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Left Turn at Albuquerque

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1.

 

After a long day fixing bugs in one of the worst pieces of code he’s ever had the misfortune to come across, Stiles steps out of the elevator in his building, head down, earbuds in, coffee in hand and straight into someone. Someone who has a box filled with old magazines tucked under one arm and some kind of weird lamp clutched in their other hand. That’s the most Stiles gets to appreciate as his coffee goes flying everywhere.

Well.

Not everywhere.

There’s hardly any on Stiles.

“Oh no!”  Stiles yelps, springing back in alarm, and then, once he gets a better look at who he’s just doused, he whines, “Nonononononooooooooo.”

Because he has just thrown coffee over the hottest guy he’s ever seen: Tall, muscular and dressed in what must have been, pre-coffee, a white tank-top, and what are still, coffee stains notwithstanding, excruciatingly tight jeans. The guy has dark hair, piercing eyes and the sort of scruff that Stiles just wants to rub all over himself.

He isn’t able to appreciate any of that properly though, because coffee is everywhere. The guy is soaked, the magazines are, aw hell, not magazines at all– no, the guy’s comic books are drenched. They’re bagged, sure, but Stiles is gonna have to pray that no coffee seeped through the bag because, ugh, seriously, there’s whipped cream all over Batman. Hell, coffee is even dripping down the muzzle of the ceramic wolf that Stiles can now tell forms the base of the weird lamp. 

The guy’s jaw clenches and he glares at Stiles with these greengreyblue eyes that are stunning. The guy is stunning, or he would be if he weren’t glaring at Stiles like he wanted to rip out his spine and force feed it to him.

“I am so sorry,” Stiles says, clutching the now empty coffee cup to his chest. “Can I help you carry your box of–” he leans over to take a look, “Oh god, is that Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight number six? You know most people keep their vintage comics books stored upright because it– ” He glances up to see the guy’s glare is now positively homicidal. “Uh–never mind. I’m. Um. Here, let me hold your wolf lamp while you clean yourself up?”

A muscle ticks in the guy’s jaw and he gives a tiny shake of his head, grip tightening on the box and the lamp, even as the remains of Stiles’ venti, skinny, vanilla latte with caramel sauce and extra whip drips off the end of his nose. Right now, Stiles is really, really regretting his decision to prise the lid off the cup while he was in the elevator, just so he could get to the cream.

It’s a disaster. A fucking disaster. If only there was something–

“Just a minute,” Stiles says scrabbling frantically around in his messenger bag. “I can help. I can–yes– help! See?” He produces two crumpled tissues with a triumphant flourish, but when he looks up, he finds he’s alone.

The world’s hottest comic book nerd is already retreating down the corridor and away. The tissues seem to wilt in Stiles’ grasp as he drops his hand and exhales, a pained little sigh. He gives himself a couple of moments, makes sure he hears a door slam in the distance before following on after, face burning with embarrassment, heart filled with regret.

And that, that, is how he meets the guy who’s moved in across the hall. 

 

2.

 

Stiles tells himself that first impressions don’t count, that the next time he sees the guy he’s gonna be cool and calm and collected. He’s gonna turn on the charm, wink, maybe crack a joke, and before he knows it he’ll have hot, nerdy, neighbor guy eating out of the palm of his hand.

After all, it isn’t as though Stiles is repulsive. He’s a good looking guy. He’s smart. He’s witty. He’s had plenty of people interested in him– hooked up loads of times. He’s had successful relationships with men and women. He has great people skills! A winning smile! A great sense of humor!

Sure, the first time he met hot, nerdy, neighbor guy things took an unfortunate turn, but it’s a minor bump in the road. He was taken by surprise! Now he knows the guy is out there, in the building, he’s gonna be prepared, bring his ‘A’ game, and everything will be fine.

That’s what he tells Scott that evening while they’re sitting at the bar near Stiles’ apartment, nursing craft beers and pretending to watch the game.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Scott says, nudging him with his shoulder. “It was an accident. Accidents happen. He’ll understand that.”

“Right?” Stiles agrees. “It isn’t my fault he had vintage comic books just there. They should be bagged, boarded, and stood upright in a special box bought specifically for the purpose, preferably one with a lid. If you stack them the way he did you risk damaging the–” He’s aware that Scott is kinda staring at him, one eyebrow raised and Stiles trails off, clears his throat. “Anyway. I mean. I’ll just make sure that next time I keep the lid on my coffee. In fact, maybe I’ll go knock on his door tomorrow with a welcome to the building gift and offer to replace anything that got damaged.”

“Hey! Maybe you could bring him a coffee?” Scott says, waggling his eyebrows. “It’ll be funny.”

“Maybe, I don’t know how he takes it though. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, I’ll think of something,” says Stiles with all the unearned confidence that comes after drinking three beers on an empty stomach. He picks up his beer bottle and drains it, then turns to Scott. “You have time for one more?”

Scott grins. “Yeah, dude. Kira’s taken Ami round to her mom’s tonight. So I am free as a bird.”

It isn’t often they get time to hang out this way anymore. Not since three years ago, when Scott and Kira had Ami, who Stiles adores by the way, but still. Bro time. Actual bro time. One whole uninterrupted evening. A triumphant smile spreads across Stiles’ face. “That’s what I like to hear!” he says, and signals the bartender for another round.

-

So, here’s the thing– he absolutely intends to make everything better with his new neighbor, he does. Once he’s walked (staggered) back from the bar at a totally reasonable hour considering he has work tomorrow (2AM), he spends an hour planning out exactly what he’s going to say (drunkenly rehearsing in the bathroom mirror). He’s thorough, goes over every single permutation of the conversation he can think of. Sure, most of the ones he can imagine end in making out, but that’s probably because his mortification over the earlier coffee debacle has disappeared in a haze of warm, beery confidence and good feelings toward mankind in general and toward hot, nerdy, neighbor guy in particular. S’all gonna be fine– he thinks to himself, when he finally sinks into bed. Jus’ fine.

