For the first two weeks after the lunar eclipse, Stiles barely leaves his room.
He hurts. All over. His head aches, and his entire body aches, and his jeep is in the shop, and he’s all too aware of the damn darkness around his heart that Deaton had warned them about. Scott feels it too, he knows – they spend a lot of time just lying around in silence together, trying to process everything that’s happened – and Stiles can only assume that Allison is going through the same thing. Scott hasn’t talked much about her, but he and Isaac have still been hanging out, so Stiles can only assume that Scott hasn’t let his feelings for Allison get in the way of the fact that Isaac has switched from Derek’s pack to his. It’s something that Stiles is still boggling at – the fact that Scott is an alpha now – but Scott’s always been smarter and stronger than almost anyone’s ever given him credit for; and Stiles can’t think of anyone better suited to lead the group of humans and werewolves who make up the Beacon Hills pack. If anyone can do it, it’s Scott – with Stiles right at his side, of course. As if Stiles would ever be anywhere else. Alpha or not, Scott would still be lost without him.
Of course, though, thinking about Scott’s newfound alpha status almost always makes Stiles think of another alpha. An alpha who – according to Isaac – gave up his alpha status to save his little sister; and it makes Stiles’ chest too tight to think about it. Power hadn’t necessarily sat well with Derek, but Stiles isn’t sure, either, that reverting back to a weaker beta form would have been good for him; and Stiles spends a lot of time worrying, and then even more time pretending that he’s not worrying. He and Derek had finally been getting somewhere – had had enough moments of genuine connection and, occasionally, something that was almost close to affection, for Stiles to decide that they’d passed out of enemies and into a place of tentative friendship – but Derek is gone, now, and Stiles can’t pretend he doesn’t miss him. Misses his stupid sour face and his inability to use words and his general all-around scowling snarkiness. Misses the evenings they’d spent together, sitting and talking in Derek’s loft, when both Cora and Peter had been out.
There hadn’t been many nights like that, granted – Derek had never asked him over, and Stiles had only invited himself over a few times, not wanting to push his luck – but there had been enough fond moments between them for Stiles to think they were getting anywhere. Enough to think that, maybe, eventually, they could become friends, despite their incredibly rocky history – and then, unsurprisingly, Stiles had gone and fucked things up. Weeks later, and he’s still beating himself up for, the second one you’ve dated, by the way; because that hadn’t been his to share, and it certainly hadn’t been alright for him to throw psychotic mass-murdering girlfriend right in Derek’s face. Derek had trusted him – had told him something that he’d never told anyone – and, in a whirlwind of panic and absolute fucking terror over the thought of losing his dad, Stiles had lashed out in a way that was completely inexcusable; and Stiles isn’t surprised that Derek hadn’t tried to see him before he and Cora left town. If there positions were reversed, Stiles wouldn’t have wanted to see himself, either.
It doesn’t make Derek’s absence any easier, though – in fact, it just makes it worse, because Stiles never got a chance to apologize – and Stiles spends those first couple of weeks at home doing his best to just not think about Derek, period. He’s pretty sure Scott has his new phone number, but he doesn’t ask. Just spends his time with his dad and Scott, and tries to make peace with that damn darkness around his heart, and with that stupid Derek-shaped hold in his chest. Up until Derek had left, Stiles had been able to write it off as a crush – as simply desperately wanting to get into Derek’s pants; because, hello, who wouldn’t? – but with Derek actually gone, Stiles knows better. It’s different than what he feels for Lydia, sure, but in a way that’s somehow even more frightening; and Stiles spends the first two weeks doing his best to start moving on. Nobody knows if Derek is ever coming back – or, if he did, if he’d even want anything to do with Stiles – and the last thing Stiles needs is to be lying around pining over someone he might never see again.
- - -
Three weeks after Derek and Cora leave town, Stiles is sitting on a park bench with his father, watching Scott and Isaac chasing each other around a field. Neither of them are wolfed out, but the park is more or less deserted, and it’s clear that they’re not holding back on their werewolf strength as they toss each other around, laughing; and Stiles feels a curl of happiness sneak through him for the first time in days. He’s got his best friend and his father still alive, and Lydia and Isaac and Allison and Scott’s mom had had all made it through; and Stiles is never going to stop being grateful for that.
“They’re like a couple of overgrown puppies.”
“Really, dad? Dog jokes?”
“Hey, I’m serious. I mean – look at them. Granted, sure, I don’t know Isaac that well – but he looks happy. And given what I do know of his history, I’m thinking that that means something.”
Stiles doesn’t say anything for a moment – just watches the alpha frolicking around with his beta, both of them looking more relaxed than they have in weeks – and Stiles feels a smile tug at his lips. Nudges his shoulder up against his dad’s, who looks at him with such fondness it almost hurts. After months of lying to him, Stiles finally doesn’t have to, anymore; and it’s like he can finally start to breathe again. Like the agonizing distance that had been growing between them had suddenly disappeared again; and Stiles is more thankful for that than he could ever say.
“Yeah, you’re right. They do look happy.”
And it’s true. Isaac looks better than he has in quite possibly ever, and if Scott can find some happiness, what with everything that’s happened, then that’s pretty much the best thing ever. He might be the alpha now – along with all the responsibility that comes from that – and he might be dealing with the same darkness that Stiles and Allison are; but Stiles is damn well going to do everything in his power to keep Scott as happy and cared for as possible. They’ve saved each other, time and time again, and Stiles is happy to keep right on saving Scott in any way he can; and he’s just grateful that he won’t be the only one. Based on Isaac and Scott’s growing relationship, and on the way that Scott still has a strong connection with Allison, Scott’s definitely got more than one friend to watch his back; and as Stiles watches Scott and Isaac roll around on the grass, he feels more content than he has in days. There’s still that Derek-related ache in his stomach – one that he hopes goes away soon – but if Scott’s happy, then that goes a long way to making Stiles feel the same.
- - -
Two days later, Scott and Stiles are playing video games like they’re getting paid to do it, when Stiles’ phone buzzes in his pocket. He ignores it for a few minutes – waits until Scott, unfortunately, has won the race, and is preening in a way that makes Stiles stick out his tongue at him – and then pulls his phone from his pocket, and opens the message – only to go very still at the words on the screen.
“Dude, what’s wrong?”
“And if you’re planning on saying ‘nothing’, I can smell you freaking out, so –”
“I – no, I wasn’t going to – I just – Derek texted me.”
“And you’re… freaking out?”
And – yeah, alright. So maybe Stiles hasn’t been completely honest with Scott about the situation with Derek. Maybe he hasn’t come right out and said, Hey, so I definitely swing both ways, and I have such a thing for Derek it’s embarrassing – and he stares at Scott for a moment, takes in the confused puppy eyes and the obvious fondness there, and then swallows and sets down the phone. He’s pretty sure Scott knows he’s bisexual – he’d have to be blind to not have figured it out by now, though neither of them have officially said a word – but he’s not exactly sure that Scott will get that Stiles has a thing for the snarkiest werewolf to ever snark.
“I – crap, alright. So I’ve kind of got a thing for the bastard, okay? And he left before I could say goodbye, and –”
And then Stiles stops, because saying it out loud hurts. And it shouldn’t hurt – this should just be a stupid crush; this should just be him wanting to get into Derek’s pants – but it does hurt, more than he’d like to admit. And when he manages to look at Scott again, he’s surprised to see that Scott – doesn’t look surprised at all. Is frowning, sure, but not in a way that seems confused or shocked.
“You’re not surprised?”
“You’ve always – smelled different, around him. Similar to how you are around Lydia.”
“Oh, jesus. You with your super werewolf nose.”
Scott just shrugs, completely serious, and Stiles shifts uncomfortably, feeling stupid and young all of a sudden. Of all the people in the world, go figure that he had to go and fall for Derek – and saying it out loud, somehow, just makes everything so much worse. Makes him want to find a wall and bang his head against it until every stupid feeling he’s ever had for Derek goes away.
“Any time you wanna talk about it, I’m here.”
And Scott – his expression is earnest, not even the tiniest hint of judgement there, and Stiles swallows around the rush of gratitude that makes his throat itch and his burn – because, sure. He hadn’t been expecting Scott to run off screaming, but he’s still, officially, the first person Stiles has ever come out to – and neither that, nor the Derek Hale aspect, seem to be throwing him off, and Stiles loves him so much it’s ridiculous.
“You’re a good friend, Scott.”
“You make it easy.”
And that – that is officially them reaching their sappy quota for the day – possibly the month – because Stiles is going to cry, soon, and that’s just not on. He can’t quite joke it away, though – leans over to nudge their shoulders together, and gets an understanding smile from Scott in return – and then Scott picks up the controller again, leaning in against Stiles like he’s still perfectly comfortable there; and Stiles is so grateful it hurts.
“So, ready to get your ass handed to you again?”
And – yeah. Scott is officially the bestest best friend ever.
