Beacon Hills is the slow town it’s always been. Perhaps it has expanded during the last eight years, but it's mostly like Derek remembers it. Some of the shops are still exactly the same as they were when he left.
It's different from New York, he realises as he sits in a small café next to the cramped art gallery. There aren't as many diversions demanding to be felt, seen, experienced. Not as much for his brain to handle. He is calmer here, less on edge. It doesn't feel like such an effort to go outside as it does back in New York, where he still jerks when someone slams the door to the cab a little too hard, right next to him.
Handling his dead uncle's paperwork takes less time than he counted on. Despite Peter being very little like himself the past years, he did manage to write a will, which makes the situation a lot less complicated. Derek and Laura are his only living relatives, and he left them an enormous pile of money and belongings they have no use for. Seeing the figures Peter's lawyer has written down for him makes him feel odd, like he's making money on someone else dying. Perhaps he should give it all to charity.
It's on his way back from the meeting with the lawyer to the small hotel where he’s staying, that he notices the small music store cramped between a coffee shop and a flower shop. There’s a big sign on the door, cut out from cardboard with red, uneven letters forming the words: FOR SALE, with a phone number beneath them.
For a moment, he thinks of the piles upon piles of books his uncle has left him, the entire library from Peter’s house, the contents of which are substantial, and contemplates buying the store for his inheritance and selling them all there. Like a secondhand bookshop, except that he has no idea what books he would be selling. Perhaps he could set the price at a couple of bucks each. It would be a good way to get rid of them.
He pushes away the thought a moment later, deciding not to think about it. It's far off and he's only here for another couple of days before his flight home. He counted on this taking longer. Laura had asked him to go, when they had received the phone call from their uncle's caretaker. She didn't have time and Derek understands that, what with having a kid and husband, and a job. Derek has none of those things.
It's been eight years. He hasn't been back to Beacon Hills since he left for New York, for college, with the exception of that first Christmas. The gas explosion happened in May. He couldn't stomach going to the funeral, but he sends flowers to their graves for every birthday and holiday. He hasn't been to see them.
Art by Tsuminubiaru
He calls Laura later, just to let her know what the will said. She just sighs when he starts reading his notes from the notepad to her.
“Derek, I don't care about how much money he left us.”
Derek shrugs. “I figured I should tell you anyway.”
“Tell me about Beacon Hills instead,” she says, and Derek can hear her shushing Josh, his nephew, on the other side of the phone. Old guilt tugs at his gut briefly, but he pushes it away.
“It's the same.” He looks out the small window of his room, on the people walking up and down the street below, and listening to the odd silence he's not used to. It's quiet. “It's all the same.”
Laura hums thoughtfully. “Figured as much. Do you like it?”
“Haven't really thought about it.” His gaze catches on a girl carrying a stack of books, and frowns to himself. “I walked past a shop today. It was for sale.”
“And?” she prompts.
“I entertained the thought for a while, that maybe I could sell Peter's books there. He left us the entire library.”
She hums again, sounding a little more pleased this time. “That's a great idea.”
“Not really. I don't live here,” Derek points out.
“But you could.”
Derek frowns again. He doesn't like when she uses that tone. Like she knows something that he doesn't. “It's not for me.”
“You don't know that until you've tried. You like books and reading.”
“It's not even remotely the same thing as owning a bookshop.”
He can almost hear her rolling her eyes. “I think it would be good for you.”
“I don't live here,” Derek says again.
“There's such thing as moving,” she points out. “It's not like you have a bunch of belongings you'd have trouble bringing. Or an entire life you'd leave behind.”
He doesn't. His apartment is sparsely furnished and the walls are bare. He doesn't even have a TV. The only people he spends time with in New York are Laura and her family. He’s tried reconnecting with college friends, but his life is so different from theirs. And asking someone from the corps to grab a beer with him is out of the question.
“Just think about it, okay?” Laura says.
Derek doesn't reply.
“I think it would be better for you. The pace is a lot slower there than it is here, and you might need that. Plus, your therapist thinks you need to start doing something with your life.” It's highly unfortunate that Laura happened to be born before he was. She's taking the older sister role way too seriously for his liking.
“I don't want to.”
“Just think about it,” she reiterates.
Derek shuts her out for the rest of the conversation, but it's like she knows, because she starts talking about work.
The thought haunts him.
It makes him angry, because he knows that's what she wanted all along. Every time he walks past the closed music shop, he glares at the sign and it starts to irk him when it's still there a couple of days later.
He hasn't told his therapist, nor has he asked for her advice, because he isn't interested in buying a shop. He doesn't want to deal with customers. At the same time, he knows that Laura is right. This place is better for him. He can feel it already, despite the fact that it's only been a few days. He's calmer now than he has been in a while, even though he's in a much better place than when he just had come home. Back then he couldn't even handle the sounds of gunshots from the TV screen.
He's more stable now, and the bundle of thoughts in his head, the mess of his reactions to things, are easier to deal with. Easier to make something out of.
Still, Beacon Hills is calm, slow-paced as Laura put it. He doesn't want to like it, considering the history he has here, but he does.
The sign is still there, hanging in the window of the shop, when he walks back from the café to his hotel room to pack up his things and take his flight home which leaves in a few hours. He stares at it for a long time, and then fishes his phone out of his pocket to dial the number.
It bothers him how easily manipulated he is by his sister.
The shop doesn't cost him a lot of money. It's much less than Derek expected, and perhaps that's because it's located in Beacon Hills as opposed to New York, or perhaps it’s due to the fact that the owner seems like she's been trying to get rid of it for ages and is sick of the place. He signs the papers fifteen minutes before he has to leave for the airport.
It surprises him when he comes back home and Laura isn't laughing in his face. Instead she helps him pack up his belongings and drives him to the airport a few weeks later.
“If you don't call me at least once a week, I'm coming down there to check on you, got it?” she says and pulls him into a hug that makes him feel a little uncomfortable.
“Got it,” he replies as she lets him go, and reaches out to ruffle Josh's hair. He still feels guilty about what happened with Josh just a little over a year ago, and wishes he could forget it. Somehow he knows that Josh hasn’t forgotten either.
“We'll come visit whenever you want, if we’re able, and you will come home for Christmas, or I'll send you all my bills.”
Derek just shakes his head, suppressing a smile, as he heads towards his gate.
Beacon Hills is still the same when he steps out of his cab. He really needs to get himself a car, because there is no subway to take or that many cabs available for him to hail around here. He’ll drop by the car dealer during the week, as soon as he’s settled in.
The shop's previous owner had told him about the small apartment located above it, which he could get with the place if he wanted it. Something Derek finds utterly convenient. Dealing with real estate agents and the mess of apartment hunting isn't something he's up for. He received pictures of the apartment in an e-mail, and it looked fine. Still, he's nervous as he steps through the door. New places are always hit or miss for him these days. If it doesn’t work, it will never work. There is no in-between.
The shop is empty, but there is a layer of dust on the floors and the shelves the previous owner left behind for him. There is a counter with an outdated cash register on it, with a notepad lying next to it. A number is scrabbled across it, and when Derek compares it to the one in his phone, he recognises it as the previous owner's. Behind the counter there is a door standing open as if to invite him, and he can see a staircase on the other side.
Derek hoists his duffle bag onto his shoulder and fumbles in his jeans pocket for the set of keys, as he walks up the stairs. The steps creak slightly under his weight and the unfamiliar sound makes his skin itch slightly. He's used to the elevator in his apartment building back in New York.
The door to the apartment is ajar. It’s not very sturdy-looking and isn’t fit to be a front door. Derek assumes that he will have to use the shop's door for that. The place isn't big, just like she had told him. There's a small pantry, because Derek wouldn't call four cabinets, placed two-and-two opposite of each other, cramped up under the roof next to a small window, a kitchen. There is a real stove, though, and a turquoise combined fridge and freezer. The rest of the space is mainly just one large room, shaped like an L, curled around the pantry and the bathroom. The latter is fine, much better than Derek expected, but he still wants to shape it up a little. Floor heating would be nice.
He moves around, takes in the details, strokes the dust off the surfaces with his hand. The floors are dark hardwood with scrape marks from furniture. Some of them are imprinted, saying things such as fruit centrale and random years. Most of the walls are painted dull white, and there are a couple of holes in them from nails, for paintings he assumes. But one of them is a bare brick wall, and there is another which consists of multicoloured planks. The short part of the L, the bottom, has a sloping ceiling and a skylight. He figures that he can put his bed right opposite of it, enabling him to stare at something outside when he can't sleep.
Derek is certain that the apartment would have cost him another two or three zeros if it had been located in New York. It feels like it will work out, as soon as he's able to get settled in and get some furniture.
It takes him almost the entire summer to get things set up. He gets the bathroom touched up, buys a Camaro and orders new furniture online. He doesn't help the delivery men to get the boxes into his apartment, but waves them off when they offer to put it all together. He needs something to do when he isn't filling the shelves in the shop with his uncle's books. He puts some of them aside; the ones he recognises from childhood or a few that he would like to read. The rest of them go up on the shelves; they are just things he wants to get rid of.
Sleeping is hard. His new bed is comfortable, but unfamiliar, only allowing him two or three hours of sleep at night, most of them filled with familiar nightmares. They don't affect him as much as they used to, back when they weren't so familiar. Even though he still wakes up sweaty and sometimes screaming, they don't hold him hostage for hours afterwards anymore.
It's the beginning of August when he finally turns the sign on the door from CLOSED to OPEN.
A part of him had expected something to happen. As if there would be customers spilling through the door as soon as he sat down behind the counter. There is no one. It makes it easier to relax. He’s bad with people. It's not like he was ever particularly good at handling himself when people were being difficult, but since he’s come back from the war, he isn't very good at handling people at all. Ms. Morrell tells him that it's normal for his condition, but it makes him feel broken.
A couple of days after he first turned the sign, an older lady steps through the door and peers at him curiously. This is one of the reasons why Derek chose to leave this place to begin with – he isn't fond of all the curiosity among neighbours. The way they feel like they have the right to know everything. Back in New York, no one even looked at you twice.
She eyes him for a moment and Derek finds himself staring back. He should probably smile, but he doesn't.
“You're new,” she points out and cocks her head to the side, as if to evaluate him. Then her eyes grow bigger for a moment, as if in realisation. “No, you're an old one who has returned.”
