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In Stiles's defense, in all his years at this fucking college no one had seen fit to mention that you Do Not Mess With the Hales.

Big fucking caps letters.

Stiles had never in his life been hauled up by the shirt and slammed into a locker before – until this moment, that is. Obviously Derek had not had Mrs. Underhill in kindergarten to pull him aside on the playground and teach him not to hit the other children. Also, why were there even lockers in this building? It was college, for fuck's sake. The lockers were obsolete. And hard on Stiles's tender back, where the pointy bits of his spine were digging into the metal. Someone should seriously get rid of these obsolete, painful lockers.

"She said no," Derek Hale snarled in his face, his hands tight against Stiles's collar. Stiles was a little worried his shirt was going to rip at the armpits because, yeah, that was where basically all his weight was concentrated, not on the ground where it should be.

"Ok," Stiles managed to sputter, his voice all weird and high. "Loud and clear. Got it. Totally down with that."

His feet hit the ground with a thud Stiles felt all the way in the back of his neck and his hands went instinctively to cover his still-exposed stomach, worried Derek might punch him there next. Stiles had thought he was wearing enough layers to never leave such important places exposed, even when surprise roughed-up by a terrifying upperclassman, but obviously he was wrong. He was coming to school with no less than three overshirts from then on out, to prevent against just such occasions.

Stiles did not miss the contemptuous sneer directed at him before Derek turned his back on Stiles and did one of those Hale brand silent check-ins with his cool-as-fuck sister, who, by the way, did not look even an ounce surprised by her brother's Lucha Libre act. And Stiles wasn't even asking her out for himself – he had just gotten thrown against his locker for asking a girl out for someone else.

Obviously Stiles needed to make better decisions in his life. Like Not Messing Around With the Hales.

"I can handle myself." Cora arched an eyebrow at her brother. Derek made this sound in the back of his throat that Stiles didn't have a caveman dictionary to translate.

While Stiles was checking in with his appendages to make sure none of them had taken any damage from Derek's roughhousing, Derek herded his sister out of the room and away from Stiles.

The rest of the class seemed to resume talking, recovering from the the weird hush that fell when Derek threw Stiles into the lockers.

"Dude," Scott hissed, his skin ashen as he grabbed Stiles's shoulder. "I'm so sorry. But also. What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking that I can't stand watching you mope around anymore and maybe I could do you a solid by asking out the girl you've been oggling for the past month," Stiles muttered, testy that Scott could seriously be criticizing him right now. He was the best bro ever; Scott should definitely be thanking him.

"There's a reason I didn't ask her out," Scott stressed those words quietly, glancing around at their classmates. Stiles highly suspected they were all just pretending to talk while they were really straining their ears to hear what the hell that was about. Stiles kind of wanted to know too, actually, because what the hell was that all about? Who just... did shit like that? "That's Cora Hale. She's known for being... hard to talk to."

"Yeah, I got that part." Stiles adjusted his collar, feeling eyes on him and wishing he was better at acting cool. "So's her neanderthal brother, apparently. Does no one teach children to use their words anymore?"

"I don't think everyone had Mrs. Underhill," Scott whispered with a small grin, still glancing around them.

"Exactly, dude. You get me. Yes. Mrs. Underhill was the shit." Stiles checked around too, feeling the front of his shirt to make sure Muscly McScary didn't pop any buttons off with his hoisting and lifting shenanigans.

"Anyway, they don't hang out with anyone who doesn't have 'Hale' at the end of their name," Scott explained as he finished packing his backpack. Stiles had packed up before the bell rang so he could go ask Cora out for Scott because he was the best bro ever and Scott should really be thanking him right now rather than explaining why he had terrible taste in crushes. "I started asking around about her when... a few weeks ago. Because she's pretty, y'know?"

"Yes, Scott, I have eyes."

"They're all pretty, actually. Have you noticed?" Scott didn't actually wait for a reply to what Stiles could only assume was a rhetorical question. "The Hale siblings do everything together, but no one's ever seen them hang out with anyone else. Or even seen them talk to someone else, from what I could gather."

"Enter Stiles."

"Yes." Scott eyed him as he slung his backpack on and walked with Stiles out of the slowly emptying classroom. "Bravo."

"At least I had the guts to go talk to her, let alone ask her out for you." Stiles waited for the "thank you" to materialize out of Scott's ungrateful mouth.

"Maybe next time just check in with me first. I did my research, dude. It's a no-go."

"Yeah, but..." Stiles had to check himself before he put his foot in his mouth for the second time in five minutes. His back already hurt from all the locker-slamming. Sure, Scott was unlikely to physically injure him based on his experience with him in the last thirteen plus years of their friendship, but Stiles was no longer confident in his non-violent expectations for the world around him.

The truth was that Scott had been a pathetic mess ever since Allison dumped him, and months after the fact he still showed no signs of improvement. Stiles missed when Scott actually wanted to hang out with him. He could only listen to Blake Shelton on repeat and talk about the particular shade of Allison's hair while lying on the ground of their dorm room so many times (chestnut with an undercurrent of red). That probably held true for all humans, actually, not just Stiles.

Anyway, Stiles was getting a little desperate. Thus operation Ask Out Cora.

When Scott had finally moved out of the "no one could ever reach Allison's level of perfection" phase to the "she's kind of cute, but I still hate myself so it doesn't matter" phase, Stiles thought he could nudge him all way into the "maybe I can do this" phase if he just got his foot in the door. He had gone in with a plan. He bought two tickets to an arcade with zombie laser tag, and what woman could say no to that? It was supposed to be fool-proof.

He just forgot that her scary-ass brother always came by after class to pick her up. Which probably should have been the first red flag for Stiles because what twenty-something woman needed to be picked up from class by her brother? Ah, the unanswerable questions of the universe.

"I wasn't even that pushy. I just genuinely wanted to know how she could say no to zombie laser tag."

"I don't think Derek cared why, he just wanted you to leave her alone and never look at her again."

"I have a feeling that holds true for you too, dude. No more loving gazes during Asian history class. We are both officially excommunicated from Cora territory."

"Ugh. Why is Confucius so fucking boring?" Scott asked as they emerged from the confines of the history department and into the horrid slush-like snow that was the midwest. Stiles didn't know what had possessed them to leave California. "Why did we decide to take this class again?"

"Uh-uh, don't blame Confucius for your wandering eyes. You wuv her."

"She scares me." Scott’s face did this wrinkly thing. "She should scare you, too. What just happened should scare us both. That was not normal."

"No, it wasn't," Stiles agreed, catching sight of both Cora and Butthead from way across the quad. The second sister had joined their little group, the brunette with the nice laugh. "Do you think they're vampires?"

"What?" Scott snorted and almost slipped on a slyly disguised puddle of slush. "The fuck?"

"I mean. This feels a little Twilight-y, don't you think? The overly fraternal, creepily beautiful siblings who go everywhere together and don't make friends with anyone else?" Stiles frowned at Scott. "Did we get sucked into a Stephanie Meyers book?"

"God, I hope not. You'd be that naive bystander who gets eaten." Scott shuddered.

"I'd like to think I'd be the slightly underwhelming hero who miraculously survives to the end of the trilogy."

"There's four books, actually."

"I'm going to pretend you don't know that."

Stiles tried not to think about getting locker-slammed for the whole rest of the day, so of course he failed miserably and thought about it all the time. What an overreaction. Derek was a huge dickwad. A fuckpickle. A shitmonkey. Stiles hated him.

As he sat down for computer science lab and tried to focus on coding, though, he also felt maybe a little bad. The more he thought about it, the worse he sounded in his head. He'd been desperate – on behalf of Scott, but still – and maybe he had pushed the matter just a little too far. If hanging with Lydia had taught him anything, it was that random guys who won't take no for an answer were fucking scary and he should never, ever do that. Those guys were the worst.

(he had kind of done that)

Maybe Stiles got out of lab that night after some truly half-assed coding and hated himself a little as he headed down to the cafeteria to meet up with his depressed roommate and try to get through another night without mentioning things that reminded him of Allison. Things like... anything at all. 

God, Scott needed a new girlfriend. And better taste in break-up music. But one fire at a time, and the first one was bigger – bonfire levels, really.

Luckily he still had Danny to pick up some of Scott's slack in the being-a-friend department. While Scott was playing with his mashed potatoes instead of eating them, it was Danny who actually noticed and asked Stiles what was wrong.

"I got body-slammed today by some girl's brother and now I'm actually kind of worried that I'm a dick," Stiles admitted, swirling his straw around in his coke.

Danny blinked at him before laughing into his hand. Scott eyed him like he was crazy.

"You're not a dick." Danny clapped him on the shoulder. "Feel better?"

"No." Stiles bit the straw viciously.  "I'm pretty sure I'm a creep, actually," Stiles admitted. "I think I need to go apologize to the guy who body-slammed me."

"Ok, #1: It was not a body-slam." Scott turned to Danny. "Danny, it was a not a body-slam. He just got... lifted up a little bit. And hurled into some lockers. He's fine." Scott turned back to Stiles, truly worried. "And #2: why the hell would you ever talk to Derek again? What about that interaction makes you think that would be a good idea? If you're going to apologize to anyone, shouldn't it be Cora?"

"Yeah, but approaching Cora again, even just to apologize, would be even creepier, don't you think? If I apologize to her through Derek, it's like passing an apology note over a big, muscly wall that protects her from creeps like me. It's less aggressive."

"Did you just say 'less aggressive' when referring to the guy who body-slammed you today?" Danny shifted uncomfortably, stabbing at his mediocre chicken picatta.

"He wasn't body-slammed. And Stiles, that's a terrible idea. Please promise me you will not try to talk to Derek. I kind of like you alive."

"He won't kill me," Stiles reassured them both. Why he felt so confident in that fact, Stiles had no idea.

Chapter Text

Stiles majoring in computer science was all Danny Mahealani’s fault, with his beautiful dimples and his ability to make hacking look sexy. Stiles thought it might also make him look sexy, and hey, math couldn't be that hard, right?

Wrong, but now he was a junior and he was stuck with it. It was actually kind of fun to hack into Scott's computer and then freak him out at random intervals with too-accurate guesses about his weird preferences in porn.

After Danny made it clear that he preferred his men big and muscly and not Stiles, Stiles’s raging boner for Danny quieted to a manageable friend-boner and they'd been buddies since. Danny was the first friend Stiles made after they moved out to Snow Land. Stiles had always been kind of a count-‘em-on-one hand kind of guy, so he didn’t feel the need to make any more. Unfortunately, Danny came as a package deal with a certain dickhead, so Stiles sometimes got stuck with him while he was doing Danny things. He loved Scott, but Danny was his fellow dude-liking friend, and there were certain things Scott just wouldn't appreciate.

Jackson also did not appreciate them, but that didn't seem to stop him from tagging along on their underwear shopping date and making barely-contained grossed-out faces every fifteen seconds.

"Ugh, just go home Jackson." Stiles rolled his eyes as he thumbed through a selection of bedazzled underwear.

"I can do this."

"It's not something you tolerate. You either like it or you don't, and right now you're sucking the fun out of our gay time."

"You're not gay," Danny pointed out unhelpfully from inside his dressing room.

"Technicalities," Stiles huffed. "I'm gay in the ways that count – namely, liking dick. And doing things like this. Jackson, seriously, suck it up and pick between these pairs of man thongs or go home because you're too terrible to make any other friends you can hang out with instead."

"Says the guy with exactly one other friend," Jackson sneered back at him, throwing a bright pink Christmas hat shaped thong directly into Stiles's nose.

"At least I have another friend," Stiles shot back, hurling a handful of sparkly underwear in retribution.

"Both of you are ruining my shopping time." Danny was back from the dressing room and looking at them like a mom would a crying toddler. "It's our anniversary tonight. Chris has a thing for novelty underwear, so either help me or drive each other home."

"We gathered." Jackson eyed the selection of thongs and ass-less boxers like they were a pile of poisonous snakes.

"On this one, the penis pouch is shaped like an elephant trunk, see?" Stiles beamed at Danny as he held up a thong. Jackson became very interested in the wall. "This is my pick."

"While that looks fun, it also looks... too small." Danny eyed his selection critically.

Stiles checked the sizing and swallowed hard.

"Seriously?" Stiles shook his head and threw the thong back on the display table. "I'm out then, dude. And now I'm depressed."

"This is my pick," Jackson triumphantly held up a packet of bulk white boxers. "Classic. Plus, no need to try them on."

"You're both useless," Danny said without heat, picking up the elephant-trunk thong and heading back into the dressing room. "But Stiles has better taste."

"Told you I was gay in all the ways that count." Stiles smirked at Jackson only to receive another pile of underwear to the face.

"Did you talk to that guy?" Danny called from inside his dressing room. Stiles glanced around the sex shop to check Derek wasn't somehow lurking behind a shelf before he answered – just the store clerk behind the front desk looking bored on his iphone and an embarrassed couple giggling at the dildo selection.

"What guy?" Jackson asked, reminding Stiles of a dog ready to tear apart a bone.

"No, I couldn't track him down. His Facebook is set to private. No one knows where he disappears to when he's not with Cora and... Laura, I think her name is? And I was worried that if I kept asking around about him, he might actually curb stomp me."

Jackson snorted at that image. Stiles glared.

"He's gotta be a student, right?" Danny called out. Then, sounding pleased, "Actually, these may fit."

"I'm not so sure. No one knows what year he's in. Or what dorm he lives in. Or his major. Or anything, really."

"Did you try the student directory?" Jackson asked his fingernails, bored. That was probably the only reason he was being helpful, the jackass.

"Of course," Stiles replied after a beat.

"No he didn't," Danny laughed.

Jackson smirked.

Stiles hated everything.

Jackson didn't stop gloating even after Danny had purchased his elephant thong and they had made their way to Five Guys. It escalated to Jackson whipping peanut chunks at Stiles's hair and Stiles retaliating with ketchup packet missiles until Danny put them both on a time-out and took all the condiments out of their reach.

"Can't take you two anywhere," Danny whispered at them, still laughing a little.

"Found him," Stiles announced triumphantly as he scrolled through the student directory on his phone. "Ooh, he's a graduate student. Psychology. Sweet, I just started an internship with psychology. Maybe someone there can show me where he hangs out."

"What?" Jackson squawked. "But you're a computer nerd like Danny."

"They needed someone to build them an app for a behavioral intervention they're working on." Stiles shrugged. "Everyone wants an app for their shit nowadays. I'm broke as hell, so I'm their bitch for the next few months."

Danny kicked Jackson before he could open his mouth.

"That's awesome that you have a paid internship." Danny patted Stiles's arm and ate one of the peanuts he was hoarding from them. "You’re going to knock it out of the park."

"So far it sucks ass." Stiles snuck an arm through Danny's fortress and quickly stole a peanut from the pile. Danny let him keep it because he put it in his mouth instead of Jackson's left nostril (which he had briefly considered). "The guy I'm working with is super bossy and rude. He never even introduced himself, he just sends these short instructions everyday, like, 'fix this button,' or, 'make it exactly like this, no deviation,' or my personal favorite, 'that's all wrong'."

"That's tough."

"That's fun," Jackson corrected. "Stilinski's going to be miserable all semester now. I like this guy already."

"Yeah, the two of you would get along great. Maybe you could form a 'lonely and friendless' club together. That would also be fun."

"That's it, no burgers!" Danny stood suddenly. "I need to go home and get ready to actually enjoy this day with Chris."

"Now look what you did," Jackson grumbled at Stiles as they trickled out of Five Guys, still hungry. Danny pushed Jackson into the passenger side of his car before doubling back to frown at Stiles.