-

It isn’t his alarm that wakes him the next morning though. No. It’s a combination of the light streaming in through a crack in the bedroom curtains and the wail of a police siren going past outside.

He stares scrunchy-eyed up at a water stain on his bedroom ceiling and gradually becomes aware of the fact that if he moves, his head is probably gonna fall off. There’s a pounding sensation just behind his eyeballs and his mouth feels like sandpaper.

With one hand he slowly reaches out for his phone. Grasping about blindly on the dresser by his bed, he hears things go crashing to the floor, but he can’t quite bring himself to care.

“Ugh,” he mumbles, as this fingers finally close over it. “There you are.” He brings it close to his face and peers at it. Stares at it for about five seconds and then sits bolt upright in the bed with a strangled scream. Immediately he clutches at his head and groans, a deep animal sound. His head feels so bad, he’s pretty sure he can hear colors.

He’s late.

So very, very late.

He slept through his goddamn alarm and he's so fucking fucked.

His boss is gonna kill him.

Stumbling out of bed, tripping over the tangle of sheets round his legs, he forces himself into action: pulls on the least crumpled clothes he can find, spends two minutes fruitlessly searching for socks before deciding he’s just gonna have to wear yesterdays. Then, clutching his hands to his head to hold it on he staggers out to the bathroom and dry swallows a couple of Advil that he scrounges up from the bathroom cabinet. That done, he brushes his teeth, runs his hand through his hair, and grabs his messenger bag as he all but runs out of his apartment to the elevator. He jabs the elevator call button impatiently and repeatedly, then fishes his phone out of his bag to fire off a quick message to his boss, saying he’s been caught in traffic.

There’s the sound of approaching footsteps from behind him, but he’s too busy typing to pay them much mind. Message sent successfully, he feels around in the bottom of his bag for the bright pink earbuds that Ami picked out for him for his birthday; he’s listening to The Black Tapes at the moment, it’s the only thing making his commute bearable. Of course, when he finally produces the earbuds, they’re just a snarl of wires, because that’s what earbuds do: they tie themselves in knots as soon as they’re left alone. Swearing under his breath he tries to unpick them, but he’s tired, under-caffeinated and the Advil is only just beginning to kick in, so he really hasn’t got the patience. Growling in frustration, he tries to shake them out. At that precise moment, the person behind him clears their throat, taps him on the shoulder and says, “Uh, hey–” Stiles wheels round mid flick, the headphones fly out of his hand and…

“Oh Shit!” he says, when he sees who it is.

Hot nerdy neighbor guy sucks in a breath through his teeth, one hand clutched over his eye.

“Are you–uh–oh god–are you okay?” Stiles’ hands hover hopelessly. He wants to reach out and help, but he’s one hundred percent sure that wouldn’t be appreciated right now.

“Your headphone jack hit me in the eye,” the guy says tightly.

And, yeah, that’s bad. That’s real bad.

“Oh dude. I am sooooo sorry. You have no idea. I was just trying to untangle– and when you tapped me on the shoulder, it surprised me, I didn’t– I mean. Oh god. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He scrubs a hand over his face miserably.

The guy glares at Stiles with his one working eye. It’s as impossibly gorgeous as Stiles’ remembers it being yesterday, back when the guy had two functioning eyes and a ruined comic book collection. “You dropped your keys,” the guy says, gesturing to a spot on the floor by Stiles’ foot.

Stiles looks down. “Oh my god,” he says, “thank-you.” Bending down, he retrieves them. “Thank-you,” he says again, as he stands. “And I’m so sorry about the – uh.” He gestures to his own face. “And also the um– coffee? Yesterday? Seriously, you have no idea.”

“Yeah, okay,” the guy says. He’s still standing there, clutching his eye, with Stiles’ earbuds draped round his neck and over one shoulder, like the world’s skinniest scarf. There’s a muscle ticking furiously in his jaw.

Slowly, oh so slowly, Stiles reaches out to carefully retrieve his earbuds, and the guy flinches. Actually fucking flinches. Stiles wants to die. He’s a good person. Why is this happening to him? Why?

“I’ll just take those, shall I?” he says with a weak grin.

The guy doesn’t say anything, he just turns to face the elevator, hand still clutching his face. Almost immediately the elevator dings and the doors open, he strides passed Stiles and pushes the ground floor button without another word. He glares into the middle distance with his one good eye, refusing to acknowledge Stiles who stands there rooted to the spot. There’s no way he can get into the elevator now. None. 

The doors close and with a deep sigh, Stiles turns around and makes his way to the stairs. Twelve flights of stairs. Ugh. Still, he figures he owes the guy that much.

 

3.

 

After that, Stiles is too mortified to do anything other than leave the guy alone. In the weeks that follow, if they pass each other in the corridor Stiles just ducks his head and hurries past. More than once he swears he can feel the weight of his stare on him– but he figures that’s probably because the guy is trying to work out where to bury Stiles’ body. This theory is confirmed the one time Stiles does inadvertently make eye contact, offers the guy an apologetic smile, and the guy just glares impenetrably back at him, eyebrows looming low on his forehead, lips barely twitching in response.

Ugh. It isn’t as though Stiles can blame him. The whole thing is kind of soul crushing though. He’s living across from a guy who, from the look of him, is probably an underwear model or a porn star or something. An underwear model/porn star who reads comic books, and now he’s never going to acknowledge Stiles’ existence.

Honestly? Stiles hasn’t smoked cigarettes since college, but right now he wants to, he totally wants to, and no one could blame him.

It turns out the only way Stiles can survive this cruel twist of fate without the help of nicotine is by telling himself that hot nerdy neighbor guy is probably a horrible human being and that this debacle is the universe protecting him from making a terrible mistake. After all, nobody is that good looking without some kind of serious issues, right? The guy is probably incredibly arrogant. He probably has a vanity license plate. He probably makes up unironic hashtags about himself. He probably voted Trump.