Derek shifts in his chair. “Yes.”
“You're the Hale boy.”
“It's nice to have you back,” she says and smiles a bit, before she disappears out the door again, without even as much as looking at the books.
Derek finds himself frowning over her appearance for the rest of the day.
The shop is more frequently visited by customers after that. Not that that is saying much, because all in all, there are probably four of them a day. Derek assumes that the rumour about his return has spread. He spends his days reading, and decides to set up a bell at the door, connected to his apartment upstairs, to let him know when customers enter while he eats lunch.
Most of them exchange at least a few words, since that’s what you do around here, but some of them do stay for longer chats. Derek isn't very talkative, but he gets through it. It's less hard now than it was at the beginning.
Time goes slow, and he calls Laura once a week as promised. As he hits the middle of August, he realises that he has had the most uneventful summer in years. It's been good for him.
Derek looks up as the bell chimes over the door. He rolls his eyes when he notices a guy in big, square glasses, beanie and a plaid shirt walk through the door. With a dog. Derek doesn't know what it is with the people in this town and their dogs, but they bring them into the stores constantly. It happens at least twice a week.
“You're not allowed to bring the dog into the store,” he says and turns his eyes back to the book, laying open on the counter. Kafka. Derek isn't convinced about his writing talents just yet.
In his periphery, he sees the guy tense up for a moment. “Where am I?” he asks, sounding a little cautious.
Derek rolls his eyes, sighs through his nose and glances at the watch on his wrist. For Christ's sake, it's not even past three in the afternoon. On a Wednesday. It’s too early for anyone to be drunk. “In a bookstore,” he explains, and makes his voice the same as when he explained to Josh that he had done something wrong. When Josh was three.
“Oh.” The guy frowns and scratches his cheek for a moment. “I'll leave. I don't read books.”
Derek wants to glare, but he doesn't. Much. “Kids these days,” he mutters under his breath, and knows that he most likely sounds exactly like the lady who was in a couple of days ago and scolded him for having tattoos. This guy can't be more than five or six years younger than him, which means that he’s out of high school, and therefore doesn't qualify as a kid.
The guy tenses even further and Derek decides to look up at him. He seems pissed off. Derek assumes that he heard that comment, because if it's about the dog, he needs to realise that not everyone loves your pet as much as you do.
“I'm blind, you idiot,” the guy snaps and it's the last thing Derek expected.
For a long moment, he is sure that the guy is lying – he's wearing regular glasses – but then he notices the harness on the dog, which looks like a golden retriever, and across the chest it says: Service Animal and on the side: Please don’t pet me. I’m working. Derek feels incredibly stupid.
“But you wear glasses,” he points out, instead of saying anything that is remotely close to an apology.
The guy gets this look on his face, like he's talking to a lesser intelligent being. “People with perfect vision wear glasses, too. Welcome to the twenty-first century, dumbass.”
He is out the door before Derek can say anything else. By far, this is the most eventful day he’s had since he came here. He wonders if this could get filed under discrimination, since the guy apparently is blind. He didn't think blind people looked at you when they spoke, but perhaps that’s nothing but his prejudice speaking.
Sighing heavily to himself, he decides to forget all about it.
Two weeks later, to the day, the guy walks through the door once more. The dog is with him again, and Derek notices now, for the first time, that there is a small version of the Captain America shield on its harness.
He clears his throat awkwardly, trying to make sure that the guy knows that he's there. Eyes flicker in his direction instantly and Derek stands from his chair, pushing it away loudly. He realises that he's being ridiculous a second later, but it feels like he has to make a lot of noise.
“Hey,” the guy says after a moment, and Derek wonders if he should have said something first. Perhaps that would have been the polite thing to do. He shouldn't be this uncomfortable, since he’s been around men and women who have lost limbs, who have severe external and internal damage. Strangely enough, that felt nothing like this.
“Hi,” he replies, clearing his throat again, because his voice sounds rough.
The guy scratches his jaw and looks like he's contemplating something. “I just came to apologise,” he blurts at the same time as Derek says:
“I shouldn't have said what I did.”
The guy's mouth twitches. “I just came to apologise,” he says again, slower this time. His hand opens and closes on the handle to the dog's harness. “And for bringing the dog. Again. It’s kind of a package deal: where I go, he goes. Oh, well more like the other way around, actually. I guess I could've brought my cane instead, but it makes me feel blind.”
Derek blinks. He isn't sure if it's supposed to be a joke, but the guy smiles tentatively a moment later and Derek guesses that it was. It's kind of funny. He huffs.
“It's fine,” he says. “I didn't notice. The first time. That it's a guide dog.”
The guy is silent for a while and Derek takes to looking at the dog. Someone has penned a Captain above Service Animal on its harness. Derek huffs again.
Art by Maichan
“I'm sorry for lashing out at you,” the guy says. “I was confused. There used to be a music store here. I like music, and the guy who worked here before, I know him a bit. I've been away for a while, four months, so I didn't even know that the place was up for sale. I thought I'd drop by to hang out with my friend, his name's Isaac by the way, so I was just kinda thrown.”
Derek stares at the rapid movements of the guy's mouth while he's talking. His ears are already tired. This kid is worse than the middle-aged lady who constantly tries to get him to date her daughter.
“I bought it a few months ago.”
The guy shrugs. He's silent for a moment and Derek feels severely awkward.
“I'm Stiles, by the way.”
Something flitters over the guy's — Stiles' — face and he smiles a little bit. “So, the talk around town tells me you're from New York.”
Derek huffs. Of course people are talking about him. “Yes.”
“They also make it sound like you're a superhero.”
“I'm not. I'm a Marine. Was.”
Stiles cocks his head to the side and Derek feels like he's being stared at. “Too bad,” Stiles says finally. “I was hoping Steve could get a companion.”
At first, Derek doesn't get who Steve is, but then the guy motions towards the dog, who's still sitting calmly at his feet.
“Sorry to disappoint.”
Stiles gives him a wry smile. “It's okay. Steve has me. I have to get going, but it was nice to meet you.”
Before Derek has a chance to reply, Stiles pushes the door open and disappears down the street. Derek scrubs his hand against his thigh for a moment, not sure how to react. He pulls the chair back in its usual place and grabs his book, which is still lying open on the counter, and tries to find the paragraph where he left off. He still isn't sure if he likes Kafka.
It's a Monday when Stiles comes by again.
“Hi,” Derek says awkwardly, once again feeling as though he has to make himself known somehow. Stiles smiles.
“Hey, Derek. What's up?”
Derek looks around for a moment. At the empty shop. At the new book lying in front of him. He started this morning and he’s already halfway through. It's a short one. “Not much.”
Stiles takes a couple of steps towards him and there is an uncomfortable silence, before Derek remembers how to interact with people.
Stiles shrugs. “Nothing much. I'm supposed to hang out with my buddy, Scott, but he's running a bit late, so I figured I could hang out here for a while, if it's okay?”
“Uh. Yes, sure.”
Hanging out. Derek hasn't done that since college.
“Do you have a chair?”
Derek scrambles to stand up and puts the chair just beside the counter, next to where Stiles is standing. They’re almost the same height, Derek notices, when he's this close. He reaches out for a moment, almost out of reflex, to grab Stiles' arm and help him sit down, but he stops himself halfway there.
“Do you need help?” he asks instead.
“No, I'm fine. Thanks.” Stiles' hand finds the back of the chair without much trouble, but Derek still feels like he should reach out and do something. He doesn't. It's obvious that Stiles doesn't need his help anyway, because he sinks down in the chair without trouble and Steve sits down next to him.
“He's very well-behaved,” Derek comments. It's easier to talk about the dog.
“When he's working,” Stiles grins.
Derek looks down at the silky-looking fur and the big, kind eyes. Then he looks back at Stiles, who has his hands clasped between his thighs and legs stretched out in front of him.
“So what’re your and your friend’s plans?”
Stiles shrugs. “We'll see. Probably eat a lot of junk food–“ he pats his flat stomach at that, “–and maybe talk a bunch of crap about people we know. And people we don't know.”
“What do you do when you hang out with friends?”
Derek is silent for a long time, until Stiles starts fidgeting uncomfortably in his chair. “I don't really hang out,” Derek says finally. Truth is, he doesn't have that many friends. His closest ones are dead, or like him, too broken to function with other people properly. There is Laura, but she usually makes him cook for her and sits on his kitchen counter and complains about work a lot. Those days used to be Derek's favourites, but she's on the other side of the country now, so there are only phone calls.
“Right. I bet all your friends are still in New York.”
“Right,” Derek agrees quietly.
“You know,” Stiles begins and he's scratching his jaw again. “If you want to hang out sometime, you're more than welcome to tag along.”
“Thanks.” Derek folds the corner of a page to his book, but immediately smoothes it out again. He uses an old receipt to mark his page instead, and closes the book.
Stiles chews on his bottom lip and looks in Derek's direction. “Actually I don't know how old you are, so I'm sorry if we're like kids to you and you think we'd be boring and stupid.”
Derek shakes his head rapidly for a moment, before he remembers that Stiles can't actually see it. “I'm twenty-six. I don't think you're kids who would be boring and stupid.” His voice sounds stiff, but Stiles smiles all the same.
Derek allows himself to look at Stiles for a moment, at the brown of his eyes behind the lenses of his fake glasses, the splatter of moles across his face, and the tufts of dark-brown hair sticking up around his beanie. He has long limbs, wide shoulders and a slim waist. Today he's wearing a Superman t-shirt beneath a cardigan and the really slim kind of jeans that Derek can't wear because his thighs are too big. He gets irritated with himself for thinking that Stiles looks so well put-together for someone who can't actually see.
“So, you're the strong and silent kind, huh?” Stiles asks and it feels like he knows exactly what Derek has been thinking.
Derek shrugs, but then sighs frustratedly to himself. “I guess. My sister used to be the one talking.”
“Can I ask you something?” Stiles looks serious suddenly and Derek knows this is when the questions about his time serving will come. They always do.
“Would you mind if I came by to hang out sometimes? I don't really have a lot to do since I took a break from college, and not that many people seem to drop by here either.”
“I like it that way,” Derek says defensively and then he frowns down at the counter. “I mean, it's fine if you want to come by. I don't mind. Just don't feel like you have to.”
