Chapter 1: I got the money and I got the time
Here is the amazing gifset by Tumblr user Sterek that inspired this fic! There's a part 2 also that I'll include in the relevant chapter.
Lydia snapped open the roman shade, her lipsticked mouth pressed into a firm line.
“The sunlight!” Stiles croaked dramatically, throwing up an arm. “It buuuurns!”
“Enough.” Lydia said, grabbing the bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos right out of Stiles’ hand. “You’re moping.”
“Rude,” Stiles said, but even he could tell his heart wasn’t in it.
“You’ll come up with something,” Lydia said, with the supreme confidence of someone who always came up with something in the end.
“Or I won’t.” God knows his own success rate veered wildly from “disastrous” to “phenomenal” with apparently no happy medium. “I’ll be one of those people who peaked before age 25. Like that kid in all those movies, you know the one with the catch phrase — what was it?”
“Pull yourself together, you’re pathetic,” Lydia said.
“No, that wasn’t it. Something more like…”
And then sharp fingernails were under his chin, tilting his head up. Lydia’s green eyes met his.
“You’re deflecting. And avoiding. And...and eating yourself into some kind of self-pitying additive-and-preservative-based coma.”
Stiles looked away. He couldn’t actually deny any of it.
“For god’s sake, Stiles, at least shower. Get outside, get a little sunshine. Staring at a blank screen is getting you nowhere. And this ... growth you’re developing...”
Stiles scratched at his scraggly chin. “Do not mock the beard. It has tender feelings.”
“It has Cheeto crumbs. And it’s a disgrace.”
“I’m a disgrace, you mean,” Stiles mumbled.
“Stiles.” How Lydia managed to sound affectionate and exasperated at the same time was beyond him. “You’re just in a slump. And by popular vote I was the one designated to come over here and kick you out of it.”
“You do have the pointiest shoes,” Stiles acknowledged.
“Here’s what you’re going to do. Go brush your teeth. Change out of the Hello Kitty pajama pants. At least run an errand, or visit someone, or...you have a new neighbor, you know. Why don’t you go say hello? Here…”
Lydia was off and rummaging through the pile of unsorted mail on his dining table. “You still have this gift basket from Samsung that you haven’t opened. Take it over and welcome him to the neighborhood.”
“I’m not really a gift-basket-giving kind of guy, Lyds.”
Lydia crossed her arms and pulled out her trump card. “He’s hot.”
Stiles snorted. “You think Allison’s dad is hot.” And, granted, Chris was kind of a silver fox, but seriously...Allison’s dad. Stiles might be open to a lot of kinks, but that was definitely not one of them.
“Stiles.” Lydia’s voice was icy. “I’m meeting Jackson for coffee, and then afterwards I am going to text you. If you haven’t made it out of the house by then, I’ll...I’ll call your dad.”
“Ouch.” Stiles winced. “That’s cold.”
“Then don’t make me.” Lydia blew him a kiss, and then she was gone in as much of a whirlwind as when she had arrived.
Stiles wiped his orange-dusted hands on his Hello Kitty pajama pants and sulked for a few more moments, but he couldn’t refute any of what Lydia had said. To be honest, he was kind of disgusting even himself. He forced himself to his feet, feeling like he had become a part of the couch after so many hours of sitting. He stretched his back, and then wandered into the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of cold water, and chugged it all.
He walked through the empty house, making the long trek to his bedroom, the only other room he used. Once again, he cursed this stupid near-mansion he had bought when he was still giddy with his sudden wealth. He had bought it mostly for the in-law suite, thinking his dad would come to live with him. Instead, his dad had promptly moved in with Melissa. And Stiles wished them well, he absolutely did, but it didn’t comfort him much when he was rattling around in this giant empty place. Sometimes the size of the house felt like a weight on his shoulders, pressing him down with a constant burden of hiring landscapers and pool cleaners and repair people and now that he thought of it, he should probably do something about the fact that his dishwasher hadn’t worked in a couple of weeks besides eating all his food from crinkly bags...
He had finally made it to his bedroom. He changed out of the orange-streaked pajama pants and into some cargo shorts, but drew the line at changing his shirt. He had probably changed it yesterday anyway. The day before, at the very least. He brushed his teeth, and rinsed the Cheeto crumbs out of his beard. It was coming along nicely, no matter what Lydia said. At least the bottom part was filling in nicely. Or it would, in just a few more days. His hair was sticking up in all directions, but he shrugged. A shower was a little too much to ask of himself right now.
Of all the tasks Lydia had presented him with, meeting his neighbor sounded like the least amount of effort.
Stiles made the long trek back. He snagged the gift basket from the dining table. Wine, caviar, pâté...ugh. No wonder he hadn’t opened it yet. Why didn’t these mega-corporations ever send something he would actually want?
He grabbed his phone and keys and headed for the door. He put the gift basket down on the bench by the front door while he slid on his Converse. Then he headed out, down the long, winding drive.
About three-quarters of the way down, he realized he had left the gift basket behind. He cursed and looked back, and then shrugged. He had come too far.
Eventually he made it to the bottom of his drive, and reluctantly slumped his way over to the neighbor’s drive. Stiles was at the end of the hill, which meant he had great views — if he ever got around to opening the curtains — and just one neighboring house. It had been empty for more than the year he had lived there. Apparently the people who owned it had been living abroad, and just got around to selling it. If Stiles hadn’t been in such a funk, he probably already would have put Danny on researching who the new owner was.
Stiles toiled up his neighbor’s equally long, winding driveway, cursing Lydia the whole way. He reached the front door, huffing and puffing, sweat gathering in his armpits. He rang the doorbell and then stood back.
He waited long enough that he started to doubt that his neighbor was home after all. What day was it even...Wednesday? Just when he was starting to give up, the door swung open, and the little introductory speech Stiles had formulated on his way over flew completely from his mind.
Lydia had said that his new neighbor was hot. What she hadn’t said was that he was a jaw-dropping, breath-taking, too-good-for-this-world work of art.
Stiles stood there open-mouthed, his eyes darting between the man’s beautiful seaglass eyes, his razor-sharp cheekbones, the perfect thick beard going just a little grey at the bottom in a way that was absolutely adorable...
The man was talking now, but Stiles was still taking in the broad shoulders, a waist so trim that it made Stiles want to cry, and — oh, the man was turning away now — an ass that was eminently biteable.
By the time Stiles snapped back into awareness, he was following the man into the shadowed hall on autopilot. “Right this way,” the man was saying. Oh, he must have offered Stiles a tour of the place.
They made their way through a living room, still scattered with boxes, and out a pair of double french doors to the backyard. It was very similar to Stiles’ — a terra cotta patio surrounding an oval pool, drought-resistant landscaping at the borders.
The man was looking expectantly at Stiles, and Stiles looked back before realizing that he was expected to say something.
“Oh.” He looked at the pool again. “Very nice,” he said dutifully. He wondered if it was too soon to ask the man out for a drink. Neighbors did that kind of thing, right? And maybe if the evening ended with Stiles licking his way down the man’s neck, that’s something that neighbors did too, right?
“So, uh,” the man was saying, and Stiles realized he was probably making a very bad first impression. He tried to gather his wandering thoughts. He had been in a bit of a dry spell, alright? It’s not his fault he couldn’t restrain his libido when presented with this adorable man-god with bunny teeth and sticky-out little ears and god help him horn-rimmed glasses like the most adorable breathtaking nerd in the history of nerd-dom.
“So…” The man was at the door to a shed now. “The previous owners left everything, so I think there should be everything you need. But let me know if you need me to pick up anything, or if you prefer, you can buy it and I’ll reimburse you…”
“Everything I need?” Stiles repeated. He had obviously missed something.
“You know.” The man smiled again, a little more cautiously. He was looking at Stiles as if he were a bit mentally-challenged. “To clean the pool.”
“To clean the pool,” Stiles repeated. He looked around. Then he looked down at himself, taking in his stained shirt, cargo shorts, and raggedy Converse.
“Oh!” he said. “Because I’m the pool guy.” And that’s not what he meant to say at all. He meant to say, “You think I’m the pool guy.”
“Yeah. So.” The man was backing a few steps away. “I don’t know how long it usually takes to get it ready, but I’m really looking forward to swimming — I’ve never had a pool before, and the a/c hasn’t quite kicked in inside yet — so if you think it’s going to be soon, then I might go ahead and get changed —”
“Oh. Yeah.” And Stiles had no idea what possessed him, except maybe the thought of seeing this man in a wet swimsuit. Okay, come to think of it, that was explanation enough.
“Yeah, you go right ahead,” he said, smiling with what he hoped was easy confidence. “I’ll just...skim this sucker first, and then —” He cast another look at the pool. It wasn’t too green. Probably. He didn’t think. “While you’re swimming I’ll just measure up the chemicals, and, um...you know. Check the levels. And that kind of thing.”
