“What?” Derek says to Stiles, having forced himself to suppress his temper. It’s not the friendliest of tones he could have used, but it is definitely civil, and as far as conversations – interactions – with Stiles are concerned, ‘civil’ is a definite win in his book.
Don’t snap at people you like if you want them to like you back, his sister’s voice mutters snidely in his head. You sorry loser, you.
“What?” Stiles says back, puzzled.
“You keep staring at me.”
“Uh, no, I’m not staring at you, you unbelievable narcissist,” Stiles insists.
Derek resists the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose in irritation. “Fine,” he says, calm as a porcupine with its quills on end. “You keep staring in my general direction. I’d like to know why.”
Stiles flushes. Derek stares, fascinated, because he hadn’t expected that reaction.
“Stiles?” he ventures, feeling his heartbeat quicken for... reasons.
Stiles splutters hilariously for a moment, opening and closing his mouth to speak but only uttering animal noises.
“Calm down,” Derek says.
“Okay, I’ll tell you but you’ve got to promise me you won’t go all judgmental and – and you about it. Like, swear on all the broody gods you worship that you’ll keep your judgy eyebrows entirely out of the conversation. Only then.”
Derek sighs. “Fine, I swear. What is it?”
Stiles breathes deep. “Uhm,” says he, his voice low and secretive, “I’m gonna ask Parrish out on a date.”
That explains the general direction thing. Parrish’s desk is right next to Derek's, though thankfully Parrish is having his weekly review with the Sheriff right now and therefore not present.
“Well, thinking about it,” Stiles is saying. “Well, not exactly thinking-thinking about it, just turning it over in my head, like, you know, a possibility...”
Stiles keeps on saying things, but it’s possible Derek’s gone deaf. All he can hear – all he’s heard ever since ‘ask Parrish out on a date,’ is a loud, incessant beating of a thousand drums.
Or, maybe it’s just his heart, exploding into a million pieces.
Oh stop being so melodramatic, you life isn’t a soap opera no matter how much you think it is, Laura titters in his head.
“...rek? Derek? Derek?” he hears Stiles voice cut through the ringing in his ears. “Broody McEyebrows? Asshole McTightpants? Loser McDon’t-talk-to-me?”
“Huh?” Derek mumbles. “What – what did you say?”
“Nothing,” Stiles quickly demurs. “I mean, I was just calling your name ’cuz you spaced out for a minute there.”
“Oh.” Right. “So,” Derek says, pushing down the sick he can feel building up in his stomach. “You, uh, you want to ask Parrish out?”
Stiles looks at him for a moment and frowns. “Yeah,” he says slowly, like he does when he’s trying to figure something out. “Parrish. Me. Date.”
“Like,” Stiles says, hesitantly. “Uh, Lydia’s been hinting that Parrish might be into me a bit, and if I wasn’t, um – you know what Beacon Hills’ dating pool is like for a red-blooded pansexual like moi. Take what you can get.”
“Clearly you need to get your facts straight,” Derek mutters churlishly.
“Nothing. So the only reason you want to ask Parrish out is because there’s nobody else? You think that’s the right thing to do?”
“Desperate times, man.”
Derek scowls manfully at him. “You can’t be that desperate.”
Stiles leans forward, shoving his beautiful... everything into Derek’s face. “I am that desperate.” He leans away, causing Derek to despair. “I haven’t been this starved sexually since I graduated. You have no idea what it’s been like for me.”
“And – and Parrish is the only one you could think of,” Derek says, hoping against hope that his bitterness doesn’t carry into his tone. “Parrish. Who’s eight years older than you. Parrish.”
Make that bitterness and derision.
(Not to mention that tiny little murderous impulse.)
“Okay, one: stop saying his name like that,” snaps Stiles. “Second: what the hell, man? I thought he was your friend!”
“He is my friend,” Derek counters. “I just don’t think that you are right for each other.”
“Too bad for you, Parrish and I are both adults and we can make up our own damn minds about whether or not we’re right for each other. You don’t need to worry your pretty little head about it.”
“I think the Sheriff might have a thing or two to say about his son dating his much, much older subordinate,” Derek spits, waxing belligerent.
“Yeah, no, I don’t think so,” Stiles says, smiling arrogantly. Derek wants to ruin him. “See, I’ve already talked to my dad about it and he said that we’re both adults, and as long as both of us are happy, he’s completely okay with me dating one of his subordinate.”
Derek’s heart thumps painfully against his chest. “He said that?”
“Yup,” Stiles says, victorious and satisfied. It’s an unfairly attractive look on him.
Derek has nothing else to put up as a valid argument. He feels helpless. “Fine,” he says gruffly, surly and miserable. “Fine! Date him, fuck him, I don’t care.”
