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Yes is a World

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Stiles comes to see Derek the night before he leaves for MIT, hovering uncertainly by the door. His head shakes when Derek reluctantly asks him in.

“Nah,” he says, fixating on a point over Derek’s shoulder. “I just wanted to ask you something.” He laughs then, self-conscious and hollow. “I need to know...that night, last month, after the whole gidim fiasco. We were here. Inside, and I...I nearly kissed you. Remember?”

Derek nods slowly.

“Right,” Stiles says, sucking in a sudden breath. “And I was just wondering, would you. Would you have kissed me back?”

“No,” Derek says.

Stiles doesn’t flinch, doesn’t react at all other than to slowly exhale, his hand slapping almost cheerfully on the door frame. “Okay,” he nods. “So, I’m just going to -” He jerks his head down the hallway. “Go, I guess. Unless.”

“Unless?” Derek shrugs coldly.

“There’s something you want to say to me,” Stiles says.

“Like what?” Derek asks.

“Nothing,” Stiles says after a few seconds. “Nothing at all, buddy. You take care of yourself.”

Derek doesn’t watch him walk away.

He might have though, if he’d known it would be the last time he’d see Stiles for nearly a year.

~~~~~

Derek and Scott don’t talk about Stiles at all. They meet up every once in a while, make small talk, trade information, eat cheesecake, and reflect on the protection spell that the nemeton has cast over Beacon Hills. Derek is still pack and Scott is still the alpha. But he’ll never be Derek’s alpha. And that, that’s okay with both of them

Derek asks no questions and Scott tells no lies.

~~~~~

Stiles doesn’t come home that first Christmas. The sheriff takes leave for a couple of weeks, and Derek watches him excitedly tug his luggage towards the trunk of his car, checking his pockets repeatedly for his passport.

Stiles doesn’t come home for Spring Break either, and by the time April drifts in lazily, Derek has stopped sending feelers out for Stiles, for his scent or his heartbeat.

He gets a job with a programme for young adults with mental health issues. He’s the ground supervisor - literally - in charge of the large outdoor area where plants, flowers and vegetables are grown.

He likes it and surprises everybody by being good at it.

He digs and he hoes and he coaxes life into delicate things.

At night he watches box sets on Netflix and reads books in Spanish.

And regrets everything he could never say to Stiles.

~~~~~

It’s early August, the perfect time for planting lettuce and cucumber seeds. Derek’s idling on the main street, thinking about making a run to Armstrongs when he hears it. Like an alarm he’d set a long time ago and forgotten.

Stiles’ heartbeat.

And it’s like his own stops dead.

Stiles is standing outside Wendy’s, tinkering with his cell. Probably thinking about a double stack, extra pickle, hold the tomato, and a large fries please.

“Stiles,” Derek’s mouth says without permission.

Stiles jerks a little, spinning around, eyes widening. Then a slow beam almost splits his face in half. “Hey,” he says warmly, moving like he might be thinking about hugging Derek before thinking the better of it.

“Hi,” Derek says.

Stiles seems happy, and it’s kind of infectious, the way he’s biting his lip and looking at Derek like he can’t believe that Derek is standing there in front of him. Derek hadn’t imagined their eventual reunion to be anything like this. Didn’t think that Stiles would ever speak to him again, nevermind smile at him.

“How’ve you been, man? It’s been like, forever.”

“Long time,” Derek agrees, nodding. “You haven’t been home since…” you left, he manages to stop himself saying.

“Yeah,” Stiles laughs. “They’ve got me busy at uni, and I’ve got a couple of jobs that don’t end when classes do. Auditing courses and editing papers, and I’m a runner on this evening time news show.”

Derek’s brows rise. “Wow,” he says. That’s quite an impressive of array of reasons for Stiles staying away that have nothing to do with Derek.

“I have a job, too,” Derek says quickly. “I’m…”

Only he doesn’t say any more because Stiles has looked away and if Derek thought the smile Stiles gave him was dazzling, it’s nothing compared to the blinding, helpless grin he’s just handing to this stranger who appears from the Wendy’s door.

“Double stack, extra pickle, hold the tomato, and large fries,” the stranger says, thrusting a paper bag into Stiles’ hands.

And Derek doesn’t know who this guy is, but he knows what he is instantly. Knows even before Stiles laughs and pushes at him affectionately. Knows even before Stiles trails his fingers down this not-stranger’s arm with careless intimacy.

“Jay,” Stiles says, pulling him even closer. “This is Derek. Derek, Jay.”

Of course Jay is a handshaker, and Derek has to hold his claws at bay as he accepts the palm stretched out to him. “Nice to meet you,” he says mechanically.

“You too, man,” Jay says genuinely. He’s young, maybe Stiles’ age, and Derek hasn’t even the comfort of thinking type much? Jay is taller than Derek, his hair is an ordinary brown, his eyes an extraordinary blue.

“Derek is pack,” Stiles says softly, and Jay’s eyes get bigger.

“Cool,” he says reverently. “Stiles talks a lot about pack.”

Pack, not Derek. Pack. Stiles talks to Jay about pack.

“So,” Jay says easily, and there is an air of unbearable agreeability about him that makes Derek want to hurl. “Stiles and I were going to have lunch down near the pier. You’d be very welcome to join us.”

“Another time,” Derek manages. “I have lettuce and cucumbers. And maybe some beans. It’s a good time for beans.”

“Okay,” Jay says, smiling uncertainly, and his teeth are white and perfect. Derek’s pretty sure if he hung Jay upside down and shook him, not one single flaw would fall out. Derek would love to hang Jay upside down and shake him.

“We gotta catch up soon,” Stiles is saying, and he’s looking at Derek but his arm is draped across Jay’s waist.

“Absolutely,” Derek lies enthusiastically.

~~~~~

Derek has a busy afternoon.

“Um,” Clarke says, gripping his clipboard tightly. “You do know that you’re supposed to leave something for the kids to do, right?”

“Right,” Derek says, staring down at the clay trapped under his nails. “Sorry.”

“Take five?” Clarke suggests.

