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What’s Always Been There

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It’s been a year since he’s seen him in person. A year, and Derek feels just the same. 

Stiles has always been an exception to every rule the world dared to press upon him; he’s always been the dark horse, the idea out of left field, the surprise. The utterly unexpected. 

Unexpectedly clever. Resourceful and brilliant. 

Unexpectedly dangerous. Vicious and violent if needed. 

Unexpectedly beautiful.

Derek’s been gone on him since he looked across the loft, Jennifer poised between them, a tear in Stiles’ eye and desperation in the clench of his pale fists and Stiles looked at him like he was demanding Derek be on his side. He has beautiful hands, and a loose way about him - broad shoulders sloping with ease, long fingers fidgeting, smiles quick and tongue quicker. He’s nothing like Derek. Derek’s tight and restrained and too careful and somehow never careful enough. He’s a lack, everywhere that Stiles is an excess. Derek’s never had the right words, even since before the fire. He’s always been missing that piece of people that makes them easy to be around. Stiles got that in spades and it fascinates him. Derek is all show, cocky and bitter. But Stiles is substance, vexing depths of contradictory qualities, and intellectual vastness and a degree of self-consciousness the Derek believes undeserved. Because Stiles is utterly special. He’s handsome and somehow both otherworldly and blissfully human and oh so challenging. Derek likes pretty much everything about the cacophonous boy, even when he’s making Derek furious. Even when he throws himself headlong into danger and drama. 

Sometimes Stiles moves like he’s never felt pain, throwing himself here and there without pause as though he knows no caution with his body. All long limbs and momentum. 

He’s the same now, sitting in a tapas bar in downtown DC, body slumped casually in the trendy wrought-iron and distressed wood chair. His limbs are sprawled, long and easy, and Derek knows he’ll be even taller now - the thought does some fluttering wickedness to his heart. His fingers are playing with the edge of a stack of papers, his other hand propping up his head. He looks good, in a white dress shirt and black tie. He looks like life has been easier on him than it has. 

It is the antithesis of how he looked that day in the loft, the day Derek finally knew, without doubt. The day he realized what the zing in his blood at Stiles’ proximity, the fire in his gut at his wit, and the way his eyes couldn’t help drifting to his hands, his lips, truly meant. He looked at Derek, in that moment, begging him to believe with furious need. And Derek, he did. He knew if it had been anyone else he would have resisted, the desire to trust Jennifer rooted so deeply in his every ache and emptiness. But for Stiles, for Stiles he would drown himself in a high school pool. For even the shell of Stiles he’d put himself in front of an Oni blade. For Stiles he’d take a berserker barb or five to the heart. For Stiles, he’d give up the only loving comfort he’d felt since he fled Beacon Hills an orphan, peace found in the arms of a beautiful woman. It wasn’t even a question. There wasn’t even a possibility Derek wouldn’t be on his side. 

That’s the moment he knew. 

Now he’s here, at some too-trendy tapas joint where the beer is all craft and the wine is all house and every table has a tea light and he’s hovering outside the window watching his friend through the smudged, tinted glass like a stalker. He shouldn’t be nervous. He’s been impaled, chased, transformed - he’s died for god’s sake! But Derek is nervous. About Stiles. He rubs his fingertips across his palms and clenches his jaw, trying to fortify his nerves. 

This shouldn’t be weird. He and Stiles have reached a comfortable place. It’s taken years, and a lot of emotional work on both of their parts, to get to a place where they’re comfortable with each other but Derek is proud to admit that they are. They’re friends. Stiles has become his best friend - the person he relies on most, the person whose three a.m. texts never make him furious, and whose banter he can all but predict, and whose family he would die for if only because that’s what you do for packmates, for people you love. Derek had repressed the romantic flip side of his affection for Stiles years ago, thinking himself too broken and Stiles too young. He’s terrified by how sharply romantic interest strikes him like a bat to the face right here on the street, though he isn’t completely surprised. But more than being jittery at the thought of being near to him while having come to terms with his affection, Derek is mostly just happy to see him. 