“Oh. Okay.” The man smiled again, and Stiles was once again dazzled stupid by the bunny teeth. “Great.”
“Yes,” Stiles said, warming to his role now. “You can swim with confidence, now that I’m on the job. ‘When you have scummy tiles, call for Stiles.’ That’s what they say. Y’know. In the biz. The pool biz.”
“Stiles?” The man said.
“Yes?” Stiles waited patiently. Your wish is my command.
“No, just — you said ‘Stiles’?”
“Oh!” Stiles held out his hand. “Sorry, skipped that part. I’m Stiles. Stilinski. Poolboy Extraordinaire. At your service.”
The man’s grip was warm and solid, and Stiles had to force himself to release his hand in a remotely reasonable time scale.
“Derek,” the nerdy man-god said. “Hale.”
“Nice to meetcha, Derek,” Stiles said breezily. “Now, don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll have you all set up in no time.” Stilinski-Hale, he was practicing in his head. Or Hale-Stilinski? Stale? No, that’s awful. Haleinski?
With a final smile and an awkwardly adorkable little wave, Derek retreated into the house. Stiles watched him go, sighing dreamily. Then he blinked, shook himself, and made his way to the shed. The dusty interior was crammed to the rafters with various tools, chemicals, and equipment. Stiles shrugged mentally. How hard could it really be? He pulled out his phone and googled ‘pool maintenance.’
By the time Derek came back out, in some unfortunately not-very-revealing swim trunks and a t-shirt — Would it be too much to ask for a Speedo? They were more hydrodynamic! — Stiles had brushed up on the three C’s of pool maintenance and was assiduously skimming the surface of the pool. This part he had down, he watched his own pool guys do this all the time, zoning out while he was supposed to be programming.
“All good?” Derek asked, and Stiles straightened up.
“Absolutely. Good to go.” Stiles watched, mouth watering, as Derek peeled off the t-shirt, revealing a delightfully hairy chest and shoulders Stiles wanted to rest his cheek on and never leave. “Although —” Stiles said, thinking rapidly.
Derek stopped with the t-shirt in his hands. “Although?” Those deliciously thick eyebrows of his furrowed endearingly.
“I might have to make more frequent visits in these first few weeks. Y’know, just to … um, balance the alkalinity, and, um, make sure that the circulation and the...um, pH, and all are...up to snuff. Like, maybe daily visits.”
Derek still looked concerned, and Stiles hurried to clarify. “No extra charge! It’s all, like, covered under the contract.”
Derek’s brow furrowed further, and Stiles just wanted to kiss it smooth. “I didn’t sign a contract, I thought this was just an assessment…”
“Oh, no!” Stiles waved his hands, as if that would distract from his nonsensical words. He thought furiously, and then inspiration struck. “The previous owners’ contract, I mean. They’re paid up through the end of the year, so of course we’ll, like, honor their contract. No charge unless you wanna extend. If, y’know, you’re happy with our services.”
“Really?” Derek’s blue-grey-green gaze was intense, and Stiles felt himself sweating under the force of it. “No charge?”
“Absolutely,” Stiles croaked. “On the house. Gratis. Besplatno.”
Derek’s gaze seemed to intensify to 11, and Stiles started to feel a little light-headed. “You speak Russian?”
“Um…” Stiles squinted up at the sky, rubbing the back of his head. “Bitcoin billionaires gotta get their pools cleaned too?”
Derek just looked at Stiles for another long minute, and then finally looked away. Stiles sucked in air as if he had been smothering.
Derek threw his t-shirt to the side, and in one fluid motion dived straight into the pool. Stiles watched, mouth agape, as he settled into a controlled, perfect breaststroke, a mesmerizing tattoo between his shoulder blades flexing and bobbing enticingly with every stroke.
“Yeah,” Stiles breathed to himself. “This is gonna take a lot more visits to sort out.”
Chapter 2: I got a secret gonna make you mine
Don't expect updates this speedily in general, but it's a long weekend and I couldn't resist. Enjoy these dorks. :-)
Derek heaved a sigh of relief as he broke down the last of the boxes from the kitchen. He felt dusty and sweaty and miserable, but at least that was one room done. Now if only the air conditioning would kick in. He had no idea how long it should take to cool a house this size, but it was definitely taking longer than he wanted. Hopefully that wasn’t yet another thing on the long list of items to be fixed.
A deep, loud series of bongs sounded through the house, making Derek jump. He looked around himself, unnerved, before finally realizing it was probably the doorbell. Christ, these big houses had to have all the drama, didn’t they?
He washed his hands hurriedly in the sink, wiping them on one of the newly-unpacked dishtowels and then casting it quickly aside as he made his way to the front door.
He peered through the peephole. A young man was standing on the doorstep, looking mildly disgruntled. Someone selling something? Derek thought about the long, winding driveway and figured probably not. He looked a little longer, taking in the stained t-shirt, baggy cargo shorts, and ratty sneakers. The guy’s hair was sticking up, as if maybe he had been working hard all day.
Oh, that’s right. The pool guy. Derek swung the door open, happy at the thought that he might soon be able to take a swim in his own pool instead of relying on the ones at gyms and hotels.
He waited for the guy to introduce himself, but he just stood there, his pink mouth slightly open, amber eyes wide. Now that Derek was looking more closely, the guy was pretty adorable. He had pale mole-dotted skin that contrasted beautifully with his dark, messy hair, and big eyes rimmed with dark lashes that looked almost golden in the sunlight. A little bit of scruff covered his chin, so light and sparse it could almost be a trick of the light. His messy t-shirt was tight across broad shoulders, and long, dexterous-looking fingers twitched at his side under Derek’s gaze.
Derek realized that he had been staring for what was probably an awkwardly long time. He cleared his throat.
“Hey — I’m glad you could come so soon. I really appreciate it. I’ll show you to the pool.”
The guy was still staring, and Derek licked his lips nervously, wondering if he had said something stupid already. He turned to make his way through the shadowed hall. “Right this way,” he said, and felt the man following as he walked toward the living room.
He made his way to the pool, only barely stopping himself from making a ta-da gesture out of sheer social awkwardness.
The pool guy looked around, taking in the patio and pool, and then looked expectantly at Derek.
Derek looked back, feeling sweat gather at the hollow of his spine. Was there something else he was supposed to do, as a pool-owner? Was he supposed to be rattling off the pool’s specifications or something, because it was full of water and that was about the extent of his knowledge.
“Oh,” the guy said, probably realizing at last that Derek didn’t know jack shit about the pool. “Very nice,” he said, and Derek wondered if he was barely restraining himself from rolling his eyes.
The man was looking at Derek again, and Derek couldn’t keep from meeting that amber gaze. This guy’s eyes really were beautiful, crinkled with just a hint of amusement at the corners, the perfect accompaniment to his mischievous-looking upturned nose and the hint of a smirk lurking at the corner of his lush pink mouth. Derek’s eyes wandered over the man’s moles, wondering how far down they went, and how they would feel under this tongue…
Pool equipment!, Derek thought suddenly. Christ, that must be what the man was waiting for.
“So, uh…” Derek said hurriedly, hoping his wayward thoughts weren’t written across his face. He made his way to the shed, thanking his lucky stars that it was unlocked. He hadn’t looked in it since the walk-through prior to closing. “The previous owners left everything, so I think there should be everything you need. But let me know if you need me to pick up anything, or if you prefer, you can buy it and I’ll reimburse you…”
“Everything I need?”
Derek hesitated. Was it déclassé to have pre-used pool supplies? Was the pool boy silently judging him?
“You know.” Derek smiled hesitantly. Should he offer to buy all new supplies? “To clean the pool.”
“To clean the pool,” the guy repeated, looking around. Then he looked down, as if gathering his patience with Derek’s awkwardness. “Oh!” he finally said. “Because I’m the pool guy.”
Derek backed away uncertainly. Was the guy mocking him?
“Yeah. So.” Derek said, pressing on desperately “I don’t know how long it usually takes to get it ready, but I’m really looking forward to swimming — I’ve never had a pool before, and the a/c hasn’t quite kicked in inside yet — so if you think it’s going to be soon, then I might go ahead and get changed —” God, first he couldn’t get any words out at all, and now he was babbling.
“Oh. Yeah.” The guy seemed to relax, probably at the idea of having Derek out of his hair soon, and Derek heaved a mental sigh of relief at having potentially navigated another social encounter. There was a reason he did most of his work by email and through documents.
“Yeah, you go right ahead,” the man said, smiling. “I’ll just...skim this sucker first, and then —” He cast an appraising glance at the pool, apparently sizing up all the work that needed to be done in his professional opinion. “While you’re swimming I’ll just measure up the chemicals, and, um...you know. Check the levels. And that kind of thing.”