Derek takes five, and then he takes the rest of the day.

~~~~~

The text isn’t all that unexpected.

The pack is back in town, Scott has typed. Party at Derek’s. Nine-ish.

No. Derek sends back frantically. I can’t. Not feeling well.

Sorry to hear that, Scott writes. We’ll bring Advil.

Derek sighs into his hands for a long time before digging out a bag of Cheetos from the cupboard.

There’s this hippie girl, Lillian or Gillian, that works at the centre. Derek’s suffered through her talks long enough to know that apparently avoidance is like putting a bandaid on a severed artery.

“Let everything just flow,” she cries, dancing around the garden and disturbing Derek’s seeds.

Suck it up, she means, and so here he is, embracing the wound, and hoping he doesn’t bleed too much. The carpet is new.

Lydia arrives first. “Have you met Stiles’ beau?” she says, wrinkling her nose at the one bowl of orange snacks occupying the table.

“Yeah,” Derek says, eying her resentfully as she begins unloading a box of cooked meats and salads.

“He’s nice,” she says with a provocative ease, lifting covers off of platters.

“I know.”

“Scott got a little territorial,” she continues, glib. “But he couldn’t intimidate Jay. It was fifty shades of awesome.”

The rest of the pack drift in. Scott and Kira, Isaac, Danny, Melia, Scott’s newer betas - Jamie, Courtney and Delilah. And finally a flushed looking Stiles and Jay. The smell of sex from them makes Derek’s blood curdle.

“What kept you?” Lydia demands.

“You don’t want to know,” Scott says, pinching his nose.

“Fuck off,” Stiles grins, lazy and very definitely post-coital. “I tried to leave on time.”

All eyes turn to Jay, who seems more than pleased to accept the blame. “What can I say? The sheriff finally left us alone for more than five minutes. Which is pretty much all it took…” He breaks off and grins at the collective groan. “What? We’ve been sharing Stiles’ bed for four nights, and I haven’t been allowed to do anything more with my hands than cuddle.”

“My dad has exceptional hearing,” Stiles whines. But he’s smiling, like that’s all he knows how to do these days.

“Twister,” Derek barks suddenly. For some reason, the cuddling stabs harder than the sex.

It turns out that Twister is right up there with Derek’s Worst Ever Ideas, and frankly, that’s pretty high bar to raise. Every time Derek spins the wheel, Stiles’ ass gets higher in the air and Jay’s hand gets closer to it.

“Movie,” Lydia pleads, bottom of the pile.

Stiles wears glasses for watching TV now. Big, dark rimmed glasses that he keeps pushing up his nose.

“You need glasses,” Derek said, while Stiles squinted into the distance.

“I know,” Stiles agreed. “You want to help me choose a pair?”

“No,” Derek said.

Always no. Always too quick.

“Jay helped me to pick them out,” Stiles shrugs when Scott teases him.

“They look good on him,” Jay says defensively, leaning in to nuzzle at Stiles’ temple.

Derek is hard pushed to argue. They’re exactly the ones Derek would have suggested, if he’d gone shopping with Stiles. If he hadn’t said no.

The movie is pretty forgettable. Not so much the way Jay keeps Stiles close, answering questions during the lull of dialogue.

Yes, born and raised in Boston. No, college wasn’t for him, he was two years into his electrician’s apprenticeship. The weekends? He plays bass in a band. It’s just a fun thing, but they’re kind of a big deal around the college scene. Travel? He’d never left New England before he met Stiles, but they’d gone to Florida for Spring Break. Was fun. Future plans? Dunno. Some of that is down to Stiles, really.

Derek sits like Wile-E-Coyote as anvil after anvil drops on his head.

~~~~~

Derek remembers how Stiles’ face had fallen when his news had crashed like a lead balloon.

“MIT, people,” he said, like repeating it might change anything. He waved the headed letter frantically. “I got into MIT.”

“You can’t go,” Scott said dully.

“Oh, I think you’ll find I can,” Stiles blustered. “It says so right here. We’d love to have you, Stiles. We think you’re awesome, Stiles. You’d be a valued member of our institution, Stiles. See?”

“You can’t go right now,” Scott said again, miserable and guilty. “We need you here. We can’t do this without you.”

The realisation sucker-punched the excitement from Stiles, leaving him limp and breathless. “I don’t have a choice,” he said weakly.

“None of us do,” Scott said. “I’m so sorry, Stiles.”

Lydia reached out to Stiles first, her tiny hand on his arm. “You can defer. I’ll help you with your letter. Just sent mine to Yale.”

They were all stuck.

“Sleep with me,” Stiles had said later that night at the club. He was angry and reckless, and swaying precariously on his feet.

“No,” Derek said, annoyed about everything. Stiles having to stay, Stiles maybe going away, Stiles' current condition, the fucking beat of music.

“Then kiss me.”

“No.”

“Fine. Then get me another drink and I’ll go kiss that guy over there.”

It was childish and spiteful, and designed to draw a reaction, but Derek didn’t tug on the bait. “If you have any more to drink, you’ll just end up puking in his mouth.”

“You wouldn’t be jealous?” Stiles says, belligerent and furious. “If I kissed that guy.”

Derek rolled his eyes.

“Because I’d be jealous if I had to look at someone kiss you. I’d fucking hate that,” Stiles continued, chin tipped up brazenly.

Derek beckoned the guy that Stiles had been talking about over. “What’s your name?”

“Nick,” the guy said, looking between Stiles and Derek.

“Good to meet you, Nick,” Derek smiled. “This is Stiles. Why don’t I get you two guys a drink before I leave.”

Stiles’ mouth had dropped open. “Wow,” he said, and he hasn’t even looked in Nick’s direction. “Did you just gift-wrap me in alcohol and give me away? Jesus, I’m really never going to big enough to sit at the grown-up table with you, am I.”

“I could take you home,” Derek offered.

“Fuck you,” Stiles spat.

Derek doesn’t know what happened after that, and Stiles never tried that jealous shit with him again.

~~~~~

It’s not what he’s doing now, either.

Stiles never looks at Derek when Jay is around. Sometimes Derek draws attention to himself, like when he drops a glass, or grinds a milk carton to shreds, and Stiles looks at him then, fond and a little awkward.

“You okay there, big guy?”

It gives Derek permission to look back. Stiles is different - older, less manic, settled in his skin. The dark circles that the nogitsune left behind are gone now, and Stiles’ eyes dance a little, brighter and clearer. He doesn’t look at his hands like they’ve betrayed him anymore.

He’s beautiful and he’s happy, and he’s in love. It’s a good look on him.

“I’m fine,” Derek says, reaching for a rag.

