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 Derek looks over his shoulder as he sneaks out the back of the house, leaving the thudding beat of the music behind. He loves his friends but he’s too tired for a party, and he can’t afford to have a hangover in the morning. He’s been here for the hour he promised, but he knows Erica will drag him back inside if she sees him leaving.

 “You trying to hide?”

 Derek startles.  There’s a man around the side of the house, shoulder resting against the brick wall and his ankles crossed beneath him. He’s holding a beer, drops of water running down the amber glass, and he takes an easy sip.

 “No,” Derek huffs, sticking his hands in his pockets.

 “Right,” the guy says. Derek takes a step closer so that he can see the guy’s face more clearly in the dark, and he’s met with bright brown eyes and moles scattered across pale skin, though his cheeks are slightly flushed. The guy smiles a little.

 Derek raises an eyebrow. “It looks like you’re the one that’s hiding.”

 “Yep,” he says cheerfully. “My ex is inside.”

 Derek snorts. “I guess it ended badly,” he says, and then he hears a laugh.

 “You could say that.” He sticks out a hand. “I’m Stiles.”

 Derek hesitates, but then Stiles wiggles his long fingers and Derek takes his hand with a chuckle. Stiles’ grip is strong and warm and their eyes meet when their hands touch. Derek is surprised by how gorgeous he is, his navy shirt pulled tight over his shoulders and his dark jeans snug.

 “Derek,” he introduces.

 “Oh!” Stiles says, a glint in his eye. “So, you’re Derek.”

 “Yes?” Derek says.

 “Dude!” Stiles says, his hands in the air. “We could have totally met months ago but apparently you always say no to events and parties and things.”

 Derek bites his tongue. He keeps on getting this from his friends and now from this stranger. He looks at his watch – he really should be going home soon – and he takes a step backward.

 “I suppose I haven’t made a very good impression,” he says stiltedly.

 “Nah, you’re doing okay,” Stiles smiles, and it’s a nice smile. There’s something genuine in the way the corners of his eyes wrinkle and Derek slowly loses the tension in his shoulders.

 “Work is busy,” Derek finally says.

 “What do you do?” Stiles asks.

 Derek shakes his head. He really doesn’t want to think about work and he swears that every minute of every day is devoted to the case he’s working on. It’s only a couple of weeks before their first day in court.

 “I’m a lawyer. I should go and get back to it,” he says, but he notices Stiles frown in disappointment. He feels that recently he’s been making a lot of people feel that way, and Derek’s kind of sick of it. He tries to smile. “But maybe it wouldn’t hurt if I stayed for a few more minutes.”

 Stiles grins brightly at him and Derek’s cheeks go warm.

 “We don’t have to talk about work,” Stiles says. “I’m doing a master’s degree in computer science and I really, really need a break from it. And from other things, but, you know, that’s life.”

 “No work talk,” Derek hurriedly agrees.

 They shake hands on it, and this time their touch lingers as they pull apart. Stiles can’t seem to stop smiling, or smirking, or grinning, and he’s kind of mesmerizing to look at. God, it’s been so long since Derek just talked to someone.

 “So…” Stiles says, taking a step closer. “How do you know Erica?”

 “I’ve been friends with her and Boyd since high school,” Derek says. “You?”

 “We met at a coffee shop about a year and a half ago,” Stiles says. “Our orders got switched and we had each other’s coffees. I recognized her from one of my classes and from then on, we were inseparable.”

 Derek frowns.

 “What’s wrong?” Stiles asks softly.

 “It’s nothing,” Derek says, but then he looks back at Stiles. “I’m just wondering why we’ve never met before. Erica’s one of my closest friends.”

 Stiles raises an eyebrow. “She says you work a lot.”

 Derek sighs, and looks away.

 “Sorry,” Stiles says. “I broke the rules.”

 Derek ducks his head, and chuckles. “It’s the truth though.”

 Stiles gently bumps their elbows together, and there’s a kind, easy smile on his face. Derek feels weirdly calm, like someone finally isn’t judging him for his choices, for making his work a priority. There is a reason why he does what he does.

 They talk for some time, their voices floating effortlessly into the evening air, and they talk about where they grew up and where they’ve travelled, about the books they read as a kid and the classic movies they haven’t seen, about their favorite summer and their most memorable winter. They’ve limited themselves to topics outside the rush of their daily lives, and despite that their conversation is surprisingly freeing. Derek’s forced to have a different kind of conversation than the ones he normally has with strangers.

 Stiles keeps his voice light. “So… there’s no one to come home to at the end of the day?”

 “No,” Derek says, smirking. He looks up and he likes how blotchy Stiles’ cheeks get.

 “Just asking for a friend,” Stiles says quickly, taking a sip of his drink. He clears his throat. “You know how it is.”

 Derek laughs, and he likes the way the warm outdoor light casts a glow on Stiles’ skin, across his suddenly shy smile and his long, lowered eyelashes, and when Derek remembers to check the gold etchings on his watch again he’s surprised to find that an hour has already passed.

 He looks at Stiles, startled. It had been so easy to talk to him.

 Stiles bites his lip. “Do you have to go?”

 “Yeah,” Derek says, dragging a hand through his hair. “Sorry.”

 Stiles smiles gently. “I know you’re busy,” he says. “But maybe I’ll see you at the next thing Erica decides to do?”

 Derek looks at him gratefully. “Yeah,” he says, glad he doesn’t have to definitely say yes or no to him. “Maybe.”

 They look at each other and Stiles’ eyes are sparkling. Derek’s smile fades, but only because his breath has been taken away. He hasn’t felt like this about someone new in a long time.

 Stiles eventually laughs. “Go home!” he says. “What are you still doing here talking to me?”

 “Maybe you’re good company,” Derek replies easily.

 Stiles flushes, looking pleased, and Derek takes a few steps back.

 “Goodnight, Stiles,” he says.

 “Yeah,” Stiles breathes out. “Have a good night – and, and good luck for your work!”

 Derek takes one last look at him, and then all the way home he’s smiling ear to ear. The work he has to do that night is much less painful, the memory of Stiles’ laugh like a handprint in his brain.

 Derek feels energised the next morning even though he barely got enough sleep. He replays meeting Stiles through his mind – his hands, his brown eyes, his smile – and he’s only a little annoyed at himself that they didn’t meet sooner.

 “You’re in a good mood,” his client tells him. “Did you get laid or something?”

 Derek immediately sobers. He didn’t realize he was giving so much away. “Let’s just focus on your case,” he says, eyeing his client in the four walls of the prison. His skin is dull, and the darkness around his eyes is striking against the orange of his clothes.

 His client scowls. “I don’t like the odds you’re giving me.”

 “You were involved in a robbery and somebody died.”

 “So, you think I deserve to go to jail for the rest of my life?” he accuses.

 Derek looks back at his client, at his floppy hair and blue eyes. “It doesn’t matter what I think. But I am going to do my best to represent you properly in court.”

 “You’d better, with the money my father’s paying you,” his client snarls. Derek doesn’t react. He’s used to threats from his clients, and frankly, he’s dealt with worse people who have done worse things.

 Their meeting together goes by quickly – there’s a lot to get through. It’s a high profile case for a small town, with a police officer dead and two others severely injured, including the town’s beloved sheriff. Derek tries to convince his client to take a plea deal for lesser charges, but he’s stubborn and refuses. His client doesn’t like the odds but he doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it.

 The media coverage is picking up again now that the court dates are near, and the town is in a bit of a frenzy, buzzing with opinions and anger and grief. They’re expecting protests outside the courtroom and Derek knows it’s going to be a long few weeks, even months.

 He doesn’t like his client, but then, he rarely does when it’s a case like this.

 Derek holds the phone to his ear as he looks over some paperwork. “Hello?” His brain is going a mile a minute, still thinking about his case as he answers the phone, thinking about the odds and the evidence and the witnesses and the CCTV footage.

 “Derek!” Erica says, and her voice is light. “You still at work?”

 “No,” Derek lies.

 She laughs. “Uh huh, I’m outside your house and you’re not here.”

 Derek stills, looking away from his desk. “Is everything okay? You don’t often show up unannounced.”

 “I’m good!” she says cheerfully, and Derek can almost hear her grin. “I just wanted to see you. I’ve got some news.”

 Derek perks up. “Yeah?”

 “Yep,” Erica says, but she doesn’t elaborate. “Look, I know you’re busy with the case and everything, but are you free tomorrow night? We could have dinner? I know you’re a machine, but you need to eat.”

 “Um,” Derek says, trying to find his schedule. His assistant, Clare, is normally here to help him with these things, but Derek sent her home once she started yawning more than twice a minute. “I can do eight thirty.”

 “Really?” Erica says, and Derek hums. “That’s great! I’ve invited Stiles too.” Derek’s heart beats faster. “He told me that you met at the party. I thought it would be awkward, but he said it was all fine. He even said that he thought you were nice - but that’s all I got out of him.”

 Derek bites his lip.

 “I’m glad it went well,” Erica says, and a relief that Derek doesn’t understand stains her voice. “Is it okay for you if he’s there tonight?”

 “Um,” Derek says. “Yes?”

 “Oh good. I wanted to make sure. I’ve checked with him too,” she says, and then she lets out a small, high-pitched noise. “I’m so excited to see you! You’ll be there for dinner and dessert? No skipping out early?”

 Derek laughs. “Yes, I’ll stay,” he promises.

 When Derek walks into the restaurant his eyes immediately find his friends, and Stiles is there, eyes cast down at his menu. Derek quickly glances at his blurred reflection in the window and decides to ditch the tie, undoing the button at his collar. He takes a breath and doesn’t remember the last time he looked forward to a conversation so much.

 “Hi,” Derek says as he nears. His eyes are on Stiles.

 Stiles doesn’t look at him.

 “Derek!” Erica says. “You made it.”

 He huffs. “If I say I’ll be here then I’ll be here.”

 “I know,” Erica says, standing and hugging him. Boyd nods at him across the table. “Did you come straight from work? Everything going okay?”

 “Yes,” he says. “Thanks for the excuse to get away early.”

 Erica opens her mouth to ask more, but then she glances at Stiles. “We can talk about it later,” she says quietly. Derek doesn’t know what’s gotten into her, he normally shares as much as he’s allowed about his work, but he nods anyway.

 Derek slides into the seat next to Stiles.

 “Stiles,” he says.

 “Derek,” he says, incredibly politely, and his name sounds like it’s on a tightrope high in the sky. Stiles turns towards Derek momentarily, but he avoids eye contact. His smile has disappeared and it’s such a contrast from that night a few weeks ago that Derek is thrown.

 He frowns and then turns towards Erica and Boyd. “You have news?”

 She laughs and her eyes brighten. “Yes,” Erica says, and he looks at her expectantly. Erica grabs Boyd’s hand. “We’re engaged!”

 Derek’s face splits into a grin. “Congratulations.”

 “Thanks,” she grins. “I thought it would never happen.”

 Boyd rolls his eyes but he’s fighting the smile on his face.

 Stiles clears his throat. “That’s amazing. What, you two have been together since high school?”

 “He stole my heart freshman year,” Erica says, smacking a kiss loudly on Boyd’s cheek. Boyd doesn’t even blink.

 Derek chuckles. “Uh huh,” he says. “But it took you until senior year to get together. At prom.”

 Stiles snorts, and Derek risks looking over at him. He tries not to be obvious about it, but it’s a lost cause when Stiles then angles his body away, creating a line, a boundary, between them with his body.

 Derek is confused. He was so bright and kind and friendly before.

 Boyd nudges Erica’s side. “Tell them.”

 She smiles. “I know we’ve been together a long time, but we’ve always talked about getting married before we have kids. And, well, it was a surprise for us, but we’re expecting. I’m pregnant. I told Boyd and then I proposed.”

 Boyd grins at her. “And I said yes.”

 “So, no wine for me tonight,” Erica adds.

 Derek reaches over the table and takes her hand. “I’m so excited for you,” he says, grinning.

 “Wow,” Stiles says, and when Derek looks over he sees a soft smile. His eyes are bright and genuine. And there, there is the Stiles from the night of the party. “When did you find out?”

 Erica flushes. “Yesterday,” she says. “We know it’s a bit soon to share about the pregnancy, but we couldn’t help ourselves.”

 Erica and Boyd lock eyes, leaning in to kiss each other, and the moment seems too tender to observe. Derek looks at Stiles instead and he tries to smile at him. Stiles hunches his shoulders and he peers at his menu again.

 They order their food and Stiles and Derek barely talk to one another. He’s sad and disappointed and his hands clench under the table, trying not to let it show. He’s excited for his friends, for the baby that’s coming soon, and he doesn’t want to ruin that because a near stranger doesn’t want to talk to him.

 “You okay, Stiles?” Erica asks. “You’ve been quiet tonight.”

 “Yep,” he says, taking a long drink of his water. He tries to smile. “Don’t mind me, though, I’m just thinking about my thesis.”

 Derek knows that he’s lying. He doesn’t know Stiles very well but he does know Erica, and the way she huffs and presses her lips together makes him realize that there’s something else going on. Derek is wise enough not to ask, and he finishes his drink.

 “I should go,” he says, taking out his wallet. He throws some cash onto the table and Erica immediately tries to stuff a few notes back into his jacket pocket. Derek frowns. “I can pay.”

 “You always pay.”

 Derek shrugs.

 “Fine,” Erica says, rolling her eyes. Derek smiles. “But we have something to ask the both of you. I know life is busy – but the truth is that you guys are always busy. So, I don’t feel too bad asking if you two will be our best men and help us with the wedding.”

 Stiles brightens. “Really?”

 She laughs. “Of course. You’re my two favourite people.”

 Boyd clears his throat.

 “Except Boyd. And our kid.”

 Derek grins. “Your kid.” He can’t believe it.

 “When is the wedding?” Stiles asks.

 Erica bites her lip. “Well. I want the wedding to be before I start showing. So, in like, three months?”

 Derek blinks.

 “Um,” Stiles says. “That’s soon.”

 Erica and Boyd look at each other again, smiling widely. They’ve loved each other for so long and so steadily that Derek often feels like he’s missing out on something. He hasn’t had a relationship last much longer than a year.

 “We know,” she says. “I’d marry him tomorrow if I could but I kind of want a big, white wedding.”

 Stiles grins at her. “Yeah, we’ll help.” He looks over at Derek for the first time that evening. The earth doesn't break or bend or shatter. “Right?”

 Derek nods. “Of course.”

 Erica squeals and she stands up to hug them both tightly.

 Stiles’ Jeep had broken down earlier that day, and he steps towards Erica’s car before she remembers that his house is on Derek’s way home. It’s late, the moon slipping through dense, greying clouds above them, and Erica asks if Derek can drive him instead. Stiles stills at her suggestion, but he doesn’t argue as they’re left standing together by the side of the road.

 “The car is this way,” Derek says quietly.

 Stiles stands with his hands in his pockets. His shoulders are rigid and his gaze is piercing now that they’re alone. “It’s okay. I’ll walk.”

 Derek stares back at him. Stiles looks like he’s going to burst.

 “It’s late and I’m sure it’s a long walk,” Derek says, unable to understand the sudden coldness of the evening. He wants to ask why , and he wonders if he deserves a fucking explanation.

 “I like walking,” Stiles says.

