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36 Questions

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“No.”

Erica whirls around to look at Stiles, her eyes big and pleading, but he just shrugs. “Don’t look at me. I mean, I said yes.”

No,” Derek says again, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Derek!” Erica looks about three seconds from ripping Derek’s throat out, her eyes glowing gold and everything, but he seems completely unfazed as he leans one hip against the kitchen island. “Come on, please, I really need this for my paper. At least let me explain.”

“Yeah, Der,” Stiles taunts. “At least let the poor girl explain.”

Derek glares at him, but Stiles just smirks back, thoroughly unapologetic. He’s a little pissed, actually—Erica said she needed a favor from them, but as soon as she mentioned that it involved talking to Stiles, Derek immediately shut her down. Stiles agreed to help her right off the bat, of course, because he’s actually a good friend, but Derek is apparently not feeling so charitable.

“So I’m doing my senior psych thesis on friendships,” Erica says, not-so-accidentally elbowing Derek in the ribs as she turns to face Stiles. “How they develop, how intimacy is fostered, stuff like that.”

“That’s cool,” Stiles says agreeably. “What’s our part?”

“Well, I can’t really tell you the point because that would influence the results. But it’s a set of 36 questions that you have to ask each other.”

“Just the two of us?” Derek chimes in, finally, and Stiles sighs.

“Okay, dude,” he says, making a face, “could you try not to look quite so offended? Like, my ego’s pretty strong, but come on, man.”

Derek has the decency to look a little chagrined. “Sorry,” he mutters.

“Well, I’ll do it,” Stiles says, giving Erica a wide grin. If Derek really wants to back out of this, Stiles certainly isn’t gonna make it easy for him. They both turn to look at him, and he drops his head with a little groan.

“Fine,” he spits out.

“Great!” Erica says, clapping her hands. “I already paid for your dinner, it should be here in 10 minutes. I’ll leave you guys alone.”

“Wait, right now?” Derek asks, and Stiles barely manages to hold in a laugh at the look of sheer panic on his face.

“Yep,” she says. She digs in her bag and produces two stacks of index cards. “Do not read ahead on the questions, I mean it. Alternate asking them, starting with Stiles, and you both have to answer all the questions. No exceptions.”

The corners of Derek’s mouth are pulled down, but he nods as he takes his stack from Erica. “Fine. And then what?”

“And then I’ll talk to you guys tomorrow about it,” she says, already backing toward the door. “Have fun!”

The front door slams behind her, sounding ominous, and it falls silent. Stiles opens his mouth to say something but then snaps it shut, running his hand through his hair instead as he fidgets on his bar stool.

Derek seems as unbothered by the quiet as always, leaning his elbows on the island to flip through some kind of magazine. Stiles peers closer, sees that it’s a seed catalog, and snorts. Even though it’s been a few years, he still has a hard time believing that Derek is a professional gardener. When he finally tore down the old Hale house a few years ago, deciding to rebuild instead about a quarter mile away, he turned the old land into a huge garden and apparently, found his calling. He works for a landscaping firm, and Stiles still cracks up on a regular basis thinking about alpha werewolf Derek Hale, chatting with all the little old ladies in town about gardenias and the best way to deter pests without chemicals.

“So, uh…how are the gardens?” Stiles asks lamely, and Derek smirks down at his catalog.

“All of them?”

He rolls his eyes. “I’m all up to date on Mrs. Patterson’s, thank you. She cornered me at the grocery store the other day to fawn all over you.”

Derek smirks again, flipping to a page of what looks like different colored carrots. “She’s just happy that I saved her hydrangeas,” he says, and Stiles snorts.

“She’s just happy that you do it shirtless on sunny days,” he corrects, and it’s Derek’s turn to roll his eyes. “But no, I meant yours.”

“They’re good,” he says, and Stiles is pretty sure he spots a little smile. “I think we’re gonna have enough produce this summer to sell at the market.”

“Oh, yeah?” Stiles asks, his eyebrows raised.

“Yeah, especially if you guys keep slacking off,” he says dryly, and Stiles huffs. The agreement has always been that if pack members help in the garden, they get to keep the fruits of their labor, so to speak.

“Don’t even front with me. You save me all the strawberries anyway, don’t deny it.”

“Whatever,” Derek mutters, flipping another page. “How’s school?”

Stiles shrugs. “Last spring break. A little freaked out that I’m graduating in a few months without knowing what I want to do with the rest of my life, but whatever. Par for the course, apparently. Nothing freaks out a 22-year-old faster than asking what they’re doing after graduation.”

“So what’re you doing after graduation?” Derek asks, deadpan, and Stiles flings a pen at him. He catches it without even looking up, that asshole, and then tilts his head a little, sniffing.

“Dinner’s here?” Stiles guesses, and Derek nods. He disappears toward the front of the house and comes back with two black plastic bags. Stiles sniffs dramatically, making Derek roll his eyes. “What’d she get? Smells good.”

“It’s from that Italian place on Third,” Derek says, opening one of the cabinets to get actual plates. Stiles hums happily and digs through the silverware drawer for forks and knives.

“Ooh, fancy. Please tell me there’s chicken parm.”

“Smells like it. Where do you wanna eat?”

