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I Knew I Loved You Before I Met You

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“Can you believe this?” The redhead at the table next to Derek brandishes a letter, laying it out on the table and pushing it across the slick surface with a single fingertip. Her voice is filled with irritation and exasperation. “I’ve been dating Jackson for two years, I’ve rejected Stiles at every turn, and he still won’t stop with the declarations of love and buying me presents and writing me letters. I swear, my next step is to threaten him with a restraining order or a harassment charge.”

Her lunch companion, a brunette with curly hair, smiles sympathetically. “I think it’s sweet,” she offers. “Jackson would never dream of doing something so romantic or being so open with his feelings. You deserve someone who would be so good to you.”

The redhead softens, nodding slightly. “I know, he’s a good guy,” she admits, sighing. “But I don’t feel that way about him. I love Jackson, douchebag though he may be, and Stiles is just making himself look worse and worse with every grandiose gesture.”

Derek is interested in their conversation despite himself. This Stiles sounds like his exact opposite, which intrigues him. He’s never known what it’s like to be so open and honest in his affections and intentions. He’s always been slightly jealous of that ability in others, as a matter of fact.

“I mean, look at this. ‘Sometimes I think there’s nothing that can compare to your beauty, but then I remember your heart and your brain, and while that might sound vaguely threatening and like I’m planning an autopsy and picking you apart, I just mean your inner beauty is so much more than your outer beauty. Which now sounds cliche, and you’re the furthest thing from cliche, but I want you to know you’re not just a pretty face. You’re smart and a good person, and a guy would be crazy to not want you.’ He’s desperate, which is tacky and unflattering.”

“It’s also nicer than anything Jackson has ever said to you,” the brunette points out, and the redhead groans in frustration. “It’s classic Stiles, though. We’ve known him for a decade, Lydia. Can you really tell me this is unexpected?”

The redhead’s-Lydia’s-lips are pressed together in a thin line and she appears seconds from either screaming or stamping her foot in a temper tantrum. “It’s com plete ly expected, Allison. This is hardly the first letter he’s written me. I just don’t know what to do about him anymore.” She sighs again, then waves her hand dismissively. “Let’s change the topic. I don’t want to ruin my lunch.”

They fall into discussing Lydia’s classes and Allison’s training-apparently she’s an Olympic archer, which Derek finds almost as fascinating as the idea of this Stiles person-but his attention wanes as he realizes he’s been horribly intrusive by eavesdropping. Besides, he might be a little sidetracked with thinking about what else the letter contains, and what the mysterious Stiles is like when he’s not obsessing over an apparently genius redhead.

When they finally finish their meal and get up, having paid their bills and signed off on their receipts, the letter remains flat on the table. Derek’s glance flicks from his book to the letter several times, then from the letter to the women who are completely out the front door and don’t appear to be coming back. He waits, wondering if Lydia will suddenly remember the letter she left, but after several minutes, it’s clear she isn’t going to return.

Debating internally over whether or not to completely violate both Stiles’ and Lydia’s privacy, Derek finally gives in to his curiosity and glances around, makes sure no one is looking, and quickly retrieves the abandoned letter.

 

Lydia,

Maybe one day I’ll learn how to stop writing these letters. Maybe one day I’ll learn how not to love you. Maybe one day I’ll learn that you’ll never love me back. Maybe one day I’ll stop making an idiot of myself. Maybe. But not today.

It’s immediately heartbreaking; Derek can feel the wistfulness, the hopelessness, and the determination to keep pressing on despite the insurmountable odds against the author. He doesn’t know whether to be cheered by his unwillingness to give up, or disheartened by the tragic futility. He wonders if Stiles knows just how low he is in Lydia’s esteem. The thought makes him frown; someone so passionate and dedicated deserves better than to be thought so little of.

The thing is, I think you don’t really know how amazing you are. I know you act like you know it, but I think underneath you’re a lot like me. You’re confident on the outside to cover up all the fear that everyone’s laughing at you on the inside. Except with me, well, everyone really is laughing at me and I just act like I’m the shit because then no one knows they’re getting to me, but with you, you feel like a great big phony because you don’t believe you’re the incredible woman I know you are.

The next part goes into the paragraph Lydia read aloud, and Derek puts the letter down, feeling queasy. It makes sense that Lydia wouldn’t have chosen to read that part to Allison, based on the little bit he’d gleaned of her personality and Stiles’ assessment of her. She wouldn’t have wanted anyone knowing about Stiles’ sharp insight to her character. It also gives him the idea that Stiles gets her better than anyone she knows, and she’s so afraid of being exposed that she would choose to ridicule and ignore him. Nobody deserves that, least of all someone so willing to put himself out there.

It’s his distaste for Lydia’s treatment of him, and his appreciation for Stiles’s honesty, that has him pulling out the notebook he keeps on him at all times. Before he can even think about it long enough to talk himself out of the absurd idea, he’s dashing off a few lines.



Stiles,

You don’t know me, but I feel like I know you. I sat next to your friends Lydia and Allison at lunch today and overheard their conversation about a letter you wrote. It might not be any of my business, and I don’t mean to be that asshole, but Lydia doesn’t deserve you. I don’t have any investment in your relationship because I’m a literal stranger to you both, but Lydia isn’t as good of a person as you think. Someone who would be so condescending and dismissive toward someone who so genuinely and whole-heartedly cares about them, isn’t worth that kind of devotion.

Obviously it’s your life, but you deserve to know. I hope you do get over her and find someone else who is worthy of your love, and who does appreciate and return your affections.

Good luck,

D.H.

 

When the letter is written he’s faced with the realization that he doesn’t know how to get it to him. His name is signed at the bottom of the letter, but there’s no accompanying envelope with an address. Then he realizes there can’t be more than one Stiles in Beacon Hills and the surrounding areas, so he pulls out his phone to do a quick Google search, then hits pay dirt on the third result. Apparently there’s a Stiles Stilinski who is making a name for himself on the CalState debate team. Allison had been wearing a CalState jacket. He’s pretty sure he’s found his man.

Well. Not his man, but the man he’s searching for. Damn it. The man he's trying to identify.

After a little more digging, he learns that not only is Stiles a sophomore with a bright future ahead of him, he’s an RA in Sutter Hall. Derek figures if he addresses the letter to Stiles at the right address and the right dorm, it will still get to him even if he doesn’t know what floor or room number he’s in.

He takes a screenshot of the page with the dorm address on it and allows himself a small smile, tucking his phone back in his pocket and the letter in his book. It’s likely his letter will fall on deaf ears-after all, apparently Stiles has loved Lydia for years, and Derek is a stranger who doesn’t even have the courage to sign his name to the letter-but something about the letter, about the person who wrote it, speaks to him. He doesn’t feel like he can wash his hands of the situation without at least trying to help Stiles walk away from what is clearly a toxic relationship.

Derek just hopes he doesn’t drive himself crazy thinking about a stranger’s happiness and well-being. Cora would laugh herself sick.

-----

Stiles is beat when he gets back to his room; he and a few of the guys had decided to play a pick-up game of lacrosse and his body is protesting mightily. Groaning, he drops down into the chair at his desk, firing up his laptop because he can’t keep putting off his analysis for his Media Communication class.

“Yo, Stilinski.” Stiles glances up to see Tanner, one of the freshmen from the first floor, popping his head in the door.

“What, is Bridge slacking in her duties again?” he asks with a roll of his eyes. Bridget, one of the first-floor RA’s, tends to not be available for her students, and Stiles and the other RA’s help out a lot.