- - -
A month after Derek leaves town, life has gone back to as normal as it possibly can be. Stiles’ forehead has healed without even a scar, and his jeep is back in working order, and his father is back at work full-time; and as Stiles wanders through the school corridors with Scott at his side, he feels safe in a way he hasn’t since that day when Derek had branded Scott’s tattoo into his arm with a blowtorch, and he and Scott had learned about the alpha pack. From that moment on, Stiles had constantly felt that someone was watching them, ready to tear them all apart – and now, for all that things are far from perfect, he feels safer, at least. He’s got his pack, and everybody seems to be settling in okay, especially considering the trauma they’ve been through – and he can only hope that, somewhere, Derek and Cora are finding some peace of their own. Hopes that they’re finding some ways to heal, after all the shit they’ve been through. He and Derek have been texting, a little bit – nothing of extreme importance, but Stiles is just glad that Derek is even talking to him at all – and he’s been trying to find the guts to apologize for what he said at the hospital. It seems a little bit cowardly, to do so by text; but he also knows damn well that, if he picks up the phone and actually hears Derek’s voice, he’ll lose his nerve before he can get anything coherent out. Knows himself well enough to know that – for all that he might talk snarky circles around Derek – he still gets thrown off balance so scarily easily where Derek is concerned; and the last thing he wants is get halfway into some apology and then botch things up. Derek deserves better than that, and Stiles really needs to figure out what to say and just goddamn type it out and hit send already.
- - -
A few days later, Stiles is sitting on his bed, still pondering what exactly to say, when his phone buzzes at him, and he opens it to find a photo. It’s a picture of water – a hell of a lot of water, actually – and Stiles’ heart is already hurting before he even reads the message underneath the photo.
Neither of us had been to the ocean for a long while. Think we might stay here a bit.
And – jesus. Stiles – something in him pulls too tight, and he hits call before he can stop himself. Nearly slams his thumb down on the end button, immediately after – but he somehow finds the guts to keep the phone ringing, the idea of Derek living by the ocean burning low and shaky inside him. However much he misses the bastard, if anyone deserves a chance at happiness, it’s Derek, and Stiles can’t think of a better place to aim for happiness than right next to an ocean – and then he holds his breath until it goes to an automated voicemail, some mix of disappointment and relief making his stomach twist as the phone beeps at him, signalling him to start talking.
“So, uh – wow, hey. Sorry, random, I know, but – wow, that’s a gorgeous photo. It really is. Dunno where exactly you two are, but wherever it is, I hope you’re – ya know, happily frolicking in the waves like a couple of puppies, and all that jazz, and – um, yeah. Give Cora a hug for me, ka? We miss you guys. And – yeah, guess that’s it. Talk to you later, if you – call any time, ka?”
And then Stiles hits end before he can embarrass himself any further – before he can say something like, I miss you way more than I should, and this stupid definitely-more-than-a-crush isn’t going away, please come home – and then buries his face into the pillow and tries to pretend that the world doesn’t exist.
- - -
Two days later, Derek hasn’t called, and Scott and Stiles are both more down than usual – it’s like, somehow, there’s an actual weight around his heart; and Deaton hadn’t been kidding when he warned them about this – and they end up getting absolutely hammered. Stiles’ dad is working the late shift, and Scott, somehow, has even managed to get hold of some kind of wolfsbane-laced liquor – Stiles isn’t at all surprised when he learns that Lydia had stumbled upon it in her werewolf research – and they end up playing video games and dancing around like idiots and passing the fuck out in Stiles’ bed at about 3 am. When Stiles wakes the next morning, he’s missing a few chunks from the night before; but he feels a little less tightly wound, at least, and he even hums a bit to himself as he stumbles into the shower and somehow keeps his hungover ass vertical long enough to get clean. Stumbles back into the room and falls own next to Scott again, who mutters something but doesn’t wake up; and Stiles falls back asleep with a smile on his face, curled up safe next to his best friend.
The next time he wakes up, though – Scott is gone, with a note saying that Isaac needed him – things aren’t nearly as smile-inducing; because all it takes is one look at his sent box for Stiles to figure out that he should never, ever be allowed near his cell phone when he’s been drinking.
Lydia: Lyyyyyyyyyyydia. Thank u, my strawberry-blonde godess. Sctt’s fnny when he’s drunk.
Isaac: Isaaaac. Totally not drunk textin you now, man. not at all
Danny: Are you hppy with Ethan? Hope your happy. I dont like him, but you deserv to be hapy.
Derek: I miss you.
Derek: i’m drunk. Wit scott. wolf-y booze. He misses u, too. We both do.
Derek: Like, miss you a lot. You shuld come home so we can fight wit each other. is it weird tht i miss that?
Allison: ka I no it’s not my business byt you’re fucking awesome and scott’s fucking awesome and he loves you and I hope you to can work it out cause he really really loves u, like a lot.
Derek: You kno, when the virgin sacrifices were hapening, I almost sked u for help. thought u’d laugh at me, though.
Derek: I hope the oceans fucking gorgeous Can I come visit somtime?
Derek: i’m realy fucking sorry about what i said at the hospital
Derek: like, really sorry. and for all the times I was a jerk to you. u deserved it sometime,s, but not always, and i’m sorry
Derek: scott just tried to do a headstand and ended up puting a dent in my desk. he’s awesome.
Derek: but yea, I miss you and Im sorry. and you have nice hands. i hope the ocean is prettyy.
For a long, terrible moment, all Stiles can do is stare at the phone, barely able to process all the ways in which he’s managed to fuck up. Then, he sets it down, goes into the bathroom, and gives in to the rising nausea. Clings to the toilet as he throws up what feels like all of his insides; and oh, jesus, what has he done.
- - -
“You look like shit.”
Lydia just shrugs, brushing some non-existent dirt from her fingernails, and Stiles rests his chin even harder into his hands. He’s leaning over the kitchen table – he’d found the strength to make it downstairs, but not to try to put any kind of breakfast together; and he’s quite grateful that his dad is still sleeping – and his phone is sitting beside his elbow, mocking him. Reminding him of how badly he’s screwed up.
“So, why am I here this early on a Saturday morning?”
She’s still trying to fix the non-existent flaws with her nails, and Stiles bites down a wave of crushing affection as he opens up his sent folder, and just pushes the phone in her direction. For a moment, she frowns at him; and then she picks it up and starts reading, her frown going a bit deeper until she sets the phone back down again.
“Well, first off, you need to talk to Danny. He’s the one you’ll be seeing first thing on Monday, and you’d best come up with a non-werewolf reason for why you don’t like his boyfriend, or things could get ugly.”
“So I can’t just say, ‘Hey, sorry, the twins helped kill Boyd, still haven’t quite forgiven –’”
And then his brain catches up with his mouth, and he almost bites his tongue off trying to shut himself up – but Lydia’s already swallowing and looking away, and Stiles – feels like absolute shit for hurting her. Danny’s not the only one dating one of the twins, after all, as much as Stiles might hate it.
“Lydia – sorry, I –”
“No, you’re right. But they also tried to save me. That has to count for something.”
She says it almost like it’s a question – sounds like she’s looking for some kind of reassurance – and Stiles – has nothing to give. Hates that he has nothing, but he just – maybe he can’t forget and forgive as easily. Certainly can’t make himself lie to her. Finds himself just shrugging helplessly, and Lydia stares at him for a moment, her lips pressing together in a way that looks like she’s keeping them from shaking; before she shakes her head and pushes his phone back to him.
“Forget about me. We need to do damage control for you. I didn’t even know – I mean, I knew you wanted in his pants, of course, but –”
“How did –”
“Oh, come on, Stiles. You know how high my IQ is. And you weren’t exactly subtle.”
“But you – you actually like him, don’t you?”
There’s not a hint of judgement in her voice, same as when he told Scott, and, god – Stiles actually has the best friends ever. Takes a moment to swallow around the tightness in his throat, and then he drops his eyes to the table, staring down at his hands, not quite able to look at her.
“I don’t know what happened. First I wanted to punch him, and then I wanted to jump him, and now – well, there’s still both of those, too – though less of the former, thankfully – but I also –”
“Want to stay up late snuggling and whispering sweet nothings to each other while a rainstorm pounds on the tin roof?”
“Oh, jesus, Lydia.”
“I’m not wrong, though.”
“I – god. No, you’re not. Shit.”
“In that case, then – you need to call him.”
“I can’t –”
“And what was it you said at the hospital, anyway? That was months ago.”
He finally gets his eyes back up to meet hers – feels his stomach twist on the wave of guilt at the memory; thinks of nearly the entire Hale family being burned alive by Derek’s psychotic mass-murdering girlfriend, and, god, it’s truly a miracle Derek has been talking to him at all – and she’s holding up her hands even as he starts to shake his head.
“Hey, that’s fine. You don’t have to –”
“It’s just – I shared something I shouldn’t have. Bad enough I already did it once –”
“You don’t need to be tell me. But you should really call him. If not today, then soon. Alright?”
“I – alright.”
“Good. Now, come on. I’ll buy you a hangover breakfast. Something greasy.”
“You’re an angel.”
Lydia just smiles at him – takes the compliment as her rightful due – and Stiles can’t breathe for another wave of crushing affection. He may be head over fucking heels for Derek, but being in love with Lydia has been as basic as breathing to him for years, and he has a feeling that that’s not going to go away any time soon – but as long as he never goes back to being a stuttering idiot around her, then that’s enough for him. She’s one of his best friends, now, and he’s lucky to have her in his life.
- - -
Later that day, long after Lydia has gone home, Stiles still feels as shitty as he had when he’d woken up – though he’s pretty sure the lingering nausea has less to do with the hangover, and more to do with how much he’s royally fucked up – and he eventually goes for a drive. Ends up parking in front of Derek’s old burnt out shell of a house, and then goes to sit on the porch, and tries to find the guts to open up his contact list and press call. He’s pretty sure that he’s officially about to end whatever friendship he and Derek had been starting to build, and it may be melodramatic of him, but it somehow seems fitting to be sitting in front of Derek’s house when he does it – except that he can’t seem to press send. Just ends up sitting there for a couple of hours, hating himself for being a coward, as the sun slowly creeps down, and shadows from the trees start spilling across the yard and the porch – and he’s just about to bang his head against the railing in frustration when his phone buzzes in his hand, and he has to take a steadying breath before he opens up the message.