“Living room,” Stiles says decisively. Derek nods and pauses by the fridge.

“You want a beer?” he asks, but Stiles shakes his head. The fridge is stocked for the humans—and the wolves who actually enjoy the taste of alcohol without the benefits, i.e., Isaac, that weirdo—but Stiles doesn’t want to be buzzed for this, whatever they’re doing. It would probably make it easier, since he’s assuming that this is going to involve emotions of some kind, but he wants to be on the same playing field as Derek.

They unpack the food on the coffee table, and Stiles sits on the floor, his back leaning against the couch. They enjoy the food, which is delicious, in silence for a few minutes before Stiles licks a drop of marinara off his thumb and reaches for his stack of index cards.

“Okay,” he says, letting his breath out in a whoosh. “So should we do this?”

“The faster we start, the faster it’s over,” Derek says through a mouthful of lasagna, and Stiles rolls his eyes.

“Good attitude,” he says dryly. “First question. Ooh, this one’s easy. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”

Derek swallows and looks off to the side, wiping his mouth with a napkin before he speaks. “My mom.”

Stiles deflates a little. “Well, shit,” he says, and it’s quiet between them for a minute. “I’d only been thinking of fun answers like Obama or David Wright, but yeah—definitely my mom, too. We could have a mother-son dinner party.”

He tries to say it light-heartedly, but it hits him just how depressing it is, that such a simple thing will never happen, and he has to swallow a hard lump in his throat. “Okay,” he continues, after a minute. “Your turn.”

Would you like to be famous? In what way?” Derek asks, and he wrinkles his nose before he even finishes speaking. “God, no. Never. That sounds awful.”

“Well, yeah, I mean you can barely handle your fame in the Beacon County gardening community,” he says, grinning, and Derek sighs.

“It was just one feature in a newsletter,” he grumbles.

“Uh, it was the front page of the newsletter, which is why we got it framed,” Stiles says, gesturing grandly to the mantle. The pack had been half serious and half joking with the gift, and even though Derek rolls his eyes practically every time he sees it, it’s still there.

“What about you? Famous?” he asks, and Stiles shrugs.

“Nah. Sounds like too much work,” he says, reaching for the next index card. “Okay…what would constitute a “perfect” day for you?”

Derek sighs and looks skyward. He takes a bite of his lasagna, chewing thoughtfully. “Tea. A nice breakfast. Working in the garden a little. Time to read. A run—”

“Wolf or human?” Stiles interrupts, and Derek raises an eyebrow at him. “What! I just wanna, you know, get the full picture.”

“Either. Uh—”

“And all of us, right?” Stiles cuts in again, grinning. “Taking over the house for movie night?”

“No,” Derek says pointedly. “All alone all day.”

“Yeah. Whatever you say, big guy.” Stiles isn’t convinced. Derek looks downright cheerful—well, as cheerful as Derek can look, i.e., slightly less murderous than usual—when they’re all there, eating his food and lounging all over his furniture.

“What about you?”

“Sleeping in, obviously. Pancakes. Maybe some good ol’ fashioned video game bro time with Scott. Dinner with my dad. Movie night over here. Oh, and time to jack off at least twice,” he adds, and Derek rolls his eyes. “Like, nice slow ones with—”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” Derek interrupts, his face twisted in a grimace.

“What, you don’t wanna share techniques?” he asks. Derek doesn’t even bother reacting, just takes another bite of his food and reaches for another index card. He looks at the question and sighs.

Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

“You can go first,” Stiles says magnanimously, grinning. “Be nice.”

He grimaces. “Uh. We both have dark hair.”

Bor-ing,” Stiles sing-songs, and Derek flings a piece of garlic bread at him.

“We both like to run. And we both like pancakes more than waffles.”

Stiles lifts his eyebrows. “Wow, you got so deep there. Well, first, obviously—devastatingly handsome. Can’t believe you didn’t mention that one.” Derek rolls his eyes, but one corner of his mouth is definitely quirked up, and Stiles grins. “We’re both sarcastic. And we, uh…we both care too much about people close to us.”

Derek looks down determinedly at his food but offers a small nod. “Next one.”

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

“The pack,” Derek says immediately, an unconscious smile spreading across his face. Stiles grins when he spots it, and Derek smooths his face immediately. Stiles graciously doesn’t mention it.

“Same here.”

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?” Derek asks, and Stiles’ eyes light up.

“Mind reading!” he says immediately, but Derek grimaces. “No?”

“Being able to smell everything is bad enough. I would never actually want to know what everyone’s thinking.”

“That’s a solid point,” he admits. “What if you could turn it on and off?”

“Still feels too invasive,” he says, and Stiles nods. Derek is, very understandably, pretty sensitive about choice and consent and privacy.

“Fair, you’ve officially convinced me. Then I’d like to be able to sing.”

Derek snorts. “Can I wish for that, too? You sing all the time.”

“Hey!” he protests. “You aren’t going to be on Broadway anytime soon, either, buddy. Remember that time I walked in and you were singing in the shower?”

Derek’s cheeks immediately flush a dark red, and he reaches for his water glass. “I thought you weren’t going to mention that again.”

“Yeah, in exchange for you never telling anyone about that time I got drunk and accidentally hit on Isaac,” he says, and Derek smirks, clearly remembering. “What’s yours?”