Tanner steps in and hands over an envelope. “Nope. This came in to the mail room, but since your floor and room numbers weren’t on it, it didn’t get delivered. Fucking idiots. Everyone knows where you are.”

Stiles takes it, curiosity flaring when he sees the return address. There aren’t many people from Beacon Hills who would be sending him anything, and he’s pretty sure he doesn’t know anyone with the initials D.H. It makes him impatient to rip open the flap and see what it is. “Thanks, Tanner,” he says distractedly, waving a goodbye even as his eyes stay glued to the envelope in his hands, scanning it for any clues as to its contents or sender.

When the door closes behind Tanner, Stiles pulls out his phone and texts Reggie, the other RA on his floor, to make sure she’s in her room and available. When he gets the affirmation, Stiles opens his door, scrawls a quick message on his whiteboard to go check in with Reggie for any urgent needs and to email him if it’s not urgent, and then shuts and locks the door behind him. Sinking down on his bed, he pulls up part of the flap and then uses his finger to tear through the hole in the top, widening it until he can pull the single sheet of paper out.

He doesn’t quite understand what he’s reading, not at first. He has to re-read it before he realizes that some random person has invaded his life, has eavesdropped on conversations that had nothing to do with them, and taken it upon themselves to tell Stiles to walk away from the one person he’s loved for as long as he can remember. Anger spreads through him, curling tendrils like smoke through his blood and leaving the lingering taste of ashes in his mouth. How fucking dare they? Who the fuck does this person think they are? They don't know anything about him, or Lydia, or his relationship with her.

Except, they kinda do.

Sadly, there's nothing in the letter he hasn't already told himself before, although he will dispute the statement that Lydia isn't a good person. She really is, and she's not being unreasonable in her dismissal of his amorous attention. He has been a pain in the ass. He just can't understand why she would choose someone who treats her like shit over someone who adores her. It's her decision, though, and after he'd written the last letter, he'd decided he wouldn't do it again.

He tosses the letter on his desk and falls down the rabbit hole that is his analysis on the buying of media loyalty, subtitled Why You Can't Trust News Outlets for Unbiased Reporting. He's pretty sure his media professor will buy a dog just so he can name it after Stiles, since the firstborn stopped being an option about thirty years ago.

Three hours later the analysis has been completed, edited, and submitted to his professor, who will probably have to buy a dog, a cat, and a whole tankful of fish to appropriately express his appreciation of Stiles. He leans back in his chair, stretching his arms over his head until he hears joints popping, and the letter catches his attention out of the corner of his eye.

He wonders what the protocol is when a random stranger sends you a letter to tell you that you can do better than the person you’re chasing after. Checking the label, he realizes the mysterious D.H. has provided him a return address, albeit a post office box, and the gears in his head start spinning. He pulls a random notebook from his backpack and the first pen he can find, which is purple.

D.H.,

NGL, I was pretty pissed when I read your letter. Like, way to eavesdrop and insert yourself into someone else’s personal life like a total fucking psycho. But, you weren’t wrong.

I’ve been in love with Lydia since, like, the time I realized girls existed, but at this point, I couldn’t even tell you why. I mean, she’s beautiful, but you saw that for yourself. She’s smart as fuck and she doesn’t take anybody’s shit. She’s essentially a goddess. But the best I could ever say for our interactions is that she’s coldly polite. Most of the time I’m fairly certain she’s going to hurt herself with how hard she rolls her eyes at me.

I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, but I figure if you took the time to look out for a bro, you might have some interest in the whole story. At any rate, Lydia pretty much thinks I’m useless. I have no idea why I’ve kept trying this long, except that some people are so extraordinarily special it just seems worth the effort, y’know?

Anyway, you don’t have to worry your words were wasted. I’d kind of decided that it was time to put my childhood crush in my past and try to move on. You know anyone in the market for a boyfriend who’s kind of obsessive, but has really good hair and can literally argue with a table? (Don’t ask, it wasn’t one of my finer moments.)

Stiles

-----

Derek’s surprised the day he checks his mail and sees a letter from Stiles Stilinski in the pile, with a return address of CalState, so now he knows the floor and room numbers. When he gets back to the Camaro he dumps the rest of his mail in the passenger seat, unheeded, and pulls the single sheet of notebook paper out. He can’t help the scowl that crosses his face as he reads the synopsis of Stiles’ and Lydia’s history, nor can he help the grin and the tiny chuckle that slips out at Stiles’ closing remark.

He feels like an idiot, but his foot is pressing the accelerator unbidden so he can get home and write a response.

Stiles,

I would say I’m sorry to have inserted myself into something that isn’t any of my business, but I’m really not. First off, I couldn’t not say something when I heard the way she talked about you, especially not after reading the letter you wrote her. Secondly, I wouldn’t have gotten your letter which, sadly, is the highlight of my week. Maybe my month.

Frankly, Lydia is an idiot. I don’t know anything about you except for what I’ve learned from two letters, and I can already tell you’re one of those people who’s special enough to be worth the effort. It’s her loss if she can’t see that. I’m glad to know you’d already decided to move on, though. Maybe you’ll find the person who’s willing to put that effort in for you.

Sorry to disappoint, but most of the people I know either don’t date guys, or they already have boyfriends. Although you have me curious. What is your definition of ‘really good hair’? That’s pretty important to me-all the people I associate with have really good hair. Also, you argued with a table? That story only works in your favor if you won.

Derek

-----

Stiles would like to say he’s surprised when he gets his mail and a letter from Derek Hale (okay, mysterious D.H. kind of has a really sexy name) is one of two things in it, but he really isn’t. He’d suspected by writing Derek back, they’d begin to engage in a pen pal-type thing. It’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to him in ages, so he’s more than happy to go with it.

Flopping back on his bed, he opens the letter and can’t contain the grin at Lydia being called an idiot, and his heart quickens at being told he’s special enough to be worth the effort. Then comes a full-blown laugh at the “really good hair” part.

 

Derek,

No way, you don’t get the table argument story until at least letter, like, five. Maybe six. I don’t come across well. (But yes, I won, despite what Allison and Danny would tell you. I don’t care how drunk I was, I schooled that table’s ass.)

My hair is awesome, no lie. Although I’m kind of surprised you haven’t seen it already. You had to have done some intermediate-level stalking in order to figure out not just where I go to school, but which dorm I’m in-and bee tee dubs, I’m trying to ignore how creepy that is. (But dude. So creepy.) I would have thought you’d seen some of the epic pictures on the campus website. I’m kind of king of the debate team right now, which is the pride and joy of the communication department.

Although now I want to meet all these associates of yours. If there’s a “really good hair” club, I should be at least the vice president. We’d also have to let Allison in, though. You saw Allison’s hair, right? Epically good. Sometimes I think it’s even better than mine. (Don’t tell anyone I said that. I have a rep to protect.)

I’m really glad you took the time out of your day to write a stranger. I might have abandoned my hopeless pursuit of the lovely Lydia, but something tells me I might come out a winner after all.

Stiles

-----

Stiles,

You realize there’s only one person named Stiles in the entire state of California, right? It took next to no stalking skills to figure out where you went to school, and then all I had to do was search your name in the campus directory to find your dorm. Besides, don’t think of it as stalking. Think of it as research to be able to perform an altruistic gesture.

Yes, I did see Allison’s hair. She would be acceptable in my pack of friends. If yours is even better, I suppose we could let you in as well. Your entry fee is the full table story. I feel invested in it now.