“Oh. Okay.” Derek couldn’t help returning the man’s smile. It was wide and bright, and made his eyes light up beautifully. “Great.”
“Yes,” the man said, his voice deep and breathy, and dammit Derek needed to rein his libido in before he got accused of sexual harassment.
“You can swim with confidence now that I’m on the job,” the man continued. “‘When you have scummy tiles, call for styles.’ That’s what they say. Y’know. In the biz. The pool biz.”
“Styles?” Derek asked. Was that some kind of pool slang? God, he had so much to learn. Should he have bought some styles?
“Yes?” The man was looking at him, eyes crinkled expectantly, and Derek felt a little short of breath.
“No, just — you said ‘styles’?”
“Oh!” The man held out one long-fingered hand. “Sorry, skipped that part. I’m Stiles. Stilinski. Poolboy Extraordinaire. At your service.”
His grip was warm and just firm enough, his fingers wrapping securely around Derek’s palm in a way that had Derek thinking about just what they would look like wrapped around something else...
“Derek,” he forced himself to say “Hale.”
“Nice to meetcha, Derek,” Stiles said reassuringly. God, was it so obvious that Derek was paralyzed by social anxiety? “Now, don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll have you all set up in no time.”
Derek realized his hand was still clasped with Stiles’, and he pulled free with a start. He tried to speak, felt like he would swallow his tongue, and settled on an awkward wave, cringing inwardly as he retreated back into the house.
Derek puttered around his room for quite some time after changing into his bathing suit, giving himself a chance to recover. Okay, the man was cute, but this town was littered with good-looking people, and Derek had never had this reaction to any of them, even the ones who were blatantly interested in him. Still, there was no reason Derek couldn’t be completely professional, even if Stiles was particularly magnetic for some reason.
Derek peeked out of his bedroom window. Stiles was rummaging around in the shed, the baggy cargo shorts looking a lot less baggy with the way he was bent over, and Derek felt a little light-headed.
Well, maybe he didn’t have to be completely professional. There was no harm in flirting a little, right?
Who was he kidding, Derek couldn’t flirt to save his life.
With a sigh, he pulled on a t-shirt and went outside again.
“All good?” he asked, trying to keep his eyes away from where Stiles’ long-fingered hands were wrapped around the shaft of the pool skimmer, manipulating it deftly.
“Absolutely. Good to go,” Stiles said, and Derek pulled off his t-shirt, anxious to jump in.
“Although…” Stiles said, and Derek froze, feeling a buzzing in his ears. Was Stiles going to say that Derek had made him uncomfortable? Was he going to refuse to come back? Derek found himself feeling surprisingly crushed at the possibility.
Instead, Stiles explained that his visits would have to be more frequent in these first few weeks. Not only that, but there was a contract. Derek would see Stiles all year — maybe even daily at first. That might even be enough time for Derek to get over his awkwardness, maybe even see if Stiles was interested in grabbing coffee sometime.
Derek was so relieved he could barely focus on what Stiles was saying, and then Stiles was speaking Latin, and then Russian, and God but that was so sexy that Derek had to dive into the pool quickly to hide the way he was growing half-hard in his swim trunks.
Stiles managed to pull his tongue in after Derek had only swum a few laps. He even dug up a water-testing kit in the shed, and the levels weren’t too bad according to his crash course in pool maintenance. He added a little pH increaser, and surreptitiously googled where to put in the chlorine tablets. He wasn’t 100% sure he was supposed to be doing all this while someone was in the pool, but he rationalized that Derek’s strong, powerful strokes were doing a great job of circulating the water. Which, as everyone knew, was one of the three C’s of pool care.
After that, he futzed around a little more, taking in the view. He was starting to get hot, so he pulled off his Converse and dangled his feet in the water. Derek stopped at the shallow end, standing up and taking a few breaths, looking like some Greek statue of Poseidon or Jason Momoa’s Aquaman or something.
Derek did a bit of a double-take at seeing Stiles sitting on the edge of the pool.
“Just checking, you know, the temperature vis-a-vis skin temperature,” Stiles bullshitted. “It’s an advanced technique, more accurate for...y’know, comfort level...than a thermometer.”
“Oh. That makes sense.” Derek dove in again, and Stiles kicked his feet happily, watching Derek’s chest flex as he switched to a flawless backstroke.
All good things must come to an end, and eventually even Stiles ran out of excuses to blatantly ogle Derek. So, he slipped his shoes back on, waved jauntily when Derek paused at the end of a lap, and let himself back out through the side gate. On the way down the driveway he saw a truck laboring up the steep drive, Blue Pacific Pool Service written along the side.
Stiles flagged the truck down, ambling up to the window.
“So sorry, dude,” he said amiably. “I’m Derek Hale, I know I called you for the pool service, but there’s been a miscommunication. The pool is already covered under another contract. So sorry to waste your time.” He fished out a $100 bill from his wallet. “No hard feelings?”
He graciously assisted the pool guy in making a three-point turn at the top of the drive. Then he strolled down the long path to the street, whistling as he went.
Chapter 3: I can feel you making eyes at me
Stiles’ jaunty mood lasted long enough for him to get home and make himself some dinner that didn’t come out of a bag with a cartoon character all over it. Unfortunately, before long he was out of distractions and facing his blank computer screen again, and all the pressure came crashing down once more.
The downside of creating an app that stayed at the top of the charts for 13 consecutive weeks, with more than 300 million combined iOS and Android downloads worldwide, is that it created expectations.
Expectations from people in the industry, from venture capitalists dying to put seed money into the next big thing...even expectations from friends and family, as much as they claimed otherwise. Stiles had had one really good idea, and he had made it happen, and maybe that was the most he could accomplish in his lifetime. And that was a really depressing thought.
“Aaaargh,” Stiles groaned, conking his head against the keyboard a few times, trying to shake an idea loose.
He stared at the blank screen for a few more hours, working himself into a deeper funk, before finally slamming the computer shut.
He went upstairs and crawled into bed, soothing himself to sleep with the memory of Derek Hale swimming laps, more comforting than counting any sheep.
Derek adjusted the camera, clearing his throat. God, he felt stupid, but Laura had nagged him relentlessly until he had promised to send her a video message at least once a week. She was halfway around the world with Médecins Sans Frontières and spotty internet and time zone changes made Skyping nearly impossible, so exchanging video messages was the best solution they had found.
He hit the red “record” button.
“Hi, Laura,” Derek started, blinking at the camera a few times, trying as usual not to focus too much on his own image. “So...I’ve moved all the boxes in, and I’m just getting started with unpacking. I wish you were here to help me get settled in.”
He picked up the laptop and swept it briefly around the room to give her a view. The living room was still cluttered with boxes, but she would be able to see the spacious kitchen, with its big island and marble countertops, and the hallway next to it.
“Erica and Boyd are coming to visit next week, so I’m hoping to have everything unpacked by then. Maybe they’ll help me pick out some more furniture too. This place is kind of ridiculously big, it’s probably going to take me awhile to furnish it all. But I know you talked me into a big place for a reason.” He smiled, thinking back on how vehemently Laura had insisted on this house above all the more modest listings he had been earmarking.
“There’ll be room for you when you come visit, and Cora too. And I know mom would never let me host Christmas, but maybe we can do Thanksgiving here every once in awhile. I bet Erica and Boyd and Isaac would love to celebrate with us all.”
Derek looked down, replaying some of Laura’s arguments in his head. “I think you were right, living out of hotels was no good for me, even with as much as I travel for work. It’s good to have a place of my own. I think I can really start to feel... settled here.”
Derek adjusted his glasses. It had only been a few minutes, and he was already out of one-sided conversation. “Oh, I hired a pool boy,” he said. “He’s...a little unusual in his approach, but —” Derek saw a goofy smile spreading across his own face on the screen and reined it in. “— he’s kind of funny. His name is Stiles. He fixed up the pool so I could take my first swim today, and it’s pretty awesome not having to share with other people doing laps or kids splashing around. I can’t wait for you to see it all.”
Derek reached out and touched the screen. “Miss you, Laur. I’ll send you another message in a few days. Keep saving lives out there. I’m proud of you.”
He hit the red “record” button again, and started compressing the video to send.
Stiles woke up around 9 a.m. with a groan. The blank computer screen seemed to loom in his mind’s eye like a specter. Suddenly, though, he remembered meeting Derek. He sat up with a jolt, the day suddenly looking up.
And okay, Stiles recognized that he just might have a slight tendency toward obsession. He had spent most of his middle school years obsessed with Lydia, and most of his high school years obsessed with Danny. But, no hard feelings on either side, and they were two of his best bros now, so Stiles would call it a win all around.
He shambled into the shower, forcing himself under the spray. It felt amazing, and made him wonder why he had resisted for so long.