Stiles shrugs. “I don't. I just like talking to people who don't interrupt me much.” And then he winks. Winks. Derek didn't think anyone did that anymore. “Can I bring Steve?”
“Sure.” Steve is still sitting there, looking like he hasn't even moved a paw during the entire conversation.
“If it bothers you, I can leave him with my dad.”
“No, it's fine. You can bring him.”
Stiles nods to himself. A moment later, his phone rings and he has to lift his hips from the chair to be able to slide his fingers into his pocket and get it out.
“Hello?” Stiles greets, answering the phone, after thumbing the screen like he knows exactly what he's supposed to do. “Hey,” he says then, recognition in his voice. “Yeah, I'll be right there. See you in a bit.”
“That was Scott,” he tells Derek and stands up. Steve is instantly on his feet next to him. “He's done at work now. Thanks for entertaining me for a while. See you around, Derek!”
“See you,” Derek finds himself saying as Stiles reaches the door and disappears outside. He isn't sure how entertaining he was, but perhaps Stiles just wants someone to listen. Being used to listening to Laura, Derek doesn't mind.
The apartment feels silent and calm that night. A couple of ladies chatted his ears off the last hour or so, before he closed the shop for the day, making the silence up here feel like a blessing. He takes a shower, washing his hair thoroughly and quickly, before he takes a look at the sticky notes on his fridge – his version of a to-do list. There is nothing posted about today and he searches his memory for a moment, just to see if he can come to think of something he should take care of. Nothing comes to mind, and since it isn't on a sticky note on the fridge, it's nothing important.
He sinks down on his couch, sweats and worn-out t-shirt soft against his skin, and grabs the remote to put something brainless on. He likes music shows, such as American Idol, or The Voice. But he's wary of the movie channels, unless he knows what's on. Commercials are a pain, because they are unpredictable. Derek isn't as easily triggered anymore, but this is a new place for him, and he’s still a bit on edge because of everything unfamiliar.
After checking a few channels, he settles for reruns of Temptation Island. They yell a lot, but it's nothing like war. And there’s no immediate danger. The strangest part is seeing other people fuck on screen and not remembering what it's like. What it's like to feel like that.
It's almost two AM before he decides to try to get some sleep, and turns off the TV. The sheets are still crisp, even though he washed them a couple of days ago, and cool against his skin when he slides into bed naked. It took him a long time to feel comfortable not sleeping fully clothed. Now he almost has to. As if to make a point to himself that he's safe.
His meeting with Stiles has somehow set his head spinning. He suspects that Stiles hasn't always been blind, not with the superhero references on his clothes and on Steve's harness. Not with the way his eyes automatically turn in Derek's direction when they talk. He isn't sure. It's probably just his prejudice speaking again. Why wouldn't blind people know about superheroes? Derek doesn't want to ask Stiles about it, because he himself doesn't like to be asked.
It's almost five in the morning when he finally falls asleep. At least there are no nightmares tonight.
Derek is beginning to slowly settle into his routine. He gets up at seven AM and works out for an hour and a half – a run through the biggest park and then strength training – and then he showers and eats breakfast, before he goes down to open the shop at ten. Then he continues to read his book, or starts a new one if he finished the last. He either buys lunch in the café next door, or heads upstairs to his apartment. Wednesdays means calling Laura and on Fridays he allows himself a couple of beers. On Sundays the shop is closed and on Mondays he goes through the shelves to see if he should put up more books.
He doesn't sell a lot, which is fine. It was never his goal anyway. With the inheritance from his uncle, and the money left to him by his family and their life insurance, he doesn't have to work another day in his life and still live well. Money isn't an issue. It is, however, easier to have his life back in routine again. Back in New York he could sleep for as long as he wanted, which often completely messed up his his diurnal rhythm. Now, he has to wake up, even the days when he's barely slept more than a couple of hours. It's a pain trying to get himself out of bed those days. Even worse doing his workout routine, but it's easier to fall asleep at a decent hour the following night if he does. The only days he allows himself to sleep in are Sundays, since the shop is closed.
Stiles shows up sometimes and Derek gives him his chair, moving it to the same spot where he put it the first time. It's usually when Stiles is heading somewhere else, and sometimes he doesn't want to sit down, because he's only dropping by to say hi. Derek occasionally feels uncomfortable around him, feeling like Stiles has a different view on their relationship than Derek does. To Stiles, they seem to be friends. Derek isn't sure what to call it, even though it has become nice to listen to Stiles talk on and on about things Derek isn’t involved in. It’s become a welcome break during the week, when Stiles spends a few minutes with him.
This morning, however, Stiles walks through the door just moments after Derek turns the sign to OPEN and is just about to sit down in his chair.
“Hey, Derek,” Stiles greets a little hesitantly, as he steps through the door. Steve isn't with him today, which is confusing to Derek because, so far, Stiles hasn't dropped by without him once. There is a folded stick in Stiles' hand, however. It surprises him that it feels exactly like Stiles said that one time: his lack of vision is somehow more obvious now, with the stick in his hand, than with a guide dog by his side.
“Hi,” Derek replies and it looks like Stiles relaxes slightly. “You're here early.”
“Will it bother you?”
“No, of course not.” Derek pulls out the chair to its usual place and heads toward the back room. “Just going to get another chair. I'll be back in a second.”
“I don't really have to sit down, you know,” Stiles says when Derek gets back, another chair in his hand. “My legs still work, even though my eyes don't.”
Derek shrugs, then curses inwardly because he never seems to learn. “It would be rude to leave you standing,” he amends.
Stiles is silent for a long, long time after sitting down. For so long that Derek starts getting uncomfortable and worried.
“Why a bookshop?” Stiles asks finally.
“My uncle left me with an entire library of books I didn't want.”
“A reason as good as any, I guess.” But Stiles looks disappointed.
“I like reading. It's been...good for me.”
“I used to like reading, too,” Stiles shares unexpectedly. “I wasn't always blind, you know.”
“I know,” Derek says, before he can stop himself. “I figured.”
“Won't you ask me what it's like?” There's a harsh edge to Stiles' voice that makes Derek frown.
“Do you want to tell me?”
“No.” A muscle in Stiles' jaw jumps, as if he's biting the inside of his cheek.
“Then I won't ask.”
A look flickers across his face, one that Derek doesn’t recognise. Stiles falls back into silence, but it’s less uncomfortable than before.
“I hate when people see me as a good deed,” Stiles mutters after a few minutes have passed.
Derek doesn't know what to make of that. “What do you mean?”
Stiles looks less on edge now. Kind of weary, but not upset.
“I was getting my morning coffee and I didn't bring Steve, because he's with my dad today. My dad loves Steve, so sometimes I just let them hang out. It's like grandpa and grandson time for them. So this dude comes up to me, even though I can handle myself just fine, saying: 'I'll help you' and grabs my arm and pushes me down in a chair, saying that he's done his good deed for the day.”
Derek doesn't know what to say.
“I get that people get insecure, you know, because they don't know if they should offer help or not. I'm not a dickhead. If you ask politely I'll tell you that I'm fine, because if I need help I'm comfortable asking someone. But I guess it's okay, people want to be nice and maybe some don't feel comfortable asking for help, so there are people offering it instead. But I feel so degraded and like they expect me to be helpless when someone just grabs me and pushes me down in a chair, like there's no way I could do that on my own. How do they think I got there in the first place, you know?”
Derek doesn't know, but he has a feeling that it’s a bit like when people find out that he’s a veteran, and immediately thank him for his service, reminding him of things he’s trying to forget. As if their gratitude would make anything better. Regardless, it isn't hard to see Stiles' frustration.
“I'm sorry you had to start your day like that.” It feels inadequate, but he has no idea what to say to make things better.
“I just left.” Stiles shrugs like it's no big deal, but his face says something different.
“It was very disrespectful of him.”
“Yeah, it goddamn was.”
They are silent for a long time. Derek doesn't know what to say, but Stiles looks like he's far away in thought anyway.
“Do you want a coffee?” he asks, when Stiles has been silent for almost twenty minutes. It takes him a second to remember that it might be a touchy subject, but Stiles looks up and smiles.
“Yeah, that'd be awesome.”
“I'll be back in a sec. They have good coffee next door.”
“You know, I'm perfectly capable of tagging along.”
Derek scrutinizes Stiles for a moment, trying to read if he's offended, but it doesn't look like it.
“Sure. If you want.”
Stiles gets up from the chair and stretches a little, like his back is stiff. Then he motions for Derek to come closer, which is a bit confusing.
“Come on. I'm just gonna grab your arm.”
Oh. Derek has seen that on the street sometimes.
“Is there something I should do?” he asks, when Stiles' fingers curl around his upper arm and dig into the sleeve of his t-shirt.
“No. You're going to walk like a step in front of me, and I'll feel when you're walking on stairs or, you know, if there's a curb or something.”
Derek feels bad for asking so soon after the shitty start of the day Stiles has just had, but Stiles doesn't look like it bothers him. Perhaps it's not something he expects people to know. Derek just has to be respectful about it.
It takes less than a minute to get inside the coffee shop next door, and people are staring at them. Derek's skin crawls and he resists the urge to pull his arm from Stiles' grip. It's obvious that they all know exactly who Stiles is. The girl at the register looks up, smiles at them briefly, and then returns to taking the order of the customer in front of her.
“What's good?” Stiles asks and Derek almost jerks away again, because Stiles’ mouth is almost brushing his ear.
“I usually just get black coffee.” He sees Stiles' smirk out of the corner of his eye.
“For some reason I'm not surprised. I'll just have a hazelnut latte, please, Gretchen.” Stiles directs his last sentence to the girl behind the register, now customer-free, who just smiles wide.
Derek shouldn't be surprised, but he is. Stiles must have recognised her voice when she was talking to the customer before them.
“Black coffee for you, Derek?” The girl, Gretchen apparently, asks and turns to him.
Derek pays for the coffee, even though Stiles starts to protest.
“I asked you if you wanted coffee, remember?” he points out, when Stiles gets that edge in his eyes. He's suddenly worried that he's coming off as trying to make Stiles his good deed as well.
“Fine,” Stiles grumbles, but he looks warmer now. “Next time it's my turn, got it?”
“Got it,” Derek sighs.
