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The Trouble with Ignoring a Problem Until It Eventually Goes Away

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“Fang “Candace” Lau, 27, works three blocks from here,” Scott tosses Derek a Hello Kitty wallet, “where’s Stiles?”

“Probably distracted by a pretty little coffee shop,” Derek flips through the compartments, which number in the dozens and are many, many times more than a human being could possibly need, “Cash and cards still here.”

The victim lies splayed in the middle of the street, holding up the traffic that’s slowly but surely decimating his hearing because the cars’ honking is in the leagues with the likes of the construction noise next to the precinct when he’s at work and the parties every weekend like clockwork when he’s at home. He wants the name of the motherfucker who’s supposed to be diverting traffic, but he’s interrupted by a familiar voice.

“God,” Stiles ambles casually over, not at all hiding the fact that he’s breathing heavily, probably just sprinted here from the subway, “and I could really have used a simple mugging gone wrong too.”

-36

Two years ago if anyone told Derek’s peer evaluations that he would keep a partner for more than three months, they would have been directed to ‘severe anger issues, see also: trust issue, vigilante complex’. Then Stiles waltzed into 27th precinct, beaming at the mid fifties detectives who would ideally be assigned with Derek Hale the hotshot, emphasis on hot, but who all claimed coronary problems.

Deaton called Derek and Stiles into his office and informed them that since they both drove anyone within five feet of them up the wall, he has decided to contain the damage and long story short, meet your new partner, a.k.a. your last chance you menaces.

“Captain, let me get this straight,” Stiles said suspiciously, “I’m not fired?”

“Don’t tempt me,” said Deaton.

“What did he do,” Derek asked with horrible trepidation.

“Hey,” Stiles waved his arms, “you got shackled with me. What did you do?”

Deaton was looking like he’d really rather not revisit his worst traumas, “Do either of you want a list or just the highlights?”

Five minutes later, Stiles was yelling, “Because I was apparently the only person in the room who remembered that they would be working with these nightmares you call probies come eighteen months if it weren’t impressed upon them right then that this job was hard and that there was no such thing as overtime budget if you were doing it right,” and Derek found himself nodding along vigorously, and thought that something good might come out of this partnership after all.

Another five minutes after that, Stiles lost all of Derek’s good graces by unpacking two tall cappuccinos from the Starbucks by the subway and consuming both himself, which, it wasn’t like Derek got anything resembling hopes up or something. He made sure his comment about his new partner’s physicals stung, though.

Stiles narrowed his eyes, tapping a ballpoint against his own biceps, “You’re welcome to attempt half of my bench press working with what I’ve got.”

Laura said, after Derek’d gone home and scowled at everything from his cat to her three-year-old, and after she’d pried out of him all the gory details, “A match was made in heaven, you mean.”

Derek fed his eyeglasses to Abby per her screamed request, resigning them to be chewed within an inch of their life, “I literally have no idea where you got that from.”

“You are kind of the same though,” Laura unsuccessfully tried to distract Abby with a pacifier.

“He jiggles his knees,” Derek clawed at his face, “and he wouldn’t stop. Every time I asked him to it’s hella awkward and he stops for a while and then starts again and it’s driving me insane.”

Laura burst out laughing, “How are you so rude? You know, I bet he feels the same way.”

“I heard him telling McCall that in the event I killed him in his sleep, look out for the insanity defense,” Derek said darkly, “I give this one week.”

Two years later, they are still working out of the same desk, and if Derek sometimes answers his landline by ‘Stilinski listening’ out of terrible habit of picking up Stiles’ phone for him, well, Stiles doesn’t need to know that.

1

“Well?” Derek steps gingerly around Fang Lau’s body lying face down, finally crouching down by her head, “did they get the frosting on your espresso wrong or something?”

“Oh,” says Stiles, “a suit. The interviews’ll be a blast then.”

Because even Scott recognizes that Stiles is attempting diversion, Scott jumps in, “Entry wound in the torso, from the back. She bled to death. Weapon is probably a twelve inch knife but I’ll need to head back to labs for confirmation.”

“Hey,” irritation creeps up Derek’s skin. He does nothing to stop it, “I asked you why you were late.”

“Come on,” Stiles bends close, his face on level with Derek’s and paying too much attention to Fang Lau, “don’t be a dick.”

“Bye,” Scott gathers up his gears and scampers. It makes Derek more irrationally angry because it’s first thing in the morning and Stiles was probably flirting with the barista.

“It’s a simple and reasonable question,” he pats a gloved hand down the body’s coat.

“Did you want the question you actually asked me back verbatim, because I know it wasn’t that, and I would be concerned with my long-term memory if I were you,” Stiles is curling his lips in derision, Derek knows, and Stiles stomps away, taking the victory of having the last word with him but leaving with Derek the victory of sticking it out.

Not every case starts out great. For Derek and Stiles, most cases don’t.

-35

Their first case was too crazy even by New York standard and kept them too busy to actively hate each other.

They were called in at five thirty in the morning because some traffic cop spotted a fresh corpse in a car with a bullet hole so high on the window that it might have been made with a sniper rifle, Jesus Christ.

“Hello, this is a familiar face,” Stiles said, peering into the car and shining his pen light on the body, “Fredrick something, con artist.”

That sent the MEs and traffic cops into titters. Derek consulted the still dark sky for strength.

“I was with Major Fraud Unit for a while,” Stiles shrugged, “kept up with some of them.”

“Whoa,” Scott McCall exhaled, reverent, “people must be lining up to kill him.”

Isaac once told Derek that it wasn’t that MEs didn’t understand field agents’ loathing of the hundred suspect case, they just always resented being thought of as the Robin to their Batman.

(“But they have CSI now, they have the most watched show in the world,” Derek had moaned, uncomprehending.

“Half of us can’t even watch CSI without wincing through most of the running time,” Isaac said sympathetically, “They even get fingerprints wrong because we’re all waiting for the supercomputer that could cycle through so many sets in the span of one minute.”)

And then Stiles was hunched over the sidewalk, hands on his knees and surveying the gutter with great distress.

“What now,” Derek barked, secretly hoping that Stiles hadn’t discovered a new piece of evidence and shown Derek up.

“Can’t talk,” Stiles ground out, “suppressing my gag reflex.”

“There isn’t even that much blood,” Derek said incredulously.

“No no,” Scott yelled out from the car where he’d taken over, “There’s a bit of brain matter,” and Stiles lost what seemed like three meals in a series of terrible gulping noises, trying to wheeze out thank you for that, Scott, really while glob after glob of acidic carbohydrates and proteins and vegetable matter slid from his throat.

The rest of first response gave him a wide, wide berth.

“Why the hell did you transfer to homicide?” Derek shouted hollowly.

Stiles spit about half a dozen times, the worst of the puke having finally gone. “Because I’ve just recently managed not to pass out at the sight of blood, after intensive therapy I have to tell you,” he said, sounding slightly hurt.

Jesus Christ.

So Derek just grabbed Stiles by his collar and hauled him away from the Benz with the dead body of Fredrick something in it, and grabbed Scott by his collar, barking, “Get on with your jobs.”

Stiles flailed, in the process looking approximately two decades too young for the leather coat he was wearing, “Okay partner, let’s find the meddling kids if weren’t for whom Mr. Summers would have gotten away with it. He was heading to JFK too, by the looks of his GPS.”

“Talk to your Major Fraud friend, get a list of suspects,” Derek grumbled.

“I know that,” Stiles scoffed, “but after we need to have a talk about the distinction between my resources and yours.”

So okay, they did find time to be douchebags to each other.

“Fine,” Derek let go of his coat, “boundaries rule number one, stay out of my way.”

Stiles stared at him, “Sure, with your unimpressive solve rate and my utter lack of experience with Homicide, that would be a great idea.”

Derek made a noise that died in his throat once he realized how defensive it sounded.

“We’re working together even if it kills us,” Stiles put his hand on Derek’s chest and shoved, “just don’t tell me what to do.”

It wasn’t just Derek. Stiles didn’t exactly get on like fire with everybody else in the division either. They were people who ordinarily could distinguish simpering assholes from charming new recruits even if they weren’t what Derek called competent with their jobs, and the way they looked amused at Stiles in the ‘watch the crazy, but don’t touch the crazy’ way suggested that, even under the spell of a pretty face and a nice smile, they didn’t collectively abandon everything that made a good detective.

So of course Scott McCall hit it off with him.

“Definitely Barrett M98B,” McCall led them through the morgue, “US make semi-automatic sniper rifle,” he elaborated.

Stiles lifted both eyebrows trying to lift only one, “I didn’t peg you for an enthusiast.”

“My in-laws are,” McCall said ruefully. In fact, it was public knowledge and subject of much 27th precinct gossip that McCall’s in-laws were prominent members of the NRA i.e. their favorite bash topic since the only political issue overworked cops could agree on was that New York streets didn’t need more guns.

“Entry wound on passenger side, but you already knew that,” Scott said, “Fredrick Summers died immediately. The car swerved onto the streetlight before hitting and being stopped by the fire hydrant. Judging by the skid mark he was shot ‘bout a fifty yards down the street of that hydrant.”

Scott McCall was everyone’s feeling child and if you were approved by Scott McCall, somehow you weren’t the Terminator in a uniform and a badge. When Derek first transferred into Homicide, he famously wrote up McCall for running unnecessary tests when all the ones Derek asked for were still in the queue. McCall always looked a little wild eyed around him after that, but McCall also never stopped presenting results he didn’t need and disparaging Derek’s casework to anyone who would listen, which was a lot of people. Derek even asked McCall to work together with him but apparently according to witnesses it wasn’t so much asking as threatening and assuming, so they went right on to not working together and occasionally succeeding in self sabotage.

Derek thought it was a work in progress.

“Move over,” Derek squeezed between the two of them, “what are we looking at?”

“Gun was shot at close range,” Stiles said.

“For a rifle,” McCall interjected.

“Right,” Stiles nudged Derek back and suddenly Derek was staring at Stiles’ mess of hair and inhaling lavender—lavender—shampoo, “so it was from right across the street. We have a cluster of possible buildings that the bullet came from now.”

“The trajectory—“ Derek knocked Stiles’ shoulders away trying to see.

“Already on it,” Stiles, who didn’t appear capable of holding a grudge, said triumphantly, “Scott?”

“It’s the department store building,” Scott declared, “I’ll send a canvass team now,” he looked at both of them breathlessly, his eyes beaming with an unmistakable go team.

“Get ‘em up here,” Stiles held up his hand for a high five, and also had on his face the same stupidly elated, grossly inappropriate for someone surrounded by corpses expression.

“Hell yes,” Scott enthused, somehow not ruining the moment at all when he carefully slipped off his lab gloves before slapping Stiles’ hand.

“Derek,” Stiles wheeled on him, hand still up in the air.

They looked at each other for long seconds, during which Derek noted 1) that Stiles had really big eyes, huge, actually, 2) that Stiles with his mouth open was absurdly pretty, 3) that the leather coat was ridiculous, because adorkable did not a bad boy image make, and 4) that they were too close if Derek could feel Stiles’ hipbone digging into one side of him and the metal desk digging into the other.

Before the grin on Stiles’ face could fall, Derek high fived him, making sure everybody in the room witnessed his exaggerated eye roll.

Scott did an eye roll of his own, “Do you want to come with?”

Derek said, “No,” and,

Stiles said, at the same time, “Thanks Scott, but we have to,”

“We have to go talk to my guy,” Stiles cleared his throat, smirking a little. “Text me if you find something.”

“Uh,” said Scott.

“Oh right,” Stiles stepped away, fishing his phone out of his pocket, and they were apparently exchanging numbers now.

Derek pointedly strode out of the room first, hearing footsteps hurrying to catch up with him, which wasn’t a surprise, and hearing a “You know, I’m not actively trying to usurp your job or the people in your life,” which was.

“Don’t be presumptuous,” Derek stopped in the middle of the long hallway. He would never give someone who was getting under his skin the satisfaction of letting them know that they were.

“Here’s a hint,” Stiles shrugged off his horrible coat, and he had a twee waistcoat thing underneath and all Derek could think for a moment was chest and slim waist and definitely no childbearing hips, fuck him sideway, “It helps if you smile.”

-34

Danny, Stiles mouthed through the glass of a Starbucks, half of which was populated by uniforms.

Stiles’ Major Fraud friend huffed, typed up something on his Mac book, enlarged it, and turned the screen toward them.

Stiles, it said in purple Arial, for the last time neither do I know how to nor do I want to fix your credit score.

Stiles breathed on the glass and started writing expertly in reverse over the fog. Derek frantically looked around for people who might possibly know him, but it’s cold and it’s New York.

Mahealani gesticulated violently to the floor, meaning talk in here where it’s warm you crazy person.

Stiles shook his head and jabbed his fingers to himself with even more vigor, meaning out here, I don’t trust myself to come back out into the cold.

Fine, Mahealani mouthed, and gathered up his Mac and charger,

That people eventually got used to Stiles’ weirdness was great news.

-33.5

 “He’s so weird though,” Derek stirred the soup forcefully, “I swear, Deaton’s plotting to kill me by mortification by proxy.”

Mom considered him with much too much amusement, “I think I could come up with something less elaborate.”

Laura just opted for flat disbelief, “What do you know about weird, you don’t seem to remember your freshman college year when you were afraid to answer your phone and open your email. Enjoying throwing stones from your glass house?”

“That was a delicate time in your brother’s life,” his mom reprimanded, trying to help and thereby making things ten times worse.

But Laura said, “You always coddle him, mom. Could you be less obvious about who your favorite is?”

Cora abandoned her TV show and ran for cover while Derek wished fervently he could have done the same, and his mom visibly flinched, hurt, before flashing her eyes and rehashing the millionth iteration of the argument.

It was a miracle that between the hurt feelings and the parade of thoughtless cajoling Derek hadn’t moved out of his parents’ place. The reason for this clusterfuck his parents cited as it being economically practical and Derek cited as it giving him a solid excuse for not bringing home his dates and for not dating in general, actually.

The real reason was that Derek didn’t know how to live on his own, and that his high school classmates in every reunion had rhapsodized about independence for all of two seconds before bemoaning the electricity bill and having to call their own plumber.

“No seriously it’s worth it,” Carmen had said, tipsy on shitty champagne and leaning too much into him.

“I already walk around my house in my underwear,” Derek had replied, and backed away a step once her eyes lit up at that.

-33

“Summers?” Mahealani rocked back and forth on the sole of his feet, “Stiles, Summers’ victims were old people. Real estate fraud.”

“Fuck,” Stiles said emphatically, “he got them to appoint him as their guardians?”

“Yeah. Targeted lonely elderly with a piece of their own real estate, got close to them. Summers even staged lower level fraud to defend them against to earn their trust.”

“Eventually most of them signed away some legal rights to him,” Derek finished, his anger reflexive, most of it at the way it made him feel guilty about seeing only once a year on Thanksgiving his grandmother, who was a bigot, a misogynist, a mean-to-his-mom-inist wrapped up in one bundle of joy.

Stiles frowned, “The odds of a seventy-five year old grandma braving the snow on a rooftop and nailing a hit traveling seventy miles an hour does seem slim.”

“Did Summers have another MO,” Derek asked.

“Not that we know of.”

“If their kids weren’t so concerned with their well-being, their kids would be more likely to blame their parents instead of packing a rifle to off Summers,” Stiles tugged at his hair with the air of someone not yet introduced to baldness.

“Fax us a list anyway,” Derek was already pulling open his legal pad, searching through Summers’ contacts. Girlfriend was all the way in Queens, at an address Derek knew was nonexistent.

“We still have another lead,” Stiles grabbed Derek’s shoulder absently, signaling for him to wait, “The shooter was at close range, therefore was waiting for Summers, therefore knew where he was going.”

“Did he have an assistant,” Derek scowled at Stiles’ hand, “Who may have booked Summers’ ticket for him?”

 “He did have a secretary who answers the phone for his bogus business,” Mahealani offered.

 “I want lunch,” Stiles decided, apropos of nothing, while Mahealani consulted his journal, “and a cup of coffee. I can’t think with a caffeine count this low.”

“Not getting one for you, Stilinski,” Mahealani said, a bit frustrated, like for a while Stiles strung him along just by being perpetually hungry and extremely dense, “David Hendren, 181st street. Bye.”

Watching him retreat into the coffee shop, Stiles said, “Danny’s a great guy. He helped me put away his best friend, did you know.”

2

Derek attempts to put his fist through the roof of his car and gets three bruised knuckles for his efforts. He always ends up letting stuff he doesn’t mean to come out around Stiles, admitting to things he didn’t even know about himself, engaging the most high school, mean girl behaviors. He debates between telling Stiles that of course Stiles has as much right to his privacy as the next person, Derek just didn’t expect that he wanted it then, Jesus Christ, and bashing Stiles’ head against the steering wheel, and all the while knows anyway that he’s going to drag Stiles, kicking and screaming, to their bar and ply him with enough whisky to confess to Derek what was wrong.

That’s if they make it through the rest of the day without killing each other with a pair of lock picks.

“Well?” Stiles hollers obnoxiously from the driver side, “Get in. We’re going to her parents.”

Derek, because while he’s the one always caving in first he still doesn’t have much practice extending the olive branch, gets into the car slamming the door and letting the silence sit cancerously until they pull up near Chinatown.

“The Laus have a restaurant here,” Stiles explains.

“Stop by the buffet afterward,” Derek says, careful, making the question not really a question, not too hopeful, not too noncommittal. It normally doesn’t matter if one person had another thing they had to go to, because it lets the both of them exhale away the rock of Monday pettiness on their chest all the same. But Derek wants Stiles to say yes to this one, wants Stiles to have dinner with him at the place where they’re both regulars and where, once, Derek tried to take Laura and their waiter glared at them all night long thinking Derek was cheating on Stiles, because they always, always come in together and never waste leftovers if they could help it.

“How about right now,” Stiles steps on the brake, throws open the car door, “we’re here.”

“On police business,” Derek says on autopilot when what he really means is not like that, today is

But their favorite Chinese buffet is crammed to near capacity with all of Homicide, most of the MEs, his family and Isaac and Lydia, negotiating between them a birthday boy banner that was clearly conceived with too much enthusiasm and not enough creativity.

“Stop looking so tragic,” Stiles opens his door for him, Stiles only does that when he’s making particularly apt comparisons between Derek and some Harlequin heroines, “We’re good to you. This is a good thing that you have on indefinite call in your life.”

“This is where you—“ Derek stutters, “this is why you—“

“Yes, asshole, happy birthday, asshole,” Stiles says, and Derek thinks he hasn’t heard an ‘asshole’ with so much affection in his life.

Derek hasn’t finished gaping at the ostentatious display of camaraderie when Stiles ushers him into the buffet, steering him by his elbow and a constant warm presence at his back.

Deaton says, “See you back at the station this afternoon or else, Mr. Stilinski,”

And Finstock says, “Why isn’t there any cake,”

And Laura looks as pleased as if she was the birthday girl, so pleased and so happy for him.

Harris seems to be pointedly not invited.

Derek accepts a coke—it’s office hours, and Alan fucking Deaton is presiding—and lets himself be led around by his hand by Stiles, which is enough proof that someone must’ve spiked that coke and he’s currently delirious. He flashes grateful smiles at the owners and grins,  grins at the warm smell he could only label as Chinese-food-sy and at everybody, bashful but so wide he might as well have stolen Stiles’ patented ‘stupidly gleeful.’

“We didn’t have enough cash to rent it out for even ten minutes,” Stiles glares mournfully at the smattering of curious patrons on their early lunch, “And if I were to pursue party planning I wouldn’t put this success on my CV because the one who actually browbeat your friends and family into order was Scott.”

“He’s a good leader,” Derek acknowledges, “but who said anything about success?”

“Please,” Stiles says, but his fingers involuntarily tighten around Derek’s.

So Derek asks, “Are the victim’s parents actually close by?”

Stiles stops, quirks an eyebrow that says, what do you think?

“The comment about them owning a restaurant,” Derek says.

“Harris’ stuck with trying to get a hold of them in Shanghai.”

They clink their plastic cokes.

Most of them don’t have time to spare, so people disappear with the speed of office coffee on the day the whole precinct spill actual blood with the Feds over jurisdiction. Derek is stealing glances at Stiles every few minutes, but Stiles doesn’t move away. He’s flanking Derek from the people who wander over before leaving to make conversations, which inevitably end up being about their work (about which Derek has one too many strong opinions), his family (about which Derek has too few opinions), or his love life (about which he doesn’t want anyone’s opinion).

“Thank you Stiles,” Stiles says, loudly. “I was a dick, Stiles. This is great, Stiles. I will be eternally grateful to you and offer a week of doing paperwork in appreciation of my exceptional partner, who is a gift from God himself, Stiles. Wait, Stiles appreciation week,”

“I like the sound of that.” Derek says, half serious, “Very Stalin.”

“Well, the city of New York is in agreement.” Stiles gestures at the air, meaning our incredible record that’s totes getting us a promotion and a pay raise.

-32

They have been partners for two years, inadvertent accomplices for most of that time and tentative friends/brothers/get-each-other-up-on-their-feet-ers, generously speaking, for one and a half. Derek remembers with more fondness than he should the each milestone of the process in which Stiles sank his hooks one by one into Derek and fished him into his inner circle, made it seem like an honor society instead of the terrifying coven of morally ambiguous people that it was.

“The law is morally ambiguous, Derek,” Stiles had argued hotly, his eyes brilliant with conviction and Derek was inexplicably compelled to nod, entranced.

Derek was doomed, really, the first time he learned about Stiles’ touch-and-go relationship with the concept of compassion and his insistence that he defined his own duty as an officer of the law, and found that he didn’t mind, not in the slightest.

Derek remembers that they made it all the way to second in line at Subway before Stiles snapped.

Why aren’t you asking,” he hissed.

“I have no idea what you could possibly be referring to,” Derek did live with three younger siblings and baiting was possibly the only form of social interaction he excelled in.

“I was cryptic,” Stiles had a crazy glint in his eyes, “It clearly promised to be an interesting back story! What, did it require more foreshadowing,”

Derek felt quite a number of people side-eyeing them.

“Was it why you left Major Fraud?”

“Oh,” Stiles backed off a little, stunned silent, then smiled, “I see someone’s investigative prowess is not totally made up of his cheekbones and muscles.”

He tried very hard not to feel smug.

“That’s funny, because I don’t,” he said childishly, putting a hand on Stiles’ back and steered him toward the counter because it was their turn.

“Well now I’m no longer in the mood.”

“Hey, I have never been in the mood for your story.”

“My mood has just turned from suicidal to homicidal,” the girl behind the counter said.

They both wordlessly flashed their badges at her, who laughed because her boyfriend was Malkovich from the SWAT team.

“Anyway,” Stiles said around a disgusting mouthful of ham, “Jackson Whittemore helped the clients of his law firm launder money, and the asshole had a senior and a junior partner on his case so none of the warrants for the stuff we need on his computer came through.”

“I saw that,” Derek said, “it made the news cycle once or twice.”

“Naturally I asked Danny to hack into Jackson’s company main server for me, because I always did that and he always said yes. We could never use what we found, but it led us to other corroborating evidence.”

“Where does the best friend come in,” Derek sloshed his coffee around impatiently, “Or did you not know the Jackson guy was—you’re kidding?”

“Uh,” Stiles said guiltily, “and then when I knew I begged Danny to steal a file from Jackson’s apartment for me.”

“Wow,” Derek stared, “How are you still friends? For that matter, how did he not strangle you where you stood?”

“That’s how nice of a guy Danny is though,” Stiles mused, “I still have to ration out the times I ask him to hack into something for me, but I could trust him not to report my appalling insubordination to whoever that was in charge.”

“I no longer wish to be part of this conversation,” Derek said.

-31

Then his mom decided to vet his partners.

“I knew Alan,” she said, and when her family made similar disturbed faces she added defensively, “not like that. We went to college together where he held my hair back while I puked down the dorm toilet.”

“She background checked your partner,” Laura hunted around their mom’s desk, “I remember something about ‘flagrant disregard for due process’ and ‘inappropriate behaviors, fraternization bordering on sexual harassment’ and this Stilinski got away with all of it because his father is the Chief of Department. And you said he was nuts.”

“Did you somehow miss his collars, I didn’t realize he had so many collars,” Derek said impulsively, making a mental note to ask Deaton if he planned to make Derek the bodyguard to the fucking son of the fucking Chief of Department.

“Maybe they were handed to him on a silver platter,” his mom was Googling the name, “did you know he moved around departments a lot? Dammit, I told Alan that you needed somebody stable.”

Derek made the saddest little protesting noise.

“Where’s the photograph,” Laura muttered, seizing control of the Mac book, “I am picturing a dweeb who thinks he’s a punk. Oh.”

“A twink,” his mom wrinkled her nose, “that’s,”

“That’s messing with my world views,” Laura concluded, studying Stiles’ photo, a surprisingly flattering one, with the scrutiny she typically reserved for her Ph.D. rival’s thesis.