Okay, yes, he could admit to himself that he had maybe been in a little bit of a mild depression. And maybe he was grasping onto the ideal of Derek as a distraction in order to get himself out of it, and maybe that wasn’t exactly healthy. Also, there was the slightest possibility that he was just a little bit unhinged for pretending to be a pool boy to the man who was likely to be his neighbor for the foreseeable future.
But that uncomfortable thought led to infinitely more pleasant thoughts of Derek rising up from the shallow end of the pool like a fucking demigod, trickles of water meandering down his toned, hairy chest, and before Stiles knew it he was jerking off for the first time in what seemed like weeks.
Stiles emerged from his shower clean and more relaxed than he had felt in ages, so again — he’d call that a win.
In fact, Stiles felt refreshed enough that he thought he just might head on over to see what Derek was up to this morning. After all, proper pool maintenance required constant vigilance.
Derek was just starting up the coffee maker when a clattering outside drew his gaze out the french doors. The door to the shed was open, and Derek could just see Stiles’ legs as pieces of pool-cleaning equipment came flying by, apparently tossed out over his head.
Derek didn’t even realize he had moved closer, but before he knew it he was practically pressed up against the french doors. Stiles was wearing more form-fitting shorts today that lovingly cupped his firm bottom as he crouched over. They were shorter too, exposing the back of his knees, and was it weird that Derek just kind of wanted to lick that spot, to see if it would make Stiles squirm?
Before Derek could recover his composure Stiles had straightened up and spotted him. Derek froze, embarrassed to be caught staring, but Stiles just waved, shutting the door to the shed and grabbing a skimmer. Derek started to turn back to his coffee, but that just seemed rude, didn’t it?
Before Derek knew it he was opening the french doors, the terra cotta tiles just starting to warm in the day’s sun under his bare feet. Stiles looked up, his eyes sliding over Derek from head to toe, and Derek belatedly realized that he was still in just pajama pants.
He felt himself blush. Christ, it was almost 10 a.m., Stiles must think he was a lazy, rich slob. Who knows how many pools Stiles had serviced already today, and Derek was not even dressed?
The desperate need to redeem himself forced Derek past his usual tongue-tied reticence. “I, uh, am just making coffee,” he said. “Can I get you a cup?”
Stiles smiled widely, casting aside the pool skimmer without a second glance. Derek winced as it clattered against the tiles and came apart into three pieces, but Stiles didn’t even seem to notice. “That would be great!” he said, already moving toward Derek so swiftly that Derek hurriedly retreated a few steps back. “I totally forgot to make myself some this morning.”
It should be weird having a stranger in his space, but for some reason it just wasn’t. Maybe it was Stiles’ easy chatter. He seemed adept at talking about nothing in particular, his mind apparently flitting from topic to topic, and he didn’t seem to expect Derek to contribute much.
Derek was content to sit at his kitchen island, sipping his coffee slowly, while Stiles ranted about one topic and extolled the virtues of another, gesturing expansively the whole time. Derek followed his train of thought with only about half his attention, the other half focused on the fullness of Stiles’ plush lips, the brightness in his eyes, and the fluid movements of those devastating hands.
Whatever topic Stiles was on now — Derek thought it was either Battlestar Galactica or blockchain technology — was agitating enough to have him pacing as he expounded upon it.
His pacing took him across the threshold into the living room, and he seemed to stop short, as if suddenly noticing all the boxes Derek had moved over last night and opened but hadn’t gotten around to unpacking.
“Whoa!” Stiles said, moving over to one of the boxes and starting to pull books from the top layer without compunction. “You have a lot of books!”
Derek moved closer, wondering if Stiles was judging his taste in literature. “Yeah, I spend a lot of time on flights, and in hotels, so I kind of just accumulate them. I was storing them all at my parents’ house, but now that I’ve got a place of my own —”
“Wow, you’ve got a ton of Neil Gaiman! This is awesome!”
“You’re welcome to borrow any that you —”
Stiles didn’t even seem to hear him, still digging through the box and exclaiming from time to time over the titles. Finally he looked up at Derek expectantly. “Well, let’s get these unpacked!”
Derek hesitated. That had actually been his plan for the morning, but surely Stiles had something else he should be doing?“I couldn’t trouble you to —” Derek started.
“Are you kidding me?” Stiles interrupted. “I love this kind of thing. Now are we going alphabetical by title, or author? Or categorical by topic? Don’t tell me you’re one of those assholes who does this by size or color or some kind of aesthetic bullshit, because that’s just unacceptable.”
“No.” Derek didn’t even know that was a thing, but he definitely wanted to assure Stiles that he was not one of those assholes. “I was thinking fiction on the left of the fireplace, and nonfiction on the right. And then fiction would be alphabetical by author, and nonfiction —” Derek could feel himself starting to blush, but could think of no way to end the sentence other than the truth. “— could follow the Dewey decimal system?” he finished weakly, his throat tight with mortification.
To his surprise, Stiles did not mock him mercilessly. He just stood up, hands at his hips as he assessed the size of the bookshelves with his gaze, and then nodded his agreement. “Perfect. Well, let’s get started.”
“Are you sure —” Stiles was already starting to stack books into fiction and nonfiction piles, but Derek felt like he still had to say it. “Are you sure you’re not going to get in trouble with your boss?”
“Psssh. Nah. I have a very flexible work schedule,” Stiles said breezily. “Unless —” he lifted his head, his eyes suddenly wide, mouth slightly open. “I’m sorry, you probably had other plans, and here I am just barging in and bossing you around —”
“No!” Derek hurried to reassure him. “This is exactly what I wanted to do this morning. And I’d appreciate the help, if...if you’re sure it’s not too much trouble.”
Stiles smiled wide and bright and pretty, and Derek found himself smiling helplessly in return.
“Nothing I’d rather do,” Stiles said, his voice as warm as his gaze, and Derek felt like he might need to sit down.
“Great.” Derek shifted from foot to foot uncertainly for a moment, unwilling to break the eye contact. “Well, I’ll just go grab a shirt I guess.”
“Don’t bother on my account,” Stiles said absently, and then looked away quickly, pulling the next book from the box.
Derek was halfway up the stairs before he started to wonder what Stiles had meant by that.
Chapter 4: Put your eyes on another glass
Somehow over the next few days Stiles became something of a fixture around the place. Enough so that Derek started leaving the french doors unlocked, so that Stiles could come in and start up the coffeemaker if he got there first.
They both had coffee together in the morning, and then sometimes Derek swam while Stiles fiddled around with the pool. At other times Derek unpacked and Stiles popped in from time to time to offer his opinion on which art should go where, or to critique Derek’s taste in throw rugs. He even taught Derek how to use the Amazon Echo Peter had sent him.
Occasionally Stiles would be there long enough that Derek would make them both lunch, but he always wandered off again in the afternoon, giving Derek time to get his work done from home. It was always light between trips anyway, so it wasn’t like he was falling behind. At least that’s what he told himself.
In some ways it felt so natural it was puzzling. Cora had once told him the story of how she got her first cat — a big, one-eyed calico she called “Velcro.” Apparently he had been a mostly-feral stray, who just kept showing up on her doorstep until she gave up and adopted him. Derek had never really had much in common with his mouthy, aggressive younger sibling, but in this regard he felt a certain kinship.
Unfortunately, Derek’s hope that greater exposure to Stiles would abate his nervousness turned out to be completely unfounded. Every time he saw Stiles his palms still grew sweaty, his heart fluttering in his chest. Even though he felt comfortable with Stiles, he was still mostly tongue-tied, letting Stiles carry the conversation along. And the apprehension he felt when he thought of actually asking Stiles on a date…
Well, maybe it was best to let things just continue as they were. Just for a little while.
Stiles’ phone buzzed and he startled. He had been staring at his blank computer screen for god knows how long, mired in self-doubt and despair. He fumbled for his phone, surprised to see Jackson’s name on the screen. Jax hated phone calls, he always wanted to do everything by email and text.
Stiles picked up, worry for Lydia settling into his chest. “Hey, Jax. Everything okay?”
“Yeah.” Jackson’s voice didn’t sound too confident. “Everything’s fine, Stiles. Just...kind of a minor snag. With your keynote for South by.”
“What do you mean a snag? They didn’t like the topic?” Stiles jumped to his feet, his back twinging painfully. He checked the time — exactly how long had he been sitting there, accomplishing nothing?
Stiles paced impatiently. It wasn’t like Jackson to beat around the bush.
Jackson sighed. “They bumped you from the schedule.”
Stiles stopped short, looking at the phone in disbelief. “Bumped me? Down to a regular presentation?”
“Uh. Not exactly,” Jackson hedged.
Jackson’s silence spoke volumes.