"Can you just try to get along with him?" Danny begged as Stiles backstepped to his jeep. It was an old argument, as old as their friendship.

"That was me trying." Stiles promised him. "We didn't actually murder each other. It's progress."

Danny sighed and waved as Stiles got in his jeep and headed back to the dorm.

 


 

Stiles returned to the truly sad sight of Scott sleeping on the couch at two in the afternoon on a Saturday. He had no idea how sleeping was even an option when Cheryl Crow was blasting out of his phone at such a volume. 

Stiles covered him up with a blanket, turned off Cheryl Crow, and made a mental note to check that Scott was still going to his counseling appointments. He made it about thirty minutes in the dead quiet apartment before his ADHD decided for him that he needed to go spend time with people who were 1. Among the living and 2. Didn’t annoy the bejeezus out of him. 

He ended up at the school, thumbing through random books in the library and wishing he’d had the forethought to make a third friend.

Or, maybe, an enemy.

Stiles left the library and wandered over to the psych department, which was nestled in a dilapidated old building with anthropology, sociology, and history. He wandered down the old hallways, looking at the names on the doors and wondering what his odds were of finding Derek’s work space this way. The directory had said he was a PhD student, but it didn’t mention where or with whom he was doing his research.

Stiles was staring at a tiny nameplate and trying to decide if the smudged letters spelled “Hale” or “Howl” when a woman stepped out of the office. 

“Oh.” Her lips formed a red “o” as she looked him up and down. Her hair was a glorious mass of golden curls and she was dressed head to toe in form-fitting black. Stiles was a little stunned by how beautiful she was, but he had experience with Lydia so he knew to chill the fuck out. “What are you doing up here, freshman?”

Rude. He was a junior, but that was none of her business.

”Do you know a Hale?” Stiles asked instead of correcting her.

Her head tilted and she looked him over again, every gesture spelling out femme fatale .

”I know several Hales. Which one in particular?”

”Derek.”

”Hm.” Something flickered in her eyes and she glanced back into the office she was leaving. “I didn’t know people voluntarily sought out Derek. He has a cubicle in here, but he’s more often in the lab.”

“Great.” Stiles was squirming to get away from this black widow. “Do you know when he would be here or in the lab?”

”He’s here most weekdays.” She arched an eyebrow. “The lab is on the third floor, 3033. Check back in at a normal time and you might find him.”

”Thanks,” Stiles turned away from the woman, uncomfortable under her assessing gaze.

”No problem,” she called after him in a throaty purr.

 


 

Sunday was filled with homework and cooking for himself and Scott, who spent his time binge watching River Monsters in the living room. Stiles was almost excited to start Monday because it meant getting out from under the depression fog in their house. He reminded himself that there was no time limit for heartbreak and kept his words patient as he tried yet again to coax Scott into doing literally anything else that might cheer him up, to no avail.

Monday was Asian History again, and both he and Scott studiously avoided even looking in Cora’s direction. Until, of course, Derek showed up at the end of class to sling his sister’s bag over his shoulder and give Stiles a well-practiced and terrifying stink eye.

Stiles whimpered quietly to himself and shifted so Scott was a visual barrier between them.

Maybe his apology plan was a terrible one after all.

As soon as the Hales were out of sight, however, the terror faded and the shame came roaring back. He couldn’t stay “that guy”, the guy he loved to hate. He needed to make things right.

After the lunch hour, he found himself staring at the door to room 3033 in the psych (/history/anthro/socio) building. He half expected Derek to pounce on him as soon as he poked his head in. His heartbeat raced in his ears as he called out, “Uh, Derek?”

The room was filled with microscopes and vials and stringy-looking apparatuses that made Stiles's gut a little queasy. There was a reason he chose a career on a computer. A door thump and footsteps announced Derek before his annoyed glare came into view.

”You,” Derek snarled.

"Uh, hi, yes, whoa, hello," Stiles stumbled over his words as Derek's lip actually curled and he took a menacing step toward him.

"Who's this?" Much to Stiles's relief, another beautiful woman – this one brunette – stepped in front of Derek and disrupted his progress. Stiles recognized her after a moment as Laura. She was even prettier up close. Damn this family and the perfect gene pool they spawned from. 

"That douche from the other day," Derek growled, his eyes never leaving Stiles. Stiles felt like less than the scum under his shoe.

"The one Cora said you overreacted to?" Laura arched an eyebrow at her brother. Derek grumbled something incoherent, but he broke his rage stare and looked away for a moment. "That guy?"

"That's me," Stiles admitted weakly. "Anyway, I wanted to come by and, uh, apologize, actually. No means no, right? And I'm definitely down for that. I didn't mean to be so persistent. I wasn't even asking Cora out for myself, I just have this friend and he's – well, he's seriously depressed right now over his last girlfriend, but he thinks Cora's awesome, he just didn't have the gumption and self-confidence to ask her out himself. But he would be an excellent boyfriend! Not like I was just using Cora to – right, he is an excellent boyfriend, I have witnessed this firsthand. Anyway, I tried, and I think some of that desperation to help him came out, but I definitely didn't mean to be one of those pushy douchebags – I hate those guys, okay? One of my best friends from back home is a total bombshell and she has to put up with that shit, like, 24/7 and I always wanted to, well, slam those guys into lockers too. But I don't have Derek's very impressive upper-body strength, so I had to settle for sarcasm, which is slightly less effective at deterring douches. My point is, tell Cora I'm sorry? I didn't want to, um, push any more so I thought I would tell you to tell her for me. Which, now that I say it, sounds kind of like high school, but... here I am."

Laura mouthed "gumption" to herself as Derek stared at him in a slightly less angry way. After a moment of awkward silence, Laura turned to Derek and said, "He's actually kind of cute," to which Derek rolled his eyes hard and looked like he wished he could teleport to anywhere but there. Stiles tried hard not to preen as Laura grinned at him, her eyes soft.

"Apology accepted on behalf of Cora. I hate those guys too, glad you don't want to be one. We all make mistakes, right Der? Not like anyone here has ever accidentally acted like an idiot, right Der ?" Laura turned her infectious grin on her brother. Derek leveled his glare on her instead of Stiles. Stiles felt a lot better when he wasn't the center of their overwhelming attention.

"So we're cool?" Stiles asked breathlessly.

"He just doesn't want me to beat him up." Derek nodded in Stiles's direction, skepticism dripping from his words.

"Well, yes. But I also really don't want to be a douche. I can admit when I made a mistake." Stiles jumped to his own defense.

"At least someone can." Laura waggled her eyebrows at her brother, who huffed through his nose and crossed his arms over his chest, his triceps somehow bulging even through the lab coat. Now that he was no longer about to pummel Stiles, Stiles could appreciate his sexy science-guy vibe – the thick-rimmed glasses, the chiseled jaw made even sexier with the barely-slept stubble. Stiles was loathe to admit how incredibly hot Derek was, but it was difficult to ignore.

"Your turn," Laura prompted him again. Derek's jaw dropped slightly and he stared at her until she clarified, "to apologize."

"Like hell." Derek snorted. "He deserved it."

"It's fine – I kind of did."

Derek nodded in agreement, looking slightly less miffed. Stiles noted that this was their first moment of agreement.

"It's fine, Laura. Thanks to both of you for, uh, not murdering me. I'll just..." Stiles took a careful step back, still not quite sure he would escape murder by Derek's glare as he inched his way out of the lab.

Laura sighed and waved at him before Stiles ducked out. He heard their voices as they left, low and irritable, even though he couldn't make out what they were saying. 

Stiles felt a little more comfortable with himself. He prayed that the message transferred to the intended audience and decided to forget all about this mess.

 


 

He had more important things to worry about, anyway. Like this mystery dickhead who was, unfortunately, his new boss.

"Can't this person at least sign these emails with a name?" Stiles raged to Scott one night as they sat around in the living room and worked on homework. Stiles had learned that Scott was more likely to actually do his homework when he was under Stiles's supervision, so he started parking out in the living room and inviting Scott to join him for nightly study dates on weekdays. He didn't want Scott to fail his classes over heartbreak, and he knew normal Scott didn't want that either, but zombie Scott didn't seem to care much when Stiles would ask him about assignments he clearly forgot to turn in.

"You don't even know this person's name? How long have they been giving you directions?"

"Like, two weeks, dude. It's a mystery. I write 'to whom it may concern' sarcastically in the tag line sometimes to try to bate them into it, but nothing. And it's a department-wide email, too, so it's not like I can just look the email up in the directory," which Stiles would go to his grave swearing he knew about before Jackson suggested it. "What does he mean by 'this red is wrong'. What red is right then? How about some constructive criticism? I'm a computer science major, not a graphic designer. Shit."

"He's your boss, Stiles." Scott shrugged. "Just deal, I guess. Be as nice as you can."

"Make the squiggly line into an arrow..." Stiles read out loud from the unsigned email, at a complete loss. "What about you? How are you?" Stiles asked, partly to distract himself from his rage but also because Scott looked marginally better tonight.

"Um." Scott looked down at his homework. "I'm liking this required English class right now. It's all these tortured souls talking about unrequited love."

"So you can relate." Stiles sighed and closed his laptop, a familiar knot in his throat. "I know I have no idea how to help you right now, dude, and I'm sorry. Guess I've just never been in real love before."

"You've liked people," Scott pointed out, his face kind of grey. "It's just that times a million."

"Kind of hard to imagine." Stiles felt uncomfortable just thinking about it. "When... you know, back in elementary school, that was hard enough."

"Right." Scott's eyes dimmed as they both thought about Stiles's mom passing away. "You do know, Stiles. It's just been a while. You're being... thanks for helping me. I know I'm no fun right now."

"I just wish I knew how to, you know, stitch up hearts." Stiles gestured helplessly.

"Nobody does." Scott shook his head, laughing a little.

Chapter Text

"Hey. Stilinski."

That voice sent shock waves through Stiles as he and Scott surreptitiously exited the classroom. Stiles froze, his foot hovering an inch above the ground, and pivoted unsteadily on one leg until he came face to face with Cora. She looked remarkably chill.

"We're cool." Cora shrugged one shoulder, confirming his suspicion of chillness. "You don't need to track down my brother again. He's kind of a dipshit."

"That makes two of us, then."

"Yeah, except he could destroy you. Sorry he almost broke you, by the way," Cora said without inflection. It was a little scary. (Like brother like sister.)

"No worries." Stiles sensed Scott trying to shrink back behind him to avoid making eye contact with Cora. She ended up bending to the side to get a better look at him, foiling his attempts.

"This your friend who was too chicken shit to actually ask me out?" 

"Yup," Scott replied, his voice high and weird. "That's me. Chicken shit."

"Nice to meet you." Cora waved briefly, her lips curving slightly. "You know, if you'd asked me yourself I might have considered it. That train has sailed, though."

"Really?" Scott looked a little brighter at that.

"I think it's boats that sail. Trains... chug? Leave. They leave," Stiles corrected to no one in particular. He was so nervous sweat stains were forming in his shirt. He could practically feel Derek's hands on his collar demanding he look away from Cora.

"Sure. You're cute." Cora shrugged again. "But I only go out with people who ask me directly. It's a no-chicken-shit policy I have."

"Good to know." Scott deflated a little.

"Laura told me some girl broke up with you and that's why this one was trying to fix you up," Cora nodded at Stiles, her eyes on Scott. "Kind of pathetic."

"Yeah." Scott looked even more defeated. "Well, I'm kind of pathetic right now. And a chicken shit, apparently."

"I'll buy you both lunch because you're so sad," Cora offered unexpectedly, just as Stiles was revving up to come to Scott's rescue. So... even when Hales sounded scary, they were sometimes thinking nice things.

"Really?" Stiles blinked at her, his many defenses for Scott slipping away. Scott perked up too.

"Don't make me regret it," Cora said too seriously before walking away. Scott looked at Stiles like maybe he would know what the hell that meant before they both fell into step behind her.

Cora bought them lunch at a little cafe just off campus. Stiles kept expecting Derek to jump out and glare at them, but Cora must have evaded her brother's overprotective reach today.

Scott and Cora kind of hit it off when Stiles brought up Scott's English class, which Cora happened to have taken freshman year. Apparently Cora had broken up with someone a year ago and was still recovering, too. She legitimately felt bad for Scott, and Scott could legitimately relate to her quoting Sylvia Plath with sad eyes. Stiles felt like he was watching aliens land on earth.

Eventually he tried to excuse himself and leave them to their heated debate over the best Bronte novel, but Derek chose that moment to shoulder through the door and pin him in place with his smoldering look of death.

So much for not getting murdered.

"Chill," Cora called over her shoulder as she waved him over. Stiles immediately sat back down in the seat he was trying to vacate, forced down by Derek’s glare. “I took pity on them after Laura explained.”

”What do you need? Your text said ASAP.”

”Yeah, can you get me some napkins from over there? I don’t feel like getting up.”

Derek stared at her.

”I was writing reports, Cora.”

”I’m half kidding. I called you for another reason.”

Stiles tried not to laugh when Derek retrieved a small pile of napkins from the counter before sliding into the booth next to Cora.

“You remember right after Shane and I torpedoed and I went through two cheesecakes in three days?”

”Vividly.” Derek winced. “What about it?”

“You remember that face you used to make? It made me smile every time, even when I was super depressed.”

Derek went still.

”No.”

”That’s it,” Cora’s slow grin was wicked. “That constipated look.”

”That’s just my face.” Derek looked like he was ready to murder his sister too.

”No, it’s slightly different. Just a little bit constipated. Do you see it, Scott?” Cora asked far too calmly.

Scott, who had been trying hard not to look Derek directly in the eye, burst out laughing. It was music to Stiles’s ears. Scott had smiled, even chuckled, in the past few months, but never this kind of full-bellied laugh. Cora looked quite pleased with herself. Derek looked, if possible, even more constipated than before.

Stiles couldn’t help laughing too, his shoulder bumping into his friend's. Derek judged both of them with his eyebrows.

”I was writing reports, Cora.”

”So you needed a break. Lighten up, bro. Have a hot chocolate with us.”

Derek muttered something under his breath before he seemed to collapse under his sister’s gentle pressure. He left them to stand in line at the counter.

“He’s surprisingly easy,” Stiles whispered to Cora, unable to take his eyes off of her grumpier, more masculine version. Cora glanced at her brother too, smiling a little.

”Don’t tell anyone. He likes it when people are scared of him. It’ll ruin his mystique.”

”I think he really hates me,” Stiles whispered, finding himself truly concerned.

”He hates everyone. Don’t take it personally.” Cora waved her hand at him, still smiling.

 “I don’t know why it bothers me so much,” Stiles admitted. No one had ever hated him before. He thought of himself as a pretty chill dude. Maybe annoying at times, but never despicable. The fact that Derek was so vocal about it was messing with his self-confidence.

”Ask him about baseball,” Cora suggested with a careless tone. “He never shuts up about it.”

Stiles nodded, grateful for the tip. But then somehow, when Derek sat back down with a mug full of steaming something, Stiles managed to fuck that up too.

”So... baseball.” Stiles hated himself. He was in the dictionary under the antithesis of "smooth”.

Cora snorted, shaking her head minutely.

Derek blinked at him owlishly, but even Stiles’s clumsy attempt had the desired effect. His body visibly relaxed and interest crept into his expression.

”What about it?”

“You play?” Stiles tried. Truthfully, he didn’t know shit about baseball and this plan was bound to fail.

”Used to. No time anymore.” Derek hunched over his drink. “This season's interesting, though.”

”You think so?”

”Depends on your team, I guess.”

”What’s your team?” Stiles was already running on fumes. He couldn't believe that Derek was actually talking to him. If Derek asked him what his team was in return Stiles was screwed.