You can come visit, if you want.
And – christ. It feels like being kicked and kissed and punched all at once, and Stiles goes dizzy for a second. Gives it a moment, and then types out a shaky response, trying to make sense of the fact that he’d pretty much said, Hey, so, I’d like you to take my virginity; and did I mention I`ve got a thing for your hands? – and yet Derek still wants to see him anyway. Wants to see him despite the night at the hospital, and despite Stiles hitting on him; and, oh, god, Stiles has no idea what he’s doing, but he doesn’t care. If the mess with the alpha pack had taught him anything, it’s that there’s a lot more to Derek than snark and violence and anger – and Stiles wants to learn the rest of him. And maybe that makes him even more of a masochist than he’d already thought – maybe it’s always going to be his thing, to wiggle his way into the lives of people he wants, who will never want him back – but his chest is hurting again, and he just doesn’t fucking care.
You’re awesome. Sorry about all the drunk texts. School’s out in a month. That work for you?
Whenever works. You have a passport?
Dude, where the hell are you? And yes.
Good. Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Call when you get here, and I’ll meet you.
You’re in freaking Canada?
Better health care.
For a moment, it doesn’t compute, and Stiles just stares at the phone. Then, he’s laughing so hard he’s pretty sure he’s scaring off the wildlife around him; and it takes him a second before he can make his fingers work to type.
Dude, did you just make a joke?
Don’t make me regret inviting you.
Are you kidding? Derek Hale makes jokes. I’m marking this off on the calendar.
You’re a jerk.
And you’re a master jokesman. Oh my god. I think Canada has been good for you.
You’re still a jerk.
But you miss me anyway.
He hits send before he can second-guess himself – he’s probably pushing his luck, but he’s grinning too hard to care – and then he climbs to his feet and gets back in the jeep, dialing up Scott as he leans back in the driver’s seat, feeling better than he has in longer than he cares to think about it.
“Scott? Hey, man. You are so not gonna believe the roadtrip I have planned.”
- - -
After that, the next month goes past so slowly it’s a wonder Stiles doesn’t claw his own skin off.
There are classes, and tests, and essays, and exams, and lacrosse practices. Scott and Isaac continue to bond, Lydia continues to float around the school like the beautiful genius goddess that she is, Allison and Isaac continue to get closer, and Danny forgives Stiles for bad-mouthing his boyfriend. There’s no hint of dangerous supernatural activity, amazingly – and while Stiles doesn’t think Beacon Hills won’t eventually make good on its potential of literally being a beacon, he’s happy to just enjoy the peace while it lasts. Clings to that peace, and to his friends, and to the upcoming trip to Nova Scotia, and does his best to ignore the way it takes more effort to be content than it ever has before. He and Scott talk about it, a bit, and Stiles has a couple of conversations with Allison, too; but there’s nothing they can do now but try to find ways to keep each other sane.
Derek, surprisingly, helps with that.
They never talk about Stiles’ stupid drunken ramblings, and they never touch on anything too serious, and Stiles never finds the sober courage to apologize for that night at the hospital; but Derek sends him pictures of the ocean, and Stiles sends him stupid little snippets of what he spends his days doing; and, somehow, they seem to find some balance between snarking at each other and being friendly. And while Stiles has no idea whether that new-found balance is going to hold up once he actually gets face-to-face with Derek again, he’s happy to just cling to it for as long as he can. He knows he’s reading too much into it – knows that, on his end, it’s got to mean so much more than on Derek’s – but he can’t even bring himself to care. He’s tired, and school sucks, and that goddamn darkness is always tugging at him, trying to pull him down; and if clinging to Derek’s texts will help him make it to the end of term, then nobody ever has to know but Stiles.
- - -
Finally, though, school is done, exams have been conquered, Stiles’ jeep is pointed in the general direction of eastern Canada – and Stiles is so nervous he could almost puke. His father had grudgingly given him permission to make the trip – and Stiles is pretty sure that that had something to do with the fact that Stiles can obviously take care of himself, what with the fact that he’s somehow still alive after everything that’s happened – and Scott had given him a long hug and told him to call if being around Derek ended up being a disaster; and now Stiles is Canada-bound, and he’s pretty sure the he’s going to drive off the damn road if he doesn’t get his shit together soon.
As if to mock him even further, his phone buzzes in his pocket, and he finds a place to pull over before he pulls it out. He’s seen enough videos on the dangers of texting while driving.
Call me when you get here. Drive safe.
Of course. Wouldn’t want to bang up this beautiful face again.
And that – that is Stiles probably pushing it again – and it probably says something about him, too, that he’s making jokes about the crash that could easily have killed him – but he doesn’t much care. Hits send, waits for a minute or so – and when he gets nothing back, he swallows and sticks the phone back in his pocket. Tries to remind himself that he’s going to Derek as a maybe-possibly-friend, and nothing more. It’s a long, long drive to Canada, and if Stiles makes this into some kind of long-distance romance reunion story in his head, then he’s actually going to drive off the road before he gets there.
- - -
Naturally, he makes it into some kind of long-distance romance reunion story in his head.
By the end of day two, after two crumby motels and many hours of driving, he’s gone through all of his burned CDs at least six times, and has begun channel cruising, looking for something new. Of course, most of the stuff on the radio is love songs, with so much cheese and sap and angst that it’s almost painful – which doesn’t explain why Stiles is still listening to it. It’d be embarrassing, actually, if there was anyone else around; but there’s only him and his jeep, and he finally just concedes defeat and admits that, yes, he’s listening to sappy love songs while driving across country to visit Derek Hale. Nobody else but him will ever know, and he’ll just have to make peace with how pathetic he is.
- - -
A few days later, he’s across the border – and he’s starting to get even more nervous than ever; because, for the last few days, there’s been radio silence from Derek. Before this, there had been at least a few texts, every day, about stupid little things – but now, there’s nothing, and Stiles – honestly doesn’t know how to interpret that. Doesn’t know if Derek is regretting inviting him – and by the time he reaches Nova Scotia, he’s almost too nervous to appreciate how gorgeous everything is. Finds a shitty little motel – could probably make it to Derek’s by dark, but isn’t sure he can quite deal with seeing Derek just yet – and then lies in the silent room and stares at the ceiling, wondering whether he’s over-reacting to something that means nothing. Gives it a long moment of lying there alone, feeling young and confused and so very stupid; and then he grits his teeth and reaches for his phone – because, honestly, this is stupid. If Derek doesn’t want him there, then he can damn well say so – and until he does, Stiles has been invited to visit, and he’s damn well going to visit.
Be there tomorrow. Looking forward to my charming presence?
He swallows hard and presses send – but there’s no response. The minutes slowly tick by, as Stiles sits down on his bed and makes himself read one of the books he brought; but the silence eventually gets to be too much, and he finally gets up and stomps across the room to the door, deciding that it’s time to explore the cute little town that he’s in. Derek might not be talking to him, suddenly, but like hell is Stiles going to spend his evening lying around and feeling sorry for himself.
- - -
The next day finds Stiles parked in front of a coffee shop in the small town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and long past the point of feeling like an idiot, and right into a place of freaking out, because – there’s been not a single answer to Stiles’ texts. And now Stiles is here, and there’s no sign of Derek; and while Derek might be a bit of a jerk, Stiles knows he’s not enough of a jerk that he would get Stiles to drive all the way up here and then bail on him without a word – that, at the very least, he’d tell Stiles if he’d changed his mind about having him come to visit – and that leaves Derek being in trouble of some sort, and Stiles – needs to do something. Needs to find him. Needs to figure out how to save Derek from the werewolves or vampires or hunters or goddamn fucking carnivorous mermaids that probably have him held captive at this very moment. Glances around the cheerful looking town streets, fights down a chill, and then pulls out his phone to dial Scott – only to shriek and spin around, knocking the hand off his shoulder and pulling back to punch –
Derek is staring at him, his eyebrows raised, his hands up in the universal sign for surrender, and Stiles – can only stare back, gaping, everything inside him getting all tangled up too tight – and then Derek frowns down at him, as though Stiles is the absolute worst for probably reeking of fear and panic, and Stiles – moves without thinking. Steps forward and shoves Derek, hard – who lets himself be shoved. Ends up with both of them stumbling a bit, until Derek’s hands catch on his elbows and he holds them both still, glaring at Stiles as though he has any right to be pissed.
“You bastard. I thought you were dead.”
“I thought that – werewolves had gotten you, or – or mermaids had eaten you, or –”
And that – yeah. Derek is definitely looking at him like he thinks Stiles is the biggest idiot on the planet; and Stiles grits his teeth, feeling way, way too many things at once. Can’t breathe for the way his chest has gone tight with such relief it’s not even sane. Just barely stops himself from shoving Derek again – opens his mouth to keep yelling – but then Derek tightens his grip on his wrists, and Stiles snaps his jaw shut and settles for glaring up at him. Tries to ignore the way his heart is beating hard enough to choke him; his breathing coming a bit shallower than it should be.
“I forgot to pay my phone bill.”
“And you’ve never heard of a payphone?”
“I only learned this morning that my texts weren’t sending.”