I’m glad I took the time out of my day, too. It’s not something I would normally do, but something about the whole situation kept me from being able to turn my back on it. I’ve never met someone so open and honest about their feelings, someone who wouldn’t let their pride get in the way of letting someone know they care, and it intrigued me. It’s not something I’ve ever been able to do. My friends and family know I care, but it’s because of my actions, not my words. I’m really not very good with words, honestly. I think I’ve “talked” more to you over the past couple letters than I have to my sister in the past month.

Then again, if you knew Cora, you would know that’s not very impressive after all. Cora is worse than I am at communicating-she’d rather punch you than talk to you. Of course, so would Boyd. Erica would flirt with you until you didn’t know which way was up, then punch you for the surprise factor. Isaac would mostly ignore you.

I just realized that I’m probably the most communicative of everyone I know, which is disturbing.

Do you still want to be part of our club?

Derek

-----

Derek,

I dunno, I’m fragile and bruise like a peach. I might not want to spend a lot of time with people who like to punch me. Especially because I say a lot of shit that makes even non-violent people want to punch me. Maybe I’ll send Allison in as a shield, first. They’ll love Ally, then I can hide behind her.

You seem to be doing pretty okay with the words from where I’m sitting, big guy. (Are you big? And shit, I did not mean that the way it sounded, I meant, like, tall. Or broad. Not that either matters, but if I’m going to call you big guy, I want to know if it’s accurate, or an ironic thing. Like calling a sumo wrestler Tiny. You know what? I’m going to change subjects now.)

My point being, I like your words just fine. Although if you get a little more confident in your word usage, I think you could qualify for a spot on the CalState debate team. You bullshitted your way out of being called a stalker pretty effectively.

So what do you do? You obviously know I’m a college kid (nineteen and a sophomore, in case your “altruistic research” didn’t dig that up), but what about you? Are you a creepy old man? A nosy pre-teen? Tell me what I’m working with here.

Stiles

-----

Stiles,

I’m neither creepy nor nosy, despite all appearances. Well, I’m not nosy, at least. Cora and Erica might argue the “creepy” part. I’m twenty-four, and I bought an old used bookstore in Beacon Hills. I’m not literally an old man, but apparently I have the same temperament as one.

I’m going to ignore the crack about bullshitting my way out of being a stalker. I don’t bullshit, I speak the truth. With the occasional creative twist.

As far as whether I’m big… I don’t know? I’m average, I guess. Not really that big, but not small either. You can call me big guy, but don’t ever call me Tiny. What about you? Any nicknames?

Derek

-----

Derek,

Nicknames? Um… *points to signature* Please don’t tell me you thought Stiles was actually my real name?

And no, before you ask, you’re not getting my real name. Ever. The only person who will ever know my name is my future spouse, and only then because, unfortunately, my birth name has to be on the marriage certificate.

I just realized there’s a real upside to living in sin.

Average is good, BTW. Less intimidating to those of us who are not so physically imposing. I used to tell people I was 147 pounds of pale skin and fragile bones. Now it’s more like 159 pounds, but the pale skin and fragile bones remain. And the good hair. Can’t forget the good hair.

So, bookstore owner, huh? Let me guess, you part your hair down the middle and you have wire-rim glasses that sit on the end of your nose, and there’s a cat that lives in the store and suns himself on the table and ignores customers when they try to pet him. I’ve never had any pets, just a Jeep I named Roscoe. Which is odd, because I’ve managed to keep that damn Jeep alive for about ten years longer than its life expectancy, you’d think my dad could have trusted me with a dog.

Stiles

-----

Stiles,

I don’t part my hair, I kind of sweep it forward and spike it up in the front. My glasses are thick and black, and the cat is a Maine Coon named Archimedes who thinks he’s blessing the customers by allowing them to pet him. He treats me like a butler and he’s the master of the house. So, y’know, a cat.

I already can tell you were the kind of kid who absolutely should have had a dog. It’s a shame you never had that experience. I have five dogs, who all think I’m viciously betraying them because they can smell Archimedes when I come home.

I’m discovering that you’re a man of secrets. You won’t tell me about the table story, you won’t tell me your real name. Is there anything you will tell me?

Derek

-----

Derek,

Der. You mind if I call you Der? Der, I am a man who most definitely does not have a lot of secrets. Just those two. And the truth of what happened to my dad’s cruiser last New Year’s, but I’m taking that one to the grave.

On to more important subjects. YOU HAVE FIVE DOGS? You are now my official best friend for life. I’d like to say Danny will be upset that his position has been usurped, but just between you and me, I’m pretty sure he’d be glad if you took me off his hands. Not that I’m on his hands, not anymore. That was just one time, and we were drunk.

Moving on. Again. (I need the dogs’ names, FTR.)

I’m building this total image of you in my head, which is likely wrong, but it’s there anyway. I need to know more. Any chance there are pictures of you online that I can stalk? (You stalked mine, it’s only fair. And don’t even tell me you didn’t go check out the campus website after I told you there were pics of me on it. You wanted to know if your new pen pal is as devastatingly sexy as you imagined from the stellar personality. Spoiler alert: Yes. Yes I am.)

Wait. I’m just now realizing you bought the old used bookstore in Beacon Hills. You’re talking about the one on Halloran, right? With two stories and the spiral staircase and the really cool stained-glass windows in the peak? It almost kind of looks like an old church with the vaulted ceilings and the loft? I used to fucking love that place when I was a kid. I’d go there with Allison and we’d read all these stories about dragons and knights and archers, and Ally would talk about wishing she could go back to the dark ages to be a knight. She was never dissuaded by the reminder that she wouldn’t have been allowed to be one.

Stiles

-----

Derek can’t stop smiling as he reads the latest letter from Stiles. It’s after the lunchtime rush and the store has slowed down again, so he’s taken the opportunity to sink down in his favorite chair, the plushy cocoa-colored one, with a cup of coffee and the newest letter. He’s been hanging onto it all morning, feeling like it’s literally burning a hole in his pocket, but wanting to savor the anticipation.

He laughs as he reads the opening paragraph, Stiles’ offbeat brand of humor shining through as always. He’s not crazy about the allusion to sleeping with his friend Danny, but he brushes that feeling of distaste off as quickly as it flares up.

Something pings in his brain at the mention of his dad’s cruiser, until the memory resurfaces. The dogs had gone crazy when they had to bring in the equipment to retrieve Sheriff Stilinski’s cruiser from the lake on the edge of the Preserve.

Sheriff Stilinski.

He’s managed to stalk the sheriff’s kid.

Who, not that he would ever admit it, he absolutely checked out on the website. He’d stopped denying at that point that he was falling for the quick-witted younger man, swallowing hard at the image of impish eyes, an enigmatic grin, mole-dotted skin, and yes, really good hair. Hair he found himself wondering about-if it was soft, if it would feel good to run his fingers through. (It would. He knew it.)

Stiles,

If you’re responsible for that cruiser going in the lake, you have to pay for the dogs’ therapy bills. Lucky, Dodger, Copper, Jock, and DeSoto all barked until they were hoarse when all those people came in with the big hauling equipment. I had to keep them locked up all day, and they hated me afterward. DeSoto ignored me for days.

There are no pictures of me online. I’m a curmudgeon who doesn’t use social media or get involved in things where my picture would be taken. Also, see: use of the word curmudgeon.

I admit it. I found your pictures online. You’re okay, I guess. You weren’t lying about the hair. I showed Erica, and she approved your application to join the club. She even promised not to punch you.

