His mother never talked much about love.
She was quiet, but he’d see her watching his dad, and he knew she loved him.
His dad, when he did talk about it, said that love was life-shattering, the kind of thing that no one ever quite recovered from, something so deep and changing that he could always look back and say--this moment.
This is the moment I fell in love.
Loving Stiles was nothing like that.
He falls in love with Stiles the summer before college. It's a slow sticky summer, the whole world moving with a kind of mesmerizing laziness. For once, there is nothing trying to kill them. No witches in the woods, no pixies in the preserve, no selkies in the swamp.
(Stiles giggles around a spoonful of ice cream when he says that, sweaty and beautiful in the sunshine.)
He realizes he loves Stiles the summer before college, when they can finally breathe. Nothing is trying to kill them. The nemeton is healthy again, growing into a tree so massive Derek isn’t sure how anyone can not notice it, but it’s quiet, strengthening the land and the pack, all of its restless, destructive magic quieted by a spell Stiles created, that Kira burned through, that Lydia screamed into being.
Stiles takes to coming by his house, that summer, and Derek thinks maybe he’s bored--Scott and Malia are gone, traveling before Scott begins at UC Davis. Kira is still in town, but she spends her time divided between Satomi and a kitsune who wandered into Beacon Hills in February and promised to teach her.
Sometimes, Derek thinks he can smell that strange coach on her, but she blushes when he mentions it so he stops.
Lydia leaves after the summer solstice, in a wash of red hair and tears, and fierce promises to see them all before the semester begins.
“Do you think we will?” Derek asks, and Stiles shrugs.
Licks his lips and says, “Do we have lemonade?”
When he was growing up, they lived in peace.
There were whispers, lessons about what hunters were like, what they could do to a wolf pack. There was training in the woods--but those training games always felt like playing with his favorite sister and uncle, and not like something that would one day save their lives.
He'd hear Peter yelling at his mom, sometimes. That they were weak, that they would be hunted because of it.
But they lived in peace. In a golden haze of every good thing, where Derek was safe and sure that he always would be.
He never dreamed of something like the fire, or someone like Kate.
For a long time, he felt guilty, for not realizing that could happen, for not seeing the danger .
Sometimes, he still does.
They have never lived in peace. Scott, Stiles. The puppies that have gathered around them--they don't know what peace can be like. They don't understand games in the woods that mask training, don't understand telling legend and stories just for the sake of stories.
But as the quiet peace of Beacon Hills stretches and the sun-soaked summer turns, Derek wants to teach them.
He watches Stiles, and thinks that he would be beautiful, in the soft golden warmth of peace.
Stiles drags him to the department picnic for the fourth of July. Derek doesn't fight it, is content to let Stiles pull him with long fingers wrapped around his wrist and a hopeful smile. He dutifully carries plates of brownies and bowls of pasta salad and cases of beer. Parrish grins at him, tan and flirty from the edge of the water, and Derek flushes as he looks away.
"He likes you," Stiles says, softly, unwrapping another package of hotdogs.
Derek raises an unimpressed eyebrow. "Not interested."
He doesn't explain more than that, just takes the hot dogs and chicken to where John is manning the grill. He gets a beer and a wide smile for his trouble, drawn into conversation with a few deputies, while Stiles bustles about like a particularly demented mother hen, and the sun beats down hot against his shoulders.
Derek itches to smooth sunscreen into pale skin, but wordlessly hands the bottle over. For the rest of the day, there is a white smear on Stiles’ shoulder and the scent of chemicals and coconuts mixed with grass and sweat and ozone. It's intoxicating.
Later, he piles plates high with chicken and the cucumber salad Stiles raved about, with buttery corn on the cob and creamy potato salad, and goes to find Stiles.
"Sit down," he orders, and Stiles watches him with a small smile, and deep knowing eyes. They sit in the grass, an ant tickling his ankle as they eat, pressed shoulder to shoulder as Stiles talks about growing up with the entire department as an extended family. Tara brings a plate of brownies and thick chocolate cake over to them and Stiles lights up, this lovely brightening that makes Derek's breath catch as the sun slowly sets.