And Derek – says it with a frown, as though he’s been personally insulted by his phone company’s shortcomings; and Stiles, suddenly, wants to touch him so badly it actually physically hurts. Wants to burrow in under that stupid fucking leather jacket and never come out again. He only realizes he’s actually trying to move when Derek drops his wrists, as though finally remembering he’d been holding him there; and Stiles swallows, hard, and shoves his hands into his jean pockets to keep them to himself – and then there’s just silence, long and painful as they just stare at each other; because Derek is the king of being awkward, and Stiles suddenly can’t seem to make words happen. For a few long moments, it’s agonizing; and then Derek steps back.
“I’m about ten miles out of town. You good to follow me there?”
“Lead on, wolfman.”
For a moment, Derek looks incredibly pained; and then he’s turning and crossing the parking lot, and Stiles watches him for a moment, his heart slamming in his chest, before he turns and more or less crumples back into jeep. Gets his hands on the steering wheel and wonders why the hell he ever thought this was a good idea. All relief aside – and he is relieved, jesus; still can barely breathe for it – they’ve only been in the same breathing space for about sixty seconds, and there’s already been yelling and shoving and insults and glaring; and by the time he reaches Derek’s house, following him down a series of gorgeous little back roads, Stiles is so jittery he’s considering an extra dose of Adderall. His legs are twitching and he can’t seem to stop gnawing on his lip, and maybe Derek smells his unease, or something, because he’s frowning more than usual at Stiles as they climb out of their vehicles. Doesn’t say a word, though – and Stiles, suddenly, isn’t paying attention to Derek anymore, anyway, because he’s finally gotten his eyes away from Derek long enough to take note of the area around him, and – wow.
He’s on a beach. Right on a fucking beach. On the Atlantic Ocean. And the house isn’t all that big, but it’s made of some kind of gorgeous dark wood, with a gravel driveway leading up to it; and there are white sands everywhere, and no other houses around, and rolling dunes and crashing waves and dear sweet jesus. Stiles can feel his jaw drop, and when he finally drags his eyes from the ocean to Derek, it’s to find the driveway already empty. For a moment, he just stares; and then he hefts up his bag and scrambles into the house, where Derek is hanging up his jacket by the main door.
“Dude, this is gorgeous.”
He’s not quite sure what he expects – maybe a look that says, Duh, you idiot – but, instead, something about Derek seems to soften – barely perceptible, but definitely there – and when he looks at Stiles, Stiles can’t help but smile. He knows he’s probably giving too much away – knows he should be smirking, instead, or putting on that shit-eating grin that he knows drives Derek bonkers – but Derek is looking quietly content, somehow, and Stiles only realizes they’re pretty much just flat out staring at each other when Derek takes a step closer, nearly drawing a squeak from Stiles’ throat.
“Your head. No scar.”
“Uh. Yeah. Scott’s mom is kinda really awesome.”
Derek just nods, but he’s still way too damn close, every stupid beautiful inch of him, and Stiles only realizes he’s holding his breath when Derek stops studying his head and steps away again, giving him room to breathe.
“I’ll give you a tour.”
“I – right.”
He doesn’t know what else to say – doesn’t know where the hell his words have gone, suddenly – but Derek doesn’t seem to care. Just jerks his head in a come hither motion, and Stiles follows him into a gorgeous kitchen, and then through the rest of the house. There end up being the kitchen, three bedrooms, a bathroom, and a living room – the latter with an actual fireplace, and a few framed photos of Derek and Cora, of them standing on the beach together – and Stiles does his best to look at the house, and to not stare at Derek, as Derek shows him around. He isn’t quite sure he succeeds at keeping his eyes to himself, though, and when Derek ends up standing in the doorway of the guest room, staring at him while Stiles drops his backpack beside the bed, Stiles finally cracks a bit and can’t stop a scowl.
For a moment, Derek says nothing. Then, he swallows and makes a ridiculous face, like he’s having an emotion that he doesn’t know how to deal with, and Stiles is so busy thinking, I really, really like you, you stupid ornery bastard¸ that he almost misses the part where Derek finds his words.
“Thank you for saving Cora.”
“I – how did you –”
“Scott told me.”
And that – makes sense, actually. Stiles hadn’t the chance to tell either Derek or Cora – they’d hightailed it out of town far too quickly – and now he just shrugs, and doesn’t know what to say. Breathes through the way his stomach turns over at the memory of the moment when she’d stopped breathing in front of him; and Derek stares at him for a second longer before he steps back, his expression still all conflicted, like he’s dealing with something he doesn’t know how to deal with.
“This room is yours, for however long you want it.”
“For however long?”
Derek just shrugs, and then leaves the doorway without another word, and Stiles swallows, hard. Tries to ignore the way his hands want to trace down the insanely perfect lines of Derek’s back as he walks away. Tries, desperately, to not think about what however long you want it means – because if he starts to imagine an entire summer spent here, lounging around on the beach with Derek, he’s going to drive himself crazy might damn fast.
- - -
An hour later, Stiles has unpacked his stuff and had a long shower – trying, desperately, to not imagine Derek naked and soaking wet – and he finally feels steady enough to brave the rest of the house. Slides into a pair of old jeans and a clean top, runs a towel through his damp hair – he’s still not used to there actually being hair there – and then wanders out of his bedroom. Enjoys the feeling of the cool wood floor on his bare feet as he pads down the hallway, and when he finds the kitchen and the living room empty, he heads for the back porch, where Derek is sitting on the steps, looking like the windswept hero of some romance movie as he sits and stares at the water. He glances up at Stiles as Stiles steps onto the porch – Stiles has no idea what the hell he’s thinking – and then goes back to staring at the water; and Stiles tells himself to not be a coward as he sits down on the steps beside him, ignoring the way his heart immediately skips up a pace. If Derek hears it, he – mercifully – doesn’t say a word, and the silence between them sits for a moment – not exactly comfortable, not but exactly awkward – before Derek glances at him.
“I hear you saved Isaac, too.”
“I – well –”
And, jesus – two thank yous in one day. It must be some sort of record, and Stiles swallows, hard, as a new thought – a somewhat unpleasant one – hits him. Doesn’t quite get a reign on his stupid mouth in time.
“Is that why you’re being so nice to me?” Beside him, Derek goes very still. Doesn’t even seem to be breathing, anymore, and Stiles ploughs through the sudden wave of stupid misplaced guilt as he tries to keep going. “I just – these last few months. With all the texting, and the – the not calling me out on being a drunken idiot, when you so, so could have. And now, me, being here. I don’t get –”
“You’re here because you wanted to be.”
“But – you –”
“You asked, and I said yes.”
Distantly, he knows that he should drop it – knows that he should just let it go, because Derek is more allergic to talking about his emotions than anyone Stiles knows – and he stares down at the sand as the silence stretches. Hates that he feels so young and stupid, all of a sudden. Even with Lydia, with all the times he’d made a fool of himself, he’d never felt this damn vulnerable about it; and he damn near jumps when Derek shifts beside him, the movement seeming as loud as gunshot.
“You know I’m not good with words.” It’s low, barely audible over the waves, and Stiles somehow – miraculously – bites down the, No, you think? that wants to spill out, as he digs his toes into the warm sand and focuses on staying quiet. “And I – know that our history is complicated. That I scared you, and threw you around, and –”
“– and I regret that.”
“So you’re just doing this out of guilt, then?” He regrets it the second it’s out – his stupid mouth – and when Derek makes a noise that sounds frustrated, it gives Stiles the guts to look sideways and meet his gaze, even as tries to breathe through the hesitancy he thinks he can see on Derek’s face. “I just mean –”
“You’re abrasive and annoying and you never stop talking.”
“You’re also loyal, and you’ve been there for me. If you want a friend, here – you have one.”
He bites out the last bit like it causes him physical pain – jerks his eyes back to the water as he says it, his expression so set it looks painful – and Stiles breathes through the way that hits him like a sledgehammer. Gives himself a moment to just breathe, and then the full extent of what Derek’s said starts to sink in, and Stiles is pretty sure he’s going to pull a muscle with how hard he’s grinning. Can barely breathe for the way his sentimental heart is going all stupid in his chest.
“Dude. I can’t even be a sarcastic twit about this. You actually just asked me to be your friend.”
“No, man – this shit’s important. You, Derek Hale, just asked me to be your friend. Do you not see how awesome this is? Cause it’s definitely awesome. And I definitely accept your friendship offer – I so, so accept. I so very much do. We’re going to be the best of buddies forever, and –”
“I should send you back to California.”
“No way, man. We’re friends now. You’re stuck with me.”
He hears the way his voice has gone a little shaky, though, and something is going way too tight in his stomach; and Derek makes a huffing sound as though Stiles is too stupid to live. For a second, then, as Derek sits there and looks uncomfortable with all the sappy emotions hanging there between him, there’s a chance of it becoming awkward – but Stiles can’t have that. He’s finally gotten the green light on something he’s been tearing himself up over, and it’s definitely time to celebrate.
“Come on, then. I should make you friendship dinner.”
“No, dude. You invited me into your house. You proposed friendship. The least I can do is make friendship burgers, or –”
“If you don't stop putting ‘friendship’ before every –”
“You love it. Now, come on.”