”Cubs.”

Cora grinned lazily at him as she sipped her coffee. Miraculously, Derek launched into some kind of well-practiced monologue about the Cubs’ spectacular season, down to specific game scores. Stiles nodded eagerly and made “hmm” sounds periodically as baseball vernacular went in one ear and mostly out the other. 

Derek eventually wound down to an awkward silence where Stiles was still nodding enthusiastically and Scott looked depressed again and Cora looked bored.

"I should get back. Kate will want those reports before I go home," Derek mumbled to his steaming mug. 

Cora's face pinched and she looked away from her brother, studying the wall next to their booth. There was nothing interesting on it.

"But... baseball," Stiles said weakly, sensing the tension in the air and wanting to do something about it.

The edges of Derek's lips actually twitched up briefly before he shook his head. He took his drink when he left.

 


 

 

Cora invited them to sit with her and her siblings for lunch the next day, too. Laura greeted them enthusiastically in the cafeteria, and Derek looked less than enthused (but not actively angry) that they were there. Stiles counted it all as a win.

Cora and Scott debated English literature again, but this time Laura kept Stiles company with questions about himself. Stiles ended up explaining most of his life story without realizing it, right down to his multiple "arrests" by his dad for stupid shit like possession of alcohol at 17.

"I knew he was a criminal," Derek added, quiet up until that moment. Stiles had almost forgotten he was eating with them.

"Juvenile court doesn't count. And you try growing up with the sheriff as your father. Most teenagers don't actually get caught by law enforcement when they do their stupid shit, but I was living with it," Stiles defended himself immediately. Derek was kind of smiling at him.

"Relax. In Derek's eyes that gives you legitimacy. Street cred. You're both fake badasses who pretend to look cool," Laura teased them, her eyes lighting up at Derek's contribution. 

Derek stiffened and rolled his eyes. Stiles bit back a knee-jerk argument that would make him seem even more like a faker.

"Would you unclench?" Laura demanded of her brother, a familiar kind of annoyance in her tone. "He's cute. I want to keep him. You'll scare him off if you don't stop."

"Laura," Derek looked strange, unsettled. "You shouldn't date a student."

"Oh please," Laura glanced uneasily at Stiles, "keep him around, Mr. Literal, not just for myself. He's funny and clever and," Laura turned her brilliant smile on him, "you and your friend can sit with us anytime."

"You're not a student?" Stiles asked, surprised. She did seem older in a cool kind of way. In fact, he felt like he'd been invited to sit at The Cool Kids' Table in high school.

"Adjunct professor in sociology. I finished my graduate program two years ago." Laura threw a thumb Derek's way. "This one's probably going to follow in my footsteps, but in neuropsychology." She leaned in conspiratorially. "He likes brains but not people."

Derek smirked at that, so Stiles figured it must be true.

"How did you all end up at the same university? You seem pretty spread out, age-wise."

"We've always been close. I chose this place, then these two followed me over when it was their turn. Derek did a few years back in California while Cora was finishing high school. He transferred over when she got accepted here." 

"Wow, California? We're from California too!" Stiles jumped at the similarity, a little too excited. Laura looked like she was thinking of making fun of his eagerness before she decided to let it slide.

"Yup. We all like it better out here, though." She shifted uncomfortably in her chair before a not-quite smile jumped onto her lips. "Thinking of buying a big house together when all of us are graduated and we get paid like real adults."

"Really?" Stiles wrinkled his nose. "No offense or anything, but you think this place is better than California? Does it ever stop snowing here? It's one giant runny nose. I mean, I go home in the summer when I assume you can see the sun, but otherwise..."

"I like fireplaces and hot drinks," Laura replied easily. "You get used to it."

"Or you... really hate California," Stiles realized out loud. That same discomfort jumped back into Laura's expression even as she waved away his concerns.

"It's fine there. Just better here. For us, anyway," Laura smiled again, looking strained. Derek refocused on his food, nothing more to add to the conversation. 

 


 

 

 Stiles suffered through two more calculus tests and an all-night coding frenzy to meet his internship deadline before Cora found him in the university commons, nursing a cup of coffee and calculating how much energy it would take to walk back home vs. falling asleep in a chair until he got kicked out.

"Why are you always so pathetic when I see you," Cora asked, genuinely perplexed. She dragged him from the comfy chair. Stiles made a soft noise of disapproval before letting her lead him out of the building.

They caught some bus--Stiles didn't keep track of which one--and went a few stops until Cora dragged him off again. She pulled him up to a big, beautiful house and shoved him through the front door before he could get an answer as to where they were.

"Take off your shoes. Laura hates it when the floor gets dirty," Cora instructed him, toeing off her own winter boots.

"Ok." Stiles absorbed that piece of information with some delay.

"Coat." Cora held out an impatient hand until Stiles shrugged off his jacket. "You can sleep it off in the upstairs bedroom. Derek won't be home all night, he's at his coworker's house."

"This is Laura’s house," Stiles asked slowly, glancing around for the first real time.

"This is our house. You can use it for now. I'm guessing your other half needs care taking if you go home."

"He's mildly self-sufficient," Stiles felt the need to defend Scott's honor. "He can make a mean fried rice."

"Let's hope so because I know useless when I see it and you need to sleep," Cora appraised him coolly. Stiles felt like he should be offended, but he couldn't help agreeing with her. He was beyond exhausted, into that realm where sleep seemed like an unattainable myth.

"I thought you guys didn't have a house?"

"We want to buy. We're just renting right now."

"Are you completely positive that Derek isn't going to come back and destroy me?" Stiles yawned, skeptical of this plan but losing the energy to fight it.

"No." Cora grinned at him, shooing him with her hand. "Go. First door up the stairs."

"You're nice in kind of a mean way. It's very confusing," Stiles commented before stumbling up the stairs and into the bedroom.

Stiles tried not to look at the walls, the bookshelves, the piles of clothing at the foot of the bed. He wasn't there to invade Derek's privacy. He zeroed in on the bed itself, deep blue covers with emerald green stripes, and sank into it before his ever-present curiosity could push back the wave of exhaustion and convince him that checking out Derek's old DVD collection was a good idea.

Sleep pulled him under almost the moment his head his the pillow, snuggled under too-comfortable blankets and the masculine scent of aftershave and, possibly, hair gel.

When he opened his eyes again, light illuminated the ceiling above him. It was Saturday morning, he realized. He freaked out when he looked around, checking his clothing and his memory for any kind of drinking/partying/hooking-up nonsense before he came up with Cora and mild terror.

Right, this was Derek's room. Derek's bed.

And he had survived the night.

Not wanting to test the universe further, Stiles slid out of the bed and only stopped once to look at Derek's calendar--events and deadlines marked out meticulously in some color-coded system--before he forced himself to exit the room.

Downstairs he found both Hale sisters drinking tea, eating freshly baked cinnamon rolls, and watching the Great British Cooking Show. Stiles stared, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, before he slowly sank down onto the couch with them. Laura mussed his bedhead affectionately before getting up and yawning. She ducked into the kitchen and returned with another cinnamon role, depositing it on Stiles's lap.

Stiles fell a little in love with both of them.

Cora threw the shared blanket over his lap and mocked him for immediately getting icing all over his face and fingers. Stiles didn't even argue. It was the most comfortable he had felt in months. He licked his fingers clean in silence and watched adorable British people bake adorable pastries for at least an hour.

Eventually Laura picked up their mess and hummed her way through the dishes as Cora demanded a foot rub from Stiles in payment for rescuing him from the commons yesterday. Stiles happily obliged, feeling strangely at home with Cora's fuzzy socks in his lap.

Stiles realized with a jolt that he had never texted Scott to let him know where he was all night. Sometimes Stiles would spend a ridiculous amount of time in the lab--including nights and weekends--so Scott was used to his rigorous hours, but Stiles always let him know when he wouldn't be there.

While he was texting Scott, Derek walked in the door. He seemed stiff, his face withdrawn as he pulled off his shoes at the door. Stiles watched him in silence, wondering when he would be noticed and what kind of reaction his presence warranted. Cora didn't seem concerned when Stiles asked if Derek would be angry he used his bed last night, which concerned Stiles.

When Derek finally caught sight of him, he paused for a moment before refocusing on his shoes. Stiles let a breath go.

"What's he doing in our house?" Derek asked the ground.

"We're dating," Cora winked at Stiles conspiratorially. Stiles froze, her fuzzy-sock-clad feet damning evidence on his lap. Derek's face did this imploding thing before Stiles decided it was in his best interest not to play along.

"We're not. She's just taken me in like a stray dog."

Derek said nothing, but his eyebrows communicated clearly how he felt about even the idea of the two of them dating. Stiles couldn't help but notice how exhausted he looked.

"You were at a co-workers house?" Stiles asked, resuming his foot rub for Cora. "What were you doing?"

"Reports." Derek's voice was thin. "I'm going to catch some sleep." 

"He works through a Friday night?" Stiles asked Cora after Derek disappeared into his room.

"His advisor is a demon." Cora's jaw clenched. "She works him to death. I haven't seen him happy his entire PhD program."

"Is she blond and terrifying?" Stiles guessed.

"So you've met?" Cora frowned at him.

"I talked to her for a few seconds and I got the distinct impression that she might eat me alive."

"Valid concern. She chews up graduate students and spits them out as washed-up, burned-out zombies. Derek only puts up with her because she's the only professor here with the same interests as his. The neuropsychology department is literally just them – he doesn't have any other options." 

Laura appeared by the couch, glaring up the stairs at Derek's bedroom and crossing her arms.

"She's tiptoeing around being fired. The department's just waiting for a legitimate reason." Laura looked pissed. Stiles wondered if she was pissed at Derek, though he couldn't fathom why she would be. Sounded like he was the indisputable victim.

Cora's mood also seemed to darken. She turned off The Great British Baking Show and focused entirely on her phone game, drawing her feet off of Stiles's lap and under the blanket again. Stiles looked around awkwardly, wondering if maybe he should make his exit. He kind of wished the Hales would permanently adopt him and let him move into a closet or something.

To avoid leaving, he headed into the kitchen and helped Laura clean. She debated him for a hot second before relinquishing the dishes and joining Cora on the couch. Stiles could hear them speaking in low voices, but he couldn't make out the words over the sound of the water rushing over his hands.

Having run out of excuses to stick around, Stiles hugged both sisters goodbye and reluctantly left the warm house to head back out into the cold.

Chapter Text

"This ends now," Stiles muttered to himself as he nearly button-smashed his rage into the email. He restrained himself, typing instead, I think we should meet in person so I can better understand your vision for this project. He had already written I quit, asswipe and then erased it about three times.

Stiles figured he had three options: either this guy was a dick who couldn't be bothered to send Stiles detailed and thoughtful instructions or 2. his communication skills were truly this bad or 3. he was an ancient technophobe  who had no idea what he was doing. Stiles was prepared to demand graphs and diagrams. He would bring paper and pencil and fucking crayon if meant illuminating the true purpose of all these cryptic messages.

Mystery Asswipe replied with a come to the psych department, meet you in the lobby almost immediately. His reply speed was his one redeeming quality.

Stiles sighed and checked the clock. He was through with classes for the day, but he needed to work on homework before attempting to raise Scott from the dead in order to eat dinner with him. Danny might also be eating dinner with them, and Stiles had yet to hear how his underwear recommendation played out for Danny's anniversary.

Stiles resolved to give Mystery Asswipe two hours tops to decode his frustrating instructions before he would go to dinner and turn his brain off to math so he could live vicariously through Danny's retelling of his sexcapades.

(Okay, so maybe he needed to get laid.)

Stiles felt a familiar sense of deja vu as he climbed the rickety stairs up to the second floor, following the tarnished signs to the psychology department's main office. He was just taking deep breaths and steeling himself to deal with some crochety 80-year-old professor who had difficulties turning his computer on and off when he saw Derek in the main office.

"Dude, what's up?" Stiles beamed at him. He thought maybe they were at "dude" level now that he'd slept in his bed. Alone, but still.

"Why are you everywhere I go?" Derek asked him, his glorious eyebrows spasming. "Never mind. What are you doing here?"

"I'm waiting for some guy. Do you know of any technologically incompetent professors who make a hobby out of torturing young computer science majors? Probably somewhere in the age range of seventy five and a thousand. I have been trying to translate this guy's instructions for literally weeks, to frustrating and inefficient results." Stiles kept his voice down so the front desk lady couldn't hear him, but there was no one else in the main office other than the three of them so he spoke freely. "I wonder what I did in my life to deserve this."

Derek sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, muttering a low "of course," to himself before he sat down heavily in one of the chairs.

"Help me out, buddy. How do I get on this guy's good side? I really want to catch dinner with Scott and Danny, so I need to get out of here within two hours." Stiles sat down next to him in one of the few chairs in the room. Derek's forearms were very nice to stare at, and Derek seemed too distracted to notice Stiles staring. "I brought some paper and coloring supplies so we can really get down and dirty. He thinks he's such a great artist. Fuckin' Picasso." 

Derek looked like he'd swallowed something sour. Stiles blinked at him for a few moments before it dawned on him.

"You. It's you. You're the one who's been torturing me."

"You mean you've been torturing me with all the smart-ass comments and purposeful obstinacy," Derek seethed in response. 

Stiles fish-gaped at him, the words coming and then leaving his mind as long-repressed rage bubbled out of his little container of professionalism. Derek let him stare for a while before his eyebrows rose in a silent challenge.

"Office. Now," Stiles finally settled on. "You're going to draw me some pictures. Then we're going to talk logistics. And then I'm going to take a fucking Advil because you are killing me, dude."

"Boss," Derek corrected, narrowing his eyes. "I'm your boss. Dude."

"Oh, sure, all right. Now you're going to pretend we're all professional? You never even introduced yourself, you humongous mole!"

Derek's face pinched and his body seemed to vibrate as "humongous mole" settled between them. Stiles felt a little embarrassed by his insult fail, but he shouldered past it.

"Yeah, you heard me. I stand by it. Now, please lead the way." Stiles huffed and sarcastically waved his arm at the door.

 


  

It went poorly.

Derek was not better at communicating in person. He was, at times, worse. And Stiles couldn't take a few minutes break to rant to Scott before answering, so he ended up losing his cool once or twice. Or every five minutes. They were so busy bickering that Stiles forgot about the time until dinner was long past.

"I'm starving." Stiles stared at the sketch he'd forced out of Derek, his eyes unfocusing as he mentally checked in with his irate stomach.

"I missed dinner because of you," Derek grumbled, checking the latest update Stiles had pushed for him only minutes earlier. "This button doesn't work. I told you to make it work."

"Make it work. Is. Not. Specific. Enough. What do you want it to do, Derek?"

"Contact the researcher." Derek grimaced at him. "Exactly what it says."

"Which researcher? All of them? Just you? Just Kate? I don't live in your brain."

"That's abundantly clear." Derek frowned so hard Stiles wondered if it would permanently wrinkle his gorgeous, irritating face.

"We've been over this," Stiles replied, too tired to get into it again. "You want to get something to eat? Or do you want to sit here and stew in our collective frustration some more?"

"I don't see what's so unclear about my instructions," Derek muttered for what seemed like the billionth time. Stewing it was, then. Stiles sighed and sank back into the horrifically uncomfortable spare chair at Derek's sad little cubicle. He thought briefly that if he spent all his time at this terrible desk he might be as cranky as Derek too.

"Seriously. I will buy you dinner if you just let me go."

"What are you going to eat?"

"Banh mi?" Stiles suggested. "Pizza? Chicken wings? Ramen? I don't care. I could eat you right now." Stiles immediately regretted his word choice, but Derek seemed oblivious to his embarrassment. Stiles thanked his lucky stars.

