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Until I Stayed Away Too Long

Chapter Text

I never saw the mornin' 'til I stayed up all night
I never saw the sunshine 'til you turned out your love light, baby
I never saw my hometown 'til I stayed away too long
I never heard the melody until I needed the song
-Juice Newton

- - -

Sitting in the corner of the outdoor patio, Derek sighs, mournfully thinking about the Good Ole Days when authors weren’t social media celebrities. When they could reach the top of a best seller’s list, and receive millions in royalties, and yet could still stand in line at the supermarket and buy their damn pop tarts and the cashier wouldn’t be quoting their stupid Twitter back at them.

Though to be fair, Derek’s twitter is run by his sister, and he had no idea what the cashier was even talking about, but still. He followed the advice of one, annoying agent, let Laura be his Social Media Presence—whatever the fuck that was—and suddenly he can’t buy himself his morning London Fog without someone asking for a selfie.

It’s worse now that he’s home. Or well, back in Beacon Hills, which hasn’t been home since the fire, but Laura thinks the nostalgia will kick the ass of whatever’s blocking him. Then again, he has fifteen months before his first draft is due in the editor’s inbox so it’s not like he has to rush things. Eden’s Blood was written in literally three weeks based on a diet of caffeine and peanut-butter filled pretzel bites so he’s not exactly worried. And he’s not exactly sure how a house that looks absolutely nothing like the one he grew up in, situated on land which was once a preserve, and now home to a small community of millionaires is going to bring in the nostalgia factor…

But Derek is, for the most part, an easy guy. Or at least he’s the kind of guy who just does what his sister tells him to do because it’s a fuck of a lot easier than trying to butt heads with her. He’s long since accepted she is and always will be the more stubborn of the two.

Though right now, after a long morning of people staring and pointing and whispering, he’s half-tempted to jump in his car, drive to the airport, and book a ticket to Costa Rica. Sitting on Cora’s porch and staring out at the ocean is probably going to be far more inspiring than this backwoods little mountain town where he swore he saw a guy he went to high school with still stocking the supermarket shelves.

Derek startles from his thoughts as the server comes over with his chicken sandwich and fries. It…it’s California food. The chicken has avocado smeared on it, and some balsamic crap, and he misses the little deli around the corner from his apartment in New York with the fresh pastrami and the black and whites so amazing they literally melt in his mouth.

“Can I get you anything else?” she asks, kind of bouncing on her feet like she wants to say something.

He says a prayer that she doesn’t find the courage to ask for a picture. “I’m good. Thanks.” He curls his hand around his full glass of iced tea and stares anywhere but at her until she gives up and leaves. He picks at one of the fries and takes a bite, and all he can taste is fry oil.

He’s feeling somewhat inspired now, except all he’d get out is a rant about how useless his sister’s advice is, and how he’s considering a new career of hermitry. He’s got enough money to renovate a cave somewhere in the Rockies, he’s pretty sure.

Derek picks up his sandwich, opens his mouth obscenely wide to try and fit all the layers of chicken and sourdough in, then freezes because he feels eyes on him. He slowly lowers the sandwich to the plate and is debating between his Paparazzi Smile and his Glare of Doom when he turns and sees something he’s entirely not expecting.

It’s a child. Or well, somewhere between infant and toddler, he thinks. She’s at the stage where her walk is more of a waddle, and he’s got dark brown curls which are set in little ringlets around her head like a fluffy halo. She’s wearing a bright blue tunic with leggings, and in her mouth is a binky which takes up nearly half her face. She’s staring at him, her honey-brown eyes wide, and squashed in each fist is a French fry much like Derek has on his own plate, only more mangled.

“Uh,” Derek says. He’s not unfamiliar with kids. There was hardly a moment in his life he wasn’t surrounded by them—whether it was cousins growing up before the fire, or his brothers quickly trying to populate half of Manhattan after they moved and grew up a little. He’s always been close to them—always the guy on babysitting duty because kids, for whatever reason, always seem to love him. Maybe it’s the beard.

Still, this was a totally strange kid, and totally unsupervised it seems, which you know…not like he wants to judge parenting or anything, but a kid this young probably shouldn’t be wandering.

The little girl stares a moment longer, then she toddles up to his chair and shoves one of the massacred fries up at him and mumbles something behind her binky. It took Derek only a second to realize what she was offering. “Uh no. I have mine,” he says, and picks up a fry to demonstrate.

The girl stares, her eyes going wider, then she drops both of her fries and somehow—with strength he didn’t think any child that young was capable of—pulls herself onto his lap and holds out her hand expectantly.

“Uh,” he says again, a little dumbly, because well, he’s a stranger and someone’s baby is just sitting in his lap now. He gives her a fry anyway, because well, he’s not a monster.

“Oh my god,” comes a voice, gasping for air. There’s suddenly flailing limbs everywhere as a tall, gangly man throws himself down near Derek’s legs and drops his head against the side of the table. “Jesus Christ, Aims. Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

“Pa baba,” she says, and hits the guy in the head with the fry.

The guy lets out a half-hysterical laugh, then his head pops up and Derek’s suddenly at a loss for both words and breath. He’s beautiful. Derek isn’t exactly…well, his past relationships have fucked him up enough that it’s been longer than he can remember when someone was good looking enough to just bowl him over like this. And strangely there’s nothing exactly special about the guy. He’s got pale white skin, dotted with small moles, the same, honey colored eyes as the little girl, and dark brown hair swept probably by wind and lack of care rather than the hours it takes to get the modelesque, ‘just rolled out of bed’ look.

“Man, I am so sorry. We’re working on the whole climbing onto stranger’s laps thing, but uh…it’s kind of this thing. She can’t help it, and she’s like…fast.”

“It’s okay,” Derek says, and it takes him a minute, but he’s pretty sure the guy doesn’t know who he is which is a change.

The guy’s eyebrows furrow though, and Derek briefly thinks, here we fucking go. “Do I know you.”

Derek sucks in a breath and goes for his usual, ‘I get that all the time,’ answer.

“You’re Cora’s brother!”

Derek figured he’d run into a few people he used to know, and probably more that his sisters did, but weirdly, he wasn’t expecting it. “Oh. Uh. Yes?”

“Shit. She used to steal my fucking snack packs!” The guy gathers the little girl into his arms, and she goes with a small protest, but it’s quieted by pulling her binky out of her mouth and putting the fry in it. “How is she doing?”

Derek rubs the back of his neck. “Uh. Good? She’s in Costa Rica.”

“That’s…not surprising,” the guy says with a laugh. He pushes himself to stand and takes a step away, but the little girl gives a sudden wail of distress. It’s at that exact same moment another server comes up with two plates—mac and cheese clearly for the baby, and a huge burger for the guy.

Derek later blames it on the chaos when he says, “If you want to sit here, you can.”

The server looks like she’s going to choke on her own tongue, and he’s pretty sure he knows why, but if this guy knows who he is, he’s playing it off well enough that Derek feels comfortable. Though he doesn’t usually invite strange men and wailing babies to sit with him, even on his good mood days.

“Seriously? Because she likes you—it’s probably the eyebrows. Is that weird? Like is that the annoying thing that dog owners and people with small babies do where they’re like out in public and they shove their small creature at you because they assume if they love it, you have to love it too?”

Derek blinks at the rapid flow of words, then shakes his head. “It’s fine.”

The guy shrugs, then shoves the baby back at Derek who takes it for lack of choice, and then he’s back suddenly juggling a diaper bag, sippy cup, high chair, and a full glass of soda. He plops it all down, and it’s almost like magic the way he gets the little girl into her seat between him and Derek, and the server is finally able to unburden herself.

“So this is Amelia,” the guy says, then pauses, then smacks himself in the forehead. “And I’m Stiles. I doubt your sister ever talked about me except maybe to label me the gullible asshole in third grade who never watched his lunch even though she got into it every single day.”

Derek snorts. “Cora always liked to keep her accomplishments to herself.”

Stiles grins and shrugs. “Thanks for sharing, man. This is weird and unorthodox, but Aims is like this little mini dictator and I try to say no to her, but she’s a total tyrant.”

Derek looks at the little girl who is mashing her spoon into her mac and cheese happily, still sucking on her binky instead of eating. “Yeah, I can see the vicious gleam in her eye.”

“You got kids?”

Derek almost chokes on the drink he’s taking. “Oh. No uh…no. Not…no.”

“I can see you’re very torn up about it,” Stiles says with a smirk. Derek opens his mouth to defend his position on child-rearing, but Stiles holds up a hand. “It’s fine, really. I mean, this wasn’t in my plan either, but then my cousin uh…” He trails off and there’s a heaviness to his voice that Derek knows way too well. It’s the heaviness of loss and fear and death.