These thoughts are kinda comforting and Stiles runs with them. Which is all fine until a couple of weeks later when Mrs. Gunderson, who lives on the eighth floor, goes and ruins everything. She collars Stiles on the stairs one day and asks him how nurse Derek is settling in.

Stiles blinks at her. “Nurse Derek?” he asks, blankly.

“Yes,” she smiles. “Oh come on now! You must have met Derek. Lovely, lovely, man. Pediatric nurse. Works at Beacon Hills Memorial. He moved into the apartment across from you a few weeks back.”

Stiles mouth opens, then shuts. He swallows, hard. “Ooooh. Yeah. Riiight. That Derek. Yeah. I’ve met Derek. Sort of. Well. We don’t see much of each other, but, har har, yeah. He definitely–uh– knows who I am!”

“Good looking, isn’t he?” She winks at him.

“Mmmhmmm,” Stiles hedges, dying a little inside. He’s managed to make an enemy of a nurse. A nurse who works with kids. A hot nurse, possibly the hottest nurse ever, even if he does have questionable taste in lamps and no idea how to care for his comic book collection.

“I was just wondering if he had a girlfriend, or y’know–” she nudges him, “a boyfriend. Has he said anything to you?”

“He has not,” Stiles says, crossing his arms and wishing for a quick death.

“It’s just my nephew, Jason, is in town next week, you know,” she sighs dreamily, “the doctor, and Derek seems like such a lovely guy. I was wondering if I should try and set them–”

“You’ll have to ask him,” Stiles says and hurriedly excuses himself from the conversation.

He tries, and fails, not to be hurt by the fact that in three years of living in the building, Mrs Gunderson has never once tried to set him up with her hot doctor nephew, even though she must know that Stiles is bi, and even though Stiles has helped carry her groceries multiple times. Yeah, that’s right. He helped her,  because, despite what hot, nerdy, neighbor, nurse Derek might think, he isn’t a terrible human being– he’s a good guy.

“That’s it,” he mumbles to himself. “I need a fucking cigarette.”

He stomps down the stairs (he’s decided to give custody of the elevator to Derek in light of recent events), muttering to himself about ungrateful old women. As he reaches the bottom he takes a moment to orient himself, decides the quickest route to nicotine is the bodega on Pine and storms blindly out the back entrance to the building, opening the door straight into– Oh god. Oh Shit.

Seriously?

Derek stumbles forward with a pained grunt and his phone clatters to the ground. He wheels round to glare at Stiles.

“Seriously?!” Stiles yells at the universe– because he cannot catch a break.

“You!” Derek grits out through clenched teeth.

“Why are you even standing in front of the door, dude?” Stiles sputters, throwing his hands in the air. “Who does that–?“

“I was trying to get some goddamn reception,” Derek grinds out, shaking his head pissily. He crouches down reaching for his phone. Which– yeah– hopefully there’s no damage, because it looks expensive and Stiles doesn’t wanna have to pay for that.

“Listen, I've been meaning to–” Derek says and he starts to stand, looking up just as Stiles bends over to check the damage to the phone. There’s a sickening crunch as Stiles’ forehead collides with Derek’s nose.

“Fuck!” Stiles cries, massaging his forehead with one hand. Across from him, Derek staggers back a step, hand clasped to his face.

“Oh my god! Oh my god.” Stiles’ hands fly out to do something, anything. To make it better. “Here, let me–”

“Noh!” Derek says thickly. There’s blood leaking slowly between his fingers. Actual blood. Stiles wants to die.

“But–” He takes a step forward.

“Noh. Don’ touch.” Derek takes another step back and away.

“Please let me help–”

Derek lifts up one hand. “Imma jus’–” he gestures vaguely toward the door with the hand that’s clutching the phone, edging past Stiles like he’s some kind of unexploded bomb that might go off at any second.

“Are you sure I can’t-”

“Noh! Noh,” Derek says thickly. “I c’n deal. You’ve– helped enuff. M'fine.”

The door slams shut behind Derek, and Stiles sinks to the ground, back against the rough red stonework of the building, cradling his head miserably in his hands.

This is it. The lowest point.

It can’t get any worse than this.

 

4.

 

“What the fuck did I do to deserve this? Was I serial killer in a past life?” Stiles wails to Scott at the bar later that evening.

Scott sighs deeply. “It’s probably not as bad as you think.”

“I broke his nose. I stabbed him in the eye. I got vanilla latte on Batman.” Which may be the biggest crime of all, let’s be real.

“Yeaaaah. Okay. That is pretty bad.”

“It’s like I’m cursed. I’m actually, literally cursed. I’m going to die alone.”

“That isn’t true. You have people hitting on you all the time.”

“Yeaaaah,” Stiles whines, “But I don’t want just anyone hitting on me now. You haven’t seen him Scott. He’s just so, ugh, grumpy and hot and sexy– he’s perfect. At least he was until I came along and broke his nose.”

“I bet you didn’t actually break it,” says Scott, taking a swig of his beer.

“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

Scott shrugs but doesn’t deny it, instead he changes the subject. “Hey, are you free on Saturday? Kira’s at work and Deaton asked me to cover the clinic.”

“You mean I get to babysit Ami?” asks Stiles, brightening.

“If you want?”

“Always!” Stiles grins. Scott’s daughter Ami is the world’s most adorable three and a half year old, and one of Stiles’ favorite people ever. Hot, nerdy, nurse Derek may think Stiles is the antichrist, but Ami thinks he’s the best and that’s what counts.

-

Kira drops Ami off at 8AM on Saturday. Stiles hasn’t actually been awake at 8AM on a weekend since, well, ever, but Ami’s his best girl, and he’s pretty much wrapped round her little finger. She must have dressed herself this morning, because she’s wearing jeans and a pink tutu with a pikachu hoodie over the top and purple glittery fairy wings strapped over that. Charging at him on stubby legs, she leaps into his arms with a war cry and wraps herself around him like an octopus as he sweeps her up into the air. “Stiles!” she yells in his ear at top volume.