"Fine. Go. Come back, though. We're not finished," Derek demanded.

Stiles came back, but not before he ate half his banh mi and gave himself a pep talk. Derek looked grateful when Stiles handed over his food, though, which was the first time Derek had actually expressed gratitude toward him, so he took it as a win. 

Derek put down his phone--which he'd been testing their app on--and finally took a real break to eat. Stiles had been oggling him basically all day, amazed at how someone could be so hot and so fucking frustrating at the same time, but now that Derek wasn't actively frowning he was even prettier. Stiles was a huge fan of his Adonis jawline and those perpetually irritated eyebrows, sweeping perfectly over his captivating olive eyes. Stiles thought Cora and Laura were equally attractive, but there was something about Derek that felt magnetic to him. He had some weird kind of charisma--a shroud of mystery and anger, maybe. Stiles had always been a sucker for cool and distant, but Derek was more like in-your-face and mad, so Stiles didn't know what to think of his new obsession with the guy's knuckles.

"Okay, so you, what, bench press cars?" Stiles blurted out, his curiosity on fire. Derek chewed a little slower, his frown returning with a vengeance. "Seriously, how'd you get so ripped?"

"A careful regimen of beating up undergrads," Derek replied as he bit into his sandwich.

"Hardy har har. You're very scary. Now the real answer."

"I lift." Derek wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. Even that was sexy. Jesus.

"Again... cars?" Stiles asked incredulously.

"Weights," Derek supplied.

"Fine, keep your magical body building secrets to yourself." Stiles kicked back in his chair, balancing carefully on the back two legs. "I used to do lacrosse in high school. We would lift after practice two or three times a week, but no one in our team was your level of ripped."

"You were teenagers." Derek shrugged, his expression unpinching. "Your body needs maturity to reach a certain point."

"Can I come learn?" Stiles asked suddenly. He was probably buying himself nothing but awkward boners in the gym and more than one self-induced injury, but he was curious anyway.

"No." Derek glanced at him, seemed to consider for a moment. "But I'll teach you how to play baseball."

"Shut up." Stiles dropped his chair to the ground with a thud, his disbelief evident. "Really? You will?"

"The gym is my alone time. But I don't know anyone here who plays baseball."

"And you're too grumpy and anti-social to actually try to make friends who already do. I get it. Win-win situation. Love it." Stiles nodded in enthusiasm. Derek shot him a displeased look. It was basically his only look, Stiles had come to realize.

 


 

Stiles found Danny with Scott when he got home, both of them sitting at the table and doing their homework. Well, hopefully Scott was doing his homework. Danny was on his computer, so Stiles assumed he had hacked into the pentagon for fun in lieu of actually doing his coding homework like the rest of the mere mortals in their computer science classes (like Stiles).

"Where were you?" Danny asked, his expression subdued. "I've been babysitting."

"I'm not a child," Scott protested.

"Yeah, but you won't do your homework unless you have friend supervision," Stiles pointed out as gently as he could. Scott's face collapsed. He packed up his stuff and left the table without another word.

"Nice," Danny sighed. "Great job."

"You're the one who called it 'babysitting'," Stiles pointed out petulantly. "I'm too tired to tiptoe around his feelings."

"That's a lie." Danny shook his head, returning his attention to his computer. "You feel like shit right now."

Stiles fell into the chair next to Danny and slumped over the table--the dilapidated table that he'd bought with Scott a year ago at a garage sale. He groaned at just the thought.

"I'm an asshole, okay? What do we even do?"

"He just needs time, dude. We've talked about this."

"I'm getting depressed waiting for him to heal up, though."

Danny stopped typing to critically assess him.

"That's actually true. You've been catching the depression bug lately."

"It's not some cute little sickness. It's a debilitating disease," Stiles mumbled into the table as he slumped down and rested his forehead against his forearms. "Exhibit A: my poor roommate."

"Take him outside tomorrow. Play lacrosse together. Go fucking bowling. Do something instead of moping around the house together and stressing out over all the homework you're both avoiding."

"Ok, Dr. Phil, message received." Stiles paused, his breath fogging up the old wood of their dining table. "So... I found out who my boss is."

"No shit." Danny closed his computer almost immediately and cocked an eyebrow in expectation. Danny's Great Gossip sense was stronger than anyone Stiles had ever met.

"Three guesses," Stiles tried.

"Don't you even."

"Starts with a D."

Danny grinned.

"I can only think of one thing that starts with a 'D'."

"This is why I love you." Stiles shook his head. Danny was the best – the dick jokes, the nerdiness, the gayness. Danny was a wonderful package of wonderfulness. "But my boss is a person, not an appendage."

"You seriously want me to guess?" Danny rolled his eyes. "I know no one in psychology."

"No, but I do."

"Wha-" Danny stared at him. "That guy that body-slammed you? Dirt Hell?"

"Derek Hale, but close. Yeah, dude, to no one's surprise, his communication skills are just all-around terrible. I spent four hours with him tonight trying to decipher all the rubbish he's sent me in the last few weeks." 

"Oh. Oh, Stiles. I'm sorry." Danny patted him in a friendly way. "Wait, why is your face doing that thing?"

"What thing?" Stiles's hands went up to feel his face. It felt normal. Danny snorted at him.

"You're blushing." Danny's smile faded. "Oh shit, you're blushing."

"I'm pink from the arctic chill outside," Stiles corrected him immediately.

"Oh really?" A cloud of doom overtook Danny's expression. "What does this Derek guy look like?"

"A caveman. A big, muscly thug. I hate him. I hate him so much."

"No you don't."

"I'm going to bed."

"Stiles!" Danny called after him as he tried to escape. "What did you learn from Lydia?"

Stiles paused at the door to the kitchen, leaning against it.

"People who are mean to you aren't secretly attracted to you."

"Don't forget that, okay? We already have one heartbroken friend – I don't want to be responsible for making sure both of you do your homework." 

Stiles turned slowly, schooling his expression.

"You've got nothing to worry about. It's not like that. I really don't like him."

 

 


 

 

Okay, so he lied.

Dismissive and beautiful were totally his type. Danny was an aberration, a rebound--the nice nerd with the cute dimples that he used to try to cure his Lydia hangover. It didn't work. Of course it didn't; Stiles fell in love with the unattainable, and Danny was just another flavor of that.

Derek was, unfortunately, the most unattainable. Beautiful? Check. Mean? Check. Hated him? Double check. Stiles was doomed to develop a crush of epic proportions on him.

He accepted his gloomy fate as he sat down next to Derek day after day and argued with him over everything they could possibly disagree about. He headed over to Derek's upsetting cubicle after class for a week until he finally convinced Derek they would work better if they were both fed and watered properly. That was how he weaseled his way into a nightly dinner invitation at the Hale house.

It turned into an exquisite torture. Derek would snarl at him and attempt to continue working through dinner while Stiles ate delicious home-cooked meals and made pleasant conversation with Laura (and occasionally Cora, if she was in a forgiving mood).

So it was to Stiles's great surprise when, after nearly two weeks of clawing at each other's throats, Derek invited him to meet up at the batting cages over the weekend. Voluntarily.

Stiles showed up wearing his old lacrosse practice clothes. He had a lot of questions about "after-hours" Derek. He always seemed to be in work mode. Stiles had yet to find any place the guy would relax – including his own house.

To his continuing surprise, Derek seemed to be in an approximation of a good mood. For someone like Derek, anyway. He wasn’t scowling. He face was so fucking beautiful when it wasn’t lined with frown lines, smooth and glowing in the outdoor light as he sat by the batting cages in faded jeans and a leather jacket. He looked like he was sunbathing or something, with the way his face tilted toward the sky and his eyes slit down to nothing.

Stiles cleared his throat when he got closer, loathe to disturb Derek’s moment of, dare he say it, happiness. But Derek’s expression barely changed as he opened the door to the batting cage, thrust a helmet into Stiles’s hands, and followed it up with a bat.

“How’s the weight?”

“Good.”

“It’s too long. It should come up to here.” Derek took the bat out of his hands almost as quickly as he placed it there. He replaced it with an almost identical one. “That’s closer. Try swinging it. But not at me, jesus.” Derek took a step back as Stiles almost clipped him.

“You said swing.”

“That looks better. How does it feel?” Derek squinted at him critically.

“Good.” Stiles shrugged, unsure how it should feel. He’d played baseball in high school gym a few times and he thought maybe he could remember the general rules of the game, but any kind of specifics were gone from his brain. “Why don’t you just show me how to do this? Your communication skills are legendarily subpar.”

That earned him a dirty look as Derek picked up a bat and squatted into position. Stiles couldn’t help but staring a little at his thighs, the muscle defined even through his jeans, but he tore his gaze away when Derek nodded at him. There was a button next to him, so Stiles pressed it.

Somehow Derek’s bat connected with the ball on the first swing, his whole body following through in a glorious arch of muscle and sinew. It was graceful and beautiful in its own weird way. Stiles couldn’t remember why he thought baseball was actually kind of dumb up until that moment.

“You try.”

“What? I am not prepared. Do it again a few times.”

“Show me what you’ve got. Then I’ll correct your form,” Derek shook his head as he switched places with him.

“What, did you play professionally?” Stiles grumbled as he hesitantly danced around the spot where Derek had been standing so confidently.

“Stop that! Get ready.”

Stiles forced himself to stare across the vast expanse of nothing to the machine that lobbed balls at him. The ball came quicker than he expected, and Stiles missed. When he missed again, he heard a sigh and a click as Derek shut it off.

“I played in college. Baseball scholarship.” Derek walked toward him and suddenly Stiles was very aware of the rough hands on his shoulders, moving him around. Derek arranged him just the way he wanted. “Use your knees more. Follow through. Keep your head still. That’s better. When the ball’s at eye level, then you swing. Watch the bat hit.”

“Whoah, dude. Scholarship. For baseball. That’s intense,” Stiles muttered because he was so nervous with Derek’s hands on him that he needed to say something, even if it was nonsense.

“…Sure. Pay attention or you’ll get hit.”

“I don’t know if I mentioned this, but I totally played lacrosse in high school. So, you know, stick sports. I’ve got chops.” A crack echoed in the cage as the ball actually connected and sailed a few feet off the ground. It didn’t compare to Derek’s glorious hit where the ball hit the ceiling on the far end before it bounced impotently on the ground. “I mean, I warmed the bench for almost all of the season, but when coach let me play, man, I was on fire. Scott can tell you all about it. I was so close to—”

“Stiles, focus. Here it comes.”

Stiles “oomph’d” as the ball, indeed, came. And smacked him in the hip, mere inches from another area that would been agonizing.

“Point taken. Focusing. I’ll tell you all about my stick sport escapades later.” Stiles bent down to hug his hip, trying not to hop around in pain. He glanced up at Derek to make sure he hadn’t abandoned him to his patheticness.

“Stop calling it a ‘stick sport’,” Derek grumbled, looking away from him and leaning up against the chain link fence separating them. And wasn’t that a sight? His shirt rode up just enough that Stiles caught a wiff of a midsection before something very loud cracked against his skull.

Stiles went down before realized he was going down. He sat on the hard concrete, dazed, until he heard Derek shut off the machine and felt hands on him again. Very nice hands, Stiles thought fleetingly as he blinked up at Derek’s face. He could handle a few more balls to the head if it meant Derek touching him.

“You ok?”

“It hit my helmet. I’m okay! Boy, you weren’t kidding. Focusing is very important in this sport. This is probably a good time to let you know I’ve got serious ADD and sometimes focusing is not my strong point.”

Derek’s impossible eyebrows nearly met as he frowned at him.

“Can you do this?”

“Maybe. I dunno. Let’s see how injured I get.”

“That sounds like a bad plan,” Derek continued frowning at him, but he backed off and let Stiles sit up. Stiles dusted his knees off and readied himself before he nodded at Derek.

This time he kept his eyes on the machine as it lobbed balls at him. He was so used to filling their silences that the total silence between him and Derek felt bizarre. He hit less than half of the balls that came at him, but when the machine wound down Derek actually looked pleased.

“That wasn’t terrible.” Derek took the bat from his hands and switched places with him. “Now watch.”

Stiles happily watched. Derek was glorious, a picture of elegant form and charismatic intensity. He barely missed, and when he did Stiles was inclined to blame it on the machine. Sometimes Derek would say something like, “lift this foot first before you hit,” and give Stiles helpful tips, but Stiles couldn’t really hear him over his hotness.

Stiles was almost disappointed when it was his turn again. But, wonderfully, it meant Derek’s hands on him, shifting him this way and that as he adjusted his form and demonstrated the correct swing one more time.

Stiles didn’t feel like he improved, but at the end of his turn Derek looked genuinely pleased.

“You love this sport.” Stiles bounced the bat on the ground, his helmet under one arm as he watched Derek stretch out his arms.  

Derek shrugged.

“You want to come again next weekend?” Derek asked the ground.

“Yeah,” Stiles agreed, probably too quickly. “Definitely, dude. Maybe weekly?” Stiles cursed himself for being too eager. Derek definitely wasn’t going to yes to that. He could barely stand him.

“Ok.”

“What?” Stiles said out loud before he realized he meant to say it in his head. “I mean, cool. So cool, dude. I am so psyched to… learn all about baseball.”

Derek’s face did this thing that Stiles thought could be smiling if he squinted. It wasn’t a complete smile, but it got closer to it than his normal resting bitch face.

“After you’ve learned the rules, we should get Cora and Laura to play with us. Maybe your friend Scott, if he can make it. We need some people to actually play a game.”

“Aha! Your real motivation reveals itself!” Stiles made jazz hands at him. “You want to put together a team!”

“Yes, I’m dying to play with a bunch of people who don’t know what they’re doing,” Derek rolled his eyes. “You said you wanted to learn. I’m teaching you. That’s it. But it’s a team sport and we need more players, eventually.”

“Alright. Sure. But I’m on to you, buddy.” Stiles was having a difficult time believing Derek wanted to teach Stiles just because. “It would be good for Scott to get out of the house, anyway. Danny was just saying we should try to get him to be active.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“What’s wrong with your face?” Stiles responded out of petty instinct before he tamped it down. Derek looked as genuine as Derek could look. “There’s nothing wrong with him, he’s just depressed.”

“…Okay.” Derek seemed to take that in stride. “Any reason? Or he just is?”

“His… it’s kind of a long story, but the short one is that the love of his life broke off their engagement.”

“Oh.” Derek sat down on the bench by the batting cages and motioned at Stiles. Stiles took a moment to process that Derek was actually inviting him to sit down. Then, in a moment of actual miracle, Derek asked, “What’s the long story?”

Stiles sat down, wondering if he was dreaming. Nobody asked him about his life except Danny. And, more recently, Cora and Laura. Still, it was weird.

“Uh, typical heartbreak story for our age, I guess. They fell deeply in love freshman year--like, love letters, elaborate Valentine’s day shit, weekend trips, the whole thing--and Allison moved in with us halfway through last year when Scott asked her to marry him. They lasted about six months before they realized they were actually incompatible and wanted totally different things out of life. They broke up over the summer, right before they were supposed to get married. He’s been crushed ever since.”

Derek watched him quietly, his eyes as uncommunicative as ever.

“It was just really weird to get caught in. Ally is great, and I love her, but living with the two of them was a total nightmare. The passive aggressive bullshit, the near break-ups, the late-night crying, all of it was too much. I still miss her too, but, man, they made the right call with breaking up.”

“Then why is he so crushed?” Derek wondered finally, rubbing a hand along his neck and watching Stiles too closely.

