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We Could Have Been By Now

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Derek doesn’t expect to hear that laugh when he walks into work on an early Monday morning. It’s loud, bright, and it’s one of those sounds that can only belong to one person. Derek would recognize the sound of Stiles’ voice anywhere.

He doesn’t realize he’s stopped moving, blocking the doorway, until the person behind him clears their throat.

“Sorry,” Derek mutters, moving out of the way. He hates himself for being so affected by Stiles’ presence, especially after all these years, and especially after Derek has tried so hard not to be affected.

Derek searches the room and he sees Stiles standing near the front desk. His laugh is still etched upon his lips, and he looks good. He always does, but today he’s wearing a crisp white shirt and a brown jacket. The material swishes by his waist and Derek should not find it attractive.

Derek wonders, vaguely, if Stiles is here to see him. It’s unlikely.

The back of his neck hot, Derek slowly walks over. He waits for Stiles to notice him but it doesn’t happen. “Stiles. What are you doing here?” Derek says, voice rougher than he intends.

Stiles startles and the smile on his face disappears. He narrows his brown eyes. “Oh,” he says, surprised. “It’s you.”

“What are you doing here?” Derek repeats.

“I could ask you the same question.”

Derek closes his eyes for a moment. “Stiles,” he says. “I work here. I’ve worked at History Monthly for the past two years.”

His eyes widen. “Really? I mean, I knew you were a writer, I just didn’t realize it was for this magazine.”

“I’m sure I’ve mentioned it,” Derek says tiredly.

Stiles shrugs. “Sorry, dude.” He turns his body away slightly, avoiding Derek’s eye as he pulls out his phone. His long fingers dance over the screen.

Derek’s heart sinks. It hurts to be ignored by Stiles, even now, but he should be used to it. It’s been years. He knows that Stiles doesn’t like him.

Derek is about to turn away when the receptionist calls out his name.

“Oh good, Derek, you’re here,” Allison says, smiling up at him. Her dimples are showing. “Duke just rang in and said he can’t be here to meet the new hire. Can you show him around? His desk is where Angie used to sit.”

Derek blinks. “New hire?”

Allison tilts her head to the side, towards Stiles. She smiles again.

“You’re the new hire?” Derek says to him.

Stiles looks up and glares. “Why is that so surprising?”

“Well,” Derek says, quite honestly. “I didn’t think working for a history magazine as an assistant would suit you. You’re going to spend an awful lot of time getting people coffee.”

Stiles’ cheeks turn flushed. “Whatever.”

Derek sighs. “I just thought you would prefer a job where you’d actually use your brain.”

“It’s a job,” Stiles says. “Income. We can’t all be picky about where we want to work, Derek.”

Stiles turns back to his phone and Derek thinks it might be a good idea if he closed his mouth. He can feel Allison looking over at him, an eyebrow raised.

He doesn’t know how he manages to upset Stiles almost every time they talk to each other. Derek hopes that it won’t happen every day if they’re going to be working in the same building, on the same floor, together.

He walks away and stops when he realizes Stiles isn’t following him.

“Come on,” Derek says. “I’ll show you around, and then someone will give you the full induction.”

Stiles finally puts his phone away. “Fine,” he says, sighing.

Derek tries not to feel irritated. He keeps on walking and steps into the elevator, pressing the button for level sixteen. He doesn’t care if the doors close on Stiles, but at the last moment he steps through the narrow gap.

“So,” Stiles says, awkwardly. “You’re not my boss, are you?”

Derek shakes his head.

“Thank fuck.”

“Would that really be the end of the world?”

“Uh, yeah,” Stiles says seriously, looking at him. He doesn’t elaborate.

Derek tries not to think about the little space in the elevator between them. He tries not to notice how Stiles is leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets, standing as far away from Derek as possible.

“You will be assisting the editor mostly,” Derek says. The elevator doors open and there is a soft ding in the air. He begins walking. “But if anyone else needs help they can turn to you.”

Derek looks over to see if Stiles is following him, he is, and it at least looks like he’s listening. He introduces Stiles to the people who he will most likely be working with, and Stiles’ smile is charming and warm.

Derek wishes Stiles would smile at him like that.

He shows Stiles where all the office supplies are, where the photocopier is and how it works. Derek bets that Stiles will spend a lot of time in this room.

“Duke, the editor, he will most likely need your help the most,” Derek says. “I’m not sure where he is today, but there’s his office.” He points towards the door at the end of the hall.

“I already know Duke,” Stiles says offhandedly, and Derek bristles. Duke is not his favorite person, not at all, and he’s the only part of this job that Derek doesn’t like.

Stiles walks to the end of the corridor, hands in his pockets. He bites his lip as he looks at Duke’s name on the door.

Stiles asks a few questions, but the job is pretty straight forward. Derek doesn’t know how long Stiles will last here. It’s not a fun job, but it’s one that the office needs. A lot of time can be wasted doing trivial jobs, so that’s why Stiles is here.

Derek hesitates. “I know it might be a lot to take in,” he says. “But if you need any help with anything you can ask me.”

Stiles turns around. “Really?” he says, eyes narrowed.

Derek tries to smile at him. “Yes,” he says. “Really. My office is just here.”

He points to the door that’s just next to Duke’s. Derek is good at his job, and he’s not quite the editor, or even the assistant editor, but he is one of the magazine’s top writers. He always does his research and he knows what he’s talking about when he writes an article.

“You have an office?” Stiles says in disbelief.

“Yes.”

“And you are offering me help?”

Derek scowls. “Yes, Stiles. Why is that so surprising?”

He throws Stiles’ words back in his face and he expects Stiles to be mad, but after a moment he just smirks.

Their eyes meet and for a split second Derek doesn’t want to look away.

“I’d better – I’d better go,” Derek says, stepping backwards. Stiles nods and doesn’t say anything.

He finds the person who will give Stiles more information about his new job and Derek disappears into his office. He closes the door and tries to breathe.

He needs to get over this feeling. His whole body feels lighter when he’s around Stiles but then it always comes crashing down. Derek knows it will never come to anything, no matter how long Derek has wanted Stiles.

Derek hates that he’s so weak. He still feels this way and it’s been years.

He struggles to concentrate for the rest of the morning and much of the afternoon. Through the office walls he can sometimes hear the sound of Stiles’ laughter and Derek stays hidden in his office, too scared to see Stiles around, too scared to see him in Derek’s space.

He can’t have all parts of his life infiltrated by Stiles, or there will be no getting over him.

Derek arrives home that evening deadly tired. His apartment is cold and he can’t keep Stiles from his mind. Derek hangs onto every word of their conversation even though he shouldn’t, even though it’s making him miserable.

He rubs his eyes. At least tomorrow he will be more prepared.

Derek goes for a run to clear his mind, and he comes home sweating and breathing hard. He had promised to meet up with a couple of friends, but once they find out about Stiles he knows exactly what they will say – he should date someone else, he should stop obsessing. They’re as tired of this as Derek is and it’s no secret to them what he feels for Stiles.

It fades – thoughts of Stiles, feelings for Stiles, but it’s never really gone.

Scott calls while Derek cooks himself dinner, the scent of spiced tomatoes in the air. Derek wonders if he should ignore the call, but he knows Scott wouldn’t like it.

“Hey,” Scott says. His voice is hesitant.

Derek sighs. “I know why you’re calling. Just say it.”

“Look, I just got off the phone with Stiles. Maybe you two will finally get along,” he says hopefully.

Derek snorts. “Yeah, because that’s just suddenly going to happen.”

“It might!”

“Scott, you’ve always said that he’s never going to like me. Why is working in the same place going to change that?”

Scott doesn’t say anything and his silence is telling. There’s no one in the world that thinks Derek and Stiles can even be friends, no matter how much Derek wants it to happen.

“Why didn’t you tell me he had found a new job?”

“First, I didn’t know it was for History Monthly , and second, you told me not to tell you about Stiles anymore.”

Derek scowls.

Scott laughs gently. “Hey, Derek, it will be okay. Just – tomorrow, ask to sit with him at lunch. He doesn’t know anyone yet. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”

“He will know you told me to.”

“I’ll lie if he asks.”

“Scott, you can’t lie to save your life. Especially to Stiles. He knows you too well,” Derek says.

“I can lie!” Scott says, offended.

“Uh huh,” Derek says, already feeling better. He’s glad Scott called.

Scott pauses. “It was me who broke your Swan Lake Barbie doll,” he says.

“What?” Derek says, alarmed. “You told me Stiles did that!”

He hears Scott laugh, and then comes the dial tone. Derek stares at his phone knowing he had been so sure that Stiles had broken that doll.

Derek had grown up with the McCalls back in Beacon Hills after his parents had died in a house fire. Stiles had always been around, always, and as children they hadn’t gotten along. Derek hadn’t liked Scott, hadn’t liked having a new family and he made sure everyone knew it. Stiles thought he was horrible for it.

Then they grew up a little, and Stiles argued with Derek at every turn, but he made things fun. He pushed Derek into doing things – a self-satisfied smirk on his face when Derek finally emerged from his room or put down his book. Derek watched Scott and Stiles’ lacrosse games then went for milkshakes with them after they lost a game. Stiles was there the evening Derek went on his first date, teasing him and laughing at him before he got ready.

They spent less time together in high school – Derek made his own friends – but he remembers Stiles being at a party he wasn’t supposed to be at, too drunk to walk straight, and Derek was trying to help so he dropped Stiles home. Stiles was mad at him for weeks after he got grounded.

For every good moment they had together something always seemed to go wrong. Derek sometimes spoke too harshly and Stiles had a tendency to get them both in trouble – he didn’t know when to shut up and Derek broke up one or two fights.

And then Derek went to college and – and he had missed Stiles. He missed the debates and the eyerolls and the way Stiles made his life less dull. He spent the semester horrified that he was thinking of Stiles so much while simultaneously wishing he was back home.

Derek had wanted him then, had found his laugh beautiful and his smirk attractive. Stiles was taller when he came back, his shoulders broader than Derek remembered. But all Derek knew how to do was argue with him and at the same time he suddenly didn’t know how to talk to him.

Every moment since then has been an exercise in trying to get over him, because Stiles showed disinterest at best and a heated argument at worst.

Derek puts his phone away and tries not to think about how he’s still an idiot, holding onto Stiles in this way.

History Monthly is located on the sixteenth floor of a building in the heart of the city. There’s a cafeteria on the first floor and Derek sees Stiles digging in his pockets for spare change, looking at the coffee menu with bleary eyes.

Derek takes a breath, telling himself it’s just Stiles. He grew up with him, it shouldn’t be this difficult to walk over there.

Stiles is still counting coins in his palm, so Derek stands next to him, careful not to get too close.

“Hey,” he says.

“What are you doing?” Stiles says, not looking up.

Derek takes a breath. He hates how dismissive Stiles can be towards him, and he hates the prickle he feels over his skin when Stiles is this way.

“I’m waiting to order a coffee,” Derek tells him.

“Yeah, well, you can wait a bit longer,” he says, and then a coin rolls off the counter and onto the floor. Derek tries not to smile because this is so like Stiles, and he watches as Stiles bends over to pick up the lost change.

The barista clears their throat, and Derek tears his gaze away. It’s so easy to keep his eyes on Stiles, it’s so easy to want him.

“How about I make your coffee while your friend gets their change?” says the barista, a smirk on his lips.

“Oh, um, okay,” Derek says, cheeks red. “An espresso, please.”

The barista winks.

Derek has no idea how to respond, he never does, but he’s saved when Stiles jumps up. He’s a mess of limbs, falling into Derek’s side, but he holds out the coin with a triumphant smile on his face. Derek stops himself from reaching out to steady him.

“Yes!” Stiles says, but he groans when he notices that the barista is already making Derek’s drink.

Derek smirks at him.

“Oh, shut up,” Stiles tells him.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Your eyebrows said something,” he says. Derek frowns, but Stiles has already declared his distaste for Derek’s eyebrows, his face, his teeth. It’s no surprise.

The barista smiles flirtatiously when he returns, taking Derek’s money easily. He pushes the paper cup over the counter and there’s a number written on it in hurried handwriting. Stiles’ mouth drops open.

“Why does everyone here like you?” Stiles says to him, already huffing. He glares at the barista. “Am I the only one who can look past your good looks?”

Derek rolls his eyes.

“Seriously though,” Stiles says, leaning his hip against the counter after prattling off his order. The barista slowly counts the coins. “The receptionist likes you, the barista likes you, Sarah from accounting likes you and so does the rest of the god damn floor.”

“Scott likes me, too.”

“Scott is your brother .” Stiles says. “He has to like you.”

“Scott also suggested that we have lunch together,” Derek says lightly. Stiles narrows his eyes suspiciously, but Derek suspects he doesn’t want to eat alone.

“Fine,” he says, and turns to the barista impatiently.

Derek doesn’t say anything as they choose a table. Stiles sits down and takes out what looks like cold, leftover pizza. He unwraps it and bites into it messily.

“You know,” he says, mouth full. It’s a little bit disgusting. “I’m only doing this to make Scott happy.”

Derek gives him a dirty look and takes out the homemade sandwich he makes every morning without fail. He takes a bite.

“What?” Stiles says. “Don’t tell me you’re willingly sitting here with me right now. You totally didn’t want me here yesterday.”

Derek swallows his food and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He takes a sip of his coffee. “I think that you’re jumping to conclusions.”

“Right,” he says, shuffling on his seat. The tables are small and their knees bang together. Stiles opens his mouth again, but Derek doesn’t want to argue. There’s no point to it.

“How are you settling in?” Derek asks over him.

Stiles blinks. “Um,” he says. “Good? I don’t know. Everyone is pretty nice, but I haven’t really done anything yet.”

Derek nods. He looks at Stiles for a moment, sees the jittery way he sits and the way his eyes scan the room. He’s nervous, despite the easy confidence he gives off.

“You’ll be fine.”

“If you say so.”

“The only thing you need to look out for is Greenberg. He has no concept of personal space.”

Stiles snorts. “I’ll keep that in mind. Anything else?”

Derek meets his gaze. He wonders if he should say this to Stiles, wonders if it truly is a problem. But Derek has to warn him, because Stiles likes to get in trouble and because Derek doesn’t want anything to happen to him.

“I’d be careful around Duke,” he says quietly.

Stiles’ brown eyes turn sharp. “Your boss?”

Derek nods.

“Why?” Stiles says, suspicious. “Is this the boss you always complain to Scott about?”

“I do not always complain,” Derek says, mildly annoyed. Stiles throws him a grin, sitting back in his chair. Derek can feel his eyes on him, and his casual stare is almost too much. “What?”

Stiles shakes his head. “Is there even a reason why you don’t like him?”

“Excuse me for not liking someone who lies to get what he wants,” Derek says back.

Stiles shrugs. He doesn’t look particularly alarmed, and he probably doesn’t trust Derek’s judgement.

“So, are you going to ring that guy?” Stiles asks.

Derek gives him a blank look, before Stiles rolls his eyes and gestures down to the coffee cup.

“Oh. Um. Probably not,” Derek says.

“Why? He’s cute, and he’s totally been staring at you this whole time,” Stiles says. Derek just takes a sip of the coffee and doesn’t say anything. “Come on, you’re no fun.”

“You ask him out.”

Stiles chews his lip. “I’m already seeing someone.”

Derek looks up, surprised even though he shouldn’t be. Stiles is gorgeous – even more so since he finished high school and then graduated from college. He’s grown into himself, has learnt what his smirk can do, has ditched the ill-fitting clothes for something more flattering.

Stiles looks like he’s expecting a question, a comment, anything, but Derek says nothing. He doesn’t want to fucking know, or it will get inside his head and stay there.

Stiles scowls at him. “Fine. I have to go back to work.”

Derek lets out a breath and lets Stiles walk away. His heart is going a little bit too fast, but Derek has to keep his walls up. He has to keep Stiles at a certain distance. It will keep him from feeling too much.

Allison smiles at him as he leaves the building, and Derek’s been so distracted lately that he makes himself stop and talk to her.

“You look tired,” she says cheerfully.

Derek sighs. “It’s been a long week.”

“Your friend is settling in well,” Allison tells him, a glint in her eye. Derek is almost certain that she knows he and Stiles aren’t friends, but she does know that they’ve met before. “I heard that he figured out the photocopier in less than ten minutes.”

“Impressive.”

“It is,” she says. “That photocopier is awful. I wish it was in the budget to replace it, but the budget is pretty much non-existent these days –”

Derek looks at her sharply. Her cheeks go pink. “Derek – I shouldn’t have said that,” Allison says, her voice low.

Derek takes a breath. It’s not like he’s under any delusions that people want to buy history magazines. It’s a small market, and most people turn to Wikipedia these days for their history lessons. He just didn’t know that they were struggling enough for Allison to know about it, though Derek suspects Allison always knows more than she lets on.

“It’s okay,” he tells her, an awful feeling settling in his stomach. Her eyes dart across his face but she seems to relax.

“Thanks, Derek,” she says, smiling again.

“And, um, Stiles?” Derek says. “You think he’s doing okay?”

Allison nods. “Yeah, though it can’t be easy having to do everything Duke says.” She stops, but doesn’t look so guilty this time. “I probably shouldn’t have said that either.”

Derek grins at her.

She waves her hand. “You get home.”

“See you, Allison,” Derek says. He looks at his watch on his way out and remembers that he has dinner with Scott and Melissa. He’s already running late, but a part of Derek doesn’t want to go at all. Stiles might be there.

Every day Derek has to hear the sound of his voice travelling through the hallway, has to see him walk by Derek’s office every few minutes. It’s distracting. Derek thinks he has never been so unproductive.

It’s worse because he’s too cowardly to ask Stiles for anything, too cowardly to ask Stiles to do his job.

He arrives at the McCall house half an hour late. He lets himself in and Derek smiles widely when he sees Melissa.

“Derek, honey, you’re late,” she says, opening her arms. Derek holds her for a moment and then she pulls back. “Are you looking after yourself?”

“Yes,” Derek says.

“You’re not working too hard?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

They hear someone snort from across the room, and Derek looks past Melissa’s dark curls to see Stiles standing at the edge of the room, a bottle of beer in his hand.

“Stiles,” Derek says politely.

Stiles takes a few steps forward. “Did you know that Derek spends all day in his office? He’s even started eating lunch in there. Alone. It’s depressing.”

Derek grits his teeth together as Melissa looks at him with concern. He shakes his head at her and meets Stiles’ too bright eyes.

“According to everyone else it’s a new thing, so either you have been working so incredibly hard, or, you’re avoiding someone,” Stiles says, his lips curling into a smirk. He doesn’t take his eyes off Derek, and Derek knows he’s in trouble. “I wonder who that someone is.”

“Stiles, leave him alone.”

Derek unwillingly drags his eyes from Stiles, and looks at Scott. His eyes look apologetic. They’re always apologizing for Stiles, because they all fucking know. They all know how Derek feels about him.

It’s not so bad right now. Derek has had his walls up for years now, and just because Stiles has entered his life on a more frequent basis doesn’t mean that they’re going to come down. He’s being careful. He’s not feeling… anything.

Derek wants to keep it that way.

Stiles pouts. “Come on, Scotty! It’s not healthy to stay inside the same room for hours and not talk to a single person.”

Derek looks at him. “I talk to people. Just not you.”

Stiles opens his mouth but Melissa glares at them both. “Stop bickering,” she says. “You’re not kids anymore.”

“But –”

Stiles ,” she says, voice stern. Derek almost smiles at how offended Stiles looks, almost smiles at the way he flops onto the couch in defeat. “And you, Derek, should make an effort to talk to Stiles more.”

Derek scowls and Stiles punches the air in victory.

“Yes!” he says. “I knew I was your favorite, Melissa.”

“Scott is my favorite,” Melissa says instead.

Scott grins, coming forward and kissing his mother on the cheek. He looks far too pleased with himself.

“I feel like you’ve stabbed me in the heart, Melissa,” Stiles says, clutching his chest, but Melissa just rolls her eyes and heads towards the kitchen.

Derek takes a deep breath and looks at the way Stiles is sprawled out on the couch, his knees parted and his crotch on display. Derek always second guesses himself, wonders if he should stay or go, but he doesn’t want Stiles to think the worst of him.

Derek sits next to Stiles on the couch. Their knees touch. He sees Scott watching them carefully.

“Sorry,” Derek says gruffly.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Uh huh.”

“I shouldn’t have kept to myself,” Derek says.

“Whatever, dude. I don’t care. You don’t have to like me just because we work at the same place.” Stiles picks up the remote and turns on the TV.

Derek’s nostrils flare. “You don’t have to bring it up if it doesn’t bother you.”

He smirks, and turns up the volume. “Where would the fun be in that?”

Derek’s mouth twists into a smile, hating how he’s only good for fun and bickering. Scott is giving him concerned looks from the side of the room and Derek wants to ignore him but he knows nothing is ever going to change if he just sits here in silence.

Derek clears his throat.

Stiles ignores him.

He coughs a little, and bangs their knees together, trying to get Stiles’ attention.

“Dude, go take a cough drop. I’m trying to watch something here,” Stiles says, his eyes focused on the screen. The sound of chatter over the TV is almost infuriating and Derek doesn’t know how to do this when Stiles isn’t paying attention to him.

Derek snatches the remote from him, and mutes the volume.

Stiles glares at him. “Hey!”

“I’d like to ask you a question,” Derek says stiltedly.

He rolls his eyes. “And I’d like to zip your mouth shut,” he says, “But we can’t all get what we want.”

Stiles looks at him challengingly and tries to get the remote back. Derek holds it out of his reach.

“I’m doing an interview for a piece tomorrow,” Derek says, as calmly as he can. “Would you like to come with me instead of hanging around the office?”

Stiles narrows his eyes. He doesn’t say anything for a moment. “Why?”

“Why not?”

“Um. Because you’re the one asking me,” he says.

Derek doesn’t let those words affect him. “I’m interviewing a world war two survivor. A woman who helped seduce soldiers only to kill them.”

Stiles’ eyes widen, and Derek allows himself to smile a little.

“I’ll think about it,” Stiles says.

“Yeah?”

Ugh, yes, I’ll go, just give me back the remote,” he says, and Derek passes it back to him. He doesn’t even mind the glare he gets in return, but he is worried about the strangely giddy feeling in his chest.

Derek stands outside his office, waiting for Stiles to arrive. The interview is supposed to start in half an hour and Stiles knows this, but he’s still not here yet. Derek checks the time once more, feeling awfully like he’s been stood up.

Then he hears giggling coming from the end of the hall. Derek looks up and there’s Stiles, his hair a mess and wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday.

Derek raises an eyebrow.

“Oh, shit, Derek,” Stiles says, coming closer. “I forgot.”

He sighs. “Don’t worry about it, come on, we have to go –” Derek stops talking when he sees Duke a few steps behind Stiles, looking like they stepped out of the elevator together.

Duke seems to tower over both of them. “Where are you going?” he asks Stiles. “I need you in the office today.”

“Derek said he needed help with an interview or something,” Stiles says.

Duke glances at them both. He turns to Derek. “You need help with a simple interview?”

Derek grits his teeth together and ignores the glint in his boss’ eye. Stiles doesn’t even muffle his laughter at the comment.