“You guys gonna be okay?” Kira asks, smiling at them fondly.

“Pshaw,” Stiles says, rubbing his nose against Ami’s. “We’re gonna be fine.”

“Scott’ll be by to pick her up at six. Everything you could possibly need is in this bag.” She hands Stiles an intimidating looking bag that feels like it contains a bowling ball.

“Including Puggle?” asks Stiles. Puggle is Ami’s shark plushie, she’s had him since she was born and they’re inseparable. She has to sleep with him every night.

“Of course,” Kira grins. She leans in and gives Ami a great big kiss on the cheek. “I’ll miss you, baby.”

“Aww, shucks,” Stiles says. “I’ll miss you too.”

Kira rolls her eyes. “Thanks again, Stiles. You’re the best!”

-

He and Ami spend the morning playing pirate princess ninjas vs fairy robot wizards, which mostly involves charging round the apartment having sword fights and casting spells on each other. Stiles is now wearing the purple glittery fairy wings, the too-short elastic that holds them in place straining dangerously against his shoulders. After they finish that game, they play a few rounds of hide and seek and then, finally, once Stiles is beginning to feel the strain he digs up a pen and some paper and Ami sits quietly drawing while he prepares milk and cookies for them both.

“What do you wanna do next, Ames?” he asks as she’s stuffing her face full of oaty chocolatey goodness.

She grins. “I wanna bake cupcakes.”

“Hmmmm, okaaaay, we could do that, I guess.” Stiles says. He isn’t great at, well, anything kitchen related, but he should be able to manage cupcakes. He even has a box of cake mix somewhere. He searches the kitchen for it and, finding it, stares down at the required ingredients. Oil he has, but eggs? He used the last of them this morning. “We’ll have to go to the store.”

Ami nods. “Puggle too? He likes the store.”

“Are you sure? It might be best if we leave him here. What if he gets lost?”

“But Puggle will get lonely if we leave him here all by himself.” She stares up at Stiles unblinking, with big brown eyes, her lower lip trembling. God, her puppy eyes are almost as bad as Scott’s, worse even.

Stiles puffs his cheeks out and then sighs. “Okay, fine. You have to look after him though.”

“Course. I’ll be super careful. I would never ever lose Puggle.”

-

They lose Puggle.

Of course they lose Puggle. Ami definitely had him when they left the apartment, and she definitely, definitely had him while they were buying the eggs. After that, though, well, it all gets a bit fuzzy. Did she have him at the cash register? Did she have him as they walked back to the car? Stiles can’t remember. All he knows for sure is, by the time they reach his jeep, Puggle is definitely gone.

Ami is inconsolable and Stiles ends up carrying her back to the store tucked in the crook of one arm, the carton of eggs still clutched tight in his other hand, while Ami weeps disconsolately into his shoulder. He asks the checkout assistant if anyone’s handed Puggle in, but no one has seen him, so they retrace their steps through the store, searching high and low. Puggle isn’t anywhere to be found, though, and Stiles can feel himself breaking out in a cold sweat. Ami won’t stop crying and she literally won’t sleep without Puggle. Is he gonna have to tell Scott and Kira that they’re never gonna sleep again? Is he?

He and Scott have been best buds since they were four, but he isn’t sure even their friendship could survive that.

Then, just when he thinks his day can’t get any worse he spies the one person guaranteed to ensure that it can.

Derek.

Fucking hot, nerdy, nurse Derek. He’s wearing a leather jacket, battered chucks, and jeans that look like they’ve been painted on, and he’s standing there in the cereal aisle,  glaring down at something like it offends him. Which of course is when Stiles realizes– oh god. Puggle.

That sonofabitch has found Puggle, he’s standing there with him clutched in one hand, and now, now, Stiles is gonna have to talk to him.

Except he can’t.

He hides at the end of the aisle, paralyzed by indecision.

Ugh. He can’t do it.

It’s too embarrassing.

After the last time they met?

With the nose and the bleeding and the way Derek had fled?

No.

Stiles can’t do that to himself.

It’s safer for everyone concerned if he just lurks here by the bread and waits him out. Maybe Derek will put Puggle back or hand him in and then they won’t even have to–

Ami releases a big, wet, juddering sob against Stiles’ shoulder. “I wan’ Puggle,” she moans. She’s trembling, bereft, and Stiles scrunches his eyes shut; squaring his shoulders he takes a deep breath.

Fuck.

For Ami.

He can do this.

Opening his eyes, he tilts his chin up and strides forward, trying to project confidence.

“Hey, hi!” he calls.

Derek’s head jerks up to look at Stiles, eyebrows flying up into his hairline, and as his gaze sweeps over Stiles a bemused expression settles on his face. He opens his mouth like he’s about to say something, but then his eyes drift across to Ami, still nestled in the crook of Stiles’ arm, and his expression does something complicated.

“You found Puggle!” Stiles says with forced cheer.

Derek’s eyebrows crease in confusion. “Uh–what now?”

“Puggle!” Ami squeals, she’s gone from distraught to elated in 0.02 seconds flat. She tries to turn in Stiles arms and launch herself at Puggle at the same time, and he nearly drops the eggs trying to maintain a grip on her.

“The shark,” Stiles explains, still trying to hold on to a squirming Ami, who’s flailing at the plushie now with real intent.

“Oh!” Derek looks down at Puggle absently, and then, a moment later he says, “Oh, sure!” And hands Puggle to Ami who clutches the shark to her tiny chest like he’s been returned to her after kidnapping and torture, not misplaced in the cereal aisle of the local grocery store.

“You rescued him.” She blinks up at Derek with big brown eyes.

“I–uh–” Derek glances at Stiles and then back to Ami and his expression softens a little. He smiles gently and leans in, winking conspiratorially. “He didn’t need much rescuing really. He was just a tiny bit scared.”

“Because he was lost,” Ami says. She jams her thumb in her mouth and rests her head on Stiles shoulder, eyes still fixed on Derek.