“Because they were the love story of the century and then it crashed and burned. Wouldn’t that bum you out?”

“Doesn’t sound like real love. Just attraction.” Derek shook his head. “Dopamine in the brain.”

“I think it was more like… half-baked love that they tried to take out of the oven too quickly.” Stiles shrugged. “I don’t know what chemical that creates in the brain, but it wasn’t quite as shallow as you’re probably thinking.”

“And you were caught in the middle of it.”

“Pretty literally, sometimes.” Stiles cringed at the memories. “Next girlfriend Scott has we are getting a sign that says, ‘do not enter’.”

“Or you could just knock,” Derek pointed out dryly.

“I did.” Stiles pointed out right back. “They were too busy to realize. Hasn’t that ever happened at your house?”

Derek looked thunderous at just the thought.

“No.”

Stiles dropped it, looking away quickly. He spared a thought for Cora and Laura, living with this insane level of overprotection.

“Ooookay.”

“Physical activity helps with depression,” Derek switched the topic to a subject that didn’t give him murder eyes. “Bring him with you sometime. We’ll get his heart rate up.”

“That’s kind of nice of you. You and Cora are both kind of nice in mean ways. It's very confusing.”

“Family trait,” Derek agreed with no sense of irony. “If you want lunch, you can come back to our house. You’ve practically moved in already.”

“I feel like I should contribute to grocery funds at this point,” Stiles admitted, pleased at how frequently he’d been invited over to the Hale house. Cora liked to bake excessively and use him as a garbage disposal, and Laura liked to do puzzles with him. Stiles was down for all of it.

And now, apparently, Derek was inviting him over too.

Score.

Chapter Text

"What... happened here?" Stiles wondered when he found Cora and Scott sitting together on a bench outside of Asian History, a tiny raincloud seeming to hover directly over their heads. "I'm almost afraid to ask, but... who died?"

"I'm exhausted," Cora complained, leaning against Scott. Scott went pink and looked a little less gloomy. Stiles watched the exchange with growing hope as he sat down on the bench next to Scott. "We couldn't make it to class today."

Stiles looked at the building for their class--which was literally twenty feet away--and back at them.

"Clearly, seeing as both of you abandoned me. You know our professor says, like, three words per minute. Sometimes less. How could you leave me stranded there alone for two hours?"

"You chose that class as your elective." Cora side-eyed him.

"No," Stiles corrected her patiently. "Scott and I got out our Ouija board and let the spirits decide for us."

"Really?"

"Well, the spirits spelled krpslnt and we figured 'Asian history' was close enough." Stiles grinned at Scott's laughter. "Tequila may have been involved."

"There weren't any vowels in it, so we made an educated guess," Scott confirmed on a half-grin.

"Why are you exhausted?" Stiles asked Cora.

"I work in the mornings." Cora tilted her head so she was more comfortably situated on Scott's shoulder. Scott turned an even brighter shade of pink, but he looked progressively more pleased. "At a bakery. We get the bread in at five."

"I have noticed you watching a lot of baking shows," Stiles realized slowly. Almost every time he came over to their house Cora was either baking or watching a show about baking. And lately Stiles had been over there a lot. "You like it?"

Cora's face crumpled and stiles felt like the biggest asshole in the world.

"I'm so sorry. I take it all back," Stiles started quickly. "I have no idea what I said, but clearly I'm an idiot."

"I love it," Cora whispered. "I want to quit this shit and bake full time."

"Oh," Stiles breathed, somewhat relieved that he wasn't the reason for her misery. "You mean you don't find Professor Clemt's analysis of the Tao Te Ching riveting? That's shocking."

"Don't tell them." Cora shook her head, burying her face in Scott's shoulder. Scott tentatively looped an arm around her and rubbed her shoulder. When she didn't bat him off, Scott relaxed a little, looking awestruck.

"I wasn't planning on telling him."

"Them," Cora mumbled into Scott's shoulder. Scott looked at Stiles and frowned.

"Your family?" Scott guessed. "Why?"

"Nothing." Cora straightened slowly, rubbing her nose against the back of her hand but otherwise looking as cool and collected as always. "No one. I said nothing. You saw nothing. Right?"

"Right," Stiles agreed quickly, confused as hell but willing to agree to anything when Cora had switched from miserable to threatening in three seconds flat.

"Why don't you want to tell them?" Scott, always a little bit braver in these situations than Stiles, continued to press.

"Nothing." Cora corrected him as though he'd misspelled it. "Not a word."

"Ok," Scott finally agreed, baffled.

"Thank you." Cora looked between them before leaving them at the bench to blink at each other.

"Were you two seriously sitting out here for the whole class?" Stiles asked Scott when Cora was out of sight. 

"We just talked." Scott gaped at him like he couldn't believe it either. "It was amazing."

"Really?" Stiles couldn't help grinning with pride. "How come you both looked like death when I found you?“

"She was just really tired," Scott shrugged. "Neither of us wanted to move. She said she knew I would understand."

"So she sought you out so you could be depressed together." Stiles knocked Scott playfully. "That's actually kind of sweet."

"We're just friends," Scott said quickly, looking away from Stiles. "Remember her no-chicken-shit policy?"

"Dude." Stiles shook his head, still smiling. "If you say so."

 


 

When Cora showed up later that night at their apartment, Stiles wasn't surprised, but he was a little bit flustered since she swept past him into the apartment without so much as a "hello". He probably shouldn't have answered the door in his dinosaur pajamas if he didn't want anyone to actually see his dinosaur pajamas, so, really, that one was on him.

Derek had cancelled their standing dinner appointment to work on the app Stiles was building for him. That, combined with Cora's strange behavior that morning, had given Stiles all the clues he needed.

Scott looked up from the table where he and Stiles were camped out doing homework. He somehow managed to drop his pencil in surprise.

"I'm hiding," Cora announced as she went straight to their fridge. "Can I drink your beer?"

"Uh," Stiles glanced at Scott. "Sure?"

"Help yourself," Scott offered, quicker to adapt to their surprise guest than Stiles.

"My brother's driving me insane," Cora said, her cheeks flushed. "Won't stop calling."

Stiles frowned. Derek and Cora's relationship, from what he had seen, was way more dysfunctional than Derek and Laura's relationship. Derek seemed especially protective and overbearing of Cora, but Stiles had yet to figure out the reason. He had divined one thing for certain: it drove Cora insane.

"You should definitely ignore him. He needs to learn to calm the fuck down."

"Yes!" Cora shouted, rolling her eyes to the ceiling in a dramatic flourish. "Thank you! Laura's always like, 'Oh, he's just worried about you.' No shit, I got that. But I'm twenty fucking years old!" Cora fumed, downing the beer in her hand. Then she sank down on their couch to brood silently.

"Yes!" Stiles agreed emphatically. "Yes. All the yes. Si. Oui."

"I'm done," Scott announced, hastily shoving his obviously unfinished homework into various notebooks strewn about on the table. "You want to talk about it?"

"No," Cora mumbled. "I want to get drunk, watch baking shows, and avoid my family for as long as physically possible."

"Or that," Scott agreed quickly. "That sounds good too."

Cora twisted on the couch to smile at him. It was a rare sight. Stiles suddenly felt like maybe he should find something to do outside of the house, but it was Tuesday at 8 PM and Stiles was too diligent to know those kinds of excuses.

"Stiles too," Cora added, interrupting his private brainstorming. "He loves cooking shows."

"Oh, I." Stiles rubbed the back of his head, glancing at Scott's almost imperceptible slump. "I would love to, really, but I have a ton of homework to finish. I'll do it in my room, though, so you guys can have the living room to yourself and watch with the volume up."

"Alright," Cora agreed before gesturing at Scott. Scott hurried over to sit next to her on the couch, finding and handing her the remote immediately.

Stiles cleaned up his own mess from the table and retreated into his room. He kept his music off to see if he could eavesdrop on their conversation, but if they talked about anything the television covered it.

Stiles found himself humming as he worked, enjoying taking credit for the magic that was currently taking place in his living room. He was the best bro. Asking Cora out had been a long -- and at times painful -- route, but it had definitely gotten them to a new destination. Even if Scott and Cora ended up just friends, Stiles could tell that Scott letting himself actually like a girl again was doing wonders for his mental health.

Stiles was so caught up in gloating about Cora and Scott that he answered his phone without even thinking about it.

"Stiles?" A gruff voice asked. Stiles glanced at his phone and saw that the caller was unknown.

"Who is this?" Stiles wondered stupidly.

"Derek," he sounded impatient, like Stiles should have worket that out already (because he should have). "Is my sister there?"

"Maybe," Stiles answered slowly, weighing the pros and cons of lying and coming up in the middle. "Why?"

Derek breathed out heavily on the other end.

"I'm coming to get her."

Stiles took a moment to wonder at the strange creature that was Derek Hale.

"No, you're not. You don't even know where I live." 

"It's in the student directory."

"Oh, fuck the student directory." Of course, the bane of his existence struck again.

"What?"

Stiles shook off his anger, focusing on the more important things happening.

"Derek -- Cora's twenty years old. She can do what she wants." Stiles squinted at his paper, trying to figure out how to explain this to someone with all the social skills of a hungry bear. "You're acting like a crazy father. Nobody wants a dad like that, let alone a brother. My dad liked to arrest me a lot, but if he had harassed me constantly like this we wouldn't be nearly as close as we are today."

There was silence. Then came Derek's clipped, short response. 

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"Actually, yeah I do, dude. You need to relax. She's an adult. She's with me and Scott, so she's totally safe. It's not like she's out clubbing until the morning and not answering her phone. But she's pissed at you for this overprotective bullshit, and I don't blame her. If I were you, I'd stop incessantly calling her and let her sleep off her fury here."

"Sleep? No, she definitely can't--"

"Yeah, she totally can, and she's welcome to," Stiles interrupted him, 100% done. He'd withstood Derek's murder glare nearly daily for the past few weeks. While the guy had terrified him at first, arguing with him now felt like second nature. "She's going to be fine. But you're going to wreck your relationship with her if you don't stop doing this." 

Angry silence filled the air as Stiles waited for Derek's response. Then he heard a click.

Derek could hang up on him, but Stiles didn't regret a single word.

 


 

Stiles regretted every single word the next morning. Derek hated him now. Stiles had put his opinion where it didn’t belong again.

But Cora and Scott seemed happy, so Stiles figured it wasn’t a total loss. 

Stiles tried to repay some of the Hale hospitality the next morning by making both Scott and Cora breakfast before he went to his 11 o'clock class. He found Scott curled up on the couch (apparently he'd given Cora his bed, which Stiles found too cute) and woke him up with the smell of bacon.

Cora appeared a few minutes after Scott finished making all their toast and Stiles tried not to do cartwheels when she pecked Scott on the cheek. She was also, he noticed, wearing one of Scott's sleeping shirts.

Scott was in a remarkably good mood.

Stiles held off for as long as he could while they were eating until he found himself blurting out, "Why is your brother such a freak?"

Cora snorted, chewing her toast for a few moments with a distinct air of amusement before she answered him.

"You're going to have to be more specific."

"He called me last night to try to track you down."

Cora rolled her eyes.

"Of fucking course he did. I'm going to kill him."

"You should!" Stiles encouraged her. "What the hell?"

"He--" Cora shook her head, her expression shutting down. "It's just weird. With my family. We're weird."

"He kind of raised her," Scott supplied quietly, glancing at Cora as if to get permission tell the story. "After their parents died."

"Laura went off to graduate school, but Derek stayed behind so I could finish high school," Cora continued, ripping the crust of her bread apart with her fingers. "It's just weird between us now. No matter how many times I tell him to fuck off, he just keeps at it. It's like he can't stop thinking of me as a teenager he needs to take care of."

"Oh." Stiles took that information in with a sinking feeling. He had really hit the nail on the head when he told Derek to stop acting like a terrible father. "That really sucks."

"Yeah," Cora ripped the last of her bread to pieces before stabbing angrily at her eggs. "Laura's better about it, but Derek's... he used to be my best friend. Now we drive each other crazy."

 

 


 

 

Derek was definitely pissed. He didn't show up for their standing appointment the next day, or the next. Usually they took Fridays off, so Stiles spent most of his Friday playing video games with Danny and alternating between moping about or complaining about Derek.

"You like him," Danny accused him again after his second bout of "Derek's forearms are stupid and hairy and too muscley for a normal human".

"He has the personality of a wounded badger. No thanks," Stiles assured him again, lying straight through his teeth. "It's just rude to not show up to a standing work appointment. What a mound of dicks."

"’Mound of dicks’ is something I don't need to hear ever again.” Danny steered his dragon into Stiles's dragon and took them both down so he could set the controller on the ground and serious-eye Stiles.

Stiles avoided his assessing gaze, afraid he would crack under it.

"We talked about this. About your whole Lydia thing. We spent more than a year trying to reprogram you to like people who actually showed you some interest."

"I totally like people who show me interest." Stiles argued weakly. "Dad got a dog last summer, remember? We are mutually, happily in love with each other. I have the photographs to prove it.”

"Stiles," Danny pressed, rubbing two hands over his face. "It's not going to happen, okay? This guy is probably straighter than Jackson. And even if he swung that way, he's just not into you."

"It doesn't matter!" Stiles burst out. "Because I don't like him. Okay?"

"... Alright." Danny looked started.

"Sorry, it's just... I know. Believe me, I know," Stiles mumbled, disproportionately upset.

"Okay," Danny said, softer. "Stiles."

Stiles shook his head, picked up the controller, and continued playing.

 


  

He was an idiot to show up to the batting cages at their usual time that weekend, but he was a hopeful idiot. He'd found a Giants uniform on a costume shop online, and it arrived in the mail the day before, so he figured why not. He'd improved marginally since Derek started teaching him. Showing up in a fake baseball uniform made him feel as self conscious as the first time he stepped into the batting cages with Derek's watchful eyes on him. This time he was alone and terrible and dressed in a joke outfit, rather than a student improving steadily under the hand of a master

He'd learned the process of renting the cage, figured out the rhythm of the machine as it spat balls at him. He lifted his foot at just the right time now. He could kind of understand where Derek's deep devotion to the sport came from -- it was almost hypnotizing, the pace of it, the science of angling the bat just right at just the right time.

He'd gotten through about four rounds when he realized there were eyes on him.

Derek was leaning against the cage the way he liked to. The cage had caught on his shirt and tugged it up just above his belt, showing off his stupidly muscled stomach.

Stiles was half tempted to hit the button and attempt a conversation with him, but Derek's eyes were screaming, "just hit the fucking ball, Stiles," so Stiles did that instead. He focused, for once, on the quiet whir of the machine and the pound of the bat against the ball.

When he finished the round, Derek opened the cage and switched with him without saying a word.

Stiles stood in silence, watching Derek the way he had watched him. Stiles was sure it was a totally different experience since Derek's every movement was graceful and deliberate. Stiles hated him a little bit for walking so completely into his everyday habits and taking over the background noise until it was all Stiles could hear.

They switched out two more times before Derek turned off the machine and sat down on the bench. Stiles sat down next to him after a minute, wondering if he was allowed to break their self-imposed silence yet.

"I think it's really cool that you raised your sister like that. You stayed there for her so she wouldn't have to transfer in the middle of high school," Stiles tried, his throat feeling tight. "I shouldn't have --"

"Don't apologize to me." Derek shook his head. "You were... right. I'm out of control. She's told me a million times."

"You just need to learn how to be a brother again," Stiles guessed quietly. "You became a parent too soon.”

"I should have learned how to do both years ago." Derek laughed without humor, leaning over to rest on his knees.

"It's not that easy." Stiles twisted his hands nervously. "When you build yourself a certain way, it's not easy to unbuild it."