 “It’s going to rain,” Derek says, and then he takes a step forward. He looks closely at Stiles. “What – what’s going on? You’re different.”

 Stiles glares at him. “You don’t know?”

 “No?”

 Stiles covers his face with his hands, and Derek can’t even guess what he’s thinking. They stand there in silence and a few drops of rain begin to fall. Derek looks to the sky and sees dark clouds swirling above them.

 “Stiles,” Derek says, tired. “Just let me drive you home.”

 Stiles sighs. A raindrop falls on his cheek. “Okay, fine.”

 Derek breathes out and walks towards the car. Stiles follows behind him, the rain beginning to fall more heavily, and he climbs into the passenger seat. Derek takes a moment to steady himself before he gets into the car, his head spinning as he tries to understand why Stiles is acting the way he is.

 “So,” Stiles says flatly. He’s staring out the windscreen, the wipers moving back and forth. “You weren’t trying to trick me then.” Stiles narrows his eyes. “Even though you were all like, I don’t want to talk about work.

 Derek’s hands tighten on the steering wheel. He doesn’t like where this is going.

 “You’re a lawyer.”

 “Yes,” Derek says, annoyed. “I told you that.”

 “You didn’t tell me you were the lawyer for the department store robbery!” Stiles says, and his voice is rising. “You’re defending a murderer .”

 Derek feels a rush of disappointment. He knows a lot of people aren’t happy that he’s taking this case, but it’s not a black and white kind of thing, and someone needs to.

 Stiles glares at him like he’s expecting something. “Are you going to deny it? Are you going to say that he didn’t kill someone?”

 “I can’t discuss this with you, Stiles,” Derek says, his voice flat.

 “Seriously?” Stiles says loudly. “That’s all you’re going to say? My dad is in the hospital right now because of the person you’re defending and he could have died. He’s all I have left!”

 Derek’s bones go cold.

 He didn’t know. He would have handled things differently if he did know, and his heart feels heavy. He glances at Stiles and sees tears mixed with the rain on his cheeks. His chest is heaving and Derek stops the car at the side of the road.

 Stiles’ glare is harsh and unforgiving, and he’s clutching at the seat like he’s trying to ground himself, fingernails digging into the fake leather.

 “I’m sorry, Stiles,” Derek says. “You shouldn’t have had to go through that.”

 Stiles squeezes his eyes shut.

 “Who’s your father?” Derek asks.

 Stiles snorts. “My dad’s the sheriff .”

 “Oh,” Derek says. He can hear Stiles’ breaths slowing down. “So, you’re… Stiles Stilinski?”

 “Yep,” Stiles says. “That’s me.”

 Derek sighs, and he wonders how his life got so complicated. He wants to reach out and comfort Stiles, to touch his shoulder or his arm, but he keeps his hands to himself.

 Derek hesitates. “Stiles… I promise I wasn’t trying to hide anything from you the night that we met. I’m sorry that you felt deceived.”

 Stiles opens his eyes and looks at Derek carefully. “Okay,” he says, his voice croaking.

 “I’ve heard your father is doing well,” Derek says, as gently as he can.

 Stiles nods. “It was still scary.”

 “Yes,” Derek says.

 Stiles wipes at his cheeks and looks out the window. “Can you please just drive me home?”

 Derek nods, and he starts the car again. The falling rain and the rumbling engine is all they hear as Derek drives Stiles home and Derek keeps wanting to say something but every time he stops himself. He pulls up outside Stiles’ house and Stiles opens the car door.

 “If – if you don’t work together on the wedding then I understand,” Derek blurts out.

 Stiles eyes him. He sighs. “I don’t want to let Erica down and we don’t exactly have much time.”

 “No, we don’t,” Derek says, and then he thinks of the reason why. “A baby, though. That’s wonderful news.”

 Stiles doesn’t react. He just gets out of the car and the door slams shut.

 Derek sighs and then drives home. He knows he shouldn’t have expected anything, and that his disappointment is his own fault, but it feels like his hopes have turned to dust, floating away in the night air.

 Derek doesn’t sleep that night. He lies awake and thinks about his work and the reasons why he does his work. He thinks of Stiles’ face, his tears, the way he couldn’t control each breath that he sucked into his lungs. Derek wonders if he’s had the chance to be angry, to yell at someone since his father got shot.

 Derek turns over and stares at the alarm clock. He’s mad at himself for thinking so much about someone he barely knows. Why can’t he stop? One perfect evening with someone isn’t enough to picture a life together, yet he thinks about what could have been if he didn’t have this job, if he didn’t take this case, if Stiles didn’t hate him.

 “Hello?” Derek says cautiously. He knows who it is. He already has his number. He had avoided calling – he didn’t want to make things more tense and uncomfortable for Stiles.

 He’s met with silence. And then, “Hi. It’s, um, Stiles.”

 “Hi Stiles,” Derek says, keeping his voice friendly. He’s stopped everything he’s doing, when normally his hands are flying over all the paper on his desk, writing down rushed notes and answering calls all at once.

 “I think we should meet up,” he says. “To discuss the wedding.”

 The wedding. Erica has already sent them a list of things to do. The venue has been decided – Boyd’s grandmother’s backyard – and she’s asked them to organize an engagement party, a wedding cake, and the caterer.

 Stiles’ number was written at the end of the email.

 “Okay,” Derek says. “If you’re sure.”

 “It’s fine.”

 “Okay.”

 Stiles pauses. “Erica doesn’t trust us to make decisions on our own, so she wants us to work together.”

 “You don’t have to spend time with me just to please Erica. She’ll live,” Derek tells him, even though he’s hoping that Stiles will ignore his advice.

 “It’s fine,” Stiles says again, his voice tight. “I told her it’s fine, and I’m telling you it’s fine. So, it’s fine.”

 Derek isn’t going to argue with him. He looks at his calendar. “Does tonight work?”

 “Yeah.”

 Derek doesn’t have time to think or anticipate their evening together and the day passes by quickly. Derek is only five minutes late when he arrives at the burger joint and he pauses at the door.

 Stiles is glancing at his phone, then looking out the window, and then fiddling with his napkin. He runs his hands through his hair but he only makes it look more messed up. Then he looks towards the door and he sees Derek coming towards him.

 Stiles presses his lips together and his back straightens. It’s such a change from those few seconds before and Derek hides a sigh as he slides into the seat opposite him. He feels out of place in his tailored suit.

 “So,” Stiles says.

 “So,” Derek says back. He wants to smile. He doesn’t.

 “Did you come from work?” Stiles asks.

 “Yes.”

 “Did you… get a lot done?”

 “Yes.”

 “Did you see your client?”

 Derek narrows his eyes. “Do you really want to know?

 Stiles stops. “No,” he admits, and his muscles lose their tension and his eyes lose their glow.

 Derek gives him a small smile. “Hey,” he says. “Let’s get some food.”

 Stiles nods, and it gets a little easier when they have something to occupy their hands. Stiles looks at him, then away again, like he doesn’t know where he can keep his eyes. Derek wonders if he’s acting the same way.

 Derek clears his throat. “Tell me about your thesis,” he says.

 Stiles arches an eyebrow. “Do you really want to know?”

 “Yes, I do, actually.”

 “This isn’t a date,” Stiles says. “We don’t have to do that sort of thing.”

 Derek glares at him. “I know it’s not a date. I know we don’t have to talk – but I think it would be better if we did. Then we can figure out the wedding stuff.”

 Stiles takes a deep breath. “Okay, well, how much do you know about machine learning?”

 Derek shakes his head, and he listens as Stiles talks to him about an app he created that uses machine learning to determine a user’s allergies after they record what they eat and any symptoms they experience over time. There’s a lot to it and Stiles has sauce dripping all over his hands twenty minutes later, burger only half eaten.

 Stiles flushes. “Yeah, that’s um, about it.”

 “It sounds like you could really help people with that.”

 Stiles smiles. It’s small but it’s there. “That’s the goal. I just have to deal with annoying supervisors first.”

 “Annoying bosses never go away,” Derek says.

 Stiles laughs, and then he looks shocked at himself. He flushes, and quickly finishes his food. He wipes his sticky fingers on a napkin.

 “The wedding,” he says quickly.

 “Yeah.” Derek takes out the email Erica sent.

 It’s not easy – but it’s not horrible either. Stiles doesn’t laugh or smile or joke but he’s helpful. He’s got some good ideas, and Derek’s immediately thankful that he doesn’t have to do this alone. Derek only wishes that they could have fun with it, but it looks like Stiles won’t allow himself that.

 Derek smiles at him outside. “I’ll send you my schedule for next week, then, but I’ll probably have to get my assistant to talk to you.”

 “Your assistant.”

 “Yes.”

 Stiles shakes his head and then stares at him. His hands twitch by his sides. “Um, my Jeep still isn’t working.”

 “Yeah?”

 Stiles grits his teeth together. “I can’t afford the repairs right now so I’m catching the bus a lot. Do you think you could pick me up and we can go look at venues for the party together?”

 Derek’s eyes widen. “You’re sure?”

 Stiles snaps. “Stop asking me that.”

 Derek pauses. “Do you need a ride now?”

 “Um, yeah? If you’re not too,” he licks his lips. “Busy.”

 Derek ignores the reference to his work. “I can spare an extra ten minutes.”

 They get into the car and Stiles fiddles with the radio, the black buttons clicking, and Derek doesn’t stop him. They don’t talk, and Derek glances at Stiles every so often, wondering what the hell is going to happen here over the next few months.

 “Thanks,” Stiles mumbles, when the car stops and he leaves before Derek can say goodbye.

 ∞

 Derek walks out of his first day in court to a crowd of photographers and protestors. His client plead not guilty, and they all want to send this guy to prison for life. But Derek has looked at the evidence, and the lack of it, and it might not happen.

 Derek dodges the reporters, the dark sheen of the camera lens and the furry tops of the microphones, and he climbs into the waiting car. “Hello, Romeo,” he says to his driver. “To the firm, please.”

 “Sure thing, Mr. Hale,” he says. Romeo drives slowly, careful of the crowd of people on the sidewalk. Derek doesn’t look out the window even though he can hear their faint shouts.

 They arrive at the firm and Derek tells his junior associates what needs to be done. He works with them in the large meeting room on the fifth floor until the sun has long disappeared in the sky, until eyes have turned tired and Derek sees them glancing at their watches nearly every minute.

 Derek stands. “Thank you for your work,” he says, gathering his papers. He can probably get another hour done by himself at home. “See you all tomorrow.”

 They look at him hesitantly.

 “You can all go home,” Derek clarifies. He’s not going to make them stay if he’s not. He turns around and heads to his office, and sees that Clare is waiting for him.

 “Clare. I thought you’d left already,” Derek tells her.

 Clare smiles tiredly at him. “You know if you’re here, then I have to be here.”

 He shakes his head. “You don’t have to do that.”

 She shrugs. “It’s part of my job.”

 Derek sighs. He really should leave earlier, just so she can go home, but often his workload demands that he stays in the office well after most people have gone back to their families.

 “I spoke with that friend of yours.”

 Derek’s eyes snap up to hers. “Stiles?”

 “Yes,” she says. Derek waits with a lump in his throat. “If you look at your calendar, I have added some dates to meet with him. Erica also sent me the email about the wedding, so I’ve researched a few venues for the engagement party and I’ve booked some viewings with them.”

 Derek breathes out a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” he says. “But you really don’t have to sort out my personal life –”

 Clare laughs. “Derek. I know.”

 Derek smiles gratefully at her. “See you tomorrow,” he says.

 Stiles is waiting for him on the sidewalk, a pumpkin orange scarf around his neck and the wind playing with his hair. Derek is only a few minutes late, but he hates that he’s left Stiles standing in the cold.

 Stiles slides into his car. His cheeks are pink.

 “Hello,” Derek says.

 Stiles looks at him and then away again. “Hi,” he finally says.

 “Sorry I’m late.”

 Stiles shrugs.

 “How are you?” Derek asks.

 “Oh,” Stiles says. “I’m fine.”

 “How is your thesis going?”

 “Um, it’s fine.” He pauses. “Thanks for asking.”

 Stiles taps his fingers on his knees and doesn’t offer anything else. Derek wants to see his smile again, maybe hear one more laugh, but as silence permeates the car a hope he didn’t know he still had falls away.

  He parks the car and Stiles walks behind him as they head into the venue. It’s a dark place, lit up with neon red lights, and a huge bar stretches along one of the walls. The music pounds into his head, but it’s quieter when the owner shows them one of function rooms.

 Stiles looks around. “It’s kind of small,” he says.

 “How many people does Erica want to invite?”

 “Maybe fifty.”

 Derek nods. “Should we look at the other places?”

 “Yeah.”

 They get into the car and they do it all again, and then again. Derek searches for something to say to erase the tension between them, to have Stiles walk next to him instead of a few paces back, but he can think of nothing and the back of his neck is hot as he imagines Stiles’ gaze on him.

 Derek glances back but Stiles is looking at his feet. Doesn’t he remember that they once had a lovely evening together?

 “This one’s good,” Stiles says, taking a few steps around the room.

 “Yes,” Derek says, and he takes in the wooden paneling, the fairy lights, and the open glass doors that lead to a small outdoor garden, the faint sound of water from a fountain trickling nearby.

 “The room is nice, and they offer a catering service here,” Stiles says. “But they might be slightly out of Erica’s budget.”

 Derek shakes his head. “Don’t worry about the budget. I can make up the difference.”

 Stiles turns away, but in the dark reflection of the window Derek sees him roll his eyes and stick his hands in his pockets.

 “So,” Stiles says, when they’re outside. The air is biting. “Not guilty, huh?”

  Derek pauses. “Yes.”

 “Of course,” Stiles mutters, kicking at the stones on the ground. “Just when I think that you might be –”

 Derek glares at him. “Might be what ?”

 Stiles clenches his jaw. “Just when I think that you might actually be a decent person something like this happens.”

 Derek lets out a breath and he can see the imprint it leaves in the air before him. He’s trying to remember that Stiles is another victim in all this, that he’s got every right to be hurt and upset, but it’s easy to forget when he’s accused of not being a good person.

 “Stiles,” he says.

 His eyes flash bright. “Don’t say my name like that – like I know nothing. I know more details than you think I do – my dad is the sheriff.” Stiles stops. “Well, he was the sheriff. Now he can’t work anymore.”

 “I can’t talk about this,” Derek says. He can’t for legal reasons but he’s also afraid that the more they talk about this, the more Stiles is going to think badly of him.

 “Right,” he says. “You can’t talk about the fact that two guys broke into a store, terrorized people, killed someone, and then said that they’re not fucking guilty.”

 Derek’s client did have a friend with him – or at least someone he knew – and that man was the one to organize the robbery, to source the firearms, and to start shooting. Derek's client thought they were only there to shoplift a couple of pairs of expensive shoes, in and out, no fuss, no trouble.

 But this other guy had a different plan and then he died on the scene in the shootout with the police. Dead people are difficult to bring to justice.

 “Stiles,” he says, again, and he starts walking more surely towards the car. “You can talk at me all you want, but this isn’t going to turn into a discussion.”

 “I can talk forever,” Stiles promises, who is keeping up with him easily now. He talks loudly in Derek’s ear and he does know more than he should, but Derek has had plenty of practice at keeping the surprise from his face.