The caveat to that had been, “Unless he breaks your heart,” but he wasn’t about to add that to the letter. He was already afraid Stiles wouldn’t be interested in him-or if he was, it would be for all the wrong reasons.

I did purchase the bookstore on Halloran. It had this magical quality from the moment I walked in the door, although that might have been from all the dust floating in the air, making everything very hazy and ethereal-feeling. I walked through and felt like I could get lost for hours, and I wanted to give that feeling to other people. Maybe you’ll come back someday for a visit, and we can see if it still holds the same magic for you.

Derek

-----

Derek,

OMG YOU NAMED ALL YOUR DOGS AFTER DISNEY CARTOON DOGS

*ahem* I'm cool, I'm cool. I got this.

Also, my lips are sealed on the cruiser, but I have so much dirt on Danny and Jackson I could put them both six feet under and I'd still have enough to plant a garden. I'm just saying.

Please. You know I'm more than just okay. I'm at least moderately attractive, Allison tells me so all the time. I still wish I knew what you look like. Not that it would change, well, anything, but it would be nice to know who I'm carrying on imaginary conversations in my head with.

Don't worry about that, BTW. In my head I make you a super cool bookstore owner, who wears, like, leather jackets along with the black glasses, which you wear because you actually need them and not because you're a hipster with 20/20 vision who's just trying to gain a little cred. And you drive a sexy car. Or a motorcycle.

Let me have my fantasies, okay? Even your use of the word curmudgeon won't take them away.

And I would love to swing by the old haunt and see what you've managed to do with the place. I'm assuming that getting to meet you, finally, is part of the deal? Because that's definitely an incentive to come home for the holidays.

Stiles

-----

Stiles,

Meeting each other is kind of implied, yeah. I just don't want you to be upset if the image in your head isn't the person you end up meeting. I'd like to think that looks aren't everything, but we know in this society, you can't escape what you look like.

I'll confess to the leather jacket, but you'll have to wait to see the car. (Sorry, no motorcycle.) I definitely need my glasses, but I probably wouldn't be believable as a bookstore owner without them anyway.

And clearly you don't need me to give you compliments. You have enough ego to make Freud sit up and take notice. I'm guessing the id is a dominant part of your personality too, considering your impulsive nature. Or so I've gathered. I'm pretty sure Danny and Jackson have plenty of dirt on you as well.

So am I going to get to hear anything about what you do all day? You’re a college kid who’s a god among men on the debate team. What else do you have to offer? (That’s my attempt at deflating that ego I mentioned.)

Derek

-----

Derek,

Oh, ye of little faith. I do lots of things. I argue professionally, yes, but I also argue for grades. My professors love me. Too bad none of them are twenty-something and hot, I could get behind one of those “sir, I need some extra credit, how ever can I earn it?” fantasies.

I’m an RA, too, which gives me a false sense of power and authority, but really just amounts to getting calls at two am when one of the freshmen goes on a bender and throws up from too much sangria and stress. Or when someone vacuums up their drapes and the whole floor smells like a burned-out motor. Mostly it means I can never jack off in peace, because I have to have that whole “my door is always open” policy.

‘God among men’? IIRC, I called myself a king, so thanks for the promotion. I’m hardly a god, despite my overinflated ego (thanks for that, it definitely took a few pokes), but I sharpened my baby teeth on arguments with my dad, so I’m pretty sure it was my calling. I don’t know, I just really enjoy it, y’know? It’s when I feel like I genuinely know WTF I’m doing, and I go in there and annihilate my opposition, because no one researches and prepares the way I do.

I’m going to try to pretend that you did not just insult the fuck out of me by saying you don’t want me to be disappointed in you when we meet. You really fucking think that matters to me? I could not give less of a shit what you look like. You’re still the guy who wrote a stranger a letter because you wanted to help him walk away from a bad situation. You’re still the guy who I’ve been writing for almost two months now, and who I still look forward to hearing from every single time. Meeting you is, like, the best thing that’s ever happened to me. So shut the fuck up about me being disappointed.

See you at Thanksgiving?

Stiles

-----

Stiles,

I feel like I’m learning a whole new side of you. You have a professor kink? Also, you’re apparently bi? Or pan, I guess. I thought we talked about you not having any more secrets. (I’m still waiting for the table story.)

I wonder if I should be concerned about the children in your charge. I have this feeling that you’re a horrible influence and instead of cracking down on the underage drinking, you’re the one who’s doing keg-stands in someone’s dorm room. Or encouraging people to go mattress-sledding down the stairs. But you’re also the one who, when someone cracks their head on the railing on the way down, has the first-aid kit at the ready.

Maybe one day I’ll get to listen to you during a debate. I have a feeling I’d really enjoy that, as long as I’m not on the opposite side of the table. (Although if that were the case, I imagine you’d just argue with the table instead.)

I’m sorry if I really did insult you, it wasn’t my intention. I just know that people have these expectations, and I know I won’t fit yours. The thing is, I have issues surrounding my looks. It’s not like it’s a secret, but it’s not something I usually discuss with people. People treat me so differently because of how I look, and it really bothers me. Part of me knows you would never do that to me, but past experience doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that people will like me for me, you know?

Thanksgiving can’t come fast enough.

Derek

-----

Derek,

Oh, dude, you don’t even know my kinks. Hot professor kink, hot fireman kink (I can’t do the hot cop thing, because my dad would pop into my head at the most unfortunate of times, and it would be an instant boner-killer), hot nurse kink, hot bookstore owner kink, hot lacrosse player kink... I have a lot of kinks.

I’m bi, yes, but that was never a secret. I tend to lean toward men, but there’s the occasional woman who catches my attention. Lydia, of course, was my dominant female fixation for a really fucking long time, unfortunately, but I’ve had a couple sexual experiences with a woman. I do prefer men because nothing really replaces the feel of… Well, I won’t go there, otherwise this will quickly become a letter that could be featured in “Letters to Penthouse.”

I have never done a kegstand in someone’s dorm room. I’m insulted you think I would. Have you ever seen a college dorm room? There isn’t even enough room to fit a keg between the two beds, let alone get a fully-grown human in an upside-down position. We do our keg stands at the frat houses, of which I thoroughly disapprove. (But go anyway.) And we did the mattress-sledding once , but the fucking alpha twins ripped up one of the mattresses and the school made us pay for it. You’d never know it by how they feel, but apparently the school purchases mattresses made of pure gold. That fucker was expensive.

Ha. Ha ha. See if you ever get the table story now. You think you’re funny, don’t you? (You are, but that’s neither here nor there.) I argued with the table because I was drunk and it hurt me, I was perfectly entitled.

Damn it, I didn’t mean to give you details. That’s all you get.

Dude, you really didn’t insult me, but I’m sorry if I brought up bad memories. I get being self-conscious about your looks. It may not be evident from the pure stick of sexy I am now, but I used to be scrawny and nerdy. I had this awful buzzcut and my eyes were too big for my face, and I was ADD as fuck and people just didn’t want anything to do with me. Luckily I had Allison, but even Danny, who adores me now (I lie, he puts up with me), thought I was annoying. Jackson has always hated me-nice to know some things never change. At any rate, I get it.

But just so there’s no mistake or confusion, I don’t care what you look like. I wouldn’t have kept up with this letter-writing business if I didn’t like you for who you really are.

Only two weeks to Thanksgiving!