"Speaking from experience?" Derek asked him.

"I tend to fall in love with people who will never love me back," Stiles admitted. Usually he could joke about it with Danny, but now it came out raw. He'd never felt the certainty -- the truth -- of it quite like this before. 

"Just dopamine in the brain." Derek licked his lips and threaded his hands together. "That's all it is."

"Doesn't feel like it."

"Stiles." Derek looked over at him. It seemed like he really saw him, his eyes sweeping over him slowly, taking in all the details. "What the fuck are you wearing?"

 

Chapter Text

A coding project with a tight timeline drew Stiles's attention away for the next week. He tried to forget the Hale drama and focus, and since Derek was talking to him again -- texting, actually -- Stiles was semi-successful. The first text he got still read "unknown" since Stiles didn't expect Derek to ever call him again after that first time. It just said, "Cafeteria. Here?" and Stiles almost had a heart attack from his excitement when he found Derek eating alone in the cafeteria, glaring at a pile of broccoli on his plate. Stiles saved his number under the table before launching into a monologue about his new (and very hard-won) baseball knowledge.

Stiles had learned quickly that Derek reacted favorably when Stiles mentioned very specific baseball-related things, so Stiles had taken to watching both new and old baseball games so he could attempt to impress him. It was kind of working, but once in a while Stiles would slip up and say something wrong. Then Derek's face would pinch up and he would explain what was wrong with Stiles's fact/theory/face in greater detail than Stiles wanted. Still, he was talking to him, and Stiles would take what he could get.

Then came Danny.

"Stiles," Danny said, his smile too wide and bright to be real. "Who's your friend?"

Stiles was in the middle of a heated debate with Derek over the best Cubs players when Danny plopped his tray down next to Stiles and kicked him subtly under the table. Derek seemed wary of Danny, but Derek was wary of anyone who wasn't Stiles or a Hale.

"Oh." Stiles deflated. "Danny. I thought you had class during lunch?"

"Cancelled." Danny was still smiling too brightly.

Stiles's stomach dropped.

"Derek, Danny," Stiles flopped a hand between them, feeling pits starting in his shirt. "Danny, Derek."

"Oh! Derek. I've heard about you." Danny resolutely did not look at Stiles. "You're working on the app Stiles is building for his internship, right?"

"Among other things," Derek confirmed, looking suspicious for no reason.

"Didn't you also slam him against some lockers once?" Danny added as a biting afterthought while he examined his sandwich.

"We've worked past that," Stiles answered quickly. "We use our words now."

"I'm thinking about bringing back that tradition if you insult Ernie Banks one more time," Derek grunted, mostly ignoring Danny.

"I wasn't insulting him, for fuck's sake. I just said he's not as good as--"

"My boyfriend's back in town this weekend." Danny looked at Stiles for the first time. "You want to join us for that queer party at Ethan's?"

"Oh." Stiles glanced at Derek, who didn't have any sort of visible reaction to the mention of gay things. "Sure."

"Might be some cute guys there." Danny turned his eyes on Derek. "You want to come too?"

Derek stared at him. Stiles wasn't sure if it was a why-would-I-want-to-come-to-your-stupid-party or a why-would-you-invite-me-to-a-gay-party kind of stare.

Brilliant plan, Danny.

"I'm good," Derek eventually said, dismissing Danny with a cool look.

"Invitation stands if you change your mind." Danny glanced at Stiles with a "told you so" kind of sigh. Then, just when Stiles thought the horrible part was over and he'd let go of the breath he was holding, Danny looked back at Derek and asked, "You straight?" 

Derek seemed to find this question even more bothersome than the party invitation. He glared at Danny like he'd offended him.

"Yes."

Stiles's insides evaporated from his body. It wasn't just a yes, it was a hell yes. It was a how-could-you-think-otherwise yes.

"Alright." Danny's lips quirked down in a barely concealed frown. Clearly he was picking up the same bad vibes Stiles was. "But we're not. That cool with you?"

Derek glanced at Stiles, then down at his food. His body language was stiff.

"I don't care."

But it was clear that he cared about something. Danny turned back to Stiles with the same forced smile and started up some white-noise conversation. Scott came in a few minutes later with Cora at his side. Stiles was relieved the two of them joined in because he could barely form coherent words.

Not only was Derek straight, but Stiles was pretty sure he was homophobic.

 


 

Stiles dream-walked through his presentation on the group coding project, his mouth working on autopilot. He listened to the applause, received a slip of paper with an acceptable grade on it, and walked back to his apartment. It was cold outside, winter fighting to stick around well into April, leaving it's frozen fingerprints on the ground. Stiles didn't really feel the cold.

When he got to his apartment, he shrugged off his backpack and shoes, hung up his coat, and crawled under a blanket on the living room couch. Almost out of habit now, he turned on the TV and navigated to the sports channel to watch reruns of the latest baseball games.

That's how Cora and Scott found him hours later, curled up in a ball at one end of the couch and falling asleep.

"What's wrong?" Cora asked softly, sitting down next to Stiles on the couch.

"I hate this stupid game," Stiles confessed, rubbing the tears off his cheek.

Cora sat closer, her thigh brushing his as she watched him for a moment.

"You should stop playing with Derek, then," Scott suggested quietly. "I'm sure he can find someone else to practice with."

"Yeah," Stiles nearly choked on it. "I'm sure he can too."

 


 

It was terrible.

Stiles thought Lydia was bad. He thought Danny was horrible. They were nothing compared to this.

He barely functioned. It was like Scott had shaken off his depression and left it lying in Stiles's room, hiding under the bed, and it jumped on him when he went to sleep that night. Everything he had been telling Scott to do when he was depressed suddenly felt like too much -- things like showering, making food, or getting dressed.

Somehow, he made it to all his classes and turned in all his homework, although most of it was poorly done. Even more miraculously, he made it to each of his appointments with Derek.

Derek didn't act any differently, but Stiles couldn't unlearn that he was at least uncomfortable--if not actively against--a vital aspect of him. And Stiles was still undeniably, unpleasantly attracted to every part of him. Before, that had been a sort of exquisite torture. Now it was just torture.

Stiles made up excuses to avoid the seductive comfort of the Hale house and their family dinners. He convinced Derek, who had finally accepted that Stiles needed to eat before he could argue over app structure with him properly, to switch their meetings back to the psych department during the week. Being over there, tricking himself into feeling like part of their strange little family, was far too painful now. 

Unfortunately, Derek started to notice that Stiles wasn't talking as much, wasn't arguing with him with the same heat. He was too Derek to actually ask Stiles what was wrong, but every time Stiles showed up at his office Derek just happened to be eating dinner and brought too much from home.

Stiles worked on the app quietly, side by side with the object of his broken affection, and wondered why Danny couldn't fix him. Why he couldn't fix himself. He certainly didn't enjoy feeling like this, but it happened over and over, and he just walked right into it.He liked himself okay. He didn't think it was a lack of self-confidence that left him falling for the wrong people, the unattainable. In this case, the most unattainable.

Scott didn't really understand what was going on, but, horribly, Cora wasn't fooled by Stiles's fake explanations. She took up Stiles's old post as foot-massager and watched old baseball games with him on the nights she spent at their house. She always suggested that they watch something else, but she also didn't put up a fight when Stiles shook his head.

One night, when Scott had drifted off to bed before her, Cora took Stiles's hand and gazed at him for a long time.

"I've never seen him date anyone. Ever." 

Stiles's sigh escaped him before he could corral it.

"It's okay. I'll be fine."

"Did you tell him?" Cora asked softly.

"He doesn't seem to... care for people like me."

"Oh." Cora's jaw dropped a little. "No, Stiles. It's not like that. I promise."

"Sure." Stiles didn't believe her. He knew what he felt, what he saw. Danny was spot fucking on. Stiles could really pick 'em.

"He really likes you." Cora smoothed her hand over his. "He may not want to date you, but he feels close to you. I can tell from the way he talks about you."

"Please don't pretend that he talks about me." Stiles picked at the balls of fuzz on the blanket spread over both their laps. "It's okay, really. I don't need to hear this. Danny's already given me the 'you're a great catch' speech a million times."

"You didn't even tell him, though," Cora's voice was hesitant. "I don't know for sure... we don't know he..."

"He said he's straight, Cora." Stiles felt another sigh escape him, unbidden. "I just need to get over myself and stop bothering him like this."

"You're not bothering anyone," Cora reassured him in hushed tones.

 


 

Stiles looked down at his phone and wished both that he would be done for the day and that he would never be done with sitting next to Derek.

Derek was typing up lab reports on his computer, muttering to himself every so often, and Stiles was battling through the code for their app, trying to root out the many bugs on Derek's list of things for him to fix. They were squished together at his tiny cubicle, terrible chairs sighing with every movement, and Derek kept knocking his knee into Stiles's under the table. He smelled like a wet dream and it made Stiles even more miserable.

"I'm just going to print this. The screen's hurting my eyes," Stiles mumbled, stealing the code to the printer off of Derek's desk and disappearing out into the hallway to find the printer room. But someone was already in the printer room. Stiles had just turned around to wait at Derek's desk to when she saw him. 

"I'm almost done," Kate called, her throaty voice too sweet. "Come on in."

Stiles backtracked slowly, edging into the room and trying to appear comfortable as he waited awkwardly for her to finish her job. Kate smiled at him -- that same smile that sent shivers up his spine the first time he met her -- and Stiles leaned away from her. The room was too small for the two of them. Stiles found himself looking for reasons to excuse himself when she spoke again.

"Derek's mentioned you. Stiles, right?"

Stiles nodded.

"You're building the app for one of our online studies." Kate smiled again. "He said you're really smart. Doing a great job."

"Now I know you're lying. Derek wouldn't say that," Stiles joked weakly. It was more of a disguised truth than a joke, really.

"Maybe you could help me out sometime." Kate turned to face him fully, leaning back against the printer and trailing her eyes over him. "One on one."

Stiles was sure he was reading that innuendo wrong. He crossed his arms over his chest, wishing he could disappear into the floor.

"I actually have a lot of work to finish with Derek."

"Yes." Now Kate was advancing on him, one hand coming up to trap him against the wall in unmistakably aggressive move. "You two seem to be quite busy, crammed together every day in that tiny cubicle. You can't make time for me, too? We can work together in my office. There's plenty of room."

"No, sorry." Stiles tripped over the words. His pulse was in his ears as he realized she'd effectively cut off his escape route through the door with the placement of her arm. He shrank back as she leaned in closer to him.

The door opened and Kate dropped her arm, looking over her shoulder with a calm Stiles didn't feel. To his horror, Derek was at the door. His eyes widened when he saw them standing like that, Stiles up against the wall and Kate crowding him against it.

"You got the code?" Derek asked, his voice hard.

"No." Stiles shook his head, taking any escape he was offered even though the code was in his pocket. "Thanks for coming to get me. You know I always forget it."

"I'll help him," Kate cooed, looking back at him with a smile.

"No,” Stiles blurted out before he could stop himself.

"We're fine here." Kate glanced at Derek again, her lips curling in a sneer. "Run on back to your cubicle."

Derek didn't run. He looked between them for a long moment before he physically walked between them -- forcing Kate to step back, as there was barely any room--and crossed his arms over his chest.

"He said no."

Stiles could only see the top of Kate's head over Derek's burly shoulders, but her eyebrows did not look pleased. They looked downright furious, actually.

"Cute," Kate sneered. "So that's how it is, Derek?"

Derek didn't answer. Kate left after another moment of angry silence. Stiles felt like he could breathe again with her gone, especially when Derek put a hand on his shoulder and looked at him critically.

"You okay?"

"Uh." Stiles blinked at him. "That was weird."

"You look..." Derek frowned hard. "Let's be done for today. Go home."

"She's your advisor?" Stiles wondered aloud. "That she-witch?"

"Yeah." Derek manhandled him out of the room and back to his cubicle. Stiles felt jittery and keyed-up, unable to focus as Derek gathered his things for him.

"She do that to all your interns?" Stiles whispered. Derek froze with Stiles's coat in his hands. His eyebrows spasmed before he forced Stiles's arm into one sleeve and spun him around to put the other sleeve on for him.

"I don't know."

"She do that to you?" Stiles asked, looking over his shoulder.

"We're..." Derek shook his head. "Don't worry about it. Go home."

"Derek." Stiles took his backpack when Derek handed it to him. "Derek. Are you going to get in trouble for that?"

"Go," Derek told him sternly, his cheeks flushed with emotion.

 

Chapter Text

Stiles didn't hear from Derek for what felt like ages after that. He stopped answering texts the next day after cancelling their work meetings for the whole week without explanation. Stiles called Cora when he realized Derek had set up a wall, but she wasn't picking up either. Scott wasn't even able to reach her.

Truly freaking out, he showed up at the Hale door after his classes on Friday. He still had no plan for how he could help or what he should apologize for, if he should even apologize, when Laura answered the door.

Laura was usually put together, like a hip mom in a commercial. Today was not one such day. Her hair didn't have it's usual curl, she was wearing mismatching socks, and she looked like she hadn't slept. Her smile was hesitant and brief. Stiles was used to it knocking him off his feet.

"Stiles. We're... Cora's out right now. So's Derek."

"Can I just talk to you, then?" Stiles was close to begging. "No one is answering me. Derek cancelled all our meetings this week, and Scott said Cora is brushing him off too."

"...Things have really gone to shit." Laura sighed and moved back to let him in the door. Stiles leapt at the opening and dove into the house, immediately turning to her for answers. Laura seemed to struggle with what to say, running a hand through her long hair before gesturing to the couch. Several empty cups of coffee were strewn about on the usually tidy coffee table, and stacks of papers cluttered the space Stiles liked to put his feet up on. Laura cleared a spot for him to sit and then sat down next to him.

"Cora's dropping out," Laura started on a long exhale, rubbing her own temples to soothe herself. "Announced it to us a few days ago. Now she's running around like mad trying to finish all the paperwork and make sure the school won't charge her for next quarter. I don't think she's ignoring you on purpose, but we also... Derek's. Oh. That fucker," Laura seethed almost to herself, her hand clenching into a fist on her thigh.

"What?" Stiles's heart was in his throat. "Is he okay? He's not hurt, is he? Did he get fired because of me?"

"What?" She looked at him sharply. "Why would you say that?"

"He's not hurt?" Stiles pressed, his pulse thumping.

"Derek is... physically fine." Laura narrowed her eyes at him. "How could you have gotten him fired?"

"His boss kind of, uh, hit on me? I guess? He stepped in, and she wasn't happy."

"Boss?" Laura's brows twisted in confusion. "Do you mean his advisor, Kate? That snake got to you too? Well, that make sense." This information seemed to simultaneously exhaust and infuriate her. "Of course he didn't tell me because he doesn't tell me anything." 

"Laura, what's going on?" Stiles breathed.

"Unfortunately, Kate isn't Derek's boss -- if she was... well, it doesn't matter. Kate's been fired from the University for multiple counts of sexual harassment and unethical behavior. More specifically, an unethical relationship with my idiot brother."

"Relationship?" Stiles repeated faintly, some horrible pieces clicking together in his brain. "They were in a relationship?"

"What the University termed an 'unethical but consensual relationship' between Derek and her, yes. Derek told the University about it, and while they couldn't technically fire her for it, they did launch an investigation into her conduct with other students and uncovered several counts of sexual harassment. Maybe worse, we'll see. She might be going to jail.”

Stiles stared at her for a long moment.

"Is Derek okay?" Was his first real thought. "Where is he?"