Once back in the shop, Derek sits down behind the counter and Stiles on his usual chair. The silence is less tense now.
“Do I make you uncomfortable?” Stiles asks suddenly and then quickly returns to sipping his coffee in a way that makes Derek suspect that he's trying to either come off like it's not something he cares a lot about, or perhaps he's just in need of a distraction.
Derek's mind reels, his body growing tense. “What do you mean?” he manages, finally, his voice stiff like a board.
Stiles points at his eyes. “The no-vision thing. The lack of sight. The blindness.”
“No.” Clearing his throat, Derek tries to pretend that he's talking to someone as familiar as Laura. “All your talking, though.”
Stiles chokes on his coffee, but he's grinning against the mug. “Asshole.”
Derek smiles to himself.
“Seriously, though?” Stiles insists.
“No,” Derek says again, feeling more secure with his answer now. However, he gets a skeptical look in reply.
“I don't know how to behave most of the time,” he confesses after a moment. “It's because it isn't familiar. It's like that with most new people. For me.”
Stiles leans back in his chair and chews on the plastic lid to his mug absentmindedly. “Thanks for being honest.”
“It doesn't mean that I don't want to be,” Derek continues quickly when Stiles frowns. “That I don't want to be more comfortable. I just...people.”
Stiles grins against his mug again. Derek feels like he's being the joke of something that he doesn't know about.
“Not that good with words?”
“It's either this or rudeness.” It isn't that Derek is incapable of stringing words together into sentences. It's that he isn't very good at doing it without saying something he doesn't necessarily mean. He used to better at this, but he's out of practice. It's harder to read people now than it was before.
“I think I'd like a bit of rudeness.” Stiles winks at him.
Derek is confused.
“You don't have to feel awkward because you don't know,” Stiles tells him one day. He's fiddling with a Rubik's Cube, and has been for the past hour. The fields are all white, but there are symbols on them; dots in different formations. Derek assumes it's braille. It's kind of ingenious.
“I don't want to offend you.”
“It's not offensive not to know. It's offensive thinking that you know and do stupid stuff and then defend your actions with stupid arguments when someone calls you out on it, instead of just admitting that you didn't know and apologise.” Stiles licks his lips and his fingers trail over the squares of the cube, like he's trying to get the full picture.
Derek doesn't know how to reply.
“I'm not a dick. I know you're not trying to make me feel–you know.” Stiles shrugs.
Derek doesn't know.
“People can get hurt even if they know you don't mean it.” He thinks about his nephew for a second. He knows that Derek was in a bad place at the time, that Derek didn't realise it was him. He knows that Derek's brain told him he was in danger by reflex, because he'd been at war for too long to remember what it's like to not be in danger. It doesn't change the fact that the relationship between them hasn't been, and perhaps never will be, the same since.
“What are you worried about?” Stiles puts the cube down on his lap and he looks over at Derek expectantly.
“Nothing,” Derek replies automatically.
Stiles rolls his eyes.
Giving in, Derek mutters: “I don't want to be like the guy in the coffee shop.”
“Derek, let me tell you a thing.”
He knows instantly that this isn't going to end well.
“You're nothing like the guy in the coffee shop. You're the guy who tells a blind guy that he isn't allowed to bring his guide dog into the shop.”
Derek groans. Stiles looks like he's having a great time.
“You wear glasses!”
“I heard that it's a cool hipster thing.”
“Well, you heard wrong.”
Stiles snorts. “You wanna know something else I've heard from very reliable sources?”
“When you put it like that – probably not.”
“I've heard you're quite the hottie,” Stiles says, ignoring his input. “A tattooed hottie.”
Instinctively, Derek touches the tattoo of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor on his arm, just barely visible under the sleeve of his t-shirt. He rubs a hand over his eyes, hoping that a good answer will have turned up once his vision is clear again. But nothing.
“I'm curious about your reliable sources.”
“It would be unethical of me to expose them.”
Derek strongly suspects that it's one, or a few, of those older ladies who sometimes come by just to pinch his cheeks. He had no idea people did that anymore.
“This is where you tell me if they're right, or if I should sue them for lying.”
“I'm not the right person to make that call.”
“Utterly disappointing.” Stiles sighs, tossing the cube aside after a while and looks in Derek's direction. Almost like he's waiting for something.
“Do you, like, order in books, too?”
“Not so far. Why?”
“No reason.” Stiles shrugs, but then he seems to change his mind. “Actually, yes reason. I was wondering if you could look up braille books or something. Maybe there are more available for you, because you have a store.”
“I could check. Are they hard to get a hold of?”
Stiles shrugs again. “It's more like the same situation people have when they wanna go to the movies and they live in a really small town. You know, where they only have one auditorium and it's not even in a real theatre, but in like a church's cellar or something. And they only show movies on Sundays and you have to wait like two years for them to get to your city, when everyone else has already seen it, and for some reason illegal downloading isn't possible. If you have really bad luck, someone's gonna say that it's for devil worshippers and you won't get to see it at all.”
Derek huffs out a laugh. “You could have just said: Yes, Derek, there aren't many to choose from.”
“I like creating a picture.”
“Clearly.” He closes his book and places it on the counter. “What about audio books? They're popular.”
“It's too weird. I mean, there's the same voice for every character. First there's this girl saying stuff like: 'Oh my god, Christian. You're so beautiful.' And then there's the same voice saying: 'I'm going to spank you now, Ana.' It's just weird.”
Derek feels like he's choking.
“I just miss it. Reading. I miss reading.” Stiles' face is turned in the other direction now. Away from Derek. Derek, who has never contemplated that reading isn't a given for everyone in this country. Up until now, he has assumed that some people love to read and those who don't like it deserve longer jail sentences if they ever commit a crime.
“I'll do what I can,” he promises and Stiles nods absently. Derek suspects that he's far away in thought again.
“Thank you,” Stiles says after a long while.
Derek calls Laura that night. She sounds stressed, which means that he's going to try to cut the conversation short. This way, she won't have to feel bad for having other things to deal with.
“Made any new friends yet?” she asks and Derek can hear clatter of porcelain and pots over the phone. “One more, Josh,” she adds sternly. Derek assumes that his nephew once again has tried to escape eating the boiled potatoes.
“Derek?” she asks, when he hasn't replied.
“Sort of.” He isn't sure if he can count Stiles as a friend, but he's an acquaintance and Derek assumes that she wants to hear about those as well. “A few people drop by the shop regularly.”
“Great!” The other end is suddenly much more quiet. Perhaps she walked into another room. “Anyone you spend more time with in particular?”
Derek feels himself growing a bit defensive. He knows that she's trying her best to be interested in his life and supporting of him, so she wants him to tell her everything that's going on in his life. It feels like she's snooping, but perhaps she's just worried that they will drift apart.
“There's this guy who drops by a couple of times a week and hangs out for a while.”
“Tell me more about him,” Laura prompts immediately.
Derek thinks for a while, trying to collect the knowledge he has of Stiles. “He's younger than me. A bit. I'm not sure exactly how old he is.” Which is something that he hasn't even realised before. “He talks a lot. I guess he's nice to have around.”
“You should have a TV show marathon with him, then.”
“That probably won't happen.”
“Derek,” she scolds. “You have to try and make some friends. You need friends, no matter what you think.”
“He's blind. I don't think he watches TV shows.”
Laura grows dead silent on the other end and Derek can't help but smirk. It's not often she's at a loss for words.
“Oh,” she says eventually. Then the tone of business in her voice is back again. “Well, invite him over for dinner then. I assume that he eats.”
“Of course he eats,” Derek mutters.
“So cook him something nice. He deserves a three-course meal if he can stand being around you that often.”
Derek rolls his eyes. “Tell Josh I said hi.” And then he hangs up.
A couple of days later, Stiles sits on his usual chair and thumbs on his phone. He has earphones in and Derek has just come to the conclusion that Stiles is listening to music, when he lifts his phone towards Derek.
“What are you doing?” Derek asks and steps around the counter to look.
“Instagramming your face,” Stiles replies and thumbs on the screen before he says: “This is Derek. Period. If I managed to catch him on a photo. Period. He lets me hang out at his shop while he's not working. Period.”
Derek stares. He looks over Stiles' shoulder and sure, there are the words Stiles just said.
“Why are you wearing headphones?” he asks, when Stiles has uploaded the photo and locks the phone.
“I thought Siri reading my messages and comments on Instagram would be annoying for you.”
Derek is just about to say that he has no idea what Instagram is, when the phone says: “9:42 One new notification.” Stiles thumbs at the screen. “Instagram,” the phone says then.
“What? You didn't think blind people use Instagram?” Stiles asks and thumbs the comment on the screen. The phone speaks up again: “LydiaM: What a hottie. Should we be worried for your safety?”
It sounds ridiculous with the unnatural voice and the emphasis coming out wrong sometimes, but Derek can hear the comment perfectly.
“Cool, huh?” Stiles asks and locks the phone again.
“Yes,” Derek agrees, wholeheartedly. Cool doesn't exactly cover it.
“You want me to delete the photo?” Stiles asks and he suddenly looks a little cautious.
“No. It's fine. I think my sister would have a good laugh if she saw it. I bet I looked ridiculous.”
Stiles grins. “I didn't know you have a sister.”
“I do. Used to have two.”
Stiles' face falls. “I'm sorry.”
“You have nothing to apologise for.” It's Derek standard reply to comments like that. It's not that he doesn't think they mean it when they say it. It's more the fact that their apologies don't change anything.
“So your sister, is she still in New York?” Stiles looks a bit awkward, and perhaps he's feeling exactly like Derek does when he thinks he's offended Stiles.
“Yes, with her family.”
“You miss her?”
Derek shakes his head. “No, we talk once a week. I think she's more worried about me than I am about her, to be honest.”
This seems to spark Stiles' curiosity. “Why's that? You're a grown up.”
Derek frowns to himself, thinking about the times Laura has found him locked in his closet or huddled in a corner somewhere. It's been a long time since those days, but she is always worried that his situation will get worse again.
“I think she's just worried because I'm on the other side of the country now, and she wants me to make friends.” Derek rolls his eyes, and judging from the way Stiles smiles a little, the tone in his voice betrays his feelings about that more than a bit.
“I'm an awesome friend.”