~~~~~

Stiles goes from being nowhere to being everywhere. He’s at the grocery store and the lacrosse game and the dry-cleaners and the park and the woods and eating dinner with his dad in a proper restaurant, his arm resting on the back of Jay’s chair…

Derek stops following them when he realises what he’s doing.

~~~~~

“I had to see it with mine own eyes,” Stiles laughs from behind Derek.

Derek doesn’t startle, he knew Stiles was there. He steps back and points to the rows of freshly planted runner beans. Ta-da.

“Impressive,” Stiles grins. “Derek Hale, functioning contributor to society and gardener extraordinaire. Who’d have thunk it?”

Derek forces a smile. “Where’s Jay?” he asks, pitching for casual and probably missing.

“Bonding with my dad over a game of crazy golf,” Stiles shrugs, looking around the compound. “This is pretty awesome, dude.”

“Yeah,” Derek says. “I can show you around, if you like. We have flower gardens and a topiary area, too. Just down there.” He points to his left, and Stiles squints.

“Can’t see for shit, man,” he says, laughing.

“So put your glasses on.”

“Jay has them,” Stiles says, blinking Derek back into focus. “He lost one of his contacts this morning, and can’t find his spare pair. Probably because they’re back home, in the bathroom cabinet, behind the toothbrush holder.”

Derek has a very sudden, very painful migraine. Home. Behind the toothbrush holder.

Lydia had a cocktail party two nights ago, and Derek had been pouring some pink concoction and adding lemon slices.

“Whoa,” Jay said. “Leave one of those without, yeah? Stiles hates lemon.”

It was bad enough that Jay knew the same little things about Stiles as he did, but it was sickening to realise that Jay now knew more about Stiles than Derek did.

He spent the night staring at his ceiling wondering what other little things he might have missed about Stiles.

Things he might have learned, had he not been too busy saying no every time Stiles opened his mouth.

“He’s wearing your glasses,” Derek says flatly.

“Um, yeah,” Stiles says, ducking back a little, like maybe Derek’s body language is saying what his mouth isn’t. “We’re both myopic, similar strengths. We met at an opticians. Did I tell you that?”

You want to help me choose a pair? And Derek had said no.

“I love you,” he blurts, and then flinches, horrified with himself. He hasn’t so much crossed his own personal rubicon, but pole vaulted right over it.

Stiles’ face goes utterly blank in surprise and he says nothing for far too long.

Derek waits it out because it’s probably best if he keeps his mouth closed from here on out.

“You selfish son of a bitch,” Stiles grits eventually, eyes flickering flint-like. “Fuck you.”

He turns and leaves, and Derek goes back to digging. The hole ends up being almost six foot deep.

~~~~~

He can’t take it back, is the thing. He’s not even all that sorry he said it, even if it changes everything or nothing.

But he can be sorry for the misery on Stiles’ face when he finds him at the door of Derek’s apartment. “You had no right,” he hisses. “No fucking right to say that to me.”

Derek nods at the keys in his hand.

“Why would you...what were you thinking. You love me? What the fuck do you want me to do with that? What did you think was going to happen?”

“Nothing,” Derek says honestly.

“Nothing,” Stiles snorts. “Of course. You just needed to get that out there, right? Needed some catharsis, and fuck whatever else that does to other people.”

“I’m…”

“No,” Stiles shouts, fists clenching and relaxing spasmically. “Nu-uh. Consider all of those questions rhetorical, because I don’t want to hear a word from you. You had your chance. Like the one I handed you right here, in this hallway, almost a year ago today. And the many, many that came before that. I was over you. Do you know how over you I was? Jay was saying that you were a solid guy and that you should have somebody, and I agreed with him. Totally. Was thinking that maybe Lydia might know somebody that would be good for you and we could all get together when I come for Christmas. That’s how fucking over you I was, Derek.”

He’s restless and furious, jittering up and down, limbs flailing, a deep frown etched in his forehead.

This is the Stiles of old. Just three little words and Derek had undone every bit of happiness that Stiles had probably clawed for over the last year.

This is what it takes for Derek to be sorry for everything.

~~~~~

He doesn’t see Stiles again for almost another year.

He does meet the sheriff at the store one day shortly after Stiles returns to college. “Going to see my boy for his birthday, buy him his first legal drink. I’ll tell him you said hello.”

Yeah, sure. Why not? Let Derek ruin another significant event. He’s been on a roll for a while now.

~~~~~

It’s likely that Stiles only comes back to Beacon Hills for Scott’s wedding. Derek’s part of the preparations committee. He’d been hoping to be left in charge of invitations, or the seating arrangements, something that might clue him into Stiles’ plus one status. But he’s left with the mighty responsibility of providing all the dinner vegetables and table flowers from the compound.

It’s a duty he takes very seriously. Every vegetable gets the squeeze test before Derek solemnly deems it worthy or unworthy of the final cut.

The wedding is nice, he supposes. At least enough people say it is. Derek keeps to the background, nagging the chefs until they throw him out of the kitchen.

Stiles is on his own. Derek looks just the once to see the sheriff one side of him, Lydia the other. Then he does Stiles the courtesy of tuning out his heartbeat and scent, because Stiles is smiling again, and that’s none of Derek’s business.

He’s taking a bag of trash outback when he smells Stiles again. Alone, and between Derek and the way back into the hotel.

“You going to skulk in there all night?” Stiles calls down the alley.

Derek takes a breath and slinks out of the darkness. “Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” Stiles smirks. He’s nursing a beer bottle and looking stunning in a fitted suit, now without its tie, the vest unbuttoned.

Derek thinks about walking on. “Can I join you?” he says.

“I don’t know,” Stiles says, lips twisting to one side. “Are you going to ambush me with any more declarations of love?”

So that’s how this is going to go, blunt and without segue. Derek sits on the wall and stares down at Stiles’ shiny shoes. “I should never have said that. It was selfish and thoughtless, and you should never have known…”

“I’ve always known,” Stiles says carelessly.

Funny how something can leave you stunned and yet not at all surprised. “You did?”

“That’s what made it worse, you know,” Stiles tells his bottle. “You were in love with me, but didn’t want to be. Kind of made me feel really shit about who I was. At least the first love of my life didn’t love me back. That sucked, but what can you do. The second love of my life did love me but didn’t think I was worth a chance.” Stiles drains his drink, picks absently at the label. When he talks again, he just sounds done. “For the longest time everything was just shit. Jackson and Allison and Ethan and me, what I did. It was all so fucking messed up. But we could have been something good for each other, something solid, a comfort.”

Derek scrubs a tired hand across his face. “You were seventeen years old, Stiles.”

Stiles laughs harshly. “I was already fucking old by then, Derek. Seen more, lost more, done more than any stupid kid should have. I was struggling to just fucking survive when I should have been hanging around the mall, eating ice-cream and scoping potential prom dates. I couldn’t even take my college place for two years because there was too much shit going on here for me to leave. I had responsibilities no kid should even know. Life and death, I dealt with that every fucking day, and I didn’t have a supernatural strength or a scream that could deafen or any competency with weapons. I had only my wits to live on. I was a fucking target, so fucking easy that the nogitsune was able to use me to hide in plain sight.” He kicks at the gravel near his foot, scuffing the sheen on his shoe. “I was seventeen, Derek. And then I was eighteen and nineteen and twenty, and you were still shoving me away like I was an annoying puppy.”

“It was tough on all us,” Derek says. “You weren’t the only one that was suffering.”