They share the brownies and cake, and Derek doesn't watch the way Stiles licks the fork clean, but he also doesn't nudge Stiles away when he slumps against Derek's shoulder and tips his head back to watch the stars and wait for the fireworks.
Stiles spends a lot of time at his house.
But then--Derek spends time at the Stilinski house.
The sheriff mentions wanting to remodel the bathrooms and update the kitchen one night and Derek quietly offers to help.
"I worked in construction, when we were on the road," he says. "I liked building things."
Stiles watches him, eyes bright and curious and warm.
"I could pay--"
Derek waves a hand. "I'm not taking your money," he says, almost offended, and stands, gathering up the dishes from their dinner.
He hears Stiles as he turns on the water to soak the plates, his voice a low steady murmur, "Pack cares for pack, Dad. Let him do this."
Later, the sheriff finds him, while he's reading and waiting for Stiles to clatter downstairs to leave for a late showing of some superhero thing he's excited about.
"Thank you," he says, and Derek shrugs.
"I haven't done anything yet."
"No," the sheriff says slowly. "You--Stiles wanted to go away for college, and after what he and the girls did to the nemeton--he can't. Not really. And you--you're good for him. You always have been, even when I didn't like you. You keep him safe, and you make him happy."
Derek's heart is pounding and he isn't sure what to say, so he goes with the safe bet of saying nothing, just staring at the sheriff with wide, wide eyes.
Above them, Stiles shouts and there is a muffled curse as he slams into something, and Derek twitches to go to him. The sheriff smiles, softly, and pats his knee. "Thank you, son."
It aches, hearing that word. But not as much as it should, he thinks.
Lydia blows into town in a whirlwind of silk and curls and late summer heat, and he finds himself at her lakehouse for Labor Day.
Kira leans into him as Lydia and Stiles argue about how to make margaritas, and Derek digs his bare toes into the plush carpet, impatience and contentment warring for dominance in his chest.
"Sorry I was MIA this summer," Kira mumbles into his side and Derek wraps an arm around her, tugs her close and lets her scent--bitter and electric with a cut of jasmine--soothe the sharp edges Lydia always drags up in him.
Stiles doesn't love her, not anymore, but there is always something about her that lures Stiles in, away from Derek and there is a very petty part of him that loathes it.
"You needed the time," Derek says to Kira, and she hums, quiet agreement, and watches Stiles for a moment.
"What are you going to do when we're all gone?"
He doesn't answer, because he doesn't actually know.
But as he watches Stiles laughing in the water, tanned and beautiful in the sun, and dripping on him when he leans over Derek with a smile free of shadows, he thinks--they'll be ok.
He'll be ok.
He didn't always like Stiles.
That thought makes him laugh now. That there was ever a time when he didn't adore Stiles, is laughable.
But he didn't.
He didn't trust humans, and Stiles didn't understand werewolves, and was so damn determined to help Scott, the way Derek should that he hated Stiles.
And then there was the hospital and the pool, there was Peter and Stiles' presence, like he was meant to be there.
There was that other endless summer, when the betas were missing and Stiles was all that kept Derek from a slow slide into insanity.
There were so many little things, things that dragged him back to Stiles.
He doesn't know when he stopped hating the flailing sarcastic boy with his fierce loyalty and sharp, impossibly brilliant mind.
He doesn't know when he began to trust him, or when that trust softened into friendship and he has no fucking idea when it twisted into love.
He doesn't know why it doesn't terrify him--love has always been a sharp edged tool meant to cut and hurt him and those around him.
But Stiles--Stiles isn't like that. Stiles has been the steady shield between him and the world for so long that Derek can't imagine Stiles ever hurting him.
It's as laughable as a time when he didn't like the boy who has somehow become his entire world.
Stiles likes being in the house, and Derek likes having him there.
After the fire, he was never really comfortable in packs, with people who weren't Laura--it's one of the many reasons they never really settled down, why they were constantly moving, their thin pack bonds to each other all that kept them from going omega.