“She thinks I should invite you over for TV show marathons.” It's meant as another example of Laura's ridiculous ideas, but Stiles lights up.
Derek frowns for a moment, unable to reply.
“I don't know. What shows do you watch?” he asks finally.
Stiles shrugs. “I'm not picky. It's not a show, but I'd like to watch the first Hunger Games movie. Scott tells me it's awesome.”
Derek doesn't know much about The Hunger Games, but he's seen the trailer and it doesn't look like a movie he should be watching. But Stiles looks so hopeful. “Okay. We could watch that.”
“Awesome.” Stiles gives him a huge smile, and Derek wonders for a moment how all of his teeth are so even. Perhaps he's had braces when he was younger.
“Do you want to eat something, too?” he asks carefully, suddenly remembering Laura saying that Stiles has earned himself a three-course meal. Derek won't make anything that extravagant.
“Sure.” Stiles nods eagerly. “Are we doing this at your place?”
“If you want.” It feels odd picturing Stiles in his apartment.
“Cool. Where do you live?”
Derek blinks for a moment. “Here, actually. Well, upstairs.” There's a strange tug of satisfaction in watching Stiles' eyes widen at his words.
“That's awesome. How do I get there?”
“You have to come in through the shop.” Looking around, Derek hopes to gain inspiration. “There's a door behind the counter with a staircase. To upstairs.” He rubs his face, trying to get his idiocy to disappear.
“There's a door with a staircase?” Stiles winks at him.
“You know what I mean.” Derek sighs through his nose.
“So, when are we doing this?”
“When do you have time?”
Stiles chews his bottom lip for a moment, as though he's trying to remember his schedule. “Friday? I have to meet up with my dad first, but I'll come by after that.”
“Drop by whenever you're free.”
On Thursday, Derek cleans his apartment to make sure everything is in order. He's not a particularly messy person to being with, considering all his years in the military and not having that many belongings. He knows that Stiles can't technically see if his place is a complete mess or not, but it seems rude to invite someone over without cleaning properly first. It's annoying, because his usual cleaning day is Saturday.
Stiles texted him this morning to tell him that he's bringing the movie, something Derek had completely forgotten about up until then. He looks down at his list, scribbled on the back of an envelope, of things he has to get and things he has to do before tomorrow. He hasn't watched a movie with a friend in so long that he's worried that he's forgotten how it's done.
The place looks okay and he has prepared the meal for tomorrow. Scanning the apartment for a moment, he tries to think of things that could be a problem for Stiles. He ends up moving a lone plant from just beside the door to a corner.
< Are you bringing Steve? He texts Stiles, realising that he doesn't have dog food. Is he supposed to have dog food?
It takes almost forty minutes before he gets a reply. He has been watching the clock the entire time, worried that he won't get an answer before the store is closed for the night.
> If it's okay.
< Yes. Do I need to get anything?
> No I'll bring everything he needs as long as I can borrow a couple of bowls from you
Some tension bleeds from his body. He texts Laura, asking for advice. She calls him less than a minute later.
“Advice for what?” she asks, skipping over the greetings completely.
“Have I forgotten anything?” He looks down at his list on the counter again.
She hums thoughtfully and then starts asking him questions, like she has a list, too. “Do you have food?”
“No, but Stiles is bringing it.”
“His name is Stiles?”
Derek hasn't thought of it as a strange name until now. “Could be a nickname.”
“Better be. Something to drink? With and without alcohol?”
“Yes, and yes.”
Derek blanches. “What?”
“Isn't it a date?”
“No.” He frowns. “We're barely friends.”
“Barely friends with benefits?”
Derek doesn't remember what attraction on any kind of level feels like. He doesn't mind having Stiles around. It's generally a nice break from his book and the calm of his shop, but Stiles has a habit of stirring up his thoughts in a way that makes it difficult for him to sleep at night afterwards. It feels like Stiles’ talking is still buzzing in his ears when he goes to bed.
“What are you planning on doing?”
“He wants to see The Hunger Games.”
“I thought you said that he was blind.”
“He can still like movies. He wasn't always blind.”
Laura is silent again for a long time. She sounds more serious than she has since the beginning of their conversation, when she says: “Are you sure that is a good movie for you to watch?”
“I don't know yet. I can't shelter myself forever.”
“Call me when he leaves tomorrow, okay? I don't care what time it is. I need to know you're okay.”
“Fine.” Derek knows that he sounds like it's a pain, but he's secretly relieved. Quite honestly, he isn't sure how he's going to react and it worries him.
He fidgets in bed that night. It's almost 3 AM and he's been watching reruns of Temptation Island, again. He wonders what time Stiles is planning on dropping by, if he expects dinner to be ready when he does, or if he wants to help with the cooking. Derek isn't sure if Stiles drinks alcohol, if he's even allowed to. Laura's assumption that it's a date makes him worry as well. There's a small, nagging voice in the back of his head, suggesting that perhaps Stiles thinks so too. Derek doesn't like to worry. His mother always said that he was constantly thinking too much about things, and she was right, but at the time it was more about girls and dates, than holding his life together. Perhaps she would be disappointed in him, if she had known what a wreck he turned out to be.
It's after five when he finally falls asleep.
Derek is tired and just wants to leave the shop closed for the day and go back to bed, when his alarm awakes him a couple of hours later. He shouldn't, because he needs to keep his diurnal rhythm, and sleeping however long he wants is only for Sundays.
Being tired also makes him more anxious, and along with barely knowing anything of the plans for today, or how Stiles sees things, his brain ticks rapidly. His morning workout makes things better, cleanses his head for a while, but close to noon things are worse again.
He refrains from texting Stiles, realising there's no real reason to. How Laura managed to talk him into watching a movie and eating dinner with someone he doesn't know, he has no idea. The more he thinks about it, the more uncomfortable he grows. They're not really friends, him and Stiles. He has no idea how old Stiles is, or what he does with the rest of his life when he isn't spending time with Derek.
Realising this makes him antsy, and his thoughts start ticking again.
It's almost closing time when Stiles walks through the door and Derek is so tired that he's sure that he could sleep for an entire day. Stiles, on the other hand, is smiling and he has buttoned his plaid shirt today. Steve is by his side and Derek has missed having him around a bit. Stiles usually takes his cane these days, for some reason.
“Hi,” Derek greets and watches Stiles' smile grow wider.
“Hey, Derek. What's up?”
“Just about to close the shop. I need a serious dose of caffeine. You?” His tone might be a bit clipped, but he's too tired to do anything about it.
“I'm good.” Stiles shrugs, but he looks less excited now. Derek notices the movie in his hand, when he walks past to lock the door and pull the window blind down. It's useless really, since he has a display window which anyone is perfectly capable of looking through, but it's routine.
Stiles seems to hesitate. “I could eat.”
He's very quiet even as they step through the door to Derek's apartment, and Derek isn't sure why things suddenly seem so stiff between them.
“So,” he says and blanks out for a moment. “I don't know– Should I do something?”
“With what?” There's a defensive tone to Stiles' voice now.
Derek looks around the apartment, briefly noticing that he hasn't made the bed properly when he left this morning. The covers aren't tucked beneath the mattress well. “Show you around.”
Stiles seems to hesitate for a moment, then the corners around his eyes soften somewhat. “Okay, yeah. I'm just gonna free Steve from his duties. He might get a bit jumpy, since he hasn't officially met you before.”
Derek is okay with that.
He watches as Stiles crouches in front of Steve, who's sitting obediently on the floor, and starts unbuckling his harness. Steve's tail starts thumping the floor more eagerly for every buckle that gets undone and Derek finds himself smiling.
When Stiles gets up, Steve stays sitting on the floor obediently, but he watches Derek with interest now, alternating with glancing up at Stiles, like he's waiting for something.
“Where should I put this?” Stiles asks, holding out the harness.
“Is the coat rack fine?” Derek asks. “It's just by the door.”
“That works great.”
“You want me to?”
Stiles hesitates again. “Sure.”
When Derek is back in front of them, silently wondering if things will be this awkward for the rest of the night, Stiles turns towards him. “Ready to get smothered in love?”
It takes Derek a moment to realise that Stiles is talking about Steve. He huffs. “I think so.”
Stiles does something with his hand, and in an instant, Steve is whining at his feet, rubbing his head against Derek's thigh.
“He doesn't get to do this when he's working, you know, so he's taking it all out when he's allowed.”
Derek crouches down and instantly gets a wet nose bumping his face. It surprises him a little, pleasantly so, that Steve doesn't try to lick him, but he keeps putting his nose against Derek's cheeks. His fur is soft under Derek's hands as he gently strokes Steve's head and flanks.
“He's a great dog,” he says softly.
It's a surprise when he feels Stiles' tentative fingers brush his shoulders and then curl more firmly around the muscle there. Derek wonders for a moment if he did something wrong for not showing Stiles where he is, but it doesn't seem like a problem.
Steve gets tired of him after a while, and trots over to the couch. He sighs heavily as he lies down.
“He's such a drama queen,” Stiles snorts.
“He takes after his owner.”
Stiles glares, causing Derek to smile. “Shut up.” There’s a beat of silence, and then: “Still wanna give me that tour?”
“Am I supposed to do it in a certain way?” He stands up and Stiles' hand slides down to hold his arm, like when they go to the coffee shop.
“It's not that important since I'm not living here, but it would be nice if you could show me the bathroom. I probably won't find it myself after we've been moving around here in a bit, but it would be good to be able to find my way around in there.”
Derek always feels like he has to walk slowly when he's walking with Stiles. Something he has been told to stop with repeatedly – since Stiles isn't a senior citizen.
He shows Stiles the bathroom. It's rather small, so it isn't very difficult for Stiles to find his way around it. The toilet is almost right inside the door, and the sink is next to it. Stiles hums appreciatively as he touches the cold porcelain, and nods to himself, as though he's pleased by this.
“Did something happen today?” Stiles asks as Derek shows him around the living room area, and at the same time contemplating if it's inappropriate to show Stiles his bedroom. Perhaps it would be rude not to.
“You seemed really off when I got here.” Stiles motions in front of his face with his hand, mimicking something shutting down. Derek guesses that he must have caught the tone of his voice.
“I'm just a bit tired. Coffee will help with that.”
“Didn't you sleep well?”