“Bumped off the schedule? All the way OFF the schedule?!” Stiles could hear his own voice getting shrill.
“They said you’re welcome back whenever...whenever you have something new,” Jackson said, and Stiles could practically see his cringe.
Stiles paced some more, running a hand through his already-disordered hair. The dull anxiety he had felt all day was starting to rise, edging on a full-on panic.
A thought struck him, and his legs seemed to give out underneath him. He thumped back onto the sofa heavily. “I’m not getting an invite to Foo Camp this year, am I?”
Stiles could hear the traffic noises in the background as Jackson hesitated. “Invites went out last week,” he finally said. His voice actually sounded sympathetic, and if that wasn’t a confirmation of the total disaster this all was, nothing was.
“Fuck.” Stiles knew that the world of internet innovators was fickle, but he hadn’t thought it would turn on him quite so quickly.
“Well, don’t cry about it, Stilinski. Just get to work.” There it was. That was more like the Jackson that Stiles knew and loved-slash-despised.
“Thanks for nothing, asshole,” Stiles said, knowing that Jackson would take it in the affectionate spirit it was meant. He hung up, throwing his phone onto the couch.
“Fuck,” he said again out loud, just in case it helped stave off the rising panic. “Fuck!”
Six months since his last app, and it might as well have been six years as far as his reputation in the business was concerned. He was old news. Obsolete. They might as well bury him with an Apple IIe in one hand and a ColecoVision in the other.
Christ, maybe “pool guy” would have to actually be his fallback career.
With that thought came the impulse to see Derek again, almost startling in its intensity. Derek didn’t know about the app, or how Stiles had dropped out of grad school to develop it. He didn’t hold the same expectations that Stiles’ friends and family did. To Derek, Stiles was just the pool guy, and he seemed to like him anyway.
And right now, there was nothing Stiles wanted more than to be just a pool guy, with none of that other baggage weighing him down.
He grabbed his phone from the sofa, slipped on his shoes at the door, and headed out.
“Derek?” Stiles called out, but the house just felt different than it did when Derek was home. Empty, and lifeless.
“Derek?” Stiles yelled again, hopefully, as he let himself in through the french doors.
He was never over this late. Derek probably had important bigwig meetings to go to in the afternoons, or something. What did he even do? All Stiles knew was that Derek traveled a lot, so much that he had lived out of hotels for the most part these last few years. International underwear model? All signs pointed to yes.
Stiles flopped down on the couch, dejectedly. It was just the way his day was going, Derek not even being around to cheer him up. He tilted his head over the back of the sofa with a groan.
Upside down, he spied a bottle of whiskey on the sideboard. He straightened up so suddenly that he saw floating white spots in his vision.
So, here’s the thing. Stiles knew that alcoholism ran strong in the Stilinski genes. His grandfather had been a violent drunk, from what Stiles had pieced together from hints here and there, including the nasty starburst of a scar across his father’s back. There was a time after his mom died that Stiles’ dad had lost himself in a bottle too, right when Stiles had needed him most.
Stiles knew all this, and so did his friends. So at the first sign of depression, Scott had very quietly and without fanfare loaded up the contents of Stiles’ bar into a few cardboard boxes and taken them out to the trunk of his car. Stiles had looked on in silence, hugging him in thanks when it was done. And that was that.
But now, here was a bottle of whiskey, dangling in front of his face like a sign from above. And Stiles wasn’t going to drink it all, of course not. But surely Derek wouldn’t begrudge him a single drink, when he was so stressed as to practically be having a quarter-life crisis?
Stiles rummaged around in the sideboard until he found a tumbler, and poured himself a drink.
“South by southwest can kiss my ass,” he toasted aloud. Stupid overrated tech conference. And the lines for ribs at Franklin Barbecue had been out of control the last few years.
Before Stiles knew it the drink was gone, and it didn’t seem to have made a dent in his mood. Maybe his tolerance had gone up. One more was probably called for. He poured another.
“Foo camp is for losers,” he proclaimed grandly to the empty room. He took another big gulp of his drink. “I don’t care that I’m not invited. I didn’t want to go anyway.” He gulped again, the whiskey burning satisfyingly on the way down.
“That stuff is all stupid,” he told himself. “You don’t care about any of it. Just take a deep breath, and let it all go. Just let it go.”
Derek’s meeting seemed interminable. He usually liked this part of the job — looking over the data his team had collected, preparing for site visits. He hated flying but liked traveling and exploring new cities. Even if trips had lost some of their appeal in the last few years, and Derek had found himself more often than not wishing that he had someone to explore new cities with — he still loved his job. So why was he having such trouble staying focused?
“Good job everyone,” he said, coming to a decision. “I’ll review the rest of this in transit next week.” He ignored the surprised looks, snapping his briefcase closed.
He was usually the last one out of a conference room, waiting until the other members of his team trickled out, checking in with people as they went. This time he was the first, sliding out the door before even Rahib — a brilliant data analyst but a notorious slacker — could make it out.
Derek parked his Camaro in the garage. The radio cut off as he turned the key in the ignition, but for some reason he still heard music.
He opened the door to the mudroom, the music sounding even louder. It sounded vaguely familiar, even. Was that — ?
He peered through the doorway into the living room. He was greeted with the sight of Stiles, in a grey t-shirt that clung to his broad shoulders, and madras shorts that clung to...well, everything else. Especially with the way he was moving, knees bent to dip low as he gestured extravagantly.
“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see...be the good girl you always have to be!” Stiles was bellowing, emphasizing the words with a dramatic but slightly unsteady twirl.
The half-empty bottle of whiskey on the sideboard behind him was explaining a lot. Especially since Derek knew it had been full this morning.
“Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know…” Stiles crooned, with a sinuous shake of his hips and shoulders that had Derek thinking very un-Disneylike thoughts.
“Let it go….let it gooooooo….” Stiles punctuated each line with a series of air-punches, wobbling a little more with each one.
“Can’t something something any MORE!” Stiles was yelling now. And...yes. Actual jazz hands had made their appearance.
“Let it go….let it gooooooo….” Stiles added a Single Ladies move to the mix. “Something something slam the DOOR! —”
Stiles turned toward the door, stopping short at the sight of Derek standing there.
Idina Menzel sang on in the background as Stiles and Derek stared at each other for a long moment.
Stiles was, not surprisingly, the first to recover. “Uh, Alexa. Stop the music,” he said, and Idina faded into nothingness.
Now they were staring at each other in silence, a blush rising up in Stiles’ cheeks that Derek was sure only matched his own red face.
“I’m...uh.” Derek tried to think of something to say. “I think I’ll take a swim,” he finally said, out of a total lack of other ideas.
Stiles’ tense shoulders slumped in relief. “I’ll...go make sure the leaves are skimmed,” he said, bumbling back toward the patio without breaking eye contact with Derek.
By the time Derek had changed into his swimsuit, Stiles was asleep in one of the new deckchairs Derek had bought, the pool still speckled with leaves. Derek dragged the chair into the shade, and left a bottle of water by the side of it. About half an hour and several dozen sexual-frustration-fueled laps in, he cleared the water from his face and realized that Stiles was gone.
The next morning, Stiles knocked on the patio door, uncharacteristically cautious. Derek hated it. His goal was to adopt a strict policy of ignoring the issue, until things returned to normal between them.
Tomorrow was the start of the weekend, though, and Erica and Boyd were coming to visit. Derek hesitated over his coffee, trying to figure out how to broach the topic. He let Stiles take the lead in the conversation, happy to see that the awkwardness only lasted a few minutes before he seemed to be just as comfortable with Derek as ever.
“So I was thinking,” Stiles was saying. “Maybe you should do some paneling in the dining area? Nothing formal, just to add a little interest to the walls…”
“My friends are coming tomorrow,” Derek blurted out, wincing at how abrupt and gruff it sounded.
“Oh, that’s cool,” Stiles said. “So is that a yea or a nay on the —”
His words suddenly halted, his expression losing its usual animation. Derek watched in confusion as a bright flush washed up from his neck to his cheeks.
Stiles rubbed the back of his head, looking down. “Oh, yeah — of course, I’ll make myself scarce this weekend,” he mumbled. “I mean, I probably shouldn’t be around so much anyway — I’m sure you don’t wanna have to explain to your friends why some random pool boy is hanging around all the time —”
Derek felt his stomach lurch. “No!” he said hurriedly. “I didn’t mean — I wasn’t saying — I like —”
Stiles was looking up at him now, his brow furrowed but eyes hopeful, and Derek swallowed thickly, trying to force out a coherent statement. “I was wondering if you’d like to come hang out with us,” he clarified, his cheeks burning now too. “I just thought — I’m sure they’d like to meet you. I mean — I think you’d get along with them.”