“Well, uh, thanks for finding him,” Stiles says, and prays to every god he can think of that he isn’t blushing. He feels like he is. But who can blame him? Derek just smiled. An honest to god smile. True it was meant for Ami, but Stiles has to take take what he can get here. Besides, this might be the first time he’s been in Derek’s presence for longer than two minutes without brutally maiming him in some way.

“It’s no problem,” Derek says, and when he looks at Stiles he smiles again, small but genuine. Stiles' stomach flip-flops treacherously.

“She–uh–” he swallows. “She won’t sleep without him. Puggle, I mean.”

Derek nods awkwardly. “My nephew is the same about Albie.” Stiles raises his eyebrows and Derek clarifies, “Albie’s a hippo in a tutu.”

“Ah.”

“I– uh–I didn’t know that you were–” Derek gestures at Ami, who is still staring at him, looking as starstruck as Stiles feels.

“She isn’t mine,” Stiles says hurriedly. “I’m just babysitting. She’s my best friend’s daughter, Ami. Ami, this is Derek, he lives across the hall from me.”

Derek gives him an odd look, but reaches out to shake Ami’s hand when she solemnly offers it to him. After that there’s an awkward second or two of silence.

“So–uh,–I should–” Stiles begins. About to make his escape.

“You know my name?” Derek blurts.

“Yeah? I mean–oh,” Stiles flushes. “Mrs Gunderson told me. Sorry. I forgot we haven’t really met. Well– I mean we’ve met, obviously. But mostly I’ve been trying to block those meetings out. Hah! Not that I didn’t want to meet you. Who wouldn’t want to meet you? I mean your so– um. But then the coffee and the earbuds and the whole nose–”

“What’s your name?” Derek asks, interrupting him.

Stiles opens his mouth. Then shuts it again. Then says, “Oh my god, of course! You don’t know my name.”

“Uh, no?”

“I guess we never really got to that part, did we?”

“Not really,” Derek says and the expression on his face is almost amused. Maybe. If Stiles squints. There’s definitely… something.

“I’m Stiles,” he says. “And I am really sorry about that stuff, y’know?” Stiles says. “Truly. I mean, I guess I can be a bit clumsy, but I’m never usually that–”

“It’s okay,” Derek says, and there’s that smile again. God. Stiles loves that smile. It’s small but perfectly formed. “Accidents happen, right?”

“Right?” Stiles grins goofily at him. For a moment they just stare at each other, and Stiles thinks–maybe, just maybe, things aren’t entirely ruined after all. Derek’s eyes flick over him and then up again to his face– which–oh god, is he checking Stiles out? Seriously?

“So,” Derek says, clearing his throat. “Maybe we could–”

At that moment, Ami releases a mournful howl of dismay, and bursts into tears.

“Oh my god, sweetie, are you okay? What is it?” Stiles says, panicked.

“Stiles! Look! He’s gotten torned,” she cries, thrusting Puggle in his face with a pudgy fist. “Look!”

There is, in fact, a small tear along his belly with stuffing leaking out of it, and Stiles blanches. “Oh, honey!”

“It’s just along the seam,” Derek says, craning his neck to take a look.

“But–”

“I can fix that.”

“You can?” Ami stares up at Derek, jaw hanging open.

“Sure,” Derek smiles just a little. “I’m a nurse. I can come over to Stiles place and sew him up. Unless, I mean–uh,” he glances over to Stiles uncertainly, and the tips of his ears are bright pink. “You don’t–”

“No,” Stiles starts to say, “that’s fine.”

“Thank-you!” Ami squeals and launches herself at Derek in earnest. It’s so unexpected, Stiles can’t hold onto her this time but it’s okay because Derek seems prepared and he catches her easily enough. In the struggle, though, the eggs fall to the floor with an ominous thud.

As one, Derek and Stiles look down. Twelve eggs. More than half of them are broken, there’s a lot on the floor, but most of them are pretty much–

Stiles gulps. Looks up to meet Derek’s eyes. “To be fair,” he says, gesturing at Derek’s feet. “I don’t think this one was really my fault.”

“You didn’t think you’d need a bag, huh?” Derek says, blinking down at his chucks.

“Bad for the environment."

“Uh-huh,” Derek says drily, but when he meets Stiles' gaze, there’s a definite twinkle in his eye.

“Oh my god,” Stiles moans, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Why does this stuff always happen to me?”

“To you?"

“Us then,” Stiles amends morosely and Derek seems to take pity on him.

“Here,” he says handing Ami back to Stiles. “You go buy more eggs. I’ll go home and clean up. I’ll meet you back at your place in, say, an hour?”

“Are you sure?” Stiles says, all forlorn hope.

Derek pretends to consider his options. “I think my health insurance should cover it.”

“Oh, har har.”

Derek grins then. Wide. Beaming. Breathtaking. “By the way,” he says, as he turns to leave, “I meant to say, nice wings.”

With his free hand Stiles frantically grabs his own shoulder and lets out a horrified groan. Yup. He’s been wearing the fairy wings this whole time.

 

5.

 

Forty three minutes later Derek knocks on Stiles’ door. Stiles knows because he’s watched the clock like a hawk while simultaneously trying to tidy his apartment and entertain Ami. When Stiles peers through the peephole and sees Derek’s face looking back at him, he tries to calm the butterflies in his stomach without much success. Opening the door doesn’t make it any better, Derek has changed out of the clothes Stiles’ egged, and is now sporting tight blue jeans, a black t-shirt that clings to his biceps and, Stiles sniffs, is that cologne? Actual cologne? Because Stiles swears Derek didn’t smell like this earlier.

He stands there blinking at Derek, who has a first aid kit clutched in one hand, and is looking back at him with his stupidly beautiful multicolor eyes.

“Can I–uh– come in?” Derek says after a moment.

“Yeah, God. Of course, sorry.” Stiles stands to one side and ushers him through the door, nearly tripping over Ami who has appeared behind him.

“You’re really here!” she says, staring at Derek with the kind of wide-eyed reverence that Stiles feels on a spiritual level.