Derek pushes the dregs of his lasagna around his plate with his fork. “I’d like to be less socially awkward.”

“Aw, dude, you’re not socially awkward,” Stiles says. He isn’t even lying, especially when he compares to the Derek of a few years ago. “You even smile at people sometimes now.”

Derek huffs. “But you—you can talk to anyone.”

Stiles pumps his fist. “So if you could have any ability, you would wish to be like me? Dude, this is the best day ever.”

“No,” Derek says immediately. “Absolutely not. I just mentioned one very specific quality.”

“It’s okay,” Stiles says, with an exaggerated wink. “Your secret is safe with me.”

Derek sets his jaw and pushes his plate away, getting to his feet before collapsing back down on the couch. “Just ask the next damn question.”

“Okay, okay,” Stiles says, scrambling up to join Derek on the couch. He rests his back against the arm and stretches his legs out, tapping his socked feet against Derek’s thigh. He grabs Derek’s legs and tugs until he’s in the same position on the other side. Derek rolls his eyes but doesn’t resist the manhandling. “If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

Derek looks at him for a minute, his head tilted in a manner that would remind Stiles of a dog, if he even allowed himself to think about dog jokes. “How the vegetables are going to do this summer,” he says finally. “You?”

That seems like a pretty cop-out answer, so Stiles can do the same. “Whether aliens exist,” he says immediately, and Derek rolls his eyes.

“Really?”

Stiles shrugs. “I mean, you’re pretty insistent that vampires don’t exist, so that’s out. I don’t want to know anything about my future anyway.”

“Why not?”

Stiles shrugs again and tries to look disinterested. “With what we’re all involved in? There’s a decent chance it’ll be something bad, and I’d rather enjoy the good times while they’re here.”

Derek nods. “Very wise of you. Next: is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

Stiles snorts. Thankfully the question is vague enough that he should be able to lie because he’s guessing that make a move on you won’t exactly go over well with Derek. It’s true, though—Derek was definitely the impetus for Stiles realizing that he was bi, many years ago, and he’s had a crush on the guy for basically ever. He’s never done anything about it, though, because Derek has never expressed an interest in men, in general, and especially not in Stiles, specifically. Honestly, he’s never really expressed interest in anyone. And Stiles is all-too-familiar with his history, so he’ll never push it.

“I’d like to go skiing,” Stiles offers. That’s bland but true. “Never done that. You?”

“Go to Europe.” Derek’s eyes are a little shifty, though, and not for the first time, Stiles wishes he had a built-in lie detector, too.

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?” he asks, and Derek immediately winces.

“I—”

“I’ll go first,” Stiles cuts in, sensing Derek’s discomfort. He huffs in supposed irritation, but Stiles recognizes the relieved look in his eyebrows—yes, he’s that good at interpreting them. “Honestly, that no one has died in the past six years. Well,” he amends, “that none of the good guys has died.”

“This is quite the accomplishment,” Derek says, and they’re quiet for a minute, both clearly reliving the near misses. “Can I use that one, too?”

“No,” Stiles says, with a vehement shake of his head. “I’m going to make you give yourself a compliment. Right now.”

Derek winces, looking as if he’d rather be shot with a wolfsbane bullet—hell, he probably would. “I…I’m glad I was able to rebuild this house. For everyone.”

“Very good,” Stiles says approvingly. “And I agree, that’s very impressive. Read the next one.”

What do you value most in a friendship?

Stiles blows out a breath and looks at the ceiling. “Uh…loyalty, I guess? Probably because I’m good at that part. Once I’m someone’s friend, you’re stuck for life.”

“Oh, great,” Derek says dryly, and Stiles pokes his thigh with his foot.

“Joke’s on you, dude, you just admitted that we’re friends.”

Derek rolls his eyes, looking exasperated. “Trustworthiness for me,” he says simply, and Stiles nods. He reaches for his next index card.

What is your most treasured memory?

Derek sighs, scratching at his beard. “The last Christmas before, you know.”

Stiles attempts to smile encouragingly at him. “How did your parents handle Christmas being your birthday?”

“It was my birthday in the morning,” he says, his face spreading into a warm smile. “Everyone was forbidden from even mentioning Christmas until the afternoon. The penalty was losing presents.”

“Aw, that’s sweet.” Stiles pats Derek’s shin and watches, resigned, as his face closes back up again.

“What about you?”

“Nothing that special, really,” he says, shrugging as he plays with a loose thread on his jeans. “Just a random day I remember going to the beach with my parents. My mom packed a picnic, my dad helped me make a sandcastle, we got ice cream. She wore this red bathing suit and had a big floppy hat.”

Derek nods. “I remember the boring stuff, too.”

“Okay,” Stiles says quickly, blinking a few times. “Next.”

Derek flips to his next question, and his face immediately shutters. “What is your most terrible memory?” he reads, in an awful monotone, and Stiles’ eyes fall shut.

“Okay, well…self-explanatory for the both of us, I guess,” he says, trying to make his voice even. It’s silent for a second, then Stiles scrubs both hands over his face. “Well, I need a break. And some sugar. Any dessert in this place?”