“I did promise,” Stiles say, looking at Duke. He’s smiling – Derek can’t figure out why.

Duke looks at Stiles. “You had better make it up to me.”

Stiles’ lips press together in a careful smirk. “Don’t worry, boss, I will,” he says, and he twists his hips as he walks back towards the elevators, expecting Derek to follow him.

Duke stares at his ass as he walks away.

“I thought you said we were running late!” Stiles calls from the end of the corridor, and Derek jumps, unable to shake what he just saw from his head.

It’s quiet when they both step inside the elevator.

“Were you two flirting with each other?” Derek says suddenly.

Stiles snorts.

“I thought you were seeing someone,” he says.

“I am,” Stiles says, leaning against the elevator wall and shoving his hands in his pockets. “Doesn’t mean I can’t flirt with people.”

“He’s your boss,” Derek says.

“And it’s none of your business,” Stiles snaps. Derek quickly gives up. “Dude, can we get coffee before this interview? I’m dead. I barely slept last night.”

Derek scowls, looking at his wrinkled clothes. Stiles had left the McCall household pretty quickly last night, getting a text and announcing that he had to leave. It was – is – pretty obvious what he got up to.

“That’s not my fault,” Derek says. “And we’re late.”

Stiles pouts.

“Maybe after,” Derek says reluctantly.

The lady that they meet has many stories to tell, and he and Stiles are offered a cup of tea as they interview her. She seems harmless, old, but then she talks about when she was a teenager and all the brave things did.

Stiles interjects with questions of his own, looking eager, and Derek can’t help but smile. It reminds him of when they were in high school and Stiles wouldn’t shut up about whatever he was studying.

“That was so cool!” Stiles says when they leave. “Inspirational! She killed the bad guys with her bare hands .”

“She didn’t say that.”

He shakes his head, not caring and acting excited anyway. Stiles turns around as he walks, a few steps ahead of Derek, and holds his gaze. “Do you get to do that all the time?”

Derek shrugs, trying not to smile at Stiles’ enthusiasm. “The interviews are normally a lot duller.”

“Can I come again?” Stiles asks, his eyes bright and hopeful. For a moment Derek forgets that they’re not supposed to like each other.

“So, it wasn’t that bad?” Derek teases.

Stiles grins back at him. “Hmm, I don’t know, Derek,” he says. “It could have been better.”

“Really?” Derek says.

“Uh huh,” he says, “But only because you didn’t let us stop for caffeine first.”

Derek bites his lip and then they fall into step beside each other again. Derek’s almost holding his breath because they’re getting along and he doesn’t really know what to do when it gets like this, when it gets… easy.

Derek swallows. “There’s a coffee shop here,” he says.

Stiles looks up. “Ooh,” he says, but then his face falls. “I don’t have any spare change.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “What do you spend all your money on?” he says, taking Stiles’ arm and dragging him inside. Stiles follows, but he carefully doesn’t answer the money question. Derek buys him a coffee and they sit at one of the tables.

“You know my order?” Stiles says.

Derek shrugs. “It’s been the same since high school.”

“Right,” Stiles says, and he takes a sip of his drink. They both look at each other, not sure what to say. “Um. This is a lot better than making coffee for other people.”

“I’ll bet.”

“My job is kind of boring,” Stiles admits. “But um. It’s nice?”

Derek raises an eyebrow.

“Shut up,” Stiles says. “You know I don’t like that you were right. It sucks that I don’t need a brain for any of the work I’m doing.”

“You could do more interviews with me,” Derek says tentatively. “Or help me with research.”

Stiles’ eyes brighten. “Yeah, really?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, almost breathless. “Really.”

Stiles smiles slightly and takes another sip of his drink. They look awkwardly at each other before turning away, like they’re both remembering that they never do things like this together.

“Sooo,” says Stiles, and he’s smirking again. Derek braces himself. “I think this is probably one of the longest conversations we’ve ever had.”

Derek gives him a flat look.

“What?” says Stiles. “You’re not exactly talkative, Derek.”

“We’ve known each other a long time, Stiles. Of course we’ve had longer conversations than this.”

He snorts.

Derek tries not to look irritated. “Remember that road trip you and Scott took? The one where three hours into it you called me saying that your Jeep broke down and please come and get me?

Stiles’ cheeks go a little red. “No, I don’t remember.”

“And I had to drive hours just to come and pick you up,” Derek says. “I fixed the car, you gave up on the road trip, and you drove back with me because you were mad at Scott.”

Stiles huffs.

“We talked that whole ride back,” Derek finishes quietly, remembering it. Stiles had been eighteen and they had spent most of the time complaining about Scott. He tries not to smile at the memory, at one of the only times they hadn’t wanted to jump down the other’s throat.

“Fine,” Stiles says, looking at him right in the eye. “But that was the exception to the rule.”

Derek looks back at him, determined. He wants to prove that they can get along for at least one second.

“What about that time you hid in my room because you accidentally broke your mother’s favorite vase?”

Stiles puts a hand on his heart and glares. “That’s a sensitive issue, Derek,” he says, but there is a small twinkle in his eye.

“Or –” Derek says, but Stiles interrupts him with a groan.

“Stop, stop, I get it,” he says, grinning. Stiles leans forward over the table and Derek licks his lips. “We don’t hate each other. So that means you’ll stop avoiding me, right?”

Derek feels his cheeks go pink. “I was just busy this week,” he insists.

“Uh huh.”

“Stiles –”

“Look,” he says, no longer teasing. “I can’t figure you out. Yeah, sometimes we talk and get along. Yeah, we used to be shits to one another when we were kids. But you’re always the one that’s hot and then cold. You’re the one that’s nice to me and then avoids me and refuses to talk to me.”

Derek opens his mouth.

“So, maybe I’m a dick to you because I’ve always been a dick to you, or maybe it’s because you make it really, really easy sometimes,” he says.

Derek doesn’t know what to say.

Stiles sighs. “We should get back, or I’ll owe Duke even more favors.”

Derek stands up, glowering at the thought of Duke. “Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get into debt with Duke,” he tells Stiles. “He won’t ever let you forget it.”

Stiles doesn’t meet his eyes. “Yeah, whatever,” he says, throwing his head back and draining the rest of his coffee.

Derek watches as Stiles walks out of the coffee store, and even though the end of their outing wasn’t exactly nice, Derek hopes that they can do it again.

He knows Stiles is right, he knows that he hasn’t done everything he could to make Stiles like him. If they’re going to be working together then maybe they should try being friends. Maybe Derek should make more of an effort.

He’ll just have to learn to be satisfied with whatever he gets.

Derek takes a deep breath the next morning and asks Stiles to help him with some research. Stiles looks at him wearily, but there’s a shrug and a nod and they’re soon working together. They sit opposite each other in Derek’s office.

“This is kinda fun,” Stiles admits, part way through.

“It’s a good job,” Derek says. “I like it here.”

Stiles looks up at him. “You like it enough to put up with Duke.”

Derek glances at the open door, knowing that sometimes Stiles’ voice carries. He shrugs. “Not everything can be perfect,” he says quietly.

Stiles rubs his face, smiling crookedly. “Yeah, I know.”

Derek looks at him, and he seems tired, a little unfocused. The light from the laptop makes him look paler and Stiles has been quieter than he normally is.

“Is, um, everything okay?” Derek asks.

Stiles looks up, amused. “Just because I’m helping you doesn’t mean there’s something wrong,” he says.

Derek rolls his eyes. “That’s not what I meant.”

“I’m fine,” he says, eyes sharp.

Derek holds up his hands in defeat, though he wants to make Stiles say something more. He wants to know what he’s thinking and if he maybe likes spending time together like this.

There’s a knock on the door and they both jump. Derek has to tear his gaze away from Stiles only to find Duke standing at the door. He smiles grudgingly.

“Stiles,” he says, voice harsh. “I thought I told you I needed help with those emails.”

Stiles stands up quickly, almost knocking down a pile of papers from Derek’s desk. He runs a hand through his hair and takes a few steps towards the door.

“Um, yep, sorry,” he says. He grins – but it looks forced. “Sure thing. Emails. Fun.”

Duke glares and Stiles quickly makes his way out of the room. Derek frowns. He was under the impression that the two of them got along with one another.

“What are you looking at?” Duke says to him.

“Nothing,” Derek says, annoyed.

Duke folds his arms. “Is there a reason why you can’t do this research by yourself?”

“No,” Derek says, gritting his teeth together. “But I don’t understand why Stiles can’t help me.”

“Because he’s needed elsewhere,” Duke tells him.

“Because using a stapler and getting coffee for everyone is so important,” Derek says, but he instantly regrets it when Duke’s eyes darken. He takes a breath and turns back to the work on his desk.

Duke hovers by the door. He’s much taller than any of them and he’s thin but muscled. Derek has known him for a few years now, and has had to work for him during that time. He likes his job too much to leave because of someone like Duke and Derek normally steers clear of him.

But working for him means that Derek knows the kind of people he hangs out with, knows the clients and employees he’s screwed over. He knows that Duke holds a grudge and that he doesn’t forget anything.

Derek knows that he’s the stupid one for talking back to him.

“Better have that piece on my desk by the end of the day,” Duke tells him.

Derek nods. His deadline has been cut in half but it will be fine. It will be fine.

Derek stays in his office all throughout lunch. The door is open and he sometimes sees Stiles walking back and forth, but Stiles never glances in his direction. Derek has to stop hoping that he will and he tries to focus on the article he’s writing.

He thinks too much about Stiles – about Duke – but he manages to finish the article at around six-thirty. The whole floor has gone quiet and Derek rubs his eyes, giving the article a final read before printing out a copy.

The lights are off in Duke’s office so he doesn’t bother knocking. He just opens the door – blinking twice as his eyes adjust to the darkness – and then he sees something he really doesn’t want to see.

A few pieces of clothes are scattered across the floor and then there’s Stiles, sitting on the desk with his legs hooked around Duke’s waist. They’re kissing each other, groping at each other, and Derek feels sick.

But he can’t look away.

He can’t look away even though every hope he’s ever had disappears when he sees Stiles’ hands on someone else’s body. Somehow Derek feels inexplicably hurt even though Stiles has never promised him anything.

“I have the article,” he says loudly, and he hears Stiles yelp.

“Fuck,” Stiles says, pushing Duke away from him. He starts to button his shirt hurriedly. “Derek!” he squeaks. “What are you still doing here?”

Derek stares at him, at a loss for words. He can’t believe Stiles could be so stupid to get involved with Duke, and he can’t believe that Stiles would think better of Duke than… than he does of Derek.

“Here,” Derek says, hands shaking as he throws the article towards the desk. Duke catches it, a smirk on his face. Derek can see dark tattoos all over his chest and back and he hates it. He hates him. He hates to see Stiles with him.

Derek turns around, holding his breath, his fingers trembling, thankful that he’s already packed up all of his things.

“Hey! Wait!” Stiles says, rushing after him.

Derek can’t bring himself to do anything but ignore him and he walks down the corridor almost in a daze. He presses the elevator button, waiting for the doors to open so that he can leave, escape. He can’t stop seeing it, can’t stop seeing Stiles in the dark with another man – with Duke.

Stiles just manages to come in after him when the doors open, his belt still undone and his shirt crooked. He looks flushed, angry, but Derek refuses to meet his eyes.

“Derek! Come on,” he says.

Derek looks anywhere but at him. He feels so awful, so stupid, and he knew Stiles was seeing someone. He knew it but he didn’t think it would throw him like this. He should have tried harder to stop feeling anything – anything thing at all – for Stiles.

Stiles touches his arm. Derek shakes him off.

“Look, I don’t get why you’re so mad. Just – just you can’t tell anyone, okay?”

Derek finally glares at him. “How could you be so stupid?”

Stiles’ nostrils flare. His hair is a mess, he still looks tired, but now he’s not happy at all. The elevator is going down, down, more slowly than it’s ever done and they’re stuck in this small space together.

“You’re just saying that because you don’t like him,” Stiles snaps.

“I’m saying it because Duke – your boss – isn’t someone you want to get involved with,” he says back.

Stiles narrows his eyes, taking a step closer. “I can make decisions for myself, thank you very much.”

Derek turns and looks at him. His hands are sweaty but he has to say this, even if it makes Stiles hate him. He has to tell Stiles that he’s making a horrible mistake.

“You clearly can’t if you think fucking Duke is a good idea,” Derek says. He scrunches up his face in confusion. “Weren’t you fighting just before?”

Stiles looks away for a second. “We were fighting and now we’re not fighting and it’s none of your business.”

Derek covers his face with his hands. He can hear his pulse thumping in his head. “Stiles,” he says hopelessly. He can already see that this isn’t going to end well.

Stiles lets out a noise. “Please,” he says. “Just keep it to yourself.”

“Fine,” Derek grits out.

He sighs. “Thank you.”

“You’re making a mistake,” he says.

Stiles says nothing.

“You – you need to be careful,” Derek says in a low voice. “I know you’re – in whatever kind of relationship with him but you need to be careful.”

“I can look after myself,” he grits out.

Derek sighs. He wishes Stiles would just listen to him, but he never has and he’s definitely not going to start now. He suddenly remembers that Stiles knew of Duke even before he started working here. His stomach drops again.

“Did – did he help you get this job?” Derek asks.

Stiles squirms slightly. “He may have done me a favor.”

Derek closes his eyes. “You don’t understand – it’s never just a favor with Duke. Being in a relationship with him might have gotten you a job but –”

Stiles goes bright red. “I didn’t get the job by fucking him,” he says. “I – I got the job because I am qualified and I had a contact. So what if that contact was Duke? What else was I supposed to do? I needed a job!”

Derek gives him a long, hard look. “You do realize that I’ve worked here for two years now. You do realize that you could have come to me, instead of letting yourself owe something to Duke of all people.”

Stiles huffs. “I forgot that you worked here.”

“Of course you did,” Derek sighs.

“Besides, if I had asked you wouldn’t have done anything.”

Derek looks at him, eyes hard. They’ve taken a few steps towards each other as their words have become more and more heated, and Derek can see every freckle and mole that dots Stiles’ face. “I would have,” he says. “I would have given you a good word and you would have gotten the job and you wouldn’t have owed me anything.”

The elevator doors open and then close. They both still stare at each other.

“I don’t owe him anything,” Stiles says, but his voice breaks and he’s lying, they both know he’s lying. His eyes are dark like he already knows what Derek is talking about.

But Stiles is still with that guy. He’s still making the decision to be with him. He’s being stubborn and it’s going to cost Stiles, it’s going to hurt him.

Derek doesn’t know what else to say. He presses the elevator button to make the doors open and he walks away, leaving Stiles standing there alone.

“You had a fight?” Scott asks, over the phone.

Derek sighs. He doesn’t want to talk about this.

“But you always fight,” Scott says, sounding confused. “That hasn’t stopped you from coming to dinner before.”

Derek clenches his jaw together. The past few days at work have been awful, and he’s avoided Stiles as much as he possibly can. It’s helped that Stiles has been avoiding him too.

“Don’t make me come tonight,” he finally says.

Scott pauses. “Um,” he says. “Did – did he find out?”

Derek almost hangs up the phone. He doesn’t want to have this conversation with Scott every time he and Stiles bicker and don’t get along. He doesn’t want to talk about how he’s had feelings for Stiles for as long as he can remember.

“No,” he says.

“But,” Scott says. “You’ve never had this big of a fight.”

“I’m sure we have,” Derek says dryly.

“So he must have found out about how you feel,” he says.

Derek shakes his head. “Scott,” he says. “He doesn’t know. He’s never going to know. Besides, he’s seeing someone.”

He’s met with silence, and Derek thinks fuck because he wasn’t supposed to say anything. He wasn’t supposed to tell anyone that Stiles was with Duke.

“Stiles is seeing someone?” Scott says, almost excitedly. “Who? Do I know them?”

“I don’t know,” Derek manages.

Scott stops talking, although it sounds like he wants to start jumping up and down. “Oh, um, sorry – it’s just he hasn’t been with anyone serious in ages and I know Stiles’ dating history is a sensitive topic for you, but – wait, why hasn’t he told me?”

Derek bites his tongue. He’s so mad at Stiles right now for choosing to be with someone so horrible that he doesn’t even care that he’s telling Scott all this.

“I don’t know,” he says again.

“But I’m his best friend!” Scott says.

“Maybe he didn’t want to tell you.”

Scott whines. “But why did he tell you ? It’s weird.”

Derek can’t help but agree. It is weird that Stiles had mentioned it sooner rather than later, but he’s spent enough of his life trying to guess what Stiles is thinking. He just has to stop himself from caring anymore.

He sighs. “Just – I don’t know – tell him I’m sick and that’s why I won’t be at dinner,” he says.

Scott pauses for a moment. “He’ll know you’re avoiding him.”

“I’m still not going,” Derek insists.

“Fine,” Scott says, disappointment in his voice. “Mom will miss you.”

“I’ll see her next week,” Derek says quickly, trying not to feel guilty. He should really make the time to see Melissa but he doesn’t want any chance of seeing Stiles.

He can’t take another moment where Stiles ignores him or insults him or fights with him. It’s too hard.

Derek rubs his eyes. The day has been too long already and it’s only midmorning. He’s spent meeting after meeting with Duke in the same room, and with Stiles sitting in the corner and fiddling with a pen.

Derek had managed to say good morning to him, but he couldn’t quite meet Stiles’ eyes.

Duke calls on him more than usual throughout the meetings, his eyes nasty and smug. He looks at Derek knowingly, daring him to say something about the other night but he’s too tired to. It’s wrong them being together – in so many ways – but Stiles will hate him even more for continuing to interfere with his life.

“Derek.”

He startles, looking up.

Duke’s lips curl into a smile. “Nice of you to finally pay attention. I need you to do the Kennedy piece.”

“You were going to do that,” Derek says.

Duke hums. “No, I don’t think so.”

“We go to print tomorrow morning,” Derek says, sitting up straight, feeling the room’s eyes on him. “Have you at least done any research that I can use?”

Duke narrows his eyes. “It’s your piece, Derek. The research is your responsibility.”

Derek opens his mouth to argue, but from the corner of his eye he sees Stiles shake his head. Derek looks between the two of them, unsure, but Stiles gives him a wide eyed, intense look.

He finally gives a curt nod and sits back in his seat. Duke smiles icily and Derek is very aware of how he’s being punished for what he saw the night before. Duke is making sure that he stays silent.

It’s going to be another long day.

He hides away in his office as soon as the meeting is over and gets to work. He’s not sure where to start, what angle he’s supposed to take with the article. It’s too much to do in one day.

“Hey,” comes a voice. Derek looks up and Stiles is at the door. He sees in his head very clearly what he looked like the night before, all flushed skin and half-worn clothes.

“Are you heading out?” Derek asks quietly, glancing at the time. It’s already six o’clock.

Stiles takes a step inside. He looks unsure. “Um, yeah, Duke just left.”

Derek sighs.

“Look,” he says, “It’s not your business what happened the other night –”

“Stiles,” Derek says, voice hard. “I may not like Duke but the only reason I have this article is because of what I saw. He’s made it my business even if I didn’t care about what happened to you.”

Stiles’ eyebrows shoot up.

Derek bites his lip and turns back to his laptop, knowing he’s said too much.

“I can stay,” blurts out Stiles.

“What?”

He huffs and comes forward before dumping himself on the chair in front of Derek’s desk. His brown eyes look determined.

“Look, you’re in this mess because of me,” he says. “But – but I’ll only stay and help you with the article if you don’t tell me I’m being stupid, or that I’ve made the wrong decision, or that you know better than me, okay?”

Derek opens his mouth and closes it again. Stiles glares at him.

“I’m serious,” he says. “One word and I’m out of here.”

Derek nods, throat dry. “Thanks,” he says quietly.

Stiles chews at his lip, shrugging a little.

They work together slowly but surely. Stiles stays lively, still making jokes as the night goes on. He disappears and comes back with food around midnight and he makes Derek take a break and walk around the office to clear his head.

It’s beyond nice, and Derek is hating the night less and less.

“You didn’t come to dinner at Melissa’s,” Stiles says.

“Did you go?”

“Yep,” he says. Stiles looks up and smirks. “I can guess why you didn’t.”

Derek shrugs. He covers his face with his hands. Everything in his body is screaming no, no, no when it comes to Stiles and Duke but he promised he wouldn’t say anything.

“I am a little mad at you though,” Stiles says lightly.

Derek frowns. “I know you’re mad at what I said but I – I assumed we weren’t going to bring it up,” he says, eyebrows drawn together.

Stiles looks up at him. They’ve pretty much finished with the research but Stiles is still here, helping Derek as he writes everything up.

“I’m not talking about that,” he says, “Though, yeah, I am a little pissed.”

“Stiles –”

“You told Scott,” he says. Derek frowns. “You told Scott that I’m seeing someone.”

Derek blinks. He turns back to his computer. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I wish you hadn’t because they’re making me bring Duke to dinner this week.”

Derek looks up, eyes sharp. He feels dread settle in his stomach.

“And you can’t miss out two weeks in a row,” he says, finishing, smiling cheekily.

“Fuck,” he says, rubbing at his temples. He has such a headache and now he’s going to have to deal with Duke at his old home? With his family?

Stiles swallows. He looks nervous again. “But um,” he says. “They don’t know he’s my boss and they don’t know he’s your boss, okay?”

Derek gives him a flat look. “You’re going to lie to them?”

Stiles waves his hand in the air. “No,” he says. “I’m just leaving out a few details. I need you to leave out those details too.”

Derek turns away from Stiles. He doesn’t know what to say and he hates lying to both Melissa and Scott because they’re the only family he has.

“Stiles…”

“Look, this wouldn’t even be a problem if you hadn’t told Scott anything,” Stiles says.

“Fine.”

“Yeah?” Stiles says, unsure. He looks at Derek carefully.

He nods and it’s almost worth it, the way Stiles smiles back at him.

Derek is tempted to ring Melissa and tell her that he can’t make it to dinner again. The night comes closer but Derek can’t do that, he can’t, and because work is getting a little better he hopes it won’t be so bad.

Duke still gives him too many things to do but at the end of the day Stiles, almost guiltily, comes and helps him.

He knows it’s not Stiles’ fault that his boss is treating him this way. Duke is giving him a very clear warning of how much worse it will get if Derek even thinks about saying something. But he doesn’t seem to know that Derek won’t say anything because he doesn’t want Stiles to lose his job, and he doesn’t want to lose Stiles’ tentative friendship.

Stiles looks at him, his smile amused. “So, are you coming tonight?”

Derek sighs and rubs his eyes. “Yes.”

Stiles gets to his feet. He pulls his shirt down from where it had ridden up, and Derek carefully avoids looking at that small patch of skin. “Well, we had better go. It’s already six o’clock.”

“I’ll just finish this,” Derek says, and Stiles looks amused.

“I’m heading over with Duke anyway,” he says. Stiles then lets out a breath. “Remember, he’s not your boss, so at least try be nice.”

Their gazes meet and Stiles’ hands fidget by his sides. His expression is almost pleading, and Derek knows he shouldn’t be lying for Stiles but the longer he looks at Stiles the more willing he is to say yes.

Derek nods.

Stiles lets out a shaky sigh. He grins. “Thanks.”