“Yeah,” Derek says, smiling down at her benignly. “And I brought my first aid kit to fix Puggle.” He pats the red case.

She blinks then and frowns a little. “But that’s for people. Puggle’s a shark.”

“Well, this is a first aid kit especially for Puggle. Can I show you?” She nods, and Derek turns to Stiles saying, “Where should we do this?”

“How about the table in the kitchen, is that okay?”

“Sure,” Derek says, with a grin.

What follows, is, by Stiles estimation, the most painfully cute thing he has seen in his entire life.

They sit around the little table in Stiles breakfast nook and Derek reveals that he has replaced the contents of the first aid kit box with a sewing kit and a box of Wonder Woman band aids and Stiles takes a moment to wonder if he already had the band aids, or whether he bought them specially. It must be the former because realistically there hasn’t been time to buy them. Which means Derek is the kind of guy who keeps Wonder Woman band aids at his house. That thought breaks Stiles brain a little. When Derek sees him staring at them he says, “You don’t like Wonder Woman?”

“No, I love her,” Stiles says fervently, and another brilliant smile spreads over Derek’s face.

Once Ami has approved everything and picked the color of thread she wants Derek to use, he then spends five minutes carefully stitching Puggle back together, and then makes a big deal of placing a Wonder Woman bandaid on him.

“They’re cool band aids,” says Ami.

“Yup,” Derek agrees.

“Y’know,” she continues, eyeing the box with naked ambition. “I think my finger hurts a little bit.”

“Yeah?” Derek says, “Shall I take a look?”

She presents her hand to him gravely and he inspects it. “Which finger?”

“Ummmm– maybe this one?” She points at the middle finger on her right hand, which is blemish free and demonstrably fine.

“Ah,” Derek says, examining it carefully. “Do you think it would feel better if it had a band aid on?”

Ami nods vigorously. “Yuh-huh!”

“Is that okay, Stiles?” Derek says, glancing over at him.

“Sure,” Stiles says. “Just the one though.”

Derek affixes it carefully, and Ami stares down at it, pride radiating from her. “Y’know,” she says eventually, staring at the mostly full box. “Maybe I should be the nurse now, and you two can be my patients.”

Derek tilts his head to one side and considers. “Well,” he says, with a sly grin at Stiles. “I have had a few more injuries than usual lately.”

“Yeah?” Ami says, looking way too happy about it.

“Yeah. I hurt my nose the other day.”

“Oh no! How did you do that?”

Stiles clears his throat. “That’s not important,” he says. Derek’s nose is clearly fine. Not broken. Not even bruised, so whatever Stiles did can’t have been that bad. Thank god.

“So I could put a band aid on your nose.” Ami says, reaching with pudgy fingers for the box of band aids. “Where else did you hurt yourself?”

Ten minutes later, Derek has two wonder woman band aids over his left arm, one over his nose and another one over his left eyebrow. Stiles has one on his forehead, another on the back of his hand and one on each ear.

“Lie down on the floor over there,” Ami says to Stiles, gesturing imperiously to the couch in the living room. “I’m the doctor. I’m going to examined you with nurse Derek.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, he wanders over to it and lies down, trying not to feel too self conscious as Derek and Ami loom over him. “What are you looking for, doc?”

“Some kind of klutz gene,” Derek says, “we gonna need to draw blood and test for it.”

“Excuse you,” Stiles sputters, even though he knows on recent evidence he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

“No, we’re not doing that.” Ami shakes her head.

“No? Then what?” Derek asks.

“We’re checking for fleas,” Ami says amicably. “Coco had them the other week. She needed a bath with special shampoo.”

Derek stares down at Stiles. His lips are pursed, there’s a muscle ticking in his jaw, and his eyes are dancing. He’s definitely enjoying this a little too much. “Coco?”

“My dog." Turning to look at Stiles she says. "We need to check your armpits. Take your shirt off.”

“And we’re done,” Stiles says, sitting up abruptly. “What about those cupcakes, Ames?" He shoots Derek a death glare. Unfortunately Derek doesn’t see it, he’s turned away and his shoulders are shaking suspiciously.

“Cupcakes?” Ami squeals, and just like that the fleas are forgotten, thank god.

As Ami races into the kitchen, Stiles stands and yawns, stretching, his early start is finally catching up with him; his t-shirt rides up a little and he scratches idly at his belly. When he looks across Derek's ears are red and he’s looking determinedly at the floor.

“Maybe I should–” Derek gestures awkwardly to the front door.

“Oh–” Stiles says, disappointed.  “I mean you of course. If you have somewhere you have to be, but you’re welcome to stay.”

“Stay and make cupcakes with us!” Ami hollers from the kitchen.

And just like that it’s settled.

It’s all going well. It’s cake mix. There’s very little way Stiles can fuck it up, especially under Derek’s watchful eye. Once the cupcakes are in the oven, Ami decides it’s time for cartoons and they all slump together in a heap on Stiles’ sagging couch watching Steven Universe.

Derek doesn’t ask whether he should leave again, and Stiles doesn’t mention it.

Stiles set an alarm on his phone to alert them that the cupcakes are done. When it beeps he gets up straight away, remembering to wear oven mitts to retrieve the tray from the oven without burning himself like a pro, while Derek helps Ami prepare the bright pink frosting, and then they decorate them together.

Then Ami sits at the table eating a cupcake, face covered in frosting, while Derek and Stiles wash the dishes together.

It’s all horrifyingly domestic. Like he took a left turn at Albuquerque and ended up lost in a Williams Sonoma catalog. He isn’t gonna complain though, at least he’s finally had a disaster free interaction with Derek. No one has been maimed or scalded or anything. Stiles is finally winning.

“This was nice,” Stiles says, as he finishes up rinsing the mixing bowl. He feels inordinately shy.

Derek looks across at him, as he uses the dishcloth to dry the bowl. “Yeah, Ami’s a cute kid.”

“She is. You’re really good with her.”

“So are you.”