“There was tiramisu delivered with the food. I’ll go get it,” Derek says, practically vaulting off the couch in his haste to leave. He’s gone for about five minutes, longer than it should take to open a plastic container, but Stiles takes advantage of the solitude to stretch out fully on the couch and fold both arms over his face.

“Here.”

Derek’s voice is sudden, and Stiles almost jumps out of his skin. He opens his eyes, and Derek is standing over him, holding out a plate.

“God,” he says, wheezing for breath with one hand on his chest, “make some noise.”

“No way, not when you react like that,” Derek says with a smirk as he sits back down, and Stiles kicks him in the ribs.

“Glad that my distress is amusing to you,” he mutters, and Derek hums agreeably. Stiles slides his fork through the tiramisu and moans around the mouthful. “Shit, this is good.”

Derek pointedly turns away. “Could you have worse table manners?”

“I could try,” he says, making sure to chew loudly, with his mouth open. Derek huffs.

“Just read the next question.”

Stiles obeys and even swallows first. “What does friendship mean to you?

“Didn’t we do this one already?” he asks, dropping his head back with a sigh, and Stiles laughs.

“Too many emotions for you?”

He shrugs. “It’s the same as I said before. Being able to trust someone. That’s more important than anything.”

“I get that,” he says, nodding slowly. “Let’s see, I…yeah, friendship just means being there, even when shit is bad. Someone who’s willing to listen, willing to help, and doesn’t judge me for being who I am.”

“It’s a hard cross to bear,” Derek says solemnly, and Stiles glares at him.

“Just read the next one, jackass.”

He obeys, his eyebrows coming together as he reads the question. “What roles do love and affection play in your life?

Stiles winces and scratches at the back of his neck. “Uh. Smaller roles than I’d like them to have, to be honest.”

“What happened with that Jessica girl?” Derek asks, keeping his gaze fixed on the card, and Stiles shrugs. Finished with his dessert, he slides the plate onto the coffee table and licks his lips to get rid of the crumbs.

“We went on two dates. Neither of us was really interested in anything more.”

Derek nods, and it’s quiet between them for a minute. Stiles has dated a handful of people, but none too seriously, and he’s pretty sure Derek hasn’t dated anyone in a very long time. “Uh, you?” he asks lamely, but Derek just glares at him.

“Just read the next one.”

Stiles presses his lips together and flips to the next index card, then grins. “Oh, this is fantastic,” he says, wiggling in his seat, and Derek frowns.

“What is it?”

Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items,” Stiles reads. He opens his mouth, then closes it again. “Like a total of five items, or five items each? That’s ambiguous.”

Derek looks up at the ceiling, counting off on his fingers. “You’re intelligent, loyal, thoughtful, trustworthy, and stubborn to a fault.”

Stiles’ mouth drops open. Derek is certifiably reticent, and here he is, spouting off Stiles’ positive qualities like—wait.

“Okay, stubborn to a fault is not exactly positive,” he says, and Derek shrugs.

“Matter of opinion,” he says simply. “Your turn.”

Stiles blinks a few times, trying to recalibrate. “Okay. You’re, uh…you’re a good leader. Well, you are now, at least. I mean, whoa, those first couple of years, man, there were some shitty strategies you had go—”

“Is this a positive characteristic?” Derek interrupts, and Stiles huffs.

“I was getting there, Jesus, don’t rush me. You’ve worked really hard to get better, and you actually listen to us now. As I said, you’re a good leader. Uh, and you’re the thoughtful one, way more so than me. You’re generous. You’re very, um, nurturing? With the plants and stuff. And you’re kind. When you want to be.”

Derek’s face moves through a variety of expressions as he scratches his cheek. “Uh, thanks,” he says, more than a little stilted. Stiles nods awkwardly, and thankfully Derek reaches for the next card. “Make three true ‘we’ statements each. For instance, ‘We are both in this room feeling…’

“We are both in this room feeling…awkward,” Stiles says, and Derek snorts. “Okay, we have to be able to think of something.”

“We both prefer Parks and Rec over 30 Rock,” Derek offers.

“Obviously,” Stiles snorts. “We both like DC more than Marvel!”

“We’ve both…lost people.”

“We both want to kill Erica for this harebrained idea.”

Derek laughs. “We’ve both saved each other’s lives a bunch of times.”

“Damn straight,” Stiles mutters, shuffling to the next card. “Okay. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share….”

“That’s…I don’t know,” Derek says, his eyebrows moving through expressions faster than Stiles can even process. He looks far away from coming up with an answer, so Stiles takes pity on him.

“Well, for me, it’s all this shit,” he says, gesturing to the pile of discarded index cards on the floor. “I wanna be with someone who actually wants to know all this random stuff about me.”

Derek swallows carefully and nods. “Yeah. Same, I guess.”

Stiles wants to scream out, ‘Me! It’s me! I want to know everything about you!’, but he successfully bites his lip to keep it in. He goes for a shaky smile instead. “Next.”

If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know,” Derek reads, and Stiles frowns.

“Okay, executive decision, I’m changing the question since we’re already friends. Don’t bother arguing it,” he adds quickly, and Derek smirks at him. “What would be something important that you would tell someone else that was going to be a close friend with me?”

Derek doesn’t even hesitate. “That you are annoying as fuck, but it grows on you pretty quick.”