“I know,” Stiles spits. “I fucking know that. But everyone else had someone else, someone to help them make sense of the senseless, someone to hold at the end of every goddam shitty day, someone to get up for in the mornings. I couldn’t even have that. We couldn’t even have that.”

“It wasn’t that simple, Stiles,” Derek says desperately.

“You know what, Derek, it really fucking was.”

“I was a mess,” Derek insists.

“So was I,” Stiles shouts back at him, and then looks around furtively, like he’s just remembered where he is. There’s just one other couple in the garden, and they’re paying more attention to each other.

“I had already lost too much,” Derek says, sick and guilty, and angry now.

“So had I. Someone shat on my life, too, Derek, and I would rather have lost again than stay sitting around in the mess. You were worth climbing out of it for. I was so fucking lonely, and you - ” He stills the hands he’s talking with, letting them drop to his lap. “You,” he says, shaking his head, almost in bewilderment.

“Would have made you miserable,” Derek says, because that’s a certainty still absolute.

Stiles laughs, a grating, gruff sound. “I was already miserable, asshole. At least with you my misery would have had a point.”

There’s a horrible, plaintive hitch in his voice. “That’s why I was so angry when you told me that you loved me, not because I didn’t know, but because it was pointless. You were just yanking my chain. You weren’t offering me anything. There was no follow up, just me going to you again, and you looking all forlorn and woe-is-me, and still wishing you didn’t love me.”

Derek doesn’t even know how they would begin breaking this seemingly never-ending cycle of misunderstanding and bad timing. “I didn’t think offering you anything was an option. You were in love with Jay.”

Stiles searches in his pockets. “Like I said, pointless,” he says, pulling out a tissue and dabbing his eyes. “Sorry about this. Weddings make me sentimental.”

Derek’s surprised into laughing, and Stiles noisily blows his nose before standing. It looks like he’s leaving, but he swipes a fresh beer from a passing server and sits down again.

“I did love Jay,” he says. “And I’m glad he was my first big actively reciprocating love. I’ll never be sorry about that. He was funny and kind and patient. He made me laugh, was so proud of me and he never shut me out. He’s probably the best fucking person I’ve ever met. I still miss him.”

That’s...a lot for Derek to hear. “Why did you break up?”

Stiles side-eyes him dryly. “You know why,” he says quietly. “Turns out I wasn’t as over you as I thought.” He stares down at his hands, rolling the bottle between them. “I was it for Jay. He was second best for me. He deserved better than that.”

They don’t talk for a while, just sit listening to the last strains of the band playing the swan song.

“I don’t know what to do, Stiles,” Derek says when the music stops. He feels lost, exhausted, like he’s been completely spun dried. “I did what I thought was best, and now I don’t know what else to do.”

“Do nothing,” Stiles shrugs. “There really isn’t anything to be done.”

~~~~~

Stiles comes home at the beginning of summer the following year, the proud owner of an engineering degree. Derek hears all about it from Scott over the phone, Mrs. Pearson in the cafe, Lisa at the gym, and a couple of guys at the compound.

Derek lets the carrots know. “He’s going back to grad school in the fall, so I’m just going to stay out of his way until then.”

“That’s very defeatist of you, Not-Fun-Derek.”

Derek spins around to find Lillian or Gillian swaying like a drunk ballet dancer amongst the courgettes. Derek really wishes she wouldn’t do that.

“This is a private conversation,” he snaps.

“But I always listen to you,” she says, smiling secretively. “Your stories are so interesting.”

“Also,” Derek says, screwing up his face. “Did you just call me Not-Fun-Derek?”

Lillian or Gillian winces. “That’s not your spiritual name?”

Derek blinks at her.

“Well, this is awkward,” she frowns. “So what are you going to do about your Stiles?”

“None of your business,” Derek says, and then answers her anyway. “Nothing.”

“Ah,” she says, nodding her head. “More nothing. That’ll show him you care.”

Derek drops his head onto his chin, and then the rest of him onto the ground. Lillian or Gillian falls down beside him and pulls his face to her neck, and they sit there like a bizarre parody of a Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel music video. She even sings Don’t Give Up to him.

~~~~~

June isn’t a great month for harvesting, but Derek picks some radishes and sweetpea and finds some late blooming tulips. He baskets them up and delivers them to Stiles’ doorstep.

The next day he leaves several punnets of mixed berries.

The day after that, it’s yams and cucumber.

And there’s more, everyday for two weeks.