Derek smiles weakly and turns back to his computer. He knows there’s only so much work he can do here before he has to go, and ten minutes later he grudgingly gathers his things together.

As he goes down in the elevator he feels himself getting more panicked and nervous. He’s disliked Duke for years, and to have him in his home is something he can’t get his head around.

“Hey! Derek!”

He stops and realizes someone has been calling his name. Allison steps towards him, her coat on and her handbag hooked over her arm.

“Are you okay?” she asks gently.

Derek runs a hand through his hair. “No,” he finally says.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Derek shakes his head.

“I’m sure whatever it is will be fine,” Allison says firmly. Derek sighs and a part of him wants to explain everything to her so that he wouldn’t have to feel so alone, but he promised Stiles that he wouldn’t say anything to anyone.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Derek says, and he lets out a breath.  Hopefully tonight won’t be so bad.

“There you are,” says Melissa, when she opens the front door. She smiles at him and kindly doesn’t say anything about his absence the week before, even though all he did was stay at home alone. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Derek says.

She raises an eyebrow. “Well, we have extra company tonight. Stiles has brought someone.”

Derek stares back at her. He hears the careful warning that Stiles has a date, and he has to fight the irritation that bubbles up at her concern because he knows he shouldn’t need it.

“I know,” he says.

Melissa takes his arm and pulls him inside, out of the cold. “Maybe next week you should bring someone, Derek. None of us would mind.”

Derek doesn’t say anything. He’s always avoided bringing people home because he’s never felt enough for them. He’s never wanted someone to meet his family, or to come to their weekly dinners, and he’s always been worried that his date would notice the way he acts around Stiles.

They walk further into the house and he sees Duke and Stiles, already sitting at the table. Duke’s arm is thrown over the back of Stiles’ chair and it looks picture perfect – but then Derek catches the sneer in Duke’s eye.

“Nice to meet you,” Derek says loudly, and not very nicely at all.

Stiles glares at him, clearly wanting him to keep the peace. Duke just smirks. An awkward silence settles in the air before Melissa clears her throat.

“Derek, why don’t you help me in the kitchen?” she says gently, taking his arm. Derek glances once more at Stiles but then follows Melissa into the kitchen. Her eyes are warm and understanding.

“I thought you said you knew that Stiles was bringing someone,” she says.

“That’s not the problem,” Derek mutters.

“Well,” Melissa says. “You’d do well to be friendly, or you might make Stiles more upset than you want him to be.”

Derek looks away and tries not to feel guilty. He’s never known Stiles to get particularly upset at the things he’s said or done – instead it’s mostly been annoyance or anger – but he did promise Stiles that he would try to be nice.

Melissa doesn’t say more as Derek helps her get the last of the food ready. He can almost hear Stiles and Duke from the next room, whispering to each other, and Derek isn’t sure if he wants to know what they’re saying.

He thinks he hears his name more than once.

Scott arrives and then the sound of his and Stiles’ laughter fills the air. Derek grates some cheese and he can almost forget that Duke is even there, can almost forget it until the food is ready and they have to eat.

“Hey, Derek!” Scott says. “Have you met Duke?”

Derek nods stiffly. Scott seems to notice his discomfort and smiles slightly, but he seems more concerned that Stiles actually has a date and begins to ask them how they got together.

Derek sighs and he stays tense all evening, barely eating his food. He doesn’t want to hear any of this, doesn’t want to know the answers to Scott’s endless questions about their relationship. Derek sits there, bored, and he accidentally catches Stiles’ eye.

He quickly looks away when Duke deliberately places his hand on Stiles’ thigh.

Duke clears his throat. “So,” he says, fake politeness in his voice. “Derek. I’ve heard that this isn’t your actual family. How does that work?”

Derek looks up. He’s missed most of the conversation but he definitely hears that.

“Excuse me,” Derek says, standing up. He feels everyone’s eyes on him and he makes his way out of the room and sits outside, the cool air on his face.

He’s not expecting it when Stiles is the one to come and find him. He stands behind Derek in silence for a few minutes, unacknowledged, before Stiles finally sits beside him and knocks their knees together.

“Hey,” he says awkwardly.

Derek grunts.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Don’t listen to Duke. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Derek looks to the side and glares at him. He doesn’t know why Stiles is sitting so close, doesn’t know why he can see clearly every freckle and mole on his cheeks.

“Why do you spend your time telling him about me? Surely you have better things to do,” Derek snaps.

Stiles opens and closes his mouth. “He’s my boyfriend . I tell him things.”

“Yeah, like how Melissa adopted me? Or how my family died in a fire?” Derek says, as harshly as he can while still being quiet. “Duke isn’t someone I want knowing those things. You know that.”

Stiles presses his lips together and doesn’t deny it. He turns his gaze away, and now they’re both looking out towards the garden that’s coated in darkness.

“And you've known that I've had a problem with him long before you started dating him,” Derek says.

“I didn't know he was the same guy!” Stiles says.

“But you did when you told him those things,” Derek says, and again, Stiles doesn't say anything. Stiles rubs at his face and then his knee presses against Derek's for the second time, holding there for longer.

“I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”

Derek narrows his eyes, but Stiles' small frown and his slouched shoulders stops Derek from doubting his apology. Derek sighs. “Maybe you and Duke should go.”

“Yeah, okay,” Stiles says, getting to his feet. “I can make up some reason why we have to leave. Don’t worry about it.”

He doesn’t look as Stiles leaves, and he waits outside until Melissa comes and finds him. She places a hand on his shoulder and squeezes.

“Dessert is ready,” she says.

“Thanks,” he says quietly, and with a sigh he gets to his feet. Everything seems calmer, simpler, without Duke and Stiles in the room. He manages to enjoy himself and apologizes for missing last week’s dinner.

Melissa gives him a hug before he leaves. “Derek, sweetie, you know you’re definitely a part of this family.”

Derek tries to smile. “I know.”

“It doesn’t matter what Stiles’ boyfriend said, and it doesn’t matter what Stiles has said in the past. That boy should know better – he is a part of this family and he still has his father to look after.”

“It’s not his fault,” Derek says quietly.

Melissa sighs and puts her arms around him again. She pats him twice on the back and Derek honestly doesn’t know what he would do without Melissa as his mother.

He doesn’t want to go to work the next day, feeling embarrassed for having to ask Stiles to leave. Derek isn’t sure what he’s going to say when he sees Stiles, but he’s surprised when Stiles smiles at him from down the corridor before Derek slips into his office.

Derek isn’t sure what that means and he shakes his head before settling down at his desk.

“Derek.”

He looks up and Stiles is leaning against the door, his arms folded. He looks surprisingly at ease, but Derek knows him well enough to see the bit of guilt he’s hiding in his expression. Derek can only nod before he turns back to his computer.

“You okay?”

Derek’s eyebrows shoot up. He’s not used to Stiles’ concern.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. He takes a few steps forward and sits down on the chair that he’s become almost familiar with.

“Any research you need me to do?” he says brightly.

Derek narrows his eyes, trying to understand what Stiles is doing. There’s no article that needs to be done – Duke hasn’t arrived yet – and Stiles has other people to help.

Stiles huffs. “Come on, dude, I’m only going to offer my help once.”

Derek turns to him. “I could use a coffee,” he says lightly.

Stiles barks out a laugh, surprised. “Fine,” he says, getting to his feet again. He wipes his hands on his pants, and for a moment it looks like he wants to say something else. But he shakes his head and leaves the room.

Derek feels, in his chest, a small flutter of fondness. He can’t help but return Stiles’ warm smile when he comes and brings the coffee, his heart hoping that the brightness in his eyes means a little more than it really does, and that Stiles cares more about him than he lets on.

In the late afternoon Stiles comes back into his office, his eyes tired and red. He collapses onto the chair in front of Derek and yawns.

“So,” says Stiles.

Derek looks up at him and waits.

“You should totally bring a date next week to dinner,” he says, yawning again. “I brought someone this week and now it’s your turn.” Stiles’ eyes light up. “I could set you up with someone.”

Derek feels his cheeks go red. He doesn’t want anyone – let alone Stiles – setting him up on a date.

“Stiles.”

“What?” he says. “Scott says that you need someone.”

Derek splutters and turns away, his heart thudding. He can’t believe that Scott and Stiles talk about him like this. He doesn’t want Stiles to know that his apartment often seems too empty, he doesn’t want him to know that he might be lonely.

Stiles opens his mouth to speak again but Derek makes a frustrated noise and manages to look back at him, his eyes hard.

“You don’t have to do this,” says Derek.

“What?”

“Just because last night didn’t go so well for me doesn’t mean you have to pretend that you actually care.”

Stiles glares at him. “I – I care!”

Derek doesn’t know what to say for a long moment. Stiles looks offended but also a little guilty, like he should care more .

“I’m fine,” Derek tells him, scratching his cheek. Stiles just sits in the seat, frowning. “Are you okay?”

“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” Stiles admits. He looks down and fiddles with the hem of his shirt, his eyes looking duller than they’ve ever done. “We – we had a fight,” he mumbles.

“What?”

He licks his lips. “You know. After we left last night we had an argument and now I don’t really want to hang around his office answering his stupid emails.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Derek says, confused.

Stiles shrugs. He looks so small. “We fought about you – and, and about other things. But. Yeah.”

Derek doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know why Stiles is telling him this, is trusting him with the details of his relationship.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

Stiles groans. He doesn’t look Derek in the eye. “Yeah, I’m fine. We’re fine. It was just a fight. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Derek watches him stand up. He can’t help but feel like something is wrong, and he knows that Stiles can’t possibly be happy. He wants to help, he wants to do more, he wants to keep Stiles safe from a man like Duke.

“Stiles,” he says.

Stiles stops near the door and turns around. His face is hard and it looks like he wants to leave and stay at the same time. “Yeah?”

“You could break up with him,” he says quietly. “If you’re not – if you’re not happy.”

Stiles smiles weakly and he shakes his head. “No, I can’t,” he says, and he leaves before Derek can ask what that means.

He gets home that evening and collapses onto his bed. He feels hollow and empty and he thought the long nights thinking about Stiles were behind him. He wishes he had someone to warm his bed, but Derek doesn’t want a random body. He wants Stiles, even though it’s something he’ll never get.

The office is dead when he arrives early the next morning, the lights off and not a soul in sight. Derek could barely sleep and he thought it was useless to keep on trying, not when Stiles was flitting around his mind all night.

He opens the door to his office and yawns as he dumps his things on the desk. He rubs his eyes, a headache already settling in, and then – then he sees Stiles, on the floor, sleeping.

Derek stands there for a few moments, his thoughts racing. Stiles’ hair sticks up and he’s frowning as he sleeps, hands clenched and his whole body tense. Derek’s throat is dry and he crouches down next to him before reaching out and gently shaking him awake.

“Stiles?” Derek whispers.

Stiles startles under his touch, breaths harsh in the air. “Derek,” he manages, sitting up, his eyes wide and frantic. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “Sorry – I – I was going to leave before you got here, but you’re early. I had set an alarm and everything.”

Stiles stutters and babbles even more until Derek places his hands on Stiles’ shoulders, thumbs stroking slightly over the fabric of his shirt. He looks him in the eye and waits for him to calm down.

“It’s okay,” he says. “Don’t worry about it.”

Stiles looks away from him, his cheeks red. Derek stands and opens one of the drawers of his desk and pulls out a spare shirt that he keeps there. He tells Stiles about the office showers and hands him the shirt. Stiles nods and disappears without a word.

Derek goes downstairs to the cafeteria but it’s not open yet. He goes outside instead and finds an open coffee shop and buys Stiles a coffee, a fruit salad, and a croissant. It’s still warm when he returns and Stiles is sitting there on the desk, wearing Derek’s too big shirt and his hair wet.

“Here,” Derek says, and Stiles reaches for the food, shoveling it down his throat. Derek stands there and watches him, worried.

“Thanks!” Stiles says, pretending to be cheerful. He grins at Derek, like this is all some kind of adventure, but there are bags under his eyes and he keeps glancing at the open door nervously. Derek closes it.

“Stiles,” he says, voice low.

“Thanks for the breakfast,” he interrupts, standing up and brushing crumbs off his legs. A drop of water trickles down the side of his face.

“Stiles,” Derek says again, more forcefully. Stiles stops and he’s only a foot away from Derek. He doesn’t say anything and drops his head. “You can talk to me, you know.”

Stiles breathes in, long and hard, and meets his gaze. His brown eyes are dark, all warmth in them disappeared. “I know,” he says, and then he’s gone.

Stiles avoids him for the rest of the day. Derek didn’t expect anything different, knowing that Stiles is afraid of the questions that Derek is sure to ask. He needs to know why Stiles was sleeping in his office, he needs to know why Stiles looks so exhausted and tense.

He’s not expecting it when Stiles knocks on his door at the end of the day.

“Hey,” Derek breathes out.

“Oh,” he says. “You’re leaving.”

“Yeah.”

Stiles clears his throat. “Um, someone named Laura called for you?”

Derek frowns. “Who?”

“I think she found an article of yours and now she would like to speak with you,” Stiles tells him. Derek looks at the clock on the wall. He hesitates, not really wanting to talk with anyone he doesn’t know.

Stiles smiles at him weakly.

“I can tell her that you’ve already headed home and to try again tomorrow.”

Derek gives him a grateful look. He opens his mouth to say more, to address whatever happened this morning, but Stiles shakes his head.

“Please, just, don’t,” Stiles says, gritting his teeth together. He looks pained and it’s enough for Derek’s heart to clench.

“Okay,” he says, and Stiles’ breath is shaky when he exhales.

“Thanks,” he says. He stays at the edge of the room, and this time it’s him watching as Derek packs up his things. They both keep glancing at each other, trying to understand what the other is thinking. Stiles ducks his head when Derek walks over to him.

He’s seen Stiles like this before – hurting, tired, and where all his charm and humour have fallen away from him. He’s vulnerable here and Derek is only grateful that Stiles lets him see this. He saw it when his mother died, when he was bullied at high school and when he’s made some stupid mistake. It never fails to make Derek sad.

“I’ll get your shirt back to you,” Stiles tells him.

“Sure,” Derek says. “There’s no rush.”

Stiles smiles and nods. “See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” says Derek, and he leaves the office, using everything in him not to look back as he walks away.

Stiles doesn’t come to work for the next couple of days. Derek finds himself looking out for him, even though he knows Stiles isn’t there, even though he knows Stiles is home sick. Everything seems slow, quiet, and Derek forgets what he used to do before Stiles came to work here.

But Derek hopes that he’s taking some time to recover, to get away from work and his worries. He thinks about sending Stiles a message, to make sure he’s okay, but he doesn’t think Stiles will want his concern.

“Derek, I need you in my office.”

He looks up and sees Duke disappear down the hallway. Derek closes his eyes for a moment, wondering what’s going to come his way, before slowly making his way to Duke’s office.

“Shut the door.”

Duke stands by the large windows, his arms folded. He waits for Derek to do what he says, and Derek tries to remember that this is his boss, that this is someone he should at least appear to be respectful to.

 “Where is Stiles?”

Derek blinks, thrown by the question. He shakes his head. “What?”

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know,” Derek says.

Duke sneers at him. “Of course you know where Stiles is – he spends most of his time helping you do all that unnecessary research.”

“It’s hardly unnecessary,” Derek says, trying not to snap. They both stare at each other, the coldness in Duke’s eyes very familiar.

“Your articles probably reach only an audience of fifteen,” he says, and despite knowing that subscription numbers can’t be that low, Derek still feels unsettled. “Now, tell me where he is.”

“I don’t know,” Derek says again, glaring. “You’re his boyfriend . You should know where he is.”

He refuses to hear anything else Duke has to say and leaves the room, then the building. The sun shines down on him, almost too hot, and Derek doesn’t know what to think. He’s so sure Stiles is in trouble, that he’s deliberately hiding himself from Duke, that he might be hurt.

Derek takes a breath. He fiddles with his phone, not sure what to do, also knowing that his dislike for Duke might be clouding his judgement. They’re in a relationship together – sometimes couples have fights.

But Stiles slept in Derek’s office the other night, instead of in his own bed, and he seemed like he was only pretending that things were okay.

“Fuck,” Derek says to himself, and then he presses the call button. The phone rings and rings in his ear and the longer it goes on the more dread he feels. He hears Stiles’ voicemail and immediately rings again, even though he knows that Stiles is most likely fine.

He gives up after the second call, feeling stupid, but he startles when his phone starts to vibrate in his hand.

“Hello?” he says carefully.

“Derek?” Stiles says.

Derek breathes out. “Hey.”

“You okay, dude? You never ring.”

“I’m fine,” Derek says quickly. “Where are you?”

Stiles sighs. “I’m crashing at dad’s for a few days.”

“Oh.” Derek pauses. He’s not sure if he should mention the reason for his call, but if things aren’t good between them then Stiles should be aware of it. “Duke asked where you were.”

Stiles groans loudly and then mutters something under his breath. Derek isn’t sure what to say – Stiles doesn’t always like him asking questions – so he waits for Stiles to say something.

“Maybe I should message him? It might make him calm down a bit? I don’t know.” Stiles says, speaking to himself. “He’s just – he’s – I don’t know.”

Derek looks down at his fingers. He lets Stiles ramble and complain, even though he says nothing particularly revealing. It feels good to hear him talk, even if he’s talking shit, because it means that he’s okay. Derek worried about nothing.

“Hey,” says Stiles. “You still there?”

“Hm?”

“Dude, I’ll see you later this week at Melissa’s okay?”

“Okay,” Derek says.

“Don’t tell Duke where I am.”

Derek stills. “I won’t.”

He hears the dial tone moments later, the call ending without a proper goodbye. Derek tries to figure out if Stiles was talking to him to soothe his obvious worry, or because he was simply bored and needed someone to talk to.

Derek sighs and walks back to his office. He tries to ignore the way Duke looks at him when he arrives, like he knows exactly who he’s been talking to. Derek doesn’t like being in the middle of the two of them, not at all, and he hopes that it won’t last.

He arrives to their weekly dinner early, but Stiles is already there. His eyes look tired, his hair is messy, dirty, and he’s sprawled out on the couch with a blanket tangled around his feet.

“Hey,” Stiles says, sitting up. He smiles slightly at Derek.

“Hi,” Derek says, trying not to sound awkward. Stiles makes space for him on the couch, and he almost hunches in on himself as he waits for Derek to sit down. Derek waits and clears his throat. “I should see if Melissa needs help.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I already asked her. She says she didn’t need anything.”

“She only said that because you were the one asking,” Derek points out. “The last time you tried to cook something you set it on fire.”

“Whatever, Derek, just sit,” Stiles says, running a hand through his hair. He even pauses the movie that’s playing in the background.

Derek nods and makes his way over.

“I should have told someone where I was this week,” Stiles says in a rush. He looks sheepish and he keeps his voice low.

Derek stares at him. “Yeah, but – why are you saying this?”

Stiles shrugs and he turns his gaze away. “I – I don’t know. I didn’t let anyone here know where I was and the last time I did something like it didn’t go so well. You were the one who had to help me.”

“Stiles,” he says. He wants to be comforting, but he does remember the last time Stiles had gotten into some trouble. It was a while ago now – back when he was in college – but Derek doesn’t want to see it happen again.

Stiles lets out a noise of frustration. “I know,” he says. “I know.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Stiles insists. “Nothing is wrong. I just wanted to visit my dad.”

Derek wants to say more, but Stiles reaches for the remote and turns the movie back on. It’s one they’ve both seen before and it’s easy to watch, it’s easy to listen to Stiles’ comments and to smirk quietly at his jokes.

Stiles sits closer to him, almost accidentally, and Derek watches him mouth the dialogue to himself.

Derek chuckles. “You’ve watched this movie too many times.”

Stiles nudges his side. “So have you,” he says, “Or have you forgotten that we all used to watch it together?”

“I’m not the one who memorized the dialogue.”

“Yeah, because you memorized all the lines to Pretty Woman instead,” Stiles says, and Derek flushes. He doesn’t know how Stiles remembers that, and he tries to look away from the teasing smile that rests on Stiles’ lips.

His eyes fall on Scott standing at the edge of the room. Derek hadn’t noticed him arrive, and he nods at his brother. Scott takes a moment to nod back.

“Stiles, is your boyfriend coming this week?” Scott asks, almost pointedly. Derek presses his lips together but he doesn’t move away from Stiles.

Stiles doesn’t miss a beat when he replies, not taking his eyes off the screen. “He couldn’t make it tonight.”

“Right,” says Scott. He looks at Derek again. Derek glares back, and Scott shakes his head and then leaves the room.

Stiles huffs beside him. “What the hell was that about?”

“Nothing,” Derek mutters, aware of the side-eyed look that Stiles is giving him.

“Whatever – ooh look,” he says. He nudges Derek’s side again in excitement. “This is the best bit.”

Derek turns his eyes to the screen, and they sit there bickering, talking, laughing, until there’s a knock on the door. Derek’s smile is still on his face as he goes to answer, looking over his shoulder at Stiles as he walks away.

Derek opens the door, and dread fills him. “Duke.”

Duke looks at him for a moment, but before Derek can shut the door again his tattooed arm sneaks between the closing gap and he forces himself inside.

“You’re not invited,” Derek tells him.

“I don’t care,” says Duke, shrugging off his jacket and walking past him. He stops when he sees Stiles, sitting on the couch and unaware of his presence.

Derek clears his throat. Stiles’ smile dies on his lips when he looks over, his eyes widening and his hands clenching by his sides.

“Stiles,” Duke says, voice eerily calm.

Stiles doesn’t say anything and he meets Derek’s gaze. It only lasts for a moment, but there’s a flicker of panic in his eyes, before he forces another smile onto his face.

“I – I had better let Melissa know we have one more for dinner,” Stiles says, getting to his feet. He stumbles on the blanket that had been wrapped around him, and he stays as far away from Duke as possible as he leaves the room.

Derek turns to Duke, aware of the coldness in the air at his arrival. “Stiles didn’t invite you. Why are you here?”

Duke looks back at him, a dark glint in his eye. He doesn’t answer the question. Derek could force him to leave – and he really wants to – but he knows the last thing Stiles wants is for him to cause a scene and to be the reason why another dinner goes poorly.

They sit down for dinner a few minutes later, both Scott and Melissa greeting Duke. They’re not as friendly as they were the week before, but Derek doesn’t think the difference is easy to notice. Duke doesn’t seem to care, wrapping a firm arm around Stiles’ shoulders.

Stiles grimaces, but he tries to smile.

“I’m sorry that I’m late,” Duke says smoothly.

Melissa smiles thinly at him. “It’s no problem,” she says.

Derek stabs at his food. He doesn’t know what to do, and he stares at Stiles, stares at him long enough that Stiles kicks him underneath the table.

I’m fine ,” he mouths. Derek doesn’t believe him and he keeps glancing at Stiles throughout the meal, watching the way he squirms when Duke leans too close, when Duke places a hand on his arm. He can’t look away, and it’s only when Scott clears his throat that he does.

“Derek, can I talk to you for a minute?”

Derek blinks, but he gets to his feet, following his brother into the kitchen.

Scott glares at him. “What is wrong with you, Derek?”

“What?”