No matter what, Stiles is his friend. Derek’s grown enough in the past several years to realize he needs friends. He’s not cut out to be a lone wolf. And he couldn’t ask for better than Stiles Stilinski. 

So despite the riot of feelings in his chest, it isn’t actually difficult, walking in, smiling when their eyes meet, rolling his eyes when Stiles calls him big guy and goes in for the hug. 

Stiles is a good hugger. 

He’s a good talker too. He starts in before they’re even seated. He’s good at making the conversation easy. Stiles is good at a lot of things. Derek hopes Stiles realizes it. He hopes that Stiles finds someone who will tell him everyday - over coffee in the morning, against his tense and tired shoulder at night when he’s rereading a case for the hundredth time, against his throat and lips and whispered between soft sheets. He wishes it could be him, but he loves Stiles enough to hope that someone else will speak the words even if it isn’t him. Stiles deserves to be proud of himself. Derek listens to him outline the procedural red-tape of logging and admitting evidence and simultaneously decides that if he ever feels like Stiles needs a word of encouragement, he’ll let him know how much he appreciates his ease with interpersonal interactions. 

Because that, Derek knows, is a skill that is under appreciated. He’s the kind of person who feels it sharply when niceties are hard, and there are plenty of people willing to let the less savvy flounder. But not Stiles. They talk and it’s... easy. They argue and it feels so good, like stepping into a partnered dance he’s always known after having left the floor for a while. He watches Stiles eat, quirks a smile when he nearly knocks a plate off the table in his enthusiasm but catches it with quick, absent-minded reflexes. He’s surprised when Stiles orders wine instead of beer, but he likes the flush it brings to his cheeks. 

When Stiles laughs at some dry, sarcastic quip of Derek’s, Derek can practically feel himself preen. If he’d been a wolf he would have sat up straight and puffed his chest, ears up at attention and nose tilted up toward the moon. He must not be subtle, because his ears pick up the hushed cooing of waitresses behind the bar. Stiles, sharply observant as he is, is attuned to the werewolf listening-face. His eyes follow the tilt of Derek’s head to where the two waitresses are smiling and pretending to get back to work. 

Stiles leans toward him and Derek’s heart skips. “What’re they saying?”

Derek loves his conspiratorial smirk, that glint of mischief in his eye. He thinks about lying. About telling Stiles they’re talking about how hot one or both of them is, or whether they have girlfriends. He almost does it. Because it’s his default - to lie about this. Or in the very least, to bend the truth when it comes to his affection, the dangerous truth of what he really feels for Stiles, what he wished they could really be. He covered, half-assedly mind you, for years. But now, leaning close across a little table, with Stiles smiling at him, his cheeks flushed pink from wine, Derek thinks fuck it.

“They think our date is going well.”

Stiles eyebrows lift in surprise, his face going stupidly blank for a moment. 

And because Derek is an idiot who can’t leave well enough alone Derek says, “They’re trying to guess how long we’ve been together. The one on the left thinks you’re going to take me home and...” he screws his face up into an expression of exact recall, “own me like a box set of Game of Thrones.”

Stiles blushes, stares wide-eyed at Derek for a full five seconds, an then snorts a laugh that comes very close to the classification of cackle.

It’s beautiful and classless and charming and Derek has no idea what it means. 

“Wow,” Stiles says, ridiculous satisfied expression on his face as he leans back in his chair, “I’m keeping that one in my back pocket. Stiles Stilinski: Alpha Dominator.”

Derek grimaces in distaste and Stiles laughs. “I’m a Beta,” Derek reminds him. 

“Not in attitude,” Stiles retorts smoothly, and for just a moment, his eyes drag over Derek in a way that makes his blood hot. “You’ll always be the broodiest alpha on Private Property to me bud, don’t you worry,” he patronizes, hand patting over Derek’s where it rests on the tabletop. 

Derek nearly swallows his tongue. He isn’t able to stop himself from ducking his chin into his chest at the feeling of a blush rising to his cheeks. 