Stiles laughs, he can’t help it, and Derek looks pretty proud of himself. “Okay, let’s see… I would say that even though you come off as a prickly, dour Sourwolf, you’re a big ol’ mushy marshmallow.”

Derek looks offended, his mouth turned down. “I am not,” he says. He’s scowling but his cheeks and ears are bright red, and Stiles laughs.

“Dude, you’re proving my point right now,” he says, and he can’t hold back a gasp when Derek launches himself onto Stiles, holding him down with hands on his shoulders. His very nice, very firm bicep is right in Stiles’ line of sight, and Stiles swallows, focusing on the collar of Derek’s henley instead of…anywhere else. “Your physical threats stopped scaring me a long time ago.”

“Your heartbeat suggests otherwise,” Derek says, shooting a pointed look at Stiles’ chest. Groaning, he shoves Derek off until they’re back on their separate sides of the couch.

Stiles surreptitiously fans himself with the index cards and reads the next question, gnawing at his lip. “What?” Derek asks, interrupting his thoughts. “Your heart rate just spiked again.”

Stiles snorts and shakes his head. “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.”

Derek grimaces. “This is the worst.”

“Hey!” he exclaims, a little offended, and Derek presses his lips together.

“Not—not you. Just…I’m not good with words. In general.”

Stiles shrugs. “I mean, I’m not really, either, it’s just harder to notice when I use so many of them,” he says, with a little quirk to his lips, and Derek snorts.

“Somehow I don’t think that strategy’s gonna work for me.”

“Yeah, well, not everyone can be so gifted,” he says, grinning, and Derek rolls his eyes. “I’ll even go first. I like how much you care about people. You used to show it in pretty weird ways, I’ll admit, but you’re better now, even though for some reason you don’t want anyone to know. Like how you secretly mow my dad’s lawn every other week.”

Derek winces. “You know about that?”

“Obviously,” he says, rolling his eyes. “I also know that you keep Isaac’s dining hall account topped up and that you buy Erica’s books every semester. Anyone who wanted a bedroom in the house got one, and you’re even nice to Scott, who has a pretty long history of treating you like shit. Hell, you even save me the strawberries from the garden even though I do exactly nothing to help out.”

“Yeah, turning the hose on everyone who walks by isn’t exactly helping,” Derek says dryly, and Stiles shrugs, shameless. He likes the way Derek looks wet, no big deal.

“And you’re so selfless about everything. It’s…very admirable.”

“Thank you,” Derek says finally, although it looks like it’s an effort. He’s staring down at his hands, clenched in the fabric of the throw blanket that somehow made its way onto the couch. “I didn’t know anyone noticed.”

“I notice everything about you,” Stiles says automatically, and whoa, that’s a little too truthful to be comfortable. Distract him, quick. “Okay, your turn,” he says, loudly enough that Derek looks a little startled. “Compliment away. Don’t hold back.”

Derek sighs and leans back against the arm of the couch, rubbing a hand over his chin. It’s silent for a long, embarrassing moment, and Stiles frowns. “Oh my god, just say something,” he fumes. “You can even lie! I won’t know.”

“I’m thinking,” Derek says icily. He’s quiet again, and this time Stiles is certain it’s just to mess with him. “You try really hard to do the right thing,” he says finally. “And you think things through. You seem impulsive, but it’s just because no one thinks as fast as you do. You don’t give up on people, even when they disappoint you, and you care about people even when they don’t care about themselves.”

“Oh,” he says, swallowing. Well, shit.

“Yeah, I notice things, too,” Derek says dryly.

“Noted,” Stiles says, nodding awkwardly. He’s not great at accepting compliments either.

Derek seems to have moved on, though, and picks the next index card out of his pile. “Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.” He pauses and then sighs. “I have one.”

Stiles pumps his fist. “This better be good, dude.”

“So I was 15,” he starts. “Our bathrooms in the house were soundproofed. Because, well—”

“Obviously,” Stiles cuts in. “Go on.”

“One day I apparently, uh, forgot to close the door the whole way? And I was, uh…”

He gestures vaguely to his crotch, and Stiles snorts. “Jerkin’ it,” he says helpfully, and Derek rolls his eyes.

“Anyway, Cora heard me and legitimately thought I was dying. I was maybe, uh,” he says with a little cough, “experimenting with some other stuff. And so I was distracted and not paying attention, and then she and Laura and my parents all just came crashing into the bathroom.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles says, literally gasping for breath. He gives up on sitting up straight and topples over, muffling his laughter into the couch cushions. “That is the best thing I have ever heard.”

Derek’s cheeks are bright red, but he’s smiling a little. “I locked myself in my room for like a week. Wouldn’t talk to anyone.”

“I mean, everyone has an embarrassing masturbating story. But mine was like, just my dad. So…kudos. Wow.”

“Yeah.”

Derek flicks the index card into their growing pile, but Stiles can’t quite get past the experimenting thing. It’s sharing time, right?

“Dude, are you bi?” he blurts out, and yeah, okay, he probably could have gone about that in a better way. The answer’s probably no, anyway—lots of straight dudes are into butt stuff. College has been very enlightening that way.

