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Double Take

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“Thank you everyone! You’ve been wonderful, we’ve had a great night. I’m Stiles, this is Derek, and we’re The Exes! See you next time!”

Stiles waves at the large, screaming crowd as the whole band begins to exit the stage, a beautiful grin on his face and sweat dripping from his hairline. Derek follows at a more sedate pace, handing his guitar off to one of the tech crew as he hits the bottom of the stairs before grabbing a bottle of water.

“That was amazing!” Laura congratulates them, running up to Stiles and pulling him in for a hug, despite his soaked through white t-shirt. Stiles picks her up and spins her around, laughing, before putting her back down and kissing her on the cheek.

“It was, wasn’t it? God, it was an awesome crowd.” Stiles enthusiasm is as infectious as always but Derek does his best to ignore it. Laura turns on him an equally big smile.

“What’d you think, Der? Is it everything you dreamed?” He can’t help but finally smile back at his sister, the adrenaline of being up on stage still thrumming under his skin.

“Everything and more,” is his permanent answer. It doesn’t matter how many shows they play, he’s living his dream and he loves the music he gets to share with the world.

“Good! Because I’m going to need you to do it again in about 16 hours.” She laughs and draws him into a hug too, and he squeezes her back in happiness.

“Hey Laura, I’ll catch you back on the bus. I’m going to go try and find a real shower before we have to leave.” Stiles doesn’t even glance at Derek as he speaks before turning on his heel and heading back towards their dressing room.

“Don’t you dare be late, Stilinski!” Laura calls after him, and he spins around fast enough to give her a salute and wink before he’s around a corner. She turns back to Derek with a less happy expression.

“Are you still not talking to each other? How does that even work? He didn’t even look at you.” Her last sentence is a statement of fact rather than a question. Derek sighs, the bitter pain of not being on good terms with one of the most important people in his life a familiar but uncomfortable ache.

“He said excuse me on the bus earlier as he went by, but that’s the first thing he’s directed at me in three weeks.” Derek confesses, quietly, so that none of the other people hanging around will catch on to anything being off with their headlining act.

“Seriously? This is ridiculous, Derek, you’re touring and living together. You play music almost every night with each other, how can you not speak?”

“Very carefully,” is Derek’s only response. Before she can bombard him with more questions, he nudges her toward the exit of the venue. “Come on, I’d like to shower before we leave too. Are you riding with us or Lydia?”

Laura turns a bright red before answering. “Lydia, I think. She wants to stay in a hotel before meeting everyone in Louisiana. Is that okay?” Derek rolls his eyes.

“Of course, just call me when you’re headed down.” She’s back to smiling, and she hugs him one more time before they part ways.

“See you tomorrow! Tell Stiles I said to get your heads out of your asses!” are her parting words.

++++

Derek is already showered and on the couch at the front of the bus when Stiles comes rolling in last minute, apologizing to the driver for making everyone wait. He slaps their drummer, Isaac, on the back and waves at Erica, their bassist, as he passes by but continues to ignore Derek on the way to his bunk.

Erica shoots him a dirty look but Derek just shakes his head, knowing it will be a few minutes before Stiles is settled in with his headphones on and they’ll be free to talk.

Finally, after they’re safely on the road, Erica kicks him.

“What is going on with you two? This is the longest I’ve ever seen you not talk. What happened, Derek?”

Derek can’t help but groan, letting his head fall all the way back on the couch so he doesn’t have to look at anyone anymore.

“Kate Argent asked me to come open her tour for her in the fall.” Saying it out loud to someone other than Stiles for the first time doesn’t help any of the tightness in his chest.

“What?! That’s amazing, Derek! Kate is huge right now! That would send The Exes off the charts!”

Derek doesn’t move his head, just covers his eyes with his hands before responding.

“Me, Erica, not The Exes. She just wanted me.”

“You mean without Stiles?” Erica sounds just as dumbfounded as Derek had originally felt at the idea.

“Yes, without Stiles. She thinks he’s holding me back. She says I don’t need him, that we’ve outgrown each other and that I would do just fine on my own.”

“Are you serious, Derek? How could she say that? You turned her down, right?” Isaac finally chimes in, looking halfway ready to come out of his seat.

Derek doesn’t respond right away. He can feel the tension in the bus rocketing up, but Stiles had said practically the same thing. He can remember how hurt the other man had looked, his eyes big and wet but too stubborn to let anything out.

“I...I said I’d think about it. I’m supposed to give her an answer after the last show.” And with that the air completely dissipates from the room. Erica and Isaac share a look of horror before Isaac, angry, puts his own headphones on and Erica moves to sit next to Derek on the couch. She’s surprisingly gentle when she speaks next.

“And what have you thought about, Derek?”

Derek turns his head and looks longingly at the bunks in the back of the bus. Knowing Stiles is right there, that it would take only a few steps to crawl into the bed next to him, to fall asleep wrapped around each other in a space that’s far too small for two grown men, is awful.

“I think it hurts.”

++++

Hours later, all the lights on the bus have been turned off and Derek is curled up on the couch still, his sleeping place of choice over the last few weeks when he feels someone nudge him.

“Hey. Wake up, asshole.”

He opens his eyes to find Stiles standing over him, looking sleep rumpled in sweatpants and a ratty long sleeve shirt that Derek tries to forget was his at some point. The neckline is so stretched he can see the tattoos on Stiles collarbone. He’s holding a plastic bag with a to-go box.