“Oh.” Stiles’ eyes were soft, his lips turning up at the corners in a pleased smile, and Derek suddenly felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. There, he had said it. Stiles was his friend, and maybe that wasn’t quite boyfriend, but it was a step in the right direction.
“Oh, shit,” Stiles said, his expression falling again. “I — I’m sorry, I’d love to, but — I have to go home this weekend. It’s kind of a thing I do with my dad —”
“That’s okay,” Derek said hurriedly, just hoping to make that crestfallen expression leave Stiles’ face. “I mean, they’ll be up here again. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to meet them, I’m sure.”
And there it was, Stiles’ grin, spreading wide and bright like a sunrise.
“Yeah,” Stiles agreed. “Sounds good.” He looked at Derek’s face for a long, lingering moment. Derek felt like the air was electric between them. Stiles’ mouth opened, as if he were going to say something. But then he stopped, closing his mouth and looking away, the blush still high on his cheeks.. “I’ll — uh — just get back to the pool, I guess,” he said, gesturing in the direction of the patio as if Derek didn’t know where the pool was. “See ya around next week?”
“Yeah,” Derek agreed. “See you Monday.”
Stiles smiled again, and then made his way out to the patio. Derek watched him from the corner of his eye as he poked around in the shed a little and then did something with the pool filter, before waving a goodbye and heading off.
Derek sighed. He was looking forward to Erica and Boyd visiting this weekend, but somehow Monday still felt very far away.
“Okay, what exactly is going on?” Erica demanded, thumping her margarita down on Derek’s coffee table so hard that some of the salt fell off the rim.
“What do you mean?” They were just relaxing, watching the game, and he had no idea what had set Erica off.
He looked to Boyd for answers, but he was smiling secretively, no help at all.
“Stiles likes the Mets,” Erica said, in a gruff Batman-like tone of voice that Derek suspected was meant to be an impression of him. “Stiles thinks I should lower the chandelier in the dining room. Stiles told me that wolves have webbed feet that help them swim.”
She leaned in, her big brown eyes boring into Derek’s. “Who is Stiles, and when were you going to tell us you have a boyfriend?”
“I —” Derek’s heart was thumping. “He’s not — he’s just — I don’t have a boyfriend —”
“Uh huh,” Erica said, disbelief dripping from every syllable. “Just a guy you mention every five minutes, who is helping you decorate your house."
“I don’t mention him that much —” Derek looked to Boyd again, who raised a skeptical eyebrow.
Derek stared down at his beer, peeling the label off to give himself something to do. “He’s not my boyfriend,” he said again, and — okay, maybe that sounded a little more despondent than he had been aiming for.
“Aw…” Erica’s voice was soft now. “But you want him to be?”
Derek took a nervous swig of his beer. “Maybe?”
Derek looked at Erica in surprise, startled by her mercurial emotions.
“Derek — for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve avoided relationships like the plague! I mean, I’ve only known you to go on one blind date, disaster that it was, and —”
Derek groaned, throwing his head back. “Please don’t mention Jennifer.”
“Exactly.” Erica scooted closer, putting her hand on Derek’s knee. “Look, we both know that Kate screwed you up good —”
Derek flushed. A bitter taste suddenly appeared in the back of his throat, and he took another swig of beer to wash it away. Erica, Boyd, and Isaac were the only ones outside of his family who knew about Kate, the older woman who had seduced him when he was barely a teenager and then tried to empty his family’s bank accounts.
“— I’m not trying to make you feel bad by bringing that up again,” Erica said earnestly, as Boyd clapped a heavy hand on Derek’s shoulder in silent support. “I’m just saying how happy I am that you’re putting yourself out there again, you know?”
“I’m not really, though,” Derek mumbled. “I mean, I haven’t even said anything to him.”
“That’s okay!” Erica grabbed Derek’s hand, squeezing it tight. “You go at your own pace, okay? Just, let us know if we can help, alright?”
Derek nodded, uncomfortable being the focus of such intense scrutiny.
“There’s the pitch,” Boyd said, drawing Erica’s attention back to the game. Erica started cheering as Rizzo knocked it into the stands, and Derek shot Boyd a grateful look for the bail-out. Boyd winked and turned toward the television, adding his own cheers to Erica’s.
Chapter 5: Baby you can try but you can't deny
Erica and Boyd left Sunday afternoon to start the drive back to Fresno, both of them promising to visit again soon. Erica was still trying to give Derek relationship advice as Boyd put their bags in the car.
“You could get him flowers — everyone likes flowers, and there’s no mistaking those for a friend-gift. Or you could write him a letter — you did great in that creative writing seminar we both took sophomore year…”
Boyd sent Derek a sympathetic look as he opened the door for Erica.
“You wanted to be home before dark, babe,” he said, and Erica checked the time on her phone and cursed, jumping into the car. She hung out the window, waving as Boyd turned the car at the top of the driveway.
“Keep me posted — text me! I want all the details, Der!!” she was yelling, as the car made its way sedately down the long, winding drive.
Derek couldn’t help smiling to himself. As intrusive as Erica could be at times, he knew it was because she really cared about him and wanted him to be happy. He watched the car until it turned onto the main road, and then went back inside. He put the few leftover dishes in the dishwasher, tidying up the kitchen as he went. Then he went upstairs and put the guest towels and bedsheets in the washer, starting it up.
He caught up on some of the work he had been letting slide, trying to ignore how empty the house seemed without anyone else there. Hotels were always so full of background noise, the silence of his empty house was quite an adjustment. After awhile he put the sheets and towels in the dryer, trying to pretend that the thumping sound of clothes drying was another heartbeat. Maybe he should get a dog. But, no, that wasn’t practical with how often he traveled.
After a few hours he made himself dinner, and then recorded another video message for Laura. He tried to talk mostly about Erica and Boyd, self-conscious now about mentioning Stiles, but his name still managed to slip in a few times regardless. Dammit, Boyd and Erica were right, he did mention Stiles a lot.
He folded the laundry, and then changed into pajama pants. He was lying in bed, still thinking about his conversation with Erica, when the dark mass of his curtains suddenly gleamed a cobalt blue, lit from behind. Something had triggered the motion sensor light on the patio.
He stood up, moving to the window. He twitched aside the curtain, expecting to see a stray cat or wild rabbit or something. Instead, he made out the familiar figure of Stiles, sitting at the edge of the pool, feet dangling in the water. Something about his slump-shouldered posture looked disheartened — defeated, even.
Derek padded downstairs. Stiles didn’t even look up as Derek opened the french doors. He hurriedly wiped a hand across his face, but not before Derek saw the sheen of wetness on his cheeks.
Derek hesitated, uncertain for a moment. Maybe Stiles just wanted to be left alone. But he was here, wasn’t he? The thought firmed Derek’s resolve, and he moved closer.
Finally he stopped at Stiles’ side. When Stiles still didn’t say anything, Derek rolled up the cuffs of his pajama pants. He sat down on the edge of the pool at Stiles’ side, close enough that he could feel Stiles’ warmth all along his right arm. He dangled his legs in the cool water, trying to think of something to say.
“I’m sorry,” Stiles finally said, his voice thick. “I know this — this must seem creepy as hell, me coming around at night, and all. I just thought — I thought you might still be awake, and then when I saw the lights were off I thought maybe I’d just sit here for a minute, y’know?”
Derek didn’t really know — had no idea why Stiles would seek him out, of all people, when he was so obviously upset — but something about the idea made his chest feel warm. And, okay, maybe Stiles showing up at night should seem weird, but...it just didn’t.
“I don’t mind,” Derek settled on saying, and some of the tenseness in Stiles’ shoulders seemed to ease. They sat in silence for awhile longer. Eventually the patio light clicked off, and they both watched the moonlight glimmer off of the surface of the pool.
Derek racked his brain, trying to think of something comforting to say. He just wasn’t the person people usually came to when they were upset. His sisters usually called each other, or their mom. Boyd and Isaac usually called Erica, and vice versa. Everyone knew Derek was bad with words.
“Want to talk about it?” he finally said.
Derek stirred the water with his feet a little, watching the moonlight glimmer off the ripples. The silence stretched on, so long that Derek thought that Stiles was not going to answer.
“It was my mom’s birthday yesterday,” Stiles suddenly said in a rush. “She died when I was nine, but my dad and I still always get together on her birthday.”
“It’s just —” Stiles ran a hand through his hair. “I miss her. Not as bad as I used to, but...differently. I just wish I could talk to her sometimes, and ask her stuff. She always gave amazing advice.”
“She sounds great,” Derek said, and Stiles answered with a wavery smile.
“She was.” Stiles sloshed the water around a little too. “She was a teacher, and she loved it. Like, straight-up loved her job. Do you know how rare that is? Even when she had to stretch our budget because she spent too much on classroom supplies, even when she was up all night worrying about one of her kids, she still loved it. And…”
Stiles frowned, looking back down into the water as if the answer would be written at the bottom of the pool.