“I have four nephews and three nieces,” Derek says, feeling an almost desperation to steer the conversation away from this topic. Not just for Stiles, though he can’t deny the sudden desire to end the poor man’s suffering. “My older brother had his first the summer we moved to New York. He met some girl at the library and nine months later, Elizabeth was born.”

Stiles drags his bottom lip between his teeth and smiles like that. “How old were you?”

“Fifteen, almost sixteen. I’m really close to them, but it was definitely a lesson in using protection,” he says, and Stiles laughs.

“Yeah.” He reaches over and brushes a lock of curls off Amelia’s forehead. “I obviously didn’t plan this, but I mean…she’s here, you know? And I kind of panicked at first—I’d literally been out of grad school for a month when Clara and Mark…” He trails off again and at this point Derek doesn’t really need the story. Either they fucked up and the little girl was taken away, or they died, but either one of those scenarios is really too tragic for him to want to dwell on. “My dad thought I was nuts, but like foster care? I kept thinking about her being put in some cold, lonely crib with no one to pick her up at night when she cried and I…”

“I would have done the same,” Derek admits. The conversation is surreal, his sandwich is ice cold, and he’s never felt more at ease than he does right now. “If any of my nieces or nephews…” He shrugs. “I wouldn’t hesitate.”

“My friends think I’m nuts. I mean, what’s left of them.” Stiles shrugs, sighing, and angrily chomps down on an onion ring which is sitting near his burger. It’s probably congealed and cold but he eats it anyway.

“Didn’t Adele write a song about that?” Derek muses, and he feels something spark to life in him at the sight of Stiles’ bright, startled grin.

“Hello from the other siiiide,” he croons.

Derek rolls his eyes, but he can’t stop his small smile.

“Okay I know I don’t know you super well, but someone with Broody McEyebrows like yours…it’s weird that you know that,” Stiles says, leaning his elbow on the table and this big Bambi eyes capture Derek’s gaze.

“Laura read me the riot act after I bitched about how all of Adele’s songs sound stalkery,” Derek admitted with a self-deprecating grin. He takes a fry and offers it to Amelia who has been watching the whole exchange with curious eyes and her binky wedged firmly in her mouth. She takes the offering, though she doesn’t eat it. “But in my defense, without context it totally sounds stalkery.”

Stiles snorts. “I’ll give you that, even if she owns my emo soul. But uh…it’s not wrong, in a way. Like my friends love me and I always have back-up when I need it. But also they’re all still young, and they can do stupid shit like take spontaneous road trips or vacations. And we all have grown-up jobs and some of them are married, but none of them have a kid and I think it’s still sinking in that I can’t just pack up and do shit whenever they want.”

Derek feels a pang of sympathy for him, because it’s not like he didn’t see it. What, with Andrew becoming a dad at fifteen—even if he was total shit at it at the beginning. But each and every brother fell down that Child Rearing Rabbit Hole where their afternoons were baby gym playdates and their weekends were Derek babysitting for three hours of an uninterrupted date night that was only fifty percent guaranteed not to have an emergency call about vomit, or fevers, or busted lips.

And Stiles, it seems, was thrown into this without that nine-month lead up, or without really having been consulted on the thing. And yeah it was his choice, but it was an unfair one. Keep the child in the family, loved, cared for, or a crap-shoot of the foster system where she could end up with a couple of conservative, hyper-religious, bigoted dickbags.

“So okay,” Stiles says, “enough of my weird sob story. Are the Hales coming back to Beacon Hills. I remember that fire, and the trial and…shit, I’m so sorry,” Stiles says, because clearly Derek’s face is doing something emo and complicated.

“Uh. No, it’s fine. I mean,” Derek hesitated, “no one’s coming back. I’m not even…” he shrugs. “I write. I’m a writer. I have the world’s worst writer’s block, so Laura talked me into coming here to see if nostalgia could inspire something.”

Stiles snorts. “She doesn’t really understand the concept of nostalgia, does she? I mean, it’s good for reminding yourself that Micki’s Milkshakes were actually kind of shitty and too sweet, and that Billy’s doesn’t actually make the best burger in Northern California. And it’s great for reliving your high school glory days comforted by the fact that you never have to actually go through them again. But writing motivation?”

Derek can’t help his grin, even as he shrugs. “I’ll kind of try anything at this point.” He glances over at Amelia who is doing those long, slow blinks indicating she’s about thirty seconds from passing out face-first into her barely-touched mac and cheese.

Stiles follows his gaze, then sighs and eases her out of the high chair and she curls up on his shoulder instantly. “I should get her home. Do you see our server anywhere?”

Derek gives a cursory glance around, but he’s already speaking before he’s even thinking about it. “Don’t worry, I’ve got it.”

Stiles shakes his head. “Dude, come on. My kid literally staged a coup over your lunch which is nasty and cold, and you’re a writer.”

“So?” Derek asks.

Stiles snorts. “I spent two and a half years in grad school, man. I know what the fuck a starving artist profession is.”

Derek feels his cheeks ache from how much he’s allowed himself to smile during this lunch. “Trust me, Stiles, I can cover a lunch. Just go get her home so she doesn’t make your life hell later this evening.”

Stiles looks like he wants to protest, but in the end he just throws his phone on the table and says, “Put your number in, okay? I’ll take you for coffee or something this week to make up for it.”

Derek doesn’t point out that nowhere in this town will coffee cost more than an entrée, but he doesn’t actually want to say no or put up any kind of fight. He also feels strangely relaxed about giving out his personal number which less than a dozen people have.

“My dad is usually free to babysit on Thursdays,” Stiles offers.

Derek cocks his head to the side as he watches Stiles expertly gather up Amelia’s things one-handed. “I don’t mind if you bring her,” he says softly. “She’s sweet.”

“She is, but she’s also a pain in the ass seventeen month old child, and I covet the few times I get to go out with real, live adults and not have to do parent-y things. Okay?”

Derek grins more. “Yeah. Okay. So Thursday.”

Stiles gives him a mock salute, then is out the door just as the server comes to leave the check. It says something that she doesn’t ask how the meal went.

Chapter Text

“Laura,” Derek says, giving himself a cursory glance in the mirror. It’s been a while since he’s given a shit what he looks like, and he’s not sure entirely what that means. “I really don’t have time for this conversation. I have to go.”

“Well I know you’re not writing, and considering that my brother is the world’s biggest recluse who hates everything about small, mountain towns…” Laura mocks.

“I’m serious,” Derek says, distracted and flustered and on his way to being late for meeting Stiles. “I need to go. I’m meeting someone…” He stops himself by literally biting the inside of his cheek, but it’s too late. The damage is done.

Laura makes a noise like a dying rhino. “You’re what?”

“Is there any amount of money I can pay you to forget what I just said?” Derek begs, because it’s not like he really cares that much if Laura knows. Except it’s new. It’s so new that he can count how many texts he has on his phone from Stiles between both hands, and damn it, he doesn’t want to ruin this before he knows where it’s going.

“Oh my god, the answer was no before, but now it’s hell no. Who is it? How did you meet them? Did they know who you were? Did you finally give into some fan’s nutty fantasy about seducing the reclusive Derek Hale…”

“Fuck’s sake,” Derek breathes as he grabs the keys to his rental, locks his door, then heads down to the car. He is starting to hate this place less and less, but he misses the easy transit of New York.

“Give me three facts about him and I’ll let it go.” The for now is implied and frankly this is probably the best he’s going to get.

He rubs his forehead as he leans against the open door of the car. “Uh.” He doesn’t want to give her anything that’ll give away Stiles’ identity before he even knows if this is something. “He’s as tall as I am. He’s a teacher. He used to know Cora.”

Laura makes that weird, dying animal noise again. “What’s his name?”

“Anyway, have a nice evening, talk to you later.” Derek hangs up and puts his phone on silent, determinedly not looking at the flashing notification light as he peels away from the house and takes the bumpy, barely-maintained road out of the preserve and onto the main highway.

The café is a little out of the way place on the outskirts of the main city. Stiles insisted that as much as it didn’t look like it, the place served a to-die for burger which will be a fantastic change from all the ways California has learned to serve avocados and chicken. He’s starving, which is partly his nerves and partly the fact that he actually had gotten some writing done that afternoon, and sort of forgot to take care of his basic needs.

He pulls up to a nearly empty parking lot, and he can see Stiles in the window at a table, leaning on his elbow gazing out. When he spots Derek, he perks up and waves, looking like a baby giraffe but…kind of sexy. Which…he’d not even going to go there.

Derek rubs the back of his neck as he checks his pockets for wallet, keys, phone. He feels mildly relieved that the place is almost empty, since it’s less of a chance of getting recognized. The staff seems older, which means there’s a good chance they haven’t read his young adult epic fantasy novels—or seen the first season of the Netflix show which really started this whole semi-celebrity nonsense.