“Drop it,” Derek told the both of them sternly, “I, we just went from a hundred suspects to zero in the span of one day and I’m wiped, okay. I’m taking a shower, and when I come back this conversation will not have taken place and my mom will not have been a wild party animal in college.”

Dad poked his head in the doorway, “Did we not tell you how we met,”

Mom and Laura yelled, “Tomorrow dinner, I mean it!”

-30

Stiles was already bent over his desk, engaged in a staring contest with his computer monitor when Derek came in for work.

“No one raised a red flag,” he said “except for a few public indecency charges in their youth.”

“Military or mafia connection?” Derek shed his coat.

“None,” Stiles was agitatedly chewing on a magic marker cap because, to Derek’s horror, he had murdered several of the cheap plastic ballpoints’ click buttons.

  “Ex-military?”

“Huh,” Stiles muttered, fingers fleeting over his keyboard, then “You’re brilliant. We have two of them.”

Derek refused to feel warm and fuzzy over a careless compliment, but the fact was that his suggestion coaxed an absent praise out of someone who upon his first day had insulted the intelligence of everyone in the precinct at least once—well, that fact would make the Arctic thaw.

Then Derek took a look at the search results and decided that maybe he should have been a less proactive detective.

-29

“He’s decorated,” the Chief of Department said flatly.

“Dad,” Stiles whined, “I told you not to come.”

“Stilinski,” Deaton barked, deriving entirely too much pleasure from the excuse to shout the name judging by the amused grin on Stiles’ father face—apparently they had a thing back in the academy, or had the same thing for the same person, or something, Derek didn’t really want to pursue the rumor. “Be respectful to your Dad.”

“Dad, if you were ever wondering why I was bullied back at school,”

The Chief of Department crossed his arms over his chest, narrowing his eyes at Derek, shit, “Is somebody here giving you a hard time?”

“This isn’t happening,” Stiles said, voice reedy and high, “this is not happening.”

“It’s happening alright,” the Chief of Department glowered, “and it wouldn’t be happening here and now if you just talked to me at home.”

“Fine,” Stiles threw up his hands, “there’s a general and a decorated vet from Vietnam on the list of Summers’ disgruntled victims and they’re probably not going to be able to produce good alibis. Captain, sir, just put forward the search warrants to a judge first so we could get on with it.”

“Hey,” Derek grabbed one of his elbows, “we didn’t agree about that.”

“We agreed that it was efficient.”

“You barely have any evidence,” the Chief of Department said, horrified.

“My dear Watson,” Stiles said obnoxiously, “when we have eliminated,”

“We haven’t eliminated any possibility.”

“What I was getting to,” Stiles put up a hand, “is that it rarely works out like that, and that the most obvious solution is often the right one.”

Deaton coughed pointedly, having had enough, “As much as it pains me to follow protocol, Mr. Stilinski, you are going to talk to your suspects first before we rack up even more bad karma with the military and make ourselves into public enemy number one.”

“And give them the chance to dispose of the evidence, sure,” Stiles said airily.

-28

It was on the tip of his tongue, he salivated with it: Hey, aren’t you glad we waited when we did, or something equally mordant because both of their suspects had bedrock retirement-home-sleeping-like-babies-on-security-cameras alibis, but Stiles’ expression was something that signaled abort, abort, abort.

“It’s a conspiracy,” Stiles seethed.

“A rather big one—“

“Are you stupid,” he snapped, “I wasn’t serious.”

“Hey,” Derek growled.

He grabbed Stiles’ shoulder tried to crush it with his fingers, “Hey asshole, I don’t know what kind of daddy issue you have but you don’t take it out on me. You don’t take it out on this case, and—“ but Stiles yelped painfully and they were in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, just off to the left of Macy, and pencil pushers on their lunch breaks were bumping into Derek and Stiles, knee-jerk curses under their breaths.

“Let go of me,” Stiles shrieked, the pain pulling his features into an ugly caricature.

Derek snatched his hand back. His fingers flexed maddeningly.

“Sorry,” he ground out.

“No you’re not,” Stiles glared.

“I’ll be sorry when you are,” Derek said, and before he even said it, he knew that he would find himself without a partner again, tomorrow.

But Stiles jerked his head like he was shaking off a fly by the top his nose, squared his shoulders and God, Stiles must still have been hurting, “Let’s just go back.”

“No,” Derek said, “I’m sorry.”

“I deserved it.”

“You didn’t,” Derek yelled, frustrated, brought his hands up, didn’t know what to do with them, lowered them down, “no one does.”

Stiles gave him a small smile, “What I hate the most is that when people die, when something bad happens to them, there’ll be just somebody who says, ‘they got what was coming to them,’ they deserved it.”

And Stiles said, “Thank you.”

And “It’s not like that though, not about my dad,” but didn’t explain, because Derek didn’t ask, because Stiles didn’t seem to want Derek to.

-27.5

Derek began falling for Stiles somewhere during that first case, kept noticing the way he quirked the corner of his mouth, always the right one, the way he emoted, carelessly and freely, the way he threw himself, unasked, into protecting the few people he loved.

He thought nothing of it at the time. Stiles was going to be his partner, and he would see him every day and hate his too-loud voice and discover he has pungent smelling feet or something and look back on this as another aren’t you glad you dodged that bullet.

-27

It was fine until it wasn’t. Their suspects list dwindled from hundreds to two to zero and other leads went cold. They seized Summers’ and Hendren the secretary’s work computers and shipped them off to forensics, who didn’t look Derek and Stiles in the eyes when they told them that Summers booked his own ticket, a one-way to Slovakia.

“The secretary still could have known,” Stiles insisted, and it wasn’t even last ditch, it was grasping at straws, but Derek was a lot so done with this case and yeah, a little bit in love, and what the heck, they brought Hendren in.

“Let him go,” Derek growled.

Stiles had been screaming himself hoarse at Hendren the secretary for a half hour.

Derek didn’t see it coming. Sitting in for the barely disguised interrogation Stiles was the picture of solicitation, we believe you had no idea what your boss was doing, Mr. Hendren, we realize how vicious the media can be, Mr. Hendren, did your employer have any enemies, Mr. Hendren.

“Who did you tell your boss was fleeing, you scumbag?”

“He’s terrified,” Derek caught his elbow, hissing sharply, “What do you think you’re doing?”

Stiles threw the metal tea cup into the wall and looked poised to climb over the desk.

“I’m the one in line for anger management therapy,” Derek shouted hysterically, “Deaton’s watching all of this unfold from behind the one way mirror and he’s going to figure out whatever stupid secret reason you have for this outburst so shut up and follow me outside.”

Stiles said, “Oh,” and clammed up, looked momentarily so lost and so young—the parts of him he’d been trying to hide since the day he walked into his father’s shadow and into law enforcement—and pushed past Derek, past Deaton’s disapproving grimace.

Derek said to Hendren, “I know where you live,” and “if you move out of town, my numerous police friends will find you,” because he was a good person but not to criminals who swindled from helpless elderly.

He found Stiles in what they indelicately referred to as the Feelings Hall where each and every cop had had at least one breakdown over the shithead sitting in the interrogation room. Stiles had his face buried in his hands, crouched on his knees, not quite suppressing the way he was violently shaking and Derek knew him for a day and a half, most of which was spent besmirching his virtues but for the first time since he stepped out of police academy he thought that maybe they had been right, maybe being partners meant something.

“Let’s go to a bar,” he said, but softly so that no one else could hear.

“No,” Stiles’ voice came out muffled from his palms, “I have a movie I downloaded that I want to watch.”

-26

They found themselves in the shade on the rooftop of the building and shooing away all the smokers. Harris was gleeful at the miserable expression on Stiles’ face for all of the two seconds it took Derek to make a vague aside about office interrelation and a threeway with Finstock and Greenberg.

“I feel compelled to mention this,” Stiles mumbled morosely into his Vaio, clutched against his chest, “I never want to hear that story, ever.”

It’s cold as balls, the morning foggy and gray like the city wanted to capitalize on all of this doom and gloom going around, and the wind picked up, alternately screeching and rattling the roof door like no tomorrow, but Stiles had VLC and turned volume all the way up to 200%. Derek scooted closer anyway, pressed up against Stiles’ right side and so close that during the credits he counted his moles for something to do, so close that even Stiles, eyes glassy and unseeing, blinked confusedly in his direction.

One movie turned into two, A Clockwork Orange and The Good, the Bad, And the Ugly because Stiles enjoyed mood whiplash. They both loved the Clint Eastwood more, Derek could tell, gasping softly and letting out breaths they didn’t know they’d been holding and smiling reluctantly at the overly dramatic score the laptop belted out on those long shots that prefaced adventure. What Derek watched for the most of it, though, was the way Stiles’ eyes cleared and became animated and lost, not aimless lost, but in the stories lost.

“Did you see,” Stiles whispered, after the movie was over because the silence during was understood as a mutual gift of respect, Derek thought he had read that somewhere before. “The stand-off scene was basically perfect.”

It occurred to Derek then, that Stiles was probably one of those movie snobs talking shit in the comment threads on the Internet. He had a rather vivid image.

“Have you ever heard of Neon Genesis Evangelion, what am I talking about, of course you,” Stiles muttered under his breath, and Derek grabbed his wrist, the hand that’s going for the mouse pad to bring up another movie.

He needn’t have bothered. The laptop had been making a low humming noise that just turned into a defeated whine, warning them 5% battery.

“Crime fighting,” Stiles said nonsensically.

“Did you catch a cold,”

“I mean that’s what I was doing,” Stiles hugged his knees closer.

“It’s past lunch break,” Derek said reasonably, “you look like the wind could go to town on you and I refuse to develop maternal instincts because of something as ridiculous as this and because I’m too young.”

“You have the most peculiar and roundabout way of asking people out to lunch,” Stiles observed, “Pray tell, have you ever been in a relationship of the romantic nature?”

-25

“I ran the list for cops’ known relative first. Danny’s grandfather is on it,” Stiles admitted, twisting a napkin until it tore.

“He could have hacked into Summers’ hard drives,” Derek said slowly and with lurching realization.

“No, that was too risky. He knew we were going after Hendren and possibly submit Hendren’s work computer to forensics. Hell, his unit was going to seize that computer for evidence. Danny probably just had someone on Summers’ tail reporting in periodically.”

“Oh,” Derek said, at a loss.

“He would know who to call for a hit,” Stiles said, ruthless to himself, “and even if he didn’t he would know someone who did.”

“Danny doesn’t seem the type,” Derek said, because he didn’t, “don’t go jumping to conclusions.”

“I haven’t been,” Stiles snapped, “Did you or did you not see me eliminate all probable possibilities leaving a bigass improbable one?”

Derek was simultaneously piecing together the case and Stiles’ going Hannibal Lecter on Hendren earlier—a bit like a teenager lashing out, a bit terrifying—and came up with Stiles’ buddy probably shot or contracted a hit on their victim and Stiles knew it all along, before they walked into the interrogation room, before Derek walked into the precinct, and Stiles kept evidence from him and tried everything he could to blame someone else for it.

He was mostly stuck at this wasn’t how it went in the movies.

“Do you think your friend could do this,” Derek asked, “He’s, it looks like he’s important to you, you know him.”

“Being my friend,” Stiles ground out, “doesn’t magically immunize somebody to grief, to anger and to malice. All it means is that I have to figure out the truth and damage control the fuck out of-“

“My family wants to interrogate you,” he cut Stiles off, “over dinner, if you like,” because he really did need second opinions on his loose cannon of a partner and because maybe if he could wipe the miserable off of Stiles’ face while he was at it well, that wouldn’t be any skin off his back.

Stiles said, “What,” took a big gulp of his coffee and spat all of it out for emphasis.

3

Stiles was being dramatic. Interviews with suits are not summarily awful. As often is the case, business people like to have their glossy LinkedIn images maintained, unlike the mobs who figured out a long time ago that law enforcement de facto hated them to their guts and thus waste no time and effort on civility. Except for Dewey Carter of the Irish upper Manhattan faction who insists that joking about the dead is in poor taste and that he won’t have any of it in his house.

They sometimes get a good espresso with nice Belgium biscuits and all questioning is conducted in air conditioned environments, besides.

On the other hand, Mr. Martinez is most aggrieved and somehow even more unhelpful.

“Ms. Lau has been working here and moving steadily past the ranks for five years,” Stiles bats at some post-modern mobile hanging low in Martinez’ office while Derek tries to keep his voice level, “and nobody here knows if she has a boyfriend or where he might live?”

“She was very private. You know how those girls are.”

“We’re going to interview her coworkers,” Stiles remarks casually, “did you want to forewarn us about any kind of special circumstance relationship?”

The answer is a thin lipped ‘no’ from Mr. Martinez and the barely repressed impulse to boot them out of his floor to ceiling glass corner office.

“That was rude,” Derek says in a way that really doesn’t mean that he approves. It doesn’t.

“Shut up. That was effective.”

“You think he did have an affair with her?”

“I think that I really don’t know the answer to that and we needed to get a move on with interviewing the coworkers.”

It’s a relief that being slightly in love with Stiles doesn’t make Derek forget what an ass Stiles is sometimes, but it probably says worrying, unflattering things about him that he still hasn’t managed to fall out of love with an ass after two years of denial and a Rationalizing Attraction online course. It’s gotten better now, like a ‘living with herpes’ kind of resigned determination.

“Let’s go to their break room,” Derek suggests, thinking of willing gossipers and breaking out his toothy smile that he has been reliable informed is conductive to swooning over.

-24

It came out during dinner that 1) Stiles had no tact, 2) that Stiles gave zero shit as to acquiring any and 3) that number one and two were in the process of inexorably charming the pants off of Derek’s family.

Stiles was spiritedly playing ‘Yeah well my father’ with Cora to the bug-eyed faces from everybody else at the dinner table and all Derek could think was apparently bedtime stories gave fathers as many brownie points as a high speed car chase did.

“Yeah well Daddy does all of his chores without being yelled at by mom,” Cora stabbed the air viciously with her fork because rudeness was infectious.

“Yeah well I bet all he has to do is taking out the trash,” Stiles said, with no concern as to the fact that the person he was talking about was seated across the table from him.

“Hah,” Derek and Cora exclaimed in one voice to their mutual horror. Derek slapped his own mouth with his palm.

Cora could in retrospect have been less triumphant about a stranger coming into her house and badmouthing her parents, “He cooks! Mom only helped out today because we had a guest!”

Dad who had been flushing since the peeing contest took off turned an interesting distant cousin shade of beet red.

“Oh,” said Stiles, humbled at once, “my dad was ready to donate all of our utensils to the local church until I started watching the food channels.”

Cora crossed her arms, see?

“That’s really cool, Mr. Hale,” Stiles whirled back to the table and promptly matched color with Derek’s Dad.

“Uh,” Cora said, obviously having not intended for Dad to hear how much she really liked him.

Mom took pity on the both of them, “Your father must have very long hours,” and Stiles was off on a rant about shifts and about How Bosses Can (And Should) Delegate, punctuated by muffled compliments about the braised lamb’s life changing quality.

“Well, Mom and Dad would vehemently deny it but we had a good reason for wanting to impress,” Laura said primly.

It was then that Nikita, of the opinion that family politicking (read: manners) was stupid and blurted out for the first time since Stiles showed up with a six pack and was mortified to see a herd of under legal drinking age children.

“Stiles, tell us about being a cop. Derek wouldn’t say anything.”

3.5

“I prefer ‘detective’,” Stiles backhands Pete across the cheek.

Pete chokes, “Motherfucker, I’ll,”

“What,” Stiles drawls, “Tell on me to the boss who’s just fired you? Talk to your court appointed legal aid about the police brutality record I don’t have and the perjury record you do have?”

“Is this about the Boyd guy,” Pete demands, “You’ve got to let that go!”

-23.5

Stiles made a visible decision to lie to a twelve-year-old.

“There’s a lot of espionage,” he waved his arms expansively, “we go undercover all the time.”

Nikita looked like she was dying.

Their mom, who would have preferred all of her children ten feet away from law enforcement in the context of New York City streets, said hastily, “So Stiles are you seeing anyone,” because of course she identified with him over What Do You Mean, Subtlety.

“That’s a funny story,” said Stiles.

It also came out during dinner that Stiles had had a debilitating crush on Lydia Martin for ten years and running, which, put together with number one and number two, meant that Derek had shitty taste and that he was doomed, Doomed, with a capital D.

-23

“Ethan, been looking for you everywhere,” Stiles sat down next to a leather clad vision of tan brawns-without-brains.

Last night, after insisting that he helped put away the dishes, Stiles let Derek walk him to the subway station and told him thanks and oh, I don’t think I thanked anyone twice in the same day and we’ll go to anger management together sometimes. The next morning Stiles went back to throwing himself into plumbing nonexistent possibilities but with grim determination and not reckless fury. We find corroborating or contradicting evidence, he said, and at lunch, he tugged at Derek’s sleeve saying he had an idea, let’s go to see Danny’s partner.

“I’ve been at my desk all day,” Ethan said, bemused.

“Well,” said Stiles, “I mean I’ve been looking for you out of the corners of my eyes. It’s the thought that counts.”

They were waiting out back for either Danny or Ethan to leave first, but they couldn’t say that.

“What with the arm candy you have brooding behind you, I doubt that,” the guy leered, inasmuch as one could in a buzzing office stinking of sweat and testosterone.

“Derek? Arm candy?” Stiles exclaimed, faux affronted, “I see only one around here.”

Derek didn’t know whether to be disappointed or hopeful that Stiles, who was basically not a good person, played the flirting game with practically any viable warm body but him.

He glanced around meaningfully.

“Let me get you a coffee,” Stiles winked.

It screwed up his face and was way too hammy to boot, but Derek noted with despair that he found it cripplingly adorable and obviously so did Ethan, who sighed and flicked his head toward the backdoor, “Whatever it is that you want, I’m not saying yes.”

-22

It turned out Stiles helped Ethan and his twin brother get away from their abusive step-father, Duke.

“He negated it by breaking Danny’s heart,” Ethan explained.

But oh yeah, they were here gathering evidence to put away the guy, so Stiles winced, tried to pull out half of his hair, so Ethan made quick with the placating, “Hey, I never said I didn’t appreciate you leaving his heart vulnerable and wide open for me,” and that had Stiles moan into his palms.

“Stop hiding your face,” Derek said, “we have work to…we have to get this over with.”

“Ethan” Stiles fidgeted with the seams of his sweater, “you were on the Summers case. Did you two follow him?”

“We didn’t need to,” Ethan shrugged, “we hacked into his GPS,” and that was it, wasn’t it, the confirmation to their horrible suspicion and Stiles’ face fell, he didn’t really believe himself before, not really really, because as soon as the course to JFK was plotted into Summers’ GPS Danny must have had all the tools that he needed for a hit at his fingertips.

“You can’t be saying,” Ethan said, voice high.

“I want you to grab Danny’s computer,” Stiles said slowly, “whichever one it was that he used, without alerting anyone.”

“And we want you to be able to testify before court,” Derek said.

“You don’t have the shooter,”

“We will. We have the second part of our crime scene. Scott is doing his tests on the shell casing as we speak.”

“You’re not arresting him,” Ethan staggered back, “did you conveniently forget the part where you betrayed him before?”

“He’ll confess,” Stiles said, unflinching and singsong smooth while Derek stalked forward like he was coaxing a wild animal out of its cage, “Danny will confess and I won’t hand over the laptop, and then all the ADA will have is circumstantial evidence. They’ll have a mountain of it, but they won’t have anything concrete, and they’ll take his plea like a gift from the gods and Danny gets manslaughter two, max.”

And they didn’t discuss this. Didn’t plot to manipulate the American justice system but it was the dead body of a criminal and blood on a good cop’s hand, a cop with squeaky clean records and Derek knew that for a fact, he checked that morning, read up on the commendations and the MIT scholarship while Stiles jiggled his knees by the next seat, ruining his eyesight by gluing it to the monitor and examining, re-examining every cold trail.

So it was alright, but maybe they’d have to talk about trust and trust in transparency later.

Derek wondered what Stiles would do if it was Martin, and the fact that Derek was even here right now, for this, was honestly a relief. No soul would weep for Summers but plenty would for Mahealani, and Derek thought he’d have to lead Stiles away from the kind of bureaucracy that let Mahealani work on a relative’s case without raising any red flags.

“Ethan,” Stiles said desperately, “he left enough circumstantial evidence to convict a chicken for pig slaughter.”

But Stiles hadn’t trusted Derek at all, he realized. Stiles, seeming to grasp intuitively which and how much to assume from Derek had merely factored Derek and what he knew into how to get his friend off on the lightest charge he could.

“I won’t testify against him,” Ethan shook his head.

“It won’t make a difference,” Stiles agreed, “but if it goes to trial they’ll try to subpoena you anyway.”

You won’t take the stand against him.”

“No,” Derek said, “I will.”

“The EADA, we’ll get Lydia,” Stiles told him, “she understands.”

-21

“She’s…” Stiles slurred, “She’s not one of those girls who were never told she couldn’t have anything she wanted. She just grew up and figured out that anything she didn’t have she could take.”

“I don’t know anyone like that,” Derek said, casting concerned glances at Stiles’ growing collection of glassware.

Derek didn’t go to bars as nearly often as a healthy bachelor did, according to his family (“So I have to compensate for Derek, mom,” Laura insisted,) because one went to bars with one’s coworkers but most of his was the married, wifey on a rampage at home, I’ve put in as much overtime as it was lot. He didn’t go to bars for pick-ups—during the ten years experience of being jailbait he’d been treated to enough iterations of the stranger danger spiel to not see sweaty bodies gyrating to dance music as anything but potential predators. There was also the time he did spot checks for minors in half of Manhattan’s bars and anyway, many of them held a grudge.

So he didn’t have too much in the way of basis for comparison, but he thought this one bar was warm and friendly, frequented by easy regulars and not crowed at all considering it had alcohol and was in lower Manhattan. Probably it didn’t do very well.

He hadn’t been here before, and Stiles (the only reason Stiles didn’t get carded, Derek suspected, was because he was a regular) told him he’d better have learnt by heart the way here, buddy, because Stiles was going to get sloshed and crash on Isaac’s couch, and Derek was going to have to take himself home. It turned out Isaac and Stiles knew each other from a brief stint when they both thought bi men should know fashion, dammit, and enrolled in some Project Runway takeoff class.

“She’s the captain of your heart, the fire in your loins,” Isaac hopped down on the stool next to Stiles, looking like he got groped within an inch of his hipster scarf and skinny jeans on the way there. “Blah blah blah I got the text, and I want it known that I cannot be summoned by a text.”

“Stop looking judgmental,” Stiles was slumped over the bar and surveying his glass with more interest than he would have five shots ago, “This isn’t about her anyway.”

“You have to admit it always comes back to Lydia Martin and her strawberry blond hair,” Isaac nodded at Derek, “Sorry you have to see this.”

“I don’t mind,” Derek said too defensively, “I could drink to unattainable crushes.”

He didn’t mean Stiles. Stiles was a non-issue. Stiles wasn’t sitting in front of Derek in AP US History and brisling every time the teacher talked about US involvement in the Vietnam War and ranting about perspectives and not having a clue that Derek existed.

Stiles snorted. Isaac more politely eyed him, critical.

I could drink to tragic, unattainable crushes, but you,” Isaac said carefully.

“Given the circumstances,” Stiles waved an accusing finger in the general direction of Derek’s hair, “meaning your assets, meaning your unfair face and unfair abs and unfair ass, it’s unlikely.”

As if to demonstrate, the bartender slid over a beer, flicking his head to a young girl with too many tattoos and too much skin because Derek had three younger sisters and was fast becoming his own father, goddammit.

“You two don’t look like you couldn’t get anyone you wanted either,” Derek said and promptly blushed to the tips of his ears. He blamed the half can of Budweiser.

“That’s a compliment,’ Stiles crowed, dopily pleased, “even though I’m too intoxicated to know if it’s a backhanded one.”

“So what happened,” Isaac asked but then Stiles conked out onto the bar, snoring loudly.

Isaac wrinkled his nose, “There was definitely gum there.”

“Do you think he’s still hung up on her,” Derek asked over Stiles’ prone form and hoping he did a passable impression of ‘just trying to fill the silence’.

“Oh yeah,” Isaac said obliviously, “and now that she’s single again and he’s less of the gigantic dork he used to be I think he has a real chance.”

The last bit was voiced dutifully enthusiastic like he didn’t really believe the words coming out of his mouth.

“What about you,” Derek said, awkward.

Isaac’s eyebrows shot up, “It’s not like it’s any secret. Everybody knows.”

If he didn’t know, Derek thought bitterly, then obviously everybody couldn’t have. He had heaps upon heaps of experience being excluded from this everybody though, and he had known Isaac for a couple of years now, in and out of the morgue and it was probably his own fault as much as. It wasn’t like he wanted to know. He had always made a point of filtering out gossip.

“It’s Scott,” Isaac said quickly, “who has been happily married for three years and a half.”

Some things made so much more sense now.

“Stiles he,” Isaac laughed, talking mostly to himself, “Did you know what he said to me the day he befriended Scott? I was acting a bit like a jerk and then and he told me that he wasn’t my rival, Allison was, and we went right back to being buddies.”