“And what?” Derek finally asked.
“I guess —” Stiles chewed on his lip, his eyelashes a dark crescent against his pale cheek. “I just wonder if she’d be proud of me, or if — if she’d be —” His fingers tapped out a stuttering rhythm against the edge of the pool, his voice cracking a little as he continued. “— disappointed with how I turned out.”
“Of course she’d be proud of you,” Derek said immediately.
Stiles turned his head in surprise, his eyebrows lifted. “That easy, huh? You don’t think she’d want — she’d want me to have a job that I really cared about, or that did some kind of good in the world? I mean, she didn’t care about money, but that kind of stuff was really important to her.”
“Stiles.” Derek frowned down at the pool himself, trying to come up with the words. “A job is just...a job.”
Well, that was stupid. But Stiles was still looking at Derek, and so he forced himself to say more.
“It’s not who you are. Your mom would be proud of you because you’re smart, and kind, and easygoing, and you make people smile just by being in the same room with them. That’s the kind of stuff moms care about. Not what you put on your tax forms.”
“You sound pretty sure,” Stiles said, his voice steadier now.
Derek smiled. “My older sister is a trauma surgeon. She works for Doctors without Borders, out there saving lives in war-torn countries. My younger sister is an MMA fighter. My mom loves us all just the same. The only thing that drives her crazy is that we’re all still single.”
Stiles snorted, but the air of sadness that had surrounded him seemed to be dissipating.
“If you don’t like what you do, you don’t have to do it anymore,” Derek said, biting back the stab of disappointment he felt at the thought of Stiles not coming by anymore to clean his pool. “You can find something else you feel good about doing. That’s all your mom would want, for you to be happy.”
“Happy,” Stiles repeated as if the idea were new to him, his long fingers tracing patterns in the surface of the water now.
He seemed to contemplate the notion for awhile longer, and then shook himself, bumping Derek with his shoulder. “I notice you didn’t mention your job in there. And come to think of it, I’m surprised I haven’t asked. You said you travel a lot, so I’m guessing international male model?”
Derek hid his embarrassment by bumping Stiles back — probably a little harder than he meant to, making Stiles reach out to grab the edge of the pool before he fell in.
“Not even close,” Derek said. “I’m just an accountant.”
Derek nodded, expecting that to be the end of it. His profession was always kind of a conversation-stopper, in his experience.
“What kind of accounting do you do? I didn’t realize accountants traveled so much. What made you decide to do that? I mean, I can kind of see it, but —”
Derek couldn’t stop himself from laughing. Of course Stiles and his insatiable curiosity would be the exception.
“Oh, sorry.” Stiles smiled sheepishly. “If you’re sick of talking about it —”
“It’s not that,” Derek said hurriedly. “Kind of the opposite — people don’t usually care. I’m a forensic accountant. That’s like when —”
“Oh my god, really?” Stiles interrupted, his eyes bright in the moonlight, his face back to its usual animation. “Like Oscar Wallace? You get people for tax evasion, and cooking the books, and —”
“It’s not usually so dramatic,” Derek said dryly, amused by Stiles’ enthusiasm. “But, yeah. I specialize in forensic analytics and anti-money-laundering, so I get called to different places a lot. I’m surprised you’ve even heard of it.”
“I’m sure I fell down a Wikipedia rabbit hole at some point.” Stiles splashed his feet around some more. “What made you decide to do that?”
Derek hesitated. He had a stock answer to that question, information you could find on the website for his consultancy firm.
“Usually I tell people it’s because I’m detail-oriented and analytical, and interested in the ethics of it.”
Stiles squinted at him. “But that’s just what you usually tell people?”
Of course it wouldn’t get past him. And, truthfully, Derek wouldn’t have opened that door if he weren’t willing to go through it. Maybe it was the darkness of night that cocooned them, or how much Stiles had shared with him. Or maybe it was just something about Stiles. Whatever it was, Derek found himself wanting to share this in return.
“That’s part of it. But the real reason…”
He cleared his throat, wondering if he could even get the words out. He had never actually told anyone straight out — even Boyd and Isaac and Erica had found out kind of incidentally, from comments his family had let slip.
“When I was fifteen, I met this woman. She was older — in her early 20’s. I was really shy and awkward back then — even more than I am now.”
Stiles leaned closer, his body a line of warmth all along Derek’s side — silent encouragement to continue.
“She fed me a lot of nonsense about how I didn’t have friends because I was just too mature for my age, and that kind of thing. And I was dumb, and believed every word.” Derek could feel the flush rising on his face, his cheeks heating. “She convinced me to sneak around that summer, and then to sneak her into my house when my parents were gone. And then, um, after —”
Derek’s throat grew too thick, and he rephrased, unable to say straight out that Kate had left him in a post-coital haze, just another part of her plan.
“— While I was, um, sleeping, she got into my parents’ study and installed a keylogger on their computer to get their passwords and banking information. And then a few days later she cleaned out their accounts — savings, retirement, everything she could get access to.
“Jesus.” Stiles’ voice was soft and shocked. He pressed even closer to Derek’s side.
“Anyway.” Derek cleared his throat again. “There was a big investigation of course, and everyone found out that, you know, that she and I had —” Derek’s voice wavered and he stopped, mortified that he could still be so affected by something that had happened so long ago.
“There were a lot of people involved in the investigation,” he continued finally, “and some were jerks to me and some were more sympathetic, but there was this one woman — I found out later that she was the forensic accountant.”
Derek paused, remembering. “She didn’t need to talk to me directly, but she was in the house working on our computer.” He swallowed, still feeling the remnants of those days — the sick feeling in his gut that wouldn’t go away, the guilt that had seemed like a weight on his chest every minute of every day.
“I was hiding out in my room most of the time, but I came out once and stopped in the doorway just to see what she was doing.” Derek smiled, remembering. “She looked at me from across the room — no introduction, or anything — and she just said, ‘I’ll get back everything she stole, and make sure she never does this to anyone ever again.’ Just like that, totally matter-of-fact, and then she looked back at the computer, and kept on typing like I wasn’t even there.”
He didn’t know when it had happened but Stiles’ hand was in his now, fingers gripping tight.
“Of all the things people had been saying to me — that it wasn’t my fault, that Kate had just been using me — they mostly just made me feel worse. But what she said, and even more how she said it — so confident, like there wasn’t a chance in the world that Kate would get away — like she would personally see to it that everything was made right — that was the first thing that actually made me feel better.”
Derek tried to figure out how to express it. “All those other people involved in the investigation — the cops, and the attorneys, and all that — I knew I could never do anything like that. I was just too shy, and bad with words, and I didn’t have the people skills. But what she did — I thought to myself, ‘I could do that.’ I could help other people the way she helped me, and that was something to look forward to and work towards, you know?”
Stiles squeezed his hand. “And...was she right? Did she get the money back?”
Derek nodded. “Every dime. And enough solid evidence to put Kate away for a good long time, together with the, uh, the —” He forced himself to say it, “— the statutory rape charges.”
“I hope she rots in prison,” Stiles said, his usually good-natured voice surprisingly sharp and vicious.
Derek shrugged. “She’s out already. It’s just the nature of the sentences for those crimes. As many charges as got stacked against her, she’s already served her time. But I don’t think she’ll hurt anyone like that again. Prison took its toll on her. And my mom has someone on retainer who keeps tabs on her.”
“Well, that’s not very emotionally satisfying,” Stiles said wryly.
“Like I said, it’s not like it is in the movies.” Derek started to say something else, but an enormous yawn took him by surprise.
Stiles immediately looked guilty, levering himself to his feet, sending the patio light clicking on again. “I’m so sorry — I’ve kept you up so late —”
Derek stood up too, catching Stiles’ elbow, squinting against the sudden brightness. “I told you — I don’t mind.” Stiles’ cheeks looked a little flushed, and Derek’s words sounded underwhelming to his own ears. “I was happy to see you,” he clarified, and was rewarded by a luminous smile.
Stiles’ eyes met his, and Derek felt his breath catch. Stiles seemed to lean in towards him and for a moment Derek thought...but no, Stiles was leaning in even closer, his arms coming around Derek, enclosing him in a tight hug. It was a great hug, and Derek tried to tamp down on his disappointment and just enjoy it for what it was.
“Thanks,” Stiles muttered near Derek’s ear, and then he was letting go, backing away. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He did some kind of hand gesture — possibly a salute that ended in finger guns — and then he was off through the patio gate.
Derek stood for a moment, looking at the empty patio and the swimming pool in the moonlight, just thinking. Then the patio light clicked off again, jolting him back to awareness, and he headed back inside.