Stiles

-----

Stiles,

Please don’t “Letters to Penthouse” me. Those are fake, and I prefer reality. That said, I understand what you mean. I consider myself demi, but while I’ve been with both women and men, I much prefer men. Probably for the same reasons you alluded to.

You know the school robbed you, right? They saw an opportunity to get three mattresses for the price of one, and suckered you out of the money. I’m surprised, I would have thought you’d see a scam a mile away. Mostly because I imagine you’ve probably been on the other end of that scenario more times than I can count.

I’ll get the table story out of you eventually. I’m just going to be patient and bide my time, and when you least suspect it, I’ll casually mention it in conversation. You’ll laugh and tell me all about it before you even realize you have. You’re smart and crafty, but I’m unassuming and that will be your downfall.

You didn’t bring up bad memories, you just reminded me of a wall I’ve built, one that comes down every time I write a letter. I don’t remember the last time I was so myself, so honest, with anyone else. I think you’d be surprised by who I present myself as in person. I’m pretty quiet, serious, and I don’t talk much. Maybe that’s why I’ve enjoyed writing these letters so much, it gives me a chance to use my wit and open up a little.

Yeah. I’m sure that’s why.

Derek

-----

Derek,

I won’t “Letters to Penthouse” you, but you have to be aware that if we talk in person, half the time I don’t think about the things that come out of my mouth before they do. So there will be a lot of sexual stuff. Sometimes innuendo, sometimes blatant. It’s how my brain works, fair warning. I’m 1000% certain there will be a time when I describe, in explicit detail, exactly why I’m more into men, and we can figure out if we have the same opinion.

You seem to thrive on insulting me. Of course I know the school robbed us, and I would never scam innocent people out of their hard-earned money. Not-so-innocent people? Totally fair game. I managed to get Jackson to pay me $100 to show him my dick. Best money I’ve ever made, and the look on his face when he realized he’d paid to see my dick instead of for me to keep it tucked away is a priceless, priceless memory.

Why do I get the feeling that you’re going to have me spilling all my secrets? Even though I don’t really have any? (You have to promise me that when I eventually tell you the story of the cruiser, you won’t ever say a word to anyone else. I swore a blood oath to Danny and Jackson that I wouldn’t tell, and since Jackson stabbed me with a letter opener to get the blood, I have a vested interest in not pissing him off for real.)

I feel honored that you’re comfortable enough to open up like this with me. That’s not me being sarcastic or setting anything up for a joke, that’s for real. It means a lot to me. You mean a lot to me. Getting your letters is the best part of any day.

BTW, I hate to say this, but I’m not going to be able to make it home for Thanksgiving. Ally’s dad is paying for me to fly out with her to France for the week. I know you’ll understand why I couldn’t turn that down. I promise I will be home for Christmas. If it’s any consolation, I seriously considered telling Ally I already had plans. That’s how much I want to see you in person.

Stiles

-----

Stiles,

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that you won’t be home for Thanksgiving, but you’re right, you can’t turn down a free trip to France. At least Christmas is only a month away. I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with Cora, Erica, Boyd, and Isaac, so I won’t be lonely, at least. Although the burden is going to be on me to cook the dinner, which wouldn’t be so bad except I still have to cook enough for twenty people. My friends eat like ravenous animals, and yet none of them knows how to cook.

I would never ask you to betray anyone, but I like the idea of us not having secrets from each other. Besides, it’s probably better for me to not know how the cruiser ended up in the lake, because whenever I’m around your dad, I’ll be afraid of cracking. He has the Sheriff Eyes. He’s come into the bookstore a few times and I’ve been on the verge of confessing to every time I’ve ever sped through town. Or the two times I ran a red light. (In my defense, once was to get Erica to the hospital, and the other time was because I knew I had a letter waiting for me at home and I was impatient.)

I know this is short, but I have to head to work and I want to get this in the mail so you hopefully get it before you leave for France. Have a safe flight!

Derek

-----

Derek,

Salutations de la France! Paris est magnifique, mais j'aurais aimé être chez moi.

And yes, I am that cruel that I would make you manually type this all into Google translate. I was considering writing the whole letter in French, but that would have taken me way too long and I’m not that dedicated to being a pain in the ass. Almost, but not quite.

We’re having a blast here, though. Allison’s been to France several times, her family is from here and they have a country chateau, along with an apartment in the city. Her dad is at the chateau, while Ally and I are staying at the apartment for a few days. We leave for the chateau tomorrow morning and will be there for the rest of our vacation.

Paris is everything I’ve ever heard of. The history and the architecture are amazing, and I feel like a fucking tourist, but the Louvre is one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever been. I’m not even that into art, really, but Allison has been trying for years to help me learn a little something about being cultured, so I’m not a complete noob. I love walking along the river and seeing all the artists and sitting at little cafes eating proper French pastries, which, FTR, I am spoiled as fuck now and American pastries are completely ruined for me. Do not ever feed me a croissant, I will be a total snob about how it’s not flaky and buttery and croissant-y enough.

I still wish I was in Beacon Hills, though. For all that this is an incredible experience and I wouldn’t have given it up for anything, I have never wanted to be in two places so much before.

I’m kind of looking forward to leaving the city tomorrow. I want to chill out a little and enjoy my vacation instead of having the days fly by in a blur of color and French and food. Okay, I’ll keep the food. But sometimes my brain needs the outside world to stop because there’s already too much chaos inside it, so some peace and quiet is exactly what I need right now.

When I get back, it’ll only be three weeks until the holiday break. Then I’ll finally get to see you in person. It’s weird, I’m so anxious and yet not at all nervous. It feels like this has been a long time coming.

Au revoir,

Stiles

-----

Stiles,

I’m glad you got to enjoy your vacation, and I guess I forgive Allison for kidnapping you on Thanksgiving. I haven’t traveled much, but it’s not something I’m opposed to doing. Maybe when my sister is old enough that I trust her to run the store by herself without burning it down. Where else would you go if money wasn’t an object?

I have a somewhat awkward question. Where do we stand on presents? Are you going to get weird on me if I get you something? Do you have a price limit you would be uncomfortable with me going over if I did get you something?

I also have to warn you. Cora and my friends are going to give you endless amounts of grief because we’ve been writing each other letters for three months and haven’t even thought to exchange phone numbers. I told them it’s because we enjoy the anticipation of a new letter and also that it’s special, since it’s how we met, but they still think we’re weird.

should probably tell you Christmas is my birthday. I don’t make a big deal out of it, but my friends do because they get pissed when people forget my birthday because they’re so wrapped up in the holidays. They will insist you be a part of the celebration, but I want you to know you don’t have to. I won’t be upset, I know you’re here to spend time with your own family and you have your own holiday plans.

By the time you get this, we’ll have, what, two weeks? I think this is the most I’ve looked forward to Christmas in years. I finally have something on my Christmas list that I really want. See you soon.

Derek

-----

Derek,

If I could go anywhere, I’d go to Poland. Which I know might be a weird vacation destination, but it’s my history, y’know? I was a little bummed I was so close and couldn’t figure out a way to get over there to spend some time, but Ally’s dad was nice enough to pay for me to spend our vacation together, so I didn’t want to be like, “peace, yo, I’m going to visit the motherland”. After Poland, maybe Ireland or Spain. Ireland for the beautiful countryside, Spain for the culture and the warmth. Hell, maybe I’ll just do a western Europe backpacking thing after I graduate. Assuming someone loves me enough to pay for it.