But Derek somehow gets even redder and becomes quite preoccupied with straightening out his stack of index cards, tapping them against his knees. “Um. In theory? Maybe.”

Stiles is decently sure he’s never been more surprised in his life. He rubs at his face, to hopefully cover the shocked look, and nods. “Whoa. Okay. Cool.”

Cool? Jesus.

Derek grimaces. “Sorry I didn’t—”

“Hey, that’s fine,” Stiles says, sharpening his gaze because this shit is important. “No shame. Not everyone can be as theatrical about coming out as I was.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “You stood up on the bar at Jungle and made out with a guy, then a girl. The whole town heard about it. Half the town saw Erica’s video.”

“Yeah, exactly,” he says, scoffing. “It’s called being efficient.”

“Anyway,” he says with a sigh. “What’s yours?”

“There have been so many,” Stiles laments, and Derek laughs. “Uh…okay. Freshman year, it was the first week. It was hot, obviously, and our dorm didn’t have air conditioning. I was wearing this light gray t-shirt, and we spent all night running around, drinking, whatever. And I must have forgotten to put on deodorant or something because when I finally got back to my room at like two in the morning, I saw that I had these huge pit stains. I mean, I’m talking truly, atrociously awful. And I had been hanging out with this girl I liked, and it…it was just horrible.”

“Oh, god,” Derek says, still laughing, and Stiles can’t help but join in.

“I was terrified that I would be forever known as pit stain guy,” he says, then hesitates. “Shit, what if I am? Fuck. People probably call me that behind my back.”

“I’m sure they don’t.”

“Yeah, let’s hope,” he says with a wince, and Derek jerks his chin toward the cards in Stiles’ hand.

“Next one.”

When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?” Stiles asks, then snorts. “Like, last week, when I was afraid I failed this test.”

“Lie,” Derek says easily, and Stiles deflates.

“Shit,” he says, and Derek just lifts one damn all-knowing eyebrow at him. “Um…last month. Anniversary of my mom’s death. I cry every year. I have no idea the last time I cried in front of someone else. Honestly.”

“Mine was with Laura,” Derek says, low enough that Stiles can barely hear him. And shit, that was a long time ago.

“What about by yourself?”

It’s quiet for a long time, long enough that Stiles is about to tell him to forget it, but Derek finally swallows audibly. “Few weeks ago,” he says, his voice almost too even. “I was planting lilies. They were, uh, my dad’s favorite.”

“They’re very pretty,” Stiles says lamely, mostly to keep himself from admitting that he knows they’re planted right next to the rhododendrons, which he just so happened to mention one time were his own mom’s favorite.

Tell your partner something that you like about them already,” Derek says.

“Well, that doesn’t quite apply to us, I guess,” Stiles says with a hum. “How about…what was the first thing you liked about me?”

“Do I have to tell you how long it took?” he asks with a smirk, easily dodging Stiles’ jab to his ribs. “You were helpful and always there, right from the beginning. Even though you said a bunch of shit, your actions showed differently. I knew I could trust you.”

Stiles nods a few times, fidgeting in his spot. He had no idea Derek even noticed him back then, outside of being a tremendous annoyance who provided semi-useful information every once in a while. “You, uh…right off the bat, I thought you were so brave. After everything you went through, I couldn’t believe that you were even still functioning, let alone actually trying to help people.”

Derek clenches his jaw. “I did a lot of dumb shit. It didn’t feel brave.”

“Well, I thought it was,” Stiles says, trying to make his voice light. He flips to his next index card and blinks a few times as he stares down at it. A question about fire? Jesus Christ, why the hell did Erica leave this one in?

“What is it?”

“We’re skipping this one,” he says, folding up the card and sliding it into his back pocket. Derek rolls his eyes.

“Oh, come on, we—”

“We’re skipping it,” Stiles says firmly, and there must be something in his voice because Derek snaps his mouth shut and then nods. “You have the last one, go.”

Derek sighs before he reads it. “Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.”

Stiles scratches a hand through his hair. “Um. This is super clichéd, but I’m graduating college in like three months, and I have no idea what I want to do with my life. So…there’s that.”

“It’s not clichéd,” Derek says with a shrug. “But you don’t have to decide today. And the first job you get probably won’t end up being your career, which is fine.”

“Easy for you to say,” Stiles grumbles. “You’re almost 30.”

“Hey,” he snaps. “I am not 30.”

Stiles lifts his hands. “Sorry. I just meant, you know…you’ve already found what you wanted to do. You’re already there.”

“But I bet you’re conflicted about whether to leave Beacon Hills or not. Worried that you’ll feel guilty and selfish if you leave, afraid you’ll miss out on opportunities if you stay.”

That hits a little too close to home, and Stiles winces. “God, can you smell all that on me, or what?”

Derek rolls his eyes. “No. I just, you know, pay attention when you talk. Sometimes.”

“Right. And what about you? What’s your personal problem?” he asks. Derek doesn’t say anything at first, so he adds, “I won’t make fun of you, I promise.”

Derek gives him a funny look. “I know you won’t, you aren’t mean.”

Sometimes Stiles is afraid he is. He just nods, though, and makes a go on gesture.

“I’m having trouble dating,” he says finally, through gritted teeth, and Stiles freezes. Shit, this is gonna be awkward.