Stiles narrows his eyes. “Never said you did.”
“Well, I don’t,” growls Derek, looking down at the paperwork on his table. “Do whatever you want. Just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work out.”
“And why wouldn’t it work out?” Stiles asks him, crossing his arms. “Because you said so? Because you think so? Because you always know what’s better for everyone? Because I’m too young and he’s too old and we have very little in common to build a sustainable relationship on? Because you’re sad and miserable – and alone, let’s not forget that – so everyone else must also end up like you?”
“Get lost,” Derek growls through clenched teeth.
“Not a chance, this isn’t your private property,” Stiles says, shamelessly smug in his triumph.
“Leave or I’ll make you.”
“Oh yeah, I’d like to see you try, big guy.”
Derek rises from his chair, which squeals threateningly against the floor. “That can be arranged.”
“Am I interrupting something?”
And he’s not alone, either. The Sheriff’s with him. Derek knows that without looking to confirm.
“Yes,” he says, fuming.
“No,” says Stiles, smiling. “Heya, Parrish, I was waiting for you.” He spares a glance at Derek. “You can’t believe the things I’ve had to sit through while I did that.”
Parrish watches him and Stiles with a slight frown, smiling a slight, confused smile.
“Really?” he says. Stiles nods. “Well, how can I help you?”
“Help me... any way you can?” Stiles returns coyly.
Derek wants to hang himself in the middle of the station, after having murdered both of them.
“Sure,” says Parrish, laughing. “Any way I can.”
“Uh, you wanna get dinner with me, tonight?”
Parrish looks at Stiles for a split second, then his eyes switch to Derek and then back. “You sure?”
“Yes, Parr– Jordan,” says Stiles, “I’ve wanted to ask you out for a while now.”
“Oh.” Parrish again sneaks a peek at Derek, who is clenching-unclenching his fists like he wants to hit something, resolutely not looking at Stiles or him. “I didn’t think you’d want to.”
“Nothing,” says Parrish, stumbling over his words. “I just – I mean, I was under the impression that you were... uh, already spoken for.”
Stiles shoots him a look of utter disbelief. “Why would you think that?”
“Just an impression I got,” Parrish says, shrugging. He looks at the Sheriff for assistance, but finds the man thoughtfully contemplating the enigma that was the leaking ceiling.
“So?” Stiles prompts.
“So?” Parrish echoes.
“So you want to go out with me or not?” Stiles says, feeling the faintest bit of annoyance at how dense Parrish was being. “Let me make it clear that you are under no obligation to say yes. You can say no if you don’t want to. I won’t be offended or anything.”
Parrish looks at Derek again, helpless and pleading.
“Uh, yeah,” he says finally. “I’d love to go out with you, Stiles.”
“Awesome,” Stiles says, smiling cheerfully. “I’ll call about the time and place this evening. You’re free, right?”
“Double awesome.” Stiles mimes a happy salute. “Well, then. Adios, my favourite people,” he says to Parrish and the Sheriff, deliberately excluding Derek from the greeting, and departs.
Parrish looks at Derek whose glowering silence is breaching DEFCON levels, and then turns to the Sheriff, eyebrows raised questioningly.
“Don’t bother,” the Sheriff tells him, sounding resigned. “Wouldn’t hel–”
“I’m gonna take the day off if it’s all right with you, Sheriff,” says Derek quietly, without looking at him and, without further waste time or words, leaves the station.
“Sounds about right,” the Sheriff mutters.
United in compassionate silence, they watch Derek and the dark cloud of his disappointment make their way to the exit.
“You said –” Parrish starts after an interval of a few seconds.
“I know what I said,” the Sheriff interrupts. “You don’t have to rub it in.”
“Oh, this isn’t rubbing it in, Sheriff. That’s for later, when I have your hundred honest dollars in my hand.”
“Classy,” Parrish says, surveying the interiors of the diner.
“Shush,” Stiles chides good-humouredly. “Burgers here are to die for. Like, I kid you not, Parrish, you could literally die it tastes so good.”
“And that has nothing to do with the fact that this is all you can afford,” Parrish teases.
“Hey, you can’t put a price on mouth-watering, soul-healing, epiphany-inducing good food, man.”
“I thought the burgers here were to die for.”
Stiles makes a face at him. “But, yeah. It’s also all I can afford right now.”
“Aren’t you a kindergarten teacher?” asks Parrish as they wait for the waiting staff to take notice of their new customers. For a rundown diner, it is surprisingly packed, so Stiles’ exaggeration about their food being manna from heaven may not be paltering with the truth.
“I don’t start until September,” Stiles sighs. “I’m broke, man. I’m literally coasting through this month on air and good wishes.”