"He's... he didn't realize she was screwing around with students. Well, other students," Laura said bitterly. "She had him convinced that he was special in some way. He's been... he's been put on temporary academic probation while all this is getting sorted out. I think he'll be able to finish his graduate studies here, but they had to completely restructure his dissertation committee and... it's been a mess. He won't talk to me. He won't talk to Cora. Professors are reluctant to take him on given his history with Kate, so restructuring his committee has been slow and humiliating for him. His reputation as a researcher has been badly damaged by this, the funding for his grant compromised, and I'm just not sure..." Laura sighed and trailed off, shaking her head. "That woman." 

"Shit," Stiles whispered. "What can I do, Laura?"

"You want to help me grade papers? Know anything about sociology research methods?" Laura laughed without humor. "On top of all of this bullshit, it's finals next week and I have about a hundred undergrad papers to grade. Does nobody know how to use APA style anymore?" Laura seemed to keel over with stress for a moment.

"I can make you some tea?" Stiles offered weakly.

Laura's genuine smile peeked through for a brief moment.

"That would be nice, actually."

Stiles got up and wandered into the kitchen, his thoughts still unfocused and scrambled by the rush of information. Cora was dropping out. Derek's life had turned to shit -- probably, at least in part, because of what happened with himself and Kate. Stiles knew he couldn't take responsibility for most of it, but he felt like he needed to apologize to Derek for uncorking the bottle of horribleness. He desperately wanted to fix something. He had a feeling that nothing he could say to Derek was going to make a difference, though.

He came back to Laura with a steaming cup of caffeinated tea and tears in his eyes. She seemed taken aback by his reaction, quietly accepting the tea and frowning at him.

"He's probably at the batting cages," she said after a moment, her expression strange. "If you need to talk to him. He goes there or the gym when he gets stressed."

"Yeah." Stiles wiped at his eyes. "I don't know what to say. But I want to see him."

"You don't need to say anything. I think most of the time Derek prefers it that way." Laura sighed and attempted another smile for him.

 


 

Derek was sitting on a bench next to the batting cage when Stiles found him. He was zoning out, just staring at nothing, his bat balanced on his knees. He didn't even notice Stiles until he was almost next to him.

"Hey coach," Stiles tried, smiling briefly. "Sorry I'm not in uniform today. A cranky Cubs fan yelled at me last time, so I left it at home."

Derek didn't smile at him. He didn't even look at him as Stiles sat down. Derek usually looked relaxed and free at the batting cages, but now his expression was simply empty. Stiles tugged at the wrinkles in his shirt and took Laura's advice to just be there rather than thinking of things to say.

It was a terrible silence, though, full of Stiles's guilt and regret and sympathy for the shit storm that was Derek's life right now. He wanted to get Derek to talk about it, but he also knew that if Derek wasn't talking to his sisters then... well, Stiles wasn't optimistic for his own chances. And he wasn't going to push.

"We should get a team together soon," Stiles said instead of saying all the things he wanted to say. "I know all the rules of baseball now. I know the best Cubs players and why they were great. I can hit straight, kind of. But I have no Practical experience playing the different bases. And pitching! Dude, I can't believe you haven't taught me how to pitch yet. You want to?"

Derek glanced at him, sighed, and ran a hand along the back of his neck.

"Yeah, alright."

Stiles tried to keep his attitude bright as he chatted idly, mostly to himself, and walked with Derek over to the field. Even though spring was fighting its way into the breeze, it was still cold outside, so the field was mostly empty.

Stiles tossed the ball to Derek first and waited for the immediate corrections to come, but Derek just caught it and threw it back.

"How do pitchers do that cool wind-up thing?" Stiles prompted him, imitating it poorly. Derek's face pinched a little. "And that step thing? When are you supposed to step?"

"Learn how to throw straight first, then I'll teach you technique."

"I can totally throw straight."

"You can't do anything straight."

Stiles gaped at him, genuinely thrown off guard.

"Did you just make a gay joke?"

Derek's mouth slid up on one side before it settled back into an emotionless straight line.

"You fucking did." Stiles started laughing. "Here I was thinking you were this big homophobe... and you're making jokes! Jokes."

"Why?" Anger flitted through Derek's expression. At least it was something other than that blank stare.

"What do you mean why? Because you freaked out on Danny!" Stiles exploded without meaning to. This was dangerous territory for his own fragile heart, but Derek's fragile heart mattered more right now and Stiles seemed to be having some luck with distracting him.

"I don't like strangers asking me to do things," Derek muttered as he threw the ball too hard in Stiles's direction. It stung even through the mitt when Stiles caught it.

"So you were just... you were just irritated with Danny asking you?" Stiles processed this information slowly. It was too ridiculous. Of fucking course.

"Who asks someone something like that five seconds after they meet them?" Derek gestured irritably for Stiles to throw the ball back to him, but this was important, god damn it, and Stiles needed all of his concentration to address it.

"Ok, one: Danny is not a stranger. Danny is Danny. You need to slow your roll, alright?" Stiles wagged two fingers at him. "And two: If anyone, anytime, asks you to a queer party, you say hell yes amigo, when, where, and how tight of a shirt should I wear? The answer to that question, by the way, is always 'tight enough that your nipples show through'." Stiles rubbed his nipples through his jacket and grinned at Derek.

Derek looked like he was smelling something strange. Then his expression transformed from that pained, odd twisting into half a reluctant smile.

Stiles beamed back at him, feeling lighter already.

"This is great! Now I can make gay jokes at you." Stiles tossed him the ball.

"Why didn't you tell me before?" Derek caught the ball and threw it back.

"Well, you didn't tell me you're straight." Stiles shrugged and threw it back. "It's not really a thing you just announce."

Derek seemed thoughtful at that comment.

"Well, I'm not. A homophobe. Or whatever," Derek announced quietly, looking uncomfortable as he tossed him the ball.

"Alright." Stiles squinted at him. "So... if Danny were to, say," toss, "make out with his boyfriend in front of you... you wouldn't care? Because he's totally going to do that to test you."

"Of course I would," Derek frowned at him. Threw the ball back. "Heterosexual people shouldn't do that either. It's rude."

"So, not a homophobe, but still a prude. Noted."

Derek's expression went blank again as he caught the ball and threw it back in silence. Stiles realized too late that sex probably wasn't a good topic for him right now. He searched for a smooth subject change.

"What do you think? Am I ready for an actual game?"

Derek squeezed the ball and looked around the field. He was wearing track pants and a tight sweater. Stiles wished for a moment that he couldn't see every beautiful line of his body.

"I don't think Cora and Laura want to be around me right now."

"I've got people," Stiles didn't miss a beat, sensing that response from a mile away. "Danny's athletic as shit, Scott used to be first string on lacrosse, and Danny's boyfriend Chris is basically one giant muscle, I swear -- it's almost embarrassing. We could probably get Ethan to come too if we bribe him with snacks."

"This is sounding a lot like that queer party I already got out of once," Derek muttered as he threw the ball back to him after a pause.

"Oh my god." Stiles grinned at him. "You did it again. I'm just so proud of you right now I can barely speak."

Once Stiles had loosened him up a little, he made him show him his "ranger pitch", which Derek almost refused to do after Stiles sang the power ranger’s theme song and imitated morphing. Stiles broke him down with begging, and Derek's pitch was as gorgeous and fluid as anything else Derek did with a baseball. Stiles thought it looked like a well-rehearsed dance. The ball sped through the air faster than Stiles could see, and he missed it by a mile on his swing.

Stiles made Derek do it over and over again until Derek was scowling at him with his usual level of cranky and Stiles felt like they were okay. Then he offered to buy him ice cream, so they put their gear away in Derek's car and walked down the street to the frozen yogurt shop.

Stiles could almost pretend they were on a date as Derek sat down with his stupidly healthy frozen yogurt with no toppings and Stiles devoured his mound of toppings with a little ice cream underneath.

When the atmosphere was comfortable between them, Stiles took a chance.

"I know Laura's pissed at you, but I'm really proud of you. It took a lot of courage to put yourself through this. You could have just kept it quiet and broken it off with her. You didn't have to do it like this."

Derek swirled his spoon around in his yogurt, not eating it and not looking at Stiles.

"Yes, I did," Derek said finally. "I didn't care when it was me. But it wasn't just me."

"That's why I'm proud of you." Stiles set his ice cream down, hoping and praying that he wasn't pushing too hard too soon.

Derek glanced at him briefly before focusing on his ice cream.

"You want to come over after this?" Stiles offered, licking his spoon and trying to act normal. "I'm a little afraid of what angry, super stressed-out Laura might do to you. It's like she's forgotten that Kate's a manipulative predator who was supposed to be mentoring you. You can stay at our house for as long as you want, honestly."

Derek kind of smiled at him and then stopped, still moving his ice cream around rather than eating it.

"No, I deserve it," Derek said quietly. "Laura kept telling me that she was mistreating me. She told me to turn her in if I had something that could get her fired."

"Why didn't you?" Stiles asked cautiously. He could feel that he was hovering on a delicate edge.

"Cora was pulling away from me. All I had left was work. Kate was... just there, every day. We hated each other, and I ended it several times because it made me feel sick. Sometimes she would get bored with me and end it." Derek shrugged like it wasn't a big deal, but Stiles was suddenly glad that he was just perpetually single rather than perpetually stuck in a soul-sucking relationship. "It was just familiar."

Chapter Text

They transferred him to work under a psych professor who reminded him strongly of a fossilized dinosaur. He sat Stiles down at a cubicle and told him not to ask him anything unless it was absolutely necessary before he disappeared into his office down the hall. Stiles texted Derek about him and found out he was the co-Principal Investigator on Kate's research and Derek's other dissertation committee member. Stiles sat in a dusty cubicle outside his office for a few afternoons and worked diligently on the app, but everything seemed dull and uninteresting without Derek around. At first Stiles just texted him questions about the app rather than asking his new boss. Derek replied to almost every single one of them with an unimpressed frowny face and a reminder that he was on a forced vacation (and he hated the app, anyway). Eventually Stiles just left the cubicle all together and parked his ass at the Hale dinner table for several hours everyday, working on the app and bothering Derek in person instead.

Stiles started to insinuate himself back into the Hale household through a multi-pronged strategy. First he was just checking in on Cora, then Derek, then both Cora and Derek because they weren't answering their phones god, then he figured he could help Laura with organizing papers for her class, then he and Laura made a bet that they could finish a 1000-piece puzzle in under a week and Stiles did not lose bets.

It was at times a tense house to hang around in, but Stiles found himself enjoying it even more than he did before the ground fell out from under it. Derek and Cora were actually spending their newfound free time together, which gave him serious warm fuzzy feelings. Stiles walked in on them curled together on the couch multiple times, watching baking shows or baseball. Sometimes they were just talking, low and hushed, laughing at things Stiles could never quite hear.

Spring break came and went in the Hale household. Then, suddenly, Stiles couldn't spend every waking moment helping Cora prep for applying to food science programs and he had to return to calculus classes and JavaScript seminars.

Derek's dissertation committee figured itself out over spring break, so by the time school started up again he was back in his lab. The department didn't reassign Stiles to him, though, and Derek explained to him later that they didn't trust him to manage other people anymore. Stiles wrote the department a letter in support of him, but Derek took one look at it and made him promise not to actually send it to them. He told him he didn't like managing people anyway, and he was happy to be off the app development. They hung out everyday at the Hale house, so Stiles grudgingly accepted this explanation. Plus, Derek still gave him unofficial advice once in a while when his new boss was too busy to be bothered (which was almost always).

Stiles didn't realize exactly why Derek and Cora were getting along so well in the wake of their collective shitstorms until one Friday night when he got a knock on the door and found Derek, looking rumpled and perturbed.

Stiles stepped aside wordlessly. Derek drifted into the apartment like he was afraid he would step on a booby trap, glancing around and glaring suspiciously at various things.

"I don't think we can play baseball in here," Stiles pointed out as he returned to the stove to stir his boxed macaroni into a gooey perfection. He made a mental note to buy less embarrasing pajamas (that didn’t have tiny rockets on them, like his currently did) so that when Hales showed up at his door he was prepared. 

"Scott's over at our house." Derek scowled as he said it, fidgeting in place. "I need to... not be there."

"You don't like Scott now?" Stiles prepared himself to throw a fit. "What the fuck, dude. First Danny, now this shit?"

"Scott's over at our house with Cora," Derek said meaningfully. Stiles squinted at him in confusion until it hit him all at once.

"You're extricating yourself from the situation so you won't go full-on troglodyte and piss of your sister."

Derek scoffed at 'troglodyte', but he didn't deny it.

"Well, I'm very proud of you." Stiles smiled at his macaroni, feeling partly responsible. Stiles was so good at fixing people. He should start a business: Stiles Stilinski's Human Repair.

Derek sort of grunted as he took off his coat and looked uncomfortable in the middle of the room.

"Sit your ass down, Hale. Jesus," Stiles scoffed at his obvious discomfort. "I was planning on reading a book in my pajamas, so I'll hear alternative suggestions if you'd like to do something other than brood in the corner."

"You get any sports channels here?" Derek asked him, looking hopefully at the TV.

"I have so many baseball apps, dude, you don't even know. Youtube's hooked up through the PS3 if you want to watch old games." Stiles shook his head at Derek's pleased look. "I have to study diligently to keep up with you."

"Cora said..." Derek's expression went strange, then it straightened out again. "Never mind."

"What?" Stiles asked without thinking, tasting the mac and cheese to test if it was done.

"She said you didn't actually like baseball. You just pretended to be interested in it so you could get to know me."

Stiles felt like Derek had knocked him on his ass. He couldn't help checking Derek's expression immediately, but Derek looked the same as he always did -- gorgeous and irritable with a side helping of uncomfortable.

"Uh, I like baseball." Stiles sidestepped the real question he could hear in Derek's tone as he spooned macaroni into a bowl and tried not to freak the fuck out. He gauged his options and realized he only had one path in front of him. This moment had come with Lydia, as it had come with Danny. It sucked, but he got through it. 

"But, yeah, that's kind of true. Back when we first met." Stiles picked up his bowl and stirred his macaroni unnecessarily so he had something to do while he said this.

Derek was quiet for long enough that Stiles actually had to look up to check that he hadn't left the apartment. He was watching Stiles like Stiles was an animal that might spook at any second.

"Back then?" Derek asked quietly.

Stiles leaned against the counter and tried to pretend to be chill. Honesty was always the best option — that's what his dad had told him. To date it had gotten him nothing but rejections, but at least Stiles was good at handling them now. He knew the script. He stuck to it, with necessary changes here and there.

"Look, it's not a big deal. I know you're straight. We're friends, man, and I'm not--" Stiles broke off as he almost mentioned She Who Must Not Be Named. "All I'm saying is, I'm happy being your friend and I'm not expecting anything else. Best bro is a role I'm good at. Lots of practice."

Derek remained quiet, so Stiles started to worry. He tried a "trust me, dude" look, but Derek turned away, his expression still inscrutable.

"It's really not... nothing needs to change. Let's just watch some baseball and try to forget this ever happened," Stiles tried, feeling panicky. "I'm actively trying to move on, so."

"Really?" And Derek actually sounded... amused. Stiles checked and, yeah, he looked amused, too. That dick. "What are you doing to 'actively try to move on'?"

"Uh." Stiles looked around the apartment for some sort of inspiration to fill his little white lie. "Ethan's party. I'm going. Yup. I'm going to wear a shirt that's nothing but man titties. Sure to bring all the boys and girls to the yard."

Derek laughed. It washed through Stiles like a cool wave. He let himself laugh a little too.

"Seriously. Let's watch some old games or something, this is weird."