But he remembers long nights in hotels they'd crash in for weeks at a time, when Laura would sprawl on her bed and watch TV until her eyes couldn't stay open and Derek would read whatever book she'd found for him, and they were comfortable and together, alone with their thoughts and never alone because that's what pack was--it was never being alone.
Stiles is like that.
He'll come in and not even talk to Derek, just curl up in his favorite seat and read through his homework, making notes and exchanging texts with Lydia, while Derek reads in his recliner. Sometimes, Stiles would mumble a greeting and stumble into Derek's room, crashing out on his bed, and Derek would only go find him when his snoring got too loud, or his breathing dipped into the panicked uptick that meant nightmares.
Then Derek would slip into bed and curl around him, his hand spread over Stiles' rapidly beating heart, his voice a soft whisper as he promised the sleeping boy he was safe.
He fell asleep there, more times than he liked to think about, and Stiles would wake, slow and content, and it hurt, watching Stiles smile at him, soft and warm in Derek's bed because it meant everything to Derek and nothing at all to Stiles.
Fall settles over Beacon Hills like a lover, with a whisper of cool wind and a touch of snow, with the cascading color of the trees and the scent of pumpkin in the air, and Stiles shows up with a big bag and two rakes, his eyes sparkling as he drags Derek out into his massive yard to rake the leaves.
"I live in the forest, you idiot," Derek says, and he hates how fond he sounds.
Stiles grins and shrugs and says, "But if we don't rake, there are no piles to jump in."
Derek stares at him for a long moment, long enough that Stiles fidgets under his stare, and then he shrugs and starts raking.
He gets three blisters and his ears are freezing but it's worth it for the gleeful smile on Stiles' face when he launches himself into a pile of leaves and the giddy laugh he lets out when Derek slips into his wolfskin and barrels after him.
Later, Stiles curls up in front of the fireplace and Derek sprawls across him, and Stiles pets his fur, long soothing strokes until the boy and wolf fall asleep.
The house is cozy, a quiet, warm thing.
When he first started looking for a house, he was looking at big, sprawling things, and sleek cold places—and they never felt right.
“I get the oversized manors,” Stiles said, one night while he was looking at the listings, curled up next to Derek. “But what’s with the modern deco cold shit?”
Derek shrugged and picked at the fraying thread on his tshirt, avoiding Stiles gaze. “It’s what we lived in, in New York.”
Stiles is quiet for a long time. He doesn’t actually say anything, until he’s getting ready to leave, and Derek is biting back the urge to tell him to stay.
But he pauses, and looks back at him. “This isn’t where you grew up or where you were with Laura. This is for you—where you are now. Pick somewhere you’ll love.”
Because Stiles watched him, patient and waiting, and hopeful, every time Derek showed him a house, and because—
He was so tired of living in a graveyard, haunted by ghosts.
Still. It’s a house.
A small, cozy thing that he loves, that feels like his , like something he can build on.
But it's only when Stiles is there, his heartbeat steady and his eyes bright, that it feels like more than a house and a possibility.
It’s only when Stiles lazes on the couch or shuffles out of the guest room, when his breathing and heartbeat and arguing and laughter fill up the little house that it feels like a home.
The pack goes away to college and Stiles--doesn't.
Stiles, the one Peter always claimed was the clever one, the bright ambitious human who could give Lydia a run for her money--stays.
He gets offers. Acceptance at Stanford and Columbia and MIT, and he shrugs and declines each, even when Derek draws him aside and murmurs that money isn't a problem.
"I have scholarships," Stiles says softly, and Derek blinks at him. Staring because he can't understand this.
"I don't want to leave," Stiles says, simply.
"You've always wanted to leave," Derek says, blankly.
Stiles shrugs. "It's not so bad, now, is it? Things are quieter."
Dread pools in Derek's gut. "Do you have to stay," he demands. "Is that what the spell did?"
Stiles smiles at him, bright and warm. "Maybe I just found something worth staying for," he says, softly, before turning back to the apple pie he's making.
Derek lets him, let's him turn away and doesn't comment on the fact that Stiles doesn't answer him.