“I’ll be happy to pay for our date, Stiles,” Parrish says, smiling gently.
“No. Nuh-uh. I asked you out, so I will pay.” Stiles grins. “Thems the breaks. I can pay, Parrish, don’t worry, I’m not that broke,” he adds. “Yet.”
They laugh and are still laughing when the waitress comes to take their order.
“So,” says Parrish when she’d left them. “About this date.”
“What about this date?”
“Stiles, don’t be obtuse.”
“I’m not being obtuse, man. Really.”
“Oh, yeah, that why you asked me out when you are so obviously in love with Derek?” Parrish says, hands folded on the table.
Stiles chokes on air. “What the – that’s not true! I’m not in love with Derek.”
Parrish sighs. “Stiles, it’s okay,” he says. “I don’t mind. I mean, I like you, don’t get me wrong. You’re attractive, you’re smart and you’re nerdy in a way that pushes all my buttons. I’d have loved to date you seriously, if you weren’t already into someone else.”
Stiles is quiet for a long time. “Who told you?”
“About you being in love with Derek? Nobody. I have eyes, Stiles.”
“Don’t be obtuse,” Stiles says, arching an eyebrow.
“Tidbits, really. I just pieced together the whole thing when I had enough clues.” He pauses, observing the nervous way Stiles is chewing his lips. “I know you liked Derek way back when you were in high school and Derek was in college. I know you confessed to Derek and that Derek turned you down. Also that afterwards you chose a college as far away from Beacon Hills as possible without actually moving to a different country or continent,” he adds, rather jovially.
Stiles shrugs. “Yeah, so?” he says, looking away. “I told Derek I liked him and his reaction can be summarized in the phrase, ‘Thanks but no thanks’.”
“I’m sure Derek wasn’t that cold,” Parrish attempts kindly.
“You have no idea how cold and cruel Derek can be, Parrish.”
“Stiles, you were sixteen. He was twenty. It would have been wrong for him to start anything with you at that time.”
“Yeah? What about now? I’m twenty-two, he’s twenty-six, and yet I don’t see him chasing after me with balloons shaped like hearts, do I?”
Parrish grins, even though it only pisses Stiles off more. “Do you really want him to do that? Chasing after you with heart-shaped balloons?”
“You’re missing the point, dumbass,” says Stiles. “Age wasn’t a factor. Well, it might have been back when I was in high school, but not so much now.” He takes a deep, sad breath. “Derek doesn’t like me,” he adds, in a small voice.
Parrish says nothing for a moment. Then –
“What if I told you that Derek does in fact like you – no, loves you as much as you love him?”
“I’d say your lying little ass is on fire you filthy liar.”
“What if I told you that Derek has a notebook filled with scribbles detailing all the ways in which he wants to ask you out?”
“What’s taking so long?” Stiles says, casting a desperate glance towards the kitchen.
“Stiles,” says Parrish. “I like you. I’d even like to date. But not like this. Not when you’re hung up on someone else.”
“Can you promise me? Can you swear that your feelings for Derek are all in the past?”
Stiles opens his mouth at once to affirm that when Parrish interrupts him.
“Please think about it before you say anything,” he says, soft but firm. “I deserve that. I deserve your honesty.”
Stiles keeps his silence. “I – I do,” he says, forcefully. “I love that grumpy bastard! But that’s all on me, Parrish! He doesn’t like me that way.”
“I’m telling you he does.”
“If that were true he would’ve said something or done something!”
“He probably thinks he lost his chance. That you might have actually grown out of you high school crush.”
“Then he is an idiot!”
“I completely agree.”
“What am I supposed to do? Reach out to him? I – I don’t think I have it in me to be that brave anymore.”
“Look,” says Parrish, leaning forward seriously. “I know I haven’t known either of you that long, but I can say with a hundred percent certainty that Derek is in love with you. Hopelessly in love. He doesn’t show it because he doesn’t think you like him after what happened six years ago. I know he looks like an angry bear –”
“Wolf,” Stiles cuts in. “He looks like a wolf.”
Parrish rolls his eyes. “Sure, he looks like a grumpy, moody wolf, but he’s actually like a fluffy bunny inside. He just doesn’t know how to be... open and affectionate with people, especially people he likes. So, yeah, you might have to be the brave one once more.”
“Parrish, you mean well, I know –” Stiles begins to say with a shake of his head.
“It’s worth it,” says Parrish firmly. “I promise.”
The waitress returns with their order at that exact moment, and they consume it in silence, honest and comfortable.
Despite promising Parrish he’d call Derek that night, Stiles doesn’t do so. He dithers. He hesitates. He lets his fingers slide over Derek’s name a dozen times before clicking off.