 Derek unlocks the car and waits. Stiles is throwing words at him like they’re stones, but somehow, it’s better than the unaffectedness of before, better than the short replies and the flat expressions. The width of the car separates them, and Derek tries not to admire the curve of his cheekbones or the brightness of his eyes.

 “Why don’t you say anything?” Stiles says. “It’s like you’re trying to make me think the worst of you!”

 Derek sighs. “You seem to have already made up your mind.”

 Stiles twists his shoulders uncomfortably. “No – no?”

 “I don’t get why you’re so mad at me,” Derek blurts out. “Would you really be this mad at any other lawyer for taking the same case?”

 Stiles deflates, and he drops his gaze like a heavy weight. “I guess,” he says quietly, and Derek holds his breath for so long his chest hurts. “I guess I’m mad because I really wanted to like you… but I can’t.”

 “Oh,” Derek says.

 Stiles rubs his hand over his face, looking away, looking away until his eyes slowly lock on Derek’s. “Yeah,” he says.

 Derek’s stomach flutters and flies and then falls. Stiles is never going to be interested, but at the same time he likes knowing that Stiles once wanted him. He liked me, he liked me, but he doesn’t like me anymore.

 “I shouldn’t have said anything,” Stiles says, shaking his head. “Just ignore me. Ignore everything.” He slips into the car and Derek is left outside, his thoughts a swirling mess.

 Derek opens the door. He sits down and then turns on the radio. Stiles angles his body away, an elbow resting on the door and his head on his hand. Derek hates that Stiles is always so uncomfortable around him.

 He wants to ignore the broken confession that he heard from Stiles, he really does, but how can he when in the rare, quiet moments he does get his thoughts turn to the man sitting beside him?

 Derek visits his client and then heads home early. It’s the night of the engagement party and he styles his hair and spends too long in front of the mirror. He undoes another button of his v neck, showing off a little chest hair, and of course Stiles is in the back of his mind.

 Their last conversation is playing on a loop inside his head, even as Derek tries not to think of him. He wants to look good. He wants to look like someone who doesn’t work all the time.

 “Wow,” Erica says, when she seems him. She raises an eyebrow. “Is that the tightest shirt you own?”

 Derek tugs at his forest green henley and glances around the room. He doesn’t see Stiles just yet. “Um,” he says. “Do you think it’s too much?”

 Erica grins widely. “Derek, you look exceedingly handsome. You always do.”

 Derek bites his lip. “Thanks,” he says, awkwardly. He smiles at her. “Congratulations on your engagement.” He holds out a small gift, wrapped with a gold ribbon, that he was hiding behind his back.

 “Derek!” she says, taking it. “You shouldn’t have. You and Stiles already organized this for me.”

 Derek shrugs. “You only get married once.”

 Erica laughs. “Well. That’s the goal.”

 Derek chuckles. “I do know some good divorce attorneys,” he says, and Erica rolls her eyes and swats him on the arm. She gives him a hug and then she’s off in her bright red dress greeting the other guests.

 Derek is left on his own and he realizes that he doesn’t really know many of Erica and Boyd’s friends. He walks slowly around the room, wanting to start a conversation, but the unfamiliar eyes and whispers that seem to follow him keep him away.

 He spots Stiles – someone he knows – and it’s almost a relief.

 “Stiles,” he says.

 Stiles’ eyes flick down his body. “Derek,” he says. “You’re here early.”

 “Yes,” he says, giving him a small smile.

 Stiles just looks at him. “Well,” he says. “The drinks are over there.”

 Derek turns his head, and then when he looks back Stiles is already leaving. Derek sighs, and he feels strangely let down even though he knew someone wanting to like him was not the same thing as someone actually liking him.

 Derek doesn’t want to watch Stiles walk away so Derek takes his suggestion and goes to find a drink at the bar. He smiles at a tall, blonde woman there who has a glass of bubbling champagne in her hand.

 “Hello,” Derek says, nodding at her.

 She starts to smile but then her eyes widen in recognition. “You’re Derek Hale.”

 He smiles thinly. “Yes,” he says.

 She puts her free hand on her hip and tilts her chin up. “I don’t think you should be here – this is really insensitive of you.”

 Derek knows better than to argue – he’s a lawyer and he does it for a living, but most of the time people are stubborn. He excuses himself and goes to move away, but she stops him with a hand on his arm, her manicured nails catching against the fabric of his shirt.

 “You do know the sheriff’s son is here, right?” she hisses. “You’ll cause a scene.”

 Derek doesn’t care who this woman is – he’s used to strangers having an opinion on his work, and only the other day someone refused to serve him at lunch – but as soon as she mentions Stiles he’s tempted to find out more.

 The woman takes the look on his face as surprise. “See?” she says, pursing her lips. “I’d leave if I were you.”

 “Thanks for your advice,” Derek says flatly, and he leaves the bar without getting a drink.

 The night goes on and he politely excuses himself from yet another conversation that has turned into a discussion of the robbery. He’s not regretting taking the case, but it seems that he can't escape it, and it follows him like a shadow. 

 “Derek, where are you going?” Boyd says, catching his arm. Derek sighs.

 “I’m sorry,” he says, running a hand through his hair. “The whole night – it’s been about the case when it should be about you and Erica.”

 Boyd smiles a little. “Yeah,” he says. “I had noticed that.”

 Derek looks at his feet. “You have fun,” he says. “I – I want to be here, I really do, but –”

 “Will you stay for the speeches?” Boyd asks.

 Derek nods. “Okay.”

 Boyd gives him a thankful smile and then Derek ends up in the outdoor garden, listening to the splashing of the fountain and hiding away like he did the night he met Stiles. It’s pretty outside, the stars dotting the sky, but there’s a soft chill over his skin.

 Derek asked Clare to keep his schedule free, so that he could enjoy tonight, so that he could see his friends happy, but maybe he was asking for too much.

 “Hey.”

 Derek turns abruptly at the sound of Stiles’ voice. Stiles stares at him.

 “Erica sent me to find you,” he finally says. “It’s speech time.”

 Derek nods and gets to his feet. He’s surprised when Stiles waits for him, and they walk past the row of small trees to go back inside together.

 “Are you saying anything tonight?” Stiles finally asks.

 “I had better not,” Derek says shortly.

 “Yeah, it’s looking like a tough crowd,” Stiles says, which can only mean that he’s noticed Derek struggling to make conversation tonight. Derek doesn’t say anything. “I saw you speaking to Greta.”

 Derek throws him a look of confusion. “Who?”

 “Oh, um, my ex-girlfriend,” Stiles says. “Blonde hair, white dress… um, you were by the bar?”

 Derek lets out a breath – Stiles had definitely noticed him then, had maybe even been looking out for him throughout the night. He’s somewhat thrilled at the possibility, but then he remembers that Stiles saw people trying to start arguments with him and that maybe he only looked out for Derek so that he could more effectively avoid him.

 Derek’s heart twists unpleasantly. “She seemed concerned about you,” he says, voice tight.

 “Right.” Stiles runs a hand through his hair and he glances at Derek. Derek keeps his gaze ahead even though he longs to look at Stiles properly.

 “I’m going to say a few words.”

 “Good luck,” Derek says.

 “Thanks,” Stiles says, and then he slips away again.

 Derek stands at the edge of the room, his arms folded as he leans against the wall, away from the glow of the party lights. Erica looks especially beautiful tonight in red, and she laughs and makes jokes as she gets everyone’s attention. “Hello everyone!” she says. “Thank you all for coming tonight. And thank you to Stiles and Derek for organizing all of this.” Erica searches the crowd. “Where are you both?”

 Stiles waves from the front of the room and hesitantly Derek raises his hand in the back. Erica beams at them and her forehead wrinkles in relief when she finds Derek in the crowd. Fuck, he’s got to stop making his friends worry about him.

 Stiles soon has the microphone in his hands. “Hey,” he says. “I’m Stiles. I’m going to save all the best stories for the wedding speeches, but uh, I promise I have a few more tucked away for you all.”

 He makes the crowd laugh and even Derek has a smile on his face that he can’t help. Stiles is a delight to listen to, lively and engaging, his jeans low on his hips. He sees the man he met that first night but now Stiles is a thousand times more attractive than he was back then.

 Derek wonders why he still likes Stiles after everything. He’s been a little bit cold but Derek can understand why, and he knows that sometimes you just like someone for how they are, and not how they make you feel.

 He kisses Erica on the cheek once the speeches are over and says his goodbyes.

 “Did you like Stiles’ speech?” she asks.

 “Yes,” he says, smiling.

 “He’s good at that sort of thing,” she says. “But don’t let that stop you.”

 “What do you mean?”

 “You know, for your best man’s speech,” she says.

 “Oh, no,” Derek says. He forgot about that.

 “Oh, yes,” Erica says, a wide grin on her face.

 “I’m not good at that kind of thing.”

 She shrugs. “You speak in front of people all the time.”

 Derek huffs. “I’m – I’m not good at being funny,” he admits. “You know that.”

 “I do know that,” she says, sassy as always, and Derek shakes his head. Erica hugs him tight and it’s nice to make time for his friends and to help them with their wedding. She pulls back and gives him a fond look. “Look, Stiles can tell a good story and he’s a wonderful friend, but we’ve known you for most of our lives, Derek. You’ll be fine.”

 Derek smiles back at her. “Okay,” he says.

 Erica’s smile dims a little. “I’ve been trying to introduce the both of you for months, but the timing never seemed to be right – and then, well.”

 “Then my client supposedly shot his father,” Derek says.

 “Supposedly?” Erica says, quirking up an eyebrow.

 Derek shakes his head. “Let’s not get into it,” he says, and Erica nods.

 “Thanks again for tonight,” she says. Derek waves at her, and as he leaves he scans the room once more for Stiles, but he doesn’t see him.

 The courtroom buzzes as soon as the judge leaves the room, clothes rustling and low whispers getting louder. His client is escorted from the courtroom by officers, shoulders slumped to hide his small smirk. Derek puts his files away and he walks out past the rows of people, gaze ahead and careful to ignore the stares.

 “That went well,” Clare tells him in the hallway. She passes him a bottle of water and Derek takes it gratefully.

 “Yes,” Derek says, nodding. He’s still thinking about his line of questioning and whether he should have gone somewhere else. He can’t always read the jury’s faces, but he feels like he might have convinced some of them, a few of them nodding along as he spoke. They won’t know until later.

 Clare smiles. “The car is waiting to take you back to the office,” she says, walking beside him. “You have two more meetings today. I’m sorry, I know you’ve just spent all day in the courtroom, but I couldn’t reschedule them.”

 Derek rubs his temples. “Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Is it for the pro bono case?”

 Clare nods.

 “I don’t want that to fall behind,” Derek tells her.

 “Of course,” she says, and then something catches her eye. “Hey, isn’t that guy a friend of yours?”

 Derek looks over his shoulder, and without even trying his eyes fall on a familiar set of shoulders, a plaid shirt, and a messy head of hair. Stiles is distracted, smiling and holding the heavy courtroom door open for someone. Derek quickly turns away again, before Stiles can see that he noticed him.

 He breathes out. So, he was there.

 “I saw him in the courtroom,” Clare says.

 “He’s the sheriff’s son,” he admits to her.

 Clare’s eyes widen. “Wait, really? That’s who you’ve been organizing this wedding with?”

 Derek gives her a small nod. She seems to notice his hesitance, and she immediately drops it. He’s lucky to have Clare – she’s always one step ahead, she handles the pressure well, and she’s been a friend to him at the firm.

 They step outside and reporters shout and throw questions at him, but Derek declines to comment. He increases his pace, Clare following behind, and it’s a small relief when they’re in the car and the door slams shut.

 “Hi Romeo,” he says.

 “Sir,” he says, smiling, and he pulls away from the curb.

 It’s only a short way back to the firm, but Derek lets himself think about Stiles for the drive. His eyes were bright and he didn’t seem in terrible spirits. Derek’s glad he didn’t see him when he was inside the courtroom – he doesn’t need that sort of distraction, and Stiles is most definitely a distraction.

 Derek sighs. He’s catching up with Stiles that evening for the wedding planning and Derek supposes he can ask questions then, though he’s not sure if he wants to hear the answers. He gets to the firm and his colleagues have already heard how the day went, congratulating him and slapping him on the back.

 Somehow, he doubts that Stiles will be so impressed.

 He waits for Stiles outside the bakery, the cool night air on his face, and his hands tucked in his pockets. The shop kindly let them come in after hours and Derek is bone tired. He wants to collapse on his bed after a non-stop few weeks.

 “Hey,” Stiles says, jogging up to him. “Sorry I’m late.”

 He seems sincere and so Derek gives him a small smile. “It’s okay,” he says. “Shall we go inside?”

 The warmth hits them as soon as they enter the bakery and it smells heavenly. There are half a dozen cakes on the table, chocolate, lemon, vanilla, and they’re all carefully placed on matching pale blue china plates. Derek’s mouth waters, his stomach whines at him, and he realizes he’s worked through dinner. He takes a hungry step forward, but then notices a young woman in an apron staring at him and he halts.

 “Oh,” she says, instead of greeting them. Derek stays where he is and puts his hands in his pockets again. It’s clear that she recognizes him from the news.

 “Is something wrong?” Stiles says, raising an eyebrow.

 “Uh, no, no,” she finally says. “Take a seat!”

 Derek sits down quietly. Stiles is on his right side and he easily makes conversation, asking questions with a friendly smile on his face as the woman explains all the different cakes and flavors. She keeps glancing at Derek and then Stiles glances at him too, and today Derek isn’t sure if he wants the attention.

 “Here,” Stiles says. “Try this one.” He gets a slice of lemon cake and pushes it towards Derek.

 “Thanks,” Derek says. He takes a bite and the tart flavor explodes on his tongue. “That’s good.”

 “Right?” Stiles says, looking directly at him. He tilts his head to the side. “You’re quiet tonight.”

 “I don’t mean to be,” Derek says.

 Stiles smiles weakly at him. His fingers tap against the table, and he opens his mouth to say something but then seems to lose his courage. Derek has an idea of what he wants to talk about but he’s not in the mood. He takes another generous bite of the lemon cake, spilling a few crumbs on the table.

 “I know it’s good,” Stiles says. “But look at all this cake. You’re not going to want another bite if you have too much of one kind.”

 “I think there’s a joke in here somewhere about having your cake and eating it too,” Derek says, and he watches a grin slowly spread on Stiles’ face. It’s kind of exhilarating to have put it there himself and he wills himself to try a little harder tonight.

 Stiles ducks his head. “Surely,” he says good naturedly.

 Derek sits up straighter. “How’s school?” he asks.

 “Busy,” Stiles says.

 “Yeah?”

 Stiles licks his lips. “Uh, yeah. I’ve been testing my project and the feedback has been positive so far, but I’m working on perfecting my learning algorithm.”

 “That sounds technical.”

 “I guess so,” he says with a shrug. “I also need to work on the user interface. There’s no point in creating something that’s awesome technically if people struggle to use it.”

 Derek nods, and he asks a few more questions. He was expecting more hostility than this, but the more cake they eat the more they both seem to relax. Stiles smiles more. He laughs more – almost constantly – and it’s the best sound that Derek’s heard. He seems interested in Derek’s opinions, even if it is about red velvet cake, but they carefully keep the conversation away from Derek’s work.