Derek arrives at eight am every morning, but Stiles never appears.

~~~~~

“What the fuck,” Stiles shouts, bursting his way into Derek’s apartment. “I thought we were past this. Just what exactly are you doing here, Derek? Suddenly you can’t respect my boundaries? Is this payback for all the times I overstepped?”

Derek wants to react appropriately to Stiles’ anger, but more of him just wants to sag in relief because Stiles is here.

“I mean, I get the apology produce, the guilty strawberries, the sorry yams, the I-was-an-asshole parsnips, and what the fuck else - ”

“It’s not apology produce,” Derek frowns. “It’s wooing produce.”

Stiles stops his indignant arm waving and stares at him. “There’s a difference?” he splutters.

“Of course,” Derek answers. “Motive always matters. You’re a cop’s kid. You know that.”

“Yeah?” Stiles says, arching a brow. “And what’s your motive for this?” He reaches into his jacket and pulls out a sleepy kitten. “Are you wooing me with live animals now?”

“No,” Derek shakes his head. “She isn’t for you. I knew you’d bring her back, and then I thought that maybe we could talk.”

He holds his hands out for tiny cat, but Stiles just takes a step back and cradles her protectively. “What’s her name?”

“Khaleesi.”

Stiles tries to hide his rueful smirk in Khaleesi’s fur. “Figures,” he mumbles to her. “You are fucking fierce.” The kitten purrs contentedly.

“So,” Stiles says, walking further into the apartment, and Derek backs up a little, leaving as much space Stiles might need to stay. Or to run. “What did you want to talk about?” He asks it lightly, like he’s indifferent to anything that Derek might say, but Derek can hear Stiles’ heart ricocheting around his chest, can see the way his ribcage pushes in and out to accommodate it.

“Yes,” Derek says.

Stiles waits a few seconds for more and when there’s none he huffs out a disappointed breath. “Yes,” he repeats dully. “That’s what you have for me? After all this time, after everything...”

To everything,” Derek pleads. “That’s what I’m saying, Stiles. Yes. If you still want me. If you’ll let me. If it’s not too late. Then it’s yes.”

He had better than this prepared. Words from books and movie quotes, there were even a few notes written on a page stuffed under his pillow. But none of them fit as perfectly as the one word Derek had never been able to give Stiles. Yes.

Stiles looks at him, angry and sullen, but he doesn’t leave, and Derek thinks that might be a good thing. He watches as Stiles begins to walk slowly around the apartment, closer to Derek, like he’s carefully tiptoeing his way into this.

“What if I want to keep the kitten?” he says, trailing a finger along the windowsill.

“Yes,” Derek says.

“What if I want to call her...Fluffles?”

“Yes.”

“Will you give me your car?”

Derek reaches across the counter and tosses the keys to Stiles. Stiles catches them easily and sticks them in his pocket.

“What if I want to know how much money you have?”

“Bank statements are in the safe. Code is twenty-four twenty-four.”

Stiles blinks rapidly. “My lacrosse number?”

“Yes,” Derek says. “It’s also my PIN.”

His wallet joins his keys in Stiles’ pockets.

Stiles starts to amble deeper into the kitchen area, Fluffles following on tiny legs when he carefully sets her down.

“I like that pen,” he says.

“It’s yours.”

Soon there’s no room for anything in any of Stiles’ many, many pockets, so he starts stuffing things down his pants. A pack of jello crystals long past their use-by date, the remote control, a mini-bag of cereal, a lightbulb that he’s taken from a lamp. He looks at the lamp regretfully before putting it down.

And then he finally looks at Derek. “What if I want the shirt off of your back?”

Derek sends it sailing in Stiles’ direction, and stands there, completely stripped bare.

He just has time to hold his arms open before Stiles crashes into him, and Derek instinctively holds on as tight as he can, pushing his face into Stiles’ neck, his nose resting on Stiles’ carotid artery, breathing in the life of him.

“Jesus,” Stiles moans, climbing Derek until he has both legs wrapped around his waist, ankles locked at the base of Derek’s spine.

They stay like that for a time that Derek can’t be bothered measuring, until Stiles pulls back a little so he can ask Derek - “What now?”

“Up to you,” Derek says, pressing a shaky kiss into Stiles’ temple. “Between us we’ve had one functioning relationship, and that was yours. So - ” He kisses above Stiles’ ear. “I’m deferring to your experience.”

“Point,” Stiles concedes. “Wait,” he says, jerking to look Derek in the eye. “Are you saying I’m the boss of us?”

“Um, yes?” Derek frowns. “Aren’t you the smart one? Hold on a minute, are you sure you graduated MIT, because I…”

He has to stop then because Stiles is kissing him and laughing at the same time, and it’s probably the best thing Derek has ever tasted.

He’s thought about the first time they’d kiss. Pictured it many ways - angry, desperate, spiteful. But never this way; swallowing Stiles’ giggles, holding back his own until it deepens suddenly. Maybe Derek does it, or maybe Stiles does, or maybe it’s both of them. It doesn’t matter because Stiles’ tongue is in Derek’s mouth, warm and wet, and Derek’s higher order thinking has definitely slipped south.

“For fuck's sake, Stiles,” he grumbles when he yanks the lightbulb and the TV control out of Stiles’ pants.

“Hope that’s not all you're going to pull out of there,” Stiles grunts, and Derek doesn’t even get the chance to respond because Stiles is kissing him again, hot and filthy, and he can't even be annoyed when Stiles kicks at his back as if Derek’s a horse to be spurred on.

He has plans for what’s going to happen next. He’s going to take Stiles into his bedroom, lay him down on the bed and carefully undress him, gently worship every part of newly revealed skin. The whole time he’ll be checking in with Stiles, asking what he wants, what he doesn’t. And then if Stiles allows, Derek’s going to blow him. Derek has big plans for blowing Stiles.

He’ll make it so good for him. So perfect.

Stiles deserves perfect for their first time.

What actually happens is that they fall to the ground and rut desperately together, Derek greedily pawing for every part of hot skin he can reach, Stiles pushing back at him until they both come in their pants, Stiles hands on Derek’s ass, Derek’s face in Stiles neck.

That’s okay, though. Maybe Stiles deserves to know that he makes Derek crazy and frantic.

“You okay?” he asks, dropping sucky kisses on Stiles’ temple.

“There’s cereal and come in my underwear,” Stiles sighs. “I can hear the snap, crackle and pop. And I’m really hoping that the jello pack didn’t burst.”

~~~~~

Derek gets to do it properly a little later, gets to see Stiles laid out before him, food stuffs and bodily fluids washed off, fresher marks bruised on, lips kissed swollen.

“Wanna blow you,” Derek says, nipping at Stiles' hip bone.

“Knock yourself out,” Stiles smiles.

Derek takes his sweet time, licks and grazes and sucks until Stiles writhes and swears and shoves his hands under the pillows beneath his head as he comes.

“Fuck,” he grunts as Derek continues to nuzzle his spent cock. “What the hell is this?”

Derek watches as Stiles pulls his hand from under the pillow, fingers bunched closed around a piece of paper. “I wrote down a few things I might have said to you today before you showed up.”

Stiles smiles out of one side of his mouth and opens the page. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be really hard. We’re going to have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you forever. You and me, every day. Dude, were you going to quote The Notebook to me?”

“It was either that or yes. I went with yes,” Derek shrugs, unconcerned. He’s more interested in licking at the crease in Stiles’ thigh. Stiles laughs and Derek doesn’t know if it’s because he’s being tickled or amused. Doesn’t much care either - Stiles is laughing and Derek is somehow the reason for it.

“Kind of wish you’d gone with this,” Stiles huffs. “I love that you get cold when it’s seventy-one degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle in your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after spending a day with you, I can smell you on my clothes.” Stiles frowns. “The Princess Bride?”

“When Harry Met Sally,” Derek corrects, kissing his way up Stiles’ chest.

“No Dirty Dancing?”

“Turn the page over,” Derek says into soft skin. “Nobody puts Stiles in a corner.”

Stiles laughs, loud and carefree. “Best day ever.”