He feels a surge of anxiety—nerves, like first date kind of nerves—and he almost wants to laugh because his entire life seems to be made for public consumption now. He avoids social media like the plague simply because he’s not interested in seeing how many people how know many random facts about him they dug up. And yet here he is, nervous about meeting a small-town teacher for fuck’s sake. Which really just means he never got over being the shy, jockish nerd that hid his geek under a lot of bravado and false arrogance.

He pushes the door open to the café, approaches the table, and immediately steps back as Stiles swats at him and says, “You’re a real asshole, Derek. You know that?”

Derek’s eyes go wide and he’s momentarily stunned into silence. He gets out an, “Uhh…” before Stiles’ arm shoots out, grabs his sleeve, and shoves him into the booth.

“Sit down. Jesus.”

Derek blinks. “Okay?”

Stiles huffs. “You’re famous!” he accuses, and Derek’s stomach instantly sinks. “You’re…you’re a celebrity!”

Derek feels his cheeks pink and he glances away. “I’m not famous. I just uh…have some popular books out?” It comes out like a question, like the total, awkward ass that he is, and his only saving grace is that none of his siblings are here to watch this train-wreck.

Stiles scoffs loudly and kicks at him under the table. “Dude. You were on Oprah. If you get on Oprah, you’re fucking famous! Why didn’t you tell me?”

Derek frowns. “What kind of douche move is that? Hi, nice to meet you, do you know who I am? I’m really famous. Netflix paid me a ridiculous amount of money to bastardize my written work for the next teen hit drama.”

Stiles literally chokes on his tea, and thumps himself in the chest, his cheeks a bright red. “Oh my god, warn a guy, first of all. Second of all, I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you.”

Derek bites his lip. “So you know the books?”

“I haven’t read them,” Stiles says. “And I don’t mean that in the fake-ass, I’m trying to be chill way. I honestly have enough time to read the backs of my crappy cereal boxes in the morning, and then whatever chapter of the book I’m trying to teach that week. Which I guess makes me a terrible teacher because you know, literacy and shit. But yeah. I didn’t know. Until I told Scott who then flipped out because his assistant at the clinic is apparently a huge fan.”

Derek sighs internally. “Oh.”

“I guess it’s one of those stupid, he was from here, things people like to brag about,” Stiles said with a shrug. “Which, can I just say that’s totally unfair. I mean, I accomplished shit too. I maintained a B average and got my master’s and managed to keep my kid from choking on crayons last week, even if she did mostly eat all the blue one.”

Derek can’t help a chuckle. “That’s definitely more bragging rights than I have.”

“Seriously though. Is this weird? Did you only agree to go out with me because apparently I live under a rock and I don’t know who the hell Derek Hale is?”

Derek is almost overwhelmed by how attractive Stiles is. The sweet way he cocks his head to the side, and fidgets like he’s just got too much of himself to be contained in one body, and how his long lashes fan out when he blinks. He clears his throat. “Truthfully? I…yeah. I mean, it helped, anyway. It’s not like I refuse to get to know people who have heard of me, but a lot of people read random facts on Wikipedia and then assume they know me as a person. It gets…”

“Exhausting?” Stiles offers. “Creepy?”

“Both,” Derek agrees.

The conversation is cut short when the server arrives, and she does a double take at Derek, but she’s at least seventy so he thinks it’s probably the fact that he hasn’t shaved in about four months and probably looks like a disgruntled, ex-biker, mountain man or something. He orders a water, and he lets Stiles pick his burger, they get sweet potato fries to share, then she wanders off.

“Is that why you were all holed up in that little corner table when I met you? Where you looked like you were contemplating setting the place on fire.” Then Stiles slaps a hand to his mouth, his doe-eyes wide. “Oh my god,” he says, his voice muffled by his fingers. “I am such an asshole.”

Derek frowns, totally confused for a solid twenty seconds, then he laughs because he can’t help it. “It’s been like fifteen years, Stiles. The house was rebuilt, she went to jail. It’s really okay.”

Stiles slowly lowers his fingers, but he looks honestly abashed. “Look, man. I know it was a long time ago, but I know for a fact shit like that is traumatizing to a person.”

Derek softens all over, and fights back an urge to lean across the table and take Stiles’ mouth in a kiss. “Thank you,” he says, and means that thanks more than he ever has in his life. “I promise it’s okay.”

Stiles shrugs. “I’ve had to learn to be really careful since I started teaching. You never know what a person’s been through, and how they’ve coped.”

Derek’s grin stretches a little further, and he’s not sure when he’s smiled this much. “Well, to answer your previous question, yes, that was why I was acting like a weird hermit at the table when we first met. I had already taken like six selfies that morning when I went out for coffee and I was just…tired. I’m pretty sure Ernest Hemmingway never had to hire a personal assistant to go to Krogers for him.”

Stiles blinks, then snorts a laugh. “Dude. Did you just compare your YA novels to Ernest Hemmingway?”

“No,” Derek says, his grin toothy and sharp. “Because unlike Hemmingway, I actually give a shit about women. And diversity.”

Stiles almost chokes again, then kicks Derek under the table. “You are the actual, literal worst.”

Derek shrugs, and his water is put in front of him, so he bites down on the straw and grins around it. “You seem to like it.”

“Maybe,” Stiles says. “I’m warming up to the idea, anyway.”

Their food arrives, and Stiles talks through big bites which should be disgusting—and well, it is, kind of—but also Derek is ridiculously charmed and he doesn’t want this night to end. They order a dessert which is really not that great, but Stiles boxes it up for his dad.

“I make allowances on his diet when he babysits for me,” Stiles says, shrugging as he loops the to-go back around his wrist. They step outside and it’s got the almost-fall bite to it, but it’s still good weather to be outside. “Anyway…”

“Do you have to pick up Amelia now?” Derek asks.

Stiles glances at him out of the corner of his eye. “Uh. No. She’s having a sleepover at poppy’s tonight.”

Derek shoves his hands into his pockets, feeling shy all of a sudden, but he still manages to ask, “Do you want to go do something else? Nothing…crazy. I can show you the preserve, if you want. We kept a nice chunk of it, right near the plateau, so it’s a great stargazing spot.”

Stiles snorts. “Dude, if you think I don’t know about make-out point…I mean, you forget I actually went to school here. I got to second base out there on the cliff.”

Derek’s eyebrow raise. “Really?”

Stiles shrugs. “Yeah. This girl Heather. She was wearing hot-pink underwear and I was so terrified, I almost threw up on her. I was sixteen and desperate.”

Derek chuckles, and he leans against his car. “Yeah well. Don’t expect a home-run tonight. I have rules. But we can see if maybe we can get the bases loaded.”

Stiles blinks at him. “Really, dude.”

Derek feels bold all of a sudden, and crowds in a little closer. “I played baseball in college.”

“Yeah?” Stiles asks, his voice dropping to a near whisper. The hand not holding his leftovers goes to Derek’s waist and grips there. “You any good?”

“At baseball?” Derek asks, leaning in to rub his nose along the freshly shaved edge of Stiles’ jaw. “I was only okay. At the other stuff… no complaints.”

Stiles sighs out of his nose, his lip between his teeth as he turns so their noses are nudging up against each other. “Are you going to drag this out, or are you going to kiss me?”

“I’d like to kiss you,” Derek says. He brings a hand up to the curve where shoulder meets neck, and he can feel the echo of his pulse from a pounding heart. Derek breathes him in, the scent of off-brand soap and cheap cologne, and god, he wants. Their lips meet, and Derek coaxes Stiles’ lips open so he can slide his tongue in, just a gentle press, wanting just as he’s hoping Stiles is wanting.

If the spasm in his hands is anything to go by, as he clutches Derek tighter, then yeah. This is all going very well.

“So, the preserve, huh?” Stiles asks, still a little breathless.

Derek nods, nipping at the edge of Stiles’ ear now. “Mmhmm. I can drive.”

“Okay,” Stiles whispers. “Yeah I. Okay.”

_ _ _

Derek can’t exactly lie and say he’s not pulling out all the moves he’s got when he takes Stiles to the preserve. But he doesn’t want to pretend, either. He doesn’t connect with people often—or at all—and there’s something about this that feels like home. He’s an adult, of course, with responsibilities and a life, and he’s not going to get lost like some tween fantasy of forever with a guy he just met. But also Stiles is sweet, and he’s a great dad, and he’s settled in a place that might not be home, but never feels foreign either, which is a big deal to Derek.

So there’s weight behind everything when he takes Stiles’ hand and leads him down trails which he’ll never forget, no matter how long he’s been away.

They follow a path that’s not quite a path, winding around trees until they come to an open plateau which looks a lot higher than it really is. The sky is spotty with clouds, but the moon is bright and the stars above them are clustered and twinkling.