Stiles’ resulting chuckle is masculine and smug in a way Derek’s never heard from him before.  

Dinner continues with easy banter sliced by overt flirtation that Derek simultaneously snorts at and tries not to have a coronary about. Stiles makes liking it so dangerously easy, just like he makes everything else easy - talking, sharing, smiling, drinking too-acidic wine in a bar slowly filling with enough people that Derek should be edgy, but isn’t. 

When their conversation comes to a natural lull, their collection of little plates empty between them, Stiles wiggles his fingers against the table top in that way he does when he’s working up to something and asks, easily, “More wine, or a walk?” 

Derek wants to impale himself on the light fixture at the embarrassing way his heart flutters at how well Stiles knows him. Derek likes fresh air and moving. He’s never been good at sitting around, and the fact that Stiles knows, remembers, makes him ache. “Walk,” he nods, and somehow it was the right answer because Stiles beams at him, as though he too is glad, almost victorious, for knowing Derek so well. 

They throw their money and a generous tip on the table and Stiles laughs loud and discombobulated when Derek winks at the curious, smiling waitresses watching them behind the counter on the way out. 

The fresh air feels good. Derek breathes deep, takes in exhaust and cherry blossom and Stiles on the spring air. They start walking, in no particular direction, shoulders bumping. 

“Well, you’re officially off the most wanted list,” Stiles starts, apropos of nothing. “You’re welcome. Use your newfound good reputation well - and carefully. This is one and done kind of deal.”

“I’ll try not to be framed by a shadow-army of hunters again.”

“Knowing you you’ll be back on Homeland’s radar by next week.”

“Homeland?”

“Don’t look so shocked you Domestic Terrorist. It took terrifying computer acrobatics in that server to get you out of that one. FBI is one thing, Homeland is like next level.”

“Again, not exactly my fault.”

“Well you should try to stay out of trouble regardless. I know you. Trouble finds you like a pig finds a truffle.”

“I’m the truffle in this scenario?”

“Yes, and power-hungry alphas and giant, spiky desert-monsters are the pigs. And I am usually the truffle right beside you, just enjoying my existence in the mud until something crazy comes along and I have to save our collective truffle-butts.”

Rolling his eyes is the only way Derek keeps from laughing. “Hypocrite,” he mutters, not unkindly. 

“True,” Stiles nods in assent. “Two muddy truffles trying to stay alive.”

They go quiet after that, a long moment of question suspended between them. Derek smiles, he likes the thought of them as a pair of anything, even potential pig-bait, and when Stiles smiles back it’s bright, and then it simmers. He looks at Derek like he thinks he’s special, and Derek’s heart bangs in his chest. Stiles’ eyes dip down, then back up, and Derek’s heart only beats harder for the realization that the other man doesn’t look nervous. Stiles doesn’t seem jittery, or twitching with nerves, or unsure. Instead he stands in front of Derek calmly, remarkably still for him, and just... looks at him. 

When he speaks again, his voice is deeper, “Ok, so uh...”

Derek nearly chokes on his own tongue at the timbre of his voice and still only comes out with a scratchy-soft, “...Yeah.”

But suddenly Stiles’ eyes go sharp and he blurts, “Are you gonna kiss me or what?”

Derek freezes, blinks at him stupidly. 

“Oh don’t,” Stiles contorts his face into overt insult. He forges forward, “This is a thing, Derek. This is like... more of a thing than most of the things we’ve entertained, collectively. This thing is the thingiest thing in our lives.” And then suddenly he looks unsure, “...Right? I mean... it seemed-”

Derek snorts a laugh. He can’t help it, Stiles is funny. He’s ridiculous and smart and just so fucking alive and there isn’t anyone who talks to Derek the way Stiles does. 

“This is definitely a thing,” he says with a smile, voice shaking. 

