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The Sun Comes Crashing In

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.I.

The first time Derek makes jam, it's almost an accident. He's at the farmer's market and the strawberries look so luscious that he can't resist, buys several quarts, takes them home. He puts away his vegetables, his spring leeks and radishes and tiny carrots, the arugula and spinach and bok choy, the red-tipped leaf lettuce and the garlic scapes and ... stares at the strawberries. What was he thinking, buying so many?

He can freeze some, for smoothies in the off season, so he sets to dumping them in a colander, rinsing them off, draining them on towels. Trims the tops off and lays them on a wax-paper lined tray to freeze in a single layer overnight before he dumps them in freezer bags for longer term storage. That’s what the internet said to do.

He smiles to himself as he just eats some of them as he's working, decides to save back one quart of the berries for his cereal for the next few days.

Then they're gone, and Derek's bereft. They were just so good. The logo on the side of the quart box from the market names the farm they're from. He googles it, finds they have open picking from 9-noon every day. So he goes, taking the empty containers with him, fills them and more. It's hot work but kind of exhilarating, the smell of them intense in the warm June air, how vivid they are in the bright sun. Derek squints at the containers next to him. God, what's he going to do with ... ten quarts of strawberries? He'd better go pay for them and get the heck out of here.

The chipper teenager at the counter asks him if he's planning to make jam with all those berries, and he looks at her for a moment, and says, "Yeah, I sure am." He has a vague recollection of one of his aunts canning in the summers, gifting them with little jars of various preserves and relishes.

He drops the berries at home -- no sense letting them overheat in the car -- then heads to the hardware store where he'd seen cases of canning jars near the register when he'd been picking up ... well, hardware. He'd never noticed until recently that you could buy kitchen stuff at the hardware store. He buys two cases of half-pint canning jars, plus tongs, a canning funnel, packages of pectin and a slim book of recipes. Swings by the grocery store for several pounds of sugar.

He quickly realizes that he doesn't have exactly the right supplies for canning; he's using his big soup pot for processing the jars, but he makes it work. Goes out for more jars, and then more berries, when he runs low, and winds up with dozens of jars of strawberry jam.

Later in the summer, by the time the tomatoes and peppers and peaches are ripe, Derek's got a plan. Peach jam, for sure, but also peach salsa, and he's acquired a giant canning pot by now, too. The lady who runs the register at the hardware store calls him by name, when he comes in for more canning jars, extra rings and lids.

In August, the grower he buys from at the market starts asking him what, exactly, he does with all the produce he's been buying from them. He smiles a little and says that he's been making relish, and salsa, and chutney and jam. The farmer, a lean, grubby-looking guy with a deep tan and sparkling brown eyes, says, "really?" And Derek smiles a little bigger and nods. The guy says, a little wistfully, that his mom used to do that, spend the entirety of August running between the kitchen and the fields, and then she'd sell the stuff at the market in September and October.

Coming back to the moment, the guy says, "So, you got a plan for all your canning? A big family, or lots of friends and co-workers?"

"Not really," Derek says wryly. "It's a ... new hobby, I guess, and I got a little carried away." A little, he thinks, that's a laugh. Hugely carried away, is more like it. "I have way, way more than I know what to do with."

"Happens," the guy says, smiling into his eyes. Derek's heart skips a beat as the eye contact lasts a second longer than it maybe should. "I'm Stiles, by the way," he says, holding out a hand.

Derek shakes his hand, has to remind himself to let go. "Derek," he answers, and feels his ears warm up.

"So, I have a thought, feel free to say no, but here's the thing. We still have customers that miss the jams and stuff we used to sell. You, uh, want to maybe think about selling some of yours, here? Since you seem to make it mostly from our stuff. You know, if you're serious about having too much."

Derek would be lying if trying to sell it hadn't occurred to him. But he'd never gone beyond the vague idea of it. It was a daydream, not something concrete. He’s kind of stunned into silence, and it’s clear the guy -- Stiles -- is taking his failure to answer the wrong way.

“You don’t have to, dude, I mean, Derek. I’m … sorry if I overstepped, or something, I was really trying to help.” He’s backpedaling hard.

“No, it’s a great idea. I’d … thought of it, but didn’t have the faintest idea how to get started.”

“Well, let’s start with this. You bring a few samples out to our farm Saturday evening, we’ll have a tasting, and then have dinner and talk business.”

Derek’s heart sinks a little at Stiles’ use of “we.” Which is stupid, he reminds himself, they don’t even know each other.

“Okay,” he says uncertainly.

“My dad and I could use the company, it’s just the two of us, and … am I being too pushy?”

“No, no, not at all, I’m just … it’s a lot to take in all at once.”

“Of course. Listen, here’s my card, call or text me and let me know, okay?” Derek feels like he’d do anything to be the object of that warm smile.

He nods, hoping it’s not too eager. “I will, definitely.” And he tries to make his smile convey his certainty.

.II.

Derek gets home from the market with a buzz still under his skin, cheeks a little flushed as he thinks about Stiles, the feel of his hand and the shape of his body, his shoulders and the broad capability of his arms and hands. He trips over the edge of the step, bangs his knee hard on the doorframe, and, ouch, he needs to focus and not obsess over this guy he just met. He winces and rubs the sore spot -- that will bruise, dammit -- after he limps into the kitchen to deposit the bags and boxes of herbs, tomatoes, peppers, onions, corn, cucumbers, for his canning, as well as the greens and carrots, beans and potatoes he’ll be feeding himself with for the week.

He’s excited to try a new pickle relish variation that he’d read about, with piquant red pepper and extra dill. He doesn’t want a sweet relish, but a tart, spicy one. He opens a cupboard to double-check that he has all the ingredients for the spice blend he’s planning to use, and plenty of cider vinegar.

He manages to focus on his prep but in the back of his mind all the while is what exactly to say to Stiles in response to his invitation. He finally decides simple is best, and also not to tone down his genuine pleasure, replies would love to bring you samples, discuss business opportunities and have dinner. what time should I come by?

He’d made a habit of carefully labeling his jars, keeping a master list that he’s going to convert to a spreadsheet once he has time, so he goes through his stock carefully, picking out a variety of his favorite things to take to Stiles and his dad. Six seems like a good number to taste, at least to start. He has a ginger peach chutney as well as peach jam, a sweet corn relish, two kinds of salsa, garlicky dill as well as bread-and-butter pickles. That’s seven, oh well, but he can’t narrow it down any more.

He debates over whether to bring a jar of the strawberry jam that started it all; the farm the berries are from is not Stiles’, but he brings it anyway. It can be an extra, maybe, a gift? He doesn’t know. He’ll stop at the bakery and pick up a couple of baguettes, and take a couple of bottles of sparkling water, for palate cleansing. He winces to himself at the thought. Could he be any more pretentious? Fuck it. He wants to get this right, maybe even impress Stiles a little at how thorough he’s being, how seriously he’s taking this. Dammit, it means a lot to him. He’s excited and nervous at the thought of sharing the work of these months with someone else, particularly someone who might be … special.

His phone buzzes with Stiles’ response when he’s elbow deep in produce. He squints at it and his heart thumps when he sees it’s Stiles’ response. Awesome! I’m glad. I was worried I was being too pushy. How about Saturday at 4, you can hang out and explore the farm and then we can make dinner?

Derek debates how cool to be, decides to wait a bit to reply. When his canning lids are pinging happily, Derek texts back, That sounds fine, thanks. Where are you, exactly?

Oh, I guess that would be helpful, hm? We’re 2 miles east of the intersection of county road 42 and Palmer Road, on your left. We have a red mailbox and a farm stand.

Derek feels a growing sense of warmth. He’s not exactly sure which of these things makes him happier, the idea of getting to share the results of his summer hobby, or seeing Stiles again. It’s only two more days.

~*~

Two more days for him to lose his mind, that is.

He struggles to focus as he measures sugar, vinegar, stirs the pot, seeds and chops peppers and tomatoes. Running in the woods, he resolutely counts the harsh breaths into his lungs, reveling in the feeling of sweat dripping down the small of his back. Lifting weights afterward, he ruthlessly counts reps until he’s too exhausted to think about his emotions. Showers, goes to bed, lies sleepless anyway.

Time for some outside help. He calls Erica, his best friend from college, the person he trusts most in the world.

She picks up after two rings, even though it’s pretty late at night. He can hear the TV in the background. At least he’s not waking her up. “To what do I owe this unusual pleasure?”

“What do you mean? I call you!”

“Yeah, like, on my birthday. Don’t even with me. You text me, you email me, maybe tag me in the rare instagram photo, but actually picking up the phone and calling me? It’s unusual, that’s all I’m saying. What gives?”

Derek sighs. “Erica.”

“I know, baby, words are hard. Want me to play twenty questions to figure out what’s going on with you?”

Derek rolls his eyes. “Why are we friends again?”

“Because you can’t live your life without my help, duh,” she snarks back.

It’s sad because it’s true, Derek thinks, a little despairingly, and he takes a deep breath before forcing the words out. “I just … I met someone, and I …”

“Ohhhh,” Erica’s tone gentles immediately, and the TV noise cuts out. He’d feel bad about making her miss her show for him, but he figures she’s probably got it DVR’d anyway.

Derek’s grateful for the change in her tone. Erica knows when to snark at him and when it would do more harm than good. “So, who is it? How’d you meet?”

Derek explains, and he knows his heart’s on his sleeve. He can’t hide anything from Erica.

She laughs at him a little, but gently. “That’s a really rom-com kind of meet cute, you know.”

“I know. But he’s just …”

“Dreamy?”

“Kinda.” He winces, but it’s true.

“Oh, god, you do have it bad. But … you only met him once, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So you need to … not lose your head, okay? It’s been a long time since I’ve heard you get excited over meeting someone. I’m happy for you! But getting obsessive over a cute stranger doesn’t end well for you.” Derek closes his eyes, rests his forehead on his fist. “Get to know him before you fall too hard, okay?”

Derek nods against his hand. He knows they’re both remembering times in college when he’d crush hard, pining over someone from afar, building a virtual stranger into something unattainable. She’s right, it never ended well. This is why he called her, though, because she can talk sense into him. Get his hopes aligned with reality.

Erica has practice helping him navigate his relationship woes. She and Boyd are the only ones, other than Laura, who knew the true extent of what Kate had done to his psyche. Who helped him get it together after Jen, and the failed relationships that followed.

She speaks again, tentatively, into the silence. “I know your tendency to fall hard and fast, but try to slow it down a little. Focus on other things. Like maybe ... when you’re gonna send some of your treats to Boyd and me, you big tease. Pictures are not cutting it.”