So they settle into life, without the pack, and if Stiles is around more, Derek thinks--it's normal.
With only the two of them here, they have to gravitate toward each other. Need each other's support and friendship, their pack more than they ever have before. It's comfortable to see Stiles sprawled on his couch, reading over his homework, to quiz Stiles on bio terms while Stiles makes them dinner, to spend the weekend with Stiles and John, working on the Stilinski house and watching old movies that are so terrible he actually likes them.
It's comfortable and easy and it feels so right it makes him ache.
Stiles isn’t life shattering. He’s something easy and warm, and he slips into love with him like he crawls into bed, settles into it with a long soft sigh and he wonders about it sometimes--because it’s not earth-shattering.
It’s easy and terrifying and comfortable, the way Kate and Paige never were and maybe that is why when he thinks of loving Stiles, it makes him smile and his hands tremble with want and not fear.
He falls in love with Stiles that fall, forever long, with the scent of burning leaves in the air and his fingers cold where they grip Stiles’ elbow.
He falls in love while Stiles smiles at him, fond and warm and welcoming.
Stiles drags him to a party for Halloween. It's the first party Stiles has bothered with since he started at BHCC, and Derek hides his grin at Stiles’ nerves, slips into a leather jacket and a pair of jeans that makes his ass look great.
Stiles blinks at him, a fond smile turning up his lips when he sees Derek, but he doesn't say anything, and Derek--Derek doesn't say anything about the tiny costume Stiles appears in.
They get a lot of looks at the party, but Derek ignores them, keeps his gaze on Stiles, at the bright golden eyes and the flush in his cheeks and the smile so wide and happy as they dance that it makes him forget for a moment how much it hurts that Stiles isn't his.
The truth is--
He falls in love with Stiles, a slow slide that he only realizes that long summer, but something that has been building maybe since the day they met.
He falls in love with Stiles--and nothing changes.
Stiles invades his space, and drags Derek out of his brooding, plies him with food and random facts and idle musings. He’s there when one of his mother’s old allies arrives in Beacon Hills to renew treaties, and there when the same ally offers marriage to bind the packs.
He’s always there, and that--that means something.
“Maybe,” Cora says, when he Skypes her, “it means he cares about you.”
“Of course he does,” Derek says, immediately and dismissively. “I’m pack, Cora. He has to care about me.”
“I’m pack and I don’t give a shit about any of them except you and Stilinski.”
Derek smiles, fondly, “And Peter.”
“Sometimes,” she grunts and Derek grins.
“Are you gonna do anything about it?” she asks, and he cocks an eyebrow, earning a scowl. “He cares about you, Der. Are you gonna take a chance on that or are you going to pine indefinitely?”
He shrugs, and thinks, that is probably answer enough.
It’s not that he’s pining. It’s not even that he knows he loves Stiles, and that every night he comes home to find Stiles asleep on the couch, every text message he gets only reminds him that this brilliant beautiful boy is never going to be his--because he could try.
Stiles doesn’t talk about people, not since Lydia and the brief, over before it began fling with Danny.
But there is this ever present fear that if he says something now-- he’ll fuck everything he has with Stiles up, and he won’t get another chance.
“It might be worth it,” Peter says and he thinks about his life, without Stiles in it.
“No,” he says, soft and definitive. “It wouldn’t be.”
He's a little surprised when John insists he join them for Thanksgiving.
The work he's been doing on the Stilinski house is done now, and there's a preening sense of pride in it, in knowing that he did that for them.
He isn't entirely sure when he started consulting on cases with John--he thinks maybe over dinners, offering shy opinions between John and Stiles’ heated debates, all too aware of Stiles watching him with fond affection.
However it happens, the fourth Thursday of November finds him in the Stilinski kitchen, a bemused smile on his face as he watches Stiles and John. They’re arguing about duck and yams while Derek quietly cuts green beans for the casserole and there’s stuffing burning in the oven. It’s chaotic and different from any Thanksgiving he’s ever been to, and when it’s over, when he’s sitting with a glass of beer and a full belly and Stiles is leaning against his shoulder, eyes half-closed and drowsy, while The Matrix plays on low, he thinks--it's perfect. He thinks--he hasn't been sad and lonely all day.