Hesitating for a moment, Derek looks at Steve who's dozing off by the couch. “No, I couldn't fall asleep.”
Stiles nods knowingly. “I get like that sometimes, too. If you want to postpone, that's fine.”
“It's no problem. I'll just have coffee,” Derek repeats.
Stiles squeezes slightly around his upper arm, but Derek doesn't know if it's consciously or just a reflex.
“Derek, I don't want to intrude.”
“You're not intruding. I invited you.”
“Technically, your sister told you to,” Stiles points out.
“She's on the other side of the country – she can't force me to do anything.” In general, it's a lie, but not in this case.
Stiles looks like he's about to say something more, but then decides against it. “Okay, so show me the rest of you place.”
“This is it.”
“You don't have a bed?” Stiles quirks an eyebrow. Derek thinks he's mistaken when he finds it a bit suggestive.
“I do. I didn't know if you would think it's inappropriate.”
“I'm inappropriate,” Stiles says, as though that changes everything. He smiles. Wide. Derek resists the urge to duck his head, even though Stiles wouldn't know.
“For some reason I'm not surprised,” he says instead.
He halts in front of the bed, and it feels odd when Stiles reaches out to touch the covers. His fingertips dig into the fabric.
“It's nice,” Stiles says after a while, touching the lamp on Derek's bedside table. His fingers slide across the cover of a book lying there. Derek expects it to feel intrusive, but finds that it doesn't.
“How can you tell?” Derek asks and gets a smile in reply.
“Well, I can't judge your sense of colour matching, obviously, but it's nice for me. It's easy to get around. You're a neat freak, which I've suspected for a while, but this kind of proves my suspicions. I don't have to worry about stepping on some kid's legos spread over the floor or a bunch of stuff that wasn't there yesterday.”
“Uh. Thanks.” Derek isn't sure if it's meant as a compliment entirely, but since Stiles did say that his apartment is nice it would be rude not to say thank you.
“You're really not a talker, are you?” Stiles' smile is a bit secretive this time. “I thought you'd warm up eventually, but you're still like one of those vending machines that you have to shake violently or hump like a rabbit, to get something out of them.”
“You hump vending machines,” Derek states flatly.
“Ah. Used to.” Stiles is still smiling, as though this is nothing strange at all.
“There's not much to say.” Derek shrugs. “I don’t have a whole lot to tell.”
“Do I make you uncomfortable?” Stiles asks suddenly. “Other than the no-vision thing. Like, does Stiles in general make you uncomfortable?
Yes, Derek wants to say. It's partially true. Stiles does make him uncomfortable in a sense. It could be because Stiles is the first person he has spent time with in a long time, except for his sister and her family. It takes some time getting used to.
Stiles looks worried about his silence, so Derek forces himself to speak.
“It's not you. I'm like this a lot. With most people.”
“I see. You know that you can always ask me to leave and if you think I'm annoying when I come by when you work, you can do the same, okay? I won't take offence. Well, maybe a little, but that's fine. It's just my pride you'd be hurting.”
“I feel so much more comfortable asking you to leave after such a convincing speech.”
Stiles cracks a smile. “You don't have to hang out with me, or put up with me, just because I can't see. It's not that I lack in the friends department. I just felt like maybe you need someone to hang out with, too.”
Derek wants to say no. He doesn't like when someone points out potential weak points in his persona. Laura would agree with Stiles, however. It has been nice having him around.
“I don't mind. It isn't as if I have a lot to do at work anyway.”
Stiles reaches out to grab onto his arm again. Derek looks over at Steve briefly, but he's still lying by the couch, now watching them with interest. Derek wonders what he's thinking.
“Do you want me to set the table while you cook?” Stiles asks.
“Sure. If you want to.”
Stiles shrugs. “Yeah, I'd get bored waiting.”
Derek makes himself a cup of extra strong coffee as he starts on the food, needing to boost his energy. He doesn't have a particular interest when it comes to cooking, but he's all right and it's not like he can skip eating. Usually, he goes for something that mostly cooks itself, or gets take out, but he thinks that tacos are easier when you don't know your guest all that well.
Stiles sets the table, asking where things are when he needs to. Derek doesn't interfere more than by answering them. Sometimes the porcelain clinks, as if the glasses accidentally bumps against the plates, but Derek does that himself regularly.
“What are we having?” Stiles asks. When Derek looks up, he's still standing at the table and he's holding up his phone. It’s talking again, and Derek suspects that he's posting something to Instagram.
“Tacos. I hope that's okay.”
“I love tacos.” Then he thumbs the screen and the phone's angular voice says something that Derek doesn't quite catch, because his own buzzing with a text. Just as he types in the pin code, using his pinky since the rest of his fingers are greasy, he hears Stiles say:
“Eating tacos with Derek and I set the table. Period. How skilled am I? Question mark.”
Derek glances over at the table. It looks perfect. Stiles has even folded the napkins he found in a drawer into some kind of flower, and Derek doesn't think he would be able to do that even though he can see.
His text is from Laura.
> How's it going? Is he cute? Show me a picture!
Derek groans and locks the phone again, putting it back in his pocket.
“What?” Stiles prompts.
“My sister texted me.”
“Is it bad?”
“It is this time.”
Stiles snorts. “Tell me what she said.”
“No,” Derek refuses. There's no way that he's reading that text out loud.
“Oh, come on, Derek! It isn't fair. I can't steal your phone and look for myself when you're in the bathroom.”
Derek hesitates for a moment. It feels like he's being mean if he doesn't tell Stiles what it says, since he can't look for himself. On the other hand, Derek's texts are his.
“She's just asking how things are going,” he amends at last.
“Tell her that you're starving me to death.”
Rolling his eyes, Derek returns to the stove. “You could've eaten before you came here.”
“You promised me food, dude. I love food. I had to make sure there's enough room for it.” Stiles pats his stomach.
Stiles tssks. “I'm awesome.”
“What do you want to drink?” Derek asks, deciding to change the subject.
“What are you offering?”
Opening the fridge, Derek scans the shelves. He went grocery shopping just yesterday, but he's not sure what he thought about buying and what he actually bought. “Beer. Soda. Water.”
“Beer,” Stiles states firmly, but then he taps his fingers against the table. “I mean, unless you're not having beer.”
“I can have a beer.” Derek shrugs. It's Friday after all. “Are you old enough to drink? I don't want the police banging on my door because I have corrupted kids into underage drinking.”
Stiles rolls his eyes heavily. “Yeah, I turned twenty-one in January. And my dad's the Sheriff, so I think you'd be okay otherwise, too.”
“If your dad's the Sheriff, I have a feeling that things would be worse than if he hadn't been.”
“You're underestimating how much my dad loves me, man.”
He puts a beer in Stiles' hand instead of answering and places the food on the table.
“Are we going to do this twenty questions thing now or later?” Stiles asks as he slides down onto a chair.
“I didn't know we were doing that at all.”
“Dude. We know way too little about each other for two people who have been hanging out this much. You didn't even know how old I am. We have to fix this.”
Derek hesitates. Having people prying into his life is the last thing he wants, but he figures that Stiles is right in a way.
“You're free to pass any questions,” Stiles clarifies.
“I won't be able to come up with anything.”
“Okay.” Stiles drums his fingers against the table for a moment, before he lights up. “What about this then: I ask you questions, and then I have to answer the same question for myself.”
Derek hesitates. It's a good deal. That way Stiles won't ask too personal questions and Derek won't have to put up with the pressure of coming up with good ones. “Okay, fine.”
It's interesting watching Stiles put food on his plate. For a second, he has a minor internal freak out, wondering what he was thinking when he decided to serve a blind person tacos. They’re messy and he hasn’t thought of that at all. The panic fades rather quickly, however, when he sees how efficiently Stiles is able to eat. A person who doesn't know that he can't see would likely not notice anything, but Derek watches in fascination how Stiles uses his fingers to make sure that nothing is placed outside the tortilla, or how he hooks his finger inside his glass to make sure that he isn't filling it up too much.
“Are you completely blind?” Derek finds himself asking.
Stiles pauses for a moment and Derek is instantly worried that he stepped over a line. Stiles was supposed to be the one asking the questions.
“I'm legally blind, but not a hundred percent. I can see shadows and sometimes shapes on a good day. Light messes up everything for me. Evenings work the best, because sunlight's a pain in the ass, to be honest. It would be better if I was completely blind, because this is mostly just distracting.”
“Oh.” Derek doesn't know how to reply to that.
“Are you from New York?” Stiles asks. He wipes his hands often, Derek notices. Perhaps he's trying to make sure that the juices from the minced meat isn't running down his hands. Derek usually doesn't notice that until it's already running down his forearms and dripping all over his clothes.
“No. I grew up here. I moved away for college.”
“What did you study?”
Stiles makes a sound of surprise at that.
“That was the plan, anyway. I enlisted in the Marines instead,” Derek clarifies. Sometimes it still irks him that he never finished, but at the same time, there was never any doubt of what he was supposed to do with his life after the fire.
“You didn't get a degree?” There is no judgement in Stiles' voice. Only curiosity.
“No.” Derek folds his tortilla slowly. “I only completed one year. After that, I signed up.”
Taking another bite, Stiles is silent for a while. “When did you come back?”
“Eighteen months ago.” It starts feeling more like an interrogation, so Derek clears his throat and says: “I thought you were going to answer your own questions as well.”
Stiles makes a face. “I'm not from New York either–“
With a sigh, Derek wipes his fingers on the napkin.
“–and I went to Stanford. Still going, sort of. I just took a year off,” Stiles continues, with a small grin that makes Derek sure that he fully intended to cause the momentary frustration.
Derek knows about Stanford. It's a prestigious college and Stiles must have had great grades to be able to go there. It isn't a surprise, when he thinks about it, because there has never been any doubt that Stiles is smart. However, Derek hasn't paid much thought to the subject before.
“What do you study?” he asks then, realising that he's been silent for too long.
“I'm majoring in music, science and technology. Yeah, I know it's a bit–“ Stiles motions with his hand in a way that doesn't make Derek understand entirely what he means. “–but, as I said, I took a year off.”
Derek is just about to ask why, when Stiles continues:
“Is it cool if I ask you about your years in the service?”
Frowning, Derek puts his food down on the plate before he's taken another bite. “I'd rather not talk about it.”