He waits, but Derek doesn’t say anything else. “Okay, I need a little more, dude.”

Derek cracks his neck and flicks his eyes toward the door, as if he’s thinking about bolting. “You know. I haven’t dated anyone since…a long time. I can’t—I don’t trust anyone.”

Stiles nods. Stay cool. “I…oh god, let’s see. I just don’t think you should force it, man. You don’t have to date anyone. If there’s somebody that you really do want to date, then sure. But that should be the only reason,” he says carefully, all too aware that he’s already probably far past Derek’s carefully-constructed walls. He feels a little bad—the advice is probably selfish because it makes Stiles’ heart hurt to think of Derek dating anyone—but whatever. The basic premise is solid. “But I bet you, uh, feel embarrassed about it, like it should be easier, or like it’s your final step to prove that you’re healthy or whatever.”

Derek’s jaw looks clenched enough to be painful, but that’s the only sign that he even heard what Stiles said. He certainly doesn’t look like he’s going to be saying anything anytime soon, so Stiles shrugs and flings his last index card to the floor with a flourish. “So…that’s it?”

“I actually have one more card,” Derek says, staring down at it with a twisted look on his face, and Stiles stills.

“Shit. What is it?”

Stare into your partner’s eyes for four minutes,” he reads, and Stiles gapes at him.

“Wha—oh my god. That’s insane. Four minutes?” He’s already feeling a little splayed open, emotionally raw at the edges, and he’s pretty sure he won’t be able to handle staring into Derek’s eyes for four minutes. “I mean…we could skip it.”

Derek lifts one expressive eyebrow. “You think you can lie to Erica?” he asks, and Stiles deflates.

“Fine. You’d think after six years, I’d be able to actually lie to werewolves.”

Derek busies himself with needlessly rearranging the throw blanket.  “You have a tell,” he says finally, and Stiles gasps.

“What? You mean besides my heartbeat? What is it?”

“I’m not telling you,” he says, laughing. “No way. Your dad appreciates it way too much.”

“Oh my god, my dad knows?” Stiles wails, burying his head in his hands.

“Your dad knows everything,” Derek informs him. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”

Stiles swipes his phone off the table and sets the alarm for four minutes. He shakes out his limbs and sits cross-legged on the couch, facing Derek. Derek mirrors his position, rolling his shoulders, and they just…stare at each other.

“Okay,” Stiles says, his voice weirdly quiet. “So is this like, a staring contest deal?”

“You’re allowed to blink,” Derek whispers.

It’s quiet between them for a minute, but if Stiles isn’t careful, his thoughts are going to start spiraling and Derek is going to start smelling things. “Think of all the other things you could do in four minutes,” he says. “Make an egg. Have an orgasm.”

Derek makes a face. “What kind of sex have you been having in college?”

“Not the right kind, clearly,” he says under his breath. “You could drink a beer. Take a sh—”

“Shut up.”

“It doesn’t say you have to be quiet!”

I’m saying it,” Derek says, practically growling, and Stiles obediently shuts his mouth with a click. He refocuses on Derek’s eyes, soft and a little hooded with faint lines on the edges, and traces the swirls of colors.

“Dude, your eyes just went red.”

“Oh,” he says, wincing. He blinks a few times, and they fade back to green. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, especially because your eye color is so boring to start with,” he says dryly. “I really needed a switch.”

“My eyes are green,” he mutters, and Stiles rolls his eyes.

“Okay, first of all, it depends on what you’re wearing. Sometimes they look blue. They’re hazel-y and gray and kind of goldish? And don’t even give me that look, I have a front row seat right here.”

“Your eyes are brown,” Derek says, deadpan.

“Hey, I’ll have you know a dude wrote a poem about my eyes once. It rhymed and everything.”

Derek lifts an eyebrow. “I don’t believe you.”

“He compared them to like, every color of brown alcohol. He rhymed whiskey with frisky, believe it or not. We were at a frat party,” Stiles allows, “so he was pretty wasted. By the time he said my eyes were ‘basically an old-fashioned, darker than a whiskey sour but lighter than a manhattan,’ I officially decided that he was too drunk to consent to have sex.”

Derek lets out a full-bodied laugh, ducking his head, and Stiles grins. He’s just unreasonably proud every time he makes Derek laugh, okay? “Wow.”

“I know, right? And then he had the audacity to say that blue eyes were better, so fuck that dude, honestly. Not literally, obviously, thanks to that whole aforementioned consent thing.

Derek falls silent, his shoulder-shaking chuckles trailing off, and they stare at each other again. Stiles gnaws on his lower lip subconsciously, wetting it, and only notices that he’s doing it when Derek’s gaze flicks down to his mouth. His eyes tinge red again, but before Stiles can mention it, his phone alarm goes off and they both jump.

It’s so rare to see Derek startled that Stiles bursts out laughing, and he falls back easily when Derek shoves him with a hand on his chest. “All right, sharing time is over. Get out.”

Stiles is still laughing as he rolls off the couch. “Let me guess, you need to go run around as a wolf and reestablish your big, buff manliness? Maybe kill a squirrel?” Derek rolls his eyes, and Stiles pats him on the arm, his eyes going wide with false solemnity. “That’s called toxic masculinity, Der.”