“You could try to look a little less jealous,” he says.

“What are you talking about?” Derek hisses.

Scott says nothing for a moment. He looks concerned in that annoying, brotherly way, and Derek would prefer it if they didn’t have to have this conversation.

“Scott…”

“You’re in love with him again,” Scott accuses.

Derek’s heart stumbles. He looks towards the other room, where Duke and Stiles are still talking with Melissa. He slowly turns back to Scott.

“No, I’m not,” Derek says quietly.

“You are,” he says, and his eyes are pitying. “Before his date arrived you were smiling at him, and looking at him, and teasing him, and blushing dammit, and – Derek, you can’t be in love with him. He’s never going to fall in love with you.”

“I’m not saying you’re right,” Derek snaps. “But I can’t help it, Scott. I can’t just stop what I’m feeling because I want to – not when I see him every day now. I – he’s Stiles.

Scott lets out a breath. “I know,” he says. “I know. But it’s not going to end well.”

“You don’t need to tell me that,” Derek hisses.

“But,” Scott says. “He’s never been nice to you, and he always complains about you. I don’t get it. I don’t know why you love him.”

His voice falters at the end of his sentence, and his eyes are locked somewhere over Derek’s shoulder. Derek’s heart begins to race, so sure that Stiles has overheard them, but when he turns he sees Duke. He sees Duke standing there, a growing smirk on his face.

“Excuse me,” Derek says, walking past him. His shoulder bangs into Duke’s, and he sits back down at the table, a roaring sound in his ears.

“Dude, you okay?” Stiles asks.

Derek looks up at him, swearing that he can see the genuine concern in Stiles’ face. He nods, slowly, and Stiles half smiles back at him, tensing again when he sees Duke come back into the room with another beer.

The meal continues, and he’s half aware of Scott shooting him apologetic looks across the table. Derek doesn’t acknowledge them. He wants to get out of here, now, because Duke knowing about his feelings means that sooner or later Stiles is going to know about them.

Stiles lets out a noise of frustration. “Seriously? What happened? Why are you all acting so weird?”

Derek stands up. “I’m going to go.”

Stiles glares at him. “Don’t,” he says. Derek lifts his gaze, hearing Stiles’ silent plea. “I mean, you don’t need to leave just yet. I saw some dessert in the kitchen.”

Derek hesitates. He looks longingly towards the door.

Stiles narrows his eyes. “What’s wrong?” He glances at Scott and Derek. “I know you guys like to have your precious sibling fights sometimes, but seriously . It can’t be that bad. You were only talking for like five minutes.”

Duke sits beside him, silently laughing. He tips a glass of wine down his throat and then wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, still smirking.

Derek is in love with you. Scott was giving him a hard time about it.”

Derek’s fingers curl at his sides and he feels shaky and sick. The roaring sound in his ears grows louder and his secret that he’s had for years and years now is on display, there for everyone to look at, there for Stiles to look at.

“Huh?” Stiles says, a look of disbelief resting on his face. Then he begins to laugh , his eyes finally sparkling after an evening of discomfort, and Derek’s heart breaks as Stiles truly struggles to keep a straight face.

Scott and Melissa sit there with grim faces, watching the way Stiles laughs at the clearly absurd idea that Derek loves him, and it takes a moment for Stiles to realize that no one else is finding this funny.

“W-what?” he says again, looking around. “Seriously?”

Derek breathes in, but he feels little pinpricks of pain all throughout his chest. He doesn’t look Stiles in the eye, can’t look anyone in the eye, and he feels stupid and like he’s some kind of joke. Derek opens his mouth to say something, aware that Stiles is looking at him strangely, but he just shakes his head and decides to leave.

“Derek, sweetie,” Melissa says. Derek hesitates. He doesn’t want to be here , feeling everyone’s eyes on him, feeling Stiles’ eyes on him. “Why don’t you finish your dinner?”

Derek slowly sits back down again. He keeps his hands underneath the table so that no one can see them shaking, and he knows that his cheeks are a burning red. It’s too quiet in the room as everyone picks at their food, and Derek can hear Stiles’ laugh echoing through his head.

Stiles doesn’t want him.

It hurts even though Derek knew so well that Stiles would feel that way.

The awkwardness lingers in the air and even though he knows there’s dessert to eat no one stops him from leaving once they all finish their food. He sees Stiles shift uncomfortably in his seat, Duke still next to him, but Derek can’t stay a moment longer.

He steps outside into the cool night air, his head hurting and confused. He never thought Stiles would fucking find out, he never thought he’d have to deal with Stiles knowing.

He turns off his phone before anyone can think to call him, and gets into his car. Derek starts to drive, aware of the rain that’s just starting to trickle down, and he hopes that whatever happens now won’t be worse than pining after someone who’s never wanted to like him.

He collapses onto his couch with a pounding headache. Derek wants to get drunk so badly, even though it will only make things worse, even though it won’t actually make him forget everything that happened. Every part of him wants to hide away, wants to never see Stiles again, never be laughed at again.

Derek brings one of the cushions to his chest and curls around it, his heart still beating loudly. He doesn’t think he deserves to feel so defeated, not when he’s a fucking adult and he’s known Stiles hasn’t liked him for years.

Nothing has changed. Not really.

Derek takes a shaky breath and closes his eyes. He doesn’t quite mean to but he falls asleep with dried tears on his cheeks, hoping that his dreams are more pleasant than his reality.

He jolts awake to the sound of someone knocking on his door. Derek almost slips off the couch and his back hurts from being curled up for so long. His apartment is dark and still, rain falling outside, and the knocking on the door continues, loud and unapologetic.

“Derek! I know you’re there so open the fucking door!”

Derek stands up, almost losing his balance. He stumbles towards the door just as the knocks turn into kicks and bangs. He can hear Stiles yelling at him. He can hear Stiles cursing him and telling him to get over himself.

“I swear to god if you don’t open this door I will break it down myself!” he yells.

Derek’s muscles tense. He doesn’t know why Stiles is here. He wants him to leave, he wants to tell Stiles to fuck off and to leave Derek alone and miserable.

“Stiles?”

“Oh, fucking finally,” he says, and Derek leans his forehead against the wood of the door. He breathes in again.

“Go home. I don’t want to talk to you.”

Stiles swears again. He hits the door, hard, and Derek can feel the vibrations against his skin. “I’m not – I’m not here about that ,” he says. “Please.”

“Stiles… just go.”

“No!” he says, hitting the door one more time. Derek hears something that sounds like fabric sliding down the wooden door, and then it’s followed by a frustrated sob.

Derek swallows. He’s more awake than he was a few minutes ago, and if he listens carefully he can hear Stiles still there, outside, given up. Derek doesn’t want to open the door. He doesn’t want to face what he’s feeling.

But he knows Stiles is out there, dammit, and he said – he said it was about something different. Derek’s fingers quiver and he knows that he has to open the door, that he’s going to do it eventually, but he can’t quite make himself just yet.

“Pull yourself together,” Derek mutters to himself, and he bites his tongue, hard, before unlocking the door and opening it slowly. Derek looks down and finds Stiles leaning against the frame, his hair and clothes drenched in water. Stiles cranes his neck and looks up at him awkwardly, and then Derek sees something that makes him feel awful for leaving him outside for even a moment.

“What happened?” Derek demands.

Stiles closes his eyes. “Nothing, nothing, just help me up.”

Derek immediately finds Stiles’ icy hands, and he gently pulls him to his feet. Stiles shivers and sways on the spot.

“He hit you,” Derek says, two of his fingers pressing against Stiles’ jaw, angling his head so that Derek can see the dark, already purpling bruise around Stiles’ cheek and eye. Stiles bats his hand away. “And you’re cold.”

Stiles glares at him but then winces. “Well, if you let me inside your apartment then maybe I could get warm.”

“Sorry,” Derek mutters. He lets Stiles come inside, but he stays close, a hand on his elbow as he leads Stiles to the bathroom. “I’ll get you some clothes.”

He feels Stiles looking at him before he disappears for a minute, finding sweatpants, a well-worn, grey t-shirt and a towel. Stiles takes them from him quietly and closes the bathroom door, leaving Derek angry at himself and at Duke, leaving him trying to figure out what the hell happened.

Derek finds he needs something to do as he waits for Stiles, so he puts on the kettle and starts to make them some tea. Stiles emerges more than half an hour later, looking exhausted, looking wary, but comfortable in Derek’s clothes.

He sits down. They stare at each other. Derek hopes that Stiles can’t tell that he’s been crying.

“Did Duke do this?” Derek asks quietly.

“You know, I could have just gotten mugged or something –”

 Derek interrupts him. “Did he do this?”

Stiles looks down. He doesn’t say anything. “Don’t – promise me you won’t say anything.”

“What?” Derek says. “I’m just supposed to sit here and let him get away with hitting you?”

“I’ve dealt with worse!” Stiles says, defensive. “It’s nothing. I don’t want to tell anyone – I didn’t even want to tell you but I had nowhere else to go without making someone worried.”

“You have me plenty worried,” Derek snaps.

Stiles narrows his eyes. “Why? Because you’re in love with me?”

Derek has to turn away. He has to hide the flicker of hurt on his face at Stiles saying that at him so casually. He clearly doesn’t believe it – or maybe he does – but either way Stiles thinks it’s stupid.

Stiles watches him as he moves around the kitchen, and a few seconds later Derek dumps the steaming cup of tea in front of Stiles. Stiles takes it wordlessly.

“Look,” Stiles says, a moment later, his voice insistent. “I can’t tell Scott or my dad. I’ve fucked up so many times and I hate the way they look at me, like they’re not surprised when I get into trouble. I don’t want to disappoint them again – I want them to think that I finally have my life together.”

“But why come to me?” Derek says, exhausted.

Stiles shrugs, looking uncomfortable. “You kind of already knew. You’ve always helped me before.”

Derek looks down at his toes.

“And, well, in case you haven’t noticed I don’t always care about what you think,” Stiles says quickly, and Derek winces. He tries not to take his words to heart, but that’s where what Stiles says hurts the most.

“So how are you going to explain the massive black eye and your split lip?” Derek asks him flatly.

Stiles lifts his hand to his face, fingers hovering just above the injured skin. He doesn’t answer the question and Derek hates that Stiles has to go through something like this, hates that he’s in another kind of mess.

Derek clenches his jaw, wishing he hadn’t left dinner so suddenly and then left Stiles alone with that asshole.

“Stiles,” he says in a low voice.

Stiles lets out a noise. “I’m tired, okay?” he sighs. “I’m just tired and I don’t need a conversation where you say I told you so because you were right about Duke, and I was wrong, and I didn’t listen, and it’s all my fault, and –”

“Hey,” Derek says, softly. “It’s not your fault.”

Stiles looks away, and Derek can see him fighting away tears. Derek isn’t sure how much he can get out of Stiles tonight and he knows that Stiles is hurt, and exhausted, and maybe scared. Derek wants him to be able to rest for a bit and when he sees Stiles yawn, he takes pity on him.

“Do you want to sleep?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, voice cracking.

“Okay,” Derek says, and he leads Stiles towards his bedroom. “Um. I can change the sheets if you give me a second.”

Stiles collapses onto the bed. “Don’t care,” he groans, moving around slightly. He buries the good side of his face into Derek’s pillow, inhaling, and Derek has to push all the times he’s imagined Stiles here out of his head. He stares at Stiles for a little too long before he disappears and returns with some pain killers.

Stiles sits up and takes them gratefully. Derek sees the bruise, the bit of bleeding, and feels a thousand different things. He wants to make the pain go away.

Derek looks to the floor but just before he leaves Stiles reaches out, his fingers pressing at Derek’s wrist for a second. “Thanks,” he says quietly.

Derek just nods. Then he leaves the room and tries to sleep on the couch for the second time that night.

He doesn’t sleep and when it’s morning he waits for hours until Stiles wakes up. Derek hears him stir and so he makes his way to the kitchen, still wearing his clothes from yesterday as he cooks them both breakfast.

“Mm, smells good,” Stiles says from the doorway. Derek looks up at him and tries to smile, but he can’t. Stiles’ bruise looks worse in the daylight, all deep purples and red colors. “It’s fine,” Stiles says. He wanders in and sits down. “Is there anything I can do?”

Derek shakes his head. “Here,” he says, and serves Stiles some bacon and eggs.

“Coffee?” Stiles asks.

“Sure.”

They both sit and eat in silence. Stiles grimaces with pain with every mouthful of food, and they both glance at each other as they eat. Derek wants to know what Stiles is thinking, whether or not he’s worried about Duke or if he cares that Derek is in love with him.

Stiles pushes his plate of food away. “So,” he says. “Why did you think I came here last night?”

Derek looks at him. He looks away. He doesn’t answer.

“Like before you opened the door,” Stiles explains. He gestures to his face. “Before you saw all this shit. Why did you think I came here?”

Derek feels his fingers quiver again. He’s not sure how to have this conversation without giving everything away.

“Did you think I was going to confront you?” Stiles says. He leans forward and looks unfairly amused. “Did you think I was going to ask you about how you feel, and why the fuck you even feel that way? Did you –”

“Stiles.”

“What? I’m just asking.”

 Derek stands up and clears their dishes away. His skin is flushed and he feels his gut twist at every word that comes out of Stiles’ mouth.

“Hey,” Stiles says.

Derek pauses before turning around. Stiles is looking at him carefully.

“I know we’ve been spending more time together recently, but you do know you’re not in love with me, right?” he says. “I’m your brother’s annoying friend. I’m that guy you pretty much hate. Whatever you’re feeling will pass.”

Derek’s chest constricts and he hears the clear rejection in Stiles’ words.

“I think we’ve established that I don’t hate you,” he says anyway.

 Stiles smiles, licking his lips. “Aw man, well, I don’t hate you either. You’re actually not that bad.”

Derek rolls his eyes. He feels that flutter of fondness, again, even though Stiles doesn’t want to be with him. Derek is only grateful that Stiles has assumed it’s a new thing, rather than a decade of pining and unhappiness.

Stiles opens his mouth to speak again – probably to say more things that are going to break Derek’s heart, but Derek shakes his head.

“Don’t think you can avoid bringing up Duke by talking about this,” Derek tells him. Stiles’ eyelashes flutter down and he almost slumps in his chair. “Are you going to press charges?”

“No.”

“No? Stiles.”

Stiles glares at him. “It’s my fucking decision Derek. I don’t want to go through that shit, I just want to pretend that this never happened. I wish he fucking hit me where no one else could see the damage.”

Derek sighs and sits down. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. It’s your decision. I’m going to help you with whatever you want to do.”

“Really?” Stiles says quietly. Derek nods. He doesn’t want to scare Stiles away by forcing him to do something that he doesn’t want to. He needs Stiles to have someone, he needs Stiles not to be alone. If he’s not alone then he’s more likely to be okay.

“What’s going to happen at work?”

“I – I have to keep the job. I need the money. I’m going to go to work and pretend that nothing happened,” he says decisively. “Besides,” he mumbles, playing with a loose thread on Derek’s borrowed shirt. “You’ll be there.”

“Okay,” Derek says, even though he doesn’t like it. He wants to send Duke to fucking prison, but if Stiles doesn’t want it then it’s not going to happen. “You can stay here as long as you like, and then I’ll drop you home.”

Stiles’ face goes blotchy and red where it isn’t bruised, and Derek stares at him carefully.

“Um,” Stiles says. “It’s a little bit more complicated than that.”

“Why?” Derek says.

Stiles swallows and he looks uncomfortable. “I’ve been living at Duke’s house.”

Derek’s eyes widen. “You – what ?”

“I didn’t have anywhere to go!” Stiles says, his voice steadily rising. “I didn’t have any money and I lost my job, and Duke, I knew he was trouble but he was kinda nice for a while, and he got me this new job and gave me somewhere to live and –” He stops talking for a moment, catching his breath. “He didn’t seem to want anything until he did, you know? And then he kept on reminding me that it was because of him I had a roof over my head.” Then Stiles’ eyes turn fierce, like he needs Derek to believe him. “I swear I haven’t been doing anything stupid. I’ve been saving my money since I lost it so I can get out of there, but I don’t have enough. Not yet.”

Derek didn’t realize it was this fucking bad, and it was already pretty terrible. He runs a hand through his hair, going through all this new information in his head, wondering how Stiles lost his money in the first place, wondering how he even met Duke and how he got into this mess.

Stiles makes a noise. “Derek, please fucking say something.”

Derek clears his throat, realizing that he’s been staring at Stiles for the past few minutes while he just sits there. Derek looks at him determinedly. “You can stay here.”

Stiles frowns. “Here?” he says skeptically.

“Well, I’m not going to let you stay with him.”

“It will be fine.”

Derek glares at him. “You’re staying here.”

Stiles looks up at him, his brown eyes looking dim and defeated. “Fine,” he says. “I just – it doesn’t even feel like a step in the right direction. I still don’t have my own place. I’m still dependent on someone.”

Derek tries to understand what Stiles is feeling, but to him nothing can be worse than having to live with or be near Duke. He looks at the bruise across Stiles’ cheek and the way he twitches and winces when he forgets for a second that it’s there.

“You won’t be living with me forever,” Derek promises. “And, fuck, Stiles, you’re not going to owe me anything if you stay here. Nothing. You can leave when you want to, and if I make you uncomfortable with –” he stops. Derek doesn’t want to remind Stiles so obviously of his affections. “If it makes you feel better you can pay rent or something. Or – or pay for groceries.”

Stiles smiles weakly.

“Thanks,” he says, standing. He turns around and walks away, his shoulders slumped and his steps slow. Derek watches him and he wishes that before all this happened Stiles had come to him, had asked him for help or even for money.

But Derek hasn’t always been there for Stiles. He’s run away from him, too scared, too hurt that Stiles didn’t show any sign of returning his feelings. His heart fills with regret that he wasn’t strong enough to stay when he felt too much.

Maybe things would have been different. Maybe Stiles would have called Derek to help him, like he’s done in the past. Maybe Duke wouldn’t even be a part of Stiles’ life. Maybe Derek would even be a bigger part of Stiles' life.

God, he's been so focused on his own feelings – convinced that Stiles would never like him – that he's never stopped to think about what he must look like to Stiles. He's been pulling away at every turn and it's no wonder why Stiles doesn't like him.

He hopes that it's a good thing that Stiles is living with him. It's not going to be easy having him in his space, being in love him and then having nothing else, but it will mean Derek won't be able to leave so easily. And then by the time Stiles finds his own place, maybe Derek's first instinct won't be to hide away just because his heart hurts.

The weekend comes and Stiles keeps sleeping in Derek’s bed. He emerges well after midday and they sit together and watch movies, but Stiles’ eyes seem glazed over. Derek buys some ointment for his face but he doesn’t even know if Stiles uses it.

He’s surprised that the world hasn’t ended. Stiles knows to an extent what he feels – but those awful moments seem to have passed. Derek isn’t glad that any of this other stuff has happened but he’s relieved that it’s covering up the awkwardness that might otherwise be there.

Stiles seems to be ignoring him instead, but his sour mood is clearly more to do with Duke than Derek. Derek would do something to make him snap out of it, but he thinks Stiles deserves a break and he’s glad that Stiles isn’t lashing out at him.

“We should get your stuff tomorrow,” Derek says.

Stiles shrugs.

“If we go while Duke is at work then he won’t be there.”

Stiles narrows his eyes, turning slightly towards Derek. “You don’t think he’s smart enough to guess what’s going to happen?”

Derek bites his lip. “I don’t know.”

Stiles’ hands turn into fists by his knees. “Maybe it will be easier if I just stayed living with him. It would be okay. I can look after myself.”

Derek grimaces and he doesn’t say again what he thinks. Stiles already knows.

“I just feel so pathetic,” Stiles mutters. He folds his arms and looks away, staring bitterly out the window.

They agree to go to Duke’s place during lunch tomorrow. They can’t put it off forever – Stiles doesn’t have many clothes – but neither of them exactly want to do it. He’s glad that Stiles has a key, that it wouldn’t technically be breaking in, but Derek can only think of the ways it will go wrong.

He wants to reach out and touch Stiles’ arm, wants to offer him some comfort, but Derek is aware that any physical contact from him might be misinterpreted. He keeps his hands to himself instead.

They drive into work together, but Stiles refuses to walk in next to him. He doesn’t want Duke to know where he’s staying. He doesn’t want Duke to know anything.

Stiles sits on the passenger seat of Derek’s car, looking at his face in the mirror. He frowns. “At least Duke might believe that,” he says.

“What?”

“The fact that I’m not living with you – I’m not even talking to you,” Stiles says.

Derek meets his eyes. He’s not sure where this is going.

Stiles smirks slightly at him. There is a teasing glint to his eye, something Derek has only seen glimpses of in the past couple of days. “In fact, you’re gonna be ignoring me. Because you’re in love with me and I’m not in love with you and you’re embarrassed.”

Derek bites the inside of his cheek. It’s not… unbelievable. It’s something that’s happened before, but he wishes Stiles wouldn’t throw his feelings around like it’s a joke.

“Stiles.”

“What?” he says, looking innocent. Then he bites his lip. “Look, dude, I’m so confused. You haven’t done one thing that might indicate that you care about me.”

Derek raises his eyebrows before he can stop himself, even though he’s not really trying to convince Stiles of anything.

“Okay,” Stiles says, hesitating. “I guess you’re letting me live with you. And you let me help you out with your work. And you didn’t ask too many questions when you caught me sleeping in your office. And you do buy me coffee and food sometimes.”

“You’re right,” Derek says, voice deliberately flat. He can still feel Stiles’ eyes on him. “It looks like I don’t care about you at all.”

“See!” Stiles says. “You just look annoyed with me!”

Derek grins harshly at him, the kind of grin he knows some people think he’s handsome for. “That’s because you’re annoying.”

He huffs. “I’m pretty sure Duke has a meeting at one,” he says, more quietly. “We should leave just before then.”

Derek nods. “I’ll meet you back down here then.”

Derek does a good job of avoiding Stiles and Duke by hiding in his office. He does leave the door open, though, and he can hear a few people expressing concern over what happened to Stiles’ face. Stiles manages to charm them through some story.

He has a few emails to get through, and too many things to do, but there’s an itch under his skin that he knows won’t go away until they’ve gotten all Stiles’ things from Duke’s place.

He’s not expecting it when Stiles knocks on his door ten minutes before they’ve planned to leave. Derek freezes. He can see Stiles looking quickly over his shoulder.

“Someone’s on the phone for you,” he says.

“Oh,” Derek says dumbly.

Stiles glares at him. “Just fucking answer it and make it quick.”

Derek nods, and he picks up the phone that’s sitting on his desk. He connects to the right line and clears his throat, watching Stiles leave the room and realizing that Stiles only came in so that it would look like he was actually doing his job.

“Hello?” he says.

“Hi!” says a voice. “Um, I’m Laura. Is this Derek Hale?”

“Yes,” he clears his throat, but he’s not really listening, watching the clock and seeing if anything is happening in the corridor.

“I read one of your articles recently – it was very good – and I was wondering if we could meet up to chat about it,” the woman says in a rush.

Derek blinks. “Um,” he says. “I’m sorry. I don’t give interviews?”