He laughs a little. “Okay, I will.”

“You said you’re seeing him again Saturday?”

“Yeah.”

“Call me Sunday and let me know how it goes, then. And Derek, it’s okay to hope, it’s okay to want this to be something. Just try not to let it go too far, in your imagination, right?”

“I’ll try. Thanks, Erica.”

~*~

Derek had looked at a map online to see where he was going, and it’s an easy half-hour drive out of Beacon Hills to the farm. He’s nervous, but he’s deliberately focusing on driving, the slant of the late-summer sunlight through his windows, the breeze ruffling his hair through the open windows.

When he pulls up, Derek realizes that he hadn’t given much thought to the farm itself. Still, as he takes a moment to look at it, he blinks in surprise. Apparently he’d been expecting something, after all. It’s an old house, sure, but it’s not … charming. It’s dated and not in fantastic repair. Aluminum siding that’s seen better days, visible patches in the aging asphalt shingles on the roof. It’s dusty and the porch railing desperately needs painting. Not rustic-chic, not off the pages of a glossy magazine. Shabby, definitely, but somehow homey and … real, maybe, anyway.

There’s a swing on the porch, and a cushioned rocking chair, pots of bright flowers in decorative painted pots on the edges of the steps. A wind chime delicately stirs in the breeze. It’s kind of perfect. Derek’s realizing that some of his nerves have been from being intimidated to come out here, but seeing the reality, something settles in him. Maybe it’s not all too good to be true. Stiles is a real person, after all, not a fairy tale.

A moment later, the wooden screen door bangs open, and Stiles appears on the porch, jogs down the stairs, waving at Derek as he gets out of his car. There’s a reddish cast to the deep brown of his skin, as if he’d gotten a little bit of a burn today. Derek can hardly take his eyes off him.

His eyes as they catch the afternoon sun are even more captivating than Derek had remembered, and he has to swallow before saying, “Hey.” He tamps down his desire to just grab Stiles and kiss him stupid, hoping he’s not being as obvious as he feels.

Stiles’ smile lights up his face as he returns the greeting. “C’mon, let me help you get your stuff, we can dump it inside before I show you around.”

They pause a minute in the big dining room, Stiles setting the box of jars on the table. “May I?” he asks as Derek sets his bag beside it with the rest of his things. He nods, and Stiles takes each jar from the box, reading the labels and making approving noises. “I didn’t know what to bring, for you to try, if you don’t like any of these, or if you want to try other things, I have a list …” and he digs in his bag for his notebook and the printed spreadsheets … the ones he’d spent most of yesterday channeling his nervous energy into creating, after his conversation with Erica the other night. Stiles is looking at him, open-mouthed, a jar in each hand. “I …” Derek trails off, and Stiles sets the jars down and closes his mouth with a snap.

“Wow,” he says, and Derek’s relieved by his tone, which is appreciative, not mocking.

“I know it’s a lot,” Derek offers, as Stiles plucks the printouts from his hands.

“No, dude, this is amazing, I’m … thrilled you’ve made all this stuff from food I grew. It’s making me all …” he trails off and turns the pages. “It’s awesome, seriously.” He looks up and meets Derek’s eyes, then coughs a little, thrusting the pages back at Derek. “Come on, man, let’s go see where the magic begins. What do you want to see first?” He’s smiling, and his face is so, so attractive.

Derek had sternly told himself that this was a business opportunity, a way to at least cover the costs of his outlay for supplies; with Erica’s help, he’d (mostly) managed to talk himself out of believing that there was a chance of mutual attraction, but when Stiles smiles wide and bright, Derek feels the mantle of calm he’d worked so hard to build around himself start to slip away. He can’t help returning the smile, helplessly pulled into Stiles’ orbit. “Anything, really. I … whatever you want.”

Stiles has just finished showing him the pair of greenhouses, mostly empty at this point in the season, the aging, vacant barns, still faintly smelling of animals that once inhabited them, and Derek asks, “So did you grow up on this farm?”

“Nah. It was my grandparents’, my mom’s folks. But we visited a lot when I was a kid, particularly in the summers. I grew up in Beacon Hills, my dad, you might know, used to be the Sheriff in town.”

Derek nods. He hadn’t put two and two together before, but he recognizes the name now.

“My mom and my grandma were unbelievable with the canning and the freezing. We lived on the food from here for a lot of the year.”

“That’s cool.”

They’re strolling along one of the dirt tracks, dust rising up from their footsteps, crickets in the long grass and wildflowers on their left, and cultivated fields on their right. A hawk circles in the sky.

“Yeah, it really inspired me, it was hard to tear myself away to go to college, but I always knew I’d come back. I really needed to carry on my family’s legacy.”

“What, um, what happened to your mom, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Stiles shakes his head a little. “It’s okay. She got cancer. It was … it was really awful, to lose her, for me and my dad, but I think it was the worst for my grandparents. They were older, anyway, had her when my grandma was past 40, and losing her … they went downhill so fast, after.” Stiles pauses a moment. “Even when I was little, I wanted to grow up and live here, but that … losing them all, made me really figure out a way to make it happen.”

He stops talking, and Derek doesn’t know what to say. He knows all too well how empty platitudes can be. For a moment sympathetic grief over Laura’s death wells up, threatens to overwhelm him. He concentrates on breathing quietly until Stiles breaks the silence.

“Getting a degree in ecology and agricultural ethics seemed like the right way to go about it. How about you? What got you into this? Your family?”

“Nope, not really. I did have an aunt who made a lot of jams and jellies? But that wasn’t my inspiration.” Derek does not want to talk about his family. It’s too complicated and just not something he wants to get into with Stiles, not yet. “I’m not sure what it was. I’ve read a lot about sustainable agriculture, so I started going to the farmer’s market, and I just … needed something to do with all the gorgeous stuff I couldn’t resist buying there.” He explains what happened with the strawberries, his moment in the hardware store, picking up supplies, and Stiles smiles.

“Slippery slope, dude. Strawberry jam is the gateway drug, apparently.”

Derek laughs. “Yeah, that must be it.”

“We don’t have strawberries, so you must have got those from the competition, right?” His eyes are teasing Derek.

“Yeah, from, uh,” he thinks for a minute. “I can’t remember their name. The ones in the northeast corner, at the market?”

Stiles nods. “They have a reputation for amazing fruit.”

“Have you ever thought of planting them here?”

“We used to have some, again, when I was a kid, but they’d been neglected for too long by the time Dad and I took over.”

“How long ago was that?”

“This is our second season.” Stiles stops and points. “This field, this is our main one, it’s about point-eight of an acre, and the one by the greenhouses is like, point-six. I’m hoping to add another little bit next year, if I can.” Derek’s frankly staggered by how much yield that seemingly small amount of space can produce.

“It must be so much work,” he says tentatively.

“It definitely is. I saw the work, when I was a kid, and then, in college, I interned at places in the summers, but when you’re in charge of the decisions, and the work load and the scheduling … it’s … I knew what I was getting into as well as anyone can, and it still feels overwhelming sometimes.”

“I’ll bet. You hoping to restore it to its former glory?” Derek smiles to show, hopefully, that he finds this inspiring, Stiles’ enthusiasm.

“Well … yeah, kind of. I just, I remember the things they used to have, the chickens and the sheep and the goats … my grandpa sheared the sheep every spring and my grandma would process the wool, and sell it at the market, or spin it herself, we still have her tools around here someplace. It’s … a life’s work, for sure.”

“It seems good that you’re starting small, like … pacing yourselves?”

Stiles laughs and shakes his head. “Tell that to my dad, who’s constantly telling me I’m trying to do too much. Well, I’m sure you’ll hear him talk about it later.”

Stiles’ can’t seem to stop talking about small-scale sustainable farming, his passion coming through in a mix of idealism and pragmatism, as they rest in the shade of a big tree at the far edge of their property. He apologizes for talking so much, but Derek shakes his head. “No, really, it’s … fascinating. And I’ve been thinking about it, and reading … but you’re living it and that’s … wow. Really impressive.” Stiles beams at him.

He waxes rhapsodic about compost, and crop rotation, and overwintering crops, rye and clover and winter wheat.

“It’s … I don’t know what to say,” Derek offers into a pause in the conversation.

Stiles laughs a little. “I know I can be a little single-minded.”

“I … like it. It’s like you’re connecting with the people you lost, by keeping this up for them.”

Stiles looks at him, mouth parted. “Yeah. That’s. That’s exactly it, I’m. It’s cool that you get that.” and he smiles this soft, private smile that makes Derek ache with want.

As they re-approach the house, Stiles makes an apologetic, almost defensive remark about the state of disrepair of the house.“I know it’s kind of run-down. No one had lived here for several years, before we moved in. After mom died, my grandparents … well, like I said, they went downhill fast, and they used to keep it up really well, but there were years when it was more-or-less abandoned, and we didn’t really have the money to make it pretty, or anything … the rest of the buildings are better, we just haven’t had time, and farming’s not exactly a money-making endeavor--”

Derek stops in his tracks, giving him an incredulous look when Stiles stops, too, a couple of steps on, when he realizes Derek’s no longer next to him. “Stiles. Are you serious right now? This place is … great.” The fields are meticulously weeded and irrigated. The machinery is old but, as far as Derek can tell, in good repair, housed in an empty barn. “It’s a working farm, Stiles, I wasn’t expecting a magazine spread. The stuff that matters, the crops, the food you’re growing … it’s incredible.”

Stiles gives him a nod and a lopsided smile, and Derek hopes he made his point clear, that this place is amazing, and he’s not hung up on cosmetic stuff.

Getting closer to the house, Derek can see an older guy in a hammock strung between two trees behind the house.

“Hey, dad,” Stiles calls. To Derek, he says, “My dad often naps a little in the late afternoons, and I don’t like to sneak up on him.”

They get closer and Derek sees Stiles’ dad stretch, knuckle at his eyes. He yawns, and says, “Oh, hey there.”

Stiles says, “Dad, this is Derek, the guy I told you about …”

“Of course, hello, Derek …”

“Derek Hale,” Derek says.

“John Stilinski.” They shake hands. “My son bore you to death on his guided tour?”

Derek shakes his head, bemused, as Stiles lets out an indignant, “Dad!”

“No, really, it’s great. I … I’ve been reading a lot about local and sustainable farming over the past few years, but I only just realized that I can actually … participate.”

“Yeah, I meant to ask, how is it that you know so much about this stuff?” Stiles asks, shading his eyes from the rays of sun still coming over the roof of the house.

“I read a lot. I’m, uh, an editor for Woods Heart Press, in San Francisco, and I read a lot of nonfiction.”