Uh, yeah, we’re so on present-level by now. And as long as we’re not talking, like, new-car-level expensive, I’m okay with whatever. (Although really, I’m a broke college student, so don’t go overboard, okay? I can’t afford to get you anything major and I don’t want to feel like mine is crummy in comparison to whatever you get me.) I’m still kind of in disbelief that it won’t be that long before we can exchange presents in person.

I’ll be honest, I considered asking for your phone number more than once, because I’d love to be able to text you whenever I think of something funny or share memes or whatever, and I really, really want to hear your voice and talk to you, like, every day, but there was always something that kept me from bringing it up. I think you’re right, the anticipation of getting a letter is worth more, at least right now. And it is special. But we’re doing the number exchange at Christmas, right? I don’t think I can be satisfied with letters after we’ve finally seen each other and gotten to actually talk .

I’m insulted, yet again, that you think I wouldn’t be there for your birthday celebration. My dad will probably have to work on Christmas anyway, so as long as this isn’t a Christmas morning celebration, I’m so in. Would you have any issues with me bringing Allison and Danny? They’re both coming back to Beacon Hills with me (although unfortunately I think Danny is going to drag Jackson along, which means Lydia will be there too). If you don’t want them there I get it, but if I’m going to meet your friends, you should meet mine, right?

God, that sounds like we’re dating. Hah.

Don’t write me back, okay? I have finals next week and I don’t want to get distracted and I’ll feel really stupid if I write you another letter (because if you write me I’ll have to write you back) and I arrive in Beacon Hills before it does.

See you in a week and a half!

Stiles

-----

His heart is pounding a million miles an hour and he thinks he’s going to throw up. Not because he’s scared, but because this is the moment he’s been waiting months for. The anticipation is seconds away from killing him.

Parking the Jeep in front of Under the Covers, which, really, Derek should have warned him about because man does the innuendo kill him, Stiles takes a few seconds to inhale several deep, steadying breaths. He doesn’t want to go in and blurt out something random and stupid. He needs to be calm. Chill. Cool as a fucking cat.

Naturally, he trips on his way inside and stumbles into a waist-high bookshelf with a couple books artfully displayed on top, knocking them over with a loud clatter. There’s no one inside except for a guy with dark hair, sitting in a fuzzy brown chair with a book in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, and a large, fluffy cat sunning itself on top of the checkout counter. ( Archimedes, his brain supplies.)

The guy looks up at the noise, startled, and Stiles blinks. Holy fucking hell. Look at him. The man is undeniably gorgeous, with thick dark hair, deliciously perfect scruff, and piercingly green eyes that pop out at Stiles despite the slight distance. There are muscles for days, which he can see even under the soft charcoal sweater with fucking thumbholes, is this guy trying to kill everyone ? He shakes his head to clear away the muzziness in his brain. As attractive as the guy is, he’s here for Derek.

Approaching the mind-blowingly gorgeous man, Stiles musters up the nerve to speak. “Hi, do you know if Derek is in? The owner? I mean, I’m assuming he’s here somewhere, it’s his store after all, and as far as I know his sister is the only other employee, so I’ve got, like, a 50/50 chance of him being the one here, because someone has to be here if the store is open.” The guy stares at him, eyes wide except for when he blinks in what Stiles assumes is shock. His rambling tends to have that effect on other people.

A beautiful brunette (what, did they put in a ridiculously attractive person factory while he was gone?) appears on the stairs leading down from the loft and smirks. “You could stop gaping like a fish, dumbass.”

Stiles turns to face her more fully, slightly insulted because he wasn’t really gaping at the gorgeous guy, and where does she get off calling him a dumbass? She doesn’t even know him.

The guy is still staring at him wordlessly and Stiles is starting to get uncomfortable. “Maybe I should come back another time?”

“No!” The sudden bark explodes out of the guy and Stiles jumps, and the girl starts laughing.

“Jesus, big brother, you’re smooth like a cactus,” she snorts, and gears start turning in Stiles’ brain. “I’m Cora,” she explains, introducing herself, and no, that’s wrong, Cora is Derek’s sister… “That amazing specimen of cool and collected is my brother, Derek. I believe you know each other?” she continues, grinning slyly, and Stiles turns back to Derek, his own eyes wide.

“You’re not wearing glasses!” he protests, because his brain is stuck on just how not possible it is for this man to be his Derek. Slowly, the man pulls a pair of glasses-with thick, black rims-from the pocket of the leather jacket that’s thrown over the arm of the chair, sliding them on his face, and Stiles is done. “You’re my hot professor fantasy come to life!” he blurts, and Cora starts choking on her laughter.

“Cora,” Derek growls. “You can go.”

“Oh hell no,” Cora retorts cheerfully, sinking down onto the couch and tucking her legs up beside her. “I should have popcorn for this.”

“Get. The. Fuck. Out.”

Her eyes widen and she pops back up, muttering something under her breath that Stiles can’t quite catch, but apparently Derek can. He levels an intimidating glare at her, those gorgeously thick brows drawing together in a way that would scare Stiles for life if he wasn’t already completely in love with the man.

Oh, shit.

When she’s gone, Derek flicks his gaze back to Stiles, the tips of his ears turning a bright pink. “I told you I’m not good with words,” he says in a low voice, and Stiles is just so fucking done.

“Get your ass up.”

Derek stares at him again, mouth parting slightly, and Stiles is going to have a heart attack or something. When Derek finally gets to his feet, Stiles throws his arms around the older man and buries his face in his shoulder. He can feel the tension seep from Derek’s shoulders as he returns the hug, holding tightly to him as if he can’t bear the idea that Stiles might try to step away from him.

“I wanted to surprise you,” Stiles mumbles into his shoulder, and Derek chuckles, the sound making his chest vibrate pleasantly against Stiles’. “I guess I did.”

“I generally don’t like surprises,” Derek admits, still clutching him close, “but this one is the best I’ve ever had.”

Stiles pulls back, and immediately punches him in the shoulder. “What the fuck, you asshole? How come you let me think you were this homely loser who people treated like crap?”

“I didn’t,” Derek replies mildly. “I told you I didn’t like how I was treated because of my looks, not that I was ashamed of them. People try to use me. They want to be with me but they don’t want to know me. They don’t care about who I am, they just care that I look good, which makes them look good by association.” His eyes drop, as well as his voice, and he murmurs, “I didn’t want you to like me because I’m attractive, I wanted you to like me for me.”

Stiles nods in understanding, but his nerves are finally kicking in. He know how he feels, but who knows if Derek feels the same? What if he doesn’t mean “like” as in sexually or romantically interested, he just means like as a friend? He’s ignored nearly every one of Stiles’ innuendos, never pointed out Stiles’ comments about jacking off, or having a hot bookstore owner kink, or having graphic sexual thoughts about guys. Stiles has been slightly afraid for the past couple months that he’s been reading something between the lines that doesn’t exist, and has fallen for yet another person who could never see him that way. “You never had to worry about that,” he says instead, tone breezy, resolving to let those worries go for now. “You’re in my top three favorite humans.”

Derek is smiling widely, and something uncoils from around Stiles’ heart, allowing him to breathe more easily. “It’s good to finally meet you.”

“Damn right it is,” Stiles says, tone edging on cocky, and he winks at Derek. Derek lets out a laugh.

“I want to say I didn’t expect that, but I really did,” Derek teases him. “Although I have the feeling that I’m only going to encourage the massive expansion of your already oversized ego."

Stiles grins, thinking maybe he hasn’t gotten it wrong after all. “I look forward to you trying.”