Derek didn’t really think ahead so he doesn’t have anything to cushion them as they sit at the edge, but it’s okay when their hands come to rest on the flat rock and Stiles curls his pinky around Derek’s and leans back on his elbows.

“I feel like my body was way more equipped to deal with laying out on flat, hard rock when I was sixteen,” he says.

Derek laughs, tipping his head back to look at the stars. “Yeah.”

“Smooth moves though,” Stiles offers. “If I hadn’t been down for it already, this would have won me over.”

Derek turns his head to look at Stiles who’s looking back at him, smiling softly. “Yeah?”

Stiles turns his entire body and leans into Derek’s space. “Yep.” He pops the P in the word, then their lips meet again.

Stiles is right though. Making out on super hard ground is the worst, and Derek knows if they stay much longer, he’s going to regret it in the morning. He breaks the kiss with a loud smacking noise, then pushes to stand, offering his hand to Stiles.

“I might regret this, because I’m trying to give you a good impression here,” he says quietly, drawing Stiles in close to his body, “but I’m not ready for the night to end, and my house isn’t far. If Amelia really is staying with your dad…”

“Yes,” Stiles says, then surges up to kiss him. Derek stumbles back, but catches him easily, and lets his fingers dig into Stiles’ waist. “Just so you know, I’m only doing this because you’re famous and you know Oprah.”

Derek laughs against his mouth. “I don’t actually know her. I was on her show for twenty minutes and I didn’t talk to her before or after the show. Though she did give me a gift-bag full of the best bath products I have ever used in my life.”

Stiles throws his head back, cackling loudly which echoes across the canyon. “Oh my god that is the best thing I have ever heard in my life. Come on, it’s actually getting cold and I think I have a rock imbedded in the ass of my jeans.”

Derek snorts, but takes Stiles’ hand and they make their way back through the trees until they’re standing on Derek’s porch. It looks nothing like it did when it was a burnt-out, hollow shell. Derek had seen it exactly three times before the rebuild, and although therapy, years, and his family’s unending support has allowed him to move past the guilt of Kate, he still doesn’t like to think about it much.

 

He turns the key in the lock, but doesn’t open the door, instead reaching for Stiles again. “I want to have sex with you.” When Stiles chokes a little, Derek puts his hand on the side of his neck gently and pulls him until their foreheads are touching. “I’m telling you this now, so there’s no way to misinterpret what I want. I want to have sex—however you’re comfortable, and only if you want to.”

“I want to,” Stiles says, a little fast, a little desperate. “For a lot of reasons. Mainly because I really like you, even though we like just met days ago. Also because you’re gorgeous and I’m a single dad, and I haven’t had sex in a while. I hope you’re okay with my shallow tendencies.”

Derek pushes his tongue into Stiles’ mouth for another minute as they kiss, then he pulls back to say, “I can live with it,” before he opens the door and hauls Stiles inside.

_ _ _

For what it’s worth, the sex is good. Derek’s prepared with a small bottle of lube and a box of six condoms in his overnight bag which he never unpacked. He doesn’t really feel up to the whole, cleaning up and really prepping to make anal feel really good, and Stiles is pretty on board when Derek rolls a condom on him and then deep-throats him until he shouts.

They fuck in the kitchen first though. Derek pushes Stiles against the cabinets and gets his pants around his knees and then curls a fist around his cut, hard cock. “You’re gorgeous,” Derek murmurs as he sucks lightly at Stiles’ throat. “God, I want to see you come so badly.”

“It’s…fuck. It’s not going to take long,” Stiles says, and he fucks his hips forward a few times and then he does come. It’s a surprising amount, dripping down Derek’s knuckles, and he washes off in the sink as Stiles composes himself.

He’s given about two minutes of reprieve, though his dick is painfully hard in his jeans, before Stiles pounces. He demands the bedroom, which Derek is all to happy to oblige. They strip down in perfunctory motions, throwing clothes to the side before Stiles pins Derek to the bed and kneels between his legs. He’s got the lube in one hand, and a condom between his teeth, then he rolls it onto his fingers and proceeds to play with Derek’s ass until his entire body is shaking with need.

“Fuck my thighs,” Stiles says. “Yeah?”

Derek groans, and rolls Stiles onto his side, pushing his face against the back of his neck. “Fuck yes,” Derek says. He puts a condom on, then slathers what’s left of the lube onto Stiles’ thighs, and groans when they close firm and hot around him. Derek pushes his hips forward in a test fuck, and it feels so good he actually gets a little dizzy for a moment. He can still feel the ghost of Stiles’ fingers in his ass, and that’s enough, really, to send him over the edge, filling the tip of the condom with hot semen.

He groans, sore, and he’s partially grateful Stiles is still soft—sated from the blow job earlier in the kitchen. He’s pretty sure he couldn’t do much at all now if he tried, and apart from using his t-shirt to clean the lube off Stiles’ legs, and tossing the condom in the bin. He pulls the sheet up around him, and curls into Stiles’ back.

“Is this okay?” he murmurs, kissing the back of Stiles’ naked shoulder.

Stiles hums. “More than. It’s been a while since I’ve shared a bed, and I might kick or snore. Don’t judge me.”

Derek grumbles something like, “I won’t,” before he feels the pull of sleep. It should be hard to fall asleep next to someone he doesn’t know, but for whatever reason, it isn’t.

Chapter Text

Something smacks him in the face, and Derek wakes up in half a blind panic before he remembers the night before. Stiles, for his part, sleeps like the dead. He grumbles a little into his pillow, turning to pull the blanket over his head against the onslaught of morning sun. It takes Derek’s heart a few minutes to calm down, so he lays back on the pillow with one arm behind his head and turns a little on his side to watch Stiles sleep.

Maybe that’s weird and creepy, but frankly Derek hasn’t felt this connected to anyone in a long time. It’s not exactly easy—for starters, he doesn’t even live here, though that’s not a huge hinderance. Derek isn’t the one with strong ties to the east coast, or a job that requires him to be in one specific place all the time. But his job is busy, and as much as he hates the term celebrity, people still know him. It’s far easier to blend in when he’s walking around the East End—or at the very least, people are a little more used to seeing people like him that they stop taking notice after a while. He needs to consider the possible impact on Stiles’ life—considering it’s not just Stiles, but his child, and his family and his friends, should Derek decide to stay in a place he can’t exactly blend in.

And then there’s the whole kid thing. Derek’s never really considered having a kid. He’s enjoyed being Uncle Derek more than he can say, but with the disastrous relationships he’s navigated over the last few years, it wasn’t really on his mind. He does know by experience that having a kid means that they’ll be doing more ice cream and movie at home nights than fucking until dawn in every room of the house, and he can be okay with that. But he can’t decide to jump right in, either.

As he lays there, though, he realizes it’s not a deterrent. In fact, the prospect of maybe making something of this sends his entire body alight, and he can’t help but roll over and gently run his fingers along the mole-dotted shoulder poking out of the blanket. Stiles grumbles, and he rolls over, and his brown eyes look bleary and confused in the morning light.

“Mm. Shit.” Stiles rubs at his face, even as he inches closer, into the circle of Derek’s arms. “Oh god, what time is it?”

Derek peers over and stares at the clock until the blurred numbers become slightly less blurry. “I think the clock says eight. Do you need to rush off?”

Stiles yawns, his jaw popping, and he nuzzles his face right up against Derek’s neck. “Uh. Yeah…yeah I…” He stretches and then sighs. “I don’t want to.”

“I understand,” Derek murmurs as he buries his nose in the top of Stiles’ hair. “That was nice though. Last night.”

“Yeah. That…yeah,” Stiles says. “Definitely wouldn’t mind doing that again.”

Derek chuckles quietly. “Yeah? When are you free?”

Stiles peers up at him, his mouth quirked at the corner. “At the risk of scaring you off, my dad is usually only free to watch Amelia once or twice a month, and he’s got overnights going on for the next two weeks. I mean, Scott’s usually free to babysit for a date night, but definitely not an overnight deal.”

“I understand,” Derek says, gently running the tips of his fingers along Stiles’ jaw.

“But hey, in a few weeks maybe…”

Derek’s face falls a little. “I’m not sure I’ll be here. I have a short book tour in three weeks, so I have to meet with my agent before then. It’s only a few days but…”

He’s clearly trying to act casual, but Derek can feel the way Stiles stiffens, and the way his smile goes from easy to forced. “Yeah no. I get it. I…hah. Stupid me, I forgot you have like a life, and you don’t live here…”

“Stiles,” Derek says, trying to catch him as he fumbles out of bed.

Stiles shakes his head, and his eyes are soft, even if his mouth is tense. “No seriously, it’s no worries. I just promised I’d be there to pick up Amelia by eight thirty, and I think we’re in the middle of fucking nowhere, and you drove…”

“Right,” Derek says. He doesn’t want to draw attention to the weirdness between them, like maybe if he ignores it, Stiles will relax. He figures at the very least, he can give Stiles a few days to think things over, and on their next date, they can talk about things. Derek can explain how easy it would be for him to relocate, and how much he’s willing to risk it because damn him, but he really likes this man.