“He’s smart, and so perceptive when it suits him,” Derek sighed, stating the obvious.

Isaac nodded absently, “He told me that as far as Scott was concerned I had him in my corner, that he hoped Scott divorced Allison and took up with me.”

“That’s not very nice, actually.”

“Told him as much,” Isaac had a reluctant, fond smile on his lips, “he said that he would probably adore this Allison girl if he met her, but to him then she was just a name without a face but he had to deal with me in his daily life and met me first besides, so I had dibs.”

Derek remembered Stiles’ wrath, dogged and all consuming protectiveness, “I think being on his good side has considerable benefits.”

Isaac downed the rest of his drink and eyed the other two he’d just got sent warily, standing up, “You know a lot about him for someone who’d been partnered with him for less than a week.”

“He’s obvious about them, and I only ever saw his workaholic crazy sides, I think.”

“Eh,” Isaac prodded Stiles’ biceps experimentally, “if you know that you know the reason for half of the things that he does and the other half is just what’s going on in that demented big brain of his.”

Stiles gave up a gurgling noise.

Isaac grimaced, “Sorry, catch up later,” and draped one of Stiles’ arms around his shoulders, holding him up admirably inasmuch as one could with minimum input from Stiles the handsy octopus. Derek wondered if years down the road it would be Derek mopping Stiles up from bars, fresh from heartbreaks.

He forcefully shut down that train of thought.

“How do you deal with it,” Derek said quickly, “working with Scott?”

“I haven’t been dating for five years,” Isaac said brutally. “I don’t.”

Stiles chose that moment to regain consciousness.

“Personally,” Stiles spit out the pompom of Isaac’s scarf to Isaac’s disgusted groan, “I prefer to just ignore a problem until it eventually goes away.”

-20

“I propose that we institute paternity as well as hangover leave.”

“I propose painkillers,” Derek looked up. Stiles had a thick ski cap over his head, which tragically didn’t hide the massive bags under his eyes.

“Don’t ask, I got to first base with the barrels of five service weapons today,” he sat woodenly into his chair.

It was seven past nine in the morning, and the office was half staffed. Harris was arguing with Finstock by the whiteboard because both dreamed of being full tenured professors together but chalk was too messy and the blackboard was always dusty because neither actually knew to wipe it with a wet rag. The timeline for the gang shooting occupied the top left of the board, spawning related nearby beatings in careful documentation even though they all knew that the case wouldn’t go anywhere but really, that was why Deaton pawned it off to Harris.

The rest of the room was either drooling onto their reports or playing Solitaire and Derek was not that discreetly listening to Stuff You Should Know.

All in all, a blessedly slow morning.

“Hng,” Stiles arranged the papers on his desk into a pillow, said, “So I called Lydia.”

Derek and everybody else in Homicide wanted Lydia Martin on their case, and Lydia Martin wanted Derek on her witness stand. It worked out for him most of the time.

 “She agreed?” Derek said carefully.

“It’s all good. But I can’t do this now, we’ll do it this afternoon.”

Derek yanked off Stiles’ ski mask, “Ethan probably told him. He could be on the run right now.”

“Ow,” yelped Stiles.

“Do you want me to arrest him alone,” Derek narrowed his eyes.

“No! I kind of am obligated to be there.”

“Stiles,” Derek said, alarmed, “Do you want him to be able to run?”

“Uh,” Stiles said, “maybe. I don’t know.”

“Jesus, do you want to test him? See if he runs?”

“No!” Stiles yelled hotly.

“Then what is it,” Derek slid his chair back and stood up.

The reason why Lydia snapped up Derek’s cases wasn’t simple like she claimed, that all the jurors saw him and said I want him to show up at my party and strip to Taylor Swift watch my streets, but because Derek only put together winning cases, beyond-shred-of-doubt cases, perfect procedure slam dunk cases, all of which working out to a slightly below average solve rate. But Derek didn’t like convictions based on circumstantial evidence because those notoriously took up all DA resources and were sometimes the ugliest showcases of racial and gender prejudice, and then overturns sent the entire precinct into mad scrambles for five years old evidence. So Deaton must have smoked something the day he decided to assign Derek someone who jumped from intuition to intuition and who liked to play fast-and-loose zero-sum games with the system.

Derek would remember this moment later, because it was when he realized he should have been terrified, not variations of intrigued and charmed that he had on his hand the son of a Chief of Department, who would happily forgo most moral compunctions when they threatened him and his, gallivanting around to help the ordinary folks while he was at it, a cop whose dubious respect for the law didn’t even enjoy the benefit of the doubt because the intentions behind them were selfish and self justified and actionable.

Stiles, Derek reflected, was a mafia boss. He was Michael Corleone only the others didn’t realize they were in his web and by God, Derek was becoming his button man and already making his bones.

“Yes, maybe,” Stiles looked torn and angry and young again, and it was a trap, Derek knew now. “I want him to run.”

“The other guy said something about you breaking Danny’s heart. Did you flirt with him to get to that lawyer?”

Stiles looked surprised at the change of topic, and then gutted, “I didn’t know it was serious,” he wailed, “which is a shitty excuse, but I didn’t. I had no idea, since Danny was clearly joking about it from the beginning, clearly. I asked him about it, and then he said that of course it was all a big joke, how could anyone possibly be interested in me and then he kissed me.”

Derek winced, “Does that have anything to do with this?”

“Actually no,” Stiles mumbled sadly, it didn’t make Derek feel better, “He’s just a really good friend.”

-19

They met with Lydia first.

“Deaton was sly, pairing you two up together,” she commented.

“I never have any idea what you’re talking about, Martin,” Derek dug a pair of handcuffs out of his glove compartment.

Stiles, who did, colored, “That’s right Martin, you never make much sense.”

This seemed to be the worst kind of insult to a lawyer.

“I wasn’t the one who started writing about the Iraq war and ended up writing about male pregnancy back in fifth grade,” she drummed her gingers testily.

And maybe Isaac couldn’t see it, but Derek could, could sketch out in his mind even, too well, an apartment on First Avenue and in it a perfect family of four with two power parents and the most beautiful reverse girl-next-door story ever, because Lydia and Stiles were comfortable with each other, knew too much about each other, and were identical copies but for the last pair of sex chromosome, ruthless proprietors masquerading as public servants.

There was also the fact that Stiles was happier than Derek had ever seen him in the scant amount of time he knew him, like for the first time he days Stiles forgot that he had decided to drill a hole into the rock between which and a hard place he was caught.

Derek thought it was for the best if Lydia and Stiles did end up in carnal relation after rigorous compare and contrast and coming to the inevitable conclusion, for the best, really, because all through the week he had been a combination of off rockers insane and suicide hotline depressed; now Stiles was smiling, pillowing on Lydia’s offered briefcase and exuding dopy contentment. His mouth was always mobile, eyes doe-wide or creased in bubbling laughter, but there’s a relaxed set to his jaws that Derek did not believe possible, and his eyes were near shuttered shut, watching the world in idle like he was posing a for a golden anniversary photograph.

Derek had to look away.

There was no heat to the discussion. Lydia went over the plea bargain and Stiles grunted amendments while Derek made a few token protests over gratuitous sweeping under the rug and some not-so-token ones over worst scenario contingency. Like how Lydia needed to get someone who didn’t sleep over at the murder two defendant’s house throughout high school. For some reasons he suspected that they counted on him to.

“We’re technically stalled on the shooter’s ID,” Stiles mumbled, “but I’m just throwing all the red-herrings over to postpone Scott’s calling a positive one, bless his heart. In theory we’ll offer Danny man two, five to ten, in exchange for the ID.”

 “We aren’t even sure that he’s not going to be acquitted in trial,” Lydia said. “He’s a cop, it’s not a crime of passion, and the extra shooter’ll make it difficult for some jurors to make the connection. With the right jury,”

“I’m not prepared for that risk,” said Stiles.

“It’s his decision to make,” Derek reminded him.

“Well,” Stiles said, devastatingly honest, “I don’t want it to be.”

Derek needed to get away from these people, these presumptuous people who have already taken the liberty to implicate Derek and count him among their ranks and it wasn’t a bit flattering, didn’t make him a bit pleased, not at all.

Derek, who knew the reality of an overprotective, assuming family.

Derek, who’s already got an overprotective, assuming family.

“It’s unorthodox,” Lydia snatched back her briefcase, Stiles yelped, “but Peter’s going to okay the plea bargain if I ask nicely.”

“My uncle?” Derek fell out of his seat.

-18

It went according to plan, but no one was particularly happy about that.

The criminals New York didn’t have a habit of accommodating law enforcement officers’ mental breakdowns anyway, so they plowed through the rest of Stiles’ first month—some variations on daddy killing mommy for her six figure life insurance, a string of tourists shot at point blank that made the news anchors busy lambasting public safety for a week and very little vomiting considering, but somehow Harris snagged the senator assassination.

 “I don’t think Deaton really wanted to find the killer,” Stiles said, but he’d already spouted a dozen of conspiracy theories in the last few days, driven by envy and sheer boredom. “Think about it, the senator’s a Republican.”

“You don’t like Harris because he beat you last week in hand-to-hand,” Derek guessed.

“I don’t like Harris because he gets crazy about cases like this but he refused to do his fucking job properly last week because the victim was a sex worker,” Stiles said darkly, “and by your logic I ought to hate you the worst in this place.”

“I bet on you,” Derek recounted sadly.

Stiles looked flattered.

“Can I join,” the Chief of Department said plaintively.

Beside operating as Stiles Stilinski’s fucking moral compass, the Chief of Department’s persistent hovering was another thing Derek didn’t sign up for. It started with “Wasn’t that guy you arrested the really nice one you used to bring home who I hoped you’d marry,” and “Dad, no,” and now the Chief of Department checked in on them twice a day making appalled faces at their reports.

“If I didn’t know any better,” Stiles said viciously, whirling back on his explanation about why and how he felt the need to requisition an ice cream truck for surveillance purposes, “I would say you were vicariously living—“

Derek found he could tune it out, Stiles’ and his father’s running commentary, could tune out Stiles most of the time, in fact, and he’d thought his libido had been reconsidering its latest fixation until Stiles took a say off to attend a banquet with his father and five separate people described his facial expression as ‘bereft.’

Stiles wasn’t even that pretty.

(Derek thought privately that Stiles’ eyes, however, were something of a minor miracle, and sometimes he had the strangest urges to brush Stiles’ eyelashes to see if they were real, and trace his thumb over the curve of his cheekbones while he was at it because he’s thought them unremarkable once upon a time in Anatolia, but the longer he looked at them—)

That was exactly one of the things that brought Derek to Deaton’s office, lingering outside the door like he was taking Jennifer Blake to the prom all over again, and wasn’t that a mental image, Deaton with a plunging neckline in bold colors, he didn’t need. But then he’d remember something ridiculously idiosyncratic, like Stiles swimming in his father’s sweater, crazy-eyed and red-nosed the morning after Mahealani’s sentencing, like Stiles landing ungracefully on his ass when Harris got a particularly solid left hook in, like Stiles squirming to find the most comfortable position between the floor under his desk and the comforter he’d brought. Like Stiles grinning hesitantly at Derek when they watched Rushmore, on Derek’s laptop this time because it was his third favorite movie, the the last time we did this you went kind of insane unspoken and hanging between them until Derek grinned back.

And then he’s go in and hand Deaton his reports as if he’d been planning to do that all along and not like he wanted to request a different partner because this one was going to either kill him or break his heart.

-17

If Derek was honest with himself, and he tried not to be most of the time especially when feelings were concerned and when it was actually important because he was the prime example of a grown adult man what with the living with his parents, ahem, he would posit that he was dating Kate trying to get over Stiles.

Stiles, who was his partner and who was making leaps and bounds in his twenty years plan with Lydia.

Lydia and Stiles were the center of gossip now, which fact Derek only knew because Stiles kept repeating it to him intermittently throughout the day when they were in the middle of completely unrelated errands like a quick grocery run when the day wasn’t terribly busy and the precinct’s fridge looked emptier than usual and there’d be space if they could quietly liberate some beer that’d been there forever. Lydia and Stiles went everywhere together too, which was alarming as Derek was Stiles’ partner, not her, but they’d managed it between the improbable arrests Stiles kept making and the improbable cases Lydia kept winning.

Derek’d watch them from under his eyelashes, a flash of something like jealousy and a wash of unmistakable relief at the way Stiles fluttered over her like he couldn’t believe his luck, the way she did a double take at him like looking for the first time and seeing the truth. Good for them, until they were casually inviting Derek to barbecue with a select group of bad news and Derek was supposed to put up with them announcing they were going steady or something and that was just asking for it.

“C’mon,” Stiles wheedled, “my father’ll be there. You know him. And Scott and Isaac will be there, you know them! In fact it would be a congregation of people you know and care about you.”

“My family,” Derek began. He usually played the family card to get out of most work things unless his direct superior threatened him with suspension.

“I met your family,” Stiles said, manipulatively earnest and unspeakably clichéd, “Now I want you to meet mine.”

Derek tried to tell himself that he wasn’t trying to get Stiles’ family permission to date him. He also tried to tell himself with less success that it won’t be any kind of formal initiation into Stiles’ weird mafia family.

It was understood, and Derek disavowed all knowledge of how he understood this, that he wouldn’t bring a date, but it wouldn’t hurt to have one to talk about once the topic of conversation turned lewd as it inevitably would once alcohol entered the equation and Derek would feel sorry for himself and try to stab Stiles to make it go away or something.

The dinner was on Saturday. By Wednesday Derek was panicked and desperate and cursing whatever he did in his past life that got him hit on every day for the past fifteen years he’d been sexually active and inconveniently stopped working when he needed it to the most.

Then Derek’d deliberately shed his work clothes and donned a leather jacket he hadn’t worn since that phase in college and stalked into a bar, attempting to telegraph single and looking for a relationship but please don’t put something in my drinks. He might be turning on his charms solely on the female population too, the confident, sexy bombshells and Kate couldn’t have been more the anti-Stiles if she read his mind and tried.

Kate made him work for it, he liked that. She was in control of all her facial muscles instead of just thinking that she was and ending up making unattractive, crunched faces at Derek. He made her promise that she wouldn’t try to incept him in her pseudo-family and spent the next thirty minutes trying to convince her that he wasn’t actually looking for a rebound hookup while she was trying to tell him that it was okay. He didn’t want it to be.

He drove the point home by extracting her cell number and then leaving first. She caught up to him a block from the bar, not breathing heavily at all and more amused than should be legal, trailing her hand from Derek’s shoulder to his neck to his cheek, saying “okay,” and Derek thought that even though she was wrong about the rebound hookup, but maybe he was still using her and then resolved to think about it in Stiles’ logic, that he didn’t know her then, that he didn’t really give a shit.

So he said, “If it was a breakup I’d have been twice as drunk,” and that was good enough.

-16

Derek showed up ten minutes early and later and everybody else, in a tiny backyard that nevertheless was accommodating eight people and a baby who Derek privately counted among another species. He spotted Stiles first, in a hideous hoodie and beaming at his father.  Lydia was lounging close by, in deep conversation with another girl, a brunette he’d seen around the precinct sometimes and suspected to be McCall’s wife. There was Isaac, being too obvious now that Derek was looking for it, practically purring in the full attention of McCall and touching him too much on the arm.

He went over to Stiles to drop off the Johnnie Walker bottle and got sucked into an argument over autonomy: the Chief of Department did not appreciate Stiles’ micromanaging his diet, Stiles tried to ban his father from 27th precinct and Derek snorted ‘hypocrite’ a few times under his breath. And they kept talking until everybody arranged themselves around the picnic table because Derek was weak and unable to tear his eyes away from Stiles’ mouth, so he was kind of completely stumped and kind of wanting to jump out of his skin when Stiles turned to the table and said expectantly, “This is Derek,” and there was a small round of applause.

“You get used to it,” Stiles told him.

Lydia smirked, “You are not speaking from experience, are you?”

“You surprise me every day,” Stiles said dutifully, nodding his head and waving his arms for emphasis.

Derek noted, not for the first time, the bursts of motion. Stiles would be demonstrating as much motor control as the next person one second and it would have taken temporary leave of absence the next. It was probably a remnant from trying to get attention when he was young, having to explain integrals to dumber classmates.

“This is Scott and Allison,” Isaac said, it earned another round of applause and Scott did his Aw shucks thing and both Derek and Stiles rolled their eyes but they were the only ones who knew him from work so that didn’t mean anything.

“Hi,” Allison wiggled her fingers.

“Is that your kid,” Lydia asked, which prompted a lot of oohing and aahing and the Chief of Department directing meaningful looks at Stiles. Derek was just thanking Heavens that Nikita was not here and saying loudly that the kid must be brain damaged or developing too slow for his age because she saw a documentary of Discovery like this once.

Derek didn’t look at Isaac at first, but curiosity won out and he registered with surprise that Isaac adored the two-year-old, which made him flash back to Professor Snape from Harry Potter and all the ink spilled over how brave the man was and he thought that Isaac must be still a bigger person than that, then, even if he was still batting his eyelashes away at Scott and cutting Allison out of the conversation by too many work inside jokes.

“He’d nursed that crush for years when I met him” Stiles whispered close to his ears, “he’s used to it by now.”

Derek remembered something from his one psychology course, “You get used to almost anything but pain. That’s why patients get addicted to heroin and vicodin.”

“He’s got the good drugs then,” Stiles said.

It turned out that all the meat was pre-barbecued because everyone especially the Chief of Department ate like they’d been restrained to a salad diet for a month, which was probably the case for the Chief of Department, and they would require one running barbecue for each person, at the least. All of them talked with food in their mouths because most had to set straight the outrageous lies Stiles spouted about them right away or Stiles would just go on constructing an elaborate fantasy where he had to comfort Derek who fainted at half of their crime scenes.

After Stiles accused Lydia of using vocabulary at least ten out of twelve jurors wouldn’t know, she slipped in a snide about Stiles’ inability to answer simple yes or no’s on the stand thus necessitating him being paired up with someone who could. It was an oblique compliment to Derek but at Stiles’ expense, and he was thankful to be stammering for only one second before Stiles heaped insult upon insult on the treacherous cross examining attorney who acted as if Christmas had come early once they saw his name on the witness list.

No one talked about Danny Mahealani. No one pried about Derek’s love life either.

They talked plenty about Derek’s family though. The Chief of Department knew Deaton who knew Derek’s mom and Stiles described what remembered about Derek’s house from just one visit in surprising detail—Derek hadn’t even realized Stiles spotted those photos of him from his high school physics club, the equation for antimatter in the background on the chalkboard,  because Einstein’s original  wasn’t obscure enough. The whole thing felt like they were reviewing his friendship application, an informal interview process, particularly because they gave the same treatment to Scott who obliviously flirted back to everyone’s innuendos thereby reducing his wife to incoherent laughter.

Everyone Derek snapped at to shut up failed to take offense—it was nice. And scary, which was a combination he would always associate with Stiles.

 -15

The thing was, ever since Derek made detective—youngest in his year, take that Cecelia Marshal—he’d been stuck in an early and persistent mid-life crisis. Unless he wanted Deaton’s job or suddenly discovered a passion for the arts and decided to moonlight as a model, next stop was shared domesticity when he hadn’t even had a relationship last for more than six months, and that was way back in high school with Jennifer Blake. He and Jennifer tried everything they dared to with their bodies, hey, they were hot, but after a while they realized they only ever had a mild dislike of Great Expectations in common. The deal breaker was an argument over Jane Eyre because even Derek didn’t live that much in his own head.

So Derek wasn’t too keen to get on the train for the next station yet.

He remembered Professor Reed telling him, once, after he’d let it slip about his zero fucking ounce of luck in romance anything, about how marriage was a something something social construct and a religious institution and anyway it was a option, a perfectly valid one, if he didn’t plan on ever shackling his legs and there was a tangent on how the American government disproportionately favored married couples but honestly, at that point Derek had already zoned her out. Because he wanted it, all the messy fuzzy creepy till-death-so-us-part complications that were part and parcel of it.

(The movie recipe for his life on the hamster wheel was apparently a spoon of Lethal Weapon, deep fried in all of Meg Ryan’s back catalog with a dash of Home Alone because family, and Christmas, and crime fighting.)

But Derek noticed that he was still nowhere near as witty as Tom Hanks or as independent as Julia Roberts and that obviously meant he wasn’t ready for a serious meet cute in a quaint bookshop around the corner.

(Even if he didn’t have every line of You’ve Got Mail committed to memory, a treacherous voice said, he would still look at his life, handed to him on a platinum platter, and then at Lydia Martin for a recent fucking example, who was an ADA and five years his junior, and thought that he wasn’t good enough.

He should have taken another art history or classic lit course or moved out of his parents’ at least, Jesus Christ. And Stiles, he thought insanely, was someone interesting with brains and good looks and already with a makeshift family of his own, one with welcoming arms and too much on offer and how could Derek ever measure up to that.)

Kate wasn’t a distraction, but he never saw her as more either, he wasn’t prepared for more, didn’t deserve more, so maybe she was.

When Laura commented, “You must be serious with this girl,” he looked at her like she was batshit.

On the tip of his tongue was Kate wasn’t a girl, she was the farthest thing from a girl, did you realize, but his higher functions caught up and they said wait, Laura was talking nonsense in the middle of the day in one of his rare afternoons off.

She frowned, “You mean you really spent all of those nights at work? And the other nights of the week you weren’t home you were what, having dinner at your friend’s? You’ve never socialized with your coworkers that aggressively before. I thought you just didn’t want us to nose in on your life.”

“I have like three times the volume of paperwork and half of the amount of time I usually have to get them done,” he said darkly, “since my partner likes putting together bare bones cases that he can’t testify in court for.”

Stiles was too intimately aware of what just enough evidence and a good prosecutor could win them in court, and he had a graph to show for it. “At one point,” he had said, “trying to strengthen the case instead of working on the new one produces diminishing return.”

“We’re in New York,” Derek had stared the chart, “did you control for the liberals?” he hazarded.

“Lydia did,” Stiles palmed the color print out proudly, “we controlled for geography, for the violence of the crime, for the gender and race and likeability of the defendant, et cetera.” He pointed to somewhere way past the equilibrium intersection, “here’s where you were before,” he said helpfully.

“Are you going to continue to be this insufferable,” Derek asked, knowing that Stiles would take it as a compliment.

“But you seem more chipper lately,” Laura said, confused and jolting Derek back to reality.

“How,”

“You smile more,” Mom walked by carrying a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies while Dad was probably still slaving away in the kitchens and she was nodding vigorously to what Laura said. Derek really needed to move out.

Laura, emboldened, said, “You smile at random things and then you snap out of it and glared at them like they had personally betrayed you.”

Derek said, “I’ve made some friends,” because even if it sounded like kindergarten it was still true and still made Laura’s too curious expression soften into something suspiciously like sisterly concern. Yesh.

Only later, much later when Derek was tossing and turning in his bed and fluffing out his pillow to avoid a crick in his neck the next day did he wonder, purely out of an attack of his conscience, if he could be serious with Kate and if she wanted that, and what he would do if she did. But if Kate wanted to change the status quo she would have said because she was that kind of girl.

That settled that. Only he felt even guiltier that Kate wasn’t on his mind at all so he threw the blanket off and got up and went to raid the fridge for a bowl of ice cream.

4

Finstock gives the signal. They file into the warehouse.

Derek flanks Stiles. He’s never been a fan of the gearing up, which used to be fun times at the academy, now it just takes up a lot of time and makes them sweat until they are out of the hideous vests, sticky frozen armpits waiting on the other side.

Derek also hates it because Stiles got himself shot in one of these when Derek was right next to him. The bullet went through his arm and Stiles was a shitty human being so he stayed in the hospital for barely half of recommended leave and when he came back to work, ordered Derek around for coffee and for filing and for the millions of miscellaneous chores until Derek stopped worrying.

Derek also got into the habit of opening doors for him, but they were always together and one of them had to anyway so it was okay. Stiles begged to differ at first, glaring at Derek whenever he held open the door but caved in, eventually, because Derek sulked if Stiles ever shouldered through the other side.

He is half a step behind Stiles now, poised to grab him back by his elbow, only they are supposed to return fire, not lick after the wounded if something happens. He has mellowed out some about protocol since Stiles came into this life though.

It doesn’t matter because the suspect isn’t home, which sends Finstock and Harris back to bloodhound duty and the rest of them back to their low profile cases. The apartment is messy, grimy and smelling faintly of pot, and Carpenter has already yanked open the curtains for a bit of natural light and fresh air to ward off the fungi growing in the room. Stiles lists the things he could have done in two hours on a fine Wednesday morning, translate: what a waste of time, and Derek lets him carry his monologue but takes note of people who seem to be fantasizing about killing his partner. Most of the grumbly resentment should be directed at Finstock and Harris who have had them storming into more perfectly harmless premises than they can count, but Stiles is the one who could never keep his trap shut and his complains are top notch and so very annoying if you haven’t built up your resistance by being with him ten hours a day five days a week.