He only realizes what he’s done – climbed to his feet beside Derek, and stuck out a hand – when he’s already done it; and then he goes still, his hand still stuck awkwardly out in front of him. For a painful second, then, Derek just stares up at him, his expression absolutely unreadable, and Stiles needs to find some way to laugh this off – except that Derek is taking his hand, not quite looking at him as he lets Stiles pull him to his feet, and, jesus. His hand is warm and massive in Stiles’, and Stiles is distantly aware of the fact that he must reek of turned-on teenage boy, his breath coming too fast and his stupid dick stirring – and, good lord, Derek’s not stepping away. Dropping his hand, but not moving away, and there’s not nearly enough space in between them; and Stiles absolutely cannot read the look on Derek’s face. Stares up at him – it’s like looking at a goddamn mask – and then nearly fucking falls over when Derek’s eyes drop – unmistakably – to his mouth, and something in that mask seems to crack right down the middle – but then Derek brushes past him, into the house without a word, and Stiles just stands there, feeling absolutely frozen.
What the actual hell.
For a long moment, he doesn’t move, his mind blank save for the look on Derek’s face; and then he distantly realizes there’s a wave of panic clawing at the edges of his vision, and he carefully puts his hands on the railing and just holds on. Does his best to just breathe, thinking of Lydia and holding his breath for as long as he can, before he slowly starts to let it back out again; and it’s only when the sound of the waves starts to filter back in that he manages to unpeel his hands from the railing, his knees still all shaky underneath him. Incredulously, he turns to stare at the door Derek had gone through – tries to fathom a world in which his thing for Derek isn’t horribly unrequited – and it’s only when he’s pretty sure he’s not going to stop breathing again that he makes himself follow Derek into the kitchen. Finds Derek standing there, not looking at him – apparently having found something fascinating in the empty sink – and somehow, miraculously, finds it in himself to act as normal as he can. Sits himself down at the table and casts around for something to say, trying to ignore the way he can feel his heart pounding in his ears – because this is something that he needs to compartmentalize and deal with later, when he’s not in Derek’s immediate vicinity.
“So, um. Where’s Cora, then?”
“I – right. What –”
His voice sounds a little shaky, and Derek’s sounds like it’s been cut from granite; but at least they’re talking to each other. At least they’re not – addressing whatever the fuck just happened; and then Stiles gets distracted from that train of thought by the fact that Derek is suddenly smiling, but in a way that looks more like he’s baring his teeth and preparing to feast on the bones of his enemies.
“All the men gave her shit until they realized that she could haul nets better than they could.”
It sounds both protective and proud at the same time, some of the tension visibly easing out of Derek as he thinks about his sister, and Stiles damn near chokes himself under a sudden wave of fondness for the surly werewolf standing in front of him. Is suddenly grateful that he’s sitting on the other side of the table, with how badly his hands are itching to touch – but maybe he makes a noise, or his heart does something incriminating, because Derek seems to have gone tense again; and Stiles just can’t have that. He might not know exactly what is going on here – might still be carefully not thinking about the fact that maybe, impossibly, his stupid thing for Derek isn’t completely one-sided, after all – but he knows that Derek’s been through enough shit; and the last thing Stiles wants is to come back into his life, and into his house, and cause him even more anxiety. Gets to his feet with at least an attempt at a smile, and nods in the direction of the fridge.
“Come on, then. Why don’t you – go relax, or commune with nature, or something? I promised you friendship burgers, and I intend to deliver on –”
But Derek’s already nodding, not saying another word as he leaves the kitchen without looking at him – from anyone else, Stiles would call it running away – and Stiles carefully doesn’t make a sound – damn werewolf hearing – as he sits back down in his chair, puts his chin in his hands, and just tries to breathe.
- - -
After that, the evening becomes an exercise in awkwardness.
Stiles takes as long as possible to make the burgers – and he’s definitely self-aware enough to admit that he’s more or less hiding in the kitchen – and then they eat them together on the back porch, while Stiles babbles on about whatever he can think of, trying to fill the unfortunate silence between them, as Derek stares at the ocean or the sand and answers in mono-syllables. It’s like Derek’s just completely shut down on him, in a disconcerting way that Stiles has no idea how to address; and as soon as they’re done eating, Derek says he’s going for a run, and Stiles can’t do anything but nod when Derek tells him to not wait up. It’s as clear a dismissal as actually telling him to fuck off, and Stiles takes Derek at his word on it. He’s exhausted, anyway, and he’s carefully doing his best to not think about anything that could freak him out – and he takes the time to clean things up, and then he falls into his bed, wraps himself as tight as he can in the comforter, and squeezes his eyes shut and does his best to not think about anything at all.
Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work.
At two o’clock, Stiles is still awake, lying on his back on the clean sheets, naked save for his boxers. The curtains are blowing in the breeze from the ocean, sending shivers across his bare skin, and the moon is bright enough to light up the room; and he bites his lip when he hears the sound of the shower turn on down the hall. He hadn’t even heard Derek come back into the house – freaking werewolf – but he’s obviously back, and Stiles tries out an idea in his head. Imagines walking down the hallway and into that shower – imagines, insanely, not being thrown out on his ass – and then has to turn onto his stomach and bury a groan into the pillow, his dick stirring in a way that he knows he can’t do anything about, because stupid werewolf senses – but, yeah. If there’s a chance that Stiles could actually walk down that hall and into Derek’s soaking wet arms, it’s easily one of the most terrifying things he’s ever encountered, in a long history of encountering terrifying things; and Stiles has absolutely no idea what the hell he’s supposed to do now.
- - -
When Stiles slowly wakes up the next morning, it’s to the sound of seagulls and waves, and he lies there for a long moment – can’t fight down the wave of dread that sweeps through him, when he thinks of trying to make it through a day like the previous evening – before he rolls out of bed and tugs on a sweater to go with his boxers. A glance at his cell tells him that it’s surprisingly early, and he tiptoes down the hallway as quietly as he can – hopes like hell that he’s not going to wake up any werewolves on his way to the kitchen – only to pause outside Derek’s room – because the door’s wide open, and Stiles is pretty sure his stupid sentimental heart is just going to give up for good this time.
Derek’s sound asleep, his hair a ridiculous mess against the pillow, with Cora curled up right next to him, her head squished in against his neck, and one of his arms thrown across her. For a second, Stiles can’t help the way his brain goes to the image of a couple of puppies curled up together; and then he’s just doing his best to breathe through the insane levels of adorableness in front of him. Doesn’t even bother trying to deny the way it hits him right in that Derek-shaped place inside him that seems to hurt whenever Derek does something endearing; and then he’s backing away from the doorway, as quietly as he possibly can, unable to keep the stupid smile from his face. He’d been planning on food, and then a shower – but the last thing he wants to do is wake them up with his noise, and he stops by his room just long enough to slide into his swim trunks before he slips out the back door as quietly as he can. Confusion with Derek notwithstanding, that’s easily one of the sweetest things Stiles has seen in a very long time, and he’s still smiling when he dives into the ocean, salty water rising up to cover him until there’s nothing left but the feel of the waves on his skin.
- - -
When Stiles slowly begins to wake up again, he’s lying on something that’s not exactly comfortable, and it takes him a moment to put it all together. He’d lied down on the sand, not too far from the water – stretched out on his stomach, and put his chin on his arms, all the better to watch the waves – but it’s not like he’d intended to fall asleep there; and when he shifts to move, he feels the wave of pain that shoots across his back, and goes very, very still. Hesitantly, slowly, he turns his head a bit to look at what he can see of his shoulders – and, oh, jesus. Yeah, that is sunburn. That is one hell of a nasty sunburn, and he bites down a hiss as he tries to move again –
“You’re an idiot.”
Derek’s voice slides across his skin like a touch, and Stiles yelps and flails around to land on his back – which is one of the worst ideas he’s ever had. Distantly, he’s aware that Derek is standing there in the sand, towering over him and probably glaring down at him, but it’s overshadowed by the fact that his back is on fire – and he only realizes he’s squeezed his eyes shut when they fly open again, because Derek’s kneeling in front of him in the sand, way too close, and looking all kinds of apologetic.
“I – didn’t mean to startle you. I thought –”
“Dude, save it. I need Aloe Vera, like, stat, so –”
“Cora’s already gone to buy some.”
He still sounds all sad and apologetic, and is somehow managing to look like a kicked puppy; and, somehow, that only makes the pain in Stiles’ back that much worse. He manages to nod his thanks, at least – hates, suddenly, that he’s the weak human in this scenario, once again – and then moves to get up – he’s been through so much worse than a sunburn, after all – only to jump and then go still when Derek puts a hand on his bare shin, not quite looking at him as he does so.
“I can – werewolves – we can absorb pain.”
For a second, Stiles just stares at him, trying to think over the pain and the touch of Derek’s hand – and then Derek manages to look at him, and all Stiles can do is nod. Can’t stop an honest-to-god gasp when the pain starts to leech away, making the sky above him tilt and the sand beneath him shift – makes him swallow, hard, as dark black lines sneak up Derek’s arms, Derek’s face pinching a way that looks uncomfortable – and Stiles scrambles to think over the way the world is spinning.
“Does this – am I hurting you?”
Derek just shakes his head, doesn’t say anything, and Stiles hopes to hell that it’s true. Somehow manages to keep his eyes open – despite the less than ideal circumstances, this is something he doesn’t want to miss – until Derek takes his hand away again, leaving Stiles scrambling to keep himself upright in the sand. He feels even dizzier, suddenly, and the only thing that stops him from falling back down into the sand is the fact that it would most definitely make everything hurt again.