They dress and hurry out to the car, Stiles clutching the hoodie around him that Derek loaned him for the drive. It’s deadly silent between them until they’re almost at the little restaurant. “I want to do this again. A date,” Derek clarifies as he takes the turn toward the diner. He can see Stiles’ car off in the distance. “Seriously, we can talk about things, you know? Please?”

Stiles looks at him carefully, then his shoulders relax a little and he leans in to kiss Derek after they’ve parked. It’s short, chaste, but sweet as Stiles curls his fingers into Derek’s hair. “Okay. I’ll text you when I’m free.”

Derek feels much better as Stiles gets out of the car and heads off. So as not to be that clingy weird, he pulls away before Stiles does, but he still can’t help himself from glancing in his rear mirror to see the little blue jeep driving away.

_ _ _

“…and it’s been about twenty four hours so it’s too soon to text,” Derek says with a small sigh, his head leaning back on the sofa cushion.

Laura sighs back at him on the other line. “Okay first of all, you’re kind of in your head, Der. You’ve known him only a few days, and you fucked him once. It’s not time to plan the wedding.”

Derek’s cheeks flamed hot with embarrassment as he sat up, grateful no one else was there to listen to her chastise him. “I’m not planning a wedding, Laura. Jesus. I just thought you might be…I don’t know, more excited that I met someone I actually feel like I could connect with.”

Laura’s voice immediately softens as she reigns herself in. “Hey no that’s not…I’m sorry. I’m not trying to rain on your parade here, okay? I just don’t want you to get all, you know, how you get. Don’t crawl inside your head and start analyzing every microscopic detail for all the ways it’s going wrong.”

“I’m not,” Derek says, but it’s a half truth. He expected Stiles to text that same day, but his phone had remained stubbornly silent throughout. Which, in hindsight, Derek understands. Stiles is a teacher, and he’s a parent, and he’s not going to have a ton of free time for stuff like that. Derek can totally understand it. But it’s almost evening now, and there’s still no word, and Derek can’t help but think back to the way Stiles had gotten a little cagey when Derek had mentioned that he had to head back to New York soon. “I figure if it works out, it works out. I’m letting him decide if he really wants anything beyond that one night.”

Laura sighs at him again. “You’re allowed to want things, Derek. You’re even allowed to go for them. Just don’t forget that, okay?”

Derek doesn’t really have time to try and get her to think about how different his life is from Stiles’. He has the freedom and the ability to uproot himself and make big changes. He has less to risk when it comes to getting serious, or hell, even when it comes to being casual. So it’s really only fair to let Stiles take the lead.

“I know,” he eventually says. “Anyway I have to go. I have to skype with Lilach to figure out my flight details for the tour. I’ll be back in the city next Thursday so we can meet up then, okay?”

“Okay. I love you.”

He smiles a little. “I know, you loser. I love you too. See you soon.”

The call ends, and he sighs, and he checks to make sure no texts have slipped through while he was dealing with his sister. His inbox is stubbornly empty, and so is the big hole in the pit of his stomach.

He wants to believe that it’s nothing, that Stiles is just busy, but as the hours tick by, he’s starting to realize it’s probably more than just him forgetting.

_ _ _

By the fifth day it’s painfully obvious Stiles has ghosted. Derek doesn’t date a lot, so maybe the lack of experience makes it hurt more. Or maybe it was letting himself get his hopes up the way he did. Whatever it is, he decides to deal with it by getting into the car and making his way to the little gourmet grocery store on the edge of town for the really good gelato.

It's raining pretty heavily, so he’s taking the curves slowly, but as he winds around one of the bends, there’s something in the road. He slams on his brakes, the car screeching and sliding, and narrowly misses whatever was limping across the tarmac. Feeling panicked, Derek grabs his jacket, holding the hood up over his head as he trudges through the downpour to the edge of the road where the creature has flopped over onto its side.

It’s a dog. Some type of Shepherd mix if the coat is anything to go by, though it’s a lot smaller than a purebred would be. Derek touches the dog’s side, and it whimpers, but tries to move closer to him, and he feels panic welling up in his gut. He thinks maybe he shouldn’t move the animal, but he’s also not going to let it lie in the street, either. There’s blood on the hind leg, and it looks broken, which means it was probably hit by a car in the storm.

Derek feels a surge of frustration at the idea that someone would just hit a dog and leave it, but there’s little he can do. He peels away his coat and wraps the thing as gingerly as he can, then with all his strength, he manages to get it into the back seat. He’s soaked and shivering, and the dog is whimpering, but he gets his phone to connect to the shitty data to find a twenty-four hour emergency vet not far from where he’s at.

The gelato and heartbreak is forgotten as he goes a little faster than he probably should, and makes it there in seven minutes. There’s a light on in the back, and a sign on the door that says ring for after-hour emergency service.

He leaves the dog in the car, then pushes the buzzer a bunch of times, waiting impatiently and still soaked until a wide-eyed kid who can’t be older than eighteen, pokes his face in the window. The door opens a crack and he looks Derek up and down. “Yeah?”

Derek’s brows raise and he wonders if that’s how every customer is treated. “Uh. There was a dog on the side of the road a few miles back,” he thumbs over his shoulder, “and I think it was hit by a car. I have it in my backseat.”

The kid’s eyes go wide. “Oh god. Okay let me uh…the…Dr. McCall will be right out, okay?” The door slams, and Derek sighs and brushes water from his forehead.

Luckily, only a few moments pass before the side door opens, and a guy in a white coat who doesn’t actually look much older than the kid at the door comes out with a rolling cart. His eyebrows shoot up when he looks at Derek in obvious recognition, but he’s professional as he hands Derek an umbrella.

“I’m Dr. McCall,” he says as he pushes the cart toward Derek’s car. “Can you hold that over us so I can get the dog onto the cart?”

Derek nods, the stress of the evening making it hard to vocalize anything, and he just follows the vet to the back door which he opens. The vet makes a low noise of sympathy, and with a lot more strength than Derek has, manages to lift the dog without jostling it too much. Derek follows behind again, trying to keep himself, the vet, and the pup dry, and they make it into the side hallway which smells overwhelmingly like animal urine and disinfectant.

“Liam will get you a towel, and you can sign our drop-off form up front if you want,” Dr. McCall says as he throws a heated blanket over the dog.

Derek frowns. “Drop-off form?”

Dr. McCall looks at him consideringly. “Yeah, man. This isn’t your dog, right?”

Derek shakes his head. “No but…” He knows realistically he should just drop the dog off and let it go, but something is telling him to wait. “Can I at least wait and see if the dog is chipped? He looked uh…skinny, you know? Maybe abandoned?”

Dr. McCall cocks his head to the side, then nods. “Of course. My office is right there, and in the cabinet I have a couple of shirts that might fit you. I’ll go examine this guy and then we can talk.”

Derek nods, then pushes through the door with the little name plaque that reads S. McCall, and heads in. The office has warm air wafting through the vents which feels amazing, and sure enough, in a large, metal cabinet, there are some soft, well-worn t-shirts which feel much better against his skin than his soaked one.

Derek throws his wet shirt in the corner, then goes around to the desk and sits in the guest chair. He pulls his phone out of his pocket to check—and yeah, yep. Not a word. He half thought maybe the universe might grant him a little something after this shit-show, but who was he kidding? He really had to accept it was over.

Derek closes his eyes, feeling uncomfortable in wet jeans, but decides to focus most of his energy and attention on making sure this dog is okay.

The door opens about ten minutes later, and the vet walks in. Now that they’re in the light, Derek gets a better look at the guy. His face is young, but the lines around his eyes say he’s at least close to Derek’s age. He’s got floppy curls which are in wet ringlets from the rain, and he’s abandoned the vet coat, showing a vintage Spiderman t-shirt.

When Derek’s eyes linger on it, he laughs. “My best friend gave that to me. Don’t ask.” He eases into his chair with a small groan and puts his hands on the desk. “So. The dog isn’t chipped and based on his weight and teeth and gums, I’d say he’s pretty severely malnourished. Chances are he was dumped up in the preserve and he’s been there at least a good month foraging.”

Derek feels anger rising in him, and his cheeks are hot with it. “That’s…”

“Yeah,” McCall sighs out. “It happens more than I like to think about. He’s going to need extensive work too. His leg is badly broken and I’m not sure it can be saved. Amputating—which I can do—means that he’ll be a special needs adoption, and most of the no-kill shelters here are full. We might be able to find a foster family but…”

“I’ll do it,” Derek blurts.

McCall blinks at him in surprise. “Uh.”