“Oh, right,” she says. “It wouldn’t be an interview. A chat. It would just be a chat – about, about history and stuff. My fiancé is really into it.”

Derek scrunches his face up in confusion. He’s not really sure what this woman is asking for, and he really, really wants to get off the phone. He can see Stiles hovering just in his line of sight, looking anxious.

“I understand that I’m just a stranger,” she says. “But I would really appreciate it, and I’ve been ringing all week but you haven’t been available. I didn’t know working for a history magazine would be so busy!”

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, already standing. “I have to go – there’s a bit of an emergency.”

“Oh,” Laura says, and she sounds disappointed. “Right. I can call again? Or I can totally just talk to your assistant and organize something – all you’d have to do is turn up.”

“Fine,” Derek says, through his teeth. “Sure. But I do really have to leave now, sorry.”

She sighs in relief, and maybe says thank you, but Derek’s already hanging up the phone. He feels a little guilty for being rude, but when he gets to the doorway Stiles sees him and physically deflates. He turns around and makes his way to the elevator, and Derek follows quietly behind him, making sure no one is watching.

“Sorry,” Derek mutters, as they wait for the elevator to go down.

“Why was she calling?” Stiles asks. “She left like ten messages while I was away.”

Derek shrugs.

Stiles rings his fingers together and they walk towards the car in silence. Stiles gives him directions and soon they’re stopping in front of an expensive looking house, large and well kept. Derek swallows uneasily.

“Bet you can figure out why I liked staying here,” Stiles mutters.

Derek doesn’t say anything.

“Come on,” Stiles says, getting out of the car and jogging up to the front steps. He takes a key out of his pocket and unlocks the door, pushing it open slightly.

Derek hovers awkwardly behind Stiles as he rushes inside. He immediately goes towards the alarm in the hallway and after a few seconds he hears Stiles swear.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Stiles says, hands tugging at his hair. “He changed the alarm code. He changed the alarm code.”

Stiles’ breaths get shorter and Derek can see that he’s beginning to panic. Derek grabs his shoulders, holding him still, and their gazes lock. Derek’s never felt so on edge before in his life. “Just get your stuff,” he says. “Okay?”

Stiles nods. “We have about ten minutes,” he says, and then he rushes into the bedroom just as the alarm starts to go off around them, blaring loudly and painfully. He starts pulling his clothes out of the wardrobe and Derek feels distinctly uncomfortable. It feels like he’s intruding, even though he dislikes Duke as much as he does.

There’s a suitcase under the bed that Stiles pulls out and that Derek recognizes. They stuff everything into it, Stiles going to find more and more things, and it’s hard to think with the alarm going off around them.

Stiles is still rushing around, getting the rest of his clothes, his DVDs, his Xbox, his phone charger, and a lot of useless stuff that Derek is familiar with but a lot that he isn’t. There doesn’t seem to be any method to the way Stiles goes through all the different rooms, but he manages to produce a lot of things.

“You have so much stuff,” grumbles Derek. “How long have you been here?”

“Um, a couple of months,” Stiles says. “You take this shit out to the car, I have a few more things to get.”

Derek glares, looking at his watch. “It’s already been ten minutes, Stiles.”

“Just one more thing!” he yells. “Meet you outside!”

Derek shakes his head and hopes Stiles knows what he’s doing. He climbs into the car and turns on the engine, waiting with sweaty palms and his shirt sticking to his back.

“Come on, Stiles,” he mutters. He waits for an incredibly long minute before Stiles clambers back out of the house, towards the car, leaving the door open behind him.

“I’m here,” he says, breathlessly. “I’m here.”

“You have everything?” Derek asks.

Stiles nods. “Yeah, yes, just go.”

Derek puts his foot on the gas and they drive off, in no particular direction. Stiles’ breaths fill the air, loud and harsh, and he whips his head over his shoulder as they drive away like he’s scared someone is following him.

He’s shaking in his seat and Derek realizes he doesn’t have his seatbelt on. Stiles doesn’t look like he’s going to respond to anything that Derek says, too busy heaving breaths in and out of his body, so Derek shoves his chest back and he reaches for the seatbelt. He keeps his eyes firmly on the road and by touch, Derek manages to buckle him in. He hears the faint click and feels a little bit better.

Derek’s own pulse thuds in head as they drive along, still driving to nowhere, trying to calm down. He doesn’t care about getting back to the office, not yet, not when adrenaline is still tangled in their bodies.

Stiles waves his hand. “Derek, I – I need you to pull over,” he says.

Derek glances at him, and then he sees a little park with dull green grass and a playground. He stops and Stiles immediately gets out of the car and bends over, hands gripping his knees. Derek follows him into the cool air.

“I feel like I’m going to throw up,” Stiles says.

Derek wrinkles his nose and waits. Nothing happens, and after a while Stiles stands up. He looks less pale than he was a few moments ago.

“We are never doing something that stupid again,” Derek says, and then a laugh bubbles its way out of Stiles’ throat.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I agree. But for once it wasn’t even my idea.”

Derek can’t help the chuckle that escapes his mouth. “The alarm scared the shit out of me,” he admits.

Stiles grins weakly at him. “Sorry about that,” he says.

“Well, we made it out alive.”

Stiles nods, and his eyes look like they’re shimmering with unshed tears. Derek smiles at him, small, and then somehow, without warning, Stiles’ arms are around him.

It’s not so much a hug as it is Stiles gripping onto him, trying not to fall. Derek hesitates before gently wrapping his arms around Stiles’ waist. He pulls him up so that they’re both more comfortable, and it’s nice having the weight of Stiles’ body against his own.

“Thanks,” Stiles mumbles. Derek can feel Stiles’ warm breath on his neck. He just holds Stiles a little tighter, and tries not to miss his warmth when their embrace ends.

They eventually return to the office, and Derek keeps his head down and works on a few of his articles. Duke tells him that they have to be done sooner than Derek expected, but it could definitely be worse. He admires Stiles for still being able to work next to him.

“How was work?” Derek asks, when they’re both safe in his own apartment.

Stiles shrugs. “It was fine. It was weird. I made sure we weren’t alone together but Duke… he’s not acknowledging anything. It makes me nervous.”

It makes Derek nervous too.

He lets Stiles have the bed again that night, then the next, and the days following are awful because Derek has barely slept. He’s irritated and tired and he starts to notice more and more that there’s someone else in the apartment, and it becomes even more frustrating when he realizes that person is Stiles.

Stiles is restless. He can never keep still and every time he moves Derek’s eyes are drawn to him. He’s constantly bored and he talks nonsense when he isn’t being moody, demanding Derek’s attention when Derek would rather read a book.

But it’s nice talking to someone, and it’s nice to hear Stiles laugh and to know mostly what he’s thinking. It’s fun debating their opinions, and teasing each other, and it’s easy to sit too close to him on the couch.

It’s too easy to imagine Stiles fitting into his life when they eat together, drive to work together, and simply spend time with each other. Derek fucking wishes he could just touch him – maybe a hand on his leg to stop his knee from bouncing up and down, or a press of fingers to his lower back when they pass each other in the narrow hallway.

It’s overwhelming, and it kind of hurts when Derek remembers it’s not real. Stiles is only living here because he doesn’t have any other choice right now.

Then sometimes he can feel Stiles staring at him, clearly thinking, and Derek has no idea what’s going on in his head. He’s known Stiles for years and years and often there are moments when Derek can’t figure him out.

Derek glares at him. Stiles smirks slightly.

“What?” Derek says.

“Nothing.”

Stiles stands up. “We should go for a walk.”

Derek frowns. “Now?”

He rolls his eyes. “Yes, now. Don’t be so boring.”

Derek glances at his watch – it’s ten at night – but a part of him wants to do whatever Stiles wants to do. He grumbles and puts on his jacket and Stiles smiles at him, warm and amused.

The night air is cold outside. It feels different than it normally does when it’s the two of them together, and maybe it’s because Stiles has been living with him for a while, or maybe it’s because he’s quiet but still present, or maybe it’s because it’s peaceful at night and they haven’t had an actual fight since Stiles got here.

“I have rent money, if you want it,” Stiles says.

“I don’t want it.”

He shrugs. Both of them keep walking, and their steps fall into a rhythm beside each other. “I set up a coffee meeting with you and that woman who kept on calling.”

“Oh,” Derek says. “Thanks.”

“Do you know what she wants?”

Derek shakes his head. They pass by some bars and hear music and loud chatter, and if this wasn’t Stiles, if this was some other beautiful person standing next to him, Derek would ask if they’d like to get a drink.

Instead Stiles stops walking, his hands in his pocket. He tilts his head to the side and looks at Derek strangely.

“Everything okay?” Derek asks, facing him.

Stiles hesitates before speaking. “Why do you like me?” he asks.

Derek feels his cheeks go red. He stutters and looks away, before he finally has the courage to meet Stiles’ brown eyes. He doesn’t see any laughter or amusement there. It makes what Derek has to say much harder.

“Do I really have to answer that?”

“I just don’t get it!” he says, eyes bright and confused.

Derek inhales. “I never meant for you to know, Stiles. I don’t have to tell you why.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “So what? You weren’t ever going to tell me and hope that it just goes away or something?”

Derek shrugs.

“Why? Why keep it to yourself?”

Derek raises an eyebrow. He feels oddly calm, and it’s almost easier having Stiles be the one frustrated about this. He doesn’t know how Derek really feels and that’s okay. He doesn’t know that Derek likes the way he thinks, likes the way he moves like he needs to be everywhere at once, likes the way he’s capable of doing anything he wants to do well.

He likes the way Stiles is sometimes an asshole, but it means he’s not afraid to challenge others – to challenge Derek. He doesn’t see things in black and white and he knows when to be quiet, and even though he’s stubborn and does stupid things he’ll try his best not to let anyone else get hurt by his mistakes. Derek likes Stiles too much sometimes that he feels scared by it and Derek would have told Stiles all of this but –

“I wasn’t going to tell you,” Derek says, “Because I know you don’t like me. What would be the point?”

Stiles opens and closes his mouth. “I guess that’s fair.”

“Let’s get back,” Derek says.

“Okay,” Stiles says quietly.

“And do you think I could sleep in my own bed tonight?” Derek says, slightly grumpy.

“Sure,” Stiles says, letting out a snort, and then the awkward tension in the air slowly starts to dissipate.

Derek sits at a table in a nearby coffee shop, waiting. It’s nice to get out of the office, and to have a few moments to himself – he’s not used to living with someone – but he doesn’t want to be away for too long. He’s scared that at any moment something might happen between Duke and Stiles.

He also doesn’t know what this woman wants from him. Derek has never had someone reach out to him about his articles before and it’s a little weird how insistent she’s been to have a meeting with him.

“Derek Hale?”

He looks up and sees a woman with dark hair and eyes. Her jawline is sharp and she’s very beautiful, a kind but nervous smile on her face. Derek stands to shake her hand.

“Laura?” he says, and she nods. “Nice to meet you.”

They both order a coffee and then sit. Derek quietly takes a sip of his drink and he sees her fiddling with the diamond ring on her finger. She keeps glancing at him.

“I’m not really sure where to start,” Laura admits to him.

Derek frowns a little. “You read my article?”

“Yes,” she says, hesitating. “Although I must admit that I don’t know a lot about history.”

“Um,” says Derek awkwardly. “Do you want to know more about history?”

Laura shakes her head and Derek feels a little on edge. She seems to pick up on his hesitance and tries to smile. “I actually wanted to know more about my family history.”

“I know nothing about genealogy. I can’t help you.”

She grimaces. “My fiancé found your article in History Monthly and recognized your surname from my research. I believe you’re from Beacon Hills?”

Derek looks at her warily. “Are you from there?”

“Not exactly,” she says, and Derek grips his coffee cup a little tighter. He glances towards the door of the café. “My birth parents were from there. I was adopted, and um, I’m trying to find out more about my family.”

“I’m sorry,” says Derek, beginning to stand. “I don’t think I can help you –”

Laura gives him a pleading look. “I won’t be much more of your time,” she says, and Derek sighs. He sits again and watches as she takes out a folded piece of paper from her pocket. Her hands are shaking slightly.

“My birth mother had me when she was sixteen,” Laura says quietly. “I was put up for adoption and now that I’m getting married I wanted to find out more. Unfortunately, she died quite a few years ago.” She takes a breath. “Her name was Talia Hale.”

Derek stares at her. He feels blood rush to his head.

“Here is my birth certificate,” Laura says, pushing the piece of paper forward. “We have different fathers but we have the same mother.”

His throat is dry and he slowly reaches for the birth certificate. Laura is looking at him hopefully and he tries to ignore her as he sees his mother’s name and birthday. It’s the same as he remembers and Derek’s heart thuds.

“You’re my brother,” she says.

He looks at her face again, looks at her features and imagines all the ways she suddenly looks familiar. He has to tell himself that he doesn’t know the color of her eyes, that he doesn’t know her smile. He can barely fucking remember what his own mother looks like and this – this woman is not her.

“Excuse me,” Derek says, trying to keep his voice from shaking.

“Of course,” she says, biting her lip, and Derek stands and walks away. He locks himself inside the café bathroom and tries to breathe. He closes his eyes and a part of him desperately wants to believe this stranger. He’s always wanted to know more about his family. He’s always needed something more – everything he had was destroyed in the fire.

He swears and with trembling fingers he pulls out his phone. He closes his eyes as the phone rings and he sighs in relief when Stiles answers.

“Hello?”

“I need you to come down here,” he says abruptly.

He doesn’t hear anything for a long moment. “I can’t,” he says. “I have stuff I need to do in the office and in case you’ve forgotten I have Duke breathing down my neck.”

“Stiles,” Derek says. “Please.”

“I can’t,” he says again, but this time his voice is softer.

“Fuck,” he says. “I need you to come down here – she says, she says that she’s my sister .”

Stiles stops. “Wait. Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. “Okay. I’ll be there in five minutes.”

“Thanks,” Derek says quietly, but the line is already dead. He sighs and looks at himself in the bathroom mirror. He has no fucking clue how he’s supposed to deal with this and he feels a little better knowing that Stiles is coming.

“I know it’s a bit hard to believe,” Laura says, when Derek eventually returns.

“Yeah,” he says, shaking his head. He takes a sip of his now cold coffee and instead of looking at Laura he stares at the birth certificate. He feels a forgotten longing for his family settling in his chest.

Stiles finds them easily when he enters the café, sitting next to Derek at the too small table. Their sides press against each other and from the cutting smile on Stiles’ face Derek knows that he’s going to take care of all this.

“Hi,” he says. “I’m Stiles Stilinski. We talked on the phone. I’m Derek’s assistant.”

“Oh,” Laura says, and she reaches out to shake his hand.

Derek sighs and he looks at her. “Just – just tell him what you told me.”

Laura nods and the second time around she explains everything more clearly. Derek wants to believe her so badly – he might have a sister – but he lets Stiles handle this. He trusts Stiles to handle this.

“Can we keep this?” Stiles says, holding the birth certificate. “We need to make sure it’s real.”

“Sure,” Laura says.

Stiles stares at her for a moment. “Look,” he says. “I want this to be happy families as much as you do but I have to admit that I’m skeptical. Why now? Do you need money? Because if that’s it then you can leave now.”

Laura shakes her head. “I don’t need money,” she says firmly. “I wanted someone from my birth family to be at my wedding.” She smiles weakly. “I didn’t know that they had all died.”

“What about your own father?” Stiles asks.

“He’s dead too. Car accident.”

“Wow,” Stiles says. “Okay. I already have your phone number so we’ll call you when we get more information. If you’re serious about this, then please don’t try to contact us. We’ll contact you.”

“But –” Laura looks at Derek like she doesn’t want to lose him.

Stiles gives her a firm look. “I won’t let you take advantage of someone who has lost their entire family,” he says, and Laura looks down at her fingers. She finally nods and then smiles weakly at them both.

“The wedding is in a month,” she says quietly. She looks at Derek. “I’d really like it if you were there.”

Derek wants to say something to her but he doesn’t know what. He watches Laura gather her things and in a few minutes she’s gone, leaving only the birth certificate behind. Derek still feels like his head his spinning.

“Fuck,” he says, closing his eyes and burying his face in his hands. Derek can barely hear himself think but he can feel Stiles next to him, watching him. “Do you think she’s telling the truth?” he says, voice muffled.

“I don’t know.” Stiles sighs. “But we’ll figure it out. I know this is important to you.”

Derek lifts his head and he meets Stiles’ eyes. They’re warm and more understanding than Derek expected. Stiles smiles at him.

“Hey,” he says. “I remember when you first came to live with Scott and Melissa.”

“You do?” Derek asks, a little taken aback. They were only kids back then.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, nudging him playfully in the side. “We didn’t exactly get along if I remember correctly.”

Derek grimaces and turns away from him. He hates that those feelings haven’t been left in the past, hates that Stiles still doesn’t think well of him now. Derek swallows over the lump in his throat. “I’m sorry,” he mutters. “I wasn’t very kind to you and Scott back then.”

He hears Stiles inhale and then silence follows. Derek is taken back to what it had felt like to lose his family, to lose everything he had. He thinks of all the moments he resented living with a family that wasn’t his own and he remembers all the awful things he had said to them.

“Derek,” Stiles says, voice confused. Derek stills when he feels Stiles’ fingers resting on the back of his hand, his touch warm and light. “It’s okay . You were a kid. You had just lost your family.”

Derek turns to him and they’re sitting closer than either of them expected. Stiles’ eyes are a lovely brown, though a little startled, and he pulls away quickly. He sits on his hands and his cheeks are red.

“I never really managed to fix things with you,” Derek says to him quietly.

Stiles breathes out shakily and he seems uncomfortable.

“I think that, um – that’s as much my fault as it is yours,” Stiles admits. He clears his throat and Derek drops his gaze. “Anyway. I’ll go and visit my dad and bring him the birth certificate. He’ll know what to do with it.”

“Thanks.”

Stiles shrugs. “Don’t worry about it,” he says, standing up. “We should get back to the office. You sure you’re going to be okay?”

Derek nods, and he thinks of Laura and her hopeful expression. He follows Stiles towards the office and he thinks that there’s only one person he wants to see.

They stand in front of Melissa’s house later that week, and it’s been a while since they’ve both come here for dinner. Stiles had a bruise on his cheek that he wanted to hide and Derek didn’t want to talk about the way his feelings were exposed.

“Wait,” Stiles says, pulling Derek’s hand down when he tries to knock on the door. His fingers are cold on Derek’s skin.

Derek glares. “What?”

“Don’t tell them that I’m living with you,” Stiles says in a rush. His cheeks are pink and his bruise has now faded. “Just tell them we came here from work together.”

Derek nods stiffly. He also doesn’t want anyone to know of their arrangement. He would never hear the end of it.

“I’m serious,” Stiles says. He licks his lips. “If we tell them, then Scott will pull me aside and give me another lecture about not hurting your feelings.”

Derek feels his face flush. He runs a hand through his hair. “He’s done that?”

“Yep.”

“I didn’t ask him to,” Derek says quickly.

Stiles shrugs, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “It wasn’t like – I mean, I probably deserved to get a lecture like that from him.” He doesn’t look Derek in the eye and shifts slightly on his feet. Derek wishes their relationship wasn’t such a mess.

“Let’s just go in,” Derek says with a sigh, and Stiles nods. He knocks and a minute later Melissa answers the door, eyebrows rising when she sees them standing next to each other. Stiles greets her with a wide smile and then quickly disappears inside.

Melissa turns to Derek. “We’ve missed you both recently,” she says, and Derek ignores the careful look she’s giving him. He smiles weakly.

“I’ve been busy,” Derek says, and it doesn’t look like Melissa believes him but she opens her arms up for a hug. Derek holds onto her tight for a moment, missing her this week more than he thought he would. It’s been hard not to think of family since he met Laura.

They walk inside and Stiles is already chatting to Scott, holding two drinks in his hands. When he sees Derek, he smiles and offers the other beer. It’s the brand he prefers.

“Thanks,” Derek says quietly.

Stiles smiles at him again and there’s a long second where they look at each other. Then Stiles clears his throat and turns back to Scott.

Melissa is watching them carefully, and she folds her arms. Derek takes a sip of his drink. It’s hard to forget that the last time they were here Stiles found out that Derek loved him.

“Can I help with the dinner?” Derek asks quickly, before she can say anything.

“I won’t say no to help,” she says finally.

Derek sighs in relief and immediately ducks into the kitchen. He prepares the rest of the food, putting together a salad, and he can still hear the conversation in the other room. It’s nice to be around his family, it’s nice to hear Stiles’ warm laughter and Scott’s easy voice.

Then they begin to eat and it’s not so bad. It’s not nearly as awkward as Derek expected it to be, and he has Stiles to thank for that. He pulls Derek easily into the conversation, and they barely even bicker.

It’s nice.

“It’s good to see you both getting along,” Melissa says lightly. Derek and Stiles glance at each other. “I know you two have both had differences in the past, and I’m glad you’re working them out.”

Derek stays quiet and shoves some food into his mouth. He leaves Stiles to answer this and receives an annoyed glare in return.

“Um,” says Stiles. “I still don’t really understand what happened last time we were here,” he says, “But we’ve talked a little. We’re fine. Other stuff has been happening.”

“Oh?” Scott says pointedly.

Derek clears his throat. He knows that other stuff means Duke, and work, and living together, but all they can tell them is about Laura. But he doesn’t know where to start. The thought of his maybe sister makes him nervous, and unsure, because he doesn’t know if it’s true. He doesn’t even know if he wants it to be true.

“Someone came to visit me and – and I might have a sister,” he says.

“Dude, seriously?” Scott says.

Derek looks up at him. He nods slowly. “Yeah, maybe. She says that my mother had her at sixteen.”

“That’s awesome,” Scott says, so genuinely that Derek can’t help but smile. He turns to Melissa and she looks surprised but happy too.

“This doesn’t mean – you’re all my family,” Derek says. He turns to Scott. “You’re my brother. I know that when we were kids I said that I didn’t want to be a part of your family, and I refused to be related to you.” He takes a breath. “But you’re my family. I’ve grown up with you. It’s – it’s more than blood.”

Scott slowly smiles, until he’s beaming. “Dude, I know. Thanks for saying it.”

Melissa squeezes his hand over the table. “We love you, Derek,” she says. “And I’ve always considered you as my son.” Derek smiles at her. “Can you tell me more about her?”

“Her name is Laura,” he says. “I don’t know much. She’s getting married soon – wants me to be at the wedding.” He turns to Stiles and his eyes look warm. “Stiles has sent her birth certificate to his father to make sure it’s real.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I’m looking after that.”

Derek nods and somehow everything feels okay.

Derek goes for an evening run later that week. It had been a long day at work, with Duke still giving him too much to do, but when he comes home he doesn’t exactly feel better. He steps into the living room, wiping sweat from his forehead and breathing heavily.

Stiles is lying back on the couch, one leg hanging off the edge. He stares at the ceiling and pulls at the drawstrings of his hoodie. Derek frowns and walks over to him.

“Are you okay?” Derek asks, leaning over him.

Stiles looks up and wrinkles his nose. Derek suddenly feels self-conscious about the sweat stains on his shirt and he takes an awkward step back.