Derek fetches his jacket, “C’mon, we talk to the victim’s coworkers today,” and Stiles stops fussing with the buttons on his cuffs, thank God, because Derek finds himself transfixed by Stiles’ fingers and Stiles’ wrist three times a day each and he has no defenses against seeing the both of them together.

-14

Deaton said, “You two have the best track record with the press,” meaning they were young and handsome and not Jewish or Hispanic so they get the pro-life case.

It had started as a run-of-the-mill petition for the NYPD to do something about a woman’s planning to pull her husband’s life support and it spiraled into them having to field approximately fifty thousand phone calls a day from religious nuts and one from one of Deaton’s bosses. The life support was terminated two days early and basically welcomed the grieving family into a shitstorm of allegations of murder.

“None of these people have legal right to press charges,” Derek said, disbelieving.

“God is in everybody’s business,” Stiles explained condescendingly.

“The official concern,” Deaton spoke over both of them, “is that Mr. Geis might have woken and that is why his wife had disconnected the tubes.”

“Wow,” Derek said, because wow.

“Give this to someone else,” Stiles said, already halfway to the door.

“It could be foul play, we don’t know,” Deaton said wearily, “she could have been after life insurance.”

“So she waited and paid hospital bills for two years?” Stiles laughed.

Derek liked origami as a kid. He still remembered how to fold a rose now, tearing careful, perfect squares out of candy wrapper and smoothing creases with his nails when he was mulling over a case or the day’s crossword. He loved the first time he curled the petals of the rose into something that looked like the one in the instructions, loved how he had no idea what he was doing, only that he was going toward something, and when the scrap piece of paper in his hands took shape he realized it was the only possible conclusion, and folding the rose a second time was like retreading the steps of his favorite mystery.

The case was the last clue and Derek barely glimpsed at the picture before it slid into place, and wondered how he didn’t see where all the pieces before it were leading toward.

“This is an order,” Deaton ignored him, “I’m reminding you that I am giving you two an order, not soliciting for your suggestions.”

So they spent two weeks on the case. Derek learned, later, that Stiles’ dad was no Chief of Department when his wife rode the elevator to the roof of their apartment building, took off her shoes at the ledge and leapt off. It was a five-story fall and parts of her skull caved in, but she lived and continued to live like a vegetable until her family couldn’t afford the hospital bill plus a growing, hyperactive kid’s three square meals and Adderall prescription on a detective investigator’s monthly income anymore. It would be hard for the kid not to blame himself.

“Stiles never stopped coming to school even though all of us expected he would,” Lydia said softly, over the phone. There was furious rustling and typing in the background, so she still hadn’t left the office. “He and his father are still so careful around each other. Stiles, he never wants to burden his father and he’s anal protective of everything he has.”

“And he’s so greedy about it,” Derek squeezed his phone. The plastic casing squeaked.

“He hates being treated like a fragile porcelain doll,” Lydia told him, before hanging up.

Later still, Derek connected the estimated time of death at four fifteen to school’s hours plus extracurricular, plus a subway ride away from the hospital, plus a ten-year-old’s fraying nerves. Derek remembered child eyes that were too keen and too bright and too defiant, the hollow laugh as a picket sign was shoved into her soft baby cheek. Stiles’ lips thinned into a rigid line when Derek showed up at his door at ten at night on a Saturday, and he didn’t open his mouth until they swept into Mrs. Geis’ home and talked little Christine Geis into following them to the station.

“He was gone,” Stiles whispered to her, conspiratorial, “he was gone, so why was everybody concerned about him instead of your mom. Why were they so unkind? You just wanted the nastiness to be over, didn’t you?”

Derek was quietly asking Mrs. Geis to grab her daughter’s coat.

It was the kind of awful that they couldn’t escape, that bled energy out of them every moment they spent with it, but they didn’t trust anyone else to hold Christine the way she ought to be held or interrogate her the way ten-year-olds ought to be interrogated, without coercion, without yielding to choked off sobs, with empathy, not mercy.

Lydia and Stiles broke up not long after that.

Gossip didn’t spike and no one ran to the bathroom crying because while Stiles was near incapable of being discreet, Lydia wasn’t, and Derek didn’t notice anything wrong until Saturday barbecue when Lydia slid in next to Allison and Stiles slapped Derek’s shoulder and shoved Isaac over to squeeze in between them.

Derek kept staring at Stiles and Stiles huffed, from the corner of his mouth, “Don’t worry about it.”

In Stiles-speak, that meant Stiles had already secured a futon for crashing on at Scott’s and the Chief of Department had been not invited lest he thought that Stiles’ new found alcoholism was genetically inherited.

 Derek didn’t say, Hey, let me, I’m your partner, I have your back, and I like you too much to leave you in the hands of Scott, who’s emotionally fifteen, but Derek was emotionally three and living with his parents besides, so he watched Stiles and Allison join forces to nag Scott about designated driver’s responsible drinking and about helping with the dishes before they stumble drunkenly into Allison’s Toyota. Derek caught Stiles’ eyes, called, “See you on Monday,” inane, and was rewarded with a rainbow wave.

Derek stalked Lydia when she went to the bathroom.

“I didn’t break up with him, he broke up with me,” she said without preamble, “and get out because I have mace that I’m just itching to use and because I went through a small Bruce Lee phase in middle school.” She didn’t even look up from reapplying the lipstick that matched Stiles’ shirt.

He slinked back out and sat on the arm of the sofa. Which was when he remembered that he had no idea who owned the house, the one where they congregate every Saturday, when Stiles apparently did not. All the frames on the wall had Stiles at various ages in them, but most were recent, with Lydia or Isaac or Scott or Allison, some with Mahealani, and some, Derek realized, had Derek glaring into the camera and playing horsie with Stiles. Only Stiles just said Cheese and jumped onto Derek’s back, and Derek had to hoist him up or he would have landed on his ass, had to, it wasn’t like Derek enjoyed a legitimate excuse to feel up Stiles’ thighs or worried about disfiguring such a perfect ass or anything.

“He said we weren’t good for each other,” Lydia shrugged when she emerged from the bathroom, “I agreed. I also reminded him we were barely dating to begin with.”

“He needs you,” Derek tried not to sound accusatory, failed, “he might not have been in his right mind. He had been pining away most of his teenage years and adult life for you.”

Lydia arched her eyebrow, “And you feel qualified to talk about my relationship because—“

Because Stiles was supposed to be happy, Derek wanted to say, because you were supposed to comfort him.

Because he wasn’t supposed to be available.

“Because we both care about him,” Derek said instead, “because we’ve spent some ten Saturdays together with the same group of people and I’m no expert on sociology but I think that means something.”

Lydia glared, and if looks could kill, Derek thought.

“I don’t make him a better person,” she said, disdainful, but Derek learned that it often hid hurt, “neither does he, with me. We had a fight, and we didn’t know how to handle the worst of each other because he always tried to avoid fighting. And I thought I wanted someone who understood me but he has been stalking me for ten years and knew almost everything there was about me. It got annoying after a while.

“He was the best possible option, but I wasn’t able to fall in love with him before he fell out of love with me.”

“Go,” Lydia jerked her head in the direction the Toyota left, “go.”

And Derek could pretend he didn’t get it, but he went on autopilot and went for the excuse he had in preparation for this eventuality.

“I’ve got a date tonight,” he said. He didn’t. The message, however, was that Derek was seeing someone.

He was and he wasn’t, because he didn’t call it a relationship—a glorified booty call maybe—but Kate might. And it could be, he thought petulantly, who knows.

“How long,” Lydia said, surprised.

“’Bout a month. I told Stiles.”

“He didn’t tell me,” she said, smiling a little, “he never talked much about you.”

He talked about you all the time though, Derek almost said, did you want to make that distinction. Derek hated her that moment, a little like how he hated Laura when she said something selfish and deliberately hurtful and he couldn’t just brush it off because she also made him laugh and made him happy and made him worry for her and worried for him.

“You were something he wanted to keep for himself,” she continued, seeing the look on his face, “the one thing he couldn’t share with me,” and she walked out of the house, steady on her four-inch heels like she didn’t just knock all the breaths out of him.

-13

Stiles, who hadn’t gotten the memo that Derek was probably getting laid, called him at two eighteen in the morning. Derek had been at the receiving end of drunk dials from seemingly virtually everyone who had his number, but he’d never got the hang of drunk dialing etiquette. Some people wanted him to remember they called, some threatened him with Chinese water torture if he told.

“Heeeeyyy girl,” Stiles drawled, and Derek thought it said something about their relationship that he didn’t question if Stiles got the right number.

“Stiles,” he answered, gruff and hushed because his room was in the enviable position of buffer between his parents’, who were doing unspeakable, traumatizing things and Nikita’s, who had soccer practice in the morning.

“Derek,” Stiles said. There was a pout in it.

“Stiles,” Derek repeated.

“Derek!” Stiles was apparently approximately five when drunk.

Derek hung up on him.

“I really was in love with her,” Stiles said hurriedly, barely thirty seconds later when Derek immediately called back out of misplaced guilt. “It wasn’t like, like I got tired of her once I’d gotten what I wanted.”

Derek was too sleep addled to champion through his knee-jerk responses, “Stiles, why are you calling me? I’m not a girl and you’re not my gay best friend.”

“If you’re gay, I could be a girl and you could be my gay best friend though,” Stiles sounded disappointed.

“That wasn’t an invitation for an inane tangent. That was an invitation for you to get to the point,” Derek said, because in the context of Stiles he also lost all of his tact and Stiles didn’t want Sympathetic Derek who existed only on an astral plane, he called a Derek with a fine tuned bullshit detector who knew Stiles didn’t want to be handled with kid gloves.

“Back in school, we went to school together, and this may shock you but I didn’t have any friend,”

“Color me—“

“And our class was ninety-nine percent boneheads and me and Lydia, so I thought she was the only one who could get me. I was the only one who saw her for who she was, you know?”

Derek thought about Amelia and AP US History, and said, “Yes, actually,” but he didn’t grow up so single-mindedly fixated on one person like Stiles did. It occurred to him that Stiles had a total of one family member then and probably wasn’t invited to more parties than he could attend.

“I thought it would change in college, and it did, only worse, because now that class was only fifty percent boneheads Lydia was still the only one who got me and she didn’t even try very hard.”

“What happened,” Derek said. It seemed like a perfect love story.

“We were better as friends who knew too much about each other,” Stiles sniffed, “Closer as friends, even.”

“Do you still love her? Is that why you’re miserable?”

“You’re supposed to tell me,” Stiles slurred, “I’m pretty sure I got drunk to not feel anything and not be held accountable for my decisions.”

“Alcohol is a depressant,” Derek pinched the bridge of his nose, forgetting how every conversation with Stiles went into twenty million geeky segues before either realized they couldn’t tell what they were originally talking about anymore.

An hour later, Stiles was saying, “What some people don’t realize is that non-Americans think superhero tights are stupid.”

“Like how we think that some countries’ work clothes look like pajamas,” Derek was hunched over a FreeCell game on his iPad and drawing absentminded circles with his forefinger. He snatched it back in mortification, “And I think those tights are stupid too.”

“Sure, that’s why you dress like you’re auditioning for the next Wolverine movie. And yes, I had a Chinese classmate who wore cheongsam to school and there was a big stupid controversy over dress code.”

“They look like they’re wearing bold color underwear, and I’ve graduated to manga,” Derek said loftily.

“Oh God,” Stiles breathed, “which one.”

4.5

For Christmas, Derek buys Stiles all eight volumes of Pluto that no one in the ninety-nine percent could justify spending all that money on. A month in advance. He hides them under his bed next to the Titanic and the Love Story DVDs under Shame Purchases.

-12.5

At four forty-five in the morning, Derek was shoveling Planetes volumes into a school bag and saying, “I’m coming over.”

“Oh,” There was the sound of some pots and pans crashing to the floor on the line. Stiles was determined to make omelets when he heard Derek microwaving leftover Mexican food over the phone and woke Scott up to show him where the eggs were.

Derek was of the legitimate concern that he’d burn himself and half of Scott’s fridge content. Also, after the last case he’d also watched Neon Axis Evangalion and had some strong feelings about it that couldn’t be effectively communicated without certain hand gestures.

Also, he’d like to hug Stiles.

“Fifteen minutes,” Derek said, “talk me through it.”

“Are you taking the subway,” Stiles squeaked, “Dude, there are a lot of perverts taking the trains at this hour. I’d molest you at this hour.”

“I don’t mind,” Derek said, and the muffled his phone so he could bash his head against the wall, but Stiles totally missed Derek’s wanton lust by saying “No Derek, I’ve been groped on the train and it’s not flattering or nice. I mean, the first time had been a little flattering,”

“Shut up, Stiles,” He said, and feeling a bit generous, added, “Tell me which train to get on and then you can talk about Walter Murch and how a film is really a dream.”

Stiles is sometimes too easy to distract, “Wait, look, remember in Inception what Joseph Gordon Levitt said about the Mr. Charles gambit?”

“Do you mean that it rarely works when the filmmaker decides to draw the audience’s attention to the fact that they’re really watching a movie,” Derek smirked.

-12

Stiles looked worse than he sounded, and he sounded hoarse from all the laughing. He had a fleece blanket draped on his shoulders over a ratty NYPD t-shirt, half of his hair was flattened and the other half of it was doing an impression of the tango. His eyes were haunted, crazy, probably just sleep deprived and Derek kept staring, still on the line with Stiles, his phone still cradled in his hand.

Stiles’d broken up with Lydia, Derek reminded himself. And the world may have had a habit of bullying Stiles, but Stiles bullied it right back.

Still, Derek gave into the urge to wrap his arms around Stiles and hope that would be enough to keep the world at bay. Stiles was stiff at first, but after a few seconds of supreme awkwardness where Derek was crushing Stiles’ chest he had the presence of mind to hang up on the line and hug Derek back, his forearms peeking out from under Derek’s and folding them in, not tighter, but more secure.

Derek’s eyes closed involuntarily, his arms shifted to cover more of Stiles, squeezing to maybe wrangle him into a more manageable size, but it was fine too, he thought, that Stiles was solid and warm and real and actually fidgeting a little, protesting the inevitable bruising of his ribs.

“You resisted all my attempts at a hug, dude,” Stiles huffed, “If only I’d known all it took was for me to purposefully hurt myself—“

Derek growled warningly.

“This isn't one of those ‘we’ll never speak of this again’ things, is it?” Stiles babbled, uncertain in a way that made Derek anxious to pet his hair until he never doubted a hug again, “Because it’s really quite nice and I’d like to do it again sometimes if you don’t mind.”

“It’s one of those ‘you’re ruining the moment’ things,” Derek sighed, “You kept wanting to hug at the station anyway, where I’d never live it down.”

“You mean other people will try to hug you too,” Stiles said, his voice mischievous, “and then where would you be?”

“Right,” Derek croaked. The real reason was that Stiles hugged everybody, most of all Scott who was even more affectionately handsy and oh God, Derek was playing hard to get.

Stiles yanked him onto the couch, a big, fluffy, probably obscenely expensive thing that cost more than all of the McCalls’ other furniture, which included a beanbag chair with several suspect stains that Derek saw Scott lob home from in front of the station where it had been left for New York’s finest charity. The whole precinct had been vaguely insulted.

“Scott had so many people crash at his place that he felt guilty and bought something better for their necks,” Stiles explained.

“Sorry,” Derek said, extricating himself from Stiles and coming down from the high that kept him up talking to Stiles for two hours and brought him across the city and possibly sexually harass his partner. He pointed at the abstract tangle of their limbs and the open front door.

Stiles frowned, “Shut up. I give you permission to hug me whenever.”

Little kids made those kinds of promises, Derek thought, because they didn’t know what it meant yet. He felt his heart contract and knew that out the window went his last chance of walking away unscathed from the thing festering like a fungus in his chest.

“Okay,” Derek smiled, rearranging himself so that his legs were strewn across Stiles’ thighs.

“Now, mind you, I might expect something in return,” Stiles relaxed against the back of the couch, “like maybe a written notarized permission slip to let me do the same to you.”

“Only once a week,” Derek said carelessly. He had decided he might as well take advantage of Stiles’ complete obliviousness.

Stiles seemed too stunned to answer.

“I smell something burning,” Derek added smugly, and watched Stiles scramble to the kitchen, make a high-pitched noise of utter horror, and then double back for the smoke alarm first. It wasn’t even sexual, this sudden surge of affection, even though the frantic movements did show off Stiles’ ass underneath his khaki pants and Stiles’ muscles as he reached for the alarm and fumbled with the battery.

“You’re helping me get back in the game,” Stiles said when he’s scraping the burnt vegetables off of the pan, petulant, “You have a hot girlfriend right,” and Derek remembered, not that he’d ever forgotten, that Stiles was his best partner and possibly his best friend and not interested in him at all. He didn’t even know if Stiles liked guys, since Stiles didn’t pick up on Mahealani’s thing for him.

Yeah, Derek was never telling Stiles.

5

It doesn’t mean Derek isn't tempted to tell Stiles sometimes.

The one bust when Stiles got himself shot, Stiles slammed the fucker into the ground and cuffed him with blood still streaming from his arm and staining his uniform. Derek was jumping on another piece of tattooed white trash and careful not to mind his head, but unable to tear his eyes from Stiles the entire time. He sat by Stiles’ hospital bed, unblinking, for hours, when they’d finished patching up the gaping hole. He practically snarled away Scott and Isaac, who gave him a wide berth thinking Derek felt responsible for Stiles’ being shot, and he’s alternately smiled winsomely and threatened obstruction of justice at the nurse who told him visiting hours were over. She let him stay once she saw, despite his feeble objections, how abjectly miserable he was.

Derek had too much time for nonsensical thoughts on hand, was the thing. He’d prepared an excuse for when Stiles came round, I’d just arrived, didn’t get a chance to see you last night what with the paperwork, no, all of those people are lying through their teeth, no, I don’t smell like antiseptics, you smell like antiseptics, you’re just projecting, and he’s dreamed up dozens of things Stiles’d say in response to Derek’srequesting transfer, because Stiles’ definitely going to kill him some day. His reactions ranged from a shrug to cold hurt to full blown—wish-fulfillment—begging, and maybe Derek’s tell Stiles he wanted to try kissing Stiles, see what it was like. Maybe Derek would play it off as a joke to diffuse the tension, or maybe Stiles would say yes. Or maybe Stiles would laugh.

Stiles disappointed him by waking up when he was staring uncomprehendingly at Stiles’ medical charts and by saying, “God, you are a crazy, crazy person.”

All of Derek’s protests died a quiet death as he said “Pot, kettle,” by conditioned response.

Derek thinks about telling Stiles when one of them almost dies, or when someone dies and Derek imagines what if it was one of them dying, which is depressingly a lot of times considering their job. He also thinks about it when he’s drunk, which is why he has an app that locks his phone while he’s drinking.

He always looks back on those times and thank his stars he’s too repressed and emotionally stunted to confess to another human being and how could he have been so stupid, what if he did blurt it out, what did he think would happen, because there is no riding off to the sunset for someone like him.

It cements when he sees Stiles with Peter, happy and content and so in love.

-11

Derek’s cycle of unhealthy self hate began and ended with introducing Peter to Stiles.

Stiles had been haranguing Derek for the numbers that the female population must slip into his back pocket all the time and Derek had whipped around and asked, annoyed, “What about guys,” and Stiles had said excitedly “Why yes, do you know someone?”

Derek didn’t, in fact, know anyone. The only single, gay person he knew was his uncle and his uncle didn’t count, right? But Derek really couldn’t say that he had asked Stiles for himself or that he was a lot put off by the fact that Stiles was apparently bi and didn’t seem to find Derek attractive like every other person on the planet.

Peter had a fat load of luck then.

It turned out that Stiles’ type was sassy, possessive, much older men when he wasn’t lusting after terrifying strawberry blond bombshells.

Derek introduced them at the annual police ball and Peter had given Stiles a blatant workplace inappropriate once-over and said something in French that made Stiles blush to the roots of his hair. It wasn’t fair, really, because Derek knew for a fact that Peter didn’t actually speak French and Derek also didn’t realize the sure fire way to Stiles’ heart was excessive compliments plus enough innuendos for five bad porn movies. Anyway Derek thought it was self-evident that Stiles was obnoxiously smart and equally obnoxiously highly competent at his job, and didn’t Derek show that by trusting Stiles with his reports and his hunches?

Derek zoned in in time to hear Peter and Stiles join forces to make fun of the speech, until Peter said something he couldn’t catch above the murmur of the crowd and Stiles told him it was too mean—Peter’s turn-off fault for all of the people he’d dated and dumped him really, a mean streak that reared its ugly, vicious head either five minutes or two years into knowing him and got him actual coals Fed-Ex’d to the house on Christmas Eve.

“Mm,” Peter said noncommittally.

“Okay,” Stiles said, and then sat Peter down to explain why he didn’t like making assumptions about other people’s sex life. A lot of it was self-deprecating.

Peter looked more and more turned on and Derek had to flee because it was like watching porn with his uncle and that was just wrong. He heard Stiles call his name distantly, but he pretended not to hear it.

He went straight to reception. He was not going to cockblock them, because that was clearly what would happen once Peter had that gleam in his eyes. And Derek and Stiles wouldn’t have been good for each other anyway, the way Lydia and Stiles hadn’t been good for each other. They made sense as friends, they made great sense as friends. After he’d banged into Scott’s house at a Godforsaken hour in the morning, oh God oh God, and Scott and Allison’d woken up to Stiles feeding Derek a mind-bendingly good omelet with a spork and demanded that Stiles made them breakfast too if he saw it fit to feed every stray that got buzzed into the house, things had been distinctly more touchy-feely between them, in an absolutely no personal boundaries way. Derek idly wondered if that meant he was going to get treated to a description of Peter’s entrails.

Even if Stiles did use his work toothbrush that one time and shared his pillow with Derek that other time when they stayed overnight at the station on the terrorist threat case, Derek doubted Stiles wouldn’t sympathize with not wanting too much information about his uncle’ penis. He’d seen Stiles scream murder when Allison was making enthusiastic, obscene hand motions to Lydia about her and Scott’s wedding anniversary, after all.

Derek caught Isaac mooning after the McCalls on his way out. Isaac also had on his uniform, but he stood out with his jacket unzipped and his neck tucked twice and snug in a scarf. Which made no sense.

“Are you mooning after Allison,” Derek asked, “you have been spending more time with her lately.”

“Yeah,” Isaac said, not looking away.

“You’ve managed to move on from Scott to fall for his wife.”

“Oh I wish,” Isaac said, “I have not managed to move on from Scott and now I also appear to have a thing for his wife.”

“Have you recently reviewed your life decisions,” Lydia waltzed by, laughing incredulously.

“Allison’s awesome,” Isaac protested. “We went to the shooting range last weekend and she helped us with moving targets. She also cleaned the gun, it was so hot.”

Derek flashed back to the first time he saw Stiles handle his service weapon with long, sure fingers and lingered like a tease on the shaft and Greenberg  had run out of the room shrieking that it made him uncomfortable and the others had laughed nervously. Derek could sympathize.

Derek, being a filthy hypocrite, said, “You’re so fucked.”

“You wouldn’t know anything about it,” Isaac said, “The rest of us can’t have anyone we wanted by smiling at them. We dissect our own sex appeal and we compensate for it by trying to be a little bit better than everyone else in the room in everything that we do. We watch other people knowing distinctly that no one’s watching us.”

“But you’re good-looking,” Derek threw it at him like an accusation.

“Then what’s wrong with me,” Isaac said brokenly.

Derek fled, took his coat and made sure to duck from Deaton’s spies, who Deaton had threatened the whole precinct were everywhere and taking copious and watching for those who left earlier than him. Stiles had been tasked with transporting Derek by the back of the police car and making sure he wore his uniform. Stiles took badly contained delight in the whole thing until he was snaking his hand into Derek’s front pocket for the car keys and asked if Derek really didn’t want to go because Stiles knew how big crowds made him hyperaware and prickly until he crashed home and conked out for the next twelve hours. Crowd and people meant suffocating from body heat and meant low grade headache from volatile background chatter, but Derek’d mostly been concentrating on how Stiles was definitely not feeling him up and shook his head, wooden. He’d also reprimanded himself vainly to not swoon at Stiles’ bony wrists.

Derek should have brought Kate—she’d hinted around enough about it. It terrified him a bit that they hadn’t actually broken up. The sex was fantastic, and there’d been no real reason to stop seeing her, no fights that made it into the bedroom or beyond a few grumbles since both hadn’t been overly invested in each other’s opinions, but no breathless love you’s or missed you’s or can’t live without you’s that indicated Kate might want to see his colleagues and family.

Derek wasn’t settling, exactly, because no one settled with Kate. She was six feet of gorgeous and feisty wrapped in the ruthless confidence of people who knew exactly what they wanted and how to take it. Sometimes she didn’t seem human, but that was maybe down to the fact that they exchanged less personal information than harder’s and there’s. It’s just that if it wasn’t Stiles, a part of his brain supplied traitorously, then it was settling.