The pink returns to Derek’s ears, accompanied by a light flush of his cheeks, and yep, Stiles is totally in love. “It’s been dead in here the last hour. Let me close up and we can go get something to eat, unless you have other plans?”

“That sounds great,” Stiles says agreeably. “Allison and Danny know better than to try to make plans with me for at least the next several days.”

“You expect to be tied up that long?” Derek asks, eyes sliding to Stiles as he starts going through the process of closing the register down. Archimedes yowls when Derek disturbs him from his perch, and he lifts his chin haughtily as he leaps to the floor, landing with a light thump.

Stiles’ eyes twinkle. “I hadn’t planned on being tied up, but I wouldn’t say no,” he replies lightly, and he beams delightedly when Derek has to swallow hard and hurry through the rest of the closing activities.

That one last letter to Lydia had seemed like a stupid, foolhardy idea at the time. Now he’s pretty sure it’s the best idea he’s ever had.

-----

They spend the next several days together, talking (well, Stiles talks) and eating and laughing and dancing around the truth that both are desperate to address, but simultaneously afraid of. This thing between them has been building for so long, but it’s been behind the safety of words and paper and ink. Now that they’re together and can say whatever they want, the most important words are the hardest to bring to tongue.

When they’re together it’s nonstop talking and little touches; a hand on the shoulder or knee, bumping shoulders, a playful ruffle of hair. When they’re not together it’s constant texting-Derek’s phone pings with memes and random thoughts, and Stiles’ with indulgent replies and dry witticisms.

Christmas morning is a barrage back and forth of picture texts and exclamations of joy and “hey, you should bring that game over so we can play later”. Stiles asks what he should wear to the party that night, Derek sends back a frowny face and asks if they can run away from the party instead. Stiles scolds him and tells him his friends are going to a lot of effort to make it a good birthday, and Derek should at least be cooperative. Derek sends him a sad face and asks if he can feign illness. Stiles sends a string of emojis that Derek can’t interpret, so he gives in and tells Stiles to wear whatever he wants. Stiles interprets that to mean khakis and a button-down, because it’s Derek’s birthday and he’s going to look nice, damn it.

It’s almost seven when he pulls up in front of the Hale mansion. The first time he saw it his jaw had about hit his feet; he knew Derek was a business owner, but he’d assumed he’d put his whole life savings into the store and was barely keeping afloat (based on the number of customers he never seemed to have). Derek had sheepishly explained it was inherited from his family, though the explanation of his family’s passing ten years earlier was stilted. Derek apologized for springing it on him, but had felt it too heavy to impart through letters; Stiles understood, as he’d felt the same about mentioning his mom.

As he’s parking the Jeep, he sees Derek slip through the front door, and he can’t help the soft smile that slowly spreads across his face. He knows it’s impossible to truly fall in love through letters, at least not for as short a time as they’ve been writing, but when he looks at Derek he sees his future. He just doesn’t know if it’s his future looking back at him.

“Stiles.” Derek smiles widely, hands in his pockets as he takes a step forward. “I wouldn’t have blamed you for not showing up.”

“Fuck you, I wouldn’t miss this for anything.” Stiles bounds up the front steps until he’s inches from Derek, and they both fall silent as they stand there. It should be awkward, but it isn’t. It feels expectant, electricity thrumming through the air, and Stiles wants to lean forward and kiss Derek. He’s just scared, scared he’ll fuck everything up.

Then Derek’s speaking.

“I have to warn you,” he says quietly, and Stiles is interested. “Cora and Erica put up mistletoe all over the house.”

“First off,” Stiles snorts, “that’s not a house. That’s a McMansion monstrosity.”

“I take offense at that,” Derek replies, but it’s mild, so Stiles continues.

“Secondly, it’s Christmas. Mistletoe is a given. Why would I care?”

Derek tips his head back, face tilted toward the stars, and mumbles, “They want to catch us under it. So we’ll kiss.”

The breath catches in Stiles’ throat, and he can’t say a word until Derek finally lowers his gaze, watching Stiles anxiously. The tension in the air is almost palpable, and Stiles has this moment where he just says fuck it to himself, and he steps forward, fisting the front of Derek’s shirt and hauling him in for a kiss.

Derek’s surprise keeps him stiff at first, but he quickly melts into the kiss. Stiles doesn’t even care that his really good hair is getting messed up when Derek’s hands find it, fingers tunneling through the deep brown strands and tightening almost desperately. He opens his mouth, arching toward the wet slide of Derek’s tongue against his own and making soft noises of pleasure into his mouth. Derek tilts his head just slightly, angling so they can deepen the kiss, and Stiles locks his arms around Derek’s waist and holds on like Derek is the one keeping him anchored to the ground.

When they break apart, each taking a heaving breath from the near-loss of oxygen, Derek stares at Stiles uncomprehendingly. “Why did you do that?” he asks, voice hoarse, and Stiles shivers. He wants to hear that voice, just like that, for the rest of his life.

He grins shyly. “I’ve been imagining our first kiss for months. I wasn’t going to let it be as a result of a command performance.”

Derek leans in and captures his mouth again, pressing a soft, sweet kiss to Stiles’ lips before trailing his own over the corner of his mouth, over his cheek to his temple, then up to his forehead and back down to the tip of his nose. Stiles stands there with his chin slightly tilted, eyes closed, and a beatific smile on his face. “I’m fucking crazy about you, you know that, right?” Derek breathes, and Stiles opens his eyes languidly.

“I had an idea.” He stretches up to drop another quick kiss on Derek’s mouth. “Let’s go inside or I’m going to jump you right here on the porch.”

“At least Cora and Erica would get their wish,” Derek mutters wryly, and Stiles huffs out a laugh.

“I don’t want our first time to be for an audience,” he comments. “I’m open to negotiation on future sexcapades, though.”

“You’re going to kill me,” Derek groans good-naturedly, looping his arm around Stiles’ waist. “But I agree, we should probably go in and make an appearance. Then you and I are going someplace where we can kiss for a few hours.”

Stiles leans into him, tucking his face into Derek’s chest to hide his dopey grin. “That’s a plan I can get behind.”

-----

For his college graduation, Derek presents Stiles with an itinerary. Stiles is thoroughly confused until he opens it up and reads through it, then disbelief fills his stare as he flicks his eyes to Derek’s. “Are you fucking kidding me with this?”

“You said you wanted to go on a backpacking trip through Western Europe,” Derek says with a shrug, eyes twinkling. “I’m putting my foot down to backpacking, but we have reservations at hotels all through Europe.”

“Two months.” He’s still staring at the itinerary, awestruck. “Eight countries, a week each.”

The route has them starting in Portugal, working their way up through Spain and France, then hooking over to Ireland and the United Kingdom. From there they’ll head to Germany, Austria, and finally Poland. Which isn’t technically part of Western Europe, but it’s the motherland, as Stiles affectionately calls it, and it’s the entire point of the trip. Derek has been planning it for the last year, and he still can’t believe Stiles never clued in to all of his brochures and the calls from his travel agent.

“This is what you wanted, isn’t it?” Derek asks, and the note of apprehension in his voice triggers Stiles into action.

“You fucking moron, of course this is what I wanted!” he yells, flinging his arms around Derek’s neck and peppering his face with kisses. “I can’t believe you remembered, it’s been two and a half years since I told you that!”

“I remember everything,” Derek admits, voice catching, and Stiles gazes up at him, face wreathed in happiness.

