and you say you’re not going to leave. It’s just hard to believe.”

Stiles drags his fingers down Derek’s cheek. “Believe it.” He sighs and scratches his fingers lightly against Derek’s neck. “I’m sorry I hurt you when I left, but I’m not sorry I left. The last five years, they were good years. And I learned a lot about life, about myself, about love.”

“We probably would have been a disaster back then,” Derek says.

“Probably.” Stiles presses his fingers against Derek’s pulse point, closes his eyes as he feels it under his touch. “I’m not naïve enough to think this is going to be perfect, that this is some romantic movie where we live happily ever after. Will we live happily ever after? I hope so. But it’s going to be hard. My relationship with Christopher taught me that, that being in a relationship isn’t easy. But I can’t imagine my life without you. That sounds so cheesy.”

“No,” Derek says, wrapping his arms around Stiles. “It sounds perfect. Seeing you with Millie and Nick…” He trails off, his ears turning pink.

“Did you get all paternal?” Stiles teases, and Derek looks away. Stiles laughs, but it’s a good laugh, a happy laugh, and he kisses Derek’s cheek. “You’re all domestic now. You’ve grown your Pack and bought a house and now you’re a big ol’ softy and domestic.”

“Asshole.”

“Hey,” Stiles says, grabbing Derek’s chin and forcing him to look at him. “I love it. I’m glad you’re not the same angry, brooding asshole you used to be. That you’ve grown up and healed and dealt with things. I’d love to start a family with you one day, maybe more like five or seven years down the road because I am so not ready for kids, but eventually.”

“I want to get to know you again, Stiles. I want to discover every single thing about you.”

Stiles leans down and kisses Derek, a soft press of lips and breath. “Ditto.”

*

 

Epilogue

“Stiles! Stiles! Stiles!” Millie grabs his hand and is trying to physically drag Stiles into the backyard. “Come see! Come see what Daddy and Mommy got me for my birthday!”

Derek laughs as Stiles looks helplessly over his shoulder as a four year old werecub manhandles him. Nick toddles after them, still slow with his newly developed walking skills. Sarah’s waiting by the play set, and Millie is trying to pull Stiles up into the little tree house, where Isaac and Scott are already waiting. Boyd’s got the camera, filming it all.

Derek smiles as the sheriff comes up beside him and places a hand on his shoulder.

“I’ve never thanked you,” the sheriff says.

“For what?”

“For bringing my son back home.” The sheriff squeezes Derek’s shoulder and then walks towards the play set, Nick running towards him when he sees him coming. Nick faceplants into the grass and starts crying until the sheriff picks him up and kisses him, and then Nick is squealing and laughing and shouting, “Pop, pop, pop, pop.”

“Der-der!” Millie yells from the treehouse. “Come play! It’s my birthday, come play with me! I have you a new princess crown!”

Stiles pops up behind her, already wearing a lighted tiara and grinning. “Yeah, Der-der, come play princess with Millie! It’s her birthday.”

Derek climbs up the tiny steps and somehow manages to fit into the little tree house even though it’s already full of three other grown men and a tiny girl. Isaac and Scott are wearing tiaras that light up green, while Stiles’ lights up blue, and down below, Boyd’s is flashing red. Derek’s, of course, lights up pink.

“There,” Millie says when she puts the crown on his head. “Now you’re beautiful.”

“Yeah, Der-der, you’re beautiful,” Stiles says, and Derek elbows him in the ribs. Hard.

“Tea party!” Millie yells, and grabs Derek’s hand. “But can Stiles make the tea?”

“Sure,” Derek says, somehow fitting himself between Isaac and Stiles as Isaac pulls Millie into his lap.

“I’m glad Der-der let you be Pack,” Millie says, “I love Der-der, but you make better tea.”

Stiles laughs, and Derek find it ridiculous that he’s actually offended that Millie thinks Stiles makes better fake tea than him.

“I’m glad Der-der let me be Pack, too.”

“You’ve always been Pack, Stiles,” Scott says.

“Yeah,” Derek says, “You just took a little detour along the way.”

Stiles smiles, and Derek grabs his hand, threading their fingers.

-fin