Peter came home Stiles-less at eleven.

“I wanted it clear that I was serious about him,” Peter said, and that was worse. Derek had almost resorted to binge eating.

6

It figures that their murder case tries to tell Derek what to do with his love life.

 “According to your coworkers, you had a thing for Ms. Lau,” Stiles says lightly while Derek’s near successfully staring a hole into Chris Jenkins’ head because Stiles told him it makes the suspects nervous.

Jenkins’ eyes are bloodshot, Derek thinks it makes his jock-ish good looks turn mean and wretched, at the same time, “I suppose I can’t deny it now, can I,” his voice breaks, “we had been dating for a while, Candace and I, but the rules in the office, I don’t think they matter much now.”

“Mrs. Parker said it was a one-sided thing,” Derek says.

“We were careful,” Jenkins raises an eyebrow, “wouldn’t you be, working here? She didn’t even tell her best friend yet, much less her overzealous family and the glorified photocopy secretary.”

“What’s the name of her best friend,” Stiles asks.

“Erica Reyes. You know what, I think Candace was having lunch with Erica the last time I saw her.”

“And Ms. Reyes is—“

“Bass player of some indie band,” Jenkins winces, “she has a gig in the city, I think.”

“By the way,” Derek says, standing up, “how recent is this thing between you two?”

“Three months,” Jenkins says, after a few seconds.

“You’ve had a thing for her ever since she transferred here,” Derek makes a show of flipping his notes, “What changed her mind after four years and a half of you, and I quote, picking up her lunch and reading over her reports and generally trailing like a sad puppy after her?”

Jenkins springs out of his $200 office chair, “What the fuck are you implying? You think I would draw suspicion to myself by making up something like this?”

Stiles’ doing a double take at Derek himself, the kind of double take that tries to be politely puzzled and implies he hasn’t inhaled enough coffee for this conversation.

“We did a rape kit on her, and Ms. Lau hadn’t had sexual intercourse in quite a while, Mr. Jenkins,” Derek says, fast, “we were just checking our facts.”

“Oh,” Jenkins sinks back down on his chair, deflated. “It turns out she didn’t know. I had to tell her repeatedly in small words that I really wouldn’t like anything better than to take her out to dinner, preferably for an extended period of time. And she was asexual, didn’t you know?”

See?, Derek thinks, the victim dies as soon as Jenkins tries to change the status quo. It’s totally what he should be getting out of the testimony.

At least they have a lead now. Derek thinks.

“It hasn’t come up,” Stiles says drily, “By the way, where were you between twelve to one PM Monday morning?”

“I got a cold and stayed to work from home,” Jenkins scowls, “and before you ask, I live the lonely life of a bachelor.”

“Right,” Derek tugs at Stiles’ elbow, “Thank you for your time. Please stay in town.”

“I logged in close to one if that means something.”

“It doesn’t mean anything. Sorry for your loss,” Stiles says on rote.

Jenkins looks like he’s about to cry, the mop of red hair on his head drooping miserably. He wheezes out a tearful, “Thanks.”

Mrs. Parker is gesticulating to them over in her cubicle, mouthing he’s a weirdo indiscreetly. She has several people trying to pull her back down to her seat. She reminds Derek of Stiles and he likes her already.

Jenkins is a little bit weird, Derek decides, but he always waits out his hunches until Stiles rationalizes them because while Derek’s been trained to sniff out bullshit, he still can’t read people for shit. Stiles has sat Derek down, once, outlining his thought process and jabbing at his own scrawls on the recyclable napkins that said basic motivations (sex, money, hubris, adapted loosely, read: bastardized from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and behavioral inconsistencies only for Derek to declare the whole thing too detachedly analytical for his tastes. It goes as the one millionth item on the list of why Derek cannot be fucking this partnership up.

Stiles says, soft like he’s talking to himself when they sweep out of Jenkins’ office, “I swear the guy was almost happy when I said we were sorry for his loss.”

“What does that mean,” Derek scribbles that into his notes, ST for Stiles thinks.

“That means nothing until we have a few more testimonies,” Stiles rasps on the door of a Mitchell Lyle, “This is one of the reasons why real world doesn’t measure up to TV.”

Derek’s been sole audience of this rant before. The upshot of it is that Stiles would like to pull up a pair of sunglasses and ride off to the sunset in a speedboat and high saturation. The bulk of the rant is that the people they put on trial don’t always check off all means, motive and opportunity, or Derek and Stiles have more than one people who do check off all of the boxes and they have to choose the one they like best; and then there is the disappointment that comes with the zero case that have had a piece of throwaway line go full circle and bite the moron who didn’t bag the evidence in the ass. It less like a FreeCell game that reveals itself once all methods of investigation have been exhausted and more like an antiquated jigsaw that sends them all around the house until they have the basement, the back garden and the dumbwaiter untouched and they call it quits because they have 75 percent of the pieces and no fuck left to give.

It’s what happens when they have one lab and a waiting line that rivals the Vatican Museum’s.

But Erica Reyes equals best friend plus last person to see the victim alive, so even with the schedules as they are, Derek and Stiles haul ass over to Atlantic City to catch Reyes at her next gig, hopping on the Greyhound with seemingly all the children of a full district. Derek spends the ride in fitful sleep. He has Stiles’ shoes knocking against and leaving footprint on his jeans and watches Stiles wiggle against the window pane and snore from the corner of his mouth, getting lost the ridiculous way the furrow of his eyebrows and the occasional, careless sniffing make him look vulnerable when he was anything but.

Out of nowhere, Stiles pops one eye open, sees Derek wide awake and says “Dude.” Derek colors, but he hasn’t been caught staring, Stiles just wordlessly lifts the armrest and tugs Derek down on his lap, which doesn’t help the way Derek’s heart is pumping all the blood that should be going to his lead-weight legs to his face. There’d been far more lines crossed in the last twenty three months and seventeen days, in the span of last week, even, but they’d never been in a full-capacity bus in front of strangers who don’t care about how two people can be that close without knowing each other carnally. Derek thinks it matters that Lydia or Scott can look at them fighting over a pillow with the knowledge of every baby step that got them there.

Derek goes down because he’s hypnotized the moment Stiles’ got a hand on the nape of his neck, and goes out like a light once his skull hits the muscled coils of Stiles’ thighs because it’s conditioned and familiar sans the heavy breathing of people he’s never met, probably, and the not-that-bad jostling of the gravel.

7

Reyes’ decked in leather and blond hair when they find her at her three-star hotel. She tells the roommate to go for a jog and fixes them up with warm tea from her thermos before flustering and offers the compliment water bottles instead. They take the tea and eye the loveseat warily.

“We spoke on the phone,” Stiles begins, and they’re off on the routine they unconsciously developed for this, do you know anybody who would want to kill her, and does she seem different lately, not expecting a “I have no idea. She just emailed last month and said she saw my name on a flier and wanted to meet. We haven’t. Since high school.”

Reyes looks defiant, like she knows she’s right even if her answer doesn’t match the keys.

“You must have corresponded,” Stiles looks how Derek feels, and Derek’s mindlessly underlining WTF on his note.

Reyes shakes her head, “I thought you wanted to see me because I was the last of her appointments, but I tried to tell you, she never made it.”

Derek resists the urge to cry, “Do you know why her boyfriend told us you were Ms. Lau’s best friend then?”

“We were close in high school, I guess, but we’ve never had sleepovers or anything like that. I had my own circle of music friends and Candace had her own circle of Asian friends. We only ever sat together in English and talked about how if we weren’t who we were we would visit all of these places with fanny packs and horrible Spanish.” There’s a wistful crook to her lips and Derek knows she mourns the friendship that could have been, not the friendship that was.

“You know,” Stiles taps his pen thoughtfully, “that’s more information than we have gotten about our victim in three days of following this thing.”

Stiles tells him, once they’ve got all they need to justify expensing the trip from Erica Reyes, that the case is first priority, and the people is the secondary venture but sometimes he forgets that, likes solving the person more than the murder.

Derek and Stiles put armchair psychological profiles together at the same time they put the case together. Most of the time it doesn’t help. Most of the time they match a violent crime to a man and serial killings to well-educated psychopaths and that works. Most of the time that isn't the point, because the point is that they remember why they’re doing this.

Derek scratches his five-o’clock shadow at the two testimonies in complete contradiction with each other and says, “Do you believe her?”

“Besides the obvious, there’s no reason not to,” Stiles leans against Derek tiredly, “but we still need a fuck load of more evidence.”

“Hey, we’re confirming her story at the restaurant tomorrow,” Derek nudges him, “Let’s go home and watch some more movies I’ve never heard of.”

“Oh, can’t,” Stiles tenses the way he inexplicably always does when he has a date with Peter and Derek’s just offered an alternate, less attractive prospect that has to be gently shot down.

Derek’s saved from an awkward shrug when Scott calls and says, “We’ve got a bouquet of roses forwarded here from your case and you’ve got to come back before everybody’s got their grubby hands all over it,” in lieu of a hello.

Stiles, so close that he catches Scott’s every word, grumbles indistinctly into Derek’s neck and Derek thinks about throwing Stiles over his shoulder, carrying him to the bus station, holding Stiles down until he settles on Derek’s lap and letting his legs go numb and tingly under the 147 pounds of pale skin, fragile bones and indiscriminate sarcasm.

He plans on doing at least one of the above.

“It really can wait, Scott. Lift the fingerprints and stick them in your queue,” Derek says, soothing because Stiles’ actually growing steadily boneless and heavier on Derek’s shoulders and his breaths are slowing, evening out, slipping into the uneasy rhythm of half-sleep.

7.5

“I’ve always thought,” Reyes says hesitantly, “I’ve always wondered if we couldn’t be more.”

“What do you mean,” Stiles says.

“That’s what she wrote in her email,” Reyes fumbles for her phone and pulls up the Mail app.

“Let me see,” Derek takes a long stride over, Stiles right at his back and crowding into his space.

In purple Arial, it says,

High school was us being too impressed with our own cleverness, but high school was also dumb and the only person/thing that made me think was you. I’ve always thought that we could be more and I wonder if that means something.

It would be really embarrassing if you didn’t remember me.

“Why did you save it,” Stiles asks, cradling the phone and scanning the rest of the message.

“It sounded important,” Reyes’ blinking rapidly, “and it sounded like good lyrics for a song.”

8

“It sounded like our victim was in love with Erica Reyes,” Stiles says once he’s stopped humming “Loving you,” pauses by a window display to scowl at his hair some more.

“Let’s get back to what we know. The waiter corroborates Reyes’ story and the email came from the victim’s company address,” Derek desperately wants to button up Stiles’ coat and put him in boots because his sweater looks thin and worn and not warm enough and his ankles are bony, jutting out in maroon socks between his shoes and the cuffs of his jeans. It isn't even that cold. Derek always wears fewer layers than Stiles does, he would know, but Stiles always runs cold, his skin cooler than room temperature at all times and Derek has wondered for the longest time if it hides a fever underneath. It must, Derek has never seen anyone more vital and incandescent and mesmerizing.

And terrifying, he reminds himself.

“So we know that Reyes hasn’t talked to our vic since high school and the lunch was our vic’s idea,” Stiles knocks into Derek absently, his voice speculative.

They’re nearing the station now. Peter may have had Stiles’ nights, but Derek’s claimed all of Stiles’ morning after’s. The first time Stiles stayed over it had been a weekday Derek had shoved toast down a groggy Stiles’ throat when both he and Peter scrambled out of the bed at the fourth snooze alarm. The next time it happened Stiles had just gotten halfway to decent before Derek got up the nerve to check in. Peter gave Stiles a thorough kiss as Derek tried to drag him off to work where they would absolutely be late, but hopefully not so late as to make delay caused by catastrophic subway accident totally unreasonable.

It stuck as a routine even after Derek had moved out. They switched off days when Derek would come over and make Stiles run and days Stiles would show up at Derek’s, jittery and banging loudly on his door, to collect him for an extortionate amount of calories disguised as breakfast food and only after that, for work.

“Reyes has an alibi and no reason to lie,” Derek tamps down on the impulse to just grab Stiles’ hand and put it in Derek’s pocket where it’s warm then decides to fuck it and just do that anyway.

Stiles doesn’t so much as blink but there’s immediately more color to his cheeks, which, that’s good. “Assuming that Reyes’ telling the truth, that means either Jenkins’ lying or our victim was lying to Jenkins about the two being besties. Wait, let me confirm something with Scott.” He takes his hand from Derek’s pocket suddenly and swipes his phone unlocked.

“The flowers,” Derek says slowly, about to ask why when it clicks, like he knows the answer but not how he came to it.

“Scott,” Stiles nods excitedly, “were the flowers delivered to our vic?”

Derek grabs Stiles’ wrist, the one with the hand holding the phone, listening in and hears Scott’s Yeah, hi, yeah they were, but it’s a little weird filter through.

“Is it the card, is the card addressed to somebody else, signed by the vic?”

“To Erica Reyes,” Scott and Derek say at the same time.

“Bet you a thousand bucks that the florist’s going to say the vic sent it to herself,” Stiles says, “She was going to bring them to Erica Reyes.”

“Those lyrics are definitely for a love song,” Derek says, not meaning it at all and only waiting for Stiles’ surprised guffaw.

-10

Derek’s family never got quite over the gap between Peter and Stiles’ age per se, but they never got over it with Luna, his twenty-nine-year-old girlfriend of six months and Brad, his boytoy of four and a half months either. Stiles was Derek’s infamous partner and practically respectable.

“I thought you didn’t like Stiles,” Derek accused his family, after Peter and Stiles had stood for the requisite prom night photo which wasn’t appropriate at all in the context and taken off for their second, probably-going-to-bang-at date.

“We never said that,” Laura narrowed her eyes.

“You didn’t invite him back.”

“That’s because you looked like you were going to rip our throats out with your teeth if we gave him a bad time,” Cora retorted.

“Eh,” Mom waved her hand dismissively, “he grew on us. I suspect he has that effect on people.” And then she looked at him meaningfully.

Derek ignored her, “Peter’s exactly old enough to be his father.”

“I asked Peter,” Mom said imperially, “he told me this one was a keeper.”

“After one date.”

“He’s never said that about any of the people he’s dated before. That has to count for something.”

Derek sulked all the way back to his room, but before he could put Florence + The Machine on at full blast so as to drown out stray, idle, uncharitable, slightly homicidal thoughts, Laura knocked on his door, impatient. He knew it was Laura because she and Derek were the only ones who believed in privacy in this house. Now, she didn’t actually wait to get the okay to open the door, but it was the thought that counted.

“You like him,” she said triumphantly.

“Of course I tolerate him,” Derek said immediately, “he’s my partner.”

“Ha! You knew who I was talking about.”

“Hollow victory,” offense was not always the best defense when family and easily hurt feelings were concerned, but offense was his first instinct, “Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

Laura said patronizingly, and not for the first time, “At least you’re pretty,” and before Derek could pretend to preen she continued, “Derek, you’re not this obtuse. And you’re only this deliberately obtuse when you’re desperate for whoever it is to stop talking and leave you alone already.”

Oh, that might have been useful information five minutes ago.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Derek said, unthinking, “You don’t know me that well.”

Laura narrowed her eyes, “Now you’re trying to hurt me to make me go away and it’s so blatant that what hurts me is watching you do this.”

“You know,” if you’re giving me a pass, Derek thought, “you’ve been infinitely more annoying after completing that psychology minor. You know why I think you’ve been advised against majoring in it? Because you’re a sadistic asshole who psychoanalyzes people for fun.”

“Unlike you right?” Laura spat. Derek knew he’d won, “You psychoanalyze people for a living. At least I’m good at it.”

“At least I don’t do it to my family.”

“At least I care when some twink wrapped you around his finger, had fuck-buddies sex with you without noticing you were going crazy and then dumped you for somebody richer and twice his age and who’s your uncle.”

Laura slammed the door on the way out. Derek grabbed the thing nearest to his hand and pitched it after her. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made a satisfyingly bone-chilling crack against the wall and crashed into the hardwood at the same time Derek’s knees gave out and he fell into his bed, stunned.

Derek had been sleeping with someone he refused point blank to introduce to his family, he thought, and it was possible for someone with an inclination toward Lifetime movies to come to that conclusion. It was also possible, Derek thought despairingly, that this person would confront Stiles if he stumbled into the house on Peter’s arm.

Derek picked up the book and opened it to his Catwoman bookmark. He’d always thought it was boring, and the last time he tried to move on from the guide note about the continent of Ashowvia was depressingly approximately fifteen years ago and since then Douglas Adams’ masterpiece sat on his bedside table, collecting dust and fake Cheetos cheese. He read and reread the paragraph until Nikita was banished from the TV and came up to her room. Her thundering, mad-elephants-on-a-rampage footsteps jolted him, made him tell himself okay and let’s do this and stop shaking because he and Laura were family, they had time to repair this—God knows how many times Derek had told her where she could stick her well-meaning nose—but there hadn’t been a time limit and there hadn’t been another relationship Derek was spectacularly sabotaging for himself and thus establishing a pattern, goddammit.

He still circled Laura’s doorway for two horrible minutes that felt like an eternity in hell before rapping out a quick, hesitant rhythm that hopefully communicated conciliatory but also watch it, you’ve been a dick too.

“Stiles and I never fucked,” Derek said, not saying sorry because Laura was deathly allergic to sap for one and it was important never to back down to her or she would let it go to her head, for another.

There was shuffling behind the door but it didn’t open, “It makes sense though, right?” Laura’s voice was very close and very tiny.

Derek sighed and plopped down, resting his right side against the wall and talking into the keyhole. “No it doesn’t. I was still going out with my girlfriend after Peter met him, remember?”

“Maybe you’d gotten a new bimbo,” Laura said, less certain this time.

“I’m still kind of in love with my partner though,” Derek offered.

“I resent the implication that my brother’s suffering would make me feel better.”

Derek snorted, “Doesn’t it?”

“It does,” she admitted, sniffing, “though I realize I will eventually regret the instant gratification.”

Neither of them said anything for a while, and then Laura thunked her head against the door, “You know what, it doesn’t make me feel better after all,” and that was as good an olive branch as Derek was going to get.

There’s a chance that growing up with her had broken him. He saved that thought for the next time they were really mad at each other.

“What’re you going to do, Derek?” She whispered.

“What do you mean, am I moving to Arizona? It’s just a crush.”

“I am so convinced, by which I mean try harder. The days you’re not working side by side with Stiles you’re getting front row seat to his and Peter’s version of Lolita, that can’t be healthy.”

“I’m dealing with it,” Derek said tiredly, meaning don’t worry, meaning leave it alone, “In fact, I’ve been dealing with it.”

“Oh Derek,” Laura exclaimed and in a fit of drama, she swung open the door, hitting Derek with it on the head.

(Peter didn’t bring Stiles back this time either, but he did have Stiles flushed and very obviously aroused the next.)

-9

Derek refused to see this as anything but a blessing in disguise. For one thing, he’d officially, for the fourth time, decided to never do anything about what he may or may not be feeling whenever Stiles smiled. Stiles rarely ever just smiled, was the thing; he would laugh in loud, incredulous bursts or beam like a maniac or grin crookedly which signaled nothing good, and Derek could have been merely confused because maybe when Stiles smiled that just-for-Derek smile, it was the surprise and not the fact that it transformed his face from Joker to Heath Ledger that made Derek’s heart do a close imitation of a coronary attack, convinced that Derek’d just spent the last ten years eating fastfood and playing video games on his couch.

For another, Derek now had all the excuses in the world to touch Stiles, check up on Stiles, engage in dubiously sexual footsie matches with Stiles, because what’re you talking about, he’s dating my uncle, I would never do that to my uncle. Derek found it still wasn’t cool to stare at Stiles, but then no one noticed because Laura was staring at Derek for being so unapologetically brazen and Mom was staring at Laura to tell her stop going bug-eyed and there was a lot of staring going around, in the end.

That second thing was not exactly conductive to Derek’s plan to move on possibly some time in this decade though.

Any such plan liquidated when Stiles winked at him anyway.

“What is it,” he turned away, flinging the Styrofoam cup of coffee at Stiles.

“Nothing,” Stiles said, sounding disappointed, “Just wanted to try something.”

As per usual, Derek ignored Stiles’ intermittent reveries.

“Peter said that I could take over the world by winking,” Stiles said in one breath, his words so fast Derek barely made out Peter said and take over the world.

“Are we still on for Saturday, and is Scott still cooking,” Derek figured if he acted casual enough, Stiles wouldn’t notice the change in subject to something desperately non Peter-related.

Stiles, who frequently started a sentence about staff shortage and ended it with a breakthrough for their case in an improbable mental back flip, switched tracks immediately, “Yes and yes. But he’s not making that ceviche thing you like.”

-8

Derek broke up with Kate on a Sunday. It took the both of them by surprise.

If Derek were the type to think deep thoughts, read: second guess himself until he walked out of the department store with ten product names to Google and no actual purchases, he would have said that it started on Saturday, when Scott announced his unconventional, we-would-be-grateful-for-your-support relationship between him, his wife and an ecstatic looking Isaac Lahey. It snowballed when Isaac told him for reasons no one would verbally acknowledge that it happened because he wouldn’t settle for the next-to-best. Isaac said in a smaller, almost under the human hearing range voice, eyes determinedly on the platinum band that meant more than a marriage certificate, that he thought Derek was a wonderful person too, and that Derek shouldn’t settle either. That wouldn’t be good for anybody, least of all the second prize girl at the county fair.

Derek told him congratulations because he wouldn’t have actually said fuck off on anyone’s big day. It’d been in all the ways that mattered a wedding ceremony, of sorts, with promises of eternity exchanged, with well wishes imparted and with the three people’s loved ones gathered—Chris Argent made it, and Mellissa made the sugar figurines on the cake. Derek was kind of scared to death that it’d been too soon, hadn’t it, but Stiles seemed ready to cut the throats of anyone less than wildly enthusiastic and Derek wouldn’t stop him.

If Derek were the type to dig deeper—because disasters were the product of a series of coincidental, separate failures that together managed to bypass all of natural and engineered failsafes, not a butterfly effect thing that barely blipped on anyone’s timeline—he would have said that it really started when Stiles suddenly turned around and just asked him what day it was, and he’d realized he wanted to answer that question every day.

If Derek were more truthful with himself, he would have said that his thing with Kate ran its course and that the signs were many and miles away and Derek’d been closing his eyes waiting for the crash.

Kate was flicking the remote disinterestedly because she was trying to hide the fact that she was looking for Grey’s Anatomy.

“I want to meet your parents,” she said, apropos of nothing, beside the fact that they’d been sleeping together for months and this wasn’t the first iteration of this conversation. “And your weird circle of codependent friends.”

That made it too official, he thought, that made it like the endgame, and Derek wanted more than Kate could give, would give.

But this time he didn’t say ‘I think it wouldn’t be a good idea.’ He said, “I’m sorry, let’s break up.”

He thought Kate was calm, she only asked Why and Derek said It’s not you and I’m sorry and clammed up for a long minute. Kate said I’m only good for fucking, not for marrying, right and I always hated that game, but Derek still thought she was fine, because there was never an indication that he was someone who could hurt her.

Derek could never read people for shit.

For months after the fire, Derek would review all the things they ever said to each other and tried to look for hints he missed, the subtext he didn’t bother reading. What he could have done.

9

“I know I don’t normally accuse you of having a healthy emotional life,” Stiles chuckles into the phone even though it’s not funny, “but for the love of God, you usually possess more self-preservation instincts than this.”

Derek signs his name with his right hand and holds the phone with his left, going cross-eyed in the process.

“Don’t come,” he says.

“You don’t go,” Stiles returns.

“I’m already here, and I’m turning off my phone.”

Derek hears Stiles take a sharp breath, “Then watch me.”

It’s been 365 days since the fire, and Derek’s in the lobby of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, calling up Kate with a handwritten, badly crumpled list of questions in his pocket and with Stiles on the line, begging him not to.

-7

His family didn’t burn, but there were so many things Derek thought he couldn’t live without that did.

He would dream about the fire, dream that he could save the little music box from the thrift store in Maine, metal, crude and beautiful, and he would wake up with sweat and tears both, rapidly drying away. It was a toss-up between the music box and the photo albums from when they didn’t keep photos on hard drives and digital clouds, but if he went down that road, then why not the embarrassing A4 family drawings their parents kept that they secretly loved, the treasure trove of their mom’s jewelry that they—yes, even Derek—had tried on once upon a time, the stairs, the beds where they slept.

His mom didn’t blame him. His dad didn’t blame him. Neither Laura nor Nikita nor Cora nor Peter blamed him. But when the fire had gone out and they were huddled together under too many ugly shock blankets, Derek couldn’t stand to look at them. What if one of them had been inside, and died, and the others would still forgive him?

Derek felt ill looking at his family, so Stiles came to collect him. Very brisk, very professional about it, Derek thought hysterically, Stiles Stilinski, professional damage controller, and he hiccupped loudly into Stiles’ hair.