And Derek is – looking hopeful, somehow, despite the way he also looks pale and exhausted and a little wary, and Stiles barely bites down the, Dude, I freaking love you, that wants to spill out – because that’s far too close to the truth – as he stretches and doesn’t feel any pain. Can’t feel anything but bone-deep gratitude and affection, actually, and he has to catch his breath before he can speak.
Still not particularly eloquent, then, but the world’s thankfully slowing its spin around him, and it must be a sufficient answer, because Derek nods and get to his feet. Doesn’t offer him a hand, but Stiles isn’t really expecting it, not after last night – and so he ends up climbing to his feet on his own, brushing sand off his shorts and stomach and – and then feeling suddenly and horribly self-conscious when he catches Derek staring at him. There’s absolutely no mistaking it – Stiles is in nothing but swim shorts, and Derek is so looking, with an expression that Stiles has no hope of interpreting – and then Derek yanks his eyes away with an expression that looks almost like guilt, as he starts walking back to the house, and Stiles has to steady his wobbly knees before he makes himself follow, and – this is actually insane. In a way that’s actually going to spiral him into a panic attack if he’s not careful. He can’t be in some gorgeous beach paradise with the surly werewolf of his dreams suddenly wanting him back, because that kind of stuff doesn’t happen in real life. Real life is darkness and pain and blood and him getting kicked in the nuts over and over –
Darkness. Or, rather, the absence of. It hits him, suddenly, as he walks across the sand, that since he’s gotten here, he hasn’t been in a constant fight against the heavy weight around his heart – and he exhales slowly and closes his eyes for a moment, before he nearly trips over a rock and opens them again. Raises his gaze to watch Derek walk across the sand, his shoulders tight and angry in that perpetually hurt-looking way that only Derek’s ever been able to pull off – and remembers, suddenly, something that Scott had said, about Allison being his anchor to his humanity, back when the wolf had wanted to break free and hurt people. And while Stiles might not be a werewolf, and while it seems crazy to think that Derek might be the person who helps to keep Stiles’ darkness at bay, he can’t deny that – all confusion aside – he’s doing better now, here, than he has in months; and he swallows hard and follows Derek into the kitchen, where Derek is slinging a backpack over his shoulders. He glances at Stiles for a second, his expression back to being utterly unreadable, before opening the fridge and pulling out what look like a lunchbox.
“I need to go to work.”
“I – alright.”
“Cora will be back soon. Good luck with –”
He nods at Stiles in a way that Stiles takes to mean as, Good luck with your singed back¸ and then he’s out the door without another word; and Stiles is starting to think that a lot of what Derek’s been doing over the last two days could definitely be called running away. He’s not quite sure when that became a thing – because Derek might be many things, but a coward isn’t one of them – but he’s starting to think that it might have something to do with the fact that Derek apparently – insanely – wants Stiles’ nubile young sixteen-year-old body – and that, apparently, is something he can’t even make jokes about in his mind, based on the way his chest is starting to hurt and his dick is stirring inside his swim trunks. He takes a steadying breath, and the minute he hears Derek’s car finish crunching down the gravel driveway, he beelines it for the washroom, nearly tripping over himself in his haste to get out of his swim shorts and into the shower. Turns the water up to near scalding, and then thunks his head against the cold tile wall as he reaches down and gets a hand around himself, nearly taking his own legs out from under him.
Because it’s easy – ludicrously, horribly easy – to imagine that that’s Derek hand around him. That Derek is the one shoving him up against the wall, and stroking him until he starts to shake all over from it. He’s in Derek’s shower, and in Derek’s house, and there’s no way he’s been misinterpreting the way Derek’s been staring at him; and he barely has to do anything before he’s already so close to the edge he can barely stand it. Scrambles with one hand on the tiles to keep himself upright, and then closes his eyes against the water and pictures Derek crowding in close behind him, pressing up against him and wrapping a giant hand around his dick and muttering against his neck, soaking wet and gorgeous and actually interested in Stiles – and Stiles comes so hard it punches the air out of his lungs. He can’t even make a sound for it – can’t do anything but squeeze his eyes shut and ride it out, everything inside him locking up and then washing white hot – and when he finally comes back to himself, he’s barely holding himself up against the slippery wall, with the shower pounding down hot and unforgiving against his shoulders. For a long moment, then, he doesn’t move – clings to the lingering illusion of Derek right there behind him – and then a hint of pain starts to sneak in through the glorious haze, and –
Fuck. His sunburn. God, he’s an idiot.
- - -
When Stiles finally stumbles out of his room and back into the kitchen, about half an hour later – he’d cringed his way out of the scalding shower, dried himself off as gently as he could, and then slid into jeans and the softest t-shirt he had – he still has no idea what to do about Derek – can’t think about it for too long without getting all panicky inside; because the idea of Derek wanting him is terrifying in a completely different way than the idea of Derek not wanting him – and Cora is sitting at the kitchen table. For a second, he just stares at her – and then she smiles at him, small and content and looking genuinely happy to see him, and Stiles can’t stop the grin that spreads across his face. Opens his mouth to say something – isn’t sure whether he can get away with hugging her; isn’t sure whether they’re close enough for that – but she’s already out of the chair and across the room, and pulling him into a hug that somehow fails to jostle his sunburn.
“Got some after burn stuff. You looked pretty toasty out there.”
“You’re a saint.”
She’s still smiling at him as she pulls away, and Stiles has a moment of thinking, God, I’m glad you’re alive¸ before the smile slides away into something serious, as though she’s reading his mind. Reaches over to hand him the Aloe Vera from the table, and then just stands there and stares at him, her eyes fixed on his in a way that makes him feel like she’s seeing straight through him.
“Scott told us. Thank you. If not for you –” She doesn’t quite finish the sentence, and Stiles has a horrible moment of remembering when she’d stopped breathing in front of him. Wants to put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, or something – doesn’t quite know what to do or say, suddenly – and then her eyes drop down to somewhere around his shoulder. “It’d have killed him, you know. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I’m glad to be alive for my own sake – but if I hadn’t made it –”
“I’m just glad I could help.”
She nods at that, and Stiles desperately needs to find a way to wipe that sadness from her face – because Cora’s looking wrecked at the thought of what losing her would have done to Derek, and it won’t do any of them any good to dwell on that. They all made it through, amazingly, and that’s the bit that truly matters. Mentally flails around for a second, and then raises the Aloe Vera bottle between them, with a look that he hopes is encouraging; and it must do the trick, because the tiny smile she gives him seems genuine, and she gives him a gentle push towards the kitchen table.
“Alright, then. Let’s get this stuff on you.”
“Have I mentioned that you’re awesome?”
That gets a snort from her, but it sounds rather fond, and Stiles smiles a bit, even as he fights down a flash of insecurity as he pulls his shirt over his head and hangs it over the back of a chair, before he sits down and rests his hands against the table. Once, this would have been a dream come true – getting lotion rubbed on him by a gorgeous woman – and he would almost resent Derek for apparently ruining him for everyone else, if not for the fact that now Derek seems to want him back; which, really, is just so many levels of insane –
Cora, surprisingly, doesn’t laugh at him. Just murmurs an apology, her hands absolutely freezing with lotion against his burning back; and Stiles grinds his teeth together and reminds himself that this, in the long run, will help. Is so busy digging his fingers into the table for support that he almost misses her question.
“Derek. Did he head to town, or –”
“Work. Gathered up his old school lunch box, and –”
“I – huh, that’s – odd. Pretty sure his shift doesn’t start for another three hours.”
She sounds genuinely confused by it, and Stiles is careful to do nothing but shrug, as though he has no idea. Hopes like hell that she can’t sense the lie, as an unpleasant thought pools in his stomach – because if he’s chased Derek out of his own damn home, by being oh-so-irresistible and confusing or some other such insanity, then Stiles really needs to find a wall to bang his head against for a while, because that’s so many levels of not okay. Doesn’t say anything else – just closes his eyes and lets Cora work the lotion into his skin – and then she finishes with a satisfied noise, and he slides his shirt back on, trying to ignore the uncomfortable way it sticks to him. Gets his head out of his shirt in time to see Cora pulling a couple of beers out of the fridge, grinning at him in a way that can mean nothing good – and Stiles can’t help but grin back, even as he mentally does his best to push away the stuff about Derek for a while. He’s got beer and someone who apparently wants to be his friend, and like hell is he going to jeopardize that by pining all evening.
- - -
By the time Derek comes home – and Stiles only knows because the sound of the shower tips him off, again – it’s well into the wee hours, and Stiles is still pleasantly buzzed. He and Cora had sat on the back porch and drank and talked for hours – her with her wolfsbane-laced booze, and him with his regular beer – before stumbling inside together, giggling like a couple of idiots; and as Stiles lies there in his bed and hears the shower start, it takes everything he has to close his eyes and press his face into the pillow. If he ever does get up the courage to actually talk to Derek about – whatever it is they might have between them, then it so needs to not happen while he’s under the influence; and he curls his fingers into the sheets, closes his eyes, and tries to ignore the mocking sound of the shower. Derek is naked just down the hall – naked, and potentially interested in Stiles; the mere thought of which is still enough to make him feel like he’s about to get slammed by a panic attack – and the very last thing Stiles needs is to lie awake and agonize over how absolutely fucking lost he is right now.
- - -
When Stiles wakes up again, it’s damn near three in the afternoon, and he doesn’t feel rested at all.