"Laura loved this movie," Derek says, softly, his lips almost brushing Stiles’ ear, and Stiles laughs. Soft, a huff of breath against his collarbone that makes him want to squirm away and curl closer. He is aware that John is watching them, his gaze soft and warm, and for once, it doesn't make him itchy with panic.
"Mom loved it too. Said it was her payment for watching football and cooking all day."
John makes a scoffing noise. "She just liked watching Carrie-Ann Moss and Keanu Reeves in leather for an hour."
Stiles flails a little and John's smile tips evil. "She'd have loved you, Derek."
His whole face goes bright red, but Stiles' is soft and gentle, and moments like this--moments like this it's almost impossible to remember, Stiles isn't his.
Stiles isn't in love with him.
Stiles is pack, and a friend--his best friend--but he doesn't want everything Derek does.
And that is, surprisingly, ok.
"She would," Stiles says, softly, and his voice is heavy with meaning and it makes Derek's breath catch in his throat, and his fingers, on Stiles’ knee tighten just a little, a spastic little movement he can't stop and Stiles doesn't mention.
Sometimes, he can forget.
When Stiles is running on too little sleep and he's short tempered and bitchy, snarling at Derek while he studies and mainlines coffee and Redbull--when he hasn't showered or eaten anything but cold pizza for a week, when he sets up camp on Derek's couch in old sweats and only moves to race to college for his final before he comes back and throws himself into studying for his next test--moments like that, it's easy to forget.
But then there are moments like these.
When he comes home and Stiles is sprawled on his bed, face slack with sleep, skin still warm from the shower, smelling like Derek, and wrapped in his clothes.
And when he's like this, all of his stress and defenses stripped away, soft and vulnerable and willing to be so in a 'wolf's den--Derek is almost breathless with how fucking beautiful Stiles is.
With how much he wants him.
He watches Stiles for a long time, and then toes off his shoes and goes to make chili and baked potatoes.
When Stiles stumbles out of the room, summoned by the lure of food, a crease on his face from the pillow, he doesn't really stop until he crashes into Derek's side and makes a low, pleased noise, pressing his face into Derek's arm.
Derek breathes a laugh, and wraps an arm around Stiles waist, holding him upright while he finishes their dinner.
"How was it?"
"Horrible," Stiles groans, and he can hear the pout he knows is on the boy's face. "I hate it."
"Poor baby," Derek says, mildly and Stiles pinches his hip. Derek laughs. "How 'bout we eat and then you can pick whatever you want to watch--even one of your ocean documentaries--before you go home."
Stiles pulls back and beams at him, and it makes Derek's breath snag, his heart pounding because god.
He's used to Stiles, in his space, and beautiful, but he never really gets used to it.
And certainly not when Stiles is this close, his eyes flicking between Derek's and Derek's lips, and his heartbeat pounding steadily under Derek's hand where it's wrapped around Stiles’ waist.
"You're too good to me," Stiles whispers, and it brushes against Derek's lips. For a heartbeat that lasts forever--Derek wants to press closer.
For a heartbeat that lasts forever--he thinks Stiles will .
The oven beeps at them, and Stiles smiles ruefully before he pulls away and says, softly, "I'll make drinks."
They eat in the living room, and Stiles teases Derek gently as he navigates to a documentary that--thank god--isn't about the oceans and their nightmare creatures.
"You're a werewolf," Stiles says, fond and exasperated. "How are you scared of oceans?"
"It's too much water," Derek says stubbornly and because he knows it'll make Stiles roll his eyes and bite down on a grin and Stiles is beautiful, shining and warm at his side.
Sometimes, when he's alone, and the house is quiet, but the scent of Stiles lingers on the sheets, Derek will close his eyes and reach for himself, will wrap a hand around his hard cock and lazily jack himself off.
It's always lazy, just shy of teasing, and the fingers that brush against his hole are the same way--the same way Stiles would touch him.