“If you hadn’t broken up with her,” Stiles hummed, “If you hadn’t met her, if you hadn’t been born,” Stiles exhaled, loud and painful like it physically hurt him to see Derek like this, “if your family hadn’t been born, they wouldn’t have almost died.”

Nikita looked confused when Derek could bear the sight of her face, still dusted with ash. His mom said, “Are you sure,” with an expression that would break his heart even if his ex-girlfriend hadn’t just burned his family house into the ground.

Stiles bowed his head low in deference, and speaking for him, said, “He’s sure,” because Stiles was sometimes magic like that, knowing exactly what Derek needed.

During the nightmares and the self-doubts and the intervening breaks of slightly-less-shitty and maybe happiness, what Derek needed was Stiles.

-6

Derek’s first belated thought: he hadn’t been to Stiles’ place before. And then he didn’t get a chance to get over the novelty of the t-shirts scattered on the floor and the couch with enough hug pillows for a kindergarten class and the big windows with all the shades drawn because he’s herded into the shower right away, Stiles’ insistent hands guiding him by his elbow.

“I’ll come back with clothes,” Stiles promised, disappearing in to a room on the left. The house had a lot of rooms, it was big.

Stiles found Derek nodding off on the toilet seat—with his pants on, Jesus Christ.

“I forgot to ask,” Derek said hazily, “do you live with your dad?”

“No,” Stiles’ eyes were round with surprise—Derek hadn’t spoken a word since he mumbled I’ll be fine and left his family in pieces. It occurred to Derek that Stiles might have zero fucking idea what he was doing.

Stiles seemed to just have made a decision, squared his shoulders in grim determination, and was unbuttoning Derek’s shirt. Derek squawked in alarm.

Stiles, I can do this myself.” He fumbled with Stiles’ hands tugging on his shirt and ended up holding them there, crushing them close to his ribcage. He felt less empty.

“Derek,” Stiles said, strangled and fisting the fabric.

“When you leave,” Derek closed his eyes, “I’m going to take off my clothes and get into the shower. Then I’m going to turn on the water and figure out whatever confounded hot-cold water system you’ve got here and wash myself. After that I’m going to wear the clothes you brought.”

“That’s very generous of you,” Stiles choked out.

Showering made Derek feel an infinitesimal fraction better in the warm and wet and loud way that showers were wont to.

Over the next few weeks Derek slept in Stiles’ guestroom, wore Stiles’ clothes and took all the sick days and vacation days he had left for the year and when that ran out, tapped into the days-off-until-he’s-fired-oh-so-fired reserve. In deposition he had to convince an entire roomful of people that Kate called him and talked in cipher, not at all making sense until his family house went up in flames. Stiles was glaring at anyone who dared to contradict him and opening and closing his mouth furiously when Kate’s lawyer spoke.

Stiles put his life on hold to babysit him, but he and Stiles simply weren’t the type to take time off.

“I don’t want you to, this is only making me feel even more of a bother than I already do,” Derek had said, because it was true and he wanted proof that Stiles was treating him like the fragile porcelain doll he was.

“If I’m going to work,” Stiles had shoved blithely past Derek and strode into the kitchen, yanking open the cabinet door stuffed full with box macaroni and cheese, “I’m getting a different partner and it’s going to feel wrong to me and it’s going to feel wrong to you. If I stay at home and occasionally check in with work I’m going to get to feel useful, and it’s just you who’s going to be miserable instead of both of us.”

Derek snorted, “Right, I’m an idiot and this is all about your peace of mind.”

Stiles abandoned the mac and cheese to go hunting around for cereals, and he was still not looking at Derek who was looking for a confrontation. He dropped down to a squat and rummaged loudly through the cupboard.

Derek’s jaws creaked, then he deflated, because he’d been the one calling up a person he’d known for barely a year, who all evidence suggested adjusted even worse than Derek, whose career and family and love life malfunctioned in more ways Derek knew existed, and that person was doing his best groping in the dark.

“Sorry,” Derek said, desperately wanting to leave and take his mortification and his baggage with him. Stiles wasn’t his family but Derek forgot that because Stiles kept acting like he was. Stiles wasn’t family and he wasn’t contracted to stay through good, evil or ill.

“People deal with grief in different ways,” Stiles hummed quietly, “You might not need me, you might not need anyone else at all to go through this with you but I’d just like to make sure I’m there if you need me, okay? I’m so bad at this, so I’d get it if you—“

“You’re doing fine,” Derek groaned, annoyed at the truth of it.

Stiles cited family reasons and the Chief wrote a note saying one of their very distant and very Polish great-grandmums wanted her least favorite great-grandchild to wait on her bedside and all of 27th precinct and the DA office failed to mention that Stiles was really playing nursemaid to Derek. Then, Derek just felt loved.

There was also the fact that all of their friends kept dropping in once every few days.

“It’s generally considered poor taste if you try to bite the head off of the well-meaning moron who wants to help but has absolutely no idea what you’re going through,” Stiles’d warned Derek.

Unlike you, Derek thought, you know.

Isaac had the Wednesday and Friday time slots, and Derek shot down every single one of Isaac’s suggestions and offers to talk. So, Kate Argent, Isaac would begin, and it would be like strangling a puppy but Derek glared pointedly until he withered, and then Isaac would say So, Stiles, and Derek thought that the puppy needed to be put down, really, for its own good.

After Isaac had left, pouting and disapproving, Stiles threw himself on the couch and he and Derek both proceeded to watch the pretty colors and the pretty girls on the TNT Charmed marathon without any of the dialogue making it to their higher brain functions.

During the commercial break, Stiles commented, “I wish I was Piper.”

“Mm,” Derek said.

“She could stop the world, make it wait for her.”

“That’s not really—“

“I know. Still.”

Derek took a deep breath, “I wish I was Phoebe.”

Stiles didn’t ask why.

When the show came back, Stiles said, quick like a revelation, “But she still married Cole. I mean, she could see the future, but she would still make the same decision.”

“Shush, I’m watching.”

“About Isaac,” Stiles said, undeterred, but he also stretched out his miles upon miles of legs so Derek was distracted, “this is going to sound weird, but uh, can you, if you decide to talk to him, can you talk to me first? I mean, I want to be that person but you’ve got rights, I mean you’re free to trust anyone you like obviously but I just thought considering that you called me when you know, and I’m your partner beside, and I can totally see that you might want to confide in someone who’s not already your best friend slash colleague slash sharing living space with you twenty-four seven,”

“You’d be the first one,” Derek croaked, his stomach churning not unpleasantly, his eyes were still glued to bright sparkles on the screen.

Stiles dug his feet into Derek’s thighs under the afghan.

-5

Other than long running network shows and romantic comedies that had haunted American television sets since 1994, Derek liked to watch the news and not feel totally out of sync with the world.

There were a few busy days with depositions and discussions of plea bargains that Derek only half listened to, and there were long stretches in which he had nothing to do but occupy all of Stiles’ time and attention and Derek was surprised to find out that it was nothing like work, unrecognizable to it but just as comfortable.

For example, they pointedly didn’t talk shop or run around the city or chase suspects down alleyways until Stiles doubled over and wheezed go on without me. That left open possibilities like how much they needed a new movie from Brian Johnson and the rumors about an HBO live-action adaptation of Monster. Derek then had to wonder why out of all the things Stiles would be great at he would choose the job that liked to beat him down and gave no reprieve and how he came to appear in front of Derek, and stayed there, where he was touchable and Derek could have a part of him.

Other times Derek couldn’t see Stiles anywhere else doing anything else, because Stiles would go out of his mind if he weren’t actively killing himself for the people he loved.

They camped out on the ugly barf-orange couch in the living room a lot. Dragging himself out of bed at six out of sheer habit and then artfully draping himself over the arm and the back of the couch for maximum comfort while also staying upright became a routine unusually dangerous to get lost in. The third time Scott came over, he took one look at the prone forms mindlessly playing Halo and proposed “Gym?” tentatively, in that small, plaintive, whipped-so-whipped voice he’d perfected. Stiles shifted so that he was sitting between Derek’s thighs, pillowed on Derek’s chest, waved Scott over and said, “Maybe tomorrow,” meaning maybe sometime in the next decade.

Scott sighed and wrestled away Stiles’ console for himself.

That night, Peter dropped in unannounced to pick Stiles up. Derek’d heard Peter’s voice when Stiles buzzed him in and Derek ran for cover in the guestroom. No one’d even died, he thought he’d have to ask his family for just a few days to sort himself out but it’d been two weeks, two weeks of the easy and addictive curling up and ignoring reality beckoning at his door. Shitty things happened to people all the time though, and they picked themselves up, how else could the world have gone on and not had half of its landmass covered by institutions for the criminally insane. Derek was just weak.

Common wisdom said it was okay to be vulnerable, but wisdom would bow down to Derek and his family politics because growing up with a litter of siblings meant remaking the human nature into something invincible, until he can turn it sideway and pry into it and put it under the microscope and it wouldn’t crack. Derek and Laura and Cora and Nikita tore at the way each other dressed and spoke and how well they studied what subject because that was what they saw adults did to each other. On their grandfather’s birthday Derek’s aunts and uncles used to enjoy the who’s-spawned-the-most-successful-offspring pissing contest where they dredged up embarrassing fifth grade poetry competitions, and Derek and Laura had two options, either to be perfect or to be numb.

Laura told him he was just too sensitive, but Derek watched her bristle at having emotions until she was twenty-two.

And maybe Derek couldn’t stand for his family to see him weak but he could let Stiles. Stiles, who occupied an indefinable place in Derek’s life, his colleague, his best friend, a friend who gave him most of his other friends, and then who came to define Derek’s workplace and Derek’s day and what Derek believed to be the perfect smile.

Who knocked on Derek’s door and said softly, “Let’s order in a pizza, what topping do you want beside pineapple,” and who didn’t go out with his boyfriend for no good reason other than that Derek might need to weep copiously on his shoulders.

“I want Thai,” Derek called out.

He kicked up the blanket he’d cocooned himself in and opened the door to a Stiles who was valiantly pretending not to be worried and who didn’t wait to be invited in before he slipped past Derek and threw himself on one side of the bed.

If Derek thought the recent confusing days of being tangled up in Stiles on the couch had immunized him to close proximity panic, he’d never considered them in the context of Stiles’ bed. That was Derek’s for the time being, fuck.

“You know, the weekend house,” Stiles said, apropos of nothing, “you didn’t know who it belonged to right? Well Dad and I bought it for Mom. I mean, after she died a psychic contacted us and told us that she was haunting our place because we killed her,” and Derek was so startled he gripped Stiles’ arm painfully without thinking but Stiles went on like he was so deep in thought he couldn’t notice the veins in his arm being clogged, “so then the psychic said we had to buy her another place to haunt and live there for a certain amount of time in a year. Of course it was real estate fraud but I don’t know, five years after her death and Dad was Chief and I got a lot of scholarship, and I worked part time so suddenly we had all this money lying around even though she died because we didn’t have enough.”

“It became a place for your family anyway,” Derek said.

“Before we bought this new 300,000 house I was missing her every time I looked at our old one and she wasn’t burning something in the kitchen or typing away at her laptop. After Dad and I started to spend our Saturdays away and we relegated feeling bereft to just that one day of the week. I remember one day,” he said in a smaller voice, “I walked into the weekend house, expecting to be slammed with how much I missed her. But it never came.”

Stiles picked up Derek’s hand, ran his fingers over Derek’s knuckles, caught Derek’s eyes with his own, already wet and bright, so bright with tears and Derek was frozen. “It does get better with time, you know.”

Neither picked up the phone to order anything.

-4

Week five saw Stiles and Lydia shrieking at each other with the volume of a bad episode of Jerry Springer, or every episode of Maury, and Derek was cast as the scared five-year-old scuttling around his parents’ accusations and threats.

They also had the audacity to be arguing about Derek.

They didn’t want to do it in front of him, but Stiles didn’t back down and of course Lydia didn’t back down because lawyers didn’t pass their bar by backing down, and then the first one to leave would lose by default.

“You want Derek to take the stand to tell twelve people that he doesn’t know the minutia of his private life,” Stiles screamed at Lydia’s face. Derek tried to make like a lamp.

“They know you’re going to be like this,” Lydia hissed, and Derek was well acquainted with the grasping motion of her hand, like she was itching to throw something against the nearest hard surface, “Argent’s in there thinking that he’s going to broker the attempted murder of seven people down to arson because without Derek we have no case. He has to testify or be allowed to make the choice for himself like the grown man that he is.”

And Stiles said I don’t see him going to you for advice and Lydia said this is your control freak streak all over again and Stiles said you wouldn’t know, you think it’s a criminal offense to care and Derek knew where the conversation was going to lead, Stiles was going to admit that he didn’t want it to be Derek’s choice. That he loved Derek something fierce but didn’t trust Derek to know what was best for himself.

Worst of all, Derek thought, was that he had been spending the last few days sprawled listlessly on Stiles’ guest bed and still, still he felt too keenly how bone deep tired he was, how every worn out joint screamed to sag out on Stiles’ couch and let Stiles deal with the bureaucratic, legal doublespeak. Stiles knew him, and Stiles loved him even if it wasn’t in the way he wanted, and Derek had trusted Stiles with his life and everything that entailed for a while now.

It was what Derek had been scared to death of going in, and what Derek hadn’t managed to care about in the midst of Stiles’ beguiling smiles and amber eyes and fanatic devotion to Stanley Kubrick. Stiles wasn’t even fighting, Derek thought, and here he was, to the death over every inch of independent thought that Stiles hadn’t already occupied.

Derek got up and slipped quietly outside the house.

He really needed the nightmares to be over, and the trial would be just that, a trial. It wouldn’t help because Derek were mortal enemies with confrontation and he could afford to be a little selfish now, couldn’t he, he put away the worst of New York and she hadn’t ever thanked him, not properly, only deposited him on the doorstep of a murdering psychopath. He deserved to be selfish. He deserved to forget and never look back only, only it scared him that Stiles knew that about him before he found out about it, himself.

But he couldn’t take Kate’s face, the faces of the people dissecting his words and his life, and he was entitled to facing Kate at his own pace, wasn’t he.

When Derek looked around, his feet had brought him to the middle of Times Square, where Coca Cola and Kodak and all the colors of the rainbow were being aggressively bright despite the sober winter evening sky. Derek remembered wanting to go where Stiles would never find him, far away from 27th precinct and smack in the throng of unfamiliar voices and body heat, and he remembered how Stiles might find him anyway, a GPS transmitter sewn into his pants or spies as many as Stiles would care to have.

The Toys’ R Us sign caught his eyes, because of course he’d regressed back twenty years, complete with the paranoia he was two generations too late and one generation too early for.

Derek inhaled exhaust gas and dust deep, counted one two three four, held his breath, let it go, counted one two three four. Five. Six. It didn’t help. He crossed the street when the stick figure blinked white. It didn’t help. Neither did standing there and devouring the blue of the sky with his eyes until the lights came on and chased away the stars.

In the end though, Stiles made him happy and the trial would make him miserable and if Stiles wanted to smother him with his affection, Derek would stake his own claim on whatever part of it he could get his hands on.

When Derek came back to Stiles’ place—Stiles’ place and not home, because Derek’d just lost his but he wasn’t about to latch onto the first warm port that would have him—Stiles was quietly freaking out in the living room. It reminded Derek that Stiles was human and not a strange, alien creature that arrived from a faraway galaxy to conquer Earth.

“Where the hell have you been, young man,” Stiles said shakily.

“I noticed you didn’t put out an AMBER alert for me,” Derek said, meaning that New York’s finest and all of their friends weren’t scouring the streets and radioing back to Stiles by the fifteen minute.

“You trust me to trust you to come back,” Stiles said, and Derek was scared and reckless all at once, because wasn’t it terrifying and thrilling both, to be understood? The kind of once-in-a-lifetime, one-in-a-million thing that knocked you back off your feet and consumed you until you couldn’t imagine ever being lonely.

“I don’t want to see Kate,” Derek said and Stiles and Lydia, coming out from the bathroom, nodded, “I’m sorry, please try anyway.”

10

“I’m doing this at my own pace,” Derek slumps over the wall opposite of the registration desk and waves away the concern of the cop on duty. “This is my pace.”

Stiles sighs over the phone in a burst of statics.  

“I just want to be there,” Stiles admits, and in uncharacteristic hesitation he adds, “I just want you to need me.”

Stiles has a habit, Derek reflects darkly, of saying life-ruining things on a daily basis.

“You have fifteen minutes,” he says, knowing he’ll give Stiles all the time he needs, “if you want to see her with me and give me unnecessary and overly long hugs.”

“They’re appropriately timed and reassuring,” Stiles squawks, and it’s okay that Stiles has his back, has him, if it’s only because he lets him.

-3

The next day Derek started 1) coming back to work, finally, the department appreciates working around your haphazard schedule, detectives, 2) calling his family and beginning the long and arduous process of begging for forgiveness for flaking out on them when they needed him the most and 3) looking at the classifieds.

Stiles narrowed his eyes when he saw Derek fussing with the newspaper and said, pensive, simply, “One bedroom,” before tugging on Derek’s jacket and dragging him outside into the unseasonal sun, benign on the busy streets and ghosting on skyscrapers. The rest of the morning was composed of field work that was essentially knocking on the doors of an entire neighborhood, imploring them to remember something, anything.

Stiles asked him about it only the one time, looking like it was taking everything he had to maintain eye contact, “Is it about me? Did you just want space? I mean, you can stay at the weekend house.”

Derek punched Stiles’ shoulder, “Moving out of my family house had been a long time coming, now I had just had the excuse for it.”

(Derek thought about not waking up to his sisters’ morning zombie faces and his parents’ misguided attempts to pack him a lunchbox and the light spilling checkered through the canopy and the barbed window, onto the patch of floor next to his bed anymore, but then he’d have to think about how he wasn’t ever going to wake up in his old house anymore and he had instituted a policy for himself that he’d avoid any potential stressor.)

He and Stiles went and looked at the listings together on lunch breaks and coffee breaks and technically-work-hour breaks, and pored over what to submit to The Worst Room.

Against basically everyone’s urgent counsel Derek picked the studio room in Chinatown because he wanted to eat something different for breakfast for every day of the week that wasn’t just another brand of cereal and because he could tolerate the smell. The Chief hollered in his ears to look at the fucking kitchen, is there even an oven but the room was in China-fucking-town and in China-fucking-town a working microwave plus a catalogue of take-out menus could sub for a lot of other life essentials, like an oven and grocery.

Isaac hesitated for two seconds before saying, strangled, “Those are solid life decisions, dude.”

Derek, Stiles and Isaac were in Walmart picking out stuff for his new place and they were on live phone with Scott, Allison and Lydia who were sporadically coming up with stuff they would need because no one thought of compiling a list beforehand and because they were bound to miss things anyway. The Walmart employees obviously seemed to think they were brothers, moving out for the first time and taking instructions from their mother.

“Alarm clock,” Scott said when they were not quietly disagreeing over the selection of toilet paper.

“I have a cell phone,” Derek said.

“You still need one,” Scott insisted, “it’s physical and way more reliable because you can’t forget to charge it.”

“Does it have a snooze function,” Derek huffed.

“We’ll get one that does—“ Scott began, but there was a commotion and when Allison finally took over the phone, victorious, she said, “Don’t worry about it, I have an extra.”

In a week’s time, Derek’s room would feature an alarm clock from Allison, wine glasses from Stiles, hangers from Lydia and pots and pans that would never be put in use from the Chief. In five minutes Stiles would buy him a polka dot apron.

When they sat down at Taco Bell Derek was dwelling on the fact that he was paying for all of the stuff piled up on the cart by the insurance money he’d gotten from the burning of most of his earthly possessions. Stiles distracted him by refusing to stop touching his own thighs, running his hands up and down and tapping out obscene staccato beats that showed just how his thighs would fit under long fingers and large, strong hands, Jesus Christ on a cracker.

Derek badly wanted to complain about this pseudo torture to Lydia, who was safe because she knew and because it was over the phone and he didn’t have to deal with her judgmental eyebrows, but she asked, “How’s Stiles taking it,” and Derek was stumped for a minute because a, he didn’t know and b, she seemed confused on the matter of whose house was burned to the ground and who was moving out.

“What,”

“He had a twenty-year plan that involved you two being house mates forever and ever,” she said, and hung up.

Derek might have tossed and turned over this if he didn’t know what the likelihood of someone falling in love with you after spending 365 days in close proximity with you and showing no sign of interest in you as a sexual being was.

11

“It’s impossible,” Erica says flatly.

The bouquet is red and blue and yellow and pale peach roses like their vic just couldn’t decide what to say.

Erica’s staring at the photograph Stiles’ snapped of the roses, “It’s been years, seven years. She must have been planning to go to my show and embarrass me in front on two hundred people.”

Derek tries to keep an ear on the conversation while warding off curious busybodies who act like they’ve never seen a detective Skype with a witness before. Technically they could get a couple of NJPD down, but that requires justifying the interview, which requires rephrasing we just want this lady to know that her childhood friend had been in love with her until she died ten days ago.

“She was picking this up from the florist but she never showed,” Stiles says, “she was going to bring it to you on your lunch date but she never showed either. The shop sent it to her office who sent it to us.”

“It’s been seven years,” Erica repeats wonderingly.

And Derek has to ask, in a rush, thinks that maybe Stiles has been agonizing over the same thing, “What would you have said?”

Stiles inhales sharply.

People love a good romance. The story has been breaking like wildfire in 27th precinct, from the babble of MEs first, who speculate and gossip fantastical theories/fanfiction like they’ve never heard of scientific deduction. But uniforms get it the worst because they’ve seen divorces and tragedies in abundance, but not a case that asks so blatantly and clearly what if, and who, so they can murder them. It’s the case without the complications and banalities of real life, because it’s forever preserved in high saturated high school nostalgia, a story of longing and uncertainty and purity because pining girlfriends can’t exist in anything but.

“Hypothetically,” Erica says, “If Candace did,”

Realistically,” Derek interrupts, “or actually, whatever. She really did, there’s no question about it.”

“I live in Cali and I tour the US and she’s been based in New York for years,” Erica snaps “What did she think was gonna happen?”

“What would you have wanted to happen?”

“Don’t hold her up as this martyr just because she’s dead,” Erica stands up, slamming her hands on the table and the camera shakes, “she asked me to go to senior prom together as friends. And you know what, on the day before Marty Treadwell from the student council asked her out and she told me too bad.”

“So you would have said yes,” Stiles says dazedly, his voice barely above a whisper.

“I would have said senior prom and Marty Treadwell,”

“Oh my God, maybe she didn’t want to go as friends,” Isaac’s voice is high and excited behind them.

Derek growls, “Go away, do you want to be written up for harassment?”

“Guys,” Isaac ignores Derek, “now we have to solve this thing.”

12

On the way home, Derek thinks seven years, thinks it in the same stunned voice that Erica said it. Seven years is five years from now, and Derek’s never getting the closure that’s going to stop the fester because he has decided to let Stiles go as many times as he’s realized he’s hopelessly in love. In five years Stiles and Peter are going to get married and adopt beautiful Mexican babies because both of them feel not just a little bit paternal about Scott, and Derek’s going to work at the same job and staying at the same shitty hole because in five years NYPD’s still going to be downsizing.

Derek’s still going to compare every horrible date his mom sets him up with and every surprisingly decent date Laura sets him up with to Stiles, and it won’t matter if they’re coming up short or if Stiles’ coming up short because none of them will be him.

Maybe sometime after that when it’s too late, when it’s The Remains of the Day late, he’s going to write and email asking Stiles to lunch and buying Stiles a confused, conflicted bouquet and hoping he dies on the way there.

“Derek,” Stiles yells in his ear, which means Stiles’ chased him for two blocks, “Derek, why did you leave at five like a normal person, I told you I had a lead.”

“I thought you’d be going at it yourself.”

“And why did you think that,” Stiles says, too careless and too honest.

Derek decides to not deal with it, “What’s the lead?”

“The boyfriend. He’s going to be crazy if he’s been after our vic for years and then finds out she’s in love with someone else.”

“You think she tried break it off with him? It doesn’t make sense.”

Stiles side eyes him, “Why,”

Derek pulls out his legal pad, “Look,” he flips them furiously, “Here, the email was sent a month before Ryes’ tour hit New York. That’s a month before the murder. You think the boyfriend’s waiting for that long to off her?”

“What if he knows about Ryes,” Stiles fishes out a ballpoint from his pants pocket, frustrated, “And maybe our vic broke it off with him right before she went for the lunch date, I don’t know.”

“He called in sick on Monday. For fuck’s sake, Stiles, why do you want it to be him?”

Stiles jabs the pen at something at the bottom of a page, “Look, she was gutted with a hunting knife, and he has the douchebag hobby of hunting. He has experience gutting animals.”

Derek grabs Stiles’ hand. “Why didn’t you say that in the first place? It’s a good story.”

“All the pieces fit.”

“But we’re not just making them fit, right,” Derek tugs on the cuffs of Stiles’ sleeves, worried.

“They don’t actually fit all that well yet,” Stiles doesn’t bat away Derek’s hand, but slides his long fingers over Derek’s knuckles and locks them together, “so we’re going to have to make them.”