Stiles’ eyebrows shoot up. “No kidding!”

Derek shrugs. “I’m part-time, and things are often slower in the summer, anyway. Hence all the spare time I’ve been filling with preserving lately.” He never knows how to explain his family history, his trust fund, the fact that he doesn’t need to work at all, to anyone, let alone to the Stilinskis.

Fortunately he doesn’t seem to have to, as John speaks.

“Stiles tell you my wife and her mother used to do a lot of that?”

“Yeah. I’m … a little nervous about you guys trying my stuff.” Derek admits. “Sounds like I have a lot to live up to, your memories of what they used to make.”

John’s face softens into a fond smile, and Stiles says, “Even when I was little, they used to let me help ladle stuff into the jars, and tighten the lids, and set the timer. And peel stuff, and empty the compost … ” Stiles breaks off and glances at his dad, and the look they share makes Derek feel like he’s intruding on something private.

“They must have been really patient,” he offers into the ensuing silence.

“Definitely,” Stiles agrees, smiling. John clears his throat, turns around and gazes at the fields. Stiles plunges on. “It’s hard to let a kid really be useful. My buddy Scott comes around with his kids, and I like to try to let them do things here, but it’s hard to come up with stuff they can actually do. Harvest time works, though, they can pick tomatoes and tackle the raspberry bramble.”

Derek nods. “I can’t really imagine letting a kid help me. I think I’m still too new to it, still thinking hard about every step. Your grandmother must have had decades to come up with ways to let a kid help.”

Both Stilinski men nod, and Stiles waves them into the house.

Inside, Stiles fetches glasses for Derek’s water and a board for the bread, which Derek slices. John brings a handful of spoons and a bowl for the tortilla chips to try with the salsas. They sit around the scrubbed oak table in the kitchen in mismatched wooden chairs, and Derek talks a little about the process and what he’s brought.

The bread-and-butter pickles are a huge hit. “I don’t like them too sweet,” Derek explains, and Stiles makes rapturous (and distracting) noises after his first bite, and goes back for more. John shoots his son a sly look as he says he bets they’d be fantastic on a bacon cheeseburger.

John loves the sweetness of the peach salsa.

“This one’s my favorite,” Derek says, opening another jar. “It is pretty spicy, though.”

Stiles’ eyes light up. “Dude, did you use my habaneros in this one?”

Derek nods, and “I’m crazy about spicy food,” Stiles says, loading his chip with salsa and stuffing the whole thing in his mouth. Derek watches as his eyes get big and he chews happily. “That is amazing, a perfect amount of heat, seriously.”

John declines to try the hot salsa, despite Stiles’ encouragement, and they get into a lively discussion of chile varieties. It makes Derek feel warm inside, that Stiles seems to want his opinion on growing other peppers, what he’s read about drying them -- it makes him feel like maybe this is the start of something. That they’ll be tweaking salsa recipes together for years to come.

They finish with the jam samples, John’s sweet tooth in evidence again. “Nothing beats homemade jam,” he says, screwing the lid back on the peach and licking the spoon.

Derek’s satisfied that they’ve both enjoyed everything he brought, though John’s smile might be a little wistful. Derek wonders if he’s comparing today’s samples to his memories. It’s on the tip of his tongue to ask, but he can’t make the words come out, doesn’t know if he should. Maybe one day he could offer to replicate her favorites? He hardly dares think of a time when that could happen, what it might mean. At the moment, Derek has bigger problems: he has to hastily avert his eyes from Stiles licking pickle juice from his fingers.

While they work on dinner prep, Derek asks if the market where they met is the only one he sells at, and Stiles tells him he does two market days a week, plus an honor system stand near the entrance to the farm, that does surprisingly good business. He supplies one local restaurant with a few things, too. “I’d love to offer a CSA someday, but Dad …”

John shakes his head fondly, on his way to light the grill. “We need more people, Stiles, and I’m not just talking about your old friends you can strong-arm into it, or the kids you can coerce into helping out.”

Derek realizes that this dynamic is what Stiles was talking about in the fields, Stiles dreaming big and John insisting on practicality. He lets their easy conversation wash over him, John hovering near the doorway to keep an eye on the grill, Stiles washing veggies. Derek stifles a contented sigh as he reaches for a knife, happy to be here, suffused with a sense of belonging, if only for a few hours. It makes him wistful for a kind of comfort he didn’t have much of with his own dad, but he’s grateful and happy to be a part of this, now, instead of overcome by longing or bitterness.

Pitching in to prep the food has the similar easy feel of breaks spent with Erica’s or Boyd’s families at the holidays. Tonight they’re making sauteed summer squash and leeks, sweet peppers, chard; handfuls of sharp, fragrant basil and diced tomatoes stirred in at the end, with pasta and sharp cheese. Sausage and eggplant that John puts on the grill. It’s remarkably similar to the kind of thing Derek’s been putting together for himself for dinner, lately.

As they eat, they start talking business, working out a plan for Derek to come to the Thursday market with his wares starting in mid-September, three weeks from now. They talk about what sold well before, when it was Stiles’ mom and grandma doing the work, what Derek might want to make extras of. Derek flatly refuses to accept Stiles’ produce at a discount, at least until they see how this all shapes up.

John heads out to put the chickens in for the night and clean up his grill, walk around the farm with the dog for a bit, close up gates.

As they’re washing up after dinner, Stiles kind of blurts out, “So what’s your kitchen set-up like?”

Derek carefully washes a sharp knife. “It’s fine. Nothing like this, though. Way smaller.” Derek eyes the ample open counter space adjacent to both the stove and the sink. It’s old, dated, maybe a little dingy, but clean, spacious and fairly well-lit. He’d be lying if he weren’t the smallest bit envious.

Stiles has his back to Derek as he rearranges glasses in a cupboard, dish towel over his shoulder. “You could … use ours, if you want? Just, since you won’t let me give you a discount on the produce …”

Derek catches his breath at the thought. The extra space to work would be amazing, not to mention the chance to run into Stiles. This day has gone better than he could have imagined. He’d really like to see him again, sooner than the market they’ll work together next month.

He knows it’s a busy time of year, so he has no illusions that they’ll be hanging out together, but being in Stiles’ space, his home -- the idea’s compelling. Still. He doesn’t want to impose. Damn it, he’s been quiet too long. “I … wouldn’t want to be in your way, or your dad’s.”

“Trust me, you wouldn’t be.” Stiles flicks a quick look at him. Laughs a little awkwardly. “I don’t mean to be pushy, really, but if it would be more convenient for you, you should use it. I think … I think my dad would actually love it, the idea of stuff getting made in this kitchen again.”

Derek smiles and he feels tension leave his shoulders. “I’ll think about it, okay? You, uh, don’t seem pushy to me.”

“Well, good. I know I can come on kind of strong sometimes, and I don’t always take hints well, so feel free to tell me if I’m …” he breaks off, gestures helplessly.

“You’re not, Stiles. Really.” And Derek’s heart pounds. He feels daring. He likes Stiles, his wide smiles and exuberance and open body language. “I like it here. I just really don’t want to be in your way.” He wants to crowd into Stiles, push him back against the counter he’s leaning on, pull their bodies flush, feel his skin and smell his scent and … he’s staring at Stiles, who’s looking back at him, eyebrows raised, face neutral. Derek tries to smile and turns back to the dishes in the sink, scrubs at the pot and the grater, trying to hide his burning face.

~*~

He calls Erica again the next day, and describes the hours they’d spent together. Even though he tries to keep a lid on his own enthusiasm, to play it cool, Derek knows she can see right through him, that his feelings about about how domestic it felt, how gorgeous Stiles is, how cool his dad seems, come through anyway.

So when she laughingly tells him he has her permission to crush on Stiles, Derek makes a disbelieving noise.

“Look, I’m not saying you should call him up and declare your undying love or anything. But what I’m hearing sounds … requited.”

“I don’t know …”

“Derek, look, you spent hours there, he talked to you a lot, he loved your food. He asked you to come over and use his kitchen.”

“I think he was just being polite,” Derek protests.

Erica lets out an exasperated noise. “Yes, duh, he was being polite. Because he likes you. God. He talked about his grandparents. His dead mom. His like, life’s work. He sounds perfect for you, completely unable to have a normal casual getting-to-know you thing but just jumping into the deep end, like you always do.”

Derek hopes she’s right. He wants to believe that she is. She and Boyd have been together since college, the only people close to him in a healthy long-term relationship. That’s what he wants, too, so he’s willing to at least try to take her advice.

That evening he spends a half-hour carefully packing a box of jars to send to her and Boyd, overnight mail, and takes it to the post office first thing Monday morning. It’s the least he can do for them.

.III.

After coming here two or three times a week since their dinner together, Derek’s decided he’s in love with the Stilinski Farm’s kitchen. Despite the outdated, mismatched look of it, with a fancy new stainless fridge but an old stove and an even older dishwasher, and worn plank flooring, it’s airy, with lots of windows. Plus it’s clean and well laid out, with so much more room than he’s used to. He can spread out, organize ingredients and jars by batch on the counter behind him, and spread towels on the table for cooling jars by the open windows. His favorite thing is when he can hear Stiles and John working outside; it makes him feel like he belongs here.

Once he hears them practically right under the window, John asking, “what do I smell?” and Stiles answering, “Derek’s here, today, cooking and canning,” and Derek really hopes he’s not imagining the fond tone in Stiles’ voice, the smile he thinks he can hear. There’s a pause, and then Stiles says, “Shut UP, Dad, Jesus, get back to work already, would you?” and Derek doesn’t even have a moment to wonder what that’s about, because his timer goes off. Still, that possibly-fond tone in Stiles’ voice buoys him through processing yet more tomatoes from the stove to the food mill and back to the stove to cook down.

Today’s hotter than hell, he’s in his lightest linen shorts and an ancient, shapeless untucked short-sleeved button-down seersucker shirt, and ankle socks and worn running shoes. He’d rather be in sandals, or barefoot, but those aren’t exactly conducive to kitchen work, he’s learned, so this works. And he feels like a slob, he’d rather be wearing something that could, well, look nicer, for Stiles, maybe? But he has to focus on comfort and practicality when it’s this hot, and god, he might not even run into him, and he needs to concentrate.

It’s all tomatoes, all the time, today; he did several batches of different kinds of salsa earlier in the week, but today is simply tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and peeled whole tomatoes. It’s pleasantly mindless as he processes batch after batch.

Derek spends hours that day, and his hands are stained and pruney, as he wipes up his messes as evening approaches, cleans knives and pots and canning tools, neatly packs jars into boxes. His back aches, and his feet; he works out, sure, but this is a different kind of fatigue, and he knows he’ll rest well tonight.