His head hurts. His chest feels way too tight. He’s pretty sure there are still nightmares scratching at the edges of his mind. And while he’s not hung over – he knows what a hangover feels like, and this isn’t it – he feels sluggish and absolutely miserable; and he barely has the energy to get himself into the shower. Stands there under the hot spray for as long as he can get away with it, and then towels himself off, somehow gets himself dressed, and pads into the kitchen, where Derek is sitting at the kitchen table, a bowl of cereal in front of him. For a second, they just watch each other; but Stiles can’t even muster up the energy to be confused and panicked about everything, and he sits down across from him with a groan as he rests his chin in his hands.
“I feel like I got hit by a bus.”
“You don’t look good.”
“I just mean – and you smell off, too. Sad.”
“Sadness has a smell?”
And maybe that’s the wrong response – maybe Stiles should be worried that he’s crushing on someone who seems to think that sentences like, You smell off, are perfectly normal – but he’s so past the point of being freaked out by anything werewolf related. If anything, he finds it more than a little endearing, actually. Watches as Derek shrugs, as though he doesn’t know how to explain it, and then Stiles closes his eyes and tries to think through the haze in his mind – only to realize that the tightness in his chest feels a lot like a certain stupid darkness he’d thought he was getting a break from. A certain darkness that seems to have come back to taunt him, suddenly.
“Alcohol often acts as a depressant.”
Derek’s voice is low, and sounds somewhat hesitant – but Stiles isn’t new to having his psyche analyzed. He’s done it to himself more than enough times – not to mention all the therapy he’s been through over the years – and he simply nods, because Derek definitely has a valid point there.
“Deaton said – the ritual that Scott and Alison and I did. He said it’d leave a mark. A darkness around our hearts. I’d been doing better, here, but –” He trails off a bit, and then shakes his head, biting back a new wave of unhappiness. “God, I’m too young to not be able to drink. This is so stupid –”
“Did this happen last time?”
“You – when you drunk messaged me.”
Despite everything, it’s still enough to make Stiles flush – hopes like hell that embarrassment doesn’t have a smell – and he keeps his eyes on the table as he thinks it through. Considers, carefully, the last few months in Beacon Hills; and then has an epiphany that makes him feel a little sick, and the only reason he admits it out loud is because Derek truly seems to give a damn.
“I think that – maybe, this was pretty much my default state for a while, there. That I was probably a bit of a wreck without realizing just how much.”
“And you’re only really noticing this so much now because you’ve been doing better.”
Stiles just nods at that – honestly, he feels like he’s been used as someone’s punching bag – and then looks up when Derek gets to his feet. He’s wearing jeans and a dark black sweater, and he looks so good it’s practically criminal – but it’s the look on his face that’s getting Stiles. He looks concerned – more so than Stiles normally sees on him – and Stiles is just about to try to find some way to laugh things off – he doesn’t want to be responsible for that expression – when Derek speaks.
“When I get like this, I make hot chocolate and watch the waves.”
When I get like this. Stiles swallows, hard, and tries to not think too hard about the implications of that. Tries to not think about Derek sitting here alone drinking his comfort hot chocolate. Tries – and fails – to not go all warm inside at being trusted with that bit of private information. Nods, at least, and then gets to his feet, too, though the simple motion is enough to make him a little shaky.
“Sounds like a plan, big guy. Got any marshmallows around here?”
He doesn’t quite sound as steady as he’d like, but Derek nods, and that’s good enough for him.
- - -
A couple of hours later, Stiles is half-asleep on a chair on the porch, and Derek is sitting in silence beside him, watching the waves. The hot chocolate had been really good – Derek could probably sell the stuff, actually – but Stiles still feels like he got hit by a bus; and he knows that it’s bad because he can barely even give a damn about how Derek is doing that windswept hero look again. Sitting there all angsty and covered in stubble, and normally Stiles would be going to pieces inside – but all he can feel is tired. Has a thought, suddenly – remembers something he’s been meaning to do for months – and finds he’s finally able to say it out loud. It’s not a sudden bravery thing, though – it’s more that he already feels like absolute shit, so he might as well get it over with.
“I’m sorry for what I said. That night, at the hospital. About your girlfriends.”
It doesn’t quite feel real – distantly, he braces for Derek to knock him on his ass, or to kick him out of the house for good, thanks to the reminder of what a colossal douchebag Stiles had been – and he gives it a good few seconds before he glances at Derek. Derek, who’s frowning down at his knees.
“You were scared.”
“I was a jerk.”
“Your dad was –”
“Not an excuse, man. You trusted me, and –”
“I already forgave you. Months ago.”
“Everyone fucks up on occasion. Doesn’t mean I don’t want you around.”
Derek grinds it out like the words physically pain him, but it’s – it’s like something lifts from Stiles. A weight that he’d been carrying around without realizing it – something that breaks a little light in through the haze inside his mind – and he swallows, hard, and nods down at his own knees.
Derek just nods, too, in the corner of Stiles’ vision – doesn’t say a word, but it’s still more than enough – and Stiles closes his eyes and clings to the way he feels a little bit better, amazingly. It’s not enough to pull him all the way back up to functional, though, and he gives it a few more minutes before he glances at his cell – sees that the afternoon’s already given way to nearly six o’clock – and then climbs up to his feet, trying to ignore the barely veiled concern on Derek’s face.
“Back to bed with me, I think.”
“Are you –”
“I’ll be fine. Thanks for the hot chocolate. And for, uh. Forgiving me for being a dick.”
It’s not his most eloquent moment, but it must be enough, because Derek just stares at him for a moment longer before he nods – and then Stiles goes back inside, and doesn’t even bother to climb out of his sand-covered jeans before he crawls in under the covers in his bedroom. Closes his eyes against the haze around him and hopes that things will be different in the morning, because this is – no way to live; and all he wants, suddenly, is for Derek to come in and wrap his arms around him. Crawl in beside him and tell him that everything will be alright – and when that dream fails to manifest, all Stiles can do is close his eyes tighter and cling to that little bit of light from where Derek’s forgiven him, in the hope that it will be enough to chase away the darkness.
- - -
When Stiles wakes up again, the first thing he realizes is that there’s a plate on his night table.
For a second, he just stares at it – one plate covered over by another, by the looks of it. A quick glance at his cell phone shows that it’s well and truly the next day – just past eight in the morning – and then he closes his eyes and takes stock of his body. Realizes that nothing is hurting as much as it had been – thank everything – and then slides his legs out over the side of the bed and reaches for the top plate. Takes it off and can’t help the way he goes all shaky inside.
Pancakes. And not only that – pancakes that have been slathered in syrup and whip cream; and Stiles very carefully tries to not suffocate under the weight of his own stupid sentimentality. Puts the plate back down – there’s no way he’s eating these without getting a photo first – and then pads down the hallway, unable to care that he’s still wearing yesterday’s clothes. His mind isn’t hazy, anymore, and his chest isn’t hurting, and Derek both forgave him and then made him pancakes – and Stiles is definitely grinning like an idiot when he walks into the living room, to find Derek lying on the couch, book resting on his chest as he glances up at Stiles.
“Dude. You made me comfort pancakes?”
“You are the best, you are –”
“You were – unhappy.”
He looks almost guilty, though, as though Stiles has caught him doing something awful – and then his shirt pulls tighter across his chest as he sits up and puts his book in his lap, and Stiles sucks in a deep breath as his body flushes hot all over. Knows that he’s blatantly staring, suddenly, but he can’t stop himself. Yesterday, everything had been muted and hazy, but now the world is back in full clarity; and he can feel his skin start to flush, even as he struggles to make sense of a world in which Derek Hale makes him comfort food. It’s way too much for him to process, apparently, because Stiles only realizes he’s staring helplessly at Derek – and probably reeking of turned-on teenage boy, again, even as his stupid stomach does that sentimental flipping thing it’s so damn fond of – when Derek actually fucking blushes. Drops his eyes to his lap and goes a deep pink colour, and Stiles nearly flails apart in his haste to step backwards, his dick stirring in his jeans.
“I – shower – I need to –”
He doesn’t stick around to see Derek’s reaction – beelines it back down the hallway as quickly as he can – and stops in his bedroom just long enough to find new clothes before he stumbles into the shower. Washes up as quickly as he can – somehow keeps his hands off himself – and is still doing his best to forget that damn blush when he steps out of the shower and wraps himself in a towel. Cringes a bit as it brushes against his back – he’d forgotten to Aloe Vera himself up yesterday, apparently; which is just one more thing for him to worry about – and takes his time getting dressed and brushing his teeth – but for all that he feels a bit more human by the time he wanders back into the living room, his newfound calm vanishes the second he looks at Derek. Can’t quite manage a smile – but then Derek’s frowning at him, anyway, and getting to his feet.
“You smell – you’re hurting.”
“Is your back – if you need help –”
“You really offering to lotion me up, big guy? Cause I’m pretty sure that would involve acknowledging the fact that we can’t seem to stop staring at each other.”
And that – that is not what he meant to say. That is so not what he meant to say. That is his mouth acting solely without the consent of his brain, and hears his own voice as though from far away – but his own shaky knees are nothing to the way Derek goes absolutely stoned-face in front of him. Goes so blank it’s almost alarming, before he takes a step backwards from Stiles.
“We are not having this conversation.”