Derek agrees.

~~~~~

Yes is a world.

One where Stiles takes him on silly dates to the hilltops, looking down on the town beneath them as they get grass stains that will never wash out. Where Stiles hosts barbeques while the sun sets, and they eat and laugh, and play dodgeball in the near dark. Derek’s got some status as Stiles’ boyfriend now, and his evenings and weekends are full. He goes places because Stiles wants him to, but he stays because it’s fun.

Mostly fun. He’s not too sure about the bowling.

Scott finds him scowling at a pair shoes and slumps down beside him.

“Hey,” he says, and Derek bristles. He’s been waiting on this. The Break My Buddy’s Heart And They’ll Never Even Find Your Remains Talk.

But Scott just beams at him, waggling his eyebrows in a conspiratorial get some fashion, which frankly is far more disturbing than any talk Derek could have imagined.

“Stiles is happy,” Scott says when Derek just stares at him.

“Yeah,” Derek agrees slowly.

“And so are you,” Scott continues. “Well, you were until you started staring at those shoes.”

Derek holds them up, eyeing them like they might suddenly bite his face. “Other people’s feet have been in these things. Lots of other people’s feet.”

“Ah,” Scott nods, leaning in like he’s about to dispense some life-changing wisdom. “The trick is to bring extra socks. Then throw the ones you’re wearing now away, or bunch them in your pockets until you get home.”

“Oh,” Derek says. That kind of makes sense. “That’s a thing?”

Scott pulls his spare pair from his jacket pocket and waves them in answer. They’re lime green with patches of red at the ankles.

“Punch buggy,” Stiles chirps, appearing suddenly and thumping Scott with the hand that is not holding an identical pair of hideous socks. Scott, being the great sport he is, pretends it hurts.

“You like these babies?” Stiles grins at Derek, and Derek’s face grows even more sour.

“I’m surprised they’re not plaid,” he shrugs.

Stiles and Scott fall against each other, laughing and ordering an ambulance to the burns unit, and then declaring themselves ready to rock and bowl before laughing all over again.

Derek’s a little confused, but they both pull him up off of the chair and sandwich him to the alley, so whatever this is, he’s part of it.

At the end of the night, Stiles tosses Derek a pair of dark, sober socks that smell of Derek’s detergent.

~~~~~

There are other social conventions that he picks up over the summer - for example, when Stiles returns from an all-you-can-eat buffet at a renowned sketchy food joint, the correct response is not to call him an idiot. The boyfriendly thing to do is to gently rub his violent belly, offer sips of gatorade, and prepare to spend at least some of the evening patting his back when he’s kneeling over the toilet.

Other boyfriendly things to do include being the first to offer help when the sheriff needs help replacing the roof slates. Turns out that Jay really wasn’t all that special; the sheriff approves of anyone who makes Stiles happy.

He is the first to mention Jay, though. “He and I spent a couple of days doing the ones behind the chimney,” John says. “So we only have this area to do.”

A couple of days? The rest doesn’t even take Derek a couple of hours, and then he takes a few minutes to shake his head sadly at Jay’s sloppy workmanship before fixing that too. He stands back, proudly admiring his efforts while the sheriff climbs the ladder with two bottles beer.

“Good job, son,” John nods, and Derek just preens.

They sip their beers quietly until John says, “Jay was going to fix the gutters too.”

Derek narrows his eyes suspiciously but the sheriff just keeps looking innocently at the sky.

~~~~~

It’s also the social norm to discuss your boyfriend with your colleagues.

Stiles asks him about work all the time and Derek enthusiastically tells him all about the herb garden that they’re starting and the new exit ramp that’s being built nearby, which means more potential customers.

“I mean the guys you work with,” Stiles says, exasperated.

It’s a short conversation. Derek’s colleagues exist mostly in his periphery, and he’s kind of absorbed information about them by osmosis. He knows names and duties, stuff he needs to know. Stiles is not impressed.

A week or so later, he’s in the kitchenette making a coffee when Martha sighs loudly and says men.

Derek startles and looks around for who she might be talking to, but there’s no-one else there. Just him and Martha, who’s sitting at the corner table, drumming her fingers on the surface. She’s probably not even talking to Derek; people talk around Derek more than they talk to him.

“Assholes,” Martha spits, and Derek sighs. Relationship talk is the one most foreign to him. He wishes there was someone else there, someone to put an arm around Martha and say gurrrrlfriend and sisters before misters, or whatever else is said in these situations.

“You want a coffee?” he asks, and this time Martha looks around for the other person in the room.

“Sure,” she says eventually.

Derek sits at the table cautiously.

“One job,” Martha hisses as Derek takes his first sip. “He had one job to do. Take the trash out. Did he do it. Oh no. What’s the big deal, he says. The garbage guys will be back again next week, he says. In the meantime that racoon that’s been living under our house gets to feast on our leftovers for the next seven days. One. Fucking. Job.”

Derek takes a breath. “Stiles eats peanuts in bed,” he says, and then wants to clap a hand over his traitorous mouth.

“Please,” Martha snorts. “Jake eats crackers in bed. Doesn’t eat them anywhere else except for bed.”

It’s disloyal to continue but Derek is somehow caught up in this new camaraderie. “Stiles slurps his soup straight from the bowl, and when I put it in a mug for him, he slurps it with a spoon.”

They’re still at it as the other workers begin filling the small kitchen, contributing their own tales of woeful partner habits. No-one seems surprised to see Derek there, just hooshing him up the bench so they can sit down too until Clarke comes in with his clipboard.

~~~~~

“Everyone does it,” Stiles says dismissively as they finish dinner. “I complain to Scott about your alphabetised books and the way you click your jaw and how you fold socks. Like who the fuck folds socks.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “How many times, Stiles. Rolling them into each other strains the elastic. They won’t last if you keep doing that.”

“Yeah,” Stiles drawls. “Because I buy socks for longevity.” He puts his plate down and crawls onto Derek’s lap. “What other terrible things did you say about me to your co-workers?”

Derek smiles against Stiles’ neck, then licks where his lips touched, bites a little when Stiles shudders. “I might have mentioned that you grind your teeth in your sleep.”

“That’s terrible,” Stiles says sympathetically, pressing his growing erection into Derek’s stomach. “You poor thing.”

“And you bite your nails,” Derek says, sliding his hands to Stiles’ ass, pulling him closer.

“I’m a nightmare,” Stiles agrees, rocking his hips a little.

“You’re far too attached to your phone.”

“Guilty,” Stiles laughs into Derek’s hair.

“But I love it,” Derek says, pushing back to look at Stiles face.

“I love you,” Stiles smiles, and it steals the air from Derek’s lungs. “Now take me to bed and do me.”