He’s stretching his back and stifling a yawn as the side door bangs open and Stiles comes in, clothes dirty and face and arms streaked with creases of dust and dirt. He’s wearing an enormous canvas hat, which he hangs on a hook and Derek tries to tear his eyes away from his mussed, sweaty hair. Stiles takes a look at Derek, the splatters on his clothes, and smacks his elbow against the doorjamb, hard, but laughs through a wince, saying “We’re a pair, aren’t we, covered with evidence of what we spent our days doing.”

Derek smiles, unable to restrain how delighted he is to see Stiles. “It’s amazing how exhausted I feel.”

“It smells incredible in here, I have to tell you.” Stiles’ voice sounds a little choked, but it is really dusty outside.

“I left you some sauce … for dinner, maybe, or for later, whatever, if you want it?” Derek gestures at the pot bubbling gently on the back of the stove, a sauce rich with long cooking and herbs from the Stilinskis’ kitchen garden.

Stiles yawns, tries to stifle it into his elbow. Goes to the sink and gulps down a giant glass of water. Derek looks away from the line of his throat before Stiles can catch him staring.

“Really?” Stiles’ face lights up as he puts down the empty glass. “You are the best, man. Some days I just don’t have it in me to cook anything, and my dad grumbles about rabbit food if I just, like chop stuff up and call it dinner.” He ambles to the freezer and pulls out a package of something. Sausage, maybe. “I’ll throw this in, it should thaw fast, and start water for pasta, and that’s dinner, thank god.”

Derek can feel a smile pulling at his mouth, a flush on his cheeks that has nothing to do with the heat of the kitchen, and everything to do with pleasure at having made Stiles’ life easier. He’s glad Stiles isn’t looking at him right now, tries to pull it together as Stiles looks up.

He waves vaguely at the cooling jars, asks Stiles, “You don’t mind if I leave these here? The jars are supposed to be undisturbed for, like, 24 hours after canning. I can pick them up next time.”

“Of course, anything, are you kidding? We’re hardly in the house at all, these days, so it’s not like we need the space. You, uh, want to stay for dinner?”

Derek’s torn. He’d love more time with Stiles, but doesn’t want to impose. “No, I need to …” Shit, he doesn’t have an excuse at all.

“It’s okay, you probably want to just get home and relax, away from where you worked your ass off today, right?”

And Derek nods, reluctantly packs up the rest of his stuff, says, “I think I’ll be back, probably … Thursday, maybe, if that’s okay with you?”

“Really, any time at all, Derek,” and the warm smile makes Derek’s heart skip. He’s sure that Stiles can somehow hear it, can read his mind, can tell every inappropriate thing Derek wants to do to him, so he turns quickly, saying, “Thanks again, really, enjoy dinner, and I’ll see you soon.” He winces. “Not that I’ll necessarily see you, Thursday, I know you’re busy, just …” and Stiles nods, “No, I get you. I’ll be sure to stop in and say hello, I’d be bummed out to miss you.”

And Derek floats out the door. Stiles wants to see him. He walks Derek outside and they commiserate momentarily about the weather, how hot and dry it is. Derek feels like the hearts in his eyes are probably showing, so he pets the dog to hide his face, as he says goodbye.

~*~

Erica calls that evening and screeches at him about how fucking orgasmic his relishes are, and Boyd’s already finished the strawberry jam because he put it on everything he could think of and then ate the rest of it straight out of the jar with a spoon so it’s already gone, and his hot salsa is the best thing she’s ever eaten, and oh my god, things better work out with the hot farmer with the weird name, because he has to keep making that for her forever.

Derek waits for her to run out of steam before speaking. “I’m glad you guys liked what I sent. But I’m pretty sure Stiles and I are just gonna be friends.” He tries to ignore the way his chest tightens at the thought, but he’s spent the last hour since he got home analyzing his and Stiles’ interactions and can only think about tamping down the stubborn hope he feels.

“Did something happen to make you think that?”

“No, just … I’m pretty sure I’m already coming on too strong, Erica.”

“Or maybe you’re being a pessimist. So did you see him today?”

“Yeah.”

“And?”

He shrugs. “I canned a shit-ton of tomatoes. Left him a big pot of sauce for dinner, the kind your mom taught me how to make? He seemed happy about it.”

“As he should be. That sauce, made with fresh tomatoes? Would win anyone’s heart.”

Derek lets out a frustrated breath. “I just … I can’t get my hopes up, Erica. If this means something to him, why hasn’t he made a move?”

“Aw, sweetie. What if he’s just as much of an awkward turtle as you are?”

“Not possible. He’s just so comfortable in his skin, Erica.”

“I find that hard to believe. But I may have inside information.”

“What?”

“Boyd finally started paying attention to what I’ve been talking to you about, and he says he remembers your buddy there, from growing up in Beacon Hills.”

“No shit,” Derek breathes, feeling like he got hit by a bombshell. Of course Derek knew that Beacon Hills was Boyd’s hometown, but it still feels surreal to think of him having known Stiles when he lived here. “And?”

“And he says he was awkward, and scrawny, and a complete spaz who like, never shut up.”

Derek laughs a little. That’s not really wrong, is it. “Well …”

“You can see it, can’t you?” she crows. “He is still that way. God, I wish I could see the two of you in action. He’s probably doing the exact same thing you are, you know.”

“Wishful thinking.”

“It might be. There are no guarantees. But my spidey senses tell me that you’re not coming on too strong, because I don’t really think you know how.”

“Ouch. But Stiles is really perceptive, I’m sure he’s getting it, seriously.”

“Mmm.” She doesn’t sound convinced. “When are you seeing him again?”

“Thursday.”

“Well, call me after, okay?”

~*~

That night, getting ready for bed, Derek looks over his tasks for the week. He taps on his notebook, thinks a minute, rearranges his workload. He writes an email to his supervisor to see if they can reschedule a call. Crams all his editing in tomorrow, puts off cleaning his bathroom, so he can get to the farm on Thursday.

He lies in bed, groaning at the comfortable softness after a long day of kitchen work, and reaches for his book. He’s trying to push down the conflicted thoughts he’s having, wondering if he’s doing this for the right reasons. Does he really want to make jam and sell it? Or is it just an excuse to see Stiles again, and if that’s the case, is he being dishonest? He does a little internal squirming, but decides he can live with his possibly-ulterior motives.

~*~

The next day, in the evening, Stiles calls Derek to say that a customer emailed him asking for a particular kind of relish, and Stiles told the guy he’d find out. “I’ve been talking up the fact that you’ll be coming to the markets with your wares, and it’s making people excited and curious,” he says.

Derek feels excited and curious himself, around Stiles, but that’s a different matter entirely. So he says he’ll research a recipe and see if he can come up with something, and he winces at how eager to please he sounds to his own ears. “Not if it’s any trouble, Derek, I just … mostly I wanted an excuse to talk to you,” Stiles says, and then laughs a little.

Derek can’t breathe for a moment, and Stiles carries on as if he’d said nothing at all, just a flood of words. If Derek didn’t know better he’d think Stiles was nervous about having confessed that. That’s how Derek would feel, if he’d blurted out something like that, but Stiles … he’s … no. He’s way more sure of himself than that. Derek can’t bring himself to believe it could mean anything, and he sternly tells himself to research the recipes and focus on that. The next morning he gets up, rearranges his workload again, and tries four different versions of a sweet corn and pepper relish with red onions, to take to the farm on Thursday, for Stiles’ customer. For Stiles.

~*~

Derek’s working on a manuscript but his mind keeps wandering to Stiles and how hard he’s falling, how he’s craving the security of a relationship, not the unsettled feeling of dating. It makes him queasy. He remembers friends in college who reveled in the excitement of it, but to Derek the uncertainty feels intolerable.

In the years since college, he’s avoided romantic entanglements altogether because he hates this jittery feeling, and it brings up bad memories of old relationships, where he’d gotten himself entangled out of desperation, and disengagement was messy and painful. Thinking of Kate’s casual cruelty, Jen’s boundary issues, makes him shudder.

Mulling over Erica’s reassurances, playing their conversations over in his head, Derek wants to believe her. But he also knows she loves him and wants him to be happy, so maybe she’s just being hopeful. He sighs, forcing himself to focus on the screen in front of him, rearranges clauses and adds commas.

~*~

He considers texting Stiles out of the blue, but can’t muster the courage. Stiles does text him now and again, just, it was good to see you today, sorry I didn’t have more time to visit, or I have a bumper crop of pumpkins coming or t-minus 9 days till your first market day, you excited?! and Derek always replies, but doesn’t want to be a pest. The uncertainty’s driving him crazy and he wants to be sure. And they aren’t even dating!

So he keeps telling himself that it’s a business partnership, that they’re maybe going to be friends. And that’s great. Derek doesn’t have a lot of friends. More is good.

~*~

Erica calls him to check on him, and he tries to put a good face on it for her. She sighs at him, and he knows he doesn’t fool her in the slightest.

“So what’s going on? You make me any more salsa yet? How’s Stiles?”

“Yeah, I have a few jars of it set aside for you. It’s Stiles’ favorite too,” he says slyly, and she laughs in his ear.

“Seriously, you holding up okay?” Erica asks.

He sighs. “I’ll get over it, I always do. It’s the worst that I have to keep seeing him, though.”

“The worst, hm?” she asks.

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I do know what you mean. You mean that usually when you irrationally crush on someone, you manage to engineer avoidance, at least emotionally, until you can make it so you don’t have to see them anymore.”

“Well, it works,” he snaps, and hates the defensive tone in his voice, hates that he can’t quite manage that strategy, this time.

“It works when it really is an irrational crush, Derek,” she tells him gently. “I don’t think that’s what you’re working with this time.”

“Hm,” he says grudgingly.

“I know what you want, Derek, we’ve been friends a long time. You’re made for a long-term relationship like Boyd and I have, and believe me, it’s out there for you. I can’t guarantee it’s Stiles, but you will find it, I know you will.”

Derek tries to believe her, holds onto this thought as hard as he can.

~*~

The market starts at 8 a.m., and it’s busy immediately. It’s empty and then there’s a sudden crush of people that just doesn’t let up. Stiles’s booth has three big tables in the front covered with crates of produce, but he’s converted the one on the side for Derek’s stuff. His truck is parked across the back of his stall, and the awning that shades the booth secured to poles at the corners. Derek’s lists are all meticulously compiled, samples laid out, cases of jars under the table at his feet. His labels are simple, just his name, the ingredients, and the source of the produce he’s used. It’s all Stilinski Farm except for the strawberry jam.