“I’m fine,” Stiles says, sitting up. He turns around and smiles crookedly. “Did you enjoy your run?”

He shrugs. Stiles waits for him to say something more but Derek turns and leaves the room. In the bathroom, he peels off his shirt and throws it to the floor. He sees Stiles’ toothpaste on the bathroom sink, along with his aftershave and his razor.

Derek doesn’t mind having him here, taking up space, but they’re both so miserable at work that he needs something to change.

The steam from the shower is so hot it makes Derek dizzy. He scrubs at his skin and he’s run out of his own shampoo so he uses Stiles’. When he’s finally dressed, he walks back into the living room and Stiles is still on the couch, doing nothing.

Derek nudges his feet and Stiles grumbles but makes room for him. They both sit and Stiles’ eyes are on him. They may not have always understood each other, but Stiles’ stare has always meant more than anyone else’s.

“Are you going to say something?” Stiles says, amused.

“How has work been?” Derek asks.

Stiles quirks his lip. “You see me there every day.”

“You know what I mean,” he says, and Stiles sighs. He runs a hand through his hair. Derek waits easily for him to speak even though the silence is heavy around them.

Stiles clears his throat. “Duke knows I’m staying with you.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Stiles says quickly.

Derek glares. He has plenty to worry about and he opens his mouth to argue but Stiles shakes his head and cuts across him.

“Look,” he says. “Duke isn’t stupid. And he hasn’t hurt me again, he’s just…”

“Tell me,” Derek says softly.

Stiles presses his lips together and he shuffles around on the couch. He starts speaking but cuts himself off, trying more than once to form some words. “He likes making me uncomfortable. He makes me do stuff at work that I don’t want to do.” Stiles grits his teeth together. “He knows that I’m scared of him.”

“What does he want from you?” Derek asks.

Stiles shrugs. “I don’t know. He just likes to be controlling.”

Derek frowns. He’s not sure how to fix this – anything he does Stiles probably wouldn’t like and he’s not risking Stiles being mad at him right now, not when Stiles doesn’t have anyone else he wants to turn to.

“Derek?” he says quietly.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t tell anyone about this – I shouldn’t even know – but,” Stiles bites his lip. He leans closer to Derek on the couch and his eyes are serious. “I was trying to find something to make him stop, to make him leave me alone, to make him leave you alone –”

“I can handle it,” Derek says.

Stiles glares. “You shouldn’t have to handle it – not because of me!”

Derek breathes in. He didn’t think Stiles cared enough to worry about him getting caught in the crossfire of his problems, but he must do, at least a little. Derek flits his gaze over Stiles’ face and he can’t help but admire the fierce look that’s in his eye.

“I don’t mind the stupid deadlines or the extra work,” Derek says, voice hard, “If it means that he doesn’t hurt you. I just wish that I could do more.”

Stiles looks away and doesn’t look touched or happy at what Derek’s just said. He looks frustrated instead and Derek wonders if he’s said the wrong thing. “There’s nothing you can do, Derek,” Stiles says. “I don’t want you to do anything. Okay?”

“Okay,” Derek says quickly.

“Anyway,” he says. “I was looking through Duke’s office. I was trying to find something that I could hold against him, but instead…” He shakes his head. “Derek, the magazine’s going out of business. I’m looking for a new job at the moment, but maybe you should be too.”

Derek stares at him.

“There’s not really any money in history magazines,” Stiles says.

“Fuck,” Derek says, burying his face in his hands. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah.”

Derek leans back against the couch. He’s not too worried about himself – he has enough money – but it’s not going to be easy for him or his colleagues to find another job. Derek kind of stumbled into this one and he liked it – terrible bosses aside – but it’s not clear where he’s supposed to go from here.

Stiles reaches out and he squeezes Derek’s knee. Derek looks over at him, and he’s smiling kindly. “It will be okay,” he says, and then the warmth of his hand disappears. He gets up off the couch and puts on a movie for the both of them to watch and then settles down next to him, a line of space between their bodies.

It feels almost pointless walking into work the next morning. He waves to Allison at the reception and tries to put a friendly smile on his face. He makes an effort to greet his other colleagues because he knows that recently he’s barely seen them, hidden away in his office as he tries to do all the work Duke gives him.

Derek opens his email and sighs when he sees one from Duke. He’s tempted to ignore it, or delete it, but he knows he couldn’t get away with it. He forces himself to stand and then he goes and knocks on Duke’s door.

Stiles is the one to open it. His brown eyes look tired and he gives Derek a half-formed smile.

“Stiles, you can leave,” Duke says, his voice cold. “Close the door behind you.”

“Gladly,” Stiles mutters, and then he slips out of the room.

Derek turns to his boss. He tries to control the near constant anger he has for Duke, the anger that he feels hot over his skin, knowing he’ll only make things worse for himself and Stiles if he shows it.

Duke stares at him for a few seconds. “The magazine is shutting down,” he says. Derek looks to the floor, suddenly tired. He trusted what Stiles had told him, but now it all feels very real. Duke’s lips curl into a smile. “You don’t look very surprised.”

“There were rumours,” Derek says evenly, but his throat is dry.

“I guess it’s a rumour only you and Stiles knew, then,” Duke says.

Derek doesn’t answer.

“Don’t think I don’t know what goes on in this office,” Duke says, voice low and threatening. He leans forward in his chair. “You’re not going to find anything, and it had better not happen again.”

Duke doesn’t finish his threat but it hangs in the air. His eyes are hard and dark, and the only thing stopping Derek from arguing, or fighting back, is that Stiles might get caught up in all of it. Stiles might be the one to suffer.

He gives a stilted nod and turns back around, but Duke clears his throat.

“I’m not done,” he says. Derek faces him once more. “I need you to tell the rest of the staff that they’re losing their jobs. We have next month’s issue to publish and then we’re closing down.”

“What? No.” Derek glares. “I’m not their boss.”

Duke shrugs and turns back to his computer screen. Derek opens his mouth to say more, because he can’t be the one to tell his colleagues – some of them his friends – that they’re all losing their jobs, that they need to find new ones. He doesn’t want to see the looks on their faces when they hear the news, doesn’t want to be the one to answer all their worried and frantic questions.

Derek feels sad and angry and tired. He leaves Duke’s office and doesn’t want to do the one last issue. He’d quit right now if it didn’t mean that other people would have to do his work, if it didn’t mean that Stiles was alone here with Duke.

His breath catches when he sees Stiles slip out of the bathroom. Derek rushes after him, bumping into a few people, before he gently tugs at Stiles’ wrist and pulls him back into the bathroom again.

Stiles winces. “Ow, fuck, let go,” he says, and Derek immediately pulls away. They’re alone in the bathroom and Stiles stares at himself in the mirror instead of looking at Derek.

“What’s wrong?” Derek says. Stiles’ breaths are too frequent and a little shallow.

“Nothing.”

“Stiles,” he says, inching closer. Derek looks over his shoulder and checks that the rest of the bathroom in empty. “Duke knows you went through his things in the office.”

Stiles nods.

“Did he say something to you?” Derek asks tentatively. Stiles doesn’t look happy. His smiles had been more frequent over the past couple of weeks, when they were at home and spending time together there. It had been nice, but now, his eyes look grim.

“Yeah,” he says, and then he sighs and holds out his arm. Derek gently takes his arm and pushes up the white sleeve and his heart seizes. He sees the faint outline of fingers around Stiles’ wrist, the skin a raw red.

Derek closes his eyes for a moment.

“You can’t say anything,” Stiles snaps.

“Why not?”

Stiles lowers his voice and hisses through his teeth. “Because I asked you to. Because he might do something worse. Because he’ll probably find some way to blame you and I refuse to let that happen.”

“I don’t care about what happens to me,” Derek tells him.

Stiles glares. “Then let the other reasons be enough, okay?”

“Fine,” Derek says, and Stiles deflates.

“Thanks,” he says quietly, and then he puts on a smile that’s enough to fool the others, that’s enough to convince them everything is okay, but doesn’t do much to soothe the worry Derek feels.

Derek gets home and collapses onto the couch. He and Stiles barely say a word to one another, until one of them suggests getting takeout for dinner. Their moods improve with some food in their stomachs but Derek’s phone doesn’t stop buzzing with messages.

He already has too many emails and texts to answer from his colleagues, all of them wanting more details about the magazine closing down. The office had turned quiet when Derek gave them the news and Derek knew that they weren’t expecting it – at least not yet.

“Oh my god, just turn off your phone,” Stiles says, irritated.

“I can’t,” Derek says.

“Ugh,” Stiles says, and dumps his food on the coffee table. He sinks back down on the couch and he looks a little pathetic. “Today has been the worst.”

“Yeah,” Derek says.

“And I got another rejection today,” Stiles says, playing with the hem of his shirt. “It sucks because you get your hopes up and then… nothing.”

Derek glances at him. Stiles’ eyes are shimmering, like he’s close to tears. Derek wants to go and sit beside him, just to comfort him, but he doubts he’d be welcome.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, wiping the back of his hand over his face. “No one told me it was going to be this hard, you know? I’d go to college, find a job, earn some money, maybe find someone… But I don’t know.”

Derek struggles to find something to say. But he shuffles closer to Stiles on the couch, and awkwardly catches and holds his gaze. “You still have time,” Derek says gently.

Stiles bites his lip. “ We’ve still got time,” he says, and Derek supposes that there are a few parts of his life that have seemed to go backwards instead of forwards. He’s not going to have a job anymore and his love life has been pitiful.

They’re still looking at each other when they hear the ring of the phone again. Stiles jumps and groans.

“Ugh, please can you turn the phone off?”

Derek frowns and turns back to his phone. It’s not ringing but he has at least a dozen new unread emails. “Stiles, it’s not mine.”

“Oh,” says Stiles sheepishly, and he scrambles around for his phone. “Hello? Oh. Dad. Hey.” Derek turns away from him and begins to clear away their dirty dishes. He doesn’t miss the way Stiles glances at him while he’s speaking to his father.

Derek waits at the edge of the room and rings his fingers together. He tries to guess what Stiles’ father is saying, but he can’t possibly figure it out.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, his back to Derek. “I’ll let him know. Thanks pops.”

Derek swallows. “Stiles?”

Stiles turns around, arms resting on the back of the couch, a tentative smile on his face. Derek looks at him hopelessly.

“You have a sister,” Stiles says.

“You’re sure?” Derek says hoarsely.

“Yeah,” he says, and Derek breathes in, suddenly elated. He didn’t know he wanted Laura to be his sister until the very moment Stiles told him he had one. Derek runs a hand through his hair and shakes his head, hiding his smile. “What do I do?”

He looks up and Stiles is smiling back at him. The room feels warmer, happier, than it did a few minutes ago. Derek lets himself grin.

“I’ve got her phone number,” Stiles says. “You can message her. The wedding is probably soon.”

“Right,” Derek says. “The wedding.” He looks at Stiles. “Will you come with me?”

“Sure,” Stiles says easily, and Derek is thrown by the way there’s no hesitation in his voice. They look at each a moment longer and then Stiles yawns loudly, scrunching up his eyes. Derek pulls his gaze away but he can’t keep the small smile from his face.

Derek meets his sister in a bar the next evening. Laura is already waiting from him, waving as soon as Derek enters the room.

“Derek!” she says.

“Hi.”

He sits down opposite her and shrugs off his jacket. She’s already ordered him a drink and they look at each other for a few awkward seconds. Derek takes in her long, brown hair and her grey eyes. He supposes that they look similar enough, that they could be related.

“Thanks for meeting up with me,” Laura says.

“It’s no problem,” Derek says, finding his voice. “I’m sure you’re very busy with your wedding.”

She smiles. “It’s pretty full on. But it’s important to me that you’d be there.”

Derek frowns. “Why? I – I may be your… brother . But I’m basically a stranger to you.”

Laura’s smile fades slightly. “I’m adopted. I’ve always wondered what my real family would be like. It’s not something I can suddenly not want. I guess I was… disappointed when I found out they had passed away.”

Derek’s throat goes tight.

“Of course, I didn’t know them. It must be much worse for you.”

Derek lips press together. He hardly finds himself talking about his family. Melissa and Scott are his family – and in a way Stiles is too. They’ve been a part of his life for a long time now.

“Laura,” he says. “My parents died in a fire. I have nothing at all that belongs to them. It was awful when it happened but I was a kid and I barely remember my mother anymore. I – I don’t know what you want. I have nothing to give you.”

Laura raises an eyebrow. “Derek. You’re still my half-brother. I want to know you.”

Derek feels bewildered.

“Look, you don’t have to make any decisions about me now,” she says. “I know I’m a stranger. But I would really appreciate it if you came to my wedding. It’s in two weeks.”

Derek nods. “I’ll go.”

Laura beams at him. They stay a little bit longer, and Derek talks about growing up and he listens to Laura talk about her own family. She mentions her fiancé and the wedding and when Laura asks about his work Derek tells her that the history magazine is shutting down.

It’s nice. It’s still very strange to think about her as his sister, but she’s easy to talk to.

Stiles is waiting up for him when he gets back to the apartment. He immediately pauses the movie he’s watching when Derek steps inside and he looks at him intently.

“So?” he asks.

“I don’t know what I was expecting,” Derek admits. “But it was nice.”

Stiles looks at him carefully. He waits for Derek to speak.

Derek sighs, toeing off his shoes. “We both want to know more about our family, but we can’t give it to each other. She knows nothing and I’ve forgotten everything. I don’t even have pictures.”

Stiles pauses. “Surely you have some memories to share with her?”

His heart feels hollow. “Yeah. Maybe.”

“I think you do,” says Stiles softly. “Even… even if she has nothing to share with you, don’t you think it will be nice if you could give something to her? She’s family.”

Derek looks down.

“Is she family?”

“Melissa and Scott are family,” Derek says, voice low.

Stiles huffs. “I know that. But are you going to let her become part of your family?”

Derek looks back at him. “I think that my mother would have liked that.”

Stiles smiles at him. “Okay then.”

Derek hesitates. He knows he’s not the person Stiles talks to about these things – if he does talk about it all – but Derek wants to ask. They’ve been talking more and arguing less since they’ve been living together and maybe it’s okay for him to bring it up. “What about your mother?” he asks. “Do you remember her?”

Stiles’ eyes go wide. “Um,” he says.

Derek shakes his head. “Sorry. You don’t – you don’t have to answer.”

“No,” Stiles says quickly. He tries to smile. “It’s fine. I remember her. Sometimes it feels like I’ve just woken up and I’m trying to remember a dream, you know? But then other times she’s a lot clearer.”

Derek listens and nods slowly.

Stiles stands up abruptly. “I’m kinda tired,” he says, reaching for the blankets that he sleeps with. Derek watches him for a few moments as he settles on the couch, trying not to admire the way Stiles’ thin shirt stretches over his shoulders, and he wonders if he shouldn’t have said anything.

“Can you get the light?” Stiles mumbles.

“Sure,” Derek says. He gets a glass of water from the kitchen and then turns out all the lights in the apartment. He gets ready for bed and then lies awake in the dark.

He was almost happy to see Laura this evening but he finds that his mind floats to Stiles. It’s somehow, suddenly, so easy with Stiles living here, despite everything at work and their past animosity.

Derek knows that he’s falling harder than he’s ever let himself fall for Stiles. In the past, he wouldn’t have even come close to here, and he’d push Stiles away before he fell further in love with someone who only wanted to argue with him.

He’s starting to think that it was the biggest mistake he could have made because now… now with a little time they’re almost friends. It’s not love or even like , but it’s more than he ever thought he would get.

It’s a long few weeks at work as Derek tries to help everyone understand what’s happening with the closing down of the magazine. It’s a lot of work and it’s exhausting , and it’s another thing Derek has to do instead of Duke.

He still spends time researching and writing articles that he isn’t supposed to be writing, and he still sits in on meetings and tries not to hate Duke on sight. Stiles handles it better than him. Stiles manages to keep a smile on his face and pretend that everything’s alright.

Stiles seems to spend his life pretending – at dinner with Scott and Melissa, at work, and on the phone to his father – but at the apartment it seems like he’s too tired to. Derek feels grateful that Stiles is comfortable enough not to hide from him.

“Derek?”

“Yeah?” Derek says, not looking up from his laptop. He jumps when Stiles sits down on the seat next to him at the kitchen table.

“Still going?” he says.

Derek rubs his eyes and nods. He’s finishing an article at home and the only reason why he’s not still in his office is because Stiles dragged him out of there and made sure he had some dinner.

“You can do it,” he says, surprisingly earnest.

“Thanks,” Derek mutters, his cheeks a little pink.

“So, it’s a three hour drive to the resort where Laura’s wedding is. It’s away from the city which is nice, and on the way, we’re passing a couple of hiking trails,” he says. “We could leave a little bit earlier and check them out.”

Stiles looks at him hopefully.

“Yeah,” Derek says. “Yeah, that sounds good.”

Stiles smiles brightly. “Cool. We can bring some sandwiches or something. There are a couple hikes to choose from – but this one goes up and on the way down there’s a lake. It might be good.”

Derek nods, and he’s unwilling to turn back to his work. Stiles drags his chair closer so that it’s easy to show him pictures of the hike online. He can feel their legs pressing together under the table and he’s so aware of it but Stiles seems oblivious.

Derek clears his throat. “You sure you can manage that hill?” he says lightly.

Stiles elbows him in the side and grins. “Hey, out of the both of us you’re the old man. You own a letter opener.”

Derek narrows his eyes. “It’s practical.”

“Of course, it is,” Stiles says, his eyes bright. He bumps their knees together. “You finish your article. Don’t stay up too late though – we’ll need to leave early tomorrow. Does eight sound good?”

Derek nods.

“Yes! It will be a road trip,” Stiles says excitedly. “I wish I still had the Jeep, but it’s just gathering dust in dad’s garage.”

“Well, we wouldn’t want the Jeep to break down again,” Derek says, smirking, and Stiles just laughs and walks away. Derek goes back to his work, and as he writes he listens to the easy sounds of Stiles getting ready for bed.

“’Morning,” Derek says, yawning as he walks into the kitchen. Stiles smiles back at him but for the most part they’re both quiet in the mornings. Derek makes them both a cup of coffee and soon enough they’re ready to leave, a wedding gift sitting on the back seat of the car.

“I don’t think the caffeine has kicked in yet,” Stiles says, and he plucks the keys from Derek’s hands. Derek glares.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to drive,” Stiles says, eyes looking amused. “Let me know when you actually wake up.”

Derek is too tired to argue and he sits in the passenger seat and closes his eyes. He finished his article and sent it to Duke last night but he’s only had a few hours of sleep.

He wakes with a jolt to unfamiliar music playing softly and Stiles muttering the lyrics under his breath as he keeps his eyes on the road. The morning sun is lovely against his skin and Derek quickly looks away when he realizes he’s been staring.

“Where are we?” he says, voice croaking.

Stiles glances over at him. “Almost at the trail. You still want to do this?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, rubbing his eyes. He doesn’t want to say no to spending time with Stiles. It’s easier, now, to be around him just because Derek is around him so frequently. It’s easier to be himself. “It should be good.”

Stiles hums. “You finish the article?”

“Barely,” Derek says.

“Look,” Stiles says. “Let’s not think about work or anything until we get home again, okay? We’re not allowed to talk about it. Deal?”

Derek’s lip twitches. “Deal,” he says, and Stiles’ shoulders lose their tension.

They arrive and the trail is wide enough that they can walk side by side. The air is sticky and the path is an uneven mess of dirt and tree roots. They’re surrounded by green, sunlight filtering through the leaves, and it’s lovely and quiet except for the sound of their breaths and Stiles’ chatter as they walk up the hill.

Stiles collapses on the ground when the reach the peak of the hike. His shirt sticks to his chest with sweat and it’s not as disgusting as it should be. Derek takes off his small backpack and sits next to him.

“Water,” Stiles says, and Derek dutifully passes him the bottle. He takes a long drink, spilling water over his chin and down his throat. “How are you not out of breath?”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “I exercise.”

“I do too!” Stiles insists.

“And I didn’t spend the whole hike talking,” Derek points out, and Stiles laughs.

“Sorry,” he says. “I guess I don’t know when to shut up.”

“I didn’t mind,” Derek says quietly, and Stiles props himself up on his elbows. He stares at Derek for a few moments, like he’s trying to understand him, but then he turns away.

“The view is nice.”

Derek hums in agreement, looking at the rows of trees in the distance, the clear blue sky, and the lake down below shimmering in the sun.

“Definitely worth the effort,” Stiles says.

They wolf down the sandwiches Stiles packed before they head back down the hill. It’s an easier trip but the closer they get to the end the more agitated Derek gets. He can feel Stiles glancing at him questioningly.

Derek sighs. “What do you think the wedding will be like?”

Stiles shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s probably going to be pretty fancy.”

“I hate that I don’t know anyone,” Derek says.

Stiles knocks their shoulders together as they walk. “You know me,” he says lightly. “But it’s just a wedding, Derek. You don’t have to worry.”

Derek nods tightly and they walk in silence until they reach the lake. Stiles immediately takes off his shoes and steps into the water, gasping and swearing at the cold. Derek laughs at him and he’s standing close enough that Stiles can splash him with some water.

They don’t stay long because they need to get back on the road. Derek drives this time but he still lets Stiles choose the music – some random pop songs that he nods his head vigorously to. When they arrive at the resort they find their room and Stiles grins delightedly when he spots the two double beds.

“Fuck, I can’t wait to sleep on an actual bed,” he says.

“Is my couch not good enough for you?” Derek teases.

Stiles huffs. “It’s definitely better than nothing.” He kicks off his shoes. “I’m going to shower. I probably smell awful.”

Derek finds their suits and lays them on the beds, listening to the sound of the shower. Stiles is still singing one of the songs they heard in the car and Derek can’t help but smile to himself. It’s already been such a good day. He doesn’t really want it to end.

They sit in one of the back rows during the ceremony and it’s clear that they know no one. Stiles is next to him and he looks unfairly handsome, his hair swept back and his black suit showing off the breadth of his shoulders. Derek struggles to keep his gaze off him, even when the bride arrives.

But Laura looks beautiful in her white dress, a small bouquet of flowers in her hands. It’s a lovely ceremony, not too long, and Derek feels a little out of place. He can’t help but feel like he’s intruding even though this is his sister’s wedding.

“Derek!”

The reception is well underway when he hears someone call his name. Derek turns and he sees Laura waving at him. He smiles at her. “Laura,” he says. “Congratulations.”

She grins and takes his hands. “Thank you. I’m so happy that you came! We need to get a picture together.”

Derek hesitates but then she pulls him over to the rest of her family. Laura introduces him as her long-lost brother and he’s thankful when he’s met with friendly smiles. He takes a few photographs with them and then politely excuses himself.

Laura stops him. “You’re staying at the resort overnight, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Derek tells her.

“There will be breakfast here tomorrow morning,” Laura says. “It’s just family but you and your date should join us.”

“Thanks, but –”

“Please,” she says, smiling hopefully, and then Derek can’t bring himself to say no. Her smile brightens and then she’s being whisked away by someone else.

Derek tries to look for Stiles in the crowd but he seems to have lost him. He gets a drink from the open bar and wanders slowly around the room, admiring the large, white flowers and the rows of lights hanging from the ceiling.