"I may have forgotten to tell them how charming you are," Derek deadpans, but he does as Stiles says, because Stiles is the boss.

~~~~~

Derek says yes as naturally as he breathes.

Yes to midnight picnics and skinny dipping and curling up together to watch TV in bed on Sundays.

Yes also to gigs that are too loud and two hour waits while Stiles picks out a comic book and to some hideous colour that Stiles wants to paint Derek’s apartment.

Stiles keeps looking at Derek as he dips the brush in and out of the paint, like he’s taunting Derek.

“Ready?” he says, watching Derek carefully.

Derek nods.

“For us to paint your entire home hi-octane orange?”

“Yes.”

Stiles throws down the brush so hard that paint flecks splatter right across to Derek’s face. Derek blinks in shock, heart plummeting as he registers Stiles annoyance.

“Wrong answer,” Stiles shouts. “The right answer to can we paint your place dayglow orange is no. Same answer for can we marathon The Lord of the Rings on a work night, and can we have hot-dog only Thursdays.”

Derek thinks that he might throw up. There might be enough room in his life for even more irony - losing Stiles this time because he didn’t say no.

“Jesus,” Stiles says, crossing the room quickly and tugging Derek to him, kissing him desperately, and Derek just feels numb, blindsided and confused. They’d been having a nice evening, Derek had cooked while Stiles sat on the counter, and they’d been bickering because Stiles couldn’t keep up with Derek’s story about the fight in work today between April and May, which was hilarious because they were actually fighting about weather. It had been good, and Derek doesn’t understand because he’d been making Stiles’ favourite pasta dish and…

When Stiles pulls away there are orange spots on his lips. “I started this conversation the wrong way,” he says, quieter now, hands reaching to cup Derek’s jaw. “Let’s have a do-over. I love you. I really, really love you. And that’s the whole point of this. You can’t let me pull this shit.” He shakes Derek’s arm. “Look at me, Derek. Look at me.”

Derek does, and Stiles looks every bit as stricken and sick as Derek feels. “Hey,” Derek says automatically. “Stiles, don’t. It’s okay.”

“Listen,” Stiles says, desperate now, his hands tightening on Derek’s face. “This can’t just be about what I need. It has to be about what you need too.”

The ground is beginning to solidify under Derek’s feet a little, because Stiles is still there, still touching Derek, and that has to be good?

“Do you remember back when I was a kid, when I drove you crazy?” Stiles says insistently.

Derek nods.

“Do you remember how we used to fight, how you used to call me on my crap all of the time?”

Derek nods again.

“Well, I loved you then,” Stiles says, pushing their foreheads together and Derek nearly goes cross-eyed just to keep looking at him. “And I’ll still love you when we fight, or when we need to get away from each other, or when you say no. Do you understand that?”

Derek’s not too sure.

“You can’t be in a relationship where you’re afraid, Derek,” Stiles whispers brokenly. “That’s not fair on either of us. If I’m not still here then I’ll definitely come back. I promise.”

That’s what it takes for Derek to pull Stiles even closer, until Stiles’s legs are hitched around his waist and Derek can settle him on the counter.

“Stiles,” he mutters into Stiles’ neck.

“Yeah?”

“I fucking hate orange and I fucking hate comic books and I especially hate those fucking windchimes you put out on the balcony.”

“Noted,” Stiles laughs, pressing a sloppy kiss on Derek’s forehead.

“And I really, really, really fucking hate that shirt you bought me.”

Stiles jerks back a little at that. “Hey, watch it.” But he’s still smiling and Derek has to kiss him, hard enough that Stiles’ head bangs against the cupboard behind it.

“What do you want?” he asks when they break away, when Derek’s lips find their way unguided to the pulse in Stiles’ neck.

“I want you to take what you need from me,” Stiles says simply.

~~~~~

What Derek needs is to fuck Stiles with absolute abandon, hard and furious, pressing into him from head to toe, not a inch of space between their bodies. What Derek needs is to tell Stiles that he loves him, and hear it back until the knot in his stomach unravels.

~~~~~

They clean up afterwards, laze around on the bed and eventually settle so that Stiles is leaning back against the headboard, Derek cradled between his legs, his head resting on Stiles’ chest.

It’s quiet, save for the odd snort from Stiles and a crinkle when he turns the page of the comic he’s reading.

Derek can’t see what exactly is making Stiles laugh, but he finds himself smiling whenever Stiles’ shakes behind him. He feels physically rested but his mind races as he thumbs the divots in Stiles’ folded knees.

“Did you always know it could be like this?” he asks.

Stiles’ comic drops enough for Derek to see it in his periphery. “Of course.”

Derek hums vaguely, watching his fingers play with Stiles’ skin. Stiles pushes up a little, the comic dropped to the bed so he can wrap two arms arms around Derek. “You didn’t?” he says quietly.

“No,” Derek says, head rolling on Stiles’ chest until Stiles stills it by burying his face in Derek’s hair. “I really didn’t.”

“What about your parents?” Stiles muffles. “Weren’t they in love?”

“I hope so,” Derek says. “Once upon a time ago, but they were never like this. They were always looking ahead, preparing and waiting for the next crisis. I don’t think I ever saw them sit still, never saw them take comfort in one another. Maybe there just wasn’t time, or maybe they stopped making the time.”

“That’s sad for them,” Stiles says. “I guess your own experiences didn’t help either.”

“I guess,” Derek agrees dryly.

“You expected this, us, to fail,” Stiles says, both a question and a statement. “You were afraid of it all this time.”

“Hence the almost orange apartment,” Derek says.

Stiles huffs a silent laugh against his neck. “You’re a disaster,” he says. “Why would you choose to be with me if you were so scared?”

That’s the part that’s so utterly simple. “I just got so tired of not being with you.”

“Wow,” Stiles says. “I really was an asshole, huh?”

Derek tries to turn but Stiles just tightens his hold. “No, that’s not what this is about -” Doesn’t Stiles get that? This is about what Stiles has done, for both of them.

“Just listen,” Stiles says in Derek’s ear. “All those times you said no, I thought that you were punishing one or both of us, or that you were protecting yourself, or some other misguided, noble bullshit. I didn’t know that you didn’t know that we could have this. And maybe if I had of known that you didn’t know, then I might have spent more time showing you what we could have instead of being of being angry with you for what we didn’t have. Still with me, buddy?”

Derek laughs. “Surprisingly, yes.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, groaning impatiently when Derek tries to move again. “And you may not need to hear it, but I needed to say it. Okay?”

“Okay,” Derek says. “I was an asshole, too.”

“Yes you were,” Stiles agrees. “And also relevant to this day of deep and meaningfuls, that other stuff I said at Scott’s wedding, about how poor woobie Stiles had it so hard, well that was yet another shining example of me being an ungrateful dick.”

Derek lets his claws draw, curls one playfully into Stiles’ knee dimple. “Careful now. That’s my boyfriend you’re talking about.”

Stiles snorts, a little loud in Derek’s sensitive ears, and Derek loves how unafraid he is. Of everything. Stiles is the bravest entity Derek has ever faced.

“I didn’t have any of those skills or other powers that you all did. I had something better than that. I had all of those things working together to save me. I had a fucking army, Derek. And I was terrified of what the nogitsune would make my body do next, or that we wouldn’t win, but I never doubted that you would all come for me, that you would fight until there was no me, or there was no you.”

Stiles moves then, tugging until Derek is lying on top of him, Derek’s arms bracketed either side of his head. “I know what it’s like to be loved that much, and I am going to make sure that you know it too. Sooner or later the protection spell will be broken and who fucking knows what fresh hell is waiting for us, but we’re still going to have this. I’ll fight for this every bit as fiercely as you fought for me.”

Derek stares down into Stiles open face and believes it. Totally and utterly believes it. He genuinely pities the fool that tries to get between them. “This is why you are in charge.”

Stiles smiles, beautiful and real, and Derek’s heart thumps so loudly that even Stiles feels it.

“You can keep being the boss,” Derek continues. “And I can pitch in a little more, maybe organise a date or two, tell you to shut the fuck up when you complain about it.”

Stiles nods seriously. “It is about time you started pulling your weight around here and -”

Whatever he was about to add gets lost in the squeal Derek tickles out of him.