“I mean.” He stops, clears his throat. “I don’t have a dog, and I do travel, but I can afford to care for him.”

“Well, I figured that,” McCall says, confirming that he’s recognized Derek. When McCall seems to realize what he said, he rolls his eyes up to the ceiling. “Sorry. You’re Derek Hale, right?”

Derek nods. “Uh. Yeah.”

The vet sticks out his hand. “Scott McCall. I went to school with Cora, and also my wife is a huge fan of your books. She’s a seventh grade language arts teacher so she’s gotta be up on all that teen and tween stuff, you know?”

Derek laughs, but sobers when he realizes that if Scott knows Cora, he probably at least at some point knew Stiles. Stiles had even mentioned a Scott, though Derek couldn’t assume there was only one single Scott in the town. And he didn’t remember anything about a vet so…

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” Scott offers.

Derek shakes his head. “No, it’s fine. It happens a lot, and you should probably know who I am if I’m offering to keep this dog, right?”

Scott’s eyebrows go up. “You’re serious about it? With the potential amputation, and the future cost of medical care?”

Derek shrugs. “Yes. I can afford it, and better me than someone else who will struggle and eventually dump him, right?”

Scott hesitates. “You…ah. I mean, you live…not here, right? He’s not going to be able to travel for a good long while. The recovery from surgery alone is going to take months, and then I’d like him to be nearby so I can monitor his progress for a while longer after that and…”

“I can stay. I was planning to stay,” Derek blurts, then his cheeks go splotchy red and he looks away. “I mean…I ah. I’m not attached to my apartment or anything, and it’s been nice, being in the preserve home. I think he’d have a nice time out there, you know? A place to run, without being bothered too much. I had…” Derek stops himself, but decides to just forge on because why the fuck not. “I met someone, and I had been thinking about staying to see where that could go. Which…nowhere, I guess. He ended it. But that doesn’t mean I have to rush back to the coast.”

Scott gives him a long, considering look. “That sounds like something I can work with.”

Derek nods, his shoulders squared, determined to see this through. “Look, I do have some obligations though. I have to be gone for about two weeks on this mini book tour, and then I’ll be back. Is there a way I can board him or something?”

“I’ll do it myself,” Scott says. “I’m going to assess him overnight, see if the amputation is really necessary. Then he’ll need to heal a little before he can be put under anesthesia. He can do all that here. And after the surgery, if you’re still gone, I can keep him with me until you’re back.”

Derek feels like a weight has been lifted. “Okay. Yes. Let’s do this. Are there papers I need to sign? How do I make sure he’s mine?”

Scott laughs softly, then stands up and beckons Derek to the lobby where Liam’s waiting with a stack of adoption forms, and consent to treat. Derek flies through them, then hands over one of his credit cards, then tells Liam to order whatever Derek’s going to need to make sure the dog is happy and healthy when he’s allowed to come home.

“He needs a name, too,” Liam says, tapping his pen on the stack of forms. “Any ideas?”

Derek bites his lip, then shrugs. “Thor.”

Liam chuckles as he writes it down.

“That’s like, every dog, isn’t it?” Derek asks.

Liam shrugs. “We see it a lot, but it’s really fitting for this guy. Scott says you can go see him now if you want.”

Derek hurries through the door, and follows the slightly winding hallway to the back room where he can hear the dog whimpering softly, and Scott talking to him in soothing tones. Derek knocks, then pushes the door open to see Scott back in his lab coat and gloves, gently prodding at Thor’s back leg. There’s also an IV drip attached to his front paw with some blue wrapping, and it’s a testimony to how much pain the dog is in that he’s not struggling at all.

“Hey,” Scott says, “you can give him some love if you want. He’s got the good shit going now, so he probably won’t be aggressive.”

All the same, Derek is careful as he approaches, reaching a hand out with his fingers curled in toward his palm. Thor lifts his head minutely and sniffs, then licks a stripe along Derek’s knuckles. Derek feels triumphant, like the dog is giving him the okay to bring him into the family. Moving as close as he can, Derek buries his fingers in Thor’s fur and loves on him until he hears the latex snap of the gloves coming off.

“Professional opinion, the leg probably has to go. Whoever hit him got him really good, and I think trying to set the leg and heal it will just delay the inevitable. I’m not saying for sure,” Scott says as he gives the pup a little scratch on the back, “but I just want you to be prepared.”

Derek sighs, but nods. “Whatever he needs to be healthy.”

“What did you name him?” Scott asks after a moment.

Derek grins. “Thor.”

Scott’s face softens, and he shakes his head. “I have a comic book nerd friend who will absolutely love that.”

“Guy with the Spiderman shirt?” Derek offers.

Scott gets a strange look on his face, then nods. “Yeah. That’s him.”

_ _ _

Derek leaves Thor at the office with his number, and goes home and promptly passes out. He wakes to a call from an unknown number, and it turns out to be the vet’s office letting him know that Thor is having the leg amputated, but that he should recover nicely and Scott will prepare him for surgery within the week. Derek authorizes whatever treatments need to be done, then he tries to lose himself in writing.

The stress of things shouldn’t be conducive to his creativity, but he finds himself able to churn out page after page. Maybe it’s knowing he’s making a real home here. Maybe it’s the decision to stay that isn’t based on some guy he fucked, but in actually wanting this for himself—his childhood home, reclaimed from the fire, a dog, a small town life. He’s not sure, but whatever it is, it feels good.

By the time he leaves for New York, he’s already arranged for a moving company to pack up his apartment and he’s arranged for the place to be put on the market. He meets with Lilach who isn’t surprised, though she is annoyed to have yet another skype client, but ultimately she seems happy for him.

“Did you meet someone?” she asks, tipping her little espresso cup to her lips.

Derek sighs. “I thought so, but it didn’t work out. It isn’t that, though. I thought I was going to hate being back there. I mean, when some bitch burns down your family home and tries to murder everyone you care about, you’d think you’d never want to go back. But when I was there it felt…” He shrugs, not really having the words, which probably isn’t a good thing since he’s a writer.

She smiles at him like she knows, though. “I’m happy for you.”

Derek can’t help but grin. “I got a dog. I found him on the side of the road, hit by a car. He’s with the vet now.” He pulls up the most recent picture that Scott scent, Thor just after the surgery looking dopy in his Cone of Shame, but also adorable.

Lilach rolls her eyes. “Only you, Hale. How is your family taking it?”

“The kids cried until I promised them we could look into getting horses for when they visit, and I think Andrew and Max are thinking about relocating back to the West Coast. Laura will never leave here, but we all knew that.”

She laughs. “Well, get ready to travel, and then call me when you’re settled in. Your editor said she loves the pages you’ve given her so far, so whatever the fuck that little town is doing for you, I hope it keeps up.”

Derek can’t help his smile. “Yeah. Me too.”

_ _ _

The book tour is what it always is. Stale hotel rooms and bad breakfast buffets, and his hand and voice sore from the signing and the speaking. He drinks a lot of tea and ignores his phone for the most part, and obsessively checks on Thor’s progress.

By the time he’s in Orlando—the last stop—Scott’s let him know that Thor is tentatively walking, keeping solid food down, and ready to settle into his new place. The movers have also arrived, setting everything up though Derek will have to do all the unpacking, and though his family isn’t thrilled, none of them seem surprised, either.

“It’s really not about the guy, is it?” Laura prods.

Derek squeezes his eyes shut, pinching the bridge of his nose. “No, Laur. He ghosted, and I mean, I’m sure I’ll see him again because well…small town. But this isn’t about him. It just feels better there.”

“I think in spite of all the shit we left behind, a piece of you always stayed. I’m glad you’re getting it back.”

He wants to drag her beyond reason for being so sappy, but he can’t bring himself to do it. So he just thanks her and promises to have her over soon. Then he finishes the last bit of his obligation and prepares to go home.

_ _ _

Derek goes home first, to do a little unpacking and set up all of the stuff Scott had shipped over for Thor. Dog-bed and crate, his food dish, water, medication and his toys. Derek looks around, then realizes he’s ready for his place not to be so empty. Hurrying out to the car—reminding himself he’ll need to actually buy one now that he’s not living in a city with public transport, he heads over to the address Scott sent him.

There are a couple of cars in the driveway, and Derek walks past them to the front door, and it’s opened quickly by a young, very small woman with long, straight black hair and a wide grin. “I’m Kira,” she says, holding out a hand. “You must be Derek.”

Derek knows that she knows exactly who he is, but he takes the peace offering for what it is and shakes her hand. “Hey. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Same,” she says, and ushers him inside. “We’re going to miss Thor around here. He’s literally the sweetest dog I have ever met.” She brings him through the kitchen, to a back door where he can hear happy barking and some childish laughter. He doesn’t remember Scott mentioning kids, but he can definitely see the guy as a dad.