“Okay, that's fine. We don't really know each other that well anyway.” It's said with a smile, which is a relief, since Stiles doesn't seem disappointed. “Okay, so I've been hanging out with you a lot, but I haven't really come across a significant other. Are you dating someone?”
The question comes as a bit of a surprise. “No.”
“Me neither. No one wants to date the blind guy.” Stiles says it as joke, but Derek strongly suspects that he doesn't find it all that funny in reality.
“You've never dated?” he asks carefully.
Stiles shrugs at that, looking oddly embarrassed. “I was weird first year of high school, and then–“ he points at his eyes, indicating the loss of his sight. “I've always been kinda odd. Odd looking, too. Too skinny and gangly and severely lacking brain-to-mouth filter. I had this huge crush on a girl for such a long time, but she was dating this douche bag and she still is, by the way. And then, my first year of high school, I realised that I'm more gay than anything.”
An expression Derek can't quite place spreads across Stiles' face, almost like he remembers something nice.
“I saw this dude, he was much older, but he was gorgeous. He threw a ball in my face the summer before I started high school, and I was thrilled, because I thought that meant that he'd noticed me, since he apologised and everything.” Stiles laughs and shrugs a little. “I'm pretty sure that he didn't even know my name, or even remember my face two seconds later. Back then, I was too much of a coward to ask anyone out and when I went to college, I kind of assumed that people would just say yes because they feel bad for me.” Scratching his cheek, he smiles apologetically. “Wow, end of monologue. Sorry.”
“I don't mind,” Derek says honestly.
“No.” He isn't exactly sure if Stiles is referring to his lack of experience or his talking. Either way, he doesn't agree.
Stiles snorts. “How many twenty-one year olds do you know who haven't kissed anyone?”
“All of them.”
There's a strange satisfaction in watching Stiles' eyes grow wide.
“You're the only twenty-one year old I know,” he explains after a moment, and there's a second of worry before Stiles starts laughing.
“When was the last time you kissed anyone?” he asks then, abruptly switching the subject.
Derek thinks hard. It's been long, but there was Jennifer whom he dated briefly after his first tour. “Six years ago.”
Stiles' eyes grow wide once more. “What?”
“Nothing,” Stiles says hurriedly, but he looks a bit dazed. “I just–okay. People keep telling me how hot you are, so I'm just surprised.”
Derek scrubs his hand over his face in frustration. He keeps getting the looks-card thrown at him, and he doesn't know how to react to it.
“Why, though?” Stiles asks then.
“I kept going back, signing up for more tours. And the interest just wasn’t there.”
Softness spreads over Stiles' features. Derek hates when he gets unwanted sympathy. “You don't have to pity me. I don't suffer.”
“That's not what I meant, Derek.”
“Are you finished?” Derek asks, standing up. He wants to clean the table. Busy his hands with something. “With dinner,” he adds, when Stiles stares in his direction and looks crestfallen.
“Yeah, sure.” The look on Stiles' face as he pushes away the plate, makes Derek feel guilty.
“I didn't mean to be rude,” he says quietly as he takes the plate.
He rinses the worst off of the plates and leaves them in the sink. Looking over his shoulder, Stiles is still sitting at the table, clutching his beer in both hands and running his thumbs around the edge of the bottle over and over.
Derek clears his throat and struggles to find something safe to talk about. His gaze stops at the bag of cheese balls. “Do you want snacks?”
Stiles just nods in reply.
When Derek puts the bowls down, he helps Stiles over to the couch. He's certain that Stiles would have been able to do it himself without much trouble, but the last thing he wants is Stiles feeling like he has to fumble his way to a spot that Derek can find in his sleep. Especially when things suddenly are so tense between them.
As soon as Stiles gets a hold of a bowl, however, he seems to turn more into his usual self. “I'm so excited! I've been looking forward to watching this forever. Have you seen it?”
“No, I haven't.”
“Awesome, then we can both be overwhelmed by its greatness.”
It's a bit odd to watch a movie with a voice explaining exactly what's happening on screen, but it's easy to get used to. The movie itself is okay at first. For quite a long time, actually. Just as he's starting to relax, about the same time as the games begin, his skin starts crawling. They have been uncharacteristically quiet, for being them, with Stiles not talking and not prompting Derek to engage in dialogue. He gets that it's because Stiles is listening, and the movie is pulling Derek in, in a way that he doesn't like. A part of him wishes that Stiles would talk more now, force his mind off of things.
They're sitting close together, since the couch isn't all that big, and Stiles' thigh barely touching his own suddenly makes him feel crowded and overwhelmed. Cornered. He tries to look out the window when the mass slaughter begins, telling himself that it's just a movie, but the movie voice is explaining everything so vividly to him that he can't escape it. He's seen and been in situations so close to this.
Curling his hands into fists, nails digging into his palms, he tries to make his nerves and senses focus on something else. But sweat is already breaking out all over his body.
Steve yips suddenly, drawing Derek's attention briefly, and Stiles' concentration seems to break for a moment. He turns his head towards Derek, who looks the other way, even though Stiles can't see it.
His t-shirt feels damps and plastered against his chest. It's made of cotton, but right now it feels suffocating. Pressing down over his chest, setting his head into a spin.
“Derek?” Stiles says, and his tone makes it sound as though he's been saying it a couple of times before. His hand comes up to touch Derek's arm. Tentatively, but there. Derek doesn't know if he has blacked out for a second mentally, or if this is the first time Stiles has tried to get his attention.
“Hey, Derek, you need to say something, okay? You're making me worried here.”
It takes Derek a second to realise that the TV screen is blue and the Blu-Ray turned off. He blacked out, then.
“Sorry,” he manages, voice sounding rough and unused. He winces when Stiles' hand touches his damp shirt, feeling as though it's betraying him.
“What happened?” Stiles asks, with a worried frown on his face.
“Sorry,” Derek says again, briefly noting Steve laying over his feet. “I should probably take a shower.”
Stiles opens his mouth and then closes it again, as if he wants to ask something, but then thinks better of it. “You want me to leave?”
“You don't have to. If you want.”
“I'm asking what you want.”
“You don't have to,” Derek says again, having no idea what he wants. His brain feels numb. Foggy.
“I'll stay then.” Stiles' voice is soft.
Derek nods absently, momentarily forgetting that Stiles can't see it, and locks himself into the bathroom. His fingers are unsure and he feels shaky when he undresses. He tries to go slow, to focus on his breathing, on slowly unwrapping the mess of thoughts in his head, putting them back to order. The water is a bit cold, but it makes him feel like his body is waking up from being turned off. At the same time, his senses feel hyperactive.
He doesn't shower for long. Even after he’s finished toweling himself off, he still feels weak, like his body is trembling, but he feels better than he did before. He grabs his sweats from the hook on the wall, realising that he didn't think about bringing fresh clothes, and the t-shirt he wore for two hours yesterday. They will have to do. His jeans and t-shirt are left in a heap on the floor. Avoiding the mirror, he steps out of the bathroom. Embarrassment finds him as soon as he closes the door and he notices that there's a mug with steaming tea waiting for him at the kitchen table. Stiles has his hands in his pockets, slouching slightly where he stands.
“Sorry for going through your kitchen,” is the first thing he says.
“It's fine.” Derek is expecting questions, since Stiles usually has so many. To his surprise, there are none.
“I thought maybe you'd like a cup. I like it sometimes when it's late and I don't want coffee.”
“Thank you.” Derek sits down on a kitchen chair and stares at the mug for a moment. The rational part of him knows that it's just a movie, making him feel ridiculous. In addition to that, guilt comes creeping up on him, as soon as he remembers how excited Stiles was to finally see it. “Do you want to keep watching the movie?” he asks carefully.
“Nah.” Stiles shakes his head rapidly, and perhaps Derek's reluctance is obvious. “I don't feel like it. That Peeta guy was kinda lame.”
Derek smiles in spite of himself. He's pretty sure that Stiles will try to watch the movie as soon as he gets another opportunity, but Derek's also grateful that he pretends otherwise.
He drinks his tea in silence and Stiles doesn't say much, either. Steve rests his head on Derek's thigh and Derek’s hand keeps finding its way back to petting the soft fur at the dog's neck. There's a huff and an accusing look whenever he stops, so Derek assumes that Steve isn't complaining either.
“He likes you,” Stiles says suddenly.
“He's a good dog,” Derek replies, more to Steve than Stiles.
“Yeah, he's a good friend.”
Looking down at Steve, who raises his eyebrows at him, Derek can't argue with that. Their conversation is quieter after that, like Stiles has decided to slow down his talking speed and select his choice of subject more carefully. He still does most of the talking, but he doesn't corner Derek into answering questions or providing his opinion like he usually does. On a normal day, it's likely only positive that Derek is forced to use his words instead of body language, to re-learn how to interact with people socially in a way. Right now, he's grateful that Stiles seems to have a lot better social tact than he seemed at first.
It's dark outside and long past midnight when Stiles starts talking about leaving.
“You want me to walk you?”
It's a small town and Derek is certain that Stiles is fully capable of making his way home safely on his own. However, he wouldn't mind the fresh air, or the opportunity to know that Stiles really did make it home safely when he goes to bed later. Derek feels uneasy about the fact that Stiles could be an easy target for someone who wanted to hurt him.
“I'm not a high school girl you've taken on a date, Derek.”
“I could use some fresh air.” He shrugs. “I figured I could keep you company at the same time, if you like.”
Stiles hesitates, brows drawing together.
“It's not because I think you can't walk home on your own, because I know you can. You do it every other day we spend time together.”
“Ugh. Fine,” Stiles sighs. “Steve will be thrilled, since he can have his night walk right now then, instead of when we've made it home to get my cane.”
Derek looks down at Steve, who looks like he's half-asleep with his eyes closed and head resting heavily on Derek's thigh.
“I mean, if you're okay with the whole–“ Stiles makes a grabby hand gesture.
“It's no problem.”
Stiles smiles. “People who don't know me are going to think that I'm drunk probably.” This doesn't seem to bother him.
“Probably,” Derek agrees.
“Or that you're my hunky boyfriend who's walking me home after a super hot date.”
Derek rolls his eyes. “You seem caught up on my looks.”
Stiles winks at him. “I know what your biceps feel like. It's very promising for the rest of you.”