Derek groans into Stiles’ cranium, says, “This bodes so poorly.”

13

Stiles sleeps over at Derek’s because Stiles offhandedly told Derek about FAKE and then they hunted down the OVA on a sketch anime site and ate leftover pizza while sitting uncomfortably through NYPD GAY PARTNERS IN LOVE, the epic romance.

Not that there are any other parallels to draw, Derek just didn’t know something like this existed.

They stuff the pizza box awkwardly into the trashcan and then spout hypotheses as to why Erica and their vic didn’t get together, most of which are shoddily constructed house of cards high school movie clichés. They don’t actually talk about how the boyfriend did it.

“It’s more symbolic than literal,” Stiles’ supposed to be sleeping on the floor, on a ridiculous amount of blankets and pillows but he has a leg dangled over the edge of the bed and Derek’s midsection wedged under his back, “It doesn’t matter how he did it, it matters that it’s heteronormativity and the real gritty world encroaching on a beautiful lesbian romance.”

Derek shakes his head, “Real life’s not for accommodating your overwrought narrative, Stiles.”

“Isn't it, though,” Stiles says, dangerously dreamily.

Derek’s arm creeps over Stiles’ chest, “I’m not interested in the philosophical tangent that that comment comes with, just so you know.”

“We edit reality to make sense, Derek, that’s what we do, we go and we attach meanings to inherently nonsensical things, like child death, and war, and Fang Candace Lau’s murder.”

If you’re in unrequited love, Derek thinks, you’re going to start seeing it everywhere and that the world’s trying to tell you something.

“Unrequited love, wait,” Stiles snatches Derek’s wrist and Derek realizes he’s been saying this out loud, “Maybe, maybe the boyfriend lied about being her boyfriend? We didn’t rule that out in the interview.”

“Then shouldn’t he have killed Erica Reyes, not our vic?” Derek says slowly.

“It wouldn’t have changed anything, wouldn’t have changed how our vic felt about him or how she felt about Ryes. And maybe he just wanted to pretend to be her boyfriend. The point is,” Stiles sits up excitedly, “Our vic was the source of his aggression, not Erica Ryes.”

“Then how did he know they were meeting each other for lunch, if he wasn’t her boyfriend?”

“The same way he knew that she was in love with someone else. He read her email. He’s a smart guy and not intentionally oblivious so he must have seen that letter for what it really was.”

Derek buries his face in his hand, “That’s such a reach. You are operating on the assumption that the boyfriend must be the killer.”

“Who else could it be,” Stiles crosses his arms over his chest.

“The mafia, nobody really knows anything about her, so she could have been a leak. Her family, the Triad, I don’t know.”

“You’re doubting the only lead we’ve got because there are a thousand of other baseless possibilities,” Stiles glares. Derek hates it when he gets like this.

“I’m saying you’re ignoring the existence of other possibilities because you’re so fixated on this one.”

“I can prove it.”

“You’re not going to prove it without a search warrant, and Deaton doesn’t think crackpot theory constitutes probable cause.” Deaton really doesn’t, they’ve tried.

Stiles scrambles over to the jacket he flung onto the floor when he got there, rooting around until he finds the legal pad, “You’re going to be so sorry.”

“I already am,” Derek crawls over to see.

“Here, this part, he was definitely defensive when we doubted their relationship, and he was happy when we offered condolences. He’s ecstatic because we acknowledged him as out vic’s loved one.”

“That’s compelling and subjective evidence that’s going to hold up in court, of course, by which I mean it’s completely subjective and it’s going to get you laughed out of Lydia’s office.” Derek frowns, but he’s following Stiles’ fingers on the notes.

“I’m right,” Stiles sing-songs, “I’m right and you think I’m right.”

“If he hacked into her email we can get CSI on it,” Derek says reluctantly, “that is either a bust or it’s going to get us a search warrant.”

They digest this for two seconds.

“We make an amazing team,” Stiles beams at Derek. “You love me.”

Derek looks away. He thinks he’s in panic, because they do, and he does, and Stiles’ looking at him like he’s perfect.

So Derek says, “No, you’re a control freak and difficult to work with and you always think you’re right,” Stiles purses his lips, “You’re useless in physical confrontations and if I didn’t know you better I’d say you were deliberately trying to get certain members of your team killed.”

“Harris was trying to get Scott fired,” Stiles seethes, “I only wanted to scare him a little.”

Derek doesn’t even pause, “I’m going along with this because you’re always annoyingly right but you’re even more insufferable when you’re right and we didn’t listen to you.”

“I know. You sound like a fucking broken record,” Stiles’ face falls. Fuck, what the fuck is Derek doing? “You said you liked me, you said you didn’t just keep me around for comedic values or was that a lie?”

-2

 Derek said it to Stiles the morning they moved his scant belongings into the studio room, which came furnished with a prison style bed. Isaac was there, Scott was there, and Lydia was still there, and they weren’t picking on Stiles, not exactly, but they were swapping horror stories about rooming with him. Isaac moaned about how when they both first moved out after college, Stiles kept trying to save cash by not taking Adderal and boy were those days fun for everybody involved. Lydia said she always resented the way Stiles came home at one in the morning and woke her up because he was incapable of being less noisy than a herd of trampling elephants. Scott loyally said that Stiles made awesome breakfasts when he could be assed to do it, but Stiles lost all the karma points by drinking the milk straight out of the carton.

The unspoken message was no wonder you moved out.

No one seemed to notice that Stiles didn’t fight right back, because he laughed them away and pointed out that Derek would have to go downstairs and do his laundry with his landlord’s washing machine and how horribly awkward would that be, but Stiles would have fought right back and he just didn’t, and he didn’t because he thought no wonder you moved out too.

But Isaac didn’t know to ply Stiles with coffee when he forgot his pills and Lydia didn’t come home with Stiles every day because they worked together and Scott didn’t feel tingly when he put his mouth where Stiles’ had been. Derek couldn’t tell them that, so he said, “I don’t know, I like him, and I can do worse than living with people I like.”

Stiles turned deep red like he hadn’t had other people compliment him in any believable capacity before, which was kind of a crime. Derek would know, he was a police detective.

14

They’re still hunching over Stiles’ notebook, Stiles tense like a wire, ready to spring out of Derek’s house at the next beat, and Derek’s staring at the faded pencil markings like they’re going to tell him what he needs to say the moment he needs it as if Derek hasn’t spent his entire life being off-putting to people who care about him.

Derek huffs, says casually “If I didn’t like you I would have murdered you a week into the job,” and Derek’s not a great actor, he shouldn’t be able to say it like he isn't terrified that Stiles will run away, but he means it, means everything, and he thinks that helps.

Stiles says “Okay,” icily, in a way that means he’s still going to make an excuse, go home and cry into his flower scented diary even though he’s already down to his boxers and his undershirt.

Derek hugs him from behind, one arm not so much wrapping as bracing around his shoulders, under his neck.

Derek’s terrible with words, slightly better with body language and atrocious with telling people that he cares about them. Stiles doesn’t give a fuck about tact and is a dick about receiving compliments, which facts make them the ideal partners from hell. When they fight, Harris is terrified and even Deaton gives them an Alaska-sized berth and Scott cries about feeling helpless because he doesn’t even understand why either is mad, why the fuck are you guys so complicated, I’m going home.

They are. It’s impossible for anyone else to navigate the politics of their relationship, the trial-and-error of how they’ve both botched social life but are for some reason so determined to make the partnership neither has volunteered for work. They learn not to take deliberate hurt at face value and they learn that if they trust each other then sheer stubbornness will win over bad moods and bruised egos, and if Derek hugs Stiles tightly enough, Stiles will remember that Derek can’t find the words he needs or muster the courage to explain, and Stiles will hug him back.

Derek yanks them down and they topple awkwardly onto the bed. Stiles lets him. He exhales shakily and ducks his head into the back of Stiles’ neck.

He also traps Stiles’ legs with his, rolling them to the side so that he’s the big spoon and moving his arm down, across Stiles’ belly but whatever it is, it isn't sexual. It’s familiar relief and gratefulness and maybe-animal comfort wrapped up in layers of longing, and it scares the shit out of him, even more so now that he’s in literal bed with it.

“It’s very unlikely, isn't it,” Stiles murmurs.

Derek’s breath hitches and fucking Christ, he really is too touchy about being hopelessly in hopeless love.

“I mean,” Stiles continues, “I’m extrapolating from circumstantial evidence and I usually scream the probies’ head off for doing that.”

“Isn't it okay if it’s you?” Derek lets go of the breath he’s been holding.

“Dude,” Stiles squeaks, “Are you insinuating that I’m a hypocrite?”

“Not so much insinuating as outright saying,” he tells Stiles slyly.

Stiles shudders, so Derek pulls the afghan over both of them even though it’s not that cold and they go to sleep.

In the morning Stiles will turn out to be right but for once he won’t be annoying about it, and Derek will say that he’s impressed but not disclose what he’s so impressed about and they will glower at Deaton until he gives them a case that doesn’t make them lose their collective belief in humanity.

15

The fake boyfriend doesn’t plead out, hires a lawyer from Chicago whose face upon seeing Lydia bristles, because he can afford it and because he’s an assface from Wall Street. They go to trial with the electronic trail that Jenkins left when he hacked into the vic’s email, which half of the jury won’t understand; the hunting knife that matched the vic’s wound pattern, which Jenkins and his lawyer will say is a coincidence; and the fact that human blood was definitely on the knife, which Jenkins and his lawyer will say came from an accident, on which Lydia will call bullshit.

It means that they subpoena Erica, who’s in Seattle by now, so that Lydia can make her talk about things that happened a lifetime ago and admit that not only was she oblivious to a good friend’s decade-long pining, but was also probably the reason why her friend’s dead. Stiles thinks that Jenkins wouldn’t have killed the vic if she hadn’t set out for the florist and the restaurant, that’s why he waited. Lydia agrees, tells Stiles to prep Erica for a breakdown on the witness stand and Stiles backtracks spectacularly because sometimes, sometimes, he’s the softest touch.

“Please rewind,” Stiles narrows his eyes, “You were saying that you wanted me to put this arty, twenty-five year old girl—“

“Whatever,” Lydia says, “I’ll do it, you absolute failure.”

When she turns to leave, Stiles says hesitantly, his voice suddenly smaller, “Lyds, Peter’s running for reelection, isn't he?”

Derek’s caught off guard, wants to say no, how could he, how could you think, because he doesn’t want to dwell on the implications.

Peter has been talking about moving in with Stiles. After the fire, Mom dumped the insurance money with not just a little bit of old money into erecting a modern glass construction on top of the ashes because there’s no way she knows how to deal with trauma other than beating it on the head with a hammer. It’s not going to be finished until next year, but the whole family conspicuously sans Derek has moved into two adjoining two-bedroom apartments in Long Island, their parents with Nikita shuffled into one and Laura, Cora and Peter in the other. Laura and Cora are sharing a king, and they say they would prefer not to murder each other in their sleep and stop having to go into REM with one eye open to watch for sabotage. Peter would like to oblige his nieces and have better access to sex.

Peter also told Derek, in his oblique, smug way, that he loved Stiles. There were apologies and something about having made the move first that Derek’s never ever going to unpack.

So Peter isn't going to invite the scrutiny of the media into his and Stiles’ life. Peter’s asking Stiles for his opinion first before announcing rerunning to his fucking office because it’s the least of what Stiles deserves.

“He wants to,” Lydia hedges, “but there’ve been a lot of bad press for us. Matt Deahler’d been caught with his pants down his legs mis-categorizing violent crimes as misdemeanors to lower the crime rate, and people want a change, they think it’s systemic,”

“He could win it,” Stiles cuts in, “if he weren’t in a gay relationship with someone twenty years his junior.”

“He’s not running,” Derek snaps, “He loves you.”

Derek just doesn’t comprehend someone who could have Stiles and not hold onto him for dear life, because you don’t fall in love with somebody like that by half.

Lydia looks witheringly at Derek, says, “Oh Stiles,” and “I think he’s running,” and whisks Stiles away for the rest of the morning, ostensibly to prep him for the stand, while Derek drafts an email to Erica before the brown envelope finds its way across how many states to her doorstep.

16

Peter announces he’s running for reelection the day Erica Reyes checks into the Hilton, and because it’s T minus one day to the State of New York versus Chris Jenkins, Lydia’s too busy spoon-feeding Erica sincere, heartfelt dialogues and has to delegate Stiles’ broken heart to Derek to mend, wink wink nudge nudge. Derek thinks it’s a shitty thing to do, taking advantage of a vulnerable Stiles who looks like a despondent sea otter five days a week, but Lydia’s a lawyer, she race profiles a jury and likes blitzing small law firms in so much paperwork they won’t be able to prop their head out of the mountain of legal bureaucracy for the next five years, and Stiles’ somehow even more morally grey than that. It’s a philosophical dilemma Derek doesn’t want to get into, is evil still evil if it’s wreaked upon evil?

Derek thinks about letting his hugs linger and brushing Stiles’ wrists, and realizes he’s already doing all of it. The only thing that’s missing is the sex, but that isn't right either, the thing that’s missing is the romance.

He worries about being there for Stiles, on the one hand he has to be—he doesn’t trust Stiles with anyone else—on the other Stiles’ going to fall for him, maybe, probably, Stiles has a history of being attracted to attractive and sarcastic people. But if Stiles’ going to fall for him over this, of all the things, it won’t be real, and it will be the opposite of what Derek wants. If Derek could admit to himself that he wants.

Isaac shakes his head, says “Dude, that’s rough,” when he and Derek switch Stiles-duty—which consists of making sure Stiles takes his pills, goes to work, and doesn’t make ill-advised relationship decisions. Derek had walked in on Stiles and Lydia, once, when Stiles was sprawled on the floor, painting her toe nails in deep red and black and presenting the picture of being completely whipped. Lydia can’t be on Stiles-duty too often, but she sure knows how to make the most of it.

The only one unconcerned about Stiles, in fact, is Stiles.

“You realize I’m just going along to let you guys feel helpful, right?”

Stiles’ marathoning How I Met Your Mother in his boxer shorts, drinking coffee at four in the afternoon and being entirely too emotionally well adjusted.

“Also,” Stiles points two fingers at his eyes and then jab them in Isaac and Derek’s direction, “I’m still forbidding you to out Peter. That means no high school bully shenanigans and absolutely no talking to the New York Times.”

“But—“ Isaac protests.

“It was amicable. Mutual. Because we’re both adults.”

“I resent the implication of that,” Isaac mutters.

“I don’t know,” Derek flings a hug pillow at Stiles, who squawks and shields his coffee, “for a while I thought I had a sullen teenager around the house here.”

“Adults can have feelings.”

“Teenagers have feelings,” Derek smirks, “adults have sex.”

Both Stiles and Isaac splutter.

“Have the two of you switched bodies?” Isaac demands, “Stiles’ suddenly all emotionally represses and Derek’s making bad innuendoes,” and Stiles doesn’t say anything because he got coffee on himself.

Derek grabs a roll of toilet paper and strides over, “Jesus, I take it back. You’re a five-year-old,” only the wet stain is pulling at Stiles’’ shirt so that his chest doesn’t swim in layers of plaid anymore, and Derek should be used to this, he’s watched Stiles change god knows how many times in the locker room and shuck off his pants absently on his quest for the remote, but then Stiles looks up at him, eyes wide in surprise, and the world…tilts. It’s reframed in soft focus and suddenly Derek can’t breathe.

(Stiles’ only been single two times since Derek’s wanted him. The fact should not fluster Derek so much as it does.)

“Uh,” Stiles’ voice breaks, “Dude, I’m not actually a child—“

“Shut up,” Derek sighs, mourning the absurdity of his life, “You—for some reason you just have people who want to take care of you, okay?”

Stiles says timidly, “What are we talking about? About this,” Stiles indicates the stain, “or this,” he waves a finger around them. It could mean how Derek’s more aware of Stiles than he is of himself, and it could mean how among the family Stiles-duty is both unspoken and sacred.

“I can neither confirm nor deny,” Derek sighs again, feeling sixty-seven.

“Well,” Stiles considers him before saying loftily, “Thank you.”

-1

Derek has thanked Stiles for existing, before, but it was too hackneyed a memory to not repress.

He meant it, though.

They were running in Central Park, and Stiles was casting aspersions on Derek’s compassion for fellow human beings, most of all his valued partner, who was pulled out of bed and blissful sleep at five in the morning on a weekend, and Derek kept laughing, kept being scared that this would be taken away from him and kept feeling so grateful he could cry. And Stiles had Florence + The Machine blasting away on his iPod anyway, so Derek said it, small and soft like the miracle that it was.

Stiles didn’t say anything but Derek knew he heard it, maybe not because he stumbled at cursed at innocent harbinger-of-doom cracks on the asphalt, but because later at brunch he looked at Derek in the eye, and said, “You know, the first time I met you I hated you.”

It’d been over a year and Derek thought he’d say Ditto, and that he would reserve judgment for now, that was the best he could do, really, when he was confronted with such a force of personality, enunciating force of personality like a dirty word. He’d deny to death what he may or may not have said in the heat of the moment and drunk on love.

The Stiles continued contemplatively, “That’s why I don’t trust first impressions. I thought Lydia was perfect and then she had more problems than Eternal Sunshine and even lovelier than that, too. But,

“But I saw flaws first, always, that was the problem with me and boy, did you have a lot of them man,” Stiles laughed, “If I thought I saw something debilitating in a person first I would trust them, funny enough, because obviously they couldn’t be worse than that.”

Derek smiled, “What was my debilitating personality defect?”

Stiles shrugged, “I hated your smile. Not the one you have on right now, that one is adorable,” Derek immediately corrected his face, “but the fake one you used when you wanted something someone else has.”

“Peter too, wasn’t he,” Derek realized, “he made a horrible first impression too.”

Peter and Stiles were still dating then. Every time Peter and Stiles went out to a movie opening together Derek was still trying desperately not to compare himself to Peter and contemplate retiring to the mountain top like the hermit that he was.

“Yep,” Stiles said brightly, “And now look at us. Now look at you and me.”

Derek remembered thinking Stiles wasn’t going to last, was just another New York eccentricity he could shelve away and forget and now Derek looked at him like he could never have his fill.

“Okay,” Derek sighed, put-upon, “we’re pretty great.”

17

Two weeks later, crushing guilt seems to have set in and Stiles blurts out in the middle of the whole grain aisle, “Peter asked me to marry him.”

Derek doesn’t hear it, at first, because Stiles’ been screaming bloody murder over the practically nonexistent raise in pay grade and they’ve had a game going of trying to see how many insults to Derek Stiles could slip past.

“I said Peter asked me to marry him,” Stiles says, sounding shell shocked. “And he said the State of New York would have to take me or leave him because he wouldn’t want to slave his life away for people who didn’t love me, too.”

“Why—“ says Derek.

“Because I’ve been in love with someone else for a while now,” Stiles squeezes his eyes shut, “And it took me his proposal to realize it.”

“You’ve let us think—“

“Peter said, I’m going to have to explain myself to everybody in the modern world in the next six months, I don’t want to have to start now, and I told him,” Stiles smiles, it’s private and Derek finds himself entranced, “it’s because you say things like that that made me believe I could fall in love with you.”

“Okay,” Derek gathers Stiles up in his arms and Stiles doesn’t lean in, doesn’t need to, just punches Derek’s chest and studies the serving size too intently.

“Okay,” Stiles exhales.

It doesn’t even matter that Derek was never second in line.

18

Derek comes to pick Stiles up at the courthouse, for some reason partners never do that for each other and for some reason no one bats an eyelash at them when they do. Okay, Lydia did arch an eyebrow at him that first time and Derek said she wouldn’t believe what an effective whiner Stiles made and that had been the end of that.

He slinks into the courtroom and catches Stiles’ eye. It makes Stiles distracted and it’s not good for their case, but Derek relishes the power high he gets from doing it.

He sits down next to Erica, shares with her a commiserating look over how Stiles’ acting doe eyed baffled to the insinuations the lawyer from Chicago throws his way. The corner of his lips twitches involuntarily when Stiles gets up from cross examination and visibly refrains from doing a little curtsey. He pretends he doesn’t see Erica’s surprised, knowing look at that.

“Shove over,” Stiles tells Derek, shoving him over.

“Good job,” Lydia tilts her head back, giving Stiles’ arm a squeeze.

Stiles rests his head on Derek’s shoulder, Derek shrugs so that the crown of his head settles firm into the crook of Derek’s neck and Derek leans back into him, a little, into the heat. Stiles murmurs—the sleepy, content murmur, “Very effusive praise, thank you.”

Lydia shouts “Objection,” and Stiles doesn’t even blink.

Judge Morrell drums her fingers, “Mr. Perry, remember, you don’t have permission to treat Mrs. Parker as a hostile witness.”

“Well,” Lydia says when she sits back on the bench and crosses her legs imperially, “Mr. Stilinski, my wonderful star witness, didn’t you have something to say to Ms. Reyes?”

Derek turns his nose bumping into Stiles’ forehead, “Stiles.”

“Erica,” Stiles smiles ridiculously, the not-quite-smarmy smile that is his default when most of his faculties are not exactly awake, “would you mind having dinner with us sometime?”

“This Saturday,” Lydia nods encouragingly.

“We’ll be there,” Derek says, “Scott the medical examiner you saw will be there.” The Chief of Department will also be there, but Derek doesn’t say that.

Erica’s face is contorted with indecision for two seconds, enough for them to think god, they haven’t read this right, before she says, “I don’t know what to bring,” and Stiles catches Derek’s eye in a way that says god, maybe she’s had parties, but not dinners, which is obviously something that must be immediately remedied.

“Bring tea,” Lydia smiles ingratiatingly and it’s the first time Derek’s ever seen her self-conscious, but Erica beams back like she hasn’t noticed.

When Erica’s left, Stiles turns to Lydia and accuses, “You’ve got a crush.”

Shut up,” she hisses, “Crushes are disgusting and I don’t have them.”

“Then what was that?”

“She,” Lydia bites her lip, “She showed me a set, okay, you know how my vocal tutor said I’ve got the range but I didn’t have the emotions, and part of me just, wonders, all this time,”

Derek’s mouth is gaping open and he suspects he is bearing a distinct resemblance to a dead fish. Not at Lydia having emotions, but at her sharing them.

Stiles just hisses in sympathy like he know how that goes, but certain glaring biases aside, it’s difficult to imagine that more than one person has turned him down in his lifetime. It’s also impossible to imagine Lydia Martin nursing a wayward crush, but here they are.

“Do you think she’s going to do something about it,” Derek asks as they amble down the steps of the courthouse.

Stiles grins, “She’s Lydia.”

“What does that mean?”

Stiles’ grin is so Cheshire it’s almost Grinch, “It means she has no fucking experience on this side of the road and we may be front row seats to some weird courtship ritual yet.”

19

What it actually means is that Derek doesn’t see it coming, not at all.

January is deeply entrenched in the carnage that follows Lydia Martin’s frightening learning curve. Erica is not dumb, but she’s insecure, hiding it in the push-up bra and the leather and the deep red lip gloss, and Derek knows Stiles has pulled Lydia aside, once, and demanded if you don’t tell her, then how would she know. It’s exactly the problem that Erica’s other admirer has tried to correct.

Lydia scoffed at him and said, what would you know about obliviousness, but she looked thoughtful for days afterward. Stiles, having raised his voice at Lydia and reaped nothing for what he sowed, looked like he was marked for death.

They barrel into February with the promise slash dread of the fourteenth. Allison, Scott and Isaac plan a nauseating getaway that very nearly doesn’t happen because Scott planned it in secret and Isaac almost doesn’t announce his leave on time. Their supervisor was always going to throw a hissy fit over being two MEs down anyway, Allison said. Meanwhile Erica’s back to sweet home Alabama producing her third album that only Derek and Stiles know is going to be called strawberry blond and Lydia’s stoically pining her way through her caseload. It’s adorable for anyone who doesn’t have to deal with a crazy-eyed Lydia.

They decide that a drunk Lydia would be much more fun and probably not even suicidal.

It’s Valentine’s Day though, so everybody else is off doing unspeakable things and there are actually a lot of single ladies around the bar who both Derek and Stiles are trying not to look at.

“I know what you’re doing,” Lydia’s staring at her phone like she could will it to produce a text with the power of her mind, “I know what you’re doing and it’s working, isn't it? Goddammit.”

“My plan always works,” Stiles says smugly.

Lydia smiles, dangerous, “So it’s you. You know, my plan always works too.”

“Er,” Stiles’ arms are spin-wheeling and for the next five minutes he backtracks so hard it leaves skid mark, “I mean, I was using the royal “I”, as in “we,” does that exist? I mean, it was a team effort, not that I’m acknowledging premeditation. You know what,” he scrambles up the bar stool, “My dad’s probably missing my mom and probably needs a suicide hotline graduate so, uh, buh bye!”

Derek watches Lydia groggily watching Stiles’ undignified exit.

“To the most capitalistic day of the year that doesn’t involve an old man in a red suit,” Lydia toasts, raising her scotch.