It’s lovely. He just wishes he had Stiles to talk to.

Then he spots him on the dance floor, jacket lost and his shirt sleeves pushed to his elbows. He’s dancing with the flower girl and he laughs with his whole body as he spins her around. Derek can’t help but smile but his heart aches as he watches Stiles, knowing that he’ll never be able to have him.

He doesn’t know how long he stands there, sipping from his drink, but then Stiles catches his gaze and gives him an amused look.

“Derek,” he calls out. “Dance with us!”

Derek shakes his head and then Stiles’ smile fades. The look of disappointment on his face sends a jolt through Derek’s heart and he puts down his empty glass and walks over to the dance floor. He taps on Stiles’ shoulder.

Stiles turns. “Oh,” he says. “Hey.”

“Dancing?” Derek prompts.

“Yeah,” says Stiles, smiling again, and they both turn back to the young girl but she’s disappeared. “Oh well – we can still dance. Right?”

Derek nods and then startles when he feels Stiles’ hand slip into his own. He tries to ignore the feel of their skin pressed together but then Stiles smirks and takes his other hand.

“Come on,” Stiles says, moving their hands to try and get him to feel the beat of the music. “I bet you have a musical bone in your body somewhere.”

Derek huffs. “I just know how to sway,” he admits.

“Okay,” Stiles says, and then he steps even closer. He places a hand on Derek’s chest and tentatively Derek rests his own against Stiles’ waist. His body is warm through his shirt.

Stiles looks pleased that Derek isn’t moving away, but he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s playing with Derek’s heart. They begin to sway and Stiles smirks.

“Your dancing skills amaze me,” he says.

Derek rolls his eyes. “Where have you been all night?” he asks. “It’s late.”

Stiles shrugs. “Just talking to people. Networking.” Derek’s eyebrows jump up in surprise. “What? Can’t be on your own for five minutes?” he teases.

“I don’t know anyone.”

“That doesn’t stop me,” Stiles says. “But I get it. How’s your sister?”

“Good,” Derek says. “She already left and she seems happy. She invited us for breakfast with her family tomorrow morning.”

Stiles hums. “Sounds good,” he says, and then he somehow comes even closer. Their chests press together and Derek can feel exactly where Stiles’ fingertips press against his jacket.

Derek forces himself to breathe and they dance a few more songs together, sometimes talking, sometimes not. Derek can see the warm brown of Stiles’ eyes but he’s scared of the way Stiles is looking at him, like he’s trying to understand something.

Derek drops his hands and takes a step back. He knows he’s not allowed this. “I’m kind of tired,” Derek says.

Stiles nods. “It’s been a long day,” he says and doesn’t argue. He finds his jacket and then Derek follows him to their room, carefully keeping a few steps behind.

They get inside and don’t sit down. Stiles is standing across the room, a strange look on his face. Derek takes off his jacket and throws it on one of the beds.

“I had a good time with you tonight,” Stiles says.

Derek smiles. “Yeah,” he says. “Me too.”

Stiles takes a step forward and Derek isn’t sure why there’s so much tension in the room. He doesn’t know what Stiles is thinking, doesn’t know what their dances together meant. He tries to keep his breaths even.

Stiles still looks handsome even though his hair is now a mess and his cheeks are flushed. He looks like he’s thinking, a small frown on his face and his eyes dark. He licks his lips and his hands twitch by his sides.

Derek makes himself drag his eyes away and when he meets Stiles’ gaze he realizes that it’s been quiet for too long.

“Is something wrong?” Derek asks, voice lower than he intends.

Stiles shrugs, and then finally looks away. “It’s just – I want to – can I?” he says.

Derek raises an eyebrow. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

Stiles nods seriously, but he doesn’t elaborate. Derek sighs, and he decides he’s had enough of this weird, charged air between them. It’s not unfamiliar – it sometimes feels like this when they’re arguing, or when they’re teasing each other, but neither of those things are happening and Derek doesn’t understand it.

“Wait,” Stiles says.

“What?” he says, almost tiredly, and then everything is a blur as Stiles walks to him, presses his hands lightly on Derek’s chest, and then kisses him.

Derek’s eyes flutter shut. It’s a long press of lips, and when Stiles pulls back his own eyes stay closed. His hands hover by his sides and his heart is wild in his chest.

He finally opens his eyes and he finds Stiles looking at him. His eyes dart across Stiles’ face, and he feels so unsure , and he doesn’t know what just happened. Stiles is still standing so close.

Stiles doesn’t look affected, and Derek knows that he must look startled and wide-eyed. Derek glances down at Stiles’ lips. He tries to find something to say, but there’s nothing but confusion going through his head. He never thought Stiles would – and no he can’t feel this way – and Derek can’t figure out what he fucking wants.

He realizes, maybe too late, that Stiles was waiting for him to do something next.

“Sorry –” Stiles starts, but it’s already happened and Derek doesn’t want to lose his chance. He lifts a hand, cups Stiles’ jaw, and pulls him closer. Derek brings their lips together and Stiles kisses him back almost immediately, opening his mouth, his hands running over Derek’s chest and then moving around his neck. Derek feels close to intoxicated even though he’s only had one drink this evening. It feels good – better than he thought it would be – and it’s Stiles, it’s Stiles, and he can tell the moment Stiles stops being careful.

He presses in harder, and Derek’s fingers tighten where they’re now resting on Stiles’ hips. Then he needs to breathe, needs to think, because this is so stupid , because he knows, he knows, that this doesn’t mean anything to Stiles.

Derek’s hands find Stiles’ chest and he pushes him back. Stiles stumbles slightly and then they stare at each other, both breathing hard.

Derek glares. “What was that?” he demands.

“Look,” Stiles says quickly. “I’m not – I don’t – this doesn’t mean I’m in love with you.”

Derek feels his cheeks flush. “I didn’t think you were,” he snaps.

Stiles sighs. Derek wants to kiss him again. “But I trust you. And I’m attracted to you. And I thought –”

“You thought what? That I would fuck you because I have feelings for you?”

“No,” Stiles says through his teeth. “Fuck, you’re so difficult sometimes. I just mean that we’ve had a really good time today, and tonight, and you’re fun when you want to be, and I trust you.”

Derek looks at the floor. His head is throbbing and his lips are tingling and he still doesn’t know what Stiles wants. But he never thought he’d get to dance with Stiles, that he’d get to kiss him, let alone anything more.

It’s probably stupid to agree to whatever it is that Stiles is asking for but Derek can’t bring himself to care. He’s sure he’s going to break his own heart but… but it might also be the thing that will allow him to move on.

“We don’t have to do this, Derek,” Stiles says quietly, but he moves closer.

“No, wait,” Derek says, and his hand lands on Stiles’ waist. He doesn’t want to let go just yet.

Stiles lets out a breath. “So I can do this?” he whispers, a smile on his face. He steps forward and gets as close to Derek as possible without touching him. Then their lips brush over each other.

“Yeah,” Derek says back, and then it stops being hesitant.

They fall onto a bed, kissing, and they don’t really talk. There are a few smiles, a few careful nods, and they don’t take their hands off each other except to take off their clothes. Derek drinks up the noises Stiles makes, the gasps and the moans, as well as the way he says Derek’s name.

“Don’t,” Stiles says, one hand in Derek’s hair. Their noses brush together. “Don’t hold back.”

Stiles’ eyes are blown as they look at each other, his cheeks flushed. Derek is scared of betraying everything he feels with each touch to Stiles’ skin but… but Stiles already knows how he feels.

“I won’t,” Derek promises.

Stiles slowly grins back at him and Derek needs more than anything to make him feel as good as he possibly can. He presses a light kiss to Stiles’ lips and then makes his way down Stiles’ body, making sure to trace every mole down his chest with his tongue.

They’re both sweaty and hot when it’s over, their legs tangled together. Stiles’ head rests on Derek’s shoulder and he plays with the hair on Derek’s chest. He expects it to be awkward but it’s not.

“I know it’s late,” says Stiles. “But I really, really want to do that again.”

Derek’s throat goes dry. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“I just – I just need a minute,” Derek says, and he hears a sweet laugh.

It’s slower the next time around, and somehow even easier. They fuck each other again and Derek can’t get enough of it, groaning when Stiles’ fingernails scratch down his back. Stiles’ skin is smooth and hot to the touch and Derek has no idea what he’s supposed to do when this is over.

He wakes the next morning to the sound of the shower running. Derek lies back and stares at the ceiling, heart beginning to thud in his chest, remembering everything that happened so, so clearly. He needs to see Stiles’ face, needs to know where they stand, needs to know if it was only for one night.

Derek can’t believe that they slept with each other when they live together. It’s the most stupid thing he could have done when Stiles is using his place to get away from everything else. He hopes he hasn’t ruined that.

“Hey.”

Derek sits up and he sees Stiles with a towel wrapped around his waist, his hair wet. Derek can see a few bruises on his chest in the shape of his mouth.

“Hi,” says Derek carefully.

Stiles smiles at him. “We’re late for breakfast.”

“Oh,” says Derek, and he quickly gets out of bed. He’s tired and hungry and he glances at Stiles before he slips into the bathroom. He feels a little better once he’s clean and he’s been standing under the hot water for a few minutes.

Stiles is waiting for him, looking at his phone, and Derek gets dressed without saying anything.

“Ready?” Stiles says, and Derek nods. They walk down together in silence and he’s about to say something when he sees the family all together. He grimaces when he sees that Laura isn’t there.

“You must be Derek.”

He looks up and sees a woman with blonde hair and a round face that he was introduced to yesterday. Her smile is kind and he recognizes her as Laura’s mother.

“Yes,” he says. “Sorry we’re late.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she says. “It was good of you to come to the wedding – Laura really wanted you there. I do have to say that you both look very similar!”

“I guess so,” Derek says, and he sees Stiles roll his eyes before he takes Derek’s arm.

“Derek’s looking forward to getting to know her better,” he says smoothly, and then he introduces himself, a cheerful smile on his face.

They sit down next to each other at the breakfast table and Derek feels cold when Stiles drops his arm. Derek desperately wants to know what he’s thinking but he betrays nothing, eating the breakfast food, and chatting with someone he met at the wedding.

“Did you enjoy the wedding?” someone asks Derek. It was a beautiful day, but Derek can’t help but glance at Stiles.

“Yes,” he replies. “Very much.”

Stiles stills next to him, but he doesn’t turn back to Derek.

Derek sighs and the rest of breakfast passes by quickly, lost in his own head. He talks to those who talk to him, tries to explain how he and Laura are related, but all he wants to do is hear what Stiles has to say about their night together.

They’re outside by the car, checked out and ready to start the three hour drive back when Stiles turns to him. He stands more than a few feet away.

“Look,” he says, eyes determined. “I – I know it’s kind of awkward but can we talk about it when we get back home?”

Derek’s eyes dart over his face. He takes a deep breath and then he nods.

“Thank you,” Stiles says, and then he reaches forward and briefly squeezes Derek’s hand. “I promise we will talk about it.”

Derek nods tightly and he knows he’s going to spend the whole ride bracing himself for what Stiles is going to say. Derek knows very clearly that Stiles isn’t in love with him. He’s not stupid. He’s not going to blindly hope for something more.

It’s the longest few hours of his life. Stiles keeps glancing at him, and every so often it looks like he wants to say something but doesn’t. Derek doesn’t know what to make of it.

They stop for food at a diner and order burgers, sitting opposite each other at a small booth. Their knees occasionally brush but Derek does his best to ignore it.

“These are good,” Stiles says, licking sauce off his fingers. He stops when Derek pushes his own food away. “You’re not hungry?”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “Stiles –”

Stiles waits. His brown eyes look at him hesitantly.

“I know that I have no reason to hope for anything more than what happened last night,” Derek says. “But I want to let you know –”

“Derek –”

Derek’s jaw hardens. “But I want to let you know that it doesn’t matter what you say – you can still live with me. You wouldn’t have to find somewhere else just because you didn’t want me. I wouldn’t do that to you.”

Stiles’ face softens. “I know,” he says. His eyes are so warm and lovely that Derek has to look away. “Thank you.”

Derek nods. His heart feels empty.

“So, I was thinking – what do you want?” Stiles says. “I’m sorry to make you wait on this drive, but I had to figure out what to say to you. And then I realized I didn’t really know what you wanted – yeah, you have feelings for me but –”

Derek frowns in confusion. “I – I guess that,” he says slowly. “I want to get over you.” It’s what he’s spent his whole life trying to do.

Stiles takes a sudden, angry bite out of his burger and chews. “Really? Honestly? Is it that bad being in love with me? God.”

Derek sits up a little. “What do you mean?”

“I would have thought the first thing you’d want is for me to return your feelings and – and to be in a relationship or something.”

Derek blinks. “Oh,” he says. “Yes . But I know that’s unlikely –”

Stiles looks at him, a little annoyed. “Derek, I’m not a fucking asshole. I know – I know that you like me. I wouldn’t sleep with someone that I lived with, that I knew had feelings for me, if I wasn’t – if I wasn’t going to offer you something.”

He feels a budding hope in his chest, warm, and he’s scared to hear what Stiles is going to tell him. But he listens – intently – and doesn’t keep his eyes off Stiles’ face.

Stiles runs a hand through his hair, grimacing as he tries to find his words. He wets his lips and then his voice comes out small. “I haven’t really experienced the whole falling in love thing,” he admits, like it’s some secret confession. “But… but after Duke I’m sick of it. I’m sick of being with guys who don’t really care about me and who I don’t really care about. I’m sick of not – of not being with a guy like you.” He smiles weakly. “I think we should date. I can’t promise that I will fall in love with you but I have to start somewhere. I like you, Derek. I trust you.”

“That’s what you said last night,” he says quietly.

Stiles nods. “Yeah,” he says, and Derek knows that he doesn’t trust that easily.

Derek leans back in his chair. He tries to fight the smile on his face because, fuck, this is so much better than one night. It’s a chance .

“I’d really like that,” he says eventually. “Us. Dating.”

“Yeah?” Stiles says, biting his lip.

“But you still need to sleep on the couch.” Stiles rolls his eyes. “I’m serious,” Derek says. He – he needs some distance somewhere otherwise it’s going to be too much.

“Fine.”

Derek hesitates. “And I need to tell Scott.”

Stiles’ expression goes pinched.

“I can’t hide this from him, Stiles, even if he probably won’t understand it,” he says. Stiles huffs. “Let me talk to him first though,” Derek says.

Stiles lets out a particularly heavy sigh before he agrees. “Are you going to tell him that I’m living with you,” he asks flatly.

Derek nods. Stiles rubs his hands over his face. “You’ve been there over a month,” he says quietly. “He’s going to find out at some point.”

“Don’t tell him about Duke. He knows we broke up but that’s it.”

“I won’t,” Derek says softly. He smiles and he can’t believe his own luck that Stiles is sitting in front of him, offering this. They finish their food and their shoulders brush as they walk back to the car, glancing at each other, small smiles on their faces. Derek is nervous but it’s a nice kind of nervous.

Stiles turns to him. “I’m excited, about us, dating,” he says. “I want you to know that.”

“Me too,” he says, and then Stiles kisses him.

“I have to tell you something,” Derek says, and Scott smiles at him encouragingly. They're at the park, only a ten minute walk away from Derek's apartment, with the sun shining on their backs. An empty pizza box sits between them on the grass.

It’s been a week since the wedding and with everything at work there hasn’t been much time to go on dates but… it’s been nice. It’s been more than nice, this shift in their relationship, and now Stiles sits close to him on the couch, kisses him in the kitchen, flirts with him and then teases him.

Derek doesn’t have to hide what he fucking feels. He doesn’t have to pretend or avert his gaze or try not to touch him. It’s been a dream.

Derek looks at Scott and takes a deep breath. “Stiles needed a place to stay a while back and he’s been living with me.”

Scott blinks. “What? Really?”

Derek nods.

Scott looks confused and then hurt flickers over his face. “Why didn’t he say anything?” he demands.

“I – I don’t know. You need to ask him that,” Derek says. “He probably didn’t want to worry you – or disappoint you.”

Scott’s mouth turns down and he starts playing with blades of grass between his fingers.

“Scott,” says Derek, hesitant. Scott looks back at him his nostrils flaring. “That’s – that’s not what I want to tell you. Stiles went with me to the wedding and –” He doesn’t finish. He doesn’t know how to say this because Scott has always known. He’s known about Derek’s feelings and has always tried to point out his friend’s faults, has always tried to get Derek to give up on Stiles.

Scott’s face turns hard. “Something happened.”

“Yes,” Derek admits.

“Did you sleep together?” Scott asks.

His cheeks go red. “Yes.”

Scott takes a deep breath. He leans forward and looks at him determinedly. “Derek – this is a bad idea. He doesn’t like you.”

Derek glares. “He likes me enough!” His chest constricts and he tries not to let his anger show. “He may not love me but we’ve started dating. Surely this is better than pining away from a distance and hoping something will change.”

“Derek,” Scott says, insistently. “You’re going to get hurt.”

“Let me make this mistake – please,” Derek says, feeling the breeze on his skin. “If it doesn’t work then I’ll know for sure that it doesn’t work and then I can move on.”

“This isn’t a good idea,” he says.

Derek bites his lip. “I don’t care.”

Scott stares at him and Derek stares back. He refuses to give up on Stiles when it’s been going so well, when they’ve actually been getting along, when Stiles’ smiles have even started to grow fond.

“Fine,” Scott says. “Don’t listen to me. I know you two have been better during dinners with Mom but… honestly, I would’ve never guessed this.”

“You don’t have to understand it,” Derek says flatly, trying – trying not to be mad because he knows that Scott’s only trying to help. He looks down and sighs. “I don’t think he knows how long it’s been. He assumed it was recent – from when we started working together.”

“Derek.” Scott’s eyes seem to be full of pity. Derek hates it.

“Don’t tell him. Let me tell him that.”

“Fine,” Scott says, sighing. It looks like he’s going to let it go but then he shakes his head and his voice bursts out of him. “You’re living together, Derek! It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Derek breathes in through his nose. He knows he looks mad and he doesn’t want to say anything in case he hurts Scott’s feelings but he hates the way Scott looks at him like he’s lost his mind – like he can’t possibly understand how or why things have changed. But he doesn’t know about Duke, about the drama at work, about how Stiles has been helping him with Laura.

“Okay,” he finally says. “I’m – I’m going to talk to him. And when he breaks your heart again I promise to be here.”

Derek presses his lips together. He can't look at Scott right now, not when he's expecting the worst, and he stares at the group of kids further down who are playing football and laughing with each other.

Derek can’t blame Stiles for breaking his heart when he never knew how Derek felt. He can’t even blame him if it happens again because Stiles hasn’t promised more than what he can give.

“Scott – just – I know you don’t like it,” Derek says, still looking away. “It may not work but it’s definitely not going to work if you’re against us. I love him. I want this chance with him. Please let me have that.”

Scott sighs but he at least tries to smile. “Okay,” he says. “I’ll be supportive.”

Derek closes his eyes in relief. “Thank you,” he says.

“I guess it would be nice if you two stopped fighting so much,” he says, and Derek chuckles.

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s pretty nice already.”

Scott still doesn’t hide his next sigh.

Derek doesn’t expect the beaming smile on Stiles’ face when he comes home the next evening. Derek stops what he’s doing – startled.

“So, it went well? You and Scott?” he asks nervously, shifting on the couch when Stiles crashes down next to him.

Stiles blinks. “Oh! Yeah. It was okay. I don’t really get him because he was upset when I wasn’t being nice to you, and now he’s kind of upset when I am being nice to you?”

Derek bites the inside of his cheek.

“But – yeah – surprisingly he was okay,” says Stiles, suddenly looking curious. “What did you say to him?”

Derek shrugs.

“It was harder explaining why I’ve been living with you,” Stiles says, running a hand through his hair. His voice is smaller. “But I guess – back then – I didn’t want him to see me like that. I didn’t want him to worry and I didn’t want to tell him I had fucked up.”

Derek reaches over and takes one of Stiles’ hands, amazed that he’s able to comfort him like this. Stiles smiles and shuffles into Derek’s space.

“But I have some news,” Stiles says, eyes shining. He can’t keep the smile off his face and Derek holds his breath, eagerly waiting for it. “The lady I was speaking to at Laura’s wedding got back to me. She’s offered me a job at her company in human resources.”

“Stiles, that’s amazing,” Derek says. “When do you start?”

“As soon as the magazine has shut down,” he says. “It’s only a couple of weeks and this way I don’t have to talk to Duke and give him notice. It’s easier to stay to the end.”

Derek nods.

“And,” Stiles says with a sigh. “I really don’t want to leave you alone with him.”

Derek feels happily surprised at his concern, but then shakes his head. “Stiles, I’m fine –”

Stiles interrupts him with a kiss. He pulls back and smiles a little. “Let’s celebrate,” he says. “Please.”

Derek glances at his laptop beside him and at the work he still needs to do. But then he meets Stiles’ gaze and he doesn’t care anymore. “There’s a bottle of wine in the kitchen.”

“Sounds good.”

Derek stands and he can feel Stiles’ eyes on him on his way to the kitchen. He pours them both a glass of white wine and then returns to the couch. Stiles snorts when he sees the glasses.

“I normally drink straight from the bottle.”

“It tastes better this way,” Derek says, and he watches Stiles’ throat as he takes a sip.

“Uh huh,” Stiles says, and then his eyes brighten. “Hey! Did you get my email?”

Derek shakes his head.

“I sent you a bunch of job openings and people you can contact,” he says. “I know you’re super busy right now so I thought I would help you with it. If you give me your résumé I can also update it for you – maybe give it some personality,” he says, winking.

 

Derek feels his skin go warm. He wasn’t expecting Stiles to help him with something like that – to help him without being asked to first. That’s the kind of thing he’s always done for his friends, for Scott, and definitely not for Derek.

It’s all he’s wanted – for Stiles to care about him enough .

And now Stiles is here in his apartment with a teasing glint in his eye. There’s a warm smile on his face that Derek has seen more and more lately, and there’s this easiness to him that Derek knows he doesn’t usually give in to.

“Stiles – you, well – I love you,” Derek blurts out.

Stiles stops smiling but he doesn’t look unhappy. His eyes are almost shining.

“I mean,” Derek says, looking down and his cheeks red. “Thank you for doing that. And thank you for helping me with my sister.”

Stiles lets out a breath and his gaze is steady. “That’s the first time you’ve told me you love me,” he says quietly.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Derek risks meeting his eyes. “Does – does it make you feel uncomfortable?”

“No,” he says, and he’s not laughing this time. Stiles takes their glasses and puts them on the coffee table before he sits back and just… waits.

Derek hesitates, scared that what he will do will say too much, but it seems to make the moment he cradles Stiles’ jaw and kisses him even better. It feels like nothing else exists and Derek kisses Stiles until he looks dazed.

Stiles wakes up in his bed the next morning, and then every morning after that. All of his things are scattered around the apartment, and now his clothes are on the floor of Derek’s room. It’s like he’s slowly making a space for himself here.

“I don’t want to go to work,” Stiles says. His face is pressed against Derek’s chest.

Derek sighs. “It’s almost over,” he says, running a hand up and down Stiles’ back. “It’s our last day.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, but they both know that they still don’t want to go.