Kira pushes the door open, and the first thing Derek sees is the puppy, his gait a little awkward from the leg, but his tongue lolling out happily as he goes after the ball Scott gently tossed. The second thing Derek sees, which has him frozen in place, is a very familiar little girl with a binky in her mouth, and her wide, honey-colored eyes fixed on him.

“That’s our friend’s daughter,” Kira says.

Derek’s throat is tight, and he doesn’t manage to say anything, even as she toddles up and holds her arms up. It’s automatic that he bends down and picks her up. When he straightens, he sees Scott staring right at him.

Derek feels his face go hot, and he realizes that Scott probably knew the entire time.

“He asked me not to say anything,” Scott says softly as he approaches.

Derek nods. “He uh…probably doesn’t want me holding his kid, either so…” He tries to hand Amelia over, but Scott doesn’t take her, and Amelia clings to him like an angry koala.

“He made a mistake. He thought,” Scott stops, rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s not my place.”

Derek licks his lips, forces his words to work properly. “He didn’t call. Or text. Ever. Not once.”

Scott shakes his head. “Yeah, no. I know. He can be a serious dipshit sometimes. He doesn’t mean to be, but things got a little fucked up after he got Amelia, and some of that was my fault. I didn’t exactly make it easy on him, the whole single-dad thing. I didn’t really get it, and I think that uh…it made him feel like everyone was going to walk out eventually. He panicked.”

Derek doesn’t quite know what to say. “I was going to stay. I mean, even if it didn’t work out, I was going to stay. I wanted to talk to him, but he never called.”

Scott reaches over and ruffles Amelia’s hair, who has buried her face in the crook of Derek’s neck and is breathing soft and slow like she’s seconds from sleep. Derek wants to pass her back to Scott and run. Also he wants to hold her until Stiles shows up, then demand to know why he wasn’t allowed to have a chance.

Instead he rubs her back gently and says, “He can still call me, you know. If he wants to talk.”

Scott nods, and eventually Kira takes Amelia who whines, but is still mostly asleep. They gather Thor, who is excited to see Derek, and they get him situated in the car with his things, and a promise to see Scott in two weeks for a check up. The moment is tense, but Derek’s okay, and it’s really no trouble at all driving away because he knows at this point, there’s still a chance.

_ _ _

In a way, it’s no surprise at all when he gets a text on his phone that night.

I’m sorry. I panicked and I fucked up. Can we talk?

It’s really no question at all, so Derek texts back, Why don’t you come over, and I can cook.

Chapter Text

The thing is, Derek has no real need to be nervous about this. Stiles was the one who ghosted on him. Stiles was the one who didn’t give him five minutes to explain that he wasn’t going to just walk away from something this potentially good. Stiles was the one who panicked and disappeared.

Derek doesn’t even really blame him. He’s never been a single parent, and he thinks carefully about what Scott told him—and what Stiles must go through just to open himself up for a moment. But he still doesn’t need to be nervous.

He’s happy, he’s comfortable, and it might be difficult to see Stiles and Amelia around town if this doesn’t work out, but in the end, he’ll get over it. He has Thor, he has his job, he doesn’t think it’ll be too difficult to make friends.

Still, his fingers are trembling a little, and he almost shoots out of his chair when he hears the crunch of gravel under tires. It’s about half an hour away from sunset, and Derek has a whole chicken stuffed with veggies roasting in the oven, about twenty minutes from being ready to pull. He’s got some other stuff too—some steamed baby carrots and some chicken fingers that are specifically marketed toward toddlers. He picked up some rice puff things with a picture of a cartoon dog on the front, too, just because he’s not sure if Stiles is bringing Amelia and he wants the other man to know that Derek’s still willing to try.

He can see out of the front window as Stiles gets out of his car, then hesitates with the back door open. He wants to come out onto the porch and tell him it’s fine, say something to reassure him because he needs this to happen, even if nothing comes of it. But he doesn’t. He waits for a full seven minutes before the doorbell rings.

Derek walks over and opens it, feeling weirdly relieved to see Stiles with the baby. Amelia is sucking on her binky as usual, but she grins behind it and makes grabby hands at Derek, nearly launching herself out of Stiles’ arms. Stiles makes a surprised noise, and they both catch her at the same time.

“I don’t mind,” Derek says, just as Stiles finally gives in and relinquishes his hold.

Derek steps aside, and Stiles hefts the diaper bag over his shoulder and steps in. Derek doesn’t offer him a tour, there’s no sense in pretending Stiles hasn’t been here before—hasn’t had his dick sucked just a few feet away from where they’re standing, and then both of them fucked senseless just down the hall in the bedroom.

He can tell Stiles is thinking the same thing, the way his cheeks burn a splotchy pink.

“You look good,” Derek says, hoping that a compliment will help ease the tension. He kicks the door shut with his foot, which makes Amelia giggle, and then he turns back to Stiles.

Stiles shrugs, tugging at the hem of what is probably one of his nicer t-shirts. His jeans look freshly washed, and his hair isn’t as haphazard as the last few times Derek has seen him. “Thanks. Seeing as I was puked on less than an hour ago, that’s saying something.”

“Oh no!” Derek says, and tickles Amelia’s tummy. “Did you mess up your daddy’s nice clothes.”

“Yah,” she says, muffled from her binky. “Down!” She wriggles, and Derek manages to get her to the ground without dropping her. She makes an immediate beeline to where Thor is watching with vague interest, though he doesn’t get up. He gives a small whuff as she plops next to him and lays her head along his neck.

“Scott told me how you found him,” Stiles says, rubbing the back of his neck and shifting a little from foot to foot. “That was pretty damn nice of you.”

Derek’s eyebrows raise. “What kind of asshole would just leave him?”

“Probably the kind that would hit him and drive off,” Stiles offers and well…fair. “He told me uh…well. He told me you were staying.”

Derek shrugs, but before he can say anything, the timer for the chicken goes off. Derek holds up a finger. “Give me a second? It’ll need to rest for a few minutes.”

“Yeah, no. That’s fine. Go,” Stiles says, and shoos him off.

Derek takes the time to carefully baste the chicken before covering it to rest to compose himself. He’s acting casual, but his insides feel like just a jumble of exclamation points and asterisks. He breathes through the nerves, and feels a little bit more centered when he comes back out into the room.

Stiles has made himself comfortable on the floor near Thor and Amelia, with his back to the chair, and Derek wants to plop down, but instead makes himself sit on the couch. Amelia eyes him, then gives a little wave, opening and closing her chubby little fist.

Derek waves back, and he catches Stiles staring at him. “I was going to stay. I mean, I was already kind of thinking about it. There’s a lot about New York I’m going to miss, but this was my home first and I didn’t think it would feel so good, coming back here.”

Stiles gnaws on his lower lip. “And if I tell you that I just can’t do this? That relationships are just too hard for me?”

Derek feels his stomach sink, but he pulls through it. “I get it. And I understand. I hope it won’t bother you too much if I’m still here. I just…I promised Scott that I’d stay at least until Thor’s all the way healed and…”

“I don’t want you to go, Jesus,” Stiles blurts out, scrubbing a hand down his face. “I liked you. And I panicked like a fucking moron because that’s what I do. You said you had to leave and I just…I mean. You’re rich and famous, Derek. And I’m some chump from a small town raising my dead cousin’s baby and like…who wants that baggage. You’re a fucking Adonis. You could probably get Nicki Minaj to date you if you wanted.”

Derek can’t help but let out a small, tight laugh. “That’s…flattering, and probably untrue, though I don’t know for sure. We’ve never actually met. I did meet Rhianna once though. She said I had a nice ass.”

“Jesus Christ,” Stiles gasps. “You’re not even joking, are you?”

Derek grins, shaking his head. “No, I’m not. But I also don’t want to date a celebrity Stiles. I’m…I didn’t get into this book thing to be famous. It was a fluke, and I can’t say I’m angry about having money, but meeting you meant something. Not just because you didn’t know me, but you let me feel like myself for the first time in a long time. I was willing to take a risk on that.”

“Was,” Stiles says.

Derek shrugs. “Am. But the choice is yours. You’re the one who will have to adjust. People will ask questions. They’ll get up in your business. Your students will notice and be annoying about it, and we’ll probably have pap-shots taken of us from time to time, especially when they figure out that I moved. Especially when they figure out I’m dating a teacher who has a kid.” Derek bites his lip, and wonders if he’s trying to talk Stiles out of this. But honestly, it’s only fair. He should know what this is going to be like. “I’d like to keep it quiet, keep it so we get to know each other before it all goes batshit crazy.”

Stiles nods. “Does that uh…does that mean you’d be willing to give it another chance?”

“No,” Derek says, and pauses just because he thinks Stiles deserves to sweat it a little bit. He grins. “Not another chance, because you didn’t lose the first one. I just wanted you to have time to think about it.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “God, I would hit you right now if I was a worse person.”