“To the day that makes most twentysomethings and thirtysomethings and fourtysomethings feel like abject failures,” Derek clinks her glass.

He also doesn’t panic. He knows Lydia, they’re friends, and not even sort-of friends. Three more hours into the night, anyway, Erica’s going to get a break from singing whatever soul crushing Valentine thing she’s doing and call Lydia and Derek’s going to be safe from accidentally inducing Lydia’s homicidal rage, even though Stiles has said that it’s a quite lovely sight to behold.

Well, he didn’t expect drunk Lydia to be talkative.

He tries to steer her away from her brief domestic stint with Stiles because he desperately doesn’t want to hear about that, and asking her about how it’s going with Erica is just a disaster waiting to happen—braver men and women have tried. Which is how they end up talking about the dredge of human refuge, about the two junkies who beat up a homeless person and about how he and Stiles didn’t have the heart to get out of that.

“You’re so good for him, I think I’ve told you before,” Lydia says, and the thing is, Lydia Martin doesn’t slur, she’s a fucking lawyer, she doesn’t slur even when she’s so high the differential pressure’s going to explode out of her head so that a couple of scotches on the rock aren’t going to let Derek pretend he doesn’t understand her now.

“You did,” he says noncommittally.

“I know you aren’t convinced, but you haven’t seen Stiles B.D., before Derek,” she locks her eyes on his, “He has an on/off switch. He cares, he doesn’t, he’s going to get the moon for someone, he’s watching the next person die. He needs to feel useful to people, he loves his job, but…he also resents it a little.”

“The Chief,” Derek says, understanding.

Lydia nods, “He doesn’t like the people he works for, he hates the people he works with, and he falls for every sob story that comes his way like he’s going to get addicted to one of those horribly emotionally manipulative reality shows one of these days and he’s going to die cleaved to his desk at thirty-one,” she smiles, like it’s reflexive. “Until he meets you.”

“Likewise,” Derek says weakly, “I’m…I’m glad I met him too. I’ve been better for it too.”

“It’s not just your solve rate. You hold him back and say wait when he’s diving headlong and staking his reputation on something stupid. You made him enjoy his job again and when we were dating, I used look at him and be reminded every day that I didn’t do that.”

“Is that why he was transferred around?” Derek asks.

She looks confused, which means Earth must be tilting on its axis because Lydia never looks confused, ever, unless she’s pretending to catch the defense attorney off guard, and then a terrible flash of realization crosses her face and she says, “You should know,” and Derek wants to run because his lurching stomach tells him that he would not want to hear anything that makes Lydia’s voice break.

Lydia’s fingers close like vice on his thigh, “Derek, Stiles’ poised for the next Chief of Department. He’s transferred around because he needs to know how the department works. Frankly I can’t believe he’s already stayed in the same precinct and the same division for two years.”

Derek didn’t know.

“It means he’s going to transfer again soon,” Lydia continues, “maybe he’s got this idiotic notion inside his head like you’re not going to be friends if you don’t work together or something.”

Then her phone buzzes wildly in her purse and Derek’s saved by the bell.

He makes sure to record her mortifying conversation for posterity and makes sure that there’re no undue heartbreaks. He thinks he witnesses the puberty Lydia put off for a decade in the span of a phone call, where she hesitates, where her heart’s in her throat, where the English language fails her and she has to settle with, I always want to see you, is that okay?

Erica says, “Okay,” but doesn’t say Me too. Lydia takes it with wistful eyes but a smile on her lips because that’s one foot in the door, both one more and one less than she would expect.

20

Derek’s going to ask Stiles about it as soon as he figures out what to say—this would seem intuitive, only it was actually a very hard conclusion to reach. He keeps stopping Stiles mid-word, a hand on Stiles’ elbow or calling out his name, only to have nothing to offer but “Forget about it.” It’s really fucking inconvenient.

It’s there at the back of his mind every day he sees Stiles at work and realizes how much he’s been taking for granted. They don’t even have an established mode of communication whether it’s via emails or text because what does all of that matter when they’re just going to see each other the next day, first thing in the morning. When Stiles reads the article about how the adorable sea otters brutally rape their mates he doesn’t fire off to Derek the link, he waits with ill-disguised glee to traumatize Derek with it in person.

It’s there at the back of Derek’s mind every time he steals the report from Stiles’ desk for reference in writing his own, read: to badly paraphrase Stiles, and is stopped cold, every nerve end ringing in pain with the thought that this time will be the last.

He remembers tiptoeing around the line between platonic life partners and codependent and easy friendship, as sure and as boundless as anything but not what he wanted, or not exactly. He remembers tiptoeing because he was terrified of losing something that turns out to already have had its days numbered.

It’s there at the back of his mind, always, why didn’t you tell me there was an hourglass, counting down since the day we met?

Through some kind of osmosis or just through Derek being horribly obvious, Stiles goes into his jerk mode where he makes fun of anyone who dares to express their opinions and generally just makes fun of anything that moves. Derek can sympathize with Ramon, who during one of Stiles rapid-fire sarcastic rant on why someone’s not worth the oxygen they breathe, burst into shell-shocked tears. Stiles’ disapproval can be brutal.

Two days into this each and every one their friends has threatened Derek at least once to fix whatever cosmic mistake he has unleashed into the universe. Derek’s inclined to agree, seeing as how it’s fucking creepy when Stiles’ basically acting like he’s Derek’s overzealous indentured servant when he’s not out being a terror on the probies. An unsolicited Styrofoam cup of coffee at eight in the morning is nice, a what’s wrong every time Derek opens his mouth to speak is getting kind of annoying, but not having to fend pillaging hands off his bagels and Doritos is straight up alternate universe bullshit.

(They forget about Peter. More accurately they forget about Peter and Stiles. The campaign’s going fine and he knows because Google insists on keeping him updated and Stiles’ worried about Derek and not bitter Peter so a part of him does a traitorous victory dance in his belly. It’s all kinds of fucked up.)

He thinks it’s during one of those deceptively idyllic Sunday evenings that he really can’t afford to waste away that his brain does what it’s wont to where it’s been surreptitiously stewing over something for ever, and then decides that it knows how to arrange all of the moving parts. It knows three thing, 1) that Derek doesn’t want to be less than the most important person to Stiles, 2) that Stiles’ been in and out of love with at least two people he still interacts with on a regular basis already, and if that’s not good precedent Derek doesn’t know what is and 3) that even if Stiles isn't going to transferred he’s still destined for something great in the world, and maybe Derek wouldn’t measure up but he’s stupid and he wouldn’t settle either, see number 1.

There’s a fourth thing, and it’s if Stiles transfers and tries against all odds to work a relationship with a new partner all over again Derek’s very possibly cutting some NYPD throats.

When he drops by Stiles’ place Mrs. Powers holds the door to the building open for him because he’s half living there on days that he doesn’t live there already. As he races up the steps to Stiles’ floor he thinks about how Stiles has said that he broke up with Peter because he was in love with someone else and how Stiles wasn’t making visible progress so much as a cactus as far as Derek knew. He thinks about how he counts on Stiles to be sad when he’s sad and to learn him, to know him as best as a person can. He thinks about how Stiles has let himself be learned and known. And Derek hopes.

21

“Stiles,” he says the moment the door opens.

It’s an unflattering, familiar version of Stiles that greets Derek. Stiles’ pre-thirty-minute-styled hair makes him look like a deranged hedgehog and his eyes twitch in a way that means he’s been playing Mario Kart as soon as he wakes up at 11 in the morning. There’s also sweat that makes his t-shirt cling to him because Derek’s never getting a break, ever.

“Dude,” Stiles beams, tugging Derek inside, “Scott and I are playing—hey, hey, are you okay?”

He grabs Stiles’ biceps and takes the initiative, drags Stiles inside the room and toward the couch where Scott’s lazily leafing through a scrabble dictionary. He says, “Hey, I think I’m done sulking.”

Stiles instantly looks like he’s just shed 300 pounds off of his chest. “You’re never allowed to do that again,” he maneuvers them both delicately into one half of the couch because Scott is a hog, “I mean, you are, but you have to tell me why next time. I mean, tell one of us why next time, or just you know, seek help. You dealt with it fine but, what am I saying, we’ve had this conversation before, I just want it—“

Derek laughs, because nothing will be ruined—he and Stiles won’t let it, will fix it, will rebuild it from the ground up—and says “Fine,” doesn’t blush when Scott and Stiles both look at him like he’s grown a second head.

They end up playing and bickering until dark. Scott grumbles a little over how someone in this room is imposing himself on other people, but whatever.

It happens when Derek doesn’t think about it, has probably thought about it so many times he doesn’t register anything wrong with the motions: tilting his head when he gets back from a glass of water in the kitchen, closing his eyes, a smile on his lips, and kissing wet the crack on Stiles’ bottom lip.

There’s a moment of levity and then Derek draws back, stunned, and Stiles’ blinking slowly, his mouth still parted. Over on the other half of the couch Scott’s still oblivious and thumbing out lewd texts on his phone that are probably going to be brutally autocorrected.

“Huh,” Stiles says.

“I didn’t mean—“

Derek’s about to jump three feet back but Stiles’ got him by the hem of his shirt, such a light pull and still, still Derek can’t get away. He’d never had a chance.

So he carefully cups Stiles’ face, his thumb tracing the full curve of Stiles’ mouth, pressure at the heel of his palm to bend Stiles’ head back, instead.

When Stiles’ done looking bludgeoned, his face brightens up, by degree, until it’s blinding and clearing away whatever doubt Derek’s had. Derek hears Scott saying something faintly in that horrified, squeaky voice of his, doesn’t register the retreating footsteps, the door opening and shutting, because Derek has things to say and long arduous crushes to address. He finds that he can’t, that he’s scared of the next moment to come because it’s going to break what they may have, the buoy in his stomach and the raw, newfound, fragile certainty in his heart.

“Hey,” Stiles crooks his head, prompts Derek, “did you want to do that?”

Derek nods, too frozen to do more.

“Why,” Stiles asks him happily.

He groans, tries to hide his face in Stiles’ neck, “I’ve been wanting to do that for two years.”

It’s out there now, all present in its creepy glory. What do you mean, two years, when we were platonically cuddling every day, every week, when you were in my house, on my couch, did you perv on me, watch me sleep, get off from a flash of skin? What do you mean, two years, that’s pathetic, are you sure you aren’t suffering a masochistic mental condition, or is that even a thing. Two years, what the fuck.

Stiles says, “Oh,” and says, “I must have been such an ass.”

Derek shakes his head, “No, that’s, if I never told you, how could you have known?” and chances a look at Stiles again.

There’s an absent smile on his face like a leftover happiness lingering, like he doesn’t realize it’s there, and Derek can’t deal with the sight, dives in to kiss Stiles again, only it’s just the first time, really.

 He presses Stiles into the couch, presses his tongue into Stiles’ mouth, a velvet, wet heat. Stiles moans around him in stuttering breaths and Derek was right, the drag of air on his face is nothing short of burning because Stiles’ a nuclear fusion plant, so hot on the inside of him that the shell of him must be kept brittle and cold.

Derek’s knee digs painfully into the edge of the couch. He doesn’t care because Stiles has one hand scrabbling against his chest and another gripping on his hip like it’s a lifeline, because he’s caging Stiles in, every cool, solid inch of muscle of him. Stiles gasps into his mouth, out of breath like a teenager. Derek doesn’t let up, latches his lips on to Stiles’, there’s suction, fuck, wants to ruin them, wants them between his teeth to mangle, to suck on.

“God, Derek,” Stiles croaks brokenly, “so why didn’t you tell me as soon as, I thought, it must have been one-sided, you never hinted,”

Derek rubs his stubble against the smooth skin of Stiles’ cheek, hears the thrum of Stiles’ body shuddering, “I’ve always loved you, nothing’s changed from the beginning so how could you tell. I,” Derek’s hand finds the small of Stiles’ back, which was a frequent feature in his fantasies, “I hated you, not realizing I loved you. It was torture being with you and not having you but you were worth it.”

Stiles huffs, Derek swallows the breath, “You were worth it. I was just some spoiled detective brat whose whole reason for doing this in the first place was because I always couldn’t keep my nose out of people’s business.”

“I like your nose,” Derek insists, biting it.

“But you were so good, and I was so fucked up,” Stiles complains, “I wanted to give you something, to try to bribe you into staying with me, bribing you with friends and casework and my house but it was no good because you keep seeing this side of me that I really hate,” he fists his hand into the fabric of Derek’s shirt, “this side of me that I was scared of.”

“I’m in love with that side of you,” Derek admits, sagging onto Stiles, “that was scary for me too. But I thought as long as I’m there and I could keep you then nothing bad would happen.”

“I did break a lot of hearts on my way to you,” Stiles shifts sideway so that Derek’s settling into the bounce of the couch with their legs tangled together, “It does feel that way, you know, like all of this has just been leading up to you, like they were just dreams of you. When Peter asked I froze up on the spot because I knew, I would have to give up lots of things that didn’t matter and lots of things that did and on top of the list was you for some reason. I mean, how could I lose you, but I would, in a sense, you know.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about transferring,” Derek blurts out, “I thought I would lose you through that. I didn’t want to be like a Scott or an Allison or an Isaac to you. You would just leave and—why didn’t you tell me?”

Stiles looked surprised, “I didn’t think it was that important. Derek, we meet every Saturday.”

“It wouldn’t be the same.”

“I could have manipulated you into sharing room with me again,” Stiles narrows his eyes, twisting his hips into Derek’s and oh, the bastard.

“You didn’t know,” Derek grits, but he’s stroking Stiles’ jutting hipbone, reveling in the delicate bump of it, knowing that it would never get old, “I could have married a brunette and had three beautiful baby girls with her.”

“It’s me,” Stiles says flatly, “have you met me? I would have incepted myself into your family somehow.”

Derek can’t help the laughter bubbling from his throat. It’s the conclusion he came up with too.

“What,” Stiles demands.

“I know you,” Derek lifts up his hand, traces Stiles’ eyebrow with his thumb, down to Stiles’ cheek. Derek probably looks like a doofus right now, “I love you.”

“Hm,” Stiles hums, cradling Derek’s palm with his own, “likewise.”

22

On an innocuous Tuesday Derek leans over the desk and kisses Stiles on the mouth when they’re slaving over the paperwork. Stiles squeaks and Scott slaps a hand to his forehead, but no one at the precinct does more than develop a sudden cough or roll their eyes. Well, Deaton does threaten to make an inquiry into their work productivity the third time he finds them making out in the fire escape but Stiles points out that Deaton’s there smuggling in a smoke, so there.

Derek slips his fingers into Stiles’ hand when they’re walking home and asks Stiles if it’s weird. It does feel weird, like they’re still doing what they did before, touching and getting too involved and nosy but now it’s not just allowed, it’s expected, because Stiles’ now Derek’s and Derek’s now Stiles’ to touch. Derek would just take Stiles’ hand or cup the back of his neck, the small of his back and the gesture would mean all the things it’s supposed to. Derek feels giddy with it, scared of it, and Stiles lifts both of their hands and considers them for a minute, breaking out a tentative smile like he understands.

“It’s weird,” Stiles says, “Get used to it.”

It’s the big things, like dinner with his family with them as a couple and dinner with the Chief and Scott and Lydia and Isaac with them as a couple that Derek has to get used to, to the fact that he and Stiles have always been too close, that there’s now a barrier between them as lovers that didn’t used to exist between them as friends. Everybody, read: mostly Scott, is scared to death that one of their now-infamous rows will break them up and that’ll break the group up and no offense, both he and Isaac are going to be on Stiles’ side. Derek decides that he misses the way Stiles doesn’t hesitate to lay into Derek, doesn’t hesitate to stomp off when he feels like it, until one day they’re arguing about hipsters and Stiles makes a visible decision to fuck it before raising hell. And then it’s so familiar Derek just has to kiss Stiles, to fuck him across the coffee table and laugh breathlessly into the back of his neck and into his mouth, afterwards.

When Stiles meets Derek’s family, Laura asks if Stiles’ going to bang Cora next and because mom is an enabler, mom doesn’t contradict her. Peter’s very politely declined the invite which means he’s probably drowning himself in work or mainlining Downton Abbey as they speak and the rest of his sisters take cue from Laura to glare at Stiles all the way through dessert.

“You know I just want you to be happy,” mom sighs, and Stiles mutters “You need to believe Derek when he says he’s happy enough,” only it’s pointed and not low at all because Stiles and the art of subtlety have still yet to be introduced, and the mood takes a nose dive from what’s already the ocean floor.

Stiles desperately asks Nikita if she watches Korra.

“I watch Criminal Minds,” she says primly, and that has the unintended effect of turning the target of their parents’ attention to her but doesn’t really serve to endear Stiles to anyone.

Stiles looking cowed and looking like a wronged woodland creature does, though, and when he keeps shuffling closer to Derek throughout the meal until they’re pressing along one side from calve to shoulder, resting his head on Derek and blinking heart-melting, haggard Bambi eyes tiredly, mom says something that sounds suspiciously like aw and doesn’t attack his questionable life choices anymore. Because Stiles’ still Stiles, he presses the advantage by taking Derek’s hand which he’s been holding under the table anyway and lifting it onto the napkins and squeezing it so hard Derek swears his bones creak. This elicits a squeak from Laura and Stiles’ unbearably self-satisfied at that.

Derek feels self-conscious leaning back into Stiles even though he always has, even though no one is putting their relationship under a microscope but himself. They kiss, they bicker, they make love and Derek grips on too hard like Stiles’ going to slip away and it’s so stupid, Stiles isn't the type to go away and Derek isn't the type to be left behind but every time Derek wakes up next to Stiles, he doesn’t understand how he gets to be this happy. He is happy, he thinks Stiles is, and sometimes it’s tempered by a melancholy he doesn’t know where it came from.

Laura says the obligatory I’m happy if you’re happy so Derek doesn’t drop the moving in together bomb on them yet even though he totally should. Stiles shrugs and shakes their hands—no hugging—because they’re all determined to be a family of stubborn mothers-in-law and Derek’s caught in this place where he can’t fault either so he kisses his family on the cheek and goes home with Stiles, an imperfect compromise.

So it’s weird, and it’s still a battle but it’s weirdly perfect and it’s a battle of love.

23

Stiles’ too loud and cheery on bad cases and Derek hasn’t realized he needed that, before. He needs to not let the cases get to him or resign himself to clinical depression and at the same time he needs to know that something’s wrong, that child crimes are not okay and not just something that happens in Manhattan, New York. He says thank you by relinquishing the remote to the TV and by letting Stiles act out every gay fantasy he’s ever had, like matching fancy clothes and shopping for groceries holding hands but the latter’s mostly for scandalizing the closeted checkout attendant.

It’s a sweltering Saturday at the tail end of August when Scott takes one look at them, Derek draped over two chairs and Stiles draped over Derek’s lap, and says “I don’t understand how I didn’t notice it before but you two are sickening,” and they both smirk, impossibly pleased.

“Seriously,” Lydia does the double hand fanning her face thing because they’re outside for tradition and there’s ice cream but not nearly enough for the heat, “I would like to have a conversation while all of the parties are sitting upright.”

“But it’s so convenient, see?” Stiles crooks his finger in Derek’s direction and mouths Kiss me. Derek dips down, obliging.

“It is,” Erica agrees, and pulls Lydia down to her own lap.

“Nrrgg,” says Lydia.

Of course, then the Chief of Department walks past and laments, simply, “Ah, youth,” and Lydia and Stiles shoot up guiltily.

The Chief has incidentally reacted to happening upon Derek and Stiles making out on the doorstep of his Hampton house with a brave pokerface, on the day that they were planning on dragging themselves out to see him and tell him. (Because the first thing they do is telling everyone they know because this is for long and this may be for good, they wouldn’t risk what they had any other way.)

“I’d say get a room,” the Chief had shaken his head, “But then I would have to admit to knowing what getting a room means.”

Dad,” Stiles stammered, flushing unattractively, “We, this is brand new, we wanted to tell you, didn’t we, Derek, but we didn’t foresee you haunting the doorbell for guests.”

“I know,” the Chief said, “I suppose I should have seen this coming,” and pulled them both in for a hug while Stiles protested wait just a second, why does everyone say that and Derek said Jesus, Stiles, take a wild fucking guess. Stiles’ guess was hindsight bias.

Fastforward to the present, where Stiles’ still half in his lap, Allison and Scott are slowly feeding pieces of fruits to Isaac and Lydia’s preoccupied with groping Erica.

Stiles considers his dad apologetically, “We’ll definitely get you a date to the next one too. Chris Argent’s hot, what do you think?”

No one has the heart to tell Stiles how transparent this working-up-slowly-to-Melissa-McCall plot of his is.

Other than getting roped into lame match-making schemes, Derek also now has to deal with the way Stiles flirts shamelessly. With him. Stiles sucks on pens and straws and anything vaguely phallic looking that he can get his mouth on to distract Derek, and flutters his eyelashes in a way that would be hackneyed if he isn't so distressingly pretty. He makes crude jokes and double entendres that sound filthy falling off of his mouth and suddenly both of them have the sex drives of either teenagers or porn stars—they once had to pause in the middle of watching True Blood for a quickie that ended with him breaking the night lamp.

The movie dates don’t stop, and sometimes they have Scott and Isaac over, sometimes Erica, sometimes the Chief wheedles his way in and they can’t exactly watch Black Swan, but most of the time it’s just them and Netflix. The paperwork dates are less fun, with Stiles fervently fantasizing about a robot cum script that could file and write report from the evidence at the same time and doesn’t seem to care that that is going to put them all out of jobs. Derek lets Stiles dictate once, and obediently files the reports away without prompting and when Stiles realizes it they fuck so hard against the wall that they get come over one of the other weapon discharge forms.

24

“You walked us into a trap,” Derek complains, clutching Stiles closer and burrowing his hands into Stiles’ hoodie.

“Excuse you, that’s victim blaming,” Stiles says into the crook of Derek’s neck, sniffing delicately.

“I wanted to radio for back-up first,” Derek suppresses a shiver. They’re huddling close in a corner of an industrial freezer with ten pounds of C4 nestled into the other end and twenty minutes left on the clock. (It’s eighteen minutes and forty-six seconds, but whatever.) “No, you had to—“

“Iforgotmyradiookay.”

“What,” Derek chokes.

I forgot my radio okay?” Stiles glowers, “I didn’t want to tell you.”

“You said you called for back-up,” Derek contemplates shoving Stiles off and strangling him.

‘I called Scott,” Stiles mutters, “with my phone, as in called and not radioed, it’s all in the wording, don’t you know me well enough by now? And anyway now we know that we need the bomb squad, isn't that convenient?”

“Okay,” Derek says, “you’re still never living this down, but it’s okay.”

“It’s okay that I put us in mortal danger?”

“Yeah,” he tightens his arms across Stiles’ waist. They’re kind of frozen and Derek suspects the warmth seeping up from where they’re connected is at least half imaginary, “I suppose I can forgive you for that.”

They’re silent for a while, because what do you say when someone tells you they don’t mind if you kill them.

“Are you still going to forgive me if I ask you about Kate?”

You push your luck, apparently.

“If you ask me about Kate,” Derek growls, “I’m going to tell you about Jennifer.”

“Wow,” Stiles huffs hot, ticklish breaths into Derek’s ear, “Look at Mr. Casanova. Don’t forget who popped your man on man loving cherry.”

“Jennifer popped my actual cherry,” Derek says loftily.

“Gah,” Stiles shrieks, “monste—wait,”

“Yes?” Derek says, full with dread.

“Was she hot? Were you hot? What am I saying, of course you were hot. You two must have been incendiary together. Oh my god, do you still have her number? Do you think she would be up for a threesome?” Stiles claps his hands diabolically. Derek’s eighty percent sure it’s pretend. The other twenty percent smacks Stiles upside the head.

They don’t make out, because their lips will be frozen together and they have some self-preservation instincts. They spend their potential last fourteen minutes on earth nuzzling and confessing to breaking each other’s favorite mug and blaming it on the cat or spilling coffee each other’s $350 shoes and ‘misplacing’ them in the floorboard compartment forever. It ends up an unlikely laughing-shouting match that makes Derek crazy and makes him think that he could die that moment, with many regrets but none so erroneous as not being with Stiles until either’s last breath.

The bomb squad bursts in with one and a half minutes on the clock and grimace before evacuating everybody on the premises. The C4 demolishes the back of an apartment building that was actually up to code so the douchebag behind it gets one more year in the federal prison. Derek and Stiles watch the flames from the back of an ambulance. They insist they’re fine; Stiles swears up and down that antibiotics fume makes him dizzy, and Derek pulls some strings (read: flirts with half of the hospital staff) so that their doctor covers her eyes with one hand and signs the full bill of health with the other.

“You win favorite doctor forever,” Stiles tells her fervently. “Unless Derek here gets a stethoscope and LARP.”

“Let’s go before she sees you shivering,” Derek pulls him away, his arm still wound around Derek’s elbow, still unextracted from when they were inside the freezer. “Let’s go home.”