Derek shakes his hand off and stalks off toward the kitchen. “Good night, Stiles,” he says pointedly, and yeah, Stiles recognizes a dismissal when he hears one.

“Good night, Der-Bear!” he calls back. “Good talk!”

Derek doesn’t respond, not even to protest the Der-Bear, so Stiles lets himself out the front door and strolls over to the Jeep. It’s quiet, the hoot of a far-off owl the only noise breaking up the silence, and Stiles rests his forehead on the steering wheel, letting out one long, shaky exhale. Derek’s gonna know that he hasn’t left yet, that fucker, but Stiles can’t make himself turn the key in the ignition.

He feels like…like he needs some recovery time or something with Derek, something to come down from what basically felt like an emotional exorcism. The dashboard feels cool under his hands, and he tries to focus on that instead of the mess of feelings swirling through him.

What are he and Derek supposed to do now? Just go on and pretend that they didn’t just share things, things that Stiles hasn’t shared with anyone, things that he knows Derek hasn’t shared with anyone. God, knowing Derek, that’s probably exactly what’s going to happen.

And that fucking sucks, he thinks, biting his lip. If he were ever to actually do something about his misguided crush, tonight probably wouldn’t be the worst night to do it. When it inevitably goes south, he can blame it on raging emotions, and hell, they’re probably never going to talk about this night again anyway. Stiles could move away—maybe the east coast would be far enough—after graduation, with the freedom that comes from no regrets.

His tiny window of opportunity is closing quickly, and he doesn’t want it to be slammed shut forever.

Before Stiles can talk himself out of it, he runs a hand through his hair and hops out of the Jeep. He shuts the door quietly, not that it matters, but he still feels on edge. He rounds the back of the Jeep, practically vibrating with energy, and freezes in his tracks.

Derek is on the porch, leaning against the stone column with his arms crossed over his chest. The line of his body looks casual, except for the tension Stiles can see in his shoulders and the tightness around his eyes. He’s backlit by the very last hint of evening light, making him look almost soft at the edges, and as the light breeze lifts his hair, Stiles wants nothing more than to just kiss the shit out of him.

Unbelievably, he sees the same thing in Derek’s eyes, plain as day. He’s pretty much an expert in those eyes now, after all, thanks to some recent prolonged exposure—were they always so expressive?

They just stand there staring at each other for a couple minutes, probably 10 yards apart, and if this were a bad rom-com, this is when Stiles would start booing and throwing popcorn at the screen.

But it’s not, and at the moment, Stiles’ heart is about to beat out of his chest. Derek can hear it, surely, sensing how nervous he is, and that thought just makes his damn heart race even faster.

“Come here,” Stiles says, and even though he’s expecting it, his voice is a loud, sudden disturbance in the quiet and makes him flinch. Derek starts for him immediately—eagerly, even, like maybe he was waiting for permission—and that’s just the last fucking straw.

Stiles covers the last couple yards at a jog and crashes against Derek, twisting frantically so that their mouths meet. It’s clumsy, the two of them mostly just panting in the general vicinity of each other’s mouths, until both of Derek’s hands come up to cradle his head, guiding him into a better angle. Stiles exhales shakily into the kiss, biting at Derek’s lips and letting out embarrassing little noises as Derek’s tongue slides into his mouth. It’s feverish and heated as they clutch at each other, and if Stiles had a little less shame, he’d literally be climbing Derek right now. As it is, the scrape of Derek’s beard against his skin makes him shiver, and he clutches desperately at Derek’s shirt.

They finally have to pull apart to breathe, Stiles’ nose pressed against Derek’s cheek. “Fuck,” he says, eloquent as ever, and Derek snorts, his hand smoothing over Stiles’ low back.

“Yeah,” he says, clearing his throat as his grip tightens. “Do you, uh, want to come back inside?”

“Yes,” he says gratefully. “As long as we can stare into each other’s eyes some more.”

Stiles decides right then and there that Derek Hale laughing into his mouth is the best feeling in the damn world. He slots their bodies together, pressed tight from shoulders to knees, and uses his weight to shove Derek back toward the front door.

“I promise this part will last more than four minutes,” Derek says, in between kisses, and Stiles tosses his head back with a laugh.

“I’m not sure I can say the same.”

They hit the door but Stiles forgets about going inside and just deepens the kiss instead, sliding his hands down to clutch at Derek’s hips. Derek pulls away after a minute to nose at Stiles’ jaw, and he tilts his head back a little too eagerly so that his neck is exposed. He’s going to get so much shit from everyone if he shows up anywhere with a hickey, but it feels so damn good that he can’t do anything but lean into the hard pressure of Derek’s mouth.

“Fuck, I just—”

Derek cuts himself off with a frustrated noise, reattaching his mouth to Stiles’ pulse point, and Stiles runs a shaking hand through his hair. “I know, babe, I know. Me too.”

“We can never tell Erica,” Derek whispers, and Stiles laughs, turning his face a little to bury his nose in Derek’s hair.

“Do you think she set us up? What the hell was that anyway?”

“I have no idea. She wasn’t lying about the thesis thing.”

“Do you really care?”

Derek shakes his head and reels him closer still. “No,” he says, mostly into Stiles’ mouth. “Not at all.”