 “Do you need a ride tonight?” Derek asks when they step outside.

 Stiles looks at him. “Yes, thanks. That would be great.”

 Derek nods, and they walk to the car again together. The night air is still, and Derek can hear their footsteps against the ground, the rustling of Stiles’ jacket as they walk, and little else. Stiles glances at him every so often, enough times that Derek stops and turns to him.

 He stares at Stiles for a moment. “You came to the trial,” he says.

 Stiles bites his lip. “You saw me?” Derek nods and Stiles takes a long breath in. Derek waits for him to find his words. “Yes, I went. You refused to talk to me about it, so I went.”

 “And what,” Derek says. “Did you get what you wanted?”

 Stiles hesitates. “I – I don’t know. You’re a good lawyer.”

 Derek doesn’t say thank you. He had a good day, and sometimes there are worse days when he’s in the courtroom.

 “Derek, you could really help people! You’re wasting your talent on this guy.”

 “I’m not wasting anything,” Derek says, glaring. “Someone needs to do this job and I’m doing it.” He tries to turn away, but Stiles’ fingers curl gently around his wrist. The brush of their skin travels all over Derek’s body.

 “Derek, please,” he says.

 “I don’t have to explain myself to you, Stiles. I know that you know how our justice system works,” he says.

 “Yeah, but –” Stiles says. “You could be representing literally anyone else.”

 Derek takes a step closer to him, and Stiles has to lift his chin slightly to keep eye contact. “Stiles?” he says.

 “Yeah?” he says, swallowing. Derek tracks the movement of his throat.

 “Just because you want to like me doesn’t mean I’m going to change my career for you.”

 Stiles is still holding Derek’s wrist, but now he throws it away like he’s been burned. His cheeks turn red. “That’s not – I don’t –” he glares suddenly. “You’re infuriating.”

 “Oh, I’m the one that’s infuriating?”

 “Fine,” Stiles says, and he jabs his finger at Derek’s chest. Derek catches his hand and suddenly they’re standing only a foot away from each other. “I just wanted to talk to you about this, but I guess my opinion of you will never change.”

 Stiles’ words fade on his tongue and maybe that’s why he was so wonderfully pleasant tonight – he wanted to convince Derek of something and then have things change between them. Derek’s heart thuds, but he knows this friction between them isn’t going to just disappear.

 “You’re not going to change my mind,” Derek tells him quietly. He knows why he does the work he does.

 “Fine,” Stiles says, brown eyes bright with anger.

 Derek thinks that’s the end of it, that they can’t possibly say anything else, but neither of them pull back and Derek isn’t sure if he wants to. Stiles’ jaw tightens, and he clearly wants to say more.

 Stiles kisses him instead.

 Derek sees it coming – like it was almost inevitable – and very quickly he kisses back. It’s a rush, though confusing, and he doesn’t want it to end, dragging Stiles closer as their tongues press together. He’s thought about this, thought about how he would never get this, and a delicate thrill moves over Derek’s body when Stiles’ hands land on his chest, his shoulders, and then thread through the hair on the back of his neck.

 Derek pushes him away and Stiles stumbles. It’s over almost as abruptly as it began.

 “Don’t do that again,” Derek says, stepping back. He wipes a hand across his mouth. “I know that you think I’m –” He stops. He’s struggling to think. “And that this was… I don’t know what this was.”

 He risks a glance and Stiles’ cheeks are flushed a rosy pink.

 “You kissed me back,” he says weakly.

 “Because I like you!” Derek says. “I like you – but don’t worry, I don’t think this means you suddenly like me,” he says accusingly, and he looks at Stiles like he’s waiting for an answer. Stiles drops his gaze and of course . Derek was expecting that and yet he still hoped for something else. “Don’t kiss me again if you don’t mean it.”

 “Derek –”

 He shakes his head. He doesn’t want to hear it. Derek drops Stiles back home like he’s done every other night, and he grips the wheel too hard as he drives, resisting the urge to touch his own lips. He can still feel Stiles there.

 “I’m sorry,” Stiles says, when they arrive outside his house. “I didn’t know that you felt that way.”

 Derek lets out a broken laugh. “Really?”

 Stiles swallows. “Maybe I could have guessed.”

 “Just forget about it.”

 “Um,” he says, voice small. He rubs his hands on his knees. “Okay.”

 Stiles opens the car door and then hesitates. The seconds drag on as Derek waits, and he wants to reach for Stiles and kiss him again, and yet he’s already dreading the next time they have to see each other. Stiles grimaces, and, finally, he leaves.

  I can’t make it tonight. You should visit the caterer without me.

 Derek knows it’s unfair to cancel so late, and that it’s obvious he didn’t even bother to come up with an excuse. But he doesn’t have it in him to spend yet another evening with Stiles, holding his breath and hoping there will be one nice moment between them despite the ever-growing list of reasons why that would be foolish to hope for.

 And now they’ve argued, and they’ve kissed, and whenever Derek thinks of his outburst ( I like you - I like you!) a flush moves over his skin and lingers there for minutes at a time. It was easier when he knew nothing would come from their interactions.

 Stiles’ reply is prompt. Okay .

 Derek’s chest tightens and he throws his phone aside. God, it’s impossible to know what Stiles thinks of him now and he spends the day with a frenetic energy, always moving, thoughts straying, the words he reads blurred then sharp and then blurred on the page.

 He forces himself to stay at work, watching as the offices go dark one by one around him, the streets emptying below and leaving the glow of lights lonely on the pavement. He reads again over the deaths and the damages and the extent of the injuries that the sheriff sustained, that Stiles’ father had to endure. Derek sees Stiles’ anger in the back of his mind: the line of his mouth, the tense set of his shoulders, and the bright but lost look in his eyes. He imagines the pain on Stiles’ face when he first heard the news, when he didn’t know if his father was alive or dead.

 Derek doesn’t want to be unfeeling. He struggles, often, with the harsh images he has to see, with the people he has to defend, with the crimes they’ve committed, but he believes so strongly in the right to representation that he’s become practiced in letting these feelings go, in putting them aside so that he can be the best lawyer he can be for his client. But with this case, with Stiles’ influence and Stiles’ kiss, the lines he carefully set up for himself have gone awry.

 He soon drives to Erica and Boyd’s without much thought, and when Erica answers the door her hair is wet, hanging down to her waist and leaving her grey pyjamas damp.

 “You didn’t go to the caterer tonight,” she says when she sees him. 

 Derek hesitates and he steps back immediately. He tries and fails to say something coherent, and he’s unprepared for Erica already knowing that he didn’t spend the evening organizing her wedding with Stiles.

 Erica squints, though surely she can already see him clearly. “Well, you’d better come in,” she eventually says, and she turns and walks towards the kitchen, leaving the door open behind her. Derek follows. He’s not sure what Erica knows about him and Stiles, but it seems to be very little.

 Derek shrugs off his coat and tries not to yawn as Erica starts to make him a cup of tea. “Where’s Boyd?” he asks.

 “Sleeping. It’s past midnight,” she says. Derek sits at the countertop and watches her move slowly around the kitchen. “Did you come from work?”

 Derek nods.

 “Clare told me she’d kick you out of the office if you’re there past nine,” Erica says.

 “She tried,” Derek tells her.

 Erica sighs. “Stiles seems annoyed with you. I’m guessing that’s why you’re here.”

 “Just wanted to see you,” Derek says quietly.

 Erica tries not to smile. “I’m flattered,” she says. “Did something happen? It’s not like you to cancel on someone like that. You normally just… don't commit."

 Derek sighs and heaps some sugar into his tea. “Work is busy,” he says, and it’s his most used excuse, except usually he’s more sincere about it. Erica notices the difference immediately.

 “Derek,” she says pointedly, and then she waits. Her eyes are tired but her gaze is stubborn. Derek almost regrets coming here, but he’d rather this small interrogation than being alone.

 “Work is hard ,” he finally says. “Not - not because of the long hours, or the many things to do, but because of the... attention . ” That’s the word he finally settles on, and it’s the kindest way he knows how to say that people have treated him differently in his everyday life because of this case. He sends Clare to buy his lunch instead of getting it himself and he’s started ordering his groceries online. He’s avoided his early morning run through the town and instead goes through the preserve, the far-reaching trees hiding him from the view of others.

 Erica pauses. “And is Stiles one of these people giving you a hard time?”

 Derek feels his face flush. He hopes Erica doesn’t read into it, just puts it down to being flustered and exhausted. “I don’t think he likes me very much,” he says.

 “Because of the case?”

 Derek nods.

 “I asked him if that would be a problem and he said no -” Erica begins, eyes narrowed. She puts her hands on her hips like she’s going to march out of her house that very second, her feet bare and wearing the thin pyjamas she’s had since college, always ready to defend her friend.

 “It - it’s not a problem,” Derek says, and she snorts doubtfully. “I mean, he’s just distant. He’s not rude to me. Stiles is fine.” And then he’s quite wonderful when he forgets that he’s supposed to dislike Derek.

 “Okay,” Erica says slowly. She gives him a searching look, but he must not give anything away because she doesn’t say anything for a few minutes. “You know, Stiles tried to cover for you, but I was messaging him about the food and I wanted to know what you thought. Eventually, he told me you weren’t there. It was kind of weird.”

 Derek shrugs.

 “I know it’s hard with the case,” Erica says. “But it’s going to be over soon, right?”

 Derek nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Then hopefully things will go back to normal.”

 She smiles. “Do you want to crash here tonight? The spare room is still free, but after the wedding we’re turning it into a nursery.” Her expression seems to soften at the thought of her baby, and she begins to tell Derek of her plans to get the room ready as she finds a clean towel and old clothes of Boyd’s for him to change in to.

 “Goodnight,” Derek says. “Thanks for letting me crash here.”

 Erica is standing in the hallway, but she comes to him and wraps her arms around his middle, her just-washed hair carrying a soft strawberry scent. “You’re always welcome here,” she mumbles. Then she gives him a warm smile and tiredly pats his chest before disappearing into her room.

 Derek counts down the days until the end of the trial, and simultaneously he counts down the days until he has to see Stiles again. The two dates are closer together than he would like, and as the town braces itself for the case’s outcome he knows Stiles must be anticipating it in some way too.

 Stiles walks slowly to his car, his head down and his mouth in a flat line. His hands are stuffed in his jean pockets and he only nods when he climbs into the car. The words Derek had so carefully prepared slip from his mind, useless, and they both stare at the row of old houses in Stiles’ street.

 “I feel like I should say something,” Derek finally settles on.

 Stiles snorts. “Well, go ahead,” he says, not unkindly. His fingers tap on his knees.

 “I know I didn’t make it to the caterer last time -”

 “It’s fine,” Stiles says. “Really.”

 “Okay,” Derek says cautiously.

 Stiles hesitates. “I was the one who made things weird, okay? I wasn’t thinking that night and I -” He stops. “So you don’t have to come to this other caterer with me today if you don’t want to. But I would appreciate it if you dropped me off there.” He’s mumbling and he folds his arms so that he stops playing with the loose thread on his sweater.

 Derek’s lips twitch and it settles him to know that he’s not the only one uncomfortable here. He wordlessly starts driving, and Stiles seems to sit very still when Derek parks the car, turns off the engine, and then steps outside into the sunshine.

 It’s a busy, bright Saturday morning and Derek keeps his head down, trying not to draw attention to himself. They walk side by side to the caterer, and Stiles updates him on the last place - too expensive, not the right kind of food - until the street narrows and Derek falls a step behind.

 Stiles’ voice trails off and he rubs the back of his neck, like he’s aware of Derek close behind him, and the bare skin at the top of his collar is a self-conscious pink.

 “Here,” Stiles says, and he holds the door open for Derek. The room he enters is small, but the light from outside spills over the wooden tables where several couples sit and sip coffee.

 “Thank you,” Derek says. Their gazes don’t quite land on each other and everything in the room seems infinitely interesting - the pale blue wallpaper, the vase of white roses, the crooked sign to the restroom, the menu written in scribbled chalk on a large blackboard, but all Derek wants to do is see Stiles’ face for long enough to know if he’s thinking of their kiss - and even if he isn’t , at least Derek would know.

 He’s ripped out of his thoughts when someone violently clears their throat. A man with greying hair and a trimmed beard stands in front of them. “You’re not welcome here.”

 Derek’s jaw clenches. He says nothing.

 “What?” Stiles says. “Us?”

 “No,” the man says, and his voice isn't angry but it’s firm. “Him. The lawyer.”

 Stiles’ eyebrows shoot up. “Are you serious?” He stops and tries to smile. “Maybe you don’t understand - we have an appointment here with you. We’re interested in your catering services.”

 The man repeats himself. “You’re not welcome here.”

 “Stiles, come on,” Derek says, resigned and aware of the others slowly starting to pay attention to the scene. Stiles doesn’t move - looks like he’s about to argue - and so Derek gently grabs his elbow and pulls him out of the shop. Stiles comes willingly, but as soon as they’re outside he shakes Derek off and mutters under his breath.

 Derek instantly lets go of his arm, and his heart cracks.

 “They just kicked you out!” Stiles says.

 “I’m used to it,” Derek says.

 “But -”

 “Stiles, it doesn’t matter.”

 Stiles splutters. “It ‘doesn’t matter’ -” he starts to say, but then thinks better of it. He snaps his mouth shut and throws a glare towards the shop. “What are we supposed to do about the caterer now? I was really hoping this place would work out.”

 Derek sighs and shrugs.

 “There will be someplace else,” Derek says, trying to be reassuring. “But perhaps I shouldn’t accompany you anymore.”

 “I hate this trial,” Stiles says, and it bursts out of him like he didn’t mean to say it… but he doesn’t take it back. “It makes everything so complicated,” he says more quietly.

 “Yes,” Derek agrees. It could have been so different - easy, even - if their lives hadn’t been tangled together in this way, if they had just been two strangers who crossed paths on the street.

 “Well,” Stiles sighs, “Since we have the day back - do you think you could drive me to the hospital? I want to visit my dad.”

 “Sure,” Derek says easily. It’s a fifteen minute drive to the hospital and Derek plays the rock music station so that they don’t have to sit in silence. They arrive and Stiles gives him a strange, aborted look when he follows him out of the car.

 “Oh. You’re coming?” he says.

 Derek halts mid-stride. “I thought I would? Unless you’d rather I didn’t…” he says.

 “No, it’s fine. You can come.”

 Derek breathes out, and again he walks behind Stiles until they’re standing side by side in the crowded elevator, shoulders brushing. Derek tries not to think of when Stiles was even more in his space than he is now.

 They enter the room and when John - Stiles’ father - sees Derek he immediately smiles. He puts down his almost finished book.

 “Derek!” he says, warmly. His face is still pale, but he’s gained a lot of weight since the last time Derek saw him. “It’s good to see you. Stiles didn’t tell me you were coming.”

 “We’re both helping with Erica and Boyd’s wedding,” Derek says.

 “Ah,” John says, “I think Stiles mentioned something about that.”

 Derek nods back, a slight smile on his lips. He can feel Stiles looking at them both when he steps forward and shakes his father’s hand. “How are you feeling?”