Over and over, there’s a refrain of “Whoa, Stiles, you bring a friend this week?” Stiles is well-known, popular with everyone, and Derek would be uncomfortable, would feel like he didn’t belong, except that Stiles introduces him to everyone who asks with a warm smile, the one that charmed him at the start: “This is Derek, he’s a whiz at jam and relish and making all our good veg into stuff you can enjoy after the season’s over!”

Derek reminds himself that Stiles is this friendly to everyone, it’s not just him who gets those smiles, those big gestures, those exuberant words. His heart sinks even as he can hardly take his eyes off Stiles, at least when he’s not busy. Derek’s head whirls and he talks, and talks, and talks to the customers who come to Stiles’ booth. He describes recipes, explains methodology, recommends books and websites; listens to suggestions and stories from old folks about what their grandparents made in their childhood. He catches Stiles’ eye a few times and once Stiles winks at him and Derek nearly drops the jar he’s holding out to a customer. Stiles tries to stifle the bark of laughter and Derek feels himself flush, his momentary hope that Stiles hadn’t seen it happen gone up in smoke.

~*~

There’s a lull in the late morning, and they finally get to collapse into the chairs Stiles pulls from the back of his truck. Stiles produces a thermos of iced coffee and a couple of ham sandwiches, and Derek thinks he’s never been closer to declaring his undying love. Instead, he looks at the sandwiches and says, “you know what would make these even better?” and he reaches for the sample jar of hot relish, spoons it liberally onto his own.

Stiles watches with his mouth dropped open and says, “God, yes, please,” and holds his out for Derek to embellish.

Derek barely manages to tear his eyes away from Stiles’ rapturous face before he looks up again. Stiles waves his sandwich in greeting and Derek looks over to see see an older lady standing at the front of the booth with an eyebrow raised at them.

“May I help you?” Derek asks politely, since Stiles is still chewing his enormous bite. The lady regards him steadily, dark eyes shaded by the brim of her hat. “And you are?” She asks him.

Stiles leaps to his feet, tries to put his sandwich down (Derek catches it before it can land on the ground) and launches himself forward. “Ms. McCall! It’s so good to see you!” and her face lights up and they’re talking a mile a minute. Derek figures out that she’s an old friend of the family, possibly of Stiles’ mom.

“We’ve been over this, Stiles, you make me feel like an old lady if you call me ‘Ms.’, it’s Melissa, you know that.” Derek helps a couple of customers so Stiles can keep chatting, but finally they slow down. “And who’s this?” she asks again, and Stiles says, “Oh, this is Derek Hale. He’s been canning and making all kinds of amazing things, just like my mom used to! Here, you have to try them …”

She buys two bags full of produce, and four jars of various relishes from Derek, but she still smirks knowingly at Derek and, when Stiles is busy with other customers, leans close to say, “Take good care of him, okay? He’s a great kid.”

Derek blinks at her, thinking, oh, how I wish it was like that, finally stammering out, “It’s … not like that.”

Her smile broadens. “Mm-hm. Tell you what, my mom and I taught Claudia some of our family’s recipes, but I’ve never been good at the canning part, and I’d be happy to do the same for you.” She shifts her bags and pulls her phone out of her pocket, looks at him questioningly, saying “how do I reach you?” And before he knows it he’s given her his number, and he’s got a tentative plan to get together next week to can with Melissa McCall.

Stiles looks a little uncomfortable, probably because Derek’s like, infringing on his life, by making that arrangement with Ms. McCall, and being too intense about his feelings. His staring and his fond looks, and his gushing about the quality of the produce that Stiles grows -- it’s all too obvious, just like he’s feared.

Derek thinks about what Melissa said, and he’s desperate to find some evidence of deeper feelings from Stiles. Derek knows there’ve been plenty of opportunities for Stiles to pick up on what Derek’s been sending out, his desperate attempts not to tip his hand and ruin everything. And Stiles’s behavior hasn’t changed. He’s still the friendly, chatty guy he’s been since the beginning. So. He’s going to be good, take what he can get of Stiles. He tries to firm his resolve.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy when Stiles gets hit on by a persistent customer, and she’s pretty, too. She ignores Stiles’ attempts to show off Derek’s creations, but Derek watches carefully, and he’s relieved to see that Stiles’ smile is a little forced, his gestures smaller and more careful, not making any actual contact with the woman. He reins in his small-talk patter, even, and Derek didn’t know he could DO that. He knows Stiles can be quiet; they’ve spent enough time in the same vicinity by now that he’s seen it, but he didn’t realize that that exuberant personality he sees might be a bit of an act.

The woman finally, finally leaves, smiling at Stiles one last time over her shoulder. Stiles turns and sees Derek watching, rolls his eyes in a tiny “what can you do?” gesture before helping the next person. It makes Derek feel a bit better. But he watches a lot of people who are very friendly with Stiles, watches him talk and laugh and describe cooking methods and growing methods again and again, and thinks, never for me.

There’s another lull and Stiles comes to chat with him a little, and he can’t help himself from asking, “Does that happen often, like that woman …”

Stiles looks puzzled as he picks up his water bottle for a drink.

“The one who was … hitting on you?”

Stiles flushes a little. “No, I don’t know, I’m … notoriously clueless about when people are … I … she was pretty obvious though, right? It wasn’t just me?”

Derek smiles faintly and shakes his head.

“It’s just, it’s hard when it’s a customer, I can’t blow them off like I would with someone random in a bar or whatever, who’s pushing too hard. Not that that happens to me much, but it’s one thing when it’s a random overbearing creep and another when it’s someone you have a vested interest in keeping happy, you know?”

Derek’s been hit on plenty, but never in a circumstance where he felt forced to be pleasant. He doesn’t know what to say.

“You, ah, were getting some pretty appreciative looks too, you know,” Stiles says, eyeing the boxes of produce and combining the herbs into one. Adds ice from the cooler under the table to the water that’s helping keep his greens fresh and appealing. “People in your space.” Derek hadn’t noticed, had eyes for no one but Stiles. “You’re just so good at this, a natural. Your passion comes through.” Stiles flushes hard, staring at him, and then someone asks about the price of the rainbow chard, and he turns away.

Finally the day is done.

They tally up their returns, and Stiles is chattering excitedly about how everyone loved Derek’s stuff. “Wow, a couple of things sold out of what you brought! It’s good to get a sense of what’s most popular,” he says, as he checks out the log Derek’s keeping to cross-reference with his inventory at home. “For next year!” Stiles says excitedly. Derek must give him a weird look because Stiles freezes and stutters. “I, Derek, I. I’m sorry, I jump to conclusions a lot, but I’m already really used to your face and your everything and I kind of want you to keep doing this, but it’s up to you, of course it is, okay?”

Derek feels a tiny flare of hope at the insinuation that Stiles might want to keep him around, but he figures Stiles means as buddies or farm friends or fellow appreciators of local produce and cuisine, so he’s not very enthusiastic in his response. He forces himself to smile and nod, but even he knows it doesn’t reach his eyes.

Stiles’ face falls but he smiles a tremulous smile and says, “I want you in my life whatever way I can get you, dude.”

Derek can’t figure out how to respond, at all. He’s spent these past weeks falling deeper and deeper, and sometimes he thinks they share a moment, but that could just be friendly. He just doesn’t trust himself, knows what he wants but can’t seem to follow through or put himself out there by speaking his mind. He tries to return Stiles’ smile, but huffs in frustration at himself, as he’s re-packing jars into cases. Erica’s going to kill him, if he fucks this up, but he can’t understand what Stiles is telling him at all.

“I’ll be free in a few minutes, okay?” Stiles is hovering, but he has to go supervise the people who come take the leftovers from the market to the food pantry and the homeless shelter. He runs back over after a couple of minutes, maybe to check on Derek, saying, “Don’t leave without talking to me, you hear?”

Derek nods at him without quite making eye contact. He feels like he’s fucked this up. Whatever they had, wherever this was going. The sick feeling in the pit of his stomach makes him want to lie on the matted-down grass and curl into a ball.

Finally there’s nothing but empty crates and tables around them, neatly stacked up. Stiles is standing in front of him, clutching his hands together. He takes a deep breath as Derek watches.
“You … did you not like doing this? You don’t have to … I still feel like I strong-armed you a little and you … if it’s not your thing, you can just, I don’t know, I can sell it for you, or, you can do it yourself, or not at all. I just, I was so excited, and I like getting to spend more time with you …”

Derek hates that he’s made Stiles insecure. He likes when Stiles is confident, passionate about his food and his farm and his beliefs, not stammering and unsure. And he, Derek, is making him this way.

“I … liked being here with you,” Derek manages to say, but it costs him so much effort and he hates that. “It’s great, really,” and he tries to pour his feelings into the words, to make sure Stiles knows he’s being sincere.

“I like being with you, too, Derek. I’d … like to be with you a whole lot more, in fact.”

“You … would?” Derek’s frozen inside, miserable with his inability to articulate how he’s feeling. He shakes his head in frustration, and turns to putter with his already-packed up stuff.

“Derek, please,” Stiles says, and grabs his arm. “Don’t, really, I’m sorry if I fucked this up by coming on too strong. It’s okay, let’s just …” he trails off uncertainly.

And Derek feels like he’s been punched in the chest, and some of that must show on his face, because Stiles lets out a frustrated noise, yanks him close, puts his hand on Derek’s face, and moves in to kiss him. He pauses, gaze flicking between Derek’s eyes, before leaning in and pressing their lips together, brushing once, twice before settling in possibly the gentlest, sweetest kiss Derek’s ever received. It makes his knees feel weak, and he closes his eyes, chasing the sensation. If … this might be his only chance, to have this with Stiles, and damn if he’s not going to savor it, just this moment in time.

Too soon, Stiles is pulling away, mouth shiny and cheeks flushed.

“Look, I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t want to fuck everything up by getting my feelings all over you, I wanted to be able to keep working with you because I wanted you any way I could get you. The more time I spend with you, the more I like you. But it seemed like things were getting all weird anyway, and if I was gonna lose you, I wasn’t going to be able to live with myself if I didn’t get to do that at least once. It was my last-ditch effort.”

Derek’s practically screaming at himself, inside his head, say something, you idiot! he likes you! you can have this again if you just say something now! He opens his mouth, and “Just … just promise me we can keep doing that, okay?” is what comes out.

Stiles rests his forehead against Derek’s and his mouth curves in that smile, again, the one that makes Derek’s breath catch. “I promise you,” he breathes.

Derek closes his eyes and breathes, tries to absorb this new reality. “You really … want this, with me?” He hates how vulnerable he sounds.