Derek seemed to acquiesce to that, following Stiles to the couch and waiting patiently as Stiles settled the shared blanket over their laps and searched through Youtube for old Cubs games.

"What do you think? 2016 World series game?" Stiles asked. "That's such a great one."

"Sure." Derek smiled, genuinely pleased with his choice. Stiles's stomach fluttered.

Stiles thought he was safe. Derek made these happy sounds from time to time when there was a good hit or a nice steal. Sometimes he would almost jump up in excitement and kind of restrain himself, sinking back into the couch and briefly clenching his fists. Every few minutes he would share trivia on the different players, or explain different terms or strategies to him.

Then, about thirty minutes in, Derek took the controller from Stiles's hands and paused the game.

"How long have you actually liked baseball for, then?"

"Um." Stiles glanced at Derek, who was giving him his full attention. Stiles didn't know why he needed to pause the game to ask this. "Pretty much since the first time I saw you hit the ball. Your passion for it is really infectious." Stiles didn't say how indescribably beautiful he found him when he focused and enjoyed himself like he did when he played baseball.

Derek stared at him for another moment and then turned the game back on. He leaned back and watched quietly, seeming lost in thought. Stiles tried to fill the silence with inexpert comments, but Derek didn't bite, grunting here and there in agreement or disagreement rather than offering his full comments for Stiles's eager ears.

Stiles had a feeling he was in hot water when Derek paused the game again. Sure enough, this time Derek turned around completely on the couch to look at him full-on.

"So, for almost three months now you've been learning about baseball in your free time and meeting with me on the weekends because you: 1. like baseball or 2. wanted to get to know me?" Derek asked, almost hesitant. His eyes were bright. Stiles had no idea what he was thinking.

Stiles didn't know the right answer to this quiz, but he had a feeling it was an important one. He was good at tests -- unless they were calculus tests, fuck -- and this should be easy.

"Can't I like both things?" Stiles argued, wondering if the answer was hidden number three.

"No. Pick one." Derek shook his head minutely, watching him closely.

"Okay, then yeah, I wanted to get to know you. And then I thought you were pretty great, so I learned about baseball so I could speak your language."

"The last few months have been some of the worst in my life," Derek said slowly. "But being able to teach you baseball was... nice. And I hated that stupid app, but I liked working on it with you.”

"Yeah," Stiles agreed, happy for the strange but sweet comment. "I agree. I liked it too."

"You're... you were there for me," Derek said hesitantly. "Even when my family wasn't." 

"I mean," Stiles shrugged, starting to feel hot, "Cora and Laura both had a lot going on. I was just trying to be a good friend."

"You..." Derek shook his head. He sighed, then looked away at the ground for a long minute. Stiles counted his breaths, uncertain and a little panicky again. He got to number seven before Derek took a shuddering breath of his own and admitted, "I don't know how to do this."

"What?" Stiles asked carefully, utterly confused.

"The only way I know how to... and I don't want to do that again. I won't do that again."

"Derek. Buddy." Stiles's heart was pounding unnecessarily, his hands turning clammy. "Communication. It's a thing."

"You're not gay, right?" Derek asked him, wetting his lips with his tongue. Stiles got distracted with the sound and sight of it for a moment. Derek's eyes seemed to soak Stiles in. "What are you?"

"I mean... not technically. I like both women and men, so I prefer bisexual. But, yeah, sometimes I'll casually refer to myself as gay. It’s sort of an umbrella term."

"Okay." Derek looked between Stiles's eyes like he was thinking hard about something. Then down to his lips. "Okay."

Stiles thought he knew what was happening, but the skeptical piece of him that kept him off of train tracks and told him not to eat that mystery thing in the fridge was also warning him that he was wrong: he was projecting what he wanted to believe, with every molecule of his body, because of what they had been talking about earlier. But Derek was straight. He liked Stiles enough to seek him out on a Friday night and watch baseball games with him, but he was never going to feel the same way about Stiles because he couldn't. It wasn't his fault -- he just wasn't built the same way Stiles was.

He wasn't.

"I think... maybe I..."

"Derek." Stiles shook his head, dread mixing with the butterflies in his stomach.

"What?" Derek seemed annoyed at Stiles's interruption.

"I was lying. Before. Okay? I admit it. I cried for a week when I found out you were straight. Sure, I also thought you were a homophobe, but the hardest part by far was that you didn't like men. But I accepted that. I accepted that I didn't have a chance in hell with you. I made my peace with that." Stiles drew his knees up to his chest, needing to protect himself from the words spilling out of his mouth. He'd never felt so vulnerable before. "And that process really sucked, so don't give me false hope. Please don't. I'll just shrivel away this time. I know that preying mantis basically used you for sex, but I’m honestly fine being your friend. Don’t do this if you’re just trying to make me happy." 

Derek was quiet for a long moment, assessing Stiles's words. Confusion bloomed in his expression.

"How do I know, then? For sure?"

"You just know, dude."

"So for you... you 'just knew'," Derek sounded skeptical now, smiling at him in a lazy way that Stiles had never seen before — like he had caught Stiles in a falsehood and he knew it. "You didn't need to --"

"Experiment?" The word came out on a hysterical, brittle laugh. He had entered an alternate hell dimension of torture because this could not be happening. Derek did not want to experiment with him. Just the thought of... nope. "Oh, god. I would not survive that with you. It would be like a nuclear bomb. Ragnarok. Doomsday."

"Stiles, stop being so overdramatic," Derek said softly, rolling his eyes and moving a little closer to him on the couch. Stiles scooted back immediately, an alarm going off in his head at even that tiny advance toward him.

"I am being exactly the right amount of dramatic." Stiles's tongue felt too big. He swallowed hard, trying not to admit what he was really thinking -- that he was actually desperate to be with Derek, even if it was just one time. "I will literally keel over if we do... something... together, and then you decide that, actually, you don't really like men that much. Don't like me that much. I wouldn't function. I would be Sad Scott 2.0, except with extra zombie features. And not the cute ones -- really pathetic things, like calling you in the middle of the night and leaving long, sobbing voice messages about how much I—“

"Stiles," Derek slid over on the couch until their knees were touching. Stiles was nearing a full panic attack. He didn't know how Derek could suddenly be so calm. "Stop."

"No," Stiles mumbled it like that single word was his last defense.

It was.

Derek's hands gently cupped his knees as he leaned in.

"I will cease to be, Derek, because I really lov-"

"Yeah." Derek's mouth was about a second away from his. Stiles was starting to hyperventilate. "I see that now."

 


 

Stiles couldn't bring himself to go inside the house. He didn't know how long he'd been sitting on the Hale doorstep, but he was thinking about ditching everything, going to the nearest gas station, and downing a bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

Last night did not happen.

There was kissing. A lot of it. Very, very nice kissing. Stiles was terrified of doing anything more, in part because Derek seemed unsure about two things: 1. how to have non-hate sex with someone and 2. how to do that with another man. So Stiles managed to talk him out of anything more intense for the night, citing all of his very real fears that Derek was pushing himself too far too fast. Derek looked annoyed about it, but he agreed to postpone touching of other kinds.

They ended up cuddling on the couch for several hours while Stiles whispered all the things he'd been afraid to tell Derek before. He told him exactly what he admired about him, and when he realized he fell in love with him, and how happy it made him that Derek and his sister were getting along again because when Derek was happy, Stiles was too.

Derek didn't say much in return, but he would hesitantly kiss Stiles's forehead and smooth his hair back with one hand from time to time to let Stiles know that he was listening to him. Stiles fell asleep with his head against Derek's chest and woke up later in his own bed. Derek left a note on his bedstand that said he would text him later and reassured him that, yes, he still liked him and no, he didn't regret anything.

Of course, a lot could change after a good night's rest. Stiles wasn't sure if all that still held true when he got the text from Derek that said Come over at 2 if you can.

Stiles had never actually prepared himself for what he would do if one of his impossible crushes returned his feelings. That was kind of the point of an impossible crush -- it didn't happen, and Stiles could just pine from a distance and never put his heart on the line. And, of course, 'returned his feelings' was still a massive overstatement because his feelings for Derek were well past a crush, and yet Stiles still hardly believed that Derek was attracted to him. He was cautiously optimistic after last night, but if he let himself believe... well, he was teetering on the edge of a disaster. He just wanted to stay standing for as long as possible. 

Cora eventually opened the door and jumped back in surprise.

"Why are you sitting out here? It's forty degrees outside." She frowned at him and gestured for him to come inside. "Jesus, you're over here every single day, why would you wait on the porch like that? You know you can just let yourself in."

"I'm just... it's just..." Stiles stumbled over his words, and Cora squinted at him with true worry. He didn't know what to say to her. "You're very pretty today."

"...Thanks," Cora said, leaning toward sarcastic. With a knowing eyebrow raise, she said, "Derek's upstairs."

Just then, Stiles heard Derek's heavy footsteps on the stairs. He appeared on them a few seconds later, catching Stiles's gaze immediately. 

"You're thirty minutes late." He didn't look too mad about that, more mystified than anything.

"Actually, I arrived on time. I just... didn't come inside the house."

"For thirty minutes?" Cora looked like she was trying to figure out how to make fun of him for that. Then her expression sharply changed. She pivoted slowly to face her brother. "Did you two...?"

"Yeah," Derek answered simply. Shamelessly. Without shame. None.

Stiles almost died.

"No!" Stiles waved his arms wildly in giant 'X's. "No, we didn't. It's not. It wasn't. Barely even. He may still be straight, for all I know!"

"Still?" Cora was definitely amused now, looking at Stiles like a cat with a mouse. "How bad were you? You need some tips?"

"This is actually a very delicate subject for me, Cora Marie Hale, and I would appreciate it if you would just not --"

"Stiles, come upstairs." Derek sighed, rubbing his eyes. "You're both giving me a headache."

"Oh, sure. You 'didn't'." Cora grinned at Stiles and wiggled her fingers in a sassy goodbye as she exited the house, leaving Stiles alone with Derek. Stiles kind of stood there, swaying and staring at the object of his affection, until Derek gestured impatiently and walked back up the stairs without him. 

Stiles had slept in Derek's room before, but now he was invited. It was so much better to be invited. He was allowed to look around at the various knick-knacks, books, posters, and even Derek's closet, which smelled deliciously like a small cove of Essence of Derek. Stiles poked around Derek's room to avoid his anxiety over what was coming next -- rejection or... rejection, honestly. He didn't see how any other paths could possibly exist in this reality. Derek was definitely going to break it to him that he didn't like men after all and that Stiles was just some weird post-demoness rebound.

"Come." Derek patted the bed next to him, stretching out on it and putting one hand behind his head. He looked like a pin-up poster and Stiles, for the millionth time that day, wasn't sure he could do this. But he came. He hesitated at the edge of the bed, so Derek grabbed his hand and gently tugged him until he was lying down next to him, his head resting on Derek's shoulder. Derek kissed his hair and Stiles's heart squeezed painfully.

"Is this real?" Stiles asked aimlessly. "You still want me?"

"Yeah." Derek stroked his hair like he had the night before. "Why didn't you come inside? Your face is cold."

"I told you... too many things yesterday. Really intense things. You're supposed to wait until, like, the twentieth date to do that. I was all drunk on you kissing me. I blame that."

"We've been on a lot of dates now, Stiles," Derek told him quietly.

"No!" Stiles looked up at the hard line of Derek's perfect jaw and did his best to glare at him. "None of that counted. It only counts if both parties realize it’s a date.”

"Then we'll go on twenty real dates and you can tell me all that again afterward," Derek replied calmly.

Stiles squeezed his eyes shut.

"What if you just think you like me because I'm the opposite of Kate?"

"I don't 'think' that, I know that that's exactly why I like you. Kate made me hate myself. You make me feel safe," Derek murmured. Stiles basked in the warmth of it. 

"Say more nice things. It's working."

Derek sighed.

"You need to hear things, don't you?" Derek muttered, turning his head so he said the words against Stiles's forehead. "I like you. I liked kissing you yesterday. I think you're attractive. I still want to be with you. Better?"

"A little," Stiles admitted. It was actually a lot better, but Stiles was hoping Derek would keep going if he pretended otherwise.

"You want to..." Derek trailed off, breathing lightly against his skin. Stiles shivered.

"I--" Stiles started, flushing from his toes to his cheeks. "I can't believe you just told Cora that."

"I'm not keeping any more secrets from them."

Stiles had learned the hard way through their collaborative app development that Derek was terrible at telling Stiles what he wanted. But what Stiles had failed to realize was that that didn’t mean Derek was terrible at all forms of communication. Stiles preferred to talk -- did so almost incessantly, according to certain people (Jackson) -- but Derek's preferred language was actually movement: baseball and manipulating lab equipment and going to the gym. Physical activity.

Stiles remembered reading about it somewhere -- kinesthetic learners. It was in one of those click-bait articles that Stiles regretted reading almost instantly, but the knowledge still stuck in his head. They learned -- and in Derek's case, spoke -- by doing.

Lucky for Stiles.

He should have realized this the moment Derek started teaching him baseball. Derek didn't only say, "move your shoulder to the left" -- he physically moved Stiles's shoulder to the left. Show rather than tell. How stupid Stiles was to sit Derek down at a desk for weeks on end and try to force him to say everything that was in his beautiful head when all the answers were in his hands. All Stiles had to do was listen with the right part of himself.

Stiles finally started to understand this when Derek kissed him. Derek had been touching him for weeks, progressively more and more, so the contact barely felt strange, just new. Stiles was vocal, asking Derek constantly if everything was okay, but he stopped expecting a spoken reply and learned to read Derek's touches instead. A hand stroking gently over his thighs meant everything was fine. A thumb sweeping back and forth on Stiles's hip was to let him know that he was still enjoying this. Stiles had covered his eyes because he was still honestly terrified, but Derek kept reminding him with sweet touches and light kisses that he was good and they were okay.

Stile let Derek steer. Stiles still thought they should wait -- Derek was obviously still recovering from the terribleness of his last "relationship", and Stiles was deathly afraid of projecting his own wants onto him and pushing him into doing something. But Derek insisted that Stiles needed to trust him to know what he wanted, so Stiles instead took a complete hands-off approach. He was too weak to Derek's touch to actually tell him to stop.

Derek was as beautiful and athletic as when he was when he was playing his favorite sport. It made Stiles feel woefully inadequate, but Derek was very good at soothing such feelings by looking at him in a way that left little up for Stiles's self-deprecating interpretations. 

"So..." Stiles panted at the ceiling, trying to catch his breath. His skin felt damp and hot. He was pretty sure he'd never been this happy before. "About those dates you mentioned..."

Derek just grunted, looking fully relaxed as he rested his cheek on his stupidly muscled forearms and smiled at Stiles.

"What were you thinking, exactly?"

 


  

"Go long, Jackson. Like, really long. So far we can't even see you anymore."

"Fuck you, too, Stilinksi."

"Children, please..." Danny gave them both a long-suffering look from third base. "Can we play? Or do you two need a time out?"

"Stiles," Derek yelled from the pitcher's mound. "What's the hold-up?"

"Jackson's a douche," Stiles complained loudly, happy to have someone on the field who he knew would take his side no matter what.

Jackson shrank visibly as Derek turned his murder eyes on him. He turned tail and ran long. Stiles smirked at his cowardly back.

"Hello?" Scott waved from first base. "Can we get back to the game?"

Derek's mouth twitched with pleasure as he caught Stiles's gaze and they exchanged a moment of silent laughter. Then Derek turned back to Cora, who seemed determined to slay them all, her bat bouncing on home plate. Laura was actually blowing bubble gum from her perch on third base, ready to steal.

Derek wound up and threw, a study in grace and power.

It was a good thing Jackson went long.