They grin at each other. Then Stiles says, “So, you–uh–want a cupcake?”

“Yeah," Derek nods. "Sure.”

Stiles crosses the kitchen to where the cupcakes are all sitting on a plate, and picks out one that looks nice.

“Here,” he says turning around, arm outstretched and then lets out an abortive, “Oh shit–” Because Derek’s followed him to the counter and is standing right behind him, like right behind him--and now there’s bright pink cupcake frosting all over his t-shirt.

Derek looks down at his t-shirt, and then, raising one impressive eyebrow, looks back at Stiles. “We were doing so well,” he says drily.

And Stiles should feel mortified, he should. But he as he looks at Derek, the twinkle in his eye, the smear of bright pink frosting across his t-shirt and he can’t help it, he starts to laugh. It bubbles up out of him loud and happy and free. A moment later, Derek starts laughing too.

 

+1

 

Curling his hand into a fist, Stiles raises it and hesitates, taking a deep, cleansing breath; then, steeling himself, he knocks on the door of Derek’s apartment.

It’s been four days since Derek helped fix Puggle, but even though they parted on great terms, since then Stiles has been slammed at work. He hasn’t seen Derek once. They haven’t even passed each other in the corridor, and because of that doubts have begun to creep in.

Sure, Derek seemed like he was in to Stiles, but was he really?

Stiles has spent quite a few sleepless nights this week obsessing over that question, and he’s decided that the best way around this situation is through it. He just has to nut up and ask Derek out for a drink, or to brunch, or maybe to marry him. He hasn’t decided yet. He just knows that he can’t stop thinking about him and he needs to something before he goes insane (or before his dick develops friction burns, because there has been a lot of personal Stiles time this weekHe feels like a fucking teenager again. Seriously.)

Which all sounds like a good plan, except he’s been standing outside Derek’s door now for a couple of minutes, and no one is answering and that means either he didn’t hear, or he’s out. Possibly even at work. Ugh.

Just in case it’s the first one, Stiles lifts his fist to knock again, but at that exact moment there’s the sound of someone unlocking the door. Stiles’ heart is suddenly in his mouth as it swings open to reveal-- not Derek. No, this is a stunning brunette but her full, pouting lips are turned down sulkily. She’s petite but she has a ‘don’t fuck with me’ demeanor that Stiles immediately buys into wholesale. He has no intention of getting his ass handed to him, and he’s pretty sure she could do it.

 

“Yeah?” she says.

There’s one heart-stopping moment Stiles considers the very real possibility that Derek might have a girlfriend. What if he doesn’t like guys at all? What if Stiles has completely misread the situation?

“Uh, hi--” Stiles says, feeling impossibly awkward. “Is--uh--Derek in?”

“Who wants to know?”

“I’m--uh,” Stiles wilts a little under her glare. “I’m his neighbor? I live across the hall.” He jerks his thumb at his apartment behind him. “I was just wondering if I could uh--”

Her gaze flicks over him, then she glances at the door to his apartment, then back to him. “So you’re the doofy neighbor guy he’s always talking about?”

“Yes exac--wait, what? No! I am not doofy!”

“So you didn’t tip your coffee over my brother?”

“I--he--”

“The thing with the eye? The nosebleed?” She folds her arms.

“I--” Stiles’ shoulders sag a little. Even the fact that she’s Derek’s sister, and not some mysterious hot girlfriend can’t allay the hot rush of shame that floods him. “He called me doofy?”

“No,” she taps one elegant finger against her chin and narrows her eyes. “I called you doofy.”

“So--”

“Derek calls you the ‘hot, clumsy neighbor guy with the hands.’ Or he used to-- now he calls you Miles?”

“Stiles,” Stiles corrects, “And what does he mean, ‘with the hands?’” Stiles stares down at his palms. “Everyone has hands, that doesn’t make any--wait, he thinks I’m hot?”

She wrinkles her nose. “What can I say. He’s always had weird taste in guys.”

“So--” All in a rush Stiles decides to go for it, “if I ask him out, you think he’ll say yes?”

“Given that you’re all he’s talked about since he moved into this damn apartment, I’m gonna go with yeah.”

Stiles beams. “Okay,” he says. “Thanks for the heads up.”

“I’m not doing it for you,” she says, arms still crossed. “I’m bored of hearing him freak out about whether you like him.”

“Y’know, you’re a strange kind of person.”

“Says the guy who maimed my brother repeatedly. Tipped their coffee on him. Ruined his favorite pair of chucks and got pink frosting on his t-shirt.”

“Yeah, when you put it like that, maybe Derek’s the strange one.”

“Oh he is,” she says, “but it looks like you are too, so kudos on meeting each other in this crazy world!” She does the most lacklustre jazz hands Stiles has ever seen and then starts to close the door.

“Uh--waitwaitwait,” Stiles says, flailing forward before she can close it. “So can I speak to him?”

“He’s working. Won’t be back till much later.”

“Oh--” Stiles’ face falls and the woman sighs.

“His next day off is Sunday,” she says.

“So we could do brunch?”

We’re not doing anything, but if you’re asking if my brother will go to brunch with you, then I’m gonna say yes.”

“Shouldn’t I ask him?”

“Ugh. Fine. I’ll give you his number.” She fishes her phone from her pocket and thumbs through it until she finds what she wants. “Okay, ready? It’s--”

She fires off the number so quickly, Stiles can’t begin to keep up, but eventually he gets it down okay.

He grins down at his phone, elated. “Thanks so m--”

He’s too late. She’s already slammed the door shut. It isn’t as though he can be mad. He has Derek’s motherfucking number. He has confirmation that Derek likes him back. Oh yeah.

-

He texts Derek when he gets back to his apartment and they agree to meet on Sunday for lunch, which is, like, two days away. Two days which Stiles spends freaking out about what to wear and whether or not he’ll manage to get through their brunch date without injuring Derek or throwing his food over him.