“You don’t want to believe the evidence even when it’s right in front of your face, do you?”

“It’s … not that I don’t want to, believe me, I just, I’m not good at reading people.”

“I’ve been told by pretty reliable sources that I wear my heart on my sleeve even when I’m trying really hard not to,” Stiles says wryly.

“I just, I thought I was being obvious, coming on too strong, being a pain in the ass.”

“Oh my god, no, I just … sometimes I thought I was getting a vibe from you, that you might be interested? But I kept talking myself out of it.”

Derek’s breath catches again. “Same, Stiles, same with me. I … guess we both thought we were being too obvious, when maybe neither of us was.”

“Yeah, or else we’re both kind of dense?” The impossibly soft, fond look on Stiles’ face is almost too much to take in.

Derek hooks his index fingers through Stiles’ belt loops and smiles into his eyes. His confidence rises, now that he knows where he stands. “Thanks. For. Just taking a chance, even if you didn’t know how I felt.”

“Someone had to. I was going to explode from unexpressed feelings, if I didn’t. I’m constitutionally unable to hold feelings in.”

“So … where were they going, if you didn’t tell me about them, seeing as how you didn’t actually explode?”

Stiles flushes. “My dad? My friends? They uh, got an earful, let me tell you. I’ll probably get teased relentlessly for the rest of my life for it, to tell you the truth.”

“Yeah? I’m sorry about that,” Derek says softly, and leans in to kiss Stiles again. Pulls back, noses along his cheekbone, a little sticky with sweat from the heat of the day. He smiles as Stiles shivers a little, before bringing their mouths together in a perfect press again. One of Stiles’ arms winds around his neck, the other at his waist. Derek uses the hand between Stiles’ shoulder blades to pull him closer, and he tracks kisses along Stiles’ jaw to his ear. He lets out a quiet groan when Derek licks gently at the shell of his ear.

“Worth it,” Stiles breathes out between kisses. “Totally worth it.”

John walks around the side of the truck, and they both turn toward him. He’s standing stock-still, eyebrows raised. “Finally,” he mutters, shaking his head before turning around and walking away. Derek can’t decide if he’s mortified or amused.

“I’d like nothing better than to stay right here for the rest of the day,” Stiles says a few minutes later, face flushed and eyes wide.

“Yeah,” Derek says hoarsely. “Same.”

“But I have … I have to … the farm.”

“I know. It waits for no man.” Derek attempts a serious face.

Stiles quirks a lip at him. “But, uh, soon? Can we … I …”

“Yeah,” Derek says, smiling helplessly into his eyes. “Just … tell me when. Later? Tomorrow?” Forever, he silently adds, and congratulates himself on not saying it aloud, spares a quick thought to tell Erica about it later.

“Both?” And Stiles’ grin threatens to split his face. God, Derek’s screwed. His hair is sweaty along the edges of his face, and his hands and shirt are grimy, and he’s …

“Yeah,” he breathes, and leans in to kiss him again.

*~*

“You’re calling me again? All these calls in the span of just a few weeks, is the world ending?”

“Maybe.”

“Seriously, are you okay? You sound weird.”

“I’m fine. Everything’s … fine.”

“You had your first market day, right? Were you a hit? Did you make a ton of money?”

“It went great, I survived. I just. Erica. I can’t …”

“Derek? Did something happen with Stiles?”

Derek can’t breathe. He nods mutely, gripping the phone. “Yeah,” he manages, after clearing his throat.

“And?” Derek can hear the pent-up emotion in her voice.

“And … Erica. He kissed me. We’re … together now. I …”

“Oh, baby.” She sniffles.

Derek can’t believe his ears. “Erica? Are you crying? Maybe the world is ending.”

“Shut up, asshole. I’m just happy for you, okay?”

 

.IV.
Epilogue

… I don’t really need an epilogue, I don’t think, but I’ve grown fond of this verse and I have such a love for established relationship … so this got away from me a little.

~*~

They spend cozy nights during the long winter, poring over seed catalogs and old recipe books together, considering teaching some classes on home canning or putting together a booklet of their recipes, maybe putting them up on the web. They’re toying with the idea of a website for the farm. Stiles knows a guy who can help with the coding, and Derek can do the writing. His own interest, and then all these months of talking with Stiles, means he’s pretty knowledgeable in his own right.

One such night, in early February, Stiles announces, “It’s strawberry night, buddy!”

Derek just looks at him, because the strawberries from the freezer are only a distant memory and they’re carefully hoarding their two remaining jars of jam for John’s birthday waffles in a few weeks, so Derek doesn’t know what he’s getting at.

He plops down beside Derek, waving a couple of sheets of paper and what Derek recognizes as the notebook that contains his crops plans. “We need to put in some strawberries, so you stop making your jam from the competition’s fruit. At least, next year you will. This year you’re still gonna have to use theirs, because my dad will mutiny if he has to go without your jam next winter.”

Derek quirks a questioning eyebrow at him. “Why?”

“The plants take a year to mature before they start bearing fruit. So we’ll put them in in a few weeks, but it’ll still be June of next year before we’re harvesting our own.”

It warms Derek to hear Stiles talking about “we” and “our.” He can’t help but smile. “Sounds like you’ve got it all worked out. What do you need me for?”

“Well, where we’re going to put them, for one thing, and for another, we need to choose a variety. That’s where you come in.” Stiles taps his pencil against his cheek. Derek doesn’t get distracted by wanting to put his mouth where the pencil is. “You know we cleared out another piece of property this fall, to add to the available planting area.”

Derek does know. He helped do it. His back aches a little in memory, of all the aged manure and compost they worked into the soil after clearing the weeds. Even with machinery, it was a ton of work. A quarter acre never seemed so big to him before.

“I thought you were putting the tomatoes there? With basil and garlic?” Derek knows Stiles likes the idea of a “pizza garden,” he thinks Scott’s kids will get a kick out of it, and it’s supposed to be good for tomatoes to grow near those things, anyway.

“Yup, that’s the plan.” Stiles nods approvingly. “But that frees up space here,” he opens his notebook and points at where he’d had bush beans growing last year. “So we need to estimate how many plants we need for the available space, and choose a variety.”

~*~

A couple of weeks later, Stiles is acting a little weird, and John too. Keeps making a meaningful face at Stiles, who scowls at him in return.

Finally Derek can’t take it anymore. “I feel like I’m missing something.”

“Oh, for god’s sake. Dad thinks he’s being all subtle, but he wants me to give you this.” Stiles grabs a plain envelope off the coffee table and thrusts it in Derek’s general direction. He takes it, looking up at them, bemused. It’s surprisingly heavy, obviously containing a thick sheaf of paper.

Stiles gives him a “get on with it” gesture and says, “So open it, dude.”

Derek unwinds the twine from around the top of the envelope and pulls out the papers. It’s immediately clear what this is: Claudia’s and her mom’s recipes.

Derek realizes the weight of the gift, and that their odd behavior isn’t because of him, but rather the significance of it. “Wow,” he says. “This is … wow.” He flips through the pages, and looks up at them. Stiles is looking at him with an unreadable expression, but John’s busying himself with something on his phone. Derek suspects he’s deliberately separating himself a little, for his own emotional sanity.

“You’ll have to tell me what you want me to try first, and promise not to be mad if I get one wrong, okay?” It’s a desperate attempt to lighten the tension a bit, and it must work a little.

Stiles smiles, face softening, and he puts his arms around Derek’s neck. “You know I will.”

“Thank you,” he says quietly. “For trusting me with these. I know how important this is.”

~*~

The next night, Derek’s putting together a list of flavored mustards he wants to experiment with, and researching where to source his mustard seeds.

There’s a winter storm coming, and Derek’s staying overnight, and maybe even tomorrow night, too, depending on how hard the storm hits; he brought over groceries to make meals for them all and the Stilinski pantry is usually well-stocked, too. It feels so comfortable and cozy; the house is big, yes, but they have the habit of shutting doors and turning down the heat in rooms they’re not using, condensing their world. The woodstove is glowing in the corner, radiating gentle heat, and John’s asleep in front of the TV. Heading to their bedrooms is hard when it’s so warm right here.

Tonight’s dinner was a jar or two of Derek’s sauce from last summer’s tomatoes, and huge amounts of meatballs from a neighboring farm that raises grass-fed beef, and they made a salad of microgreens from the greenhouse, with dried fruit and toasted nuts and feta, and a kick-ass vinaigrette. Derek and Stiles are curled up on the loveseat with notebooks full of crop plans and heirloom varieties and research about goats and sheep, and it’s … perfect, really.

And Stiles turns to Derek and says, “You uh, you know what would make this better?” And he clears his throat, and his color’s a little high, and Derek has a wild moment of wondering if he’s getting sick before he realizes no, Stiles is nervous. Uh oh. He looks at Stiles more intently, but he just laughs and reaches out to drag his knuckles over Derek’s cheek. “Dude, don’t give me that deer-in-the-headlights look. It’s nothing bad, I promise.” And Derek’s heart eases a little, but he’s still on edge. He closes his eyes so he doesn’t feel so vulnerable. Stiles takes his hand, plays with his fingers a little. “I just.” He stops.

Derek opens his eyes, looks at him, but now his eyes are closed. He chuffs out a laugh, only a little bit forced. “Stiles. You make me so happy. Just say it, whatever it is. I’m …”

Stiles interrupts him, cuts him off, saying, “I just … I want you to move in? I hate it when you have to leave. I … want you here always.” His eyes dart around, and he twitches where he’s touching Derek, all their little points of contact where they’re tilted against each other in the middle of the sofa, hips, thighs, biceps. Derek’s feeling … he’s had thought that this would make him warm and fuzzy and wanted, loved, and it does, but he also feels suddenly, overwhelmingly aroused, flushed and wanting and … yeah, that’s not really appropriate when John’s in the same room. Even if he is asleep.

And now his dick’s twitching, but Stiles is looking worried, tension a palpable thing in the air, and he says, “Too soon? I’m sorry, I can’t … I just … I couldn’t hold it in anymore. You don’t have to, we can just go on as we were, it’s okay, all right?” Shit. Derek’s done that thing, again, where he didn’t actually make any words come out of his mouth, and Stiles is leaping to the wrong conclusions. He’d gotten so much better about this, lately, too.

“No, Stiles, no, stop,” Derek says, but Stiles’ mouth is open again to keep talking, and Derek just puts his hand over it. “It’s … not what you’re thinking.”

And he abruptly stops moving, eyes huge in the low light. Derek cautiously removes his hand.

“I know you told me to stop, but seriously, Derek, you’re killing me,” Stiles says, a tiny smirk playing around the corner of his mouth. “Just, with the ruminating, dude, and we don’t even have any ruminants around, yet.” And Derek thinks, what?