“I love you, you giant sap,” he murmurs affectionately, and Derek can feel his heart clenching, just like it has every time Stiles has ever said that word, even after two and a half years.

“I love you too,” he murmurs back, leaning in to allow his forehead to rest against Stiles’. “Now let’s get home and get our bags. We have to be at the airport in four hours, and we have to make a stop in Beacon Hills first.”

“WHAT?” Stiles yells, checking the itinerary and then his watch. “You left it to the last fucking minute, Der! What if I wasn’t free to go?”

Derek smirks. “You forget your dad and your friends love me. They were all in on it, no one would have let you go anywhere or do anything.”

“You are brilliant, and the world should be glad you love books instead of wanting to become a criminal mastermind,” he observes, running his fingers through his hair. Derek can see in his eyes that his brain is taking over, thoughts flashing in and out as he attempts to focus enough to create a mental list.

“Breathe, baby,” he says, lifting a hand to Stiles’ shoulder and squeezing it in support. “I have everything all ready to go. We just have to go home and get it.”

Stiles cups his face, kisses him soundly, and nods. “I have never been more grateful for your anal, Boy Scout, ‘always be prepared’ mentality.”

“Love you, too,” he replies, rolling his eyes but not bothering to hide his grin. Stiles loops his arm through Derek’s and chatters excitedly all the way back to the Camaro.

The next two months are a dream, and Derek contemplates spending the rest of their lives traveling wherever they want, whenever they want. He can leave the bookstore to Cora, who refuses to admit how much she loves it but does nonetheless. He can take Stiles to Australia, and Russia, and Japan, and Brazil. They can lie on beaches for days and drink neon-colored cocktails with little umbrellas in them, or take in shows and visit museums, or go dancing, or whatever they want to do. It’s a lovely dream, and when he shares it with Stiles, Stiles simply leans his head against Derek’s chest and sighs happily.

They’ve been in Poland for six days, in a city called Bydgoszcz, where Stiles’ family originated. Stiles had almost cried when he realized he wasn’t just going to Poland, he was going to the place where his father’s father’s father was born and raised. Derek had booked a room at the charming Hotel Sloneczny Mlyn, and had made certain to get them a room overlooking the Brda River.

They’d toured the town, the old granaries on Mill Island, the Basilica, and St. Martin’s and St. Nicholas Cathedral. They’d attended the Opera Nova one night, and while neither really cared for the opera, it was an experience Stiles would remember for the rest of his life. Stiles had fallen in love with the city, and Derek made a mental note to bring him back once a year.

Now on the afternoon of their last day, Stiles looks a little glum at the reminder that they’ll be flying home to California the following day. Derek’s determined not to let their trip end on a sad note.

“Let’s take a walk down by the river,” he suggests, and Stiles nods agreeably. Derek pauses to pick up a small wooden box, which Stiles glances at curiously before they exit their room, pulling the door shut behind them.

They wander down the path on the back side of the hotel, their fingers linked loosely together while Derek clutches the box in his other hand so tightly that his knuckles are turning white. When they get down to the river, they settle down on the grass with their knees pulled up to their chests. Neither speaks for a few minutes, they just watch the movement of the water as the water tram pulls away from the loading dock and into the flow of traffic.

“I have one last surprise for you,” Derek says finally, and Stiles doesn’t move his head, just shifts his eyes to watch Derek. He glances down at the box in his hand, which is the size and thickness of the average novel. “I’ve been thinking about this almost as long as I’ve been thinking about the trip.”

He hands the box over to Stiles, who takes it without a word and unties the burgundy ribbon, letting it slip and slither and fall away before lifting the lid. Inside is a pile of letters, and Stiles recognizes the return addresses instantly. “Der.” His voice is choked, awed, and he turns to Derek with wide eyes. “How did you find these?”

“I kept mine in my chest at home,” Derek explains quietly, voice shaking from nerves. “I had Danny and Allison track yours down. Danny still swears I owe him for the things he had to see in pursuit of them,” he adds, and Stiles huffs out a barely-there breath of amusement. “They’re numbered, all in order.”

He waits, heart pounding and fingers trembling, as Stiles works his way through re-reading the letters. Derek knows he’s feeling the same way Derek had when he’d re-read them; awe, gratitude, disbelief that such an impulsive, spontaneous act had brought them to this time and this place. That they could find such deep, everlasting love from the simple connection of a letter.

It takes over an hour, but Stiles finally puts down the second-to-last letter. “That was the last one I wrote you, but there’s still one more,” he observes hesitantly, and Derek feels like he can’t breathe.

“I wrote this one the day before you graduated,” he confesses, raising a shaky hand to his hair. “The day before we left.” Stiles watches him, fascination and confusion warring on his face, as he opens the last letter.

 

My Dearest Stiles,

You cannot possibly know how much I love you. I’ve spent the last two and a half years falling more in love with you every day, wondering how I ever thought I was living before we found each other. I think back to that day in the restaurant, the anger I felt at Lydia over a boy I’d never met, that indescribable need to warn you that you were wasting yourself on someone who didn’t deserve you, and I wonder if my heart already knew you.

It’s certain that I don’t deserve you any more than she did, but the difference is, I know what I have. I couldn’t begin to look past your beauty, your passion and intelligence, your loyalty and devotion and the fierce way in which you do everything, any more than I could ignore the call to write that first letter. I am in awe of you every day, that you could possibly find in me someone worth choosing, someone good enough for you. I’ll never believe I am, but you do, and that’s all that matters. It’s the world, and it’s more than I deserve but everything I could ask for.

I’ll never be able to express to you all that you are to me, all the things you’ve made me feel and the ways in which I’m a better man because of you, but I want to try. The thing is, I’ll need every day of the rest of my life to even begin to touch on the depth of my love for you. I hope you’re not doing anything else for the rest of forever, because that’s how long it’s going to take.

Derek

 

Tears are streaming down Stiles’ face when he looks up from the letter, which he’s been reading aloud as his voice gets progressively more watery and choked up. As his head lifts, Derek rolls onto his hip, then leverages himself onto one knee.

Reaching inside his pocket, he pulls out the small velvet box. He feels like he can’t breathe when Stiles’ tremulous, tear-filled eyes drop to where the lid is slowly cracking open, revealing a gleaming graphite ring. Derek has to take a steadying breath, waiting for Stiles’ gaze to be drawn upward again. Once it has, he goes all in.

“Stiles Stilinski, will you marry me?”

Stiles is nodding frantically even as his mouth opens to whisper “yes yes yes yes yes”, and Derek is falling forward into his arms, lips finding Stiles’ and they kiss, over and over again, until he feels like they’re drowning in each other. Derek turns his face so that it’s pressed into Stiles’ neck where he can feel tears, and he doesn’t know if they’re Stiles’ or his or both, but it doesn’t matter. This is his everything.

Somehow, they manage to pull themselves upright and disentangle their limbs, and Derek is sliding the ring on Stiles’ finger, and he’s marveling at how perfect it looks, how right. “I want to get married here,” Stiles murmurs, and yes, fine, Derek will give him anything he wants. He’ll fly every single one of their friends and family to Poland, he doesn’t care.

“You realize this means you’ll finally get to know my real first name,” Stiles comments, giving him an attempt at a smart-alec grin, and Derek’s heart swells with love for this man.

“I’m counting on it.”

-----

Stiles tells the table story at the wedding. Derek falls a little more in love with him, but that's not surprising. He expects it's going to happen every day for the rest of his life.