 John snorts. Derek sees his son in the lines of his face. “I’ve been better. But doing well. How’s your family? Your mother? Your sisters?”

 “They’re fine - looking forward to the holidays.” Derek pauses and frowns. “I should probably make the time to visit them.”

 John nods and glances at Stiles. “I’m grateful to have this one bugging me every five minutes. I’m fine , Stiles. You don’t have to visit me so often.”

 Stiles huffs. “You’re in the hospital. That means you’re not fine. Of course I have to visit you.”

 Derek chuckles. Stiles sends him a sharp look, and Derek feels like he isn’t wanted here anymore (if he ever was). “I’ll wait outside,” he says. “It was good to see you, sir.”

 “You too, son.”

 He barely gets out the door before he hears Stiles’ voice, low and insistent. “You like him?” Stiles asks his father. “You do know he’s the defense attorney for the robbery?”

 “Isn’t that common knowledge? It’s all anyone will talk about.”

 “And you don’t have a problem with that?” Stiles says.

 “No,” John says, sounding confused. “He’s doing his job. He’s a good man. I’m only mad that he’s such a good lawyer.”

 Derek stops on the other side of the door, hidden from view, his own breath loud in his ears. He listens until John changes the subject and he wishes he could see Stiles’ face, wishes he could know what he was thinking.

 He hears footsteps, but he doesn’t move away quickly enough. Stiles appears by the door and his eyes narrow. “Were you eavesdropping?” he says accusingly.

 Derek takes a step backwards. His cheeks are tinged with pink. “You were talking about me,” he retorts. “And not very subtly.”

 Stiles tries to fight the faint smile at the corner of his lips. “Okay,” he says. “That’s fair.”

 Derek lets out a breath. He knows John fairly well in a professional setting - he didn’t realize that Stiles wasn’t aware of that.

 “Should I wait to drop you home?” Derek says. “Or - or should I just leave you here?”

 “You go,” Stiles says, but he makes sure to close the door to his father’s hospital room and he takes a step closer to Derek. There is a painful expression on his face, like his thoughts won’t play nice in his brain, like Derek’s existence needs a mathematical model to explain.

 Derek clears his throat. “Are you okay, Stiles?”

 Stiles’ eyes flit to his. “Why does my father like you?”

 Derek stills. “Maybe you should ask him.”

 Stiles waits.

 Derek clenches his jaw. “Maybe I’m not a terrible person.” Stiles almost smiles, but then it fades. “He calls me,” Derek says, and Stiles focuses on him so intently that he feels like a museum piece. “If they’ve arrested some kid who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe someone did something wrong and it’s starting to escalate when it shouldn’t. He calls - and when I can - I help them pro bono.”

 Stiles’ eyes widen in soft surprise. “Oh,” he says.

 Derek trusts the sheriff’s judgement - has worked with him enough times to know that from him it’s a phone call he shouldn’t ignore, that it’s a case he should always take. And he knew the sheriff had a son - he always spoke of him so fondly - but he didn’t know that son was Stiles when they met.

 “I know your father because of my work,” Derek says. “But I can assure you - even before this case not everyone at the police department liked me. They think I try to undo all their hard work, but I’m only here to make sure they do things properly.”

 Stiles swallows.

 “Your father is one of the good ones,” Derek says firmly. “I respect him a lot. I was sorry to hear that he got hurt.”

 Derek turns to leave, but a small noise comes out of Stiles’ mouth. “Are you getting paid for this case?” he asks, and he flushes at his own question.

 Derek raises an eyebrow. “Yes,” he says. “But I’m not doing it because of the money.” He could get the same money, the same dollars, from any other high profile case.

 Stiles visibly sucks in a breath and he throws Derek an incredulous look. “But…” he trails off and doesn’t attempt to finish his sentence, his hand on the door to his father’s room but his feet firmly on the hallway floor.

 “I guess the next time we’ll see each other will be after the trial,” Stiles says.

 Derek nods. “It could go either way,” he says.

 “We’ll see,” Stiles says, to Derek’s retreating body.

 They are called into the courtroom sooner than expected, a crowd of people behind them, and Derek takes the seat next to his client. There’s sweat gathered at his client’s temples, a sheen on his forehead and his jaw is clenched.

 “Not long now,” Derek says to him.

 His client seems to shake in his chair. “I should have gone for the plea deal,” he says. “Then at least I would’ve had some control over the situation - I just don’t see how this is going to go my way.”

 Derek doesn’t answer. He’s not sure of the outcome - how can he be? The details are blurry at best and someone did die, and so someone is guilty, but it isn’t necessarily the person sitting beside him. The whole town thinks what they want to think, had made up their mind long ago, and there’s no way the jury wasn’t exposed to all of that.

 The judge clears her throat and the room hushes. Derek looks on calmly as the verdict is read aloud.

 Derek walks slowly up his front steps, his jacket thrown over his left shoulder. The stars are hidden underneath a dusky blue sky, and the world seems loud - cars speed by, dogs bark in the distance, and glass crunches underneath his shoes.

 He makes sure to hear the click of the lock when he closes the door and he drops his jacket on the floor. There’s a bottle of whisky waiting for him, and he knows he should probably make a few phone calls but surely it can wait until the morning - who could possibly want to hear from him right now?

 Derek undoes the tie at his throat and he takes a long sip from the bottle. He sits on the couch and wonders if anything will change now that the case is over - he wants his anonymity back, he wants to slip unnoticed through a crowd, he wants to be like a penny on the ground that no one cares to pick up.

 His thoughts drift, and he drinks, and he jolts when he hears an insistent knocking on the door. Derek sways when he stands, not sure if he should even answer, but he opens the door and standing there is the last person he expects to see. 

 “Stiles?” he says, blinking.

 Stiles stands back, his arms wrapped around himself and his eyes red. His lip trembles and immediately Derek feels sorry for him.

 “You have a rock through your car window,” he says in a hard voice. Derek nods. “And someone has tagged your house.”

 “Yes,” Derek says, closing his eyes briefly as his head spins. He hesitates. “Do you want to come in?”

 Stiles sniffs, and he wipes a hand across his face. He steps inside and Derek is drunk enough that he doesn’t pretend that his eyes aren’t on Stiles as he looks around, as he takes in the small house and the faded blue couch and the mismatched furniture from Derek’s college days.

 Stiles whips around. “Are you celebrating?” he accuses. He points to the bottle of whisky lying on its side on the couch.

 “No,” Derek says, too slowly. “I had a drink. And then I had another one.”

 Stiles’ nostrils flare. “You won the case,” he says, and his voice vibrates as he forces out the words.

 “Yeah,” Derek says.

 “I still think he’s guilty,” Stiles says.

 Derek’s heart beats hard and heavy, and he wonders if Stiles is going to blame him. The calm he felt in the courtroom earlier that day has long disappeared, and now he’s faced with someone who might never think well of him again.

 “Even,” he says, and he swallows. “Even after a jury said he wasn’t?”

 “Yes,” he says quietly.

 Derek stares at him. “I’m too drunk for this conversation.”

 “Then when are we going to have this conversation?” Stiles pleads. His eyes glitter with pain.

 “Sorry,” he says, his stomach lurching. He rushes to the bathroom, leaving Stiles standing in his living room, and then he heaves into the toilet.

 Stiles flicks on the bathroom light. “God,” he says, standing above him. “You’re a mess.”

 Derek throws up again, and he hears faint footsteps behind him before there’s a warm hand on his shoulder, thumb moving in circles. Derek shudders and he sits on the cold tiled floor, his back against the wall.

 “Here,” Stiles says, and he passes Derek a towel. Derek wipes his mouth. “Better?”

 “Yeah,” Derek croaks. He puts his head between his knees. Stiles walks away, and Derek thinks he might be gone for good, that the last image he’ll have of Derek is him shattered and drunk on his bathroom floor, but he returns with a cold glass of water and doesn’t leave. Stiles slides down the wall and sits opposite Derek, his knees sticking up in the air.

 “Fine,” Derek says, and then Stiles holds his breath and looks at him. “What do you want to know?”

 “Why do you do this?”

 “My job?” he asks, and Stiles nods. Derek’s head pounds and years ago he would’ve known what to say, but he stopped earnestly trying to explain his work to those who asked because it was constant, and exhausting, and he didn’t need a debate each time he met someone new.

 But now it’s someone who got caught up in the craziness of the courtroom, and it’s someone Derek’s had an interest in since the moment they met, and it’s someone he so desperately wants to please despite the fact he’s convinced himself it’s a lost cause.

 Derek sighs. “I do it because it's necessary - it doesn't matter to me if someone is guilty or if someone is innocent. Either way I'm going to represent them.”

 Stiles doesn’t look away, and he doesn’t say anything either. His lips are in a flat line, and all Derek can do is continue.

 “It just doesn’t work if you start making exceptions for people who seem guilty, even if they’ve supposedly done a horrible thing. If there is room for exceptions then there is room for discrimination, and as much as I can I won't allow that,” Derek says, and he's speaking quickly now. “I’m going to make sure that the police don’t take shortcuts, I’m going to make sure prosecutors don’t get lazy, and I’m going to make sure that everyone gets a fair trial - and sentence - even if they’ve committed a crime.” Derek rubs his face. “There are too many people that go to prison.”

 Stiles blows out air past his lips and his head thuds back against the wall. Derek waits. 

 “Do you like it?” Stiles finally says. “Do you like it when you defend bad people?”

 Derek is thrown. He shrugs and then says, “They’re not all bad people, Stiles, and even if they are then someone has to defend them -”

 “I get that,” Stiles interrupts. “You didn’t answer the question.” Derek blinks at him and Stiles throws him an exasperated look. “Do you like it?”

 “No,” Derek admits.

 Stiles looks taken aback. “Then why do you do it? You said it wasn’t for the money.”

 Derek’s face goes pinched. “Because - because I can deal with the gross, manipulative clients. I can deal with them threatening me if the trial doesn’t go their way. I can deal with them gleefully detailing the things they’ve done.” He raises an eyebrow. “I can deal with the rocks thrown in my car window because of a trial like this one. Better me than someone else.”

 Stiles says tonelessly, “So, you do it because it needs to be done and so that some other lawyer doesn’t have to do it?”

 “I guess so,” Derek says.

 Stiles inhales deeply like he can’t quite believe what he heard. Derek watches him without hiding it. “But when - when they’re innocent that must feel better?”

 “Yes,” Derek says. “But I don’t get those cases very often.”

 Stiles locks eyes with him. “You seem to have had one just now. You must be happy.”

 Derek shakes his head. “No,” he says. “There are so many people left upset and frustrated.”

 They sit in silence next to each other, and Derek doesn’t dare move until Stiles does - just in case it’s the last time they get to sit this close to each other. There’s still the wedding, but then what? Maybe one day they’ll pass each other on the street and greet each other, but Derek doesn’t see it.

 “You look like shit,” Stiles says.

 “I’ve been worse.”

  Stiles hesitates. “Why were you drinking tonight?”

 Derek blinks. “Um.”

 Stiles chews at his lip. He tries more than once to start talking. “Sorry – it's just – you were drunk as hell, but you don’t seem happy you won the case and so I thought, maybe, you were feeling guilty – never mind.”

 Derek's laugh is hollow. “Really, Stiles? You think that I was drunk tonight because deep down I think my client really is guilty, and I let him get away with murder?”

 “Well, um, yeah?”

 Derek looks him directly in the eye. “I was tired,” he says. “I wanted a drink. You’re right though, I was feeling sorry for myself.”

 Stiles looks at him bewilderedly.

 “Only a handful of people like me right now,” he says on a sigh, and Derek knows he shouldn’t say more, but he’s not even sober, and whatever it is between them shattered into glittering pieces, like the broken glass outside, long ago. “And the guy I was interested in was never going to like me back.”

 Stiles flushes instantly. Derek likes that his words did that.

 “I’m sorry,” he says, covering his face. “I’ve been - I’ve been awful.”

 “Hey,” he croaks. “I might not even be talking about you.”

 Stiles rolls his eyes, trying to hide the faint smile at his lips. “I haven’t been very nice to you,” he says.

 “It’s fine, Stiles,” Derek says gently. “Your dad was almost killed and it’s not like you’re throwing rocks through my car window.”

 Stiles doesn’t answer, and he wipes his hands on his jeans and stands. He pulls out his phone and slips out of the room to make a call, the low sound of his voice drifting through the walls. Derek forces himself to his feet and splashes cold water on his face, and as his head thuds he can only focus on the sound of Stiles’ footsteps in the next room.

 “Look,” Stiles says, appearing at the door. Derek wipes away a drop of water from the side of his face. “I really don’t think you should be alone right now. You’re right when you say the whole town hates you - and, well, someone might do a lot worse than what they did to your car. So I called the station and they’re going to send a car.”

 “Stiles-”

 “I already did it,” Stiles says, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “Because I can’t stay and you’re kind of drunk.”

 Derek presses his lips together. “They don’t like me at the station either.”

 “I know the officers they’re sending,” Stiles says quickly. “And they’re good guys, okay?”

 Derek trusts him though he doesn’t want to. “I’ll walk you to the door,” he finally says, and Stiles shrugs.

 Stiles moves slowly out of his house, like the air has too much friction and they’re about to burn up. There’s a warm wind on the air, the streetlights glowing golden, and Derek is caught in a trance as he leans for balance against the doorframe.

 Stiles stops on the path. Derek’s heart beats harder but in a way that he doesn’t really notice, and when Stiles’ head turns over his shoulder their eyes lock. Derek doesn’t look away. Stiles doesn’t look away. It’s impossible to know if tonight changed anything or made things worse between them, and time loses all sense as they stare at each other, like minutes that trickle by slowly and like months that just disappear into the year.

 They don’t smile at each other - they don’t offer any acknowledgement that they’ve held each other’s gaze for this long, except that it’s happening, it’s happening, and Derek couldn’t tell you who would be the first to break… but then Stiles sighs and  walks away.

  He leaves town a week later to visit his parents in the next state over. The breeze is somehow different over his skin, and the sleepiness of a seaside town where no one knows him is a relief. It helps that the sun rarely disappeared over those few days, sparkling on the water, and that his parents lit up when they saw him, but when he arrives at the airport to catch his return flight he checks in, walks to the gate, and then never boards the plane.

 Derek steps outside the small airport, the eyes of strangers passing over him, and he knows the quiet of the day is going to stay quiet if he doesn’t go back home - he won’t be wary of quickening footsteps, or raised voices, or the shining tears of someone standing at his door. He takes a taxi back to his parents’ house and they’re excited he’s staying.

 “How long do you think you’ll be away?” Clare asks him, over the phone.

 “I don’t know,” Derek says. “But I’ll work remotely.”

 Clare clears her throat. “Don’t,” she says. “Take a few weeks off. Do nothing. And then I can take a vacation too - I was thinking about Hawaii.”

 “That sounds lovely,” Derek says. “You should definitely go. But I think I’m going to stay here longer than a few weeks. I’m sure I can persuade all the senior partners that it’s a good idea.”

 “Derek, you just won big,” she says, and at least when she says it, it doesn’t sound like bragging. “I’m sure they’ll let you do anything. And it will be good to have everything quieten down around here - there have been a few protests.”

 “Yeah.”