~~~~~

Derek’s doing a weapon inventory and only half-listening to the conversation that Stiles and Scott are having about some TV commercial from way back when they were kids. Scott’s shaking his head slowly, looking puzzled.

“You do know it,” Stiles insists, gesticulating wildly. “It was for Crescent pastry. Now here’s a rap that you should know, made with Pillsbury crescent rolls. Just wrap a weiner filled with cheese, bake it up, it’s sure to please."

Scott jumps up from the sofa and joins in with a squeal, moving to bump hips with Stiles as they start dancing around the room.

Mmmm, ah, ooh, poppin’ fresh dough. DOUGHBOY. That’s a doughboy rap.

There’s a struggle to see who can poke who in the belly first, and they fall on the floor in hysterics.

“So what about it?” Scott asks when they’ve worn themselves out, lying in a scattering of tangled limbs, grinning at each other stupidly.

“Nothing,” Stiles says. “It was just a cool commercial.”

“Yeah,” Scott says wistfully, chewing on the string of his hoodie.

Derek’s oh-so-wise boyfriend and the most powerful alpha on the west coast. It used to baffle him that they could be so stupid and still be such a combined force to be feared. But he gets it now.

They act like idiots and battle like warriors for the same reason. And Derek would follow them anywhere.

They’re still on the floor when Lydia comes in, tugging at the hem of an expensive looking tailored dress.

“Wow,” Stiles says, he and Scott struggling to lean up onto their elbows, jaws dropping with comical timing.

“That’s just the reaction I was going for,” Lydia says primly. “I’m meeting with Jackson and I need to know if my breasts look aggressive enough in Prada. You pigs are my trial run.”

“Aggressive,” Stiles nods dumbly.

“Breasty,” Scott agrees.

“Dude,” Stiles scolds, turning to frown at him. “You’re married.”

“Dude, your boyfriend is right there.”

“Right, how rude of me,” Stiles nods, looking back at Lydia’s chest. “Derek, do you have an opinion on Lydia’s breasts?”

Derek rolls his eyes. “You look lovely, Lydia,” he says and goes back to his counting.

It feels like another test he’s aced, not feeling at all threatened by Lydia’s beauty or smarts.

Stiles loves Derek. Stiles is still going to love Derek even where there’s a distractingly beautiful woman in the room.

He's going to love Derek when he goes back to college.

He's going to love Derek when one or other of them fuck up.

He's going to love Derek when everything goes to shit again.

It’s an absolute truth.

~~~~~

“Give me one of those,” Stiles says later, opening his mouth for a nacho.

“No,” Derek says, lifting them out of reach.

Stiles squawks indignantly. “Well, give me the remote control then.”

“Nope,” Derek says, shoving it under his ass.

“I think we both know that's not actually a deterrent,” Stiles says, and Derek scoffs.

“Come on, Derek," he wheedles. "Forensic Detectives is about to start.”

“In that case,” Derek says. “No.”

Stiles huffs but there’s a smile playing on his lips. He stretches out on the sofa, shoving his feet under Derek’s thigh and inching them closer to the remote control. Derek halts his progress by curling his hand around Stiles’ ankle.

“What have I done?” Stiles laments.

“Only yourself to blame,” Derek says, licking nacho crumbs from the fingers of his other hand.

“Fine. Give me a kiss then.”

“No,” Derek says, bending to kiss Stiles.

There’s still some technicalities he’s figuring out.

~~~~~

The guys from work have asked Derek out for drinks. Derek has ‘guys from work’, and he’s now known as Sometimes-Fun-Derek.

“Can’t,” Derek says, genuinely regretful. “I’m taking Stiles to the bullriding tonight.”

It was a Derek organised date, and Stiles had almost deafened him when Derek handed over the tickets. “Men in chaps. Men in chaps. Sweet baby Jesus, men in chaps.”

Derek had taken two things from that. Firstly, he had got this right. Secondly, he was going to have to make peace with the certainty that chaps were going to make an appearance in their bedroom in the not so distant future.

Their bedroom. That’s not an official thing yet, but Stiles is there as often as Derek is, so the pronoun has transitioned easily…

“The old ball and chain, huh?” Jack laughs.

“Yeah,” Derek shrugs, blinking himself back into the conversation. He’s fairly certain that this is a pejorative term, but he doesn’t much care. Derek has a ball and chain. He’s tethered to Stiles. He’s grounded. “Next time,” he promises.

~~~~~

The summer passes and they still haven’t had a conversation about what the fall will bring. Stiles is headed east and Derek will probably stay here.

“I won’t be seeing Jay,” Stiles tells him. “I won’t be seeing anybody that way. You’ve got this all locked down.”

Derek’s not worried about any of it. About Stiles not being here for a time, about who Stiles spends time with, about the new friends Stiles will make. Stiles has said that they'll be okay, and that's all Derek needs to hear. His faith in Stiles is unshakable.

He thinks about Jay sometimes, feels bad for the guy trying to get over his break-up with Stiles. That’s a horror that Derek doesn’t ever want to imagine. Jay was Stiles' first important relationship, and Derek’s glad of that. He was good for Stiles, made him happy when Derek didn’t know how to, probably helped shape Stiles into the person that has endless patience with Derek. It’s easy to wish him well.

Derek might stay in Beacon Hills, waiting. But that’s not all he’ll be doing. He has a life now. He has Monday night football with John, and Wednesday night pack meetings, and Friday night bowling with the work guys. He even has his own shoes. There's also this part-time management programme that might be a go.

Derek will be busy while he’s waiting on Stiles.

But maybe he requests a possible career break, and maybe he’s contacted a letting agency, and maybe he hasn't paid the deposit for the course. It’s good to have a contingency plan.

On their final night before Stiles leaves, Derek is home, cooking something Stiles likes, puzzled when Stiles presses the bell instead of using his key.

Stiles is just standing there when Derek pulls the door open, a perfect reconstruction of four years ago, shuffling a little and smiling small. “I’m going to uni tomorrow,” he says. “And I was just wondering if there was something you wanted to say to me.”

“As it happens,” Derek says, standing back and watching Stiles’ face as he takes in the two packed cases and cat carrier in the hallway. “Can we go with you?”

“Yes.”

~~~~~