“No. You can be here, if you want, but – no. We are not – you can’t –”
“So you don’t want me, then?” He has no idea, still, where this is coming from. No idea when he suddenly grew a spine, where Derek is concerned – but he thinks it has something to do with pancakes and hot chocolate and being wanted back, and Stiles takes a step closer. “Cause let me tell you, man – normally, when I undress someone with my eyes, the way you’ve been doing to me for days –”
“– it’s because I’m thinking of getting them naked. And, quite honestly, when it comes to you, I spend a lot of time thinking about –”
And Stiles – stops. Instantly. Because Derek sounds panicked, in a way that feels like being punched in the gut – his eyes are wider than normal, and he’s lost most of the mask he’d been clinging to. Looks like he wants to bolt at any second, and Stiles carefully takes a moment to think things through – thinks of Derek’s sexual history, and has to breathe through the low sweep of anger on his behalf – before he licks his lips and puts his hands up in that universal signature for surrender.
“Alright, then. So here’s the thing. I’ll stop, if that’s what you really want. But is it – am I freaking you out, here? Too soon, after – the shit you’ve been through? Because I can so back off, if that’s the case – but if you’re just doing this for me? If you think you’re being all noble and protecting the sixteen-year-old virgin? Then, dude. You’re not doing anyone any favours –”
“I was your age when Kate got hold of me.”
It sounds like Derek barely gets it out – his eyes are still on Stiles, somehow, but it’s clear that the urge to bolt is getting stronger and stronger – and Stiles carefully pushes down a new wave of bone-deep hurt, in favour of steadying himself and figuring out what he needs to say. Knows that he needs to get this right the first time around, or he might well ruin things between them for good.
“You’re not her.”
“You’re not trying to hurt me, and I’m not trying to hurt you. So if you want me – at whatever speed works for you – then you have me.”
He carefully doesn’t move any closer, and he says it as calmly as he can – hopes, distantly, that it straddles the line between, If you want me for my body, then I’d settle for that, and, But if you want to be in an actual relationship with me, then that’d make me happier than I can say – and the silence hovers between them for a moment before Derek visibly swallows, his eyes darting to the door.
“I need to – think.”
And before Stiles can say anything – before he can make sure that Derek knows he can have all the time he needs – Derek turns and heads out the back door at such a speed it’s alarming. Stiles hesitates, for a moment – realizes that his stupid hands are shaking – and then goes out onto the porch, his eyes following Derek as he disappears down the length of the beach, moving at a speed that would probably make any decently observant human stop and blink with confusion. It’s him quite literally running away, and Stiles waits until he can’t see him anymore before he makes himself go back into the house, back to the couch that Derek had just vacated –
And, wow. He’s finally done it. He’s finally pushed the situation between them past its breaking point, and – he literally has no idea what happens now. No idea whether he’s pushed things in the right direction, or fucked up his tentative relationship with Derek forever. Fights down the rising swell of that panic that he hates so much, and then fumbles for his phone and dials Scott’s number with fingers that still aren’t quite steady, suddenly and desperately needing to hear his voice.
- - -
After that, the next few hours absolutely suck.
Stiles talks to Scott for a while. Calms down a little, if not much, because some of the stuff Scott has to say is actually helpful. After that, he warms up his pancakes and finally eats them, before channeling all his unease into compulsively cleaning the kitchen until it shines. Finds a note from Cora on the fridge, then, saying that she’s gone to visit a friend for a few days – and the fact that Stiles is now alone with Derek does nothing to calm him down. Quite the opposite, in fact, and he has another shower, then – needs something to do that isn’t staring at the wall and freaking out – and he’s just toweled himself dry and pulled on his boxers and a t-shirt when Derek is suddenly standing right there in the guest room doorway. He’s covered in sweat and staring at Stiles, still looking nearly as rattled as he had been when he left, and Stiles feels his stomach turn over uncomfortably, because that is not a happy expression.
“You’re sixteen –”
“– and I’m not exactly good boyfriend material.”
He says it with a rather unpleasant scathing lilt – a tone that Stiles normally only hears in his own voice, when his wit veers out of snarky and into just plain mean – as his face does something that looks both angry and more than a little lost – but Stiles can only focus on one very, very important thing. Something that’s making his blood start to pound in his ears again, and he takes a step closer to Derek, who frowns down at him in a way that looks somewhat wary.
“Boyfriend?” It doesn’t come out as anything even close to steady – he’s surprised he manages to speak at all, with how dry his throat has gone – and Stiles watches as Derek’s response is to suddenly look like he’s fucked things up in every possible way. To look more than a little bit panicked, and like he’s just been caught doing something absolutely awful; and Stiles swallows hard around the wave of hope that nearly takes away his oxygen. “You’d – with me? You’d want –”
“I – I thought –”
“What, that I only wanted you for your admittedly gorgeous body?” He hopes it sounds as incredulous as he feels, and when Derek just stares at him in a way that looks almost helpless, Stiles can’t stop a pained groan, even as everything inside him goes shaky with relief. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me. Derek –”
“How was I supposed to –”
“Does this mean I can kiss you now?”
It’s not what he’d meant to say – not even close – but it’s out there, now, and Stiles can’t take it back. Swallows around the surge of nerves as he watches Derek’s face get even more lost – and then Derek nods, his eyes not leaving Stiles, and Stiles steps between them to close the distance. Knows that Derek has to be able to hear how badly he’s fighting for air. Is acutely aware of the fact that he’s in nothing but boxers and a t-shirt. Has a horrible moment of considering how little he knows about kissing – and then he somehow finds the guts to ignore how badly he’s freaking out. Leans up to brush his lips against Derek’s – light and hesitant, and like a bolt of electricity down his spine – before he slowly pulls back again, only to get lost in the way Derek’s staring at him. Like Stiles has simultaneously scared him and given him something amazing; and Stiles is suddenly so nervous it hurts. Swallows hard and breathes through the stupid butterflies in his stomach.
“S-so, um. Worth waiting for?”
For a long moment, Derek doesn’t say a word. Barely seems to be breathing. Then, he exhales, slowly, and nods a bit, and leans in to press their mouths together again, his hands sliding down Stiles’ sides to curl around his hips – and Stiles can do nothing but close his eyes and let Derek pull him in closer, everything inside him catching fire and his entire body aching in a way that feels nothing but good.
- - -
“The age difference is still going to be an issue.”
They’re curled up on the couch together. The back door is open to the porch, letting in the wind and the sound of the gulls and the smell of the ocean, and Stiles is pressed against Derek’s chest, back to front with Derek’s arms wrapped tight around him. His head fits pretty much perfectly against Derek’s shoulder, and Stiles closes his eyes and holds on a bit tighter to Derek’s arm. Soaks up the feeling of Derek’s hotter-than-human body pressed all along his back. Sucks in a shaky breath at the way Stiles fits in between Derek’s legs like he was born to be there, with Derek breathing slow and soft against the side of his neck, and – Stiles legitimately cannot think of any time when he’s been happier than he is right now. Can barely breathe for how perfect this is.
“Then date me. Show me you’re not just in it for my nubile young body.”
It’s not exactly steady, though, and Derek makes a low huffing noise, something that sounds both amused and exasperated, against his neck, and Stiles swallows at the brush of air across his skin. Reminds himself to keep breathing, and then presses a bit harder against Derek, his heartbeat shooting up even higher when Derek tightens his grip and pulls him in even closer. For a moment, neither of them says anything; and then Derek presses his nose into Stiles’ neck, doing a horrible job of pretending that he’s not scenting him, and Stiles bites down against a crushing wave of affection.
“What do I smell like?”
Against him, Derek goes still, like he’s been caught doing something awful; and then he slowly relaxes again when Stiles drags his fingers in slow movements against Derek’s arm, loving the warmth of his skin.
“Sand. Salty water. Cologne. Deodorant. My – my laundry detergent. Your skin.”
“My – skin?”
“I – everyone has a unique smell. Even underneath their added layers. It’s – that first day you came here, when my phone wasn’t working. It’s how I found you. I know what you smell like.”
“So, what, you stuck your nose into the wind and went searching for me?” It’s not completely steady, though – his boyfriend, holy crap, can track him by scent from all the way across town – and Derek just shrugs against him in a way that somehow feels a little bit helpless; and Stiles suddenly and desperately needs Derek to know that he’s good with all of this. Tightens his hand around Derek’s, and makes himself keep talking. “I want you for the claws and the scenting and the howling and the fur, you know. All of it. Whatever you –”
The words taper off because Derek, holy shit, is pressing a single, soft kiss against his neck; and Stiles just gives up on talking and lets his head drop to the side, loving the sharp intake of breath behind him, as he bares his neck and gives Derek some more room to work with. He gets another kiss, for that, and then Derek tightens his grip and pulls him in closer; and Stiles is so busy silently purring with contentment that he almost misses the words against his neck.
“I can do long-distance if you can.”
It’s low, barely audible, but Stiles hears it nonetheless; and he can’t quite function for a moment. Takes a second before he nods his agreement, and breathes though the way a new stupid flock of butterflies has taken off in his stomach; and then he turns in Derek’s arms and straddles his thighs, leaning in to press their mouths together as he digs his fingers into Derek’s shoulders. Kisses him soft and hesitant, loving the scratchy feel of Derek’s stubble against his skin, until the need for oxygen makes him pull back, unable to keep a stupid grin from his face, and his chest going all achy when Derek goes from staring up at him uncertainly, to having the tiniest hint of a smile on his face. It’s one of the best things Stiles has ever seen, and while he doesn’t doubt that things won’t be easy for them, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make this work; and when Derek tugs him in for another kiss, holding him gently, all Stiles can do is sigh and go with it, everything inside him achingly pleasantly and the waves from the ocean roaring on in the background.