 Clare’s voice is gentle. “I know you’re not as thrilled about the outcome of this case as everyone else at the firm, but you did some great work, and you deserve a rest.”

 Derek doesn’t deserve anything for doing his job, and it’s true he’s not happy about the case’s outcome, but he’s not unhappy either. It’s more that he’s thinking of Stiles when he thinks of the case, and he’s thinking of Stiles when he sees flashy headlines in the local newspaper, when he arranges for the graffiti on his house to be painted over and his car to be towed for repairs, and every time his thoughts drift it’s like he’s held his breath until his ribs have cracked.

 Stiles is one constant regret and Derek wonders why he couldn’t bring himself to have a gentle conversation with him, or maybe more than one conversation: the first steps to having anyone understand. Derek doubts even his two best friends understand him or his work, though they try very hard to pretend that they do.

 “Erica is upset with you.”

 “I know,” Derek says, biting his lip. Boyd remains silent on the phone, and Derek imagines that Erica is standing close to her fiancé, ear pressed against the speaker, but refusing to talk all the same. “I know I promised to help with the wedding.”

 Boyd sighs. “How long will you be away?”

 “I don’t know,” Derek replies.

 “Look,” Boyd says, after a while, but his voice is firm and sure. “Erica can be as upset as she’d like, but it sounds like things weren’t going smoothly when you were there to help with the wedding. It’s probably easier to have you gone.”

 Derek’s mouth opens. He closes it again.

 “Take all the time you need, Derek,” Boyd tells him. “We’ll survive. We have help from Stiles, and my family, and Erica’s family - well, they’re less helpful, you know how it is - but we’ll manage. You already had the suit fitting before you left, right?”

 “Right,” Derek echoes.

 “Then you just need to turn up for the rehearsal,” Boyd says, matter of fact. Derek has never been more grateful to know him.

 They talk a little more, and he learns that Boyd’s been dropping by his house every other day to make sure it’s still in one piece - thankfully, the town is now bored of his property. The window in his car has been fixed, and the car is parked outside Erica and Boyd’s home until he gets back.

 “Stiles’ Jeep still isn’t working,” Boyd says, and Derek wonders when the damn thing is going to get fixed. “I thought maybe he could borrow your car until you get back.”

 Boyd says it so easily, like the distance between Derek and that passenger’s seat wasn’t always bursting with awkwardness, like the air in that space wasn’t suffocating after a kiss that made things as worse as it felt good.

 But he’s glad he’s not the first one to bring up Stiles. “If it’s not weird,” Derek says, careful to keep his voice even. “Tell him it was your idea.”

 “Sure,” Boyd says, after a beat. “I can give him the spare keys.”

 Derek sucks in a breath. “How, um, is he? You know, after the trial.”

 “It’s hard to tell,” Boyd says. “Stiles is good at keeping his cards close to his chest. I don’t think any of us were expecting that verdict.”

 Derek wants to know more, but he’ll have to ask more questions to get it out of Boyd and he doesn’t know how to not give himself away.

 “Derek, I have to go,” Boyd tells him. “But enjoy your trip - and don’t forget about the speech!”

 Derek’s flight is delayed more than once, the sky foggy and the winds strong, and he lands only a few hours before the rehearsal dinner. He drags his suitcase along the pebble-paved footpath to Boyd’s grandmother’s front door, lets himself in, and he sees strangers darting through the hallway, plates and vases and elaborate white flowers in their arms.

 They barely notice Derek as they rush by - it’s a small relief - and he tries to stay out of the way as he navigates the narrow hallway.

 “Excuse me,” Derek says, but then his voice fades and his footsteps stop when he sees Stiles underneath a low doorway, talking animatedly to someone. Stiles’ hair has been trimmed, shorter now on the sides, and Stiles’ fingers flutter through the air as he speaks, almost in time with his own laugh.

 Derek’s chest tightens. His memories are blurry from the last time they saw each other, but he remembers enough: Stiles’ flushed skin, his thoughtful frown, his direct questions, the changing brown of his gaze and his fingers pressed against Derek’s back when he was hunched over on the bathroom floor.

 He braces himself, and walks over.

 Stiles pauses mid-sentence when he senses someone behind him, already apologizing for being in the way, but then he stills when he notices it’s Derek. His mouth parts and the breath he takes in is long and heavy.

 “Derek,” he says. “You made it.”

 “Yes,” he says. His fingers tighten around his suitcase handle.

 Stiles nods. “Right. Of course you made it.” Their gaze catches, then slips away almost instantly. They’ve both forgotten about the person Stiles was talking to - and the man has already walked away.

 Derek wonders if his time away was really long enough. Did he really think about the right things? Stiles was always in his head, when perhaps he shouldn’t have been, and that Stiles was sometimes cruel and sometimes sweet, sometimes careless and sometimes understanding; the Stiles that stands in front of him is all of those things and somehow none of it.

 Derek’s head is too dangerous, but thankfully the idea of Stiles is somehow more nerve wracking than the living, breathing person here before him, and so Derek offers him a smile and he watches as Stiles gratefully returns it.

 “I hope the wedding planning hasn’t been too stressful while I’ve been away,” Derek says lightly.

 Stiles grins, but his lips quiver. “Only a little.”

 “Do you know where Erica and Boyd are?” Derek asks.

 “Yeah, they should be outside in the backyard,” he says, gesturing past him. “Go out the glass doors and turn left around the house.”

 “Thank you,” Derek says, and Stiles twists so that when Derek walks past their bodies don’t touch.

 Erica stands between rows of mismatched wooden chairs, barefoot on the dry grass and her head tilted towards the thin, wispy clouds, her hair falling past the back of her white t-shirt. The curls framing her face move gently in the breeze and her lips are in a careful frown.

 “What’s the forecast?” Derek calls out, and she whips around to face him.

 “Partly cloudy, and a twenty percent chance of rain,” she says, after a moment. Erica folds her arms. “We do have a back-up plan if it rains.”

 Derek stands at the very back row and looks around. The wooden chairs are painted in pale yellows, blues and greens, and white flowers hang off the backs in bunches. Lights are twisted in the surrounding tree branches and a gazebo is being assembled in the back corner of the garden, the fabric rippling slightly as it catches the wind. A dozen bare, round tables sit on the grass, waiting until the morning to be attended to.

 “It’s looking great,” Derek says.

 “I know.”

 “I’m sorry,” he says.

 Erica steps closer to him so that they don’t have to raise their voices. “Apparently, I’m not allowed to be mad at you,” she sniffs.

 Derek shakes his head. “I never made that rule. You can be as mad as you’d like. I did leave.”

 “You missed all the protests - it went on for weeks.”

 “I heard,” he says.

 “We had to make sure someone was looking after your house,” she tells him.

 “Thank you,” Derek says.

 Erica frowns. “Maybe it was good that you were gone.”

 Derek shrugs.

 “And Stiles… I think the wedding helped take his mind off things,” she says, looking over her shoulder, like he might be there, listening, waiting, ready to pounce. “It wouldn’t have, if you were here.”

 Derek hums in agreement. His throat is dry and like a poison spreading slowly through his veins he realizes that his absence was something good for other people, and not just for himself. He wasn’t necessarily missed - he wasn’t expecting to be, but it hurts all the same to be unwanted.

 “I’m sorry for shoving you both together for this wedding,” Erica says, and her forehead wrinkles with regret. “I was just so happy and excited and you both said it was okay, but lately it’s occurred to me that you guys didn’t want to let me down and didn't want to say no to me. I should have known better but I was too caught up in my own life.”

 Derek looks at her wearily. He’s far from sorry that he spent all that time with Stiles - that he got to know him, got to know the raw and angry parts of him as well as the good, and yes it got messy but for Derek it was worth it.

 “I think your apology would be better for Stiles to hear than me,” he says. “He’s the one that’s hurting.”

 Erica sighs. “I know,” she says. “I’ve talked with him already. I’ve said sorry.”

 Derek hesitates. “I don’t know if Stiles has told you this,” he says, “But the night we first met at your house, we didn’t know about each other’s role in the trial. That’s why we both said it was okay to meet for dinner, and then I guess neither of us wanted to explain why it was suddenly not okay.”

 “You didn’t know?” she says, very quietly. “Oh god. I thought you both knew!”

 “It’s happened now,” Derek says, and his voice is flat.

 “Yeah,” she says, and then she sighs. “I’m glad you’re finally here.” She skips the small distance between them and Derek stumbles back as she hugs him, burying her face in his chest. Her body is tense. “I’m so stressed,” she mumbles. Derek hooks his chin over her head and holds her tight. “And I love my mother, but my god, is she awful sometimes.”

 Stiles is as far away as he’s ever been throughout the rehearsal, strangely quiet and his body still. He keeps his hands by his sides and somehow he and Derek get through the event without exchanging any words, all uncertain gestures and nods, and Derek thinks if he can make it through this wedding then he can make it through anything.

 Derek drags a hand through his hair at the end of it all, watching as Stiles walks the wrong way down the aisle, the faint evening sun casting a soft glow at the edges of his silhouette. Boyd comes up next to him and claps him on the shoulder.

 “It could be worse,” he says.

 “Definitely,” Derek says.

 “He doesn’t really talk about the trial much with us,” Boyd says in a low voice. “He seems to think that’s wise considering you’re one of our oldest friends.”

 Derek turns to him. “And what do you think of the trial?”

 Boyd is thrown by the question. “I - I’ve tried not to have an opinion on it.”

 Derek raises an eyebrow.

 “The man is guilty,” Boyd tells him with a shrug. “There’s a reason why the whole town is so upset about it. You’re just too good at what you do.”

 “There wasn’t enough evidence to support what you’re saying,” Derek says quietly. “I understand that there are layers upon layers of ambiguity, but the outcome was what it was for a reason. No one is that good at their job.”

 Boyd gives him a small, sad chuckle. “Erica has always said that you’re annoyingly modest,” he says, and Derek doesn’t know what to say to that.

 The day of the wedding arrives with a brightness in the sky, the sun warm though the flowers quiver and the ribbons struggle against the wind, getting free and then dancing over the trimmed grass. Derek gives up trying to catch each loose piece as he helps with the remaining setup.

 Soon the guests arrive, the women struggling in their heels over the uneven ground, and Derek is the one to greet them and guide them to their seats. He only recognizes a few of them, but every pair of eyes that fall on him widen, or narrow, or both, like a sweeping, ever changing river.

 “Here,” comes a voice from behind him, after a woman tells Derek, loudly, that she’s capable of finding her own seat. Derek turns and Stiles is there, his hair styled and his navy suit cleanly cut across his shoulders. Derek feels his breath lock in his chest as he tries to ignore how handsome he is. “I can take care of this.”

 “Okay,” Derek says quietly, wondering if he should say thank you , and wondering what Stiles thinks of him needing to be saved. He finds something else to help with, but not before he notes the lovely, charming smiles Stiles uses to greet the arriving people.

 Erica is beautiful, her smile glowing as she walks barefoot down the aisle. Her dress comes in at the waist, covered in a layer of lace, her arms bare and the neckline showing off her collarbones. She takes in the guests, catches Derek’s eye, and then maybe Stiles’, but then she’s only looking at Boyd as she floats down the aisle.

 The ceremony is simple and loving and quick, and Derek has to look away when Erica and Boyd embrace. He tries not to feel Stiles standing so close behind him, he tries not to see the happiness of his friends and wonder why he can’t seem to find the same thing. He tries, and fails, not to feel sorry for himself.

 The seats are rearranged around the tables when the ceremony is over, a patch of grass is cleared away for dancing, and there’s an abundant amount of food from a caterer that Derek clearly wasn’t involved with choosing. Underneath the gazebo is a three-tiered cake, red velvet and lemon and chocolate, decorated in edible pearls and delicately woven frosting.

 The wedding party sit at the only rectangular table, and conveniently Stiles and Derek are at opposite ends, too many people between them for Derek to even search for his face. It comes with a strange relief that’s tainted with the need to see Stiles, to know what he’s doing, or what he’s saying, or how he’s moving. Derek sees the party, the white cake, the white dress, the white ribbons and flowers and cloth, but he doesn’t know how to stop existing only in his head.

 Derek fiddles with the notes in his hand, barely eating as he waits for his speech. He listens to Stiles go first - he’s quite wonderful, and funny, and Derek wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the crowd fell in love with him tonight. And then it’s his turn, and when he stands he hears only the rustling of the wind, then whispers, and then quiet again.

 Derek's eyes drift over his audience. He can’t tell the difference between an unfriendly face and a friendly one, and Derek finds comfort in studying his notes.

 “You two have been my friends for as long as I can remember,” Derek finally says, turning towards the wedding party. He ignores everyone else in the room - this speech isn’t for them. Erica and Boyd smile at him, and so do their parents, people he’s known for just as long. “I was there when you first met each other on the lacrosse field. I think it was a sunny day, but maybe that’s only my memory of it.”

 He stops, and smiles, and remembers.

 “And it wasn’t love at first sight, but it was something, definitely, and you never went a day in high school without talking to one another. The three of us were all best friends - Erica, you made us matching friendship bracelets, and um,” Derek puts his hand up and shows the faded, threaded bracelet on his wrist, “I still have mine.”

 He hears a faint murmur from the crowd, an aw , and Derek’s face is hot. Erica continues to smile at him encouragingly, Boyd seems faintly amused, and Stiles… Stiles is looking at him intently.

 “Even though the three of us were good friends, you two understood each other in a way that was a little bit lost on me.” He takes a breath, and speaking this way is completely different from in a courtroom. “But despite that obvious closeness, you completely danced around each other! It was painful to watch.” The room chuckles. “At first I was worried that I’d be left out, and that I’d be that dreaded third wheel, but it got ridiculous and every day I wondered if it would be the day that you finally confessed your feelings to each other. I had to listen to so many hours of you talking about each other, and neither of you believed me when I told you the other person felt the same way. Each of you though that it was only friendship,” Derek says and he glances at his notes. “But I’m here to tell you that the love you have now wouldn’t be the same without the friendship that you have too. They go together the way you two have always gone together, like a pair of good socks, like salt and pepper, and like a song and a dance,” Derek ends slowly. “I hope you stay friends forever, and I also thank you both for keeping me as a friend - a different kind of friend,” he says firmly, and he gets a laugh, “For so long.”

 Derek’s fingers shake and he wipes his hands on his pants. He gives a reluctant smile, and Boyd is the first to stand, coming forward and hugging Derek tight.

 “Thank you for the speech,” Boyd says. “The day wouldn’t be the same without you.”

 Erica is there next, her hands on her heart. I love you , she mouths, and Derek smiles at her. He’d be nothing without his friends.

 There are children rushing about, and Erica and Boyd are swaying in each other’s arms. There is a rare grin on Boyd’s face as he gazes down at his wife, and Derek stays at the edge of the garden, his jacket discarded somewhere, and a drink in his hand.

 “Hey.”

 Derek swirls the drink in his glass and then he makes himself look up. Stiles stands a few feet away and gives a half-hearted wave in the fading light of the evening. His sleeves are pushed to his elbows, the topmost buttons of his shirt undone, and he seems a little out of breath, like he’s been dancing for hours.

 “Hi,” Derek says.

 “Here are your car keys,” Stiles says, words rushed. He holds them out and Derek carefully takes them. “My Jeep should, um, be fixed next week. But thank you for letting me use your car while you were away. It’s parked out front.”