He even ends up calling Scott at midnight on Saturday, while he stands in his bedroom with eight slightly different plaid shirts and every graphic tee he's ever owned strewn on his bed, panicking.

When Sunday morning finally arrives, though, Stiles is only slightly sleep deprived. He’s dressed in his best black skinny jeans, the ones that hug his ass just so-- and a slightly too tight Strokes tee, that’s a nice shade of red. Kira had recommended the red. Apparently it’s his color.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t nervous though, because he is and the only thing that settles him is that when Derek opens the door to him, he seems just as antsy as Stiles, shuffling about foot to foot, his ears scarlet. Stiles can’t see what Derek has to be embarrassed about-- he’s wearing a soft plum colored thumbhole sweater, the jeans that Stiles has really grown to appreciate, and his hair looks mussed, like he’s been running his hands through it. The overall effect is excruciatingly sexy, and Stiles nearly bites his own tongue suppressing a whimper.

“So where are we going?” Derek asks.

“I figured the place on Main?” Stiles suggests. “Unless there’s somewhere you’d rather--”

“No, that sounds good.” Derek grabs his leather jacket and then shuts his door, locking it behind him. They turn and walk down the corridor together.

“So,” Stiles begins, “You weren’t worried about going on this date?” Derek raises his eyebrows, and Stiles clarifies, “What might happen to you, y’know…being here with me.”

“Well,” Derek says. “Cora suggested body armor.”

“Cora?”

“My sister? You met her the other day?”

“Ohhhh. Yeah. She did not like me.”

“That’s not true.” Derek offers him a small smile.

“Really?”

“She gave you my number. She likes you.”

“That... did not come across.”

“I guess she can be a bit--”

“Scary?”

I was gonna go with terrifying, but yeah, sure.”

“Well, I promise to be on my best behaviour today. No accidents,” Stiles says earnestly. “I swear.”

Derek smiles, small, but genuine. “Is it weird to say that I kind of liked them?”

“Very weird, extremely, some might say. But I’m sure as hell not gonna complain about it.” Stiles glances at him askance. “I’m not sure I believe you though. When I spilled vanilla latte over your comic books, you looked like you wanted to kill me.”

“Really?” Derek says. “That wasn’t what I was thinking-- I swear.”

“Well you might want to tell your eyebrows that.”

“I--” Derek heaves a sigh. “I’m not that great with people.”

Stiles narrows his eyes. “I call bullshit, Ami loved you.”

“Okay, kids I’m fine with. Hot guys, not so much. I tend to--” he sucks in a breath. “Panic.”

“Panic?”

“Like when you apologized and offered to help me clean up, and I just ran away?” Stiles opens his mouth to reply, but Derek barrels on, “And then I spent the whole evening psyching myself up to speak to you the next chance I got, and when I saw you’d dropped your keys I thought it would be a perfect opening but then--”

“I hit you in the eye--”

“Yeah. I kind of just-- shut down in those kind of socially awkward situations.”

“I don’t know, you handled the whole thing where I dropped a carton of eggs on your shoes really well.”

“By that time Id promised myself the next time I saw you I wouldn’t freeze up. Besides, compared to the other stuff, the eggs weren’t so bad. I just--” his ears are crimson. “Saw you wearing those glittery fairy wings in the middle of the grocery store and it-- you were just so--”

Stiles cocks an eyebrow. “Hey, those belonged to Ami, but I can totally buy a pair if they do it for you. I'm very-- open minded.”

Derek’s blush creeps over his cheekbones. “Stiles--”

“Look, if it helps, I spent the last couple of weeks mortified and pining. I was convinced you were gonna end up dating Jason Gunderson, and I was gonna be alone forever.”

Who?” Derek looks confused and intrigued.

Stiles waves a hand. “It doesn’t matter. What I’m trying to say is, I like you,” he says, leading Derek along the corridor to the top of the stairs. He turns to face him and continues, “I really like you. Just in case that’s not obvious.”

“I like you too,” Derek says.

Stiles sucks in a breath. Holds it. Is it too weird to have a first kiss before your first official date? He’s already leaning in though and Derek’s eyes are lingering on his lips. So maybe not.

When their lips finally meet it’s just a chaste press, nothing raunchy. Derek’s lips are soft and dry, and his scruff prickles Stiles lips in the best way. When they finally pull apart Stiles feels elated. Almost dizzy with it. He’s grinning like a loon and Derek is too.

“Okay,” he says, a little breathlessly. “Well--”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees.

They stare at each other. “Yeah,” Stiles says, “we should probably--” he takes a step backwards, totally forgetting that he’s at the top of the stairs.

There’s a stomach dropping moment where he wobbles, his arms pinwheel wildly as they reach out for something anything. Time seems to slow, and he has this horrifying moment where he’s absolutely sure he’s going to ruin his first date with Derek by falling down the stairs and breaking his arm. He’s no sooner thought it though, and Derek’s hand shoots out, grabbing him by his t-shirt and pulling him in, steadying him.

“Gotcha,” Derek says.

“Oh my god,” Stiles sighs, slumping forward. “I swear, I swear I am only ever this clumsy around you.”

Derek reels him in, lets Stiles put his head on his chest. “I’m gonna take that as a compliment.”

“You should,” Stiles wheezes, heart hammering in his chest.  

Derek clears his throat roughly. “Don’t take this the wrong way, because we can totally go to brunch if you want, but maybe we could go just go back to mine? I could make pancakes. You could sit very still in the armchair and watch me.”

And maybe Stiles should be insulted by that, but given what’s happened over the last couple of weeks, it actually sounds pretty good, unless...

“Is Cora there?” Because Derek says she likes him, but Stiles doesn’t really believe him.

“No,” Derek murmurs, pulling Stiles in closer, “we’d have the whole place to ourselves. All day.” His words sound like a promise.

-

They do go back to Derek’s apartment, Derek does make pancakes, and everything is going well right up until Stiles’ twists his ankle tripping over Derek’s cat.

Stiles doesn’t mind too much though, it turns out Derek’s more than happy to nurse him back to health.