“Only you would make jokes about farm animals in the middle of a state-of-the-relationship talk,” Derek says, and he thinks he manages to restrain his eye-roll. Or at least, keeps it to a minimum. He can make jokes, with Stiles, it’s the serious stuff that makes the words clog up in his throat.

Stiles’ face softens, the smirk vanishing. He strokes his fingers lightly through Derek’s hair, a barely-there touch to his ears, his jaw, before settling against his neck, and then leaning his face in so he’s resting his forehead just above Derek’s ear. Derek can feel, can hear his breath, and it tickles a little. “Yes or no, man. Just. An answer, please?” Damn, Stiles has gotten good at reading him, his facial expressions and body language, even when he doesn’t talk. Stiles already knows his answer, somehow, or his tone wouldn’t have taken a turn for the lighthearted.

Stiles pauses, and Derek takes a breath. “You know my history, and I’ve been alone so long. You know this entire … thing has been hard for me, but so good for me, and I just … got a little overwhelmed with the … intensity of my feelings for you, okay?”

“You kind of kill me, dude. You’re so understated, but when you really decide to say something, you say it in, like, the most articulate way possible. I love that about you.” And Stiles is taking Derek’s books and papers away, setting them and his own on the floor, swings his legs over Derek’s lap and curls into his side. He reaches out and runs his hand along Derek’s abs, and Derek squirms, trying to get comfortable. He really needs to adjust himself but doesn’t want to let on to Stiles the state he’s in. Why he’s embarrassed, he doesn’t know. They’ve been sleeping together for months now. But something about the intimacy, the idea of being physically turned on by the idea of living together, is making him incredibly self-conscious.

It's not exactly news to Derek that he has a thing for domesticity. It's not every guy in his mid-twenties who takes up canning and cooking with a passion, who falls (yes) in love with a farmer, and his family house and his land and maybe even his dad, a little. Not his dad, that’s just weird. Just, everything that comes with Stiles, his entire everything, that’s what Derek’s fallen so hard for.

Finally Stiles notices the way he shifts, squirms a little, really, and his eyes widen in comprehension. “Really, Derek?” he says, groping him a little as if in confirmation, and Derek doesn’t think he’s imagining the gleeful tone in Stiles’ voice.

Derek can feel the heat suffusing his neck, his ears, and of course that just makes it worse. “I …” he starts, and looks down, embarrassment choking his words off. He stares at his hands, clutching his tablet defensively, before hazarding a glance at Stiles. Who’s looking at him with warm affection and not a hint of mockery.

“It’s very good for my ego that a discussion about moving in with me turns you on.”

Derek throws a glance at John, and says, in a low voice, “Stiles …”

“It’s okay, he sleeps like the dead. Sometimes I have to stare at him for a minute to make sure … well, to reassure myself that he’s actually breathing.”

The weird conversational twists that happen with Stiles amaze Derek. He chooses valiantly not to engage with that one and keeps his mouth shut.

“But I will concede the point that maybe we ought to take this conversation, uh, elsewhere.”

“You think?”

“I do, in fact. You head up, okay, and I’ll get Dad bundled off to bed.” John’s bedroom is downstairs, and Stiles -- at least every time Derek’s been around to see it -- always wakes him out of his chair and chivvies him to bed instead of just letting him sleep there. Derek likes it, the care they show for each other, the casual intimacy as they sometimes bicker but always take care of each other.

When Stiles comes upstairs, Derek’s already in bed, curled on his side, tablet resting against a pillow, reading through an article on sheep breeds.

“Sorry, babe, I had to let the dog out one last time.” Stiles shivers. “Jesus God, it’s cold as shit out there. And now I gotta get undressed. That’s the worst thing about winter, you know? I’m already so freaking cold and then I have to take clothes off, to get into bed. And then bed is cold. Who invented this idea? I think I’m just going to sleep like this.” He gestures at his flannel-lined jeans, his layers, his fleece hoodie.

Derek nods, sleepy. “I know that’s why you sent me up first, by the way. I’m on to you. I’m just your bed warmer.” He’s heard Stiles’ tirade before, and it’s just Stiles being Stiles. He slouches toward the bathroom, and Derek hears him brushing his teeth, spitting mouthwash, washing his hands. He drops his clothes at the foot of the bed and shivers theatrically, scrambling under the covers and pressing up to Derek shamelessly.

“You’re so warm, babe,” Stiles wriggles and Derek’s dick gives an interested twitch. He’d willed his hard-on from before away, but it won’t take much to bring it back.

“You have your socks on, still, you weirdo,” Derek says.

He can practically hear Stiles’ eyeroll when he says, “Trust me, it’s better this way. You do not want my freezing toes in contact with your skin. You’re the freak whose feet stay warm no matter what, anyway. How is that even possible?”

Derek just hums contentedly in response. He’d shoved his tablet under his pillow when Stiles got into bed, and now he maneuvers them so that he’s spooning Stiles, one arm wrapped around his chest, the other resting along his back. Stiles squirms again, sighing happily, and presses back against Derek. “You’re the best warmer ever.”

“Glad to know the real reason you’re keeping me around,” Derek says drily, a minute later.

“Yeah. That, and your cooking, and your good looks, and how good you are with your --”

Derek groans to cut him off. “Can’t we have a nice, cozy moment without you dirtying it up, you perv?”

Stiles grinds his ass against Derek’s groin and Derek sucks in a breath involuntarily.

“I thought you liked it when I do that,” Stiles says, and the little fucker’s dropped his voice so it sounds rough, sexy. Derek’s sure he doesn’t miss the way Derek’s dick is taking an interest in the proceedings. He tries for a long-suffering sigh but suspects it comes out more like a shameless moan. So sue him.

Stiles shimmies around so he’s facing Derek, and he brushes their noses together, smiling softly. “So, back to what we were talking about downstairs?”

“Just --” Derek says, and he wishes that it sounded a little less desperate.

Stiles pulls back the tiniest bit, just so they can make eye contact in the dim room. “I’m not making fun, Derek. The thought that moving in together gets you all … hot and bothered … is like … I can’t even put it into words.” He takes Derek’s hand, presses it against his own hard-on, and says, “You’re not the only one. Basically as soon as I thought about trying to ask you, I got hard, and I’ve been this way ever since. Even the freakishly cold wind outside only slowed me down a little.”

Derek can feel himself smile a little in response, and he squeezes Stiles’ cock, before Stiles says, “Quit smirking, you ass. The no-making-fun has to go both ways, or else you’re going down.”

“Oh,” Derek raises his eyebrows, but before Stiles can replay what he’s just said, Derek squeezes him again, drops his voice, and says, “Oh, I’ll go down, all right.”

Stiles’ breath hitches and he arches into Derek’s hand, saying, “Promises, promises.”

Derek leans into him, presses his mouth onto Stiles’ with intent. Stiles yields in such a beautiful way, his mouth soft and wet and so, so hot. Derek keeps the kisses sweet, not demanding, but no less insistent, just, mouths moving together, darting his tongue in to flick against Stiles’. He can feel all his nerve endings sparking. His cock throbs and he can feel himself leaking precome. He feels desperate in a way that he hasn’t in awhile, with Stiles. Their lovemaking’s been passionate and thrilling, but comfortable, too, and this time feels … not uncomfortable, certainly, but momentous maybe, in a way. Imbued with significance.

Stiles’ hand snakes into his briefs and Derek gasps at the touch. “You’re wearing too many clothes,” Stiles slurs between kisses.

“That’s rich, coming from the -- ahh -- guy wearing socks to bed,” Derek retorts, with no heat whatsoever.

“Just take your pants off, Hale,” Stiles says, shoving at his chest as he attempts to scramble out of his own t-shirt and boxers without getting out of the covers or elbowing Derek in the face. At least, Derek hopes he’s attempting not to bean him one.

They both gasp as they roll back together, cocks brushing as they writhe. Derek does playfully hook a toe into Stiles’ sock, just to harass him a little. Stiles retaliates by sinking his teeth gently into Derek’s lower lip, which just serves to ignite him further, flicking his tongue between Stiles’s parted lips and they both hum as Stiles tilts his head to deepen the kiss.

Derek loves the way Stiles kisses. It's gentle and sweet more often than not, little swipes of his tongue along Derek's lower lip, the way he'll suck ever so lightly on it. The way their tongues brush together, not trying to prove anything, not a fight for dominance, not trying to prove anything other than affection.

It’s different than what Derek's used to, is all. He feels like people he's had relationships with always had something to prove. Stiles ... seems only to be proving that he likes kissing. Likes kissing Derek. Likes Derek.

And Stiles doesn't seem to have expectations, based on Derek's appearance or demeanor ... just, equitably takes what Derek offers. It's passionate, hungry, but not demanding. Like a gift. Like kissing Derek is something precious.

“What’s going on in there, big guy?”

Derek shakes his head a little. “It’s nothing, just … this feels just right with you.”

Stiles’ face softens. “So, we gonna do this?”

Derek’s confused for a minute, doesn’t know what he’s agreeing to. He squints at Stiles a minute and asks, “Do … what?”

“Sex, now, and moving in together, yes/yes?” Stiles’ tone is playful but he’s regarding him steadily, and Derek knows that for all their levity, it’s a serious question, and Derek can’t help but laugh. “Yes, and yes,” he says, and before he can draw another breath Stiles is shimmying down Derek’s body and has his mouth on Derek’s abs and then his hip and -- “Jesus, Stiles, warn a guy, would you? And you’re gonna suffocate under there, you know.” He stops talking abruptly when Stiles get his hot, sweet mouth on Derek’s cock, sinking as far down as he can muster. Derek writhes a little, tries to keep himself from bucking right down Stiles’ throat, as he moves torturously up and down, swirling his tongue around the head on each stroke. And then, too soon, he’s replacing his mouth with his hand and coming back up, flushed and panting.

“Just trying to finish warming myself up,” he says, palm moving wetly over the head of Derek’s dick, making him gasp again. “Sadly, I think the room’s too fucking cold for anything but handjobs,” he continues conversationally, and Derek can’t even put two thoughts together. “You know, considering the aforementioned lack of air under the covers.” Derek thinks he makes an incoherent noise in response, because Stiles is looking altogether too smug. The little shit.