 “It wasn’t my idea.”

 “I - I know,” Stiles says, and his voice cracks. “Still. Thank you.”

 “You’re welcome,” Derek says, and he slips the keys into his pocket. He takes a long sip of his whisky, his throat burning, and his brain already filled with a slight buzz.

 Stiles stays standing there, not smiling, his eyes wide and his hands threaded in front of him. His shoulders are tense, like the top of a crème brûlée waiting to be cracked, and the music floats between them alongside the twinkling lights.

 “I liked your speech,” Stiles blurts out.

 Derek looks at him, and he wonders why this moment feels so big. “Thanks,” he says stiltedly.

 Stiles sucks in a breath, and then his words stumble out of his mouth. “Can we be friends?”

 “You… want to be friends?” Derek says, staring at him. His back straightens and he notices a slight flush on Stiles’ cheeks.

 Stiles nods.

 “Sure,” Derek says, voice cracking. And when Stiles smiles tentatively at him he knows, as surely as his next breath, that he’s in love with him. “I know we don’t see eye to eye on everything, but that’s life. I’m happy to be your friend.”

 Stiles bites his lip. Then he nods again. “I’ll, um, see you around, then,” he says, and Derek watches him disappear into the floor of dancing couples.

 Now that he’s home he throws himself into his work. He also visits Erica often, her stomach and her excitement and her moodiness growing as she gets closer to full term. Derek helps her decorate the nursery and where he didn’t help with the wedding he helps with preparing for the arrival of the baby.

 The months pass and he doesn’t see Stiles again - except once, on the street, outside a coffee shop and with a stack of books underneath his arm. Derek had hung back, unable to call out his name or cross paths with him, knowing that he needs to let his feelings fade before he can fall into friendship.

 But then he bumps into the sheriff outside the library, when he’s wearing his running gear and with sweat staining his underarms and the back of his shirt. He can run through the town again, and people more or less leave him alone.

 “John,” Derek says, friendly and surprised. He pulls out his headphones and the wires curl down over his shoulders. “It’s good to see you. Are you back at home, then?”

 “Yes,” he says. He sticks his hands in his pockets and he looks a lot like Stiles. “For a few weeks now. Stiles and I have been driving each other up the wall - I think he’s been used to living alone. How are you?”

 “Good, thank you.” Derek stops, and then he can’t help himself. His fingers jitter by his sides and out of breath he says, “How is Stiles? I haven’t seen him since the wedding.”

 John looks at him curiously, and then gestures over his shoulder. “You can find out for yourself, actually. I’m about to get coffee with him. You should join us.”

 Derek feels his face drain of color. He swallows. “I don’t think he’d like to see me.”

 “Nonsense,” John says, and he starts to walk away, waving his hand for Derek to follow.

 “John,” Derek says, almost desperately. “The trial…”

 John turns and pauses. He smiles at him kindly. “It was disappointing - for Stiles more than me,” he admits. “But he’s had time. I think you should come and say hello - besides, I heard you were friends now.”

 He disappears into the coffee shop and Derek waits for his heart to calm down, his pulse loud in his ears, and he knows he can’t blame the exercise for his heart rate. He grits his teeth together and he wants to see Stiles nearly as much as he doesn’t want to see him.

 How will it be? How will it be? Derek’s not convinced that months of distance has done anything… not when Stiles trips into his thoughts without trying, not when he still daydreams of realities that can only exist parallel to this one, no intersection, no way that right now could ever meet with a world where they’re together.

 Derek walks carefully to the table. Stiles is peering down at his phone, the tip of his thumb bitten between his lips. He hasn’t noticed Derek yet, and Derek hovers, taking him in and noticing the growth of his hair, the faint roughness at his jaw, the length of his forearms.

 “There you are,” says John, and Stiles looks up.

 “Hm?” he says, and then he stills. “Shit! Derek. I mean, um. Hi.”

 Derek hides his amused smile and he nods back at him. They stare at each other for a few seconds, the both of them unsure and unwilling to say the wrong thing, or make a wrong move.

 “I invited Derek to join us,” John says, matter of factly. “For heaven’s sake, son, sit,” he says to Derek, and Derek flushes and drops down next to him and opposite Stiles. He’s vaguely aware that he’s sweaty, and probably red-faced, and that he hasn’t washed his hair recently, and he hides his hands beneath the table so he doesn’t have to figure out what to with them.

 Stiles throws an unreadable look towards his father, but then when he turns to Derek he offers a small smile. “Hi,” he says again. “I haven’t seen you in a while. A few months?”

 “Yes,” Derek confirms.

 “A few months,” he repeats, nodding. “You look - well, um, you look good. Less stressed.” He flushes and tries to recover. “Were you out running?”

 “Yes,” Derek says, and then he looks around for the server. He feels like his clothes are sticking to him, like he’s on display, like he didn’t have enough time to brace himself. They all order their coffees and when his drink comes he burns his tongue in an effort to get out of there sooner.

 John sits quietly next to him, content on not contributing to the conversation - even though it’s stilted and bare - and he even leafs through one of the discarded newspapers on the table instead of speaking. There’s a slight smirk on his face and every so often Stiles glares at him; Derek feels decidedly like he’s on the edge of something.

 Derek offers one or two half-hearted, surface-level questions and Stiles answers them readily, and almost gratefully. He inches closer on the table, almost knocking over his coffee cup, and there’s a warmth to his words that Derek wasn’t expecting.

 Stiles lets out a breath. “Would you like to hear about this book I’m reading?”

 “Sure,” Derek says, and Stiles begins to chatter away. He’s speaking faster than Derek has ever heard him speak, like his thoughts are darting around, like his thoughts aren’t his own, and every so often he trails off and goes quiet, in the middle of a sentence or a point, and the first time Derek tells him to go on , and the second and third times he only nods to show that he’s listening and Stiles continues.

 Derek finishes his coffee quickly.

 “Do you want another one?” John asks him.

 “No. Thank you, though,” Derek says. “I had better go.”

 “Of course,” Stiles says, rubbing the back of his neck. “Well. I’ll see you around.”

 “See you,” Derek echoes, and he glances over his shoulder when he exits the coffee shop, to have one more look at Stiles, and he realizes that Stiles’ gaze has followed him out onto the street.

 Derek steps out of the courtroom to a dozen missed calls and messages, the notification light blinking blue at him, telling him that Erica went into labor a few hours ago. His phone still buzzes in his hand and a sweeping sensation moves through his chest, because the baby is here, or here soon, and Derek is too busy being a lawyer to be there.

 “Erica’s in labor,” he says to Clare, his eyes wide.

 She brightens. “Go,” she says, “You’re finished in the courtroom for the day - there’s no need to go back to the office.”

 Derek grins, and his beige coat flicks out behind him as he rushes through a crowd of well-dressed lawyers and makes his way to the hospital. He arrives in a bright, white hallway, trying to stay out of the way of the nurses in their grass green scrubs, and soon he’s in the waiting room. His eyes fall almost immediately on Stiles, sitting there, his head in his hands.

 “Did I miss it?” Derek says hurriedly, running a hand through his hair.

 Stiles jumps. “Derek. Hey. No, you haven’t missed it. They’re still going to be a while.”

 Derek breathes out. “Oh. Good. I was in the courtroom,” he explains, and then he stops. Stiles doesn’t want to hear about his work, but his words have already escaped his mouth like a breath of heavy smoke.

 Stiles smiles weakly, and he wrings his hands together. Derek takes the seat next to him, taking off his coat and then his suit jacket, and he sucks in a few breaths, unable to decide if he’s more anxious about Erica and the baby, or Stiles sitting next to him.

 Stiles’ knee bounces, and he chews at his lip.

 “Are you okay?” Derek says gently. “There’s nothing wrong with the delivery, is there?”

 “No, um, everything is fine,” he says.

 Derek looks back at him. Erica has spent the last few weeks waddling around her home, her feet swollen, unable to sleep, and calling Derek, bored, at all hours of the day wishing that the baby would just pop out - and now they’re here.

 “I just don’t like waiting in hospitals…” Stiles says, after some quiet. “After my mom and now my dad.”

 Derek nods, and he thinks that he should have known. He reaches over and briefly squeezes Stiles’ knee, feeling Stiles tense and then relax. Derek is careful not to let his touch linger.

 “What have you been up to?” Derek asks lightly.

 Stiles’ laugh is forced. “Oh, you know. Writing my thesis. Freaking out about my thesis.”

 “Are you making good progress?” Derek asks.

 “Yes and no,” Stiles says with a shrug. “I guess I’m a bit distracted - Dad’s home but he still needs a lot of help.” Then he turns agitated again, his shoulders curving in and his fingers tapping on his knees, like he’s remembered that he’s in a hospital. He goes quiet.

 Derek sighs and stands. He can feel Stiles’ eyes on him as he disappears down the hallway, and then he returns, balancing two coffees and some food in his hands. Stiles hesitates.

 Derek offers him a smile. “I thought students never turned away free food.”

 “Thanks,” Stiles mumbles, and he takes the coffee and a raspberry scone. He pulls at the scone with his fingers, nibbling on it slowly, and he glances at Derek repeatedly. Derek wants to do the same, wondering why it’s so odd to not look where you want to, but he manages to keep his gaze away, like he’s carefully kept away from Stiles. The air feels more awkward than Derek was expecting, probably because after all these months Derek is still in love with him.

 “How’s work?” Stiles blurts out.

 Derek glances at him. Stiles darts his eyes away.

 “Fine,” Derek says slowly. He thought that they silently agreed not to talk about this. “I’ve had a few cases that have gone well recently. I took a few days off and saw my parents again.”

 “Cool,” Stiles says, with a small smile. “It must have been nice to see them. And, um, hopefully you had some time to unwind.”

 “You think I need to unwind?” Derek teases.

 He flushes. “You’ve been working hard.”

 “So have you.”

 Stiles smiles at him, one of his lovely smiles that tends to make Derek’s heart thud.

 “I have no idea what to do next,” Stiles starts, and Derek listens attentively because it’s physically impossible for him to do anything else. Stiles talks about finishing his thesis, and then working, or traveling, and what it would be like to spend time away from home.

 Derek smiles to himself when he notices that he’s succeeded in distracting Stiles - his body is angled towards Derek, hands flying in the air, and their knees occasionally bumping. His cheeks are no longer pale and his eyes are brighter, and Derek is content to sit there and take him in, all of him. It’s so easy to fall back into being captivated.

 A few hours pass and they’ve been talking, and talking, and every time the conversation fades away Stiles finds a way to keep it going. They almost don't notice when a nurse approaches them, smiling, but when they do Stiles clutches at Derek’s arm as they wait for her to speak.

 “The baby is here,” she says. “Everything went well. You can visit them all now.”

 The nurse turns away, expecting them to follow, and Derek has to remove himself from Stiles’ grip. A little indulgently, he brushes his fingers against Stiles’ before lifting them, one at a time, up and off his arm.

 “C’mon,” he says softly, and Stiles startles and seems to come to his senses.

 Erica is tired when they see her, eyes framed with dark circles, her hair in a messy bun, and her lips chapped. But there’s a radiant smile on her face as she stares down at the bundle in her arms, and Boyd stands tall next to her, brushing escaped hair from his wife’s forehead.

 “She’s a girl,” she says, and there’s a new softness on his friends’ faces as they look at the little human they created.

 “Wow,” Stiles breathes from behind him.

 “You want to hold her?” Erica says, and Stiles shakes his head. Derek takes the baby girl into his arms instead, and she’s tiny and dark-skinned, her nose like a button, her face scrunched up and her eyes squeezed shut. Dark hair peeks out from underneath a pale yellow knitted hat.

 Erica sits back against the pillows, her breaths still heavy, but she’s smiling. Boyd threads their hands together and they watch Derek with the baby, and they watch as Stiles slowly comes up beside Derek, their clothes catching on each other, before he touches the baby’s tiny fist.

 “She’s so small,” Stiles whispers, and when Derek looks up their faces are almost touching. Stiles’ moles are dotted dark and light across his skin, across his nose.

 “Yeah,” Derek says, grinning. Stiles returns his smile, their eyes locking, holding, like liquid glass now gone solid, and then Stiles clears his throat and they both look down at the baby again. “She’s beautiful. Just like her mother.”

 Stiles shuffles even closer, and he makes faces and wiggles his eyebrows, even though the baby can’t see him. Derek’s lips twitch and his heart feels warm, warmer than it has any right to be.

 “Here, you can take the baby,” Derek murmurs.

 “Oh. No, I can’t.”

 “It’s okay, you can take her.”

 “Really?”

 “Yes, of course,” Derek says quietly, and he passes her carefully along to him, his touch grazing over Stiles’ hand which reaches wide over the mess of yellow blankets. Stiles swallows and he bites his lip, unsure, but already they make a delightful picture together.

 “Okay, oh wow, okay. She’s so small,” Stiles says, for the second time.

 Derek smiles to himself.

 And then the universe dances and stretches and expands from their little corner of the room when Stiles steps away, noises crisp again, the light harsher, the others in the room suddenly solid again. Stiles gives Erica back her daughter.

 Stiles clears his throat. “I should go,” he says abruptly, and everyone blinks at him. He flushes a splotchy red, comes forward to kiss Erica on the cheek, promises he’ll be back tomorrow, and then backs away towards the door.

 Stiles stops. They all wait for him. “Bye, Derek,” he finally says, the words rushing out of him.

 Derek manages to nod back at him. Stiles gives a small wave, and then like a jagged flash of lightning in the sky he’s gone.

 “So,” Erica says, bewildered. “When were you going to tell me that my two best friends are in love with each other?”

 “He’s not in love with me,” he says, blood rushing in his ears. He can’t meet her eyes.

 “Derek,” she says. “I had a baby - I didn’t go blind. Boyd, tell him.”

 Boyd’s lips twitch. “There was something.”

 Derek’s voice is small. “He told me we were friends - that’s all. I don’t think he can get past my job.”

 “He couldn’t stop looking at you!” Erica says, glaring, like Derek wants this to be the truth, like Derek wants to stand here and throw his feelings at a broken mirror that won’t reflect anything back. “And that’s saying something considering we have this beautiful one in the room. I don’t understand how this happened right under my nose -”

 Derek interrupts her. “Yes, she’s gorgeous, isn’t she? Have you chosen her name yet?”

 Erica huffs, but she stops and answers him anyway. He doesn’t want to tell her that he could feel Stiles’ gaze like it was burning, and that every time Stiles moved he could feel the particles in the air shifting around him, around Derek, around them both, swirling around like potential - like potential and nothing more. If Stiles wanted something else then he would say something, and he hasn’t, and so he doesn’t.

 Derek is barefoot in his kitchen, wearing sweatpants and an old shirt from his college days. The twilight has stretched on and now the night seems like it will never end, the day already long and happy and confusing.

 Derek drinks a glass of water and closes his eyes. He sees the baby, the tentative excitement in Stiles’ brown eyes, Erica’s awed smile, the strange way Stiles left , the baby so small in Boyd’s large arms, Stiles’ hand tight on his arm… and then his memories are broken by the ring of his phone.

 His heart thuds. “Hello?” Derek says.