“Dada,” Amelia says suddenly, and jumps up from Thor’s side, running to Stiles. She looks him dead in the face and says sternly, “No hit.”

Stiles laughs. “Okay fair, baby girl. Now, are you hungry?”

“No!” Amelia cries.

They get up to eat anyway.

_ _ _

Dinner is a subdued affair. Stiles and Derek sit across from each other, with Amelia at the head of the table. She appreciates the carrots and nibbles on the chicken, but she mostly just mashes bits of the pre-packed sandwich Stiles had made and cut up into bite-sized pieces and giggles.

It’s honestly one of the most domestic things he’s ever done. The times he’s eaten with his brothers and their kids, it’s utter chaos. Like his family has been raised by wolves. It’s a free for all, fend for yourself, buffet-style and it’s not a Hale family meal unless at least half a dozen spoonfuls of mashed whatever are thrown.

This is soothing. It’s looking up and stealing glances and shy smiles at each other, and it’s teasing the baby who is enjoying the attention, and thinking ahead to years and years from now as she grows up, and as they grow closer, and life goes on.

It’s a fantasy that he desperately wants, and terrifies him a little.

“She’s going to drop off soon so,” Stiles says as he finishes wiping Amelia’s face and letting her down to run out the back door after the dog. They follow her out, and Derek sits on the top step and waits for Stiles to join him, who does after some hesitation.

Derek leans his knee against Stiles’. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.” The sun is setting, but there’s still the hazy glow of dusk which lights up the trees like they’re aflame. He remembers this view from when he was a kid. He’s never gotten tired of it.

There’s silence between them that stretches on for a while, then Stiles asks, “Isn’t it hard to be here like this?”

Derek shrugs. “I thought it might be. I wasn’t sure how I would feel. I mean, I thought I’d think about her all the time, you know? I thought she’d ruined everything, but I feel good now. This place doesn’t feel haunted. It just…felt lonely.” He stops with a shrug, and he can see the way Stiles is staring at him through the corner of his eye.

“I knew her niece. Allison. She and her parents moved here a few years after you left. She was nice. She had to deal with a lot of shit you know, because of her aunt.”

Derek’s lips thin a little bit, and he shrugs. “Their whole family was…”

Stiles lets out a strained laugh. “Yeah man. I know. Her dad went apeshit one day and tried to run Scott over with his car after catching Scott and Allison going at it. I don’t think he would have actually done it, but it scared the beejezus out of him. Scott was pretty wrecked when she left, and I never told him, but I was really fucking glad she did. That whole thing was just…” He shrugs.

Derek gets it, because of course he gets it. Allison might not have been as disturbed as her aunt, but there was something about that family, something that was never quite right. Derek doesn’t think he’d be able to cope if an Argent was still in Beacon Hills, no matter how much progress he’s made.

“I like his wife. Kira,” he says after a bit. “She’s pretty great.”

Stiles chuckles and holds out his arms as Amelia takes a running leap at him. “She’s the best. She’s basically responsible for me and Scott putting all of our shit to rest, you know? She kind of knocked him upside the head a little and showed him that he was being a dumbass about the baby thing.”

“I think he’ll be a good dad, if they ever want to.” Derek shrugs, and then is surprised when Amelia climbs over Stiles’ lap and nestles into Derek’s arms. She seems to know what she’s doing, because she arranges herself so she’s on his shoulder, tucked up against his chest, and he can feel her immediately relax for sleep.

“You’re not so bad yourself, cowboy,” Stiles says quietly.

Derek feels his entire face blush hot. “Oh my god, don’t.”

Stiles covers his laugh, and nudges Derek carefully. “I’m not trying to you know…make assumptions or anything. I just mean you’re good with kids.”

“Yeah, I was talking about the cowboy thing,” Derek says, and nudges him back. “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever been called.”

Stiles’ face, which had fallen a little, brightens. He stands up, then offers a hand out for Derek, and they make their way inside. It’s warmer, and it’s cozy, and Derek feels a sudden surge of panic at the thought that Stiles will leave and the place will feel so empty again.

“I meant it when I said you can stay. I mean, obviously you didn’t bring everything you need for her but…”

Stiles scoffs. “If you think I don’t travel with half her wardrobe, and enough shit to combat broken limbs and stomach flus, and everything in between, you’re crazy.”

“So…is that a yes?”

Stiles bites his lip, then says, “She’ll probably want to sleep with us.”

“That’s okay. My bed is big, and it’s close to the ground. You remember.” He offers a slightly salacious smile, and he enjoys the way it makes Stiles flush. He walks ahead of Stiles into his bedroom, and lets him arrange the pillows before setting Amelia down in the little nest. She murmurs, and shifts, but doesn’t wake, just sucking hard on her binky as she adjusts to the new surroundings.

When they’re sure she won’t wake up screaming, they tiptoe out, leaving a crack in the door, and make their way back to the living room.

Derek hesitates when Stiles does, both of them standing in the middle of the living room. The moment feels heavy, like something’s waiting to break. Then Stiles does first. He takes one, two, then three steps right into Derek’s space, and grabs him by the hips.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and looks him firm and square in the eyes. “I panicked and I know I hurt you, and I didn’t mean to. I can’t promise I won’t do it again, either, but I can promise that I will do everything I can to communicate.”

Derek nods, then lifts his hand to Stiles’ cheek, cupping it softly. “I trust you. And I’ll do my best to be patient and understanding because I know this isn’t easy. It won’t be easy in the future either, and as long as you get that…”

“I don’t think I do, but I’m willing to adjust, because this…I think this is worth it.” Stiles’ eyes close for a long moment, his lashes fanning his cheek. Then he looks up and leans in, and their mouths meet like they’re magnets, unable to resist the pull.

Derek swallows Stiles’ first moan, and his second as he backs him up to the couch, and fumbles with his jeans. He knows he has to be quick—the baby could wake up at any time, and he thinks for a second maybe they should take it slow, but he doesn’t want that.

“Is this okay?” Derek asks. “I’m okay if you want to go slow. We can…”

“If you don’t get your hand down my pants like three seconds ago, I’m going to fucking combust,” Stiles hisses, then grabs him by the back of the head and kisses him as he thrusts his hips against Derek’s hand. It’s all Derek needs to surge forward, to get Stiles’ jeans open, to get his cock out.

He strokes him fast, firm, and it’s a little dry, but Stiles doesn’t seem to care as he fucks into it. Derek’s own dick is straining against his zipper and he knows that just a little more pressure and he’s done for. He’s probably going to come in his pants like a goddamn teenager and that might be the best part of his entire night.

They stay lip-locked to keep themselves quiet, and it really does only last a handful of minutes. He feels the way Stiles’ body goes tense, the way his moans turn into whimpers, the way he shivers, and then comes. Derek humps against Stiles’ leg and it’s just enough to get him off, a wet patch spreading only seconds after Stiles spills.

It’s embarrassing and it’s amazing all at once.

Stiles’ eyes are heavy and red-rimmed, his mouth a little swollen, and parted slightly. “I…yeah. Wow. You came in your pants.”

“I did,” Derek says, and pecks him a few times across the mouth. “I’m going to clean up, and I can bring you something to sleep in if you want.”

Stiles nods. “Don’t wake Amelia. I want to have at least ten minutes to savor my big, rich and famous, hot boyfriend before she steals all the attention and cuddles.”

Derek snorts, shakes his head, but he’s extra careful when he sneaks into his room for a change of clothes. He throws sweats and a t-shirt at Stiles, then slips into the bathroom to wash himself up and change. When he comes out, Stiles is soft and warm looking, relaxed across the couch and makes grabby hands as Derek walks over.

The arrange themselves with Stiles as the little spoon, and Derek dims the lights before pushing his face into the back of Stiles’ neck. “We’re really doing this?” he asks.

“Feeling insecure?” Stiles’ tone is teasing, but Derek answers honestly.

“Yeah. This is…it feels really good, and I don’t want to lose it. I haven’t had the best luck with relationships, and it’s hard for me to really let myself want.”

Stiles’ breath hitches a little, and he nestles backward. “I’m sorry I contributed to that.”

“Don’t,” Derek says, squeezing him. “We’d literally been on one date. We had just met. You didn’t owe me anything. But we promised communication, so I want you to know that it isn’t just you that feels like maybe you can’t have this.”

Stiles strokes the tips of his fingers along Derek’s naked arm, and his voice is heavy with fatigue when he finally answers him. “I think we can do this. I know there’s no guarantees, but I have a good feeling about us.”

Derek can’t help his smile, which he presses into the back of Stiles’ neck and holds him firm. “I have the same feeling.”

“Then there you go. Two against the universe. I think we can make it work.”

“Yeah,” Derek says, then kisses him once more before they drop off to sleep.