“Ok! Then what’s taking so long?” Stiles chimes indignantly, shoulders rising. “I’ve been waiting for you to make a move for like, forever-”

“Why?” Derek challenges, suddenly feeling strong in the wake of Stiles’ admission. Stiles does that to him, challenges him, gets his hackles up and makes his blood sing for a good bicker. Stiles blinks, thrown off, and Derek relishes it. He has to look down, feeling his cheeks heat, but he can’t help his smile as he mutters in pretend irritation, “Why wait? I’m supposed to do all the work around here?”

Stiles squawk of indignity is high and loud and Derek can’t fight the instinct to watch his face. But as soon as he looks up there are hands framing his face shortly followed by lips pressed against his own. 

Stiles is strong, forceful - a sensory overload of big hands and a touch that lacks in anything shy and lips as soft as Derek’s imagined - like a storm in human form. When Stiles pulls back slowly, Derek watches him blink those doe eyes open, watches the slow smile that dawns across his face, honest and bright and somehow private, just for him. After a moment it tinges with doubt, a look of worry and Derek realizes he’s been staring at him blankly. 

“Oh God - did I read that wrong-”

Derek is grinning as he shoves him against the wall and presses their lips together again, he can feel Stiles’ huff of mixed shock and impact against his own mouth, and he chuckles into Stiles’ mouth as it turns to a sound of appreciation. 

Derek tilts his head and the kiss deepens, he and Stiles melt together like they’re made to do it. It feels exactly as wonderful as he’d refused to hope. Stiles holds him somehow both carefully and tightly, making noise with abandon as though he isn’t even aware he’s doing it. 

It’s only when they get wolf-whistled from the street that they break apart. Derek growls lowly in response without realizing it and Stiles chuckles, cocky and flush-cheeked. His neck is still pale, and Derek can’t help but wonder if his chest is flushed pink, if his beard could help with that, to pink-up pale skin. Stiles big hands travel easily over his shoulders, down his biceps to his forearms and stiles’ eyes track the movement, tongue peeking out to lick his lips. 

“We’re dating, right?” He blurts, his expression telling Derek he isn’t so much asking as informing him. 

Derek can feel his eyebrows draw up, his face fixing into a familiar, affectionate are you kidding me? expression. 

Stiles continues, “You’re the only one I wanna be dating. And, really, I don’t even think we need to date. I mean, we’ve known each other for years. No need for small talk over the canapés to figure out what kind of guy you are and what deep dark baggage is buried under these handsome facades because we already know all of each other’s shit and I know exactly who you are. And...” he looks at Derek in the eyes and loses a little bit of his gusto saying, “you know exactly who I am.”

Derek, as he so often is, finds himself bereft of words. So he leans in and he kisses him, slow and soft and nearly chaste. When he pulls back Stiles’ eyes open sleepily, cheeks even pinker and that is definitely a sight Derek’s growing to crave. 

“What I’m saying is - ok what I mean - what I’m thinking - and this might sound crazy-”

“Stiles,” he growls in mock-threat, closing his fists in the front of Stiles’ shirt, “spit it out.”

Stiles takes a deep breath. “No dating. No awkward what are we? conversations where we have to test the waters and try to guess how the other feels. I think we should just,” he thrusts his fist forward, “pedal to the metal. Instant serious relationship. I mean, I’m in it. And I think you’re in it. So let’s just... be in it.”

Derek looks over his pale, angular face and knows he’ll never be able to put into words how happy he is, how much he wants exactly that. So he lets out a soft, “Ok.”

Stiles’ eyebrows nearly reach his hairline, his mouth forming a ridiculous puckered ‘o’ shape. “...Ok?”

Derek steps back from him, laces their fingers together, and pulls him from the wall, keeping them close, shoulder to shoulder, as they begins to walk. 

“What... where are we going?”

Derek looks straight ahead, feigns total confidence decreeing, “Home.”

“Home? Your home or my home?”

“Yes.” He shrugs, “Either.”

“Oh. Wow. So... on board then. Serious relationship.”

Derek pans, “No relationship can be all that serious with you in it.”

Derek doesn’t bother to hide his laugh at Stiles’ noisy reaction or the following fast-worded retort. The grip of their interlaced fingers never falters.