 “Hi,” Stiles says, his voice crackling through the speaker. “You’re awake.”

 “Yes?” Derek says, his fingers clutched around the phone.

 Stiles stops, and Derek waits.

 “Can I come over?” he says.

 “N-now?”

 “Yeah.”

 “Sure,” Derek says, throat dry despite the water. And then, “Is everything okay?”

 “Oh, um, yes,” Stiles says. He chuckles. “I mean, no. I’ll tell you when I see you.”

 Derek pauses. “Okay,” he says, and then he can’t hear anything but he knows that the phone is still connected. “I’ll see you soon, then.”

 “Thanks,” Stiles says, and Derek doesn’t know what to do so he hangs up. His pulse is thrumming under his skin, and he sits and stands and then sits again, thinking about the last time Stiles turned up at his door.

 He hears a knock on the door only a few minutes later, and Stiles is there with an inky, black sky behind him, out of breath.

 Stiles bites his lip. They stare at each other.

 “I hope I didn’t wake you?” Stiles says, voice trailing off.

 “No,” Derek says, though he’s clearly ready for bed. “Is something wrong?”

 Stiles shakes his head. “No,” he says. “But can I come in?”

 Derek steps aside, and he offers to make Stiles a hot drink. Stiles shakes his head again and Derek can’t get a read on him, like he’s a book that’s been translated into a foreign language and then another and then another.

 “Do you need a lawyer?” Derek says eventually.

 Stiles’ eyes widen. “What? No!”

 Derek gives him a flat look. “Then why are you here so late, Stiles?”

 “I need to tell you something,” Stiles says, his cheeks flushed. He still hasn’t taken off his coat. “And if I don’t do it now then I’m afraid that I never will.”

 “Okay,” Derek says cautiously. He puts a hand on the back of the couch for balance. Stiles has a tendency to say things that he doesn’t exactly want to hear, and his shoulders tighten and curl in on themselves the longer Stiles takes to speak, the longer he can’t find his words and then doesn’t say anything at all.

 Stiles takes a step forward. Derek sways backwards, and Stiles’ eyes watch him. He stops and waits and lets the dust settle. Then he moves more into Derek’s space and with a featherlight touch he cups Derek's jaw and kisses him.

 Derek doesn't let it last for more than a second. “I told you -”

 “I know,” Stiles says, looking him in the eye. He gives Derek a faint smile, looking nervous but not backing away. Derek’s eyes slowly widen, and then possibility fills the air and drowns his senses.

 “You - really?” he says, and he’s so sure that he’s read this wrong. Stiles takes a shaky breath and he comes closer, giving Derek the chance to push him away, to end it now, but Derek is barely thinking, and damn it he told Stiles never to kiss him again unless he means it, so surely he means it now.

 Their lips press together again, softly, with each touch of their lips lingering long enough to know that this isn’t just a kiss. He can feel Stiles’ thumbs over his stubble and when he kisses back, Stiles lets out a shaky, relieved breath before kissing him more surely.

 Stiles breaks away and presses their foreheads together. Derek is out of breath.

 “Stiles,” he whispers. He needs to hear it in words. “Tell me -” tell me what I want to hear… His skin is alight. “Do you - does this…?”

 “Yes,” Stiles says and he takes a few seconds. The wait feels like a waterfall. “I love you, Derek.”

 Derek’s heart soars and he stares at Stiles in awe. “You love me?” he says.

 “Yes.” His voice sounds so certain now that he’s finally found his words. Stiles licks his lips. “I couldn’t even wait until tomorrow to let you know. I’d been keeping it to myself for too long… You’re the best person I’ve ever met.”

 Derek kisses him once, twice. “I love you, too.”

 Stiles blushes when he smiles. “Oh,” he says faintly, like he wasn’t sure. “Good.”

 “Will you stay?” Derek asks him, holding out his hand. Stiles’ cheeks are still flushed but he nods eagerly and their fingers thread together. They get to the bedroom and Derek throws him some old clothes for him to wear, and Stiles smiles shyly at him and goes to the bathroom to change.

 Derek can feel the smile on his face and it refuses to go away. He finishes getting ready for bed in a daze, touching his lips every so often, hearing I love you I love you I love you over and over again in his head. When he hears the door squeak open their gazes immediately find each other, and they’re both unsure, like the little time apart was enough for minds to change. But then they both smile.

 “Hi,” Stiles says.

 “Hey,” Derek says back, and they climb into the bed. Before Stiles has a chance to settle, Derek reaches over and kisses him deeply. Stiles makes a noise, knees falling open, and Derek lines their bodies together while Stiles’ hands thread through his hair.

 Derek pulls back, out of breath. “I - um, yeah.”

 Stiles’ cheeks are flushed. “Yeah,” he echoes, and then he chuckles when he sees Derek trying to hide a yawn. He arches his back to kiss Derek once more, and then he falls back onto the pillows. His smile is helpless and delighted. “Let’s go to sleep.”

 They turn off the lights and Derek can feel Stiles lying next to him, can hear his breaths in the dark, the rustling of sheets, and he doesn’t know if he should reach over and touch him, hold him, sleep so that their bodies are touching during the night.

 Stiles is the one to shuffle over. He tangles their legs together, his hands on Derek’s chest, fingers tapping in that familiar, nervous way, but now his movements seem in time with Derek’s heartbeat. They face each other.

 “I knew it was up to me,” Stiles whispers, his words delicate on the air. Derek doesn’t want to move just in case the moment shatters. “You had no idea that I liked you, that I’ve slowly fallen in love with you. Or maybe it was quickly.” He huffs. “I was so determined not to like you - but, Derek, you’re an impossible person. The whole town hates you, but if any of them thought to look closely then they’d see the most decent man that I know.”

 Derek’s skin goes warm. He can see the glint of Stiles’ eyes in the black of his bedroom, but not much else. All he has is the warmth of another person in his bed, and the sound of Stiles’ voice whispering things he’s longed to hear.

 “And you looked so shocked at the idea of being friends, like you thought even that couldn’t happen. So I knew it had to be me to say something, even though I wasn’t sure what you thought of me anymore.” His voice goes even more quiet. “I knew you liked me once… but I haven’t been very kind to you. I thought maybe when I kissed you the first time it made you hate me.”

 Derek lifts his hand and finds Stiles’ face in the dark, dragging his fingers across his cheek and his thumb over his lips.

 “Stiles,” he says, and the way he says it makes Stiles shiver. “I never hated you, not for a moment. I liked you more and more each time that I saw you.”

 “I didn’t deserve that.”

 Derek makes a noise of disagreement. “You were polite. Distant. And you had more than enough reason to act worse than that.”

 Stiles shakes his head. “You’re in love with me, so of course you see it that way.”

 “I am in love with you,” Derek says, easily. Stiles wriggles forward and presses a kiss under his jaw, wherever he can find skin, and then he buries his head in Derek’s chest.

 “I like hearing you say that,” Stiles says, words muffled against the worn softness of Derek’s shirt. Then he feels Stiles’ fingers curl at the edge of the shirt, like he doesn’t want to let go, like he’s reassuring himself that Derek’s there, that this is something tangible, that this is not made up. “You were easy to read… before. And then not at all.”

 “I was trying to give you space,” Derek says. “And I was trying to move on from you. I’m glad I failed at that.”

 Stiles lets out a breathy laugh. “Me too,” he says, and Derek thinks maybe this dream will last past morning.

 Derek wakes to his alarm, and the sun is not yet up. His eyes are heavy and he presses his smile into his pillow when he hears Stiles stir beside him.

 “Derek?” Stiles says, confused and shuffling closer. “What time is it?”

 “Five in the morning,” Derek says, and Stiles groans. His eyes are still closed, but he reaches out, fumbling, and Derek happily takes his hand.

 “You’re freaking crazy,” Stiles says. “Stay.”

 Derek thinks he can miss his morning run today, and he sets his alarm for an hour later, letting Stiles curl into him before they fall asleep together again. His body is light, so light, but the weight of Stiles against him makes him feel grounded.

 Stiles is sleeping quietly on the bed, the cream sheets tangled between his legs, his borrowed shirt stretched over his shoulder blades, and a strip of skin showing above his hips.

 Derek gently shakes him awake. He’s showered and dressed and ready for work, and he’s tempted to ignore everything and slip back underneath the covers.

 “Morning,” Derek says, and Stiles groans.

 “Are you kicking me out?” he mumbles, and he turns over, stretching. He blinks and then smiles.

 “I have to go to work,” Derek says. “But you can stay here. There’s coffee downstairs, and the front door will lock behind you.”

 “Okay,” Stiles says. “You sure?”

 Derek nods, and he sits on the edge of the bed. “Will you have lunch with me today?” he says, because he doesn’t think he can go longer than the morning without seeing Stiles again.

 “Yeah, of course,” he says sleepily.

 Derek smiles back helplessly. “I’ll text you.”

 “God, you look good when you smile,” Stiles says, the sunlight falling on his face through the restaurant window. Stiles dragged him in here, though Derek was unsure, but there wasn’t any fuss and the server seated them kindly and promptly.

 Derek frowns, and he hides his mouth behind the menu. Stiles laughs.

 “I’ve been smiling?” Derek says.

 “Yeah,” Stiles says, more softly. “You kind of haven’t stopped.”

 Derek flushes, and he runs a hand over his stubble. Stiles sits opposite him and he seems to already know what he’d like to order, the brick red menu resting closed in front of him and his gaze, his gaze is endless on Derek.

 They order and eat and laugh, and it’s easy now that they’re not trying to guess each other’s feelings, now that they’re not trying to hide anything, and like a pair of overturned magnets they've suddenly come together.

 “Stiles?” Derek says, quietly, when their plates have been cleared away.

 “Yeah?” Stiles says.

 Derek hesitates.

 Stiles’ foot presses against his calf underneath the table. “Hey,” he says, easily. “I won’t bite. You can say whatever you want to say.”

 Derek breathes out, and Stiles’ warm, beautiful eyes are on him.

“What’s going to happen if… when ,” he says firmly, because he knows it’s going to happen. “When I get another case like this past one?”

 Stiles blinks. Then he reaches over and takes Derek’s hand. “Derek,” he says gently. “I’ll support you through anything. I only ask that you’re not going to take any cases where my father or my friends are involved.”

Derek slowly nods. “I can do that.”

“Thank you,” Stiles says. He smiles. “Derek, I’m not here despite your work. I don’t love you against my better judgement. Your work makes you who you are, and who you are is why I’m here with you.”

 Derek looks at him with a tentative hopefulness. It’s one thing to confess your love to someone in the middle of the night, and it’s another to see it through in the daylight. “You've thought about this a lot.”

 “It’s been months since the trial ended,” Stiles says. “Lots of time to think.”

 Derek’s shoulders lose their tension. “What made you change your mind about all that?”

 “I talked to my Dad a lot,” he says. “He thinks so highly of you and he understands the work you do better than I did. I told him that I thought I was in love with you but I was… struggling with the trial. We talked a lot.”

 “So when he dragged me over…”

 Stiles flushes. “Yeah. He knew how I felt, then. He’ll be happy to know we talked through everything.”

 “And we can talk more,” Derek says quickly. “About my work and what I do - I know I wasn’t very forthcoming with you.”

 Stiles shrugs. “I don’t think you really owed me an explanation even though I was expecting one.”

 “Still,” Derek argues. “I was drunk before I answered any of your questions.”

 Stiles huffs. “Yeah,” he says. Their hands are still entwined and Stiles flips over his hand and trails the tips of his fingers over Derek’s palm. Derek holds his breath, and he glances around the room to see who’s watching but there are no eyes on them.

 Stiles takes his hand back. He shoots Derek a shy look and then calls their server over for the bill.

 “Do you have to go back to work?” Stiles asks.

 “Oh,” Derek says, and he looks at his watch. “Yes. I should get back.”

 Stiles bites his lip. “I mean, do you have to?” He asks.

 “I could take the afternoon off,” Derek finally says.

 “Great,” Stiles says, and he grins. “I don’t have any classes today. And my thesis can wait.”

 Their hands brush together as they walk out of the restaurant. Derek wants to kiss him again, and it’s not such a wild thought anymore. He leaves Stiles at his faded blue Jeep, and something aches in his chest to part ways even for a second, but soon he’s in Derek’s rearview mirror on the way home, his red and black plaid shirt easy to spot, his large hands wrapped around the wheel.

 They arrive and Derek unlocks the front door, letting Stiles go through first. They’re only a step away from the threshold when Stiles turns to him. It’s dim inside, and it takes a few seconds before his eyes adjust, before they focus on the softness of Stiles’ skin and the brown of his eyes.

 They reach for each other at the same time, jackets still on, hands uncoordinated. Then Stiles laughs, pulls back, slows down, and kisses him properly. He pushes Derek’s coat off his shoulder and the fabric lands on the floor with a careless thud.

 “You’re amazing,” Stiles says, thumbs brushing over Derek's cheeks. They’ve made it to the couch and he’s sitting on Derek’s lap, staring down at him.

 “So are you.”

 “We should go and see Erica and the baby again,” Stiles says. Derek reaches up and presses a line of kisses down Stiles’ throat. “I told her I’d visit again this afternoon.”

 Derek mumbles against his skin. “You did leave rather quickly yesterday.”

 Stiles flushes. “I was having a moment,” he says.

 Derek glances up at him. “Which was?” he says teasingly.

 “Seeing you again, and talking with you again, and realizing that I wasn’t going to fall out of love with you anytime soon, and that you probably didn’t feel the same way,” he says quietly. Derek drags his palms over Stiles’ thighs reassuringly. “But then knowing I still had to do something about it!”

 “I’m glad you did,” Derek says.

 “God, it was so hard to call you,” he says. “And then it was so hard to knock on your door. But I felt like the world was moving without me, and that if I didn’t say something now then my chance with you would be gone.”

 Derek feels more in love with him than ever. He could spend hours listening to Stiles, hearing these confessions that seem to have been locked inside him for months.

 Stiles shakes his head and smiles down at him. “Shall we go?”

 “Okay,” Derek says, but they kiss a little more and it takes them half an hour to get out the door. They grin stupidly at each other in the car, and Derek tries to tame Stiles’ now messed up hair with his fingers but it’s a lost cause.

 They pause outside the door to the hospital room and glance at each other. Derek holds out his hand, a question, and then slowly, Stiles’ fingers entwine with his own. They walk into Erica’s room together.

 Erica holds her sleeping baby in her arms, and she gasps when she sees them standing hand in hand. Derek runs his thumb over Stiles’ knuckles and she follows the movement with her eyes.

 Erica shakes her head. “‘ He’s not in love with me’ - that’s what you said, Derek, that’s what you said - but you know I didn’t believe it for a second.” Stiles flushes and bites his lip. “How long has this been going on?”

 “Which part?” Derek asks.

 She blinks. “All of it!”

 “This only happened last night, Erica,” Stiles says.

 “You can’t fall in love in a night,” she says.

 Stiles shrugs, a faint blush on his cheeks, and his fingers tighten around Derek’s. “I guess I’ve felt this way for a while.”

 “I feel like there’s a story here,” she says, curious. Derek sees her smile.

 “Maybe,” Derek tells her, and he brings Stiles’ hand to his lips and presses a kiss there, just to watch his cheeks darken further.