They don’t speak as they get ready and Derek just feels so tired . It’s been calmer at the office with no more articles to research or write, but leaving his job behind is difficult. He has friends there – friends he’s barely seen since Duke started treating him unfairly – and he has memories there even though they’re now tainted.

Stiles is happy to leave everything behind. He wants to leave everything behind, and Derek doesn’t know if he’s included in that. He doesn’t want to ask and find out.

“I’ll see you later,” Stiles says, when they step out of the elevator.

Derek nods.

Stiles gives him a crooked smile before he’s off.

Derek wanders over to his office, frowning when he sees that the light in the room is already on. He slowly opens the door and he relaxes when he sees Allison there.

“Allison,” he says, smiling.

She gives him a tight smile in return and then sighs. “Derek, have you seen this month’s issue of History Monthly?

“Actually, no, I haven’t,” Derek says, walking over to her. She holds out the copy she’s holding to him and flips quickly through it. “Huh. It feels weird to hold the last issue.” He sighs. “I don’t think I’m going to miss it.”

Allison gently squeezes his arm. “Everyone here knows that you’ve been working too hard,” she says, and then she takes the magazine back and finds an article. “And I remember you working on this article – about the World War II shipwrecks that could still cause oil spills.”

“Yes,” Derek says.

“It doesn’t have your name on it.”

Derek narrows his eyes and then looks more carefully at the article. He’s sure that Allison has made a mistake, but then he sees Duke’s name in black print.

His nostril’s flare and he snatches the magazine from Allison’s hands, quickly finding all the articles he’s done for this issue. A handful of them have Duke’s name on the by-line. He knows it’s no accident.

Derek swears loudly, and throws the magazine to the floor. The paper is ripped and wrinkled and he’s breathing heavily. He can’t believe this – he can’t believe he worked almost non-stop for weeks and weeks and he didn’t even get the credit for it. He hates that he got caught up in Stiles’ mess and for a fleeting second, he wishes that Stiles hadn’t come and worked for the magazine.

“Derek?”

Derek takes a long breath in. “I’m okay,” he says.

Allison raises an eyebrow. “It’s okay not to be okay. He stole your work.”

Derek tries to smile at her. He doesn’t think he quite manages.

“Hey,” she says. “Me and everyone else here knows that you did that work. Okay? It will work out.”

Derek doesn’t think it will, but he thanks her anyway. He’s happy that he’s had her as a friend here over the years. Allison slips out of the room and Derek feels another burst of anger all over his skin. He picks up the ruined magazine and without knocking, he walks into Duke’s office.

Duke spots him, grins, and all Derek can do is glare.

“I did this work,” Derek says through his teeth. “You made me do all this work.”

“I think you’ll find that the magazine says otherwise.”

Derek has never hated anyone more. “I have proof that I did all this – research, drafts, emails.”

Duke just shows more of his teeth. His eyes are icy. “Oh,” he says. “I suppose you’re planning on telling someone. But I wouldn’t if I were you.”

“Why not?” Derek spits.

“Because I have proof that you broke into my house. You and your boyfriend forgot about the security cameras I have installed.”

The look he gives Duke is murderous. “He lived there and he had every right to get his things from you, asshole.”

“I’m sure the cops will see it that way,” Duke says.

“And I’m sure they’ll be very interested to know how quick you are with your fists,” he snaps. Derek takes a sure step forward. He snarls when he speaks. “I’m not afraid of anything you can threaten me with – not anymore. If you do anything else – if you dare to even touch Stiles again, then I will come for you.”

Duke sneers to cover up his surprise, and Derek ignores it. He throws the tattered magazine on the desk and turns away. His skin is vibrating with anger and it takes everything in him to walk away without getting violent.

“And,” Derek says, pausing at the door. He doesn’t bother to look at Duke. “If you think my threats are empty, then you don’t know me at all.”

Derek feels sweat over his skin and he can’t stay here, not even to tough it out for the last day. He finds a box and packs the things he hasn’t already taken home, trying to will away his anger. God, the only reason why he didn’t do anything more is because he was worried about Stiles – about what might happen to him, about what he would think, or if he’d hate Derek for interfering.

If he cared about Stiles less, then he’d already be doing all he could to get Duke thrown in jail. But he has to respect what Stiles wants to do. He has let Stiles make this decision.

Derek tries to put on a smile when he sees his colleagues, but they’re all wearing sympathetic looks so he assumes that word about the articles has already gone around. Derek makes sure that he’s connected with them online and then, carrying his box, he’s out the fucking door.

“Derek!”

 He hears Stiles’ voice when the doors of the elevator are about to close. Stiles sticks his arm in the door.

“You’re going already?” Stiles says, breathless.

Derek nods.

“But –”

“I’ll talk to you later,” Derek says, cutting him off.

Stiles sighs. “I’m sorry – about what he did.”

Derek shrugs and Stiles takes a step back. They both watch the doors start to close. “Just be careful,” Derek says quickly, and the last thing he sees is Stiles’ eyes narrowing.

Derek spends the day walking around the city, feeling the sunshine on his back. He tries out coffee from cafés he’s never been to before and he attempts to forget about Duke and his articles and the fact that he’s now unemployed. Derek walks until he’s feeling calmer, but by then he’s exhausted.

It’s almost midnight by the time he gets home.

Stiles is at the door the moment Derek puts his key in the lock. He’s in his pyjamas, his hair is a mess, and he’s wearing one of Derek’s sweaters. It’s good to come home to him, even if he looks pissed.

“You could have called if you were going to be out so late!” he says, folding his arms.

“Yeah,” Derek says, kicking off his shoes. “Sorry.”

Stiles glares at him, but eventually his gaze softens. He seems to remember that today hasn’t been a very good day. “Um, there’s food, if you want it. I cooked. And I'm pretty sure that it's not burnt.”

“Thank you.”

Derek can feel Stiles watching him as he wanders over to the kitchen. He reheats the stir fry, and with the smell he’s suddenly hungry.

“This is good,” he says around a mouthful of food. Stiles gives him a brief smile. “You’ve been cooking for us a lot.”

Stiles shrugs. “You’ve been busy.”

Derek sets down his now empty bowl. He hadn’t even bothered to sit down to eat. “Yeah. Not anymore, though.”

“What happened today?” Stiles finally asks.

He doesn’t particularly want to talk about it – he just wants to forget the last few months at work ever happened. After hours of wandering around the city he had decided that he didn’t care about the credit for his articles, as long as he never had to see Duke again.

“I brought up the credit on the articles,” Derek says, rubbing his eyes. “And then he threatened me with footage of us breaking into his home.”

Stiles’ cheeks lose some colour. “Oh.”

“And then I told him he’d better not touch you again or he’d regret it,” Derek says, and he doesn’t feel so calm anymore. He’s tired, so tired, but not enough to stop caring about Stiles.

Stiles’ eyes flick over to his. “You told me that you would leave it alone,” he snaps.

“God, Stiles, what am I supposed to say when he’s threatening us?”

“I don’t know!” Stiles says, and then more quietly, “I don’t know.”

“Look, Duke is the last man I want to see again but why won’t you let me do something about it? He hurt you! And now he’s not your boss anymore,” Derek tells him. “We could tell the police – maybe even call your father.”

Stiles turns away, his body stiff. “Derek.”

Derek takes a step closer to him, and he reaches out, touching the back of Stiles’ hand. After a few seconds, Stiles threads their fingers together and Derek pulls him forward. Their arms wrap around each other and Stiles’ cheek presses against Derek’s shoulder.

“I haven’t told you everything that he’s done,” Stiles says, his voice muffled. “I’m just – I’m so mad at myself that I let it get this far. I could have done so many things differently.” Stiles pulls back, cheeks flushed. “And I’m just so embarrassed . I don’t want anyone thinking differently of me – thinking that I couldn’t make the right choices or something. And then… it’s also easier to not think about him anymore. I don’t want to think about him now that I don’t have to. I don’t want him to be in my life anymore in any way.”

Derek sighs. He doesn’t really understand it but he knows he’s going to have to accept it. At the very least he understands needing to let it go, needing to move on, needing to not think about Duke anymore.

“I won’t do anything that you don’t want me to,” he tells him.

Stiles looks at him fiercely. “If – if you want the credit on your articles – I mean, you worked so hard, and you didn’t complain, and you just took it, for me . If you wanted your name on those pieces and if – if it came to it then I would let you.”

“Let me?”

Stiles huffs. “I don’t know – let you tell people. I wouldn’t hide what happened with Duke if it would help you.”

“Stiles,” Derek says softly. “Your comfort is more important to me than some articles.”

He shakes his head. “Well, I think you’re important.”

Derek hesitates. “Really?”

“Yes,” Stiles says, firmly.

Derek clears his throat and he looks at the floor. “I didn’t think I’d ever be important to you.”

Stiles frowns and looks at him carefully. He lifts his hand and brushes his thumb along Derek’s jaw, then he gently presses his fingertips under Derek’s chin. Their eyes meet. “God, you always talk like that – like it’s impossible for me to feel anything for you.” He smiles lightly. “But hey, if you can fall for me after everything then –”

“Stiles,” Derek says, turning away. He hates that Stiles still thinks that this is something new because it doesn’t feel honest anymore. His heart thuds in his chest and he wills himself to say something.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s not like that. Sometimes I wonder if you can even fall in love with me.”

Stiles takes his hand away. He looks confused. “What the hell are you saying? Of course, I could fall in love with you!”

Derek says nothing. It doesn’t escape his notice that those words aren’t exactly a love confession.

“Hey!” Stiles says, glaring. “I want to give this a chance. I want to fall for you, and you know what? I think about it all the damn time. Why would I be dating you, knowing what you feel, if I didn’t want that?”

“I’m not saying you don’t want it,” Derek says.

Stiles laughs humourlessly. “So, what? You think that’s not enough?”

“No – I don’t know.”

“Do you think I’m leading you on or something? Do you think I’m only here because I need your help? Because I need the apartment?”

Derek’s eyes widen. “No – you’re not leading me on. I know that you’re,” Derek clears his throat. “Not there.”

“Yet,” Stiles says fiercely.

“Stiles,” he says, sighing. He’s scared of what Stiles is going to think of all this.

“I feel like you’re not telling me something.”

Derek wants to leave again even though he’s been out all day. He doesn’t know how to do this – how to tell Stiles that he’s loved him for so much of his life. But Stiles is staring at him determinedly and Derek thinks that it’s now or never.

“I’ve loved you for a decade, Stiles,” he says, his heart in his throat. His worst kept secret fills the quiet of the room, and thankfully, there’s no laughter this time. Stiles just stares at him. “If you didn’t like me for more than half of your life, how could you possibly love me now?”

Derek’s stomach turns and he feels like he’s ruined everything. He should honestly be satisfied with indifference at this rate, but he’s already had so much more of Stiles than he thought he would ever get.

Stiles’ frown is small and his eyes are dark. He looks lost, and thrown, and confused. Derek thinks there might be hurt somewhere in his face.

“I hope with all my heart that you’ll love me one day, but sometimes it’s hard to believe that it will ever happen,” he admits quietly.

Stiles takes a step back. “I have to go,” he says.

Derek reaches for him. “Stiles, please.”

He shakes his head and doesn’t look Derek in the eye. “I have to go,” he says again, his voice faltering, and all Derek can do is watch him as he leaves. The chance he didn’t really know he had feels like it’s slipping through his fingers.

It’s impossible for Derek to sleep. He lies on his bed until the pale morning light comes through his window and Stiles is still not here. He’s hoping so badly for him to return while also dreading it. He thinks that Stiles might hate him for keeping this secret for so long.

Derek slowly gets out of bed and then takes a shower. His head clears for a moment and he realizes that he can’t stand waiting in an empty apartment. He leaves a note in the kitchen for Stiles – just in case he comes back.

He needs the cool air on his skin, and with purples and pinks still in the sky he walks to the nearby park. There are only a few people around, some of them walking their dogs, and Derek watches them until he finds a tree to sit under. The ground is cold.

Every thought that flits through Derek’s head makes him want to panic. He tries to take deep breaths but he’s so scared that this might end, that it’s going to go back to the way it was before. Derek has never loved Stiles more and being with him was so real.

Derek got to see the parts of Stiles that he always used to hide from Derek – the biting humour turned to something more bright and easy. Trying to prove each other wrong became eager discussions. The rough edges of their relationship gave way to something softer.

He’s tired from the day yesterday and now from all of this. Derek’s eyes feel heavy and he drifts to sleep without meaning to… and then suddenly he’s being shaken awake.

“Hey.”

Derek frowns as he opens his eyes. He sits up straighter and looks around, confused, and then sees Stiles crouched beside him. “Stiles?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, running a hand through his hair.

Derek rubs his eyes. “I fell asleep.”

Stiles chuckles. “Yep,” he says, and then he sighs. “I talked to Scott. He told me everything.”

“Oh,” Derek says, and Stiles sits next to him. He’s surprised when their shoulders brush.

“Look,” Stiles says, after a few minutes of silence. “If someone was in love with me they wouldn’t act the way you did.”

Derek’s cheeks heat. “I’m sorry,” he says, looking down at his fingers. “I was only ever trying to get over you. Every time we were getting along I would pull away because I didn’t think you would ever return my feelings – everyone told me it was impossible – and I just wanted to move on. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Stiles listens. Then he finally nods. “You should have told me,” he says.

“I know.”

“It – it wouldn’t have been this, but I would have understood. I would have tried to give you space and I wouldn’t have thought you were such a fucking dick every time you tried to distance yourself!” Stiles says, his voice getting louder.

Derek looks down miserably.

“And I hate the fact that if it wasn’t for everything at work, if it wasn’t for these shitty circumstances, you would have pulled away again,” Stiles says. His lips are pressed together tightly. “But I’m not mad at you.”

Derek snorts.

“I’m not!” Stiles insists, turning to him. “How can I be mad at you when I’ve treated you so badly? Even when you were trying I didn’t make things easy for you. We were kids when I found reasons – stupid reasons – to hate you. I should have fucking grown up and listened to everyone when they told me to stop picking fights with you.”

Stiles rubs his eyes and he quickly hides a few stray tears.

“I have so many regrets when it comes to you,” he says.

“Me too,” Derek whispers.

“I just – I don’t really get how you could love me when I wasn’t very nice to you.”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “You weren’t horrible, Stiles,” he says. “Not all the time. I know what kind of person you are, flaws and everything else that’s good. I just wanted to be one of the people in your life that were important to you – like Scott or your father. Besides, it’s fun arguing with you.”

Stiles smiles. “Yeah, it is.” He shuffles closer to Derek’s side. “Look – I’ve gone through some shit with relationships and I can’t tell you that I love you yet. I’m kind of terrified about loving someone. But I like you a lot, Derek, and I care about what happens to you, and I trust you, and like I said last night I could .”

“You could be in love with me?” Derek asks softly.

“Yeah. One day.”

Derek lets out a breath. “And how long am I supposed to wait for that?”

“I don’t know,” he says, voice small, but he takes one of Derek’s hands in his own and rests his head on Derek’s shoulder. He can feel Stiles’ cold nose against his neck. “But you should tell me when the waiting gets to be too much for you, okay?”

Derek nods tightly but something eases in his chest. It’s going to be okay.

They sit beside each other at the next family dinner, Stiles’ hand on Derek’s knee for most of the night. They give each other warm smiles and it feels so nice not to hide anything anymore. It feels so nice to do nothing with their days and just spend time together.

Melissa takes a photo of them. “I’m happy to see you two together,” she says, and Derek flushes.

“You two are kind of cute,” Laura says.

Stiles grins at her. “Yeah, but you and your husband are worse.”

Laura laughs and Derek easily listens to the conversation. It had been Stiles’ idea to invite Laura to one of their dinners, and Derek’s glad that she’s here, that his whole family is together.

“So, when did you two start dating?” Laura asks them.

“Oh,” Stiles says, glancing at Derek. “Um, actually it was at your wedding.”

Laura beams. “Really? This means we’ll have the same anniversary!”

“Wow,” Stiles says, taking a bite of food. “I hadn’t even thought about anniversaries yet.”

“But I thought you were already together at my wedding?” Laura says.

Scott snorts. “Why? Because they bickered like an old married couple?”

Derek coughs and takes a sip of his drink. He feels Stiles squeeze his knee.

Laura frowns. “I haven’t seen them bicker.”

Scott makes a face. “All they used to do was fight.”

“Hey!” Stiles says. “We didn’t! Okay, maybe a little bit but that was a mistake. But Derek’s liked me for a while and do you know what I think?” He glares at the table, his eyes landing on Scott the most. “You guys gave Derek totally the wrong advice.”

“What do you mean?” Scott says, dropping his mouth open.

“You guys always told him to get over me,” Stiles says, and Derek can’t wait for the day where the fact that they didn’t get along isn’t going to be brought up. “And it clearly wasn’t working – all he did was be distant even though we see each other all the time. You guys should have told him to try and be friends with me or something.” Stiles shrugs. “Maybe we would have been friends a lot sooner if you guys didn’t think even that was impossible.”

Scott splutters, looking affronted, but then Melissa places a hand on his arm to silence him.

“We’re just happy that you two are happy,” she says, smiling gently.

Derek nods, and he is happy, because even though Stiles hasn’t mentioned forever or love or anniversaries they still wake up together every day, they still laugh together, they still argue with each other, they still tell each other things that they didn’t use to tell each other.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, but his eyes are in a frown. “It’s going pretty good so far.”

Stiles is quiet on the way home, staring out of the window. Derek risks glancing at him instead of focusing on the road, his body tense without really knowing why. He parks the car and then Stiles looks over at him and smiles softly.

“It was a nice dinner,” he says.

Derek nods tightly, his hands still on the wheel.

“Hey,” Stiles says, turning to face him more. “Are you okay?”

“This isn’t just a temporary thing for you, is it?” Derek asks.

Stiles jerks back. “What?”

“I mean, you haven’t even thought about our one-year anniversary and in my head, I see our whole life together every time you do something stupid like taking out the trash,” Derek admits, feeling blood rush to his cheeks.

“That’s weirdly sweet,” Stiles says, raising an eyebrow. “And no, it’s not just a temporary thing for me. Of course not.”

Derek sighs, but he tries to smile. Stiles comes closer and he kisses Derek on the cheek, then on the lips. He presses his fingers under Derek’s jaw, over his stubble, and kisses him again. “Just give me a couple of weeks,” he says, “I’m figuring something out.”

“Okay,” Derek says, unsure, but he lets Stiles lead him inside.

ONE MONTH LATER

Derek spends the afternoon preparing for a job interview with the local daily newspaper. He's not in any rush to find a job, needing a break after the stress of the last few months, but eventually he knows he's going to get bored.

He was lucky that his colleagues all came together and demanded that he be credited on the History Monthly website for the articles he wrote. It's helped when applying for jobs to have that on his résumé. Duke didn't have anything to say about it – he seemed to have disappeared not long after the magazine closed down. Derek's starting to think that he won't bother them anymore, but Stiles isn't so sure.

He's writing an email when he hears a car horn outside. Derek hears it again and closes his laptop, walking towards the window, and he chuckles when he sees a familiar flash of blue on the side of the road.

Derek steps outside and he finds Stiles’ old Jeep from high school parked on the side of the road. Stiles is leaning against the hood of the car, ringing his fingers together.

“Hey,” Derek says, “What’s this?”

“My dad fixed the Jeep up for me!” Stiles says. He pats the roof of the car fondly. “Like, properly this time.”

“I’m glad you’ve got it back,” Derek tells him, and then he narrows his eyes. “As long as it’s not going to break down again.”

Stiles grins. “Nah, anyway, I’ll always have you to pick me up.”

Derek shakes his head and takes a step closer. “No, this time I’ll probably be stuck on the side of the road with you.”

Stiles takes a breath. “You know I want that, right?”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “To be broken down in that Jeep in the middle of nowhere?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “No,” he says. “I want to be with you when something goes wrong.” He looks down, almost nervously, and then back up again. His smile is lopsided.

 “Stiles?”

“God, how do I even say this?” he says. Derek waits and then Stiles almost braces himself. “I’m moving out. I’ve found an apartment.”

“W-what?” Derek says, feeling like he’s been slapped.

“It’s not far from here,” Stiles says, and then he grimaces. “Sorry,” he says. “That’s not – that doesn’t mean – I’m not breaking up with you.”

Derek frowns. “Okay?”

Their eyes meet and Stiles looks at him fiercely. “I love you,” he says. “I love you and I’m in love with you and I don’t want to ever not be in love with you.”

Derek stares at him, his mouth slack.

“God, you must be confused,” Stiles says.

Derek runs a hand through his hair. “Yeah,” he says. “A bit.”

Stiles laughs, and his eyes look watery. “I’ve loved living with you,” he says. “So much. I’ve learnt so much about you and – and I feel like I’ve been so blind when it comes to you. You’ve always been there for me. And I know you’re not perfect – but I’m not perfect either and we work. I think we’re fucking great together.”

Derek agrees, wholeheartedly, that they’d be so good together. They already are good together. And now he’s listening to Stiles saying everything that he wants to hear but Stiles is saying even more than that – he’s saying he has to leave.

It doesn’t quite make sense.

“But I have to leave,” Stiles says, his voice low and insistent. “Because – because I need this to be different than what it was with Duke. I just jumped in to living with him because it was easy but I can’t do that with you. You’re too important to me.”

 “Stiles,” Derek says, his whole face softening. He takes a small step forward across the pavement.

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says, his cheeks ruddy. “It’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid.”

Stiles looks up at him and tries to smile. Derek wants to go to him and comfort him, because in a way, he does get it. Stiles started living with him because he needed to, not necessarily because he wanted to.

And Derek doesn’t want to be anything like Duke.

“I’ve been talking about what happened more with my dad,” Stiles admits quietly. “It took me so long to even say it to him – I was a mess. But he looked up Duke for me and it turns out he was arrested for something a couple of weeks ago.”

Derek bristles. “Good,” he says firmly. He pauses. “Talking with your dad was okay, then?”

Stiles nods. “Yeah. I also told him about how you helped me, and about us being together,” he says, smiling gently. “Anyway, what I was going to say was that my lease runs out in six months. Um, maybe then we can buy a house together or something.”

“I’d like that,” Derek says softly and Stiles' eyes brighten.

“Yeah?”

Derek nods. “I love you too. I want you to stay… but I understand if you need to leave.”

“Thank you,” Stiles says, starting to grin happily. He reaches out for Derek. “You’re amazing. I love you – gosh that feels good to say. This has been holding me back because I really needed to... feel okay on my own, you know? And the way we started living together reminded me of how I started living with him and now I – I can say that I love you knowing that in a few months I’ll be choosing to live with you rather than needing to live with you.”

Derek threads their fingers together as he takes Stiles’ hands.

“Come here,” Stiles says, dragging Derek towards him. He kisses Derek and talks against his lips. “I love you,” he says again, kissing him again, and Derek can’t help but smile against his mouth. “I really fucking love you.”

They fall against the Jeep as their lips move together, and Derek loves the way Stiles is still mumbling into the kiss. Derek catches every single word on his tongue and he knows that after everything, he and Stiles are going to make it together.