He can’t do it. Not yet. Not for a while, perhaps. The rejection loops round his mind as though it happened yesterday and not six years ago.
He tosses and turns in his bed for a full hour before giving up and lugging himself to the kitchen for a glass of water. He checks the time – quarter to one in the morning – and groans miserably.
But then there’s a knock on his door.
He knows who it is before he’s opened it and all he can do afterwards is gawk at Derek who is standing there looking like he’s lived a hundred lifetimes, if his red eyes are any indication, and holding a bright red balloon in his fingers.
A bright red balloon which is in the shape of a heart.
He is suddenly breathless, his heart hammering. “What are you doing here?” he says to Derek. “Why do you have a balloon?”
Derek says nothing for a second, too busy staring Stiles down. Then, in a rush, it explodes out of him. “There’s me,” he says, confusing Stiles. “There’s more than Parrish in the – the dating pool, Stiles. It’s me. I’m a better choice than Parrish. I’m the best choice, in fact, because Parrish doesn’t know you like I do. He doesn’t like – he doesn’t love you like I do.” He swallows. “’Cause I do, Stiles. I love you. I’ve been in love with you since we were kids. I thought – I–I wanted to tell you but I’ve messed things up with you so many times it never felt like the right time – but I was going to, I swear. One day, I promised myself, I’ll tell Stiles how much he means to me. I’ll tell him that that day six years ago in the parking lot I wanted to say ‘I like you too’. I’ll tell him it killed me to say no, that it took everything in me not to pull you close! You were sixteen, Stiles, I couldn’t – you have to understand. Please tell me you do. I could never take advantage of you like that. That’s not me, that’s not –”
“And today,” Derek continues as though on a roll, chuckling bitterly, “today was karma, wasn’t it? It was the universe punishing me for being a damn coward. It’s been a whole year since you graduated and came back home, even longer since I could’ve grown a pair and asked you out like I’ve been wanting to, and I’ve done is put it off. Why would I do that? Why? I like you, I should’ve said so! You deserved that. Even if you didn’t feel the same way, at least you’d have known that I wasn’t a cold asshole for rejecting you that day. You deserved an explanation! You deserved –”
“All I’ve done today is think about how I missed my chance,” he says, swallowing a painful lump. “You and Parrish, Parrish and you. I’ve been torturing myself with images of the two of you together on your date, and – and I’ve been furious, Stiles, because I could’ve avoided this if only I’d been honest with you. If only I’d been as brave as you. But I’m not. I don’t – I don’t know how to do this! I’m angry and – and I’m sad, and all I want to say is if – if there’s the slightest chance that you might feel the same way, Stiles, I swear to you right here right now, I’ll try my best to make you happy.”
Stiles’ head is swimming, so many thoughts, feelings, emotions, all crowding in together, jostling for attention, and it is this that paralyses him for a few moments after Derek has stopped speaking, rather than the fact that he has no idea what to say. In the back of his furiously overworked brain he thinks Derek will run now that he’s laid his heart bare and has had nothing but stiff silence as response.
But Derek endures. He’s stubborn; he will stay there, at Stiles’ threshold, holding a heart-shaped balloon, until Stiles give him an answer either way.
“Derek,” he starts, his voice surprisingly firm for how vulnerable he is feeling himself.
He sees Derek stiffen and straighten, like he’s nerving himself up for a rejection.
Stiles wants to laugh, because what the hell?
Derek’s actually expecting a rejection from him!
“Derek,” he says again, licking his lips. “I – I’m in love with you, you stupid, stupid man. There’s never been anyone but you for me.”
And then Derek is all around him, or he is all around Derek, or perhaps they are both too intertwined in each other to be told apart.
Derek’s kisses taste of joy, of promises fulfilled, of love reciprocated passionately, and of a future in which every new day is sweeter than the one before.
And Stiles holds fast.
The next morning Parrish shuffles into the Sheriff’s office and hands him a hundred dollar bill.
The Sheriff looks up at him, surprised and confused.
“I cheated,” Parrish says, with a wry smile. “I couldn’t help it.”
“Your loss, son.”
Parrish peeks over his shoulders and observes Derek whistling as he pores over his paperwork.
He grins and turns back.
“I think we both won this one, Sheriff.”
The Sheriff smiles back, his eyes crinkling. “They’re going to be more insufferable now,” he says kindly. “If you thought their pining was bad, their being all lovey-dovey over each other is worse. Much, much worse.” He shakes his head. “Never expected Derek to be so...”
“A fan of shameless displays of affection.”
“I thought he seemed rather the type.”
“He’s the grumpiest officer in service, I bet.”
“And he’ll be the sappiest man in love, I’ll wager.”
“Wanna go, son?”