Derek pulls together enough brain cells to put his own fingers in his mouth, getting them sloppy and wet. Stiles’ eyes drift closed at the sight and Derek maneuvers them so that he can get his now-wet hand on Stiles’ dick, too, rubbing his thumb across the slit and then smearing precome around the head. Derek kisses Stiles again, and tastes himself on Stiles and suddenly has to have his mouth on Stiles, too. He shoves Stiles onto his back and shimmies down to his neck, rubbing his own dick shamelessly against Stiles’ thigh and he wriggles and gasps, “You fucker, jesus,” as Derek bites at his collarbones and then moves on to licking at his nipples. Derek can’t get enough of the way Stiles flushes way down his chest, now that his skin’s winter-pale again. He doesn’t waste much time admiring that now, though, wanting desperately to get Stiles’ dick in his mouth NOW.

Plus, he figures he has limited time before Stiles is going to start whining about being cold from where the covers pull down, even if it’s accompanied by Derek’s mouth on his dick. He huffs a laugh despite himself and Stiles says, “something funny?”

Derek responds by taking him as deep as he can muster, and moves smoothly with Stiles as his hips buck up and he shouts something unintelligible. Derek pulls off far enough to get his finger wet with pre-come and then goes back down, stroking behind Stiles’ balls and pressing gently with his slick finger on Stiles’ hole, when he bucks again, and Derek’s seriously going to pass out from lack of oxygen if he doesn’t come up for air. He manages one more bob down Stiles’ cock, finishing with a vicious, tight suck around the head before pulling off again and moving back up Stiles’ body so he can breathe again.

Stiles winds his arms around Derek’s neck as he leans over him, resting on his forearms, and Stiles’ cheeks are flushed as he pushes his hips up, and they’re both breathing hoarsely at each other. “Lemme just …” Stiles reaches for the night stand and grabs the lube, drops it beside them and reaches for Derek’s head, dragging his fingers through his hair and pulling him in to kiss him some more. Derek’s trying not to put his full weight on Stiles, but god, the full-body contact just feels so damn good, with Stiles’ fingers rubbing at his scalp and his gentle kisses, breathless and sweet. Derek’s hitching his hips against Stiles’, and Stiles is doing the same, and it’s not enough to get them closer to getting off, exactly, just, feeling good, rubbing together, like an analogue of their kisses.

Derek lowers his face to Stiles’ throat, breathes deeply, kisses and sucks at the skin there. Stiles sweeps his hands up and down Derek’s back, pulling the comforter higher where it’s slipped off his shoulders. It really is damn cold in this room.

“You want --”

“Should we--”

They both start to speak at the same moment and then laugh, and Stiles says, “God, we’re so freaking cute I’m gonna barf.”

Derek knows Stiles says shit like that just to elicit the inevitable eyeroll, so Derek just side-eyes him hard. “Should I get off so you can go take care of that?”

“Do you even listen to the things that come out of your mouth?” Stiles smirks back.

Now Derek does roll his eyes, but Stiles keeps talking. “In fact, I think we should BOTH get off.”

“Oh, okay, sex now, barfing later, good to know.”

Stiles laughs delightedly. “I love it when I can get you to sink to my level.” He swipes the lube from the pillow and says, a little coy, “I kind of liked that rubbing thing we had going on there?”

Derek can’t help himself from smiling. “Okay.” Stiles just makes him so damn happy.

Stiles waves the lube at him. “You want me to do all the work, is that how it is?”

“Squirting a little lube on our dicks is work, now, is that how it is?”

Stiles laughs again, and Derek feels a warmth in his chest that has nothing to do with sex, only with the enormous affection they have for each other. Making Stiles laugh might be even better than making him come. He wriggles his arms underneath Stiles’ back, manhandling him up a little, just to hug him, to hold him wrapped in his arms. He’s a little overwhelmed with the force of his emotions. Stiles hugs him back for a long moment.

“S’okay, big guy,” Stiles’ voice is a little muffled, and Derek loosens his hold. He likes it that Stiles gets him, but doesn’t feel the need to talk stuff to death. “Can I get on with the squirting, now?”

Derek pulls back so he’s leaning over Stiles again and narrows his eyes at him. “Seriously?”

“I meant, squirting the lube, like you said, buddy. Don’t even start with me, mister.”

Derek’s lip twitches. “Squirt away, then.”

Stiles in some fast, ninja-like move, manages to get the bottle open and under the covers, squeezes out a blob or two, “Fuck, that’s fucking cold,” he hisses, twitching, and then stashes the lube away again before grabbing Derek’s hips and grinding them together, lube slicking the way perfectly. Stiles rolls them so he’s on top, and Derek adjusts the covers over his shoulders again.

“Thanks, babe,” Stiles says, sighing as he grinds his cock against Derek’s hip.

Derek’s breath hitches, but he says, “I don’t want to listen to you whine, you know.”

“So sweet,” Stiles says, pressing open-mouthed kisses along Derek’s jaw. He reaches down to thumb at a nipple and Derek sucks in a breath again as he pushes his hips up harder. Derek’s panting, now, thrusting harder against Stiles in a smooth glide, and he can hear by Stiles’ breathing that he’s closer now, too, their cocks a perfect wet friction against each other. He pushes at Stiles’ chin with a knuckle, angling his mouth, needing to kiss him some more. He can feel the sweat on their chests as they slide together, and he reaches for Stiles’ ass and squeezes hard, can feel Stiles gasp into his mouth.

“You close?”

“Yeah, you, oh, you feel so good, babe.”

Stiles worms his hands in between Derek and the bed, pressing them impossibly closer together.

“I want,” he gasps out.

“What?”

“You’re … god, you’re so perfect, I love you so much, Derek. I want … this …”

Derek closes his eyes, grinding up against Stiles, he’s so close to the edge now, but he needs Stiles to come, and he feels him still over him, grinding down hard and spurting between them. The increased wet warmth feels amazing against Derek’s cock and he’s so close, hips pressing into Stiles’ until he whimpers a little from overstimulation and Derek gasps, “Sorry, sorry, just …” and angles away from Stiles’ softening dick and against his hip so he can get the pressure he needs to finish, himself, and the orgasm is such a sweet relief.

They lie there regaining their breath, petting and kissing each other gently, and Stiles finally speaks, “So who’s gonna go get us a cloth to clean up?

Derek shakes his head minutely and makes a tiny noise of indignation. As if there’s any question. “You think I’m new here?”

Stiles’ eyes light up with amusement and he smiles fondly at Derek. “Nope. Not even a little.” He rubs the tips of his fingers into Derek’s hair, above his ears, and nuzzles into his throat.

Derek starts to pull away and Stiles holds him fast.

“We’re going to get stuck together, you know.” Stiles doesn’t budge, won’t raise his face. “Stiles, you’ll bitch in the morning about crusty come and lube flakes on your sheets.”

“That’s future us’s problem, Derek,” Stiles says sleepily into his neck.

“It’s gonna start puddling down into the sheets if you don’t let me move.”

Stiles lets out a noise of displeasure but unlocks his fingers from Derek’s hair. He steels himself for the inevitable cool air and pulls off the covers in one swift move. Derek grabs his own t-shirt to take care of the worst of the mess, but he’ll still need a warm cloth. Of course the water takes forever to warm and by the time he gets back, Stiles is cocooned into the blankets and Derek has trouble even finding an end to pull for re-entry.

“You asleep already?”

“No,” Stiles mumbles.

“Then let me in, dammit. You want to get wiped off or have you done that all over the sheets by now?”

Stiles makes a grumpy, sleepy noise that is not the least bit adorable when he’s effectively abandoned Derek to the cold room. But he squirms so Derek can climb under the warmth and wipe his torso and his soft cock. Stiles gives him a quick kiss and a quiet “thanks, babe,” as Derek drops the cloth onto his t-shirt on the floor, then gets comfortable. It’s hard to say if Stiles is just going to drift off to sleep in a post-orgasm haze, or if he’ll want to talk. Derek can’t figure out what makes him do one or the other, but there’s not much middle ground. And his own preferences don’t seem to play into it much. He sighs a little to himself. Is he dick-whipped? Stiles-whipped?

“You wanna talk more now, or in the morning?” Stiles asks him, as if reading his thoughts. He rolls toward Derek, shoving at him till he’s lying with his back to Stiles’ front, and Stiles wraps an arm around him securely.

“Either’s good,” Derek says, eyes closed already. It’s just so warm, here, curled up with Stiles. And really, what do they need to talk about? Stiles asked him to move in, and he pretty much has never wanted to leave since the first day he came here. Stiles’ hand rubs up and down on his chest, and he curls back into him a little more, clasping Stiles’ hand and threading their fingers together.

“Really, Derek, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we get off on domesticity. We’re two dudes in our twenties who’ve basically been playing house since before we even got together. We just … play it better together, don’t we?”

“Yeah,” Derek says. That pretty much sums it up. He knows it could seem weird, the idea of moving in with his boyfriend and his dad, for god’s sake, but it just … it works for them.

“I think it’s felt inevitable for awhile, to me, anyway.”

“Does it? That’s how it feels to me, too,” and Stiles cuddles him a little closer. Derek can feel him rubbing his nose against Derek’s neck, and it makes him relax even more. He feels Stiles’ breath huff out, warm, as he says, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this relaxed, except when you’re sleeping. Wait, are you sleeping? Are we having this conversation in your sleep? Goddamnit.”

Derek shakes his head. “Not asleep. Just … comfortable. Happy.”

Stiles hums at him. “Me too. Sleep now, though, right? We’ll figure the rest out in the morning?”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees, and he knows that they’ll take care of it. He can move in anytime, just start moving his things over, now that it’s a done deal. He knows the farm isn’t mortgaged, but he’ll figure out a way to contribute so he doesn’t feel like a freeloader. Maybe offer to help restore the outbuildings, or pay for a roof. Help buy some of the animals, when they get to that point, or hire some help. “What’s your dad gonna think?” he asks.

There’s a pause, and Derek wonders if Stiles has gone to sleep after all, but he shakes his head. “He’s been hassling me for weeks to ask you already. I think he prefers you to me at this point, anyway. Your cooking, for sure. You’ve basically owned our kitchen since the first time you set foot in it. Dad’s always happier when you’re cooking. He’d love it if you’re around more.”

Derek’s heart feels even more full at this. He likes John, respects him a lot, but it’s good to know that that approval goes both ways.

“It’s funny how natural this feels, right?”

“Yeah. You need some time to wrap your head around it, still, or do you just want to bring over some stuff tomorrow and get this started.”

It makes sense, really, to be established here before the new season starts, which is really very soon. Stiles will be starting his first seeds in the greenhouse next week. Derek’s lease will be up in a couple of months, and he can afford it, so it’ll be nice to have the time to move his things slowly, over time.

“If I say yes, then we can go to sleep, and we can wake up tomorrow already living together, right?”

“Sounds good to me. ‘Night, babe.”

“G’night.”