“You want to feel the rest of me?” It slips out before he has the chance to realise what it sounds like he's suggesting.
“Are you offering?” Stiles grins.
Derek scoffs, unsure of what to say or how to react.
Stiles lets out a dramatic sigh. “I guess I have to stick with the biceps, then. Such a hard life.” At that, he squeezes slightly around his bicep, as if for emphasis.
“Yeah, you look like you're suffering.”
Once they get going, Stiles is more social. It's as though the previous strain between them has gone away, and things are back to what they usually are. The streets are deserted, but Stiles clearly knows where he's going. Walking his usual half a step behind Derek, he gives firm instructions of where to turn and what streets to cross.
“Usually I count steps, because it's the easiest way to keep track of where I am. But when I'm talking to someone I give directions, because there's no way I have enough concentration to count and talk at the same time,” Stiles explains, like he's read Derek's mind.
“I thought Steve did that for you.”
Stiles snorts. “No, Steve has no idea where to go. I mean, if I said 'let's go home', he'd probably know, but it's not like he has a GPS in his brain. His job is to keep track of traffic and stairs and stuff like that, you know, but I had to go into training for like two months to learn how to work with him. It's more difficult than it looks.”
Derek has no trouble believing that.
Stiles lives quite close to him, just across the street from Derek's favourite Thai food place, which makes it a lot easier for him to remember where it is if he ever comes for a visit. The building is a three-storey, red brick building, and has a dangerous-looking fire escape trailing up the facade, mostly covered in ivy.
“Which floor is yours?”
“Three out of three. I like having a view.” Stiles winks at him in that stupid way that always makes Derek wonder how he's supposed to react.
“You want me to walk you upstairs?”
“Do I look like a drunk who can't walk on his own?”
“There's your answer.” For a second, Derek is worried that he's said something offensive by mistake, but Stiles smiles. “Thanks for walking me home, though. I'm sure Steve appreciates it a lot.”
As Stiles lets go of his arm, Derek takes a step backwards, suddenly feeling awkward about the lack of personal space. “Thanks for stopping by. I'm sorry we didn't get to finish the movie.”
“Oh, please. I don't have a hobby. I can watch that whenever I'm bored sometime.”
Derek nods to himself, glancing up the building for a moment, wondering which windows are Stiles'.
“See you around,” he says, when silence has been laying thick between them for too long.
“See you, Derek.”
Stiles disappears inside then, holding Steve's leash tightly in his hand and Derek waits outside, watching through the windows of the door. He just wants to make sure that Stiles finds the stairs all right. A moment later, he feels guilty, when he watches Stiles grab the railing just as if he was a seeing person. Derek should read up on things, kill his ignorance a bit.
“Dude, why are there no good places to sit in this place?” Stiles whines days later, when the iPad he's been trying to balance on his thighs has clattered to the floor for the third time in as many minutes. He's been going through the messages on his phone at the same time, one earphone plugged in and the other dangling around his neck.
“It's not a library,” Derek points out.
“It's fine.” Stiles waves him off and then lowers his voice like he's sharing a secret. “I'm friends with the dude who owns this place. He's got a soft spot for me.”
Derek huffs out a laugh. Idiot.
“You can sit behind the counter if you want.”
“Ooh, can I play with the cash register?” The way Stiles' face lights up at that is highly amusing.
“Aw, Derek, don't be such a buzz kill.”
Derek just ignores him, but Stiles makes his way behind the counter anyway and steals Derek's chair. Sometimes Derek wonders if Stiles is actually blind for real.
“Really? You're going to steal my chair, too?”
“Why yes, I'm your guest.”
“I should kick you out.” He watches as Stiles plugs in another set of earphones in his iPad, putting one of them in his free ear.
“Stop un-guesting me,” Stiles mutters under his breath, concentrating on something else completely.
“That's not even a word.”
Yanking one earphone out, Stiles straightens the way he does when he's about to make up something ridiculous. “I'm all for linguistic progress. People should be able to make up their own words.”
“That wouldn't work.”
He keeps quiet for the rest of the day. It's when Stiles is about to leave that he scratches his chin and looks like there's something he wants to say, but isn't sure if he should.
“This guy asked me out on a date.”
Derek almost drops the book he's reading. It irritates him, because he doesn't care if Stiles is dating someone.
“Yeah, he seems cool.” Stiles says it easily, but the way his fingers are plucking with the cords to the earphones is giving him away. “Says he's been checking me out for a while. He thinks I'm hot, apparently.”
“Good thing he asked you out then.” For some reason his voice sounds mechanical, even though he's happy for Stiles. He is.
“Yeah, I'm just nervous, you know. I don't know what to do on dates.”
As if Derek has a lot of experience with dates lately. “You talk about yourself. So that won't be a problem for you.”
Stiles tries to look offended, but he's failing miserably. “No, but honestly.”
Derek shrugs, closing his book. “Depends on what you're doing for your date.”
“Then you're going to talk a lot.” There's not much else you can do at a dinner.
“Okay.” Stiles shrugs, and then chews on his bottom lip for a bit. “Nothing more?”
“What do you mean?”
“When does the making out get into the picture?”
Derek fiddles with a bent corner of his book as he watches Stiles shift on his chair. “Depends. You can choose that yourself.”
“I just want to know what he's expecting.”
“He shouldn't expect anything,” Derek says firmly.
That earns him a dramatic sigh in reply. “Yeah, sure, he shouldn't. But what if he does? It's not like I have a whole lot of options if I don't want to be single for the rest of eternity.”
“Don't worry. You'll die before you reach eternity.”
Stiles throws a book at him. It hits Derek straight in the chest, but luckily it's a thin paperback.
“Oh god, sorry. I didn't think I'd hit. I never hit.”
Derek grabs the stress ball Laura sent him in the mail last week, and throws it at Stiles' head. Stiles flails and glares, but he looks like he's trying to suppress a grin.
“Oh great, you're that guy. The guy who throws stuff at the blind dude. That guy.”
Derek just rolls his eyes.
“Honestly though. Help a friend out here.”
“You shouldn't do anything you don't want to do. That's all the advice I have for you.”
“Maybe I have to, if I don't want to be single.”
“It's better being single than having to do things you don't want to do.” Trust me, he wants to add, but refrains from it. Stiles would just ask. He asks about everything.
“That's easy for you to say. You're not the blind, gay virgin.”
“No, I'm not.”
Suddenly Stiles grins. “It would've been a real plot twist if you had said yes there, actually.”
Derek smiles a little to himself. “It would. Could be my secret identity, for all you know.”
“I don't think he's either gay or a virgin,” Derek points out.
“Oh please,” Stiles scoffs. “Look at his costume!”
“What about it?”
“One: it's like leather or something, and his mask looks like it's taken from a bad BDSM act. Two: no one gets laid in a costume like that.”
Derek is a bit startled by his own laugh; sudden, loud, carefree. Stiles is laughing too, and he looks like he's proud of himself. He sobers quickly, however.
“I am honest. Things will just end badly if you do things you don't want to do.”
“And what if I get there and I do want to, and I don't know how.”
He tries to think of what Laura would say. She's always been much better at these things. “Everyone's been there at some point. He'll have to show you the ropes, if he knows them. If he doesn't, you can figure it out together.”
“That's stupid. You sound like those people who try to be sex-positive and teach teens to respect themselves and stuff.”
“Such bad people. They should burn in hell.”
Stiles laughs, making Derek smile to himself.
“So, when's the date?”
“Friday. I'm nervous.”
“You'll do fine,” he promises.
The entire Friday, Derek feels oddly twitchy. Things instantly become even worse when Stiles doesn't drop by or text him. Somehow, he feels replaced, against his better judgement. Not exactly sure what his place was to being with. It's not like he wants to date Stiles himself, so it isn't jealousy. He just feels uncomfortable about the whole thing.
He's staring at the display of his phone, constantly pressing the home button to keep track of time. A nature show about sloths is on in the background, and it's almost nine. He still hasn't heard a word from Stiles.
For a moment, he thinks about sending a text. Just something casual, to ask about how the date went or how he is, when his phone beeps. It's a little past eleven by then. He's relieved for a second, but something chafing settles in the pit of his stomach as he reads the few words on the screen.
> I really like this guy :)
Derek doesn't know how to reply properly to that. What is he supposed to say, anyway?
< I'm happy for you. He settles on this at last. It's true. Of course it's true. Why wouldn't he be happy about Stiles finding someone?
He calls Laura, even though it's Friday. She answers on the second ring, and her voice is sleep drunk when she grumbles something as a greeting.
“Shit. I forgot what time it is.”
“It's fine. What's wrong?” she asks quietly, and he can hear her get out of bed, and then a door closing.
“Nothing's wrong,” Derek insists.
“Okay.” It doesn't sound like she believes him. “How are you, then?”
“Okay.” She doesn't seem to believe him now, either. “Did you have another movie night with your Stiles-friend?”
“No. He's on a date.”
Laura pauses for a moment. “I see. I didn't know he was taken.”
“He isn't. It's their first date.” There's a rerun of some Tonight Show episode put on mute on TV, and he watches the guest settle in the chair for a moment. He doesn't recognise her and he has no idea when that guy from SNL became the host, either, but he's out of the loop with most pop culture nowadays.
“And how do you feel about that?”
“I don't feel anything about that. He can go on dates with whomever he wants. If he wants to.”
“Okay.” Laura pauses again. “Is the person he's dating nice?”
“I don't know. Haven't met him.”
“But does Stiles like him?”
“It sounds like it. Well, that's what he texted me right before I called you.”
Laura hums at that, as though something just became much clearer to her. He hates when she does that. Especially if he doesn't get the same epiphany himself.
“Isn't that good, then? Since you're not interested in him.”
“Maybe I'm just worried,” Derek admits, thinking that that's probably why he's been feeling odd the entire day.
“I know, but he's legally an adult in every sense of the word there is, right? He has to make his own decisions and mistakes.”
“It doesn't have to be a mistake. Maybe this guy's the one for him.”
“Isn't that a good thing?” Laura asks again.
He asks himself the same question. Because isn't it? She babbles on for a while, as though she knows he's tuned out to dig through his own thoughts. She hangs up on him twenty-five minutes later, and there's another text from Stiles waiting for him.
> We're going out again next week :D
Derek shuts his phone off.