Chapter 6: My heart's a city you're out to destroy
Stiles walked down Derek’s long drive, his mind in turmoil. He stumbled momentarily over nothing, realizing that he had just shot finger guns — finger guns, for chrissakes! — at Derek out of sheer awkwardness from the uncharacteristic levels of emotional vulnerability they had both displayed.
He wasn’t sure why he had even gone over to Derek’s — he had just been so stuck in his own downward spiral, unable to turn off his ruminations during the long drive home from Beacon Hills and then coming home to a house that seemed so big and empty after spending the weekend with his dad and Melissa.
Stiles knew he had a tendency to be relentlessly hard on himself. Maybe it was a fear of letting his dad down, or feeling like he had to prove he was something more than the hyperactive weirdo everyone in high school had thought him to be. He had always pushed himself too hard, sweating over every missed point on a test, pulling all-nighters for exams he was already prepared for, writing papers twice as long and comprehensive as they needed to be.
When he had created that first successful app, for a few months there he thought that all of that was over — that he had finally proven himself. Hell, he wouldn’t have to work another day in his life if he didn’t want to. But that just wasn’t who he was, and when the high of creating and managing and promoting that first app had faded and it was time to move on to the next big thing, all his old doubts and fears seemed to come rushing back in.
All weekend, Stiles had missed his mom, and worried about his failure to create his next app. Had wondered what she would have thought of his bizarre profession, where he could make a million dollars in a week just because of some clicks. Had feared that she would have thought he was wasting his life, creating stuff that people impulse-bought for 99 cents and probably got rid of just as thoughtlessly when they were short on megabytes.
He couldn’t talk to his dad or Scott or even Lydia about how he felt. Scott and his dad would just brush it off, pointing out that he had already been more successful than anyone could have imagined. Lydia had her own impossibly high standards, but unlike Stiles she seemed to revel in them. She wouldn’t be able to understand Stiles’ self-doubt.
So, Stiles had reached out to Derek. Derek, who hardly knew Stiles at all — who still thought he was a pool guy, for chrissakes. Derek, who always seemed to struggle to say more than a gruff sentence at a time. And yet somehow Derek had known exactly what to say to make Stiles feel better. Had completely understood and sympathized.
It made Stiles feel warm inside, his shoulders infinitely lighter as he started up his own long driveway than they had felt when he started down it. Being able to talk to Derek — really talk to him — and have Derek confide in him in return had been...amazing.
Derek’s story had been heartbreaking, and Stiles was still seething with fury about Kate, but it had helped him understand Derek a lot more. And, it had made him feel all the guiltier about not really telling Derek the truth.
There had been a moment, when they were both saying goodbye, that Stiles had wanted to spill everything. In that same moment, he had also wanted to lunge forward and kiss the living hell out of Derek.
In the end he had just hugged him instead, trying to keep both his guilty secrets and his stupid crush to himself. Derek had just shared a traumatic event from his life, he wasn’t looking to get hit on, and choosing that time to tell him that Stiles had lied to him as well would be the worst idea in the world, as much as it might make Stiles feel better.
Stiles let himself back into his own house, the rooms seeming just a little bit less cavernously empty than they had when he had left. He brushed his teeth and got into bed, still thinking about his conversation with Derek.
“If you don’t like what you do, you don’t have to do it anymore,” Derek had said.
For some reason, the thought seemed like a revelation. When his first app was so successful, everyone — Stiles included — had just assumed that he would be going on to develop another one. Hell, Stiles hadn’t even questioned the notion, to the point where his whole self-concept was tied up in whether or not he could reproduce his success. For the first time, though, Derek was making him wonder — did he even want to reproduce his success?
“That’s all your mom would want, for you to be happy,” Derek had said.
Programming was something Stiles was good at — he never had any doubts about that. And it had made him rich. But did it make him happy? Would it ever? If he developed another successful app — the odds of which were like lightning striking twice in the same spot — would he be happy then , or would he always be focused on the next app, and the next, like a dog chasing its own tail?
Stiles lay in bed, his thoughts tumbling over one another like earth churned to the surface by the clash of tectonic plates. And then suddenly, in the midst of the riot of confusion, the tender, delicate bud of an idea was born, and started to take root. In Stiles’ usual chaotic fashion, theories and plans and logistics swirled and began to coalesce, taking shape. The bud of the idea burgeoned and grew, developing and branching and blossoming within the confines of his imagination. As if in a daze, Stiles pulled himself out of bed, dug his laptop out of his still-packed overnight bag, and began to type.
The thing was, Derek wasn’t stupid. He knew Erica and Boyd considered him to be hopelessly naive, mostly because of his lack of romantic history. Derek didn’t do much to correct that misconception, but he knew the truth. He may be nerdy and socially awkward, but Kate had burned any naiveté out of him before he could even grow a beard.
And so, he wasn’t as trusting as other people might think. He knew pretty much from the start that there was something a little different about Stiles. At first he had thought that maybe Stiles was just a college kid on a gap year or something, working as a pool boy because of a lack of direction.
It didn’t take much time knowing Stiles, though, to realize that didn’t quite fit. Sure, Stiles was irreverent, but there was something about him — the acuteness of his focus, the sharp and relentless way his mind approached a problem — that didn’t seem characteristic of someone adrift in the world.
From that starting point it wasn’t long before other inconsistencies started to add up. Not the smallest of which was that Stiles never actually seemed to have any pool equipment of his own, or arrive in any kind of vehicle. It’s not like buses ran regularly up this canyon road. And as flexible as a work schedule might be, Derek didn’t quite see spending several hours of every day at one client’s house as a viable business model. No, from Stiles’ well-worn clothes to his fancy smartwatch, things just didn’t add up.
There were some people — Derek thought of his overprotective mother and cringed — who might think Derek was remiss for not looking into things further right from the start, sticking his fingers into the obvious holes in Stiles’ story until it all unraveled. For some reason, though, Derek was content to let things play out for awhile.
Maybe it was the way Stiles smiled when he saw Derek, wide and bright and open, like Derek was the good news he had been waiting all day to hear. Maybe it was the way Stiles seemed to have no interest whatsoever in Derek’s wealth or possessions, outside of his book collection. Whatever it was, Derek had been certain beyond any doubt that Stiles meant him no harm, and had therefore been content to let him divulge his secrets at his own pace.
Tonight, though — tonight changed things. If he and Stiles were moving toward something — something real — as Derek hoped, then there was no place for secrets between them. And if Stiles was reluctant to take that step, then maybe it was up to Derek to give him a little nudge.
Through his work, Derek had access to a variety of restricted databases. In the end, though, all it took was typing “Stiles Stilinski” into Google. The name pulled up pages and pages — more than twenty-five thousand hits. Derek skimmed through the synopses of the first few, words and phrases jumping out at him.
...youngest venture-capital-based entrepreneur...
...strategic partnership with more than 40 brands...
...2 million downloads in the first week…
He could be using someone else’s name, the cynical voice in the back of Derek’s mind said.
He clicked on the “Videos” link. The first preview image was enough to verify, but he started the video playing anyway. Stiles was wearing jeans that were a little frayed at the hems and a plaid shirt over one of his graphic tees. He bounded onto a black stage, the red TEDx logo behind him.
Derek didn’t pay much attention to what Stiles was talking about. He just took in the cadence of his voice — strong and confident despite the apparently large crowd in the audience. His body language was a little more protected, a little less effusive than it was with Derek, but it was still unmistakably Stiles — the rapid gestures, and the restless tapping of his fingers against his thigh as he expounded enthusiastically about the magic of coding.
Derek closed the computer and lay back in bed. He thought back to that first time he had met Stiles. Had he actually said he was from the pool company? No, definitely not — Derek remembered that he hadn’t said a word at first. Not until they were out by the pool, and…
“Oh!” he had said. “Because I’m the pool guy.”
It was all so clear in retrospect that Stiles didn’t have any idea what Derek was talking about. But then what was he doing there?
On a hunch, Derek pulled his computer back into his lap. The property records for this county were publicly accessible, and searchable by owner. The address that popped up was just a digit off from Derek’s own.
Derek shut the computer and put it aside again. He tried to lie back and go to sleep, but after a few unsuccessful minutes he gave into the urge to get up. He traversed the hallway to one of the spare bedrooms, one of the few rooms with windows facing the neighboring house.
The shades were all drawn in that house, as they had largely been since Derek moved in. A single light was on. A bedroom, or maybe a bathroom? Derek found himself pressing his fingers against the window glass. Stiles was there, just a few hundred yards away. Had lived there the whole time.
Maybe in that first few moments, he had pretended to be the pool guy just to spare Derek the embarrassment of his assumptions. But to continue the charade, day after day? Those were the actions of a deeply weird individual.
Derek caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the glass. A soft, affectionate smile was on his face. Yes, Stiles was a deeply weird individual, and strangely enough, Derek didn’t mind at all.