He pinches his nipple and twists, as he rubs over the head of his cock and he can see Stiles, that bright knowing grin that is telling him something , and he comes, gasping, moaning Stiles name.
He goes to sleep with the come drying on his chest, and it feels almost like a claim.
He falls in love with Stiles in the icy cold of winter, while snow swirls down around them and Stiles chatters around a Christmas tree and smiles at him, and there is something warm and big in his gaze, something that is terrifying and wonderful and he aches under it.
“He seems happy,” Lydia says and Derek glances at her, dragging his gaze from where Stiles and Malia and Kira are baking, studies the petite redhead. She's relaxed, more so than he's ever seen her and her gaze on Stiles is blatantly affectionate.
“I worried, when he said he was staying. After everything, Stiles deserved a chance to get out,” she says and he nods. Because it's true, even if the idea of Stiles leaving breaks his heart.
She tilts her head, swirling eggnog in her cup and finally shrugs with a catlike smile. “Not my job to worry about him. Stiles is a big boy and he's happy. That's all that matters to me.”
Christmas Eve, the pack gathers at Derek’s house.
Stiles is wound up over it for days beforehand, and Derek watches, bemused, as his little cozy house is converted from a cluttered bachelor's pad to a holiday wonderland, something out of a magazine that makes him a little bit anxious of bumping into anything.
Still. Below the scent of cookies and baked ham, peppermint and cocoa, there is the smell of Stiles, sugar sweet and content, and the pack, filling up the space that he and Stiles have somehow made into a home.
It’s loud, chaotic, the kind of chaos Derek remembers from childhood and forgot over the long quiet fall. Scott and Stiles break a lamp playing Twister, and a game of Monopoly gets downright brutal when Melissa joins in, but by the time the third rerun of The Christmas Story comes on, Lydia and Malia are talking soft and low about college and Scott is asleep on the floor, Liam’s head on his knee, and Stiles is tucked against Derek’s side, his eyes heavy-lidded as he leans into Derek’s warmth.
Cora used to wake him up on Christmas morning, before the sun crept up and Laura jumped on him, before the smell of Peter’s cinnamon applesauce and pumpkin pancakes woke the house. She’d crawl in his bed and stick her cold feet up against his shins and when he peered at her, golden eyes shone back, her little face bright with excitement that never seemed to dim. “It’s Christmas,” she’d whisper, and Derek smiled.
“Do you think Mom knew about our Christmas morning runs?” Derek asks her as he watches Scott stagger to his car, and listens to Stiles puttering through the house and Cora laughs.
“Of course she did. She was Mom.”
Christmas eve, his mom used to say, was for pack, and Christmas--Christmas was for family.
He isn’t sure how that ends with him in the Stilinski’s kitchen on Christmas morning, but with most things related to Stiles and his father--Derek doesn’t fight it much. He leans against the counter and watches Stiles making breakfast, and what he means to say is, “Thank you.”
What he says instead, soft and wondering, is, “I love you.”
The eggs burn, and Christmas smells like scorched eggs and spilt orange juice, and Stiles tastes like coffee and toothpaste and sugar when he kisses Derek, long fingers threaded into Derek’s hair, heart beating familiar and steady against Derek’s chest, and it feels...right.
Not earth shattering, the way he always thought love was supposed to be. It feels like a warm blanket on a cold night, like a steady hand on his shoulder and eyes bright and shining in the dark, whispered secrets and endless days, solid and safe and reliable.
“Shh,” Stiles murmurs, and Derek realizes he’s clutching too tight, and trembling against him, and Stiles’ thumb is brushing over his jaw, his eyes soft, soft, so fucking soft. “Shh, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”
He always has.
Derek smiles and he sees John, a smug smirk on his lips as he steals bacon, before he kisses Stiles again.
He falls in love with Stiles over an endless summer and a fall that lasts forever, over an icy winter and years of saving each other and every day spent with him, doing nothing and everything, and sharing life.
He falls in love with Stiles as the boy stares up at him, a grin on his lips and the pack counting down behind them, and fireworks bright against the sky and the waning moon.
He kisses Stiles as the year ends and a new one begins and he falls in love all over again.