“Everyone was hungry so we stopped.” Stiles shoves the bag at him.

“What’s this?” Derek doesn’t actually need to see it to know what it is, he can smell the eggs and tabasco without even opening it. However, it’s the first time Stiles has initiated contact without prompt in weeks and he doesn’t want it to end.

But instead of answering, Stiles just rolls his eyes and starts heading back towards his bunk.

“Wait!” Derek knows he sounds desperate, and he is.

Instead of ignoring him like he expects though, Stiles turns and stares at him, one thick eyebrow raised in obvious annoyance.

“You brought me food.”

“Wow, your powers of observation are astute, Hale. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.”

“Are you still mad at me?” Derek tries, not caring if all he’s going to get is sarcasm. At least it’s something.

But Stiles scoffs and goes to turn again, grumbling something under his breath when Derek jumps up from the couch and grabs his hand.

“Wait, dammit! Stiles, talk to me. Why are you mad, I don’t understand.”

Stiles snatches his arm away like Derek’s burned him. But he stops leaving, instead spinning on Derek with a barely contained fury.

“Really, Derek? Why am I mad? Maybe because you’re going to leave and go on tour with Kate Argent of all people, Derek!”

“So! What do you care?! This was never supposed to work or be long term in the first place. You said so yourself!”

“That was a year ago! We’re literally touring ourselves now! We’re on the radio! Lydia said they might want us to do a commercial!”

“You broke up with me a year ago, Stiles. You broke up with me and I decided to be in this band with you anyway. You said it wouldn’t be “professional” for us to work and be together and you chose all of this over me. So why shouldn’t I go make something of myself without you?”

“Because I was wrong!” Stiles is almost shouting by the end, in Derek’s face and quietly crying, though Derek couldn’t tell you when it started. He’s too shocked at what just came out of Stiles’ mouth. They’re standing in each other’s space, breathing the same air, practically nose to nose. Derek would kiss him if he didn’t hate him so much.

But Stiles is the first to back away. He grabs a pillow off the couch and throws it back down as hard as he can before he sits down, putting his head between his knees. Derek remains standing, unable to currently remember how to move.

“I was wrong, okay? I fucked up. I wanted this for so long that when I finally got it, I freaked out. Everything was too good to be true so I felt like I had to give something up. I...I shouldn’t have given you up.” His voice is hoarse and low, but Derek hears him anyway.

“And now you’re going to leave, and you should, Der, it’s a great opportunity and at some point I’m going to be happy for you. But not right now. Right now I’m so angry I can barely breathe and I don’t know who it’s at more, you or myself.” Stiles scrubs a hand over his face, trying to rid himself of some of the tears. Derek can feel his own throat burning with the sensation and need, but his pride won’t have it.

“Well that’s mighty fucking convenient for you to figure out now, Stiles.”

++++

“Welcome to Radio W’s interview with The Exes, my name is Scott McCall and we’re here to celebrate their most recent album “Double Take” and the end of the band’s first nationwide tour. Let’s welcome them to the stage!”

Derek does a quick wave and smile at the camera as he takes his seat next to Erica on the interview couch, Isaac and Stiles falling in behind them. The crowd claps and cheers as they get comfortable, picking up their mics.

“Hey, Hi! Hello! Wow, what a reaction, is it always like this for you?” Scott laughs, jumping right into the interview.

“Oh, you think this is bad? You should see it when Derek and Stiles actually sit next to each other.” Erica fields the question easily, by far the most comfortable during any broadcast. She laughs and wiggles her eyebrows as she says it, making everyone yell with excitement.

It’s a familiar gag for them, the one the entire band is based around. Two lovers gone wrong who can’t find their way back to each other but make great music together. Derek wishes it were more of an actual ruse and less real life.

It also makes Scott light up. “Oh, I bet! Thank you for making my job so easy, that leads me right into my first and very favorite question. The Exes: we’ve heard the story in the past, but who could ever get tired of hearing it again? Where did that amazing band name come from?”

Derek feels the smile he was still holding slowly drop off his face. It’s no secret he despises this question and after the last interview they’d had, he’d thought Lydia would have finally hammered it through everyone’s head that they weren’t supposed to be asked about it anymore. There’s always headlines for weeks afterwards, everyone seemingly more interested in what made The Exes exes than their actual music.

(Both Lydia and Laura have promised that isn’t the case and their streaming numbers seem to support it as well, but Derek still can’t get past it.)

Either way, Stiles is normally the one to answer, with a charming laugh and wink where he reminds everyone that he and Derek dated till they mutually decided they were much better at singing together than being together. The crowd usually awws and boos in all the right places but once they’re past it, the questions about their music flow easily.

Tonight, however, Derek is over it, last night’s argument and revelations still swirling in his head.

“Stiles broke up with me when we started the band, actually. He said it wouldn’t be professional to continue our relationship while also playing together.” He doesn’t smile or laugh about it the way they usually play it, just states it directly. He feels Erica freeze in her seat next to him but doesn’t bother looking towards the other side of the couch to see Stiles reaction, just trains his gaze on Scott.

Scott, for his part, looks lightning struck. “What!? Are you saying it wasn’t mutual? Is Derek Hale finally here to give us the details we’re all so desperate for?”

The crowd is so quiet you could hear a pin drop as they wait for their answer. Derek gears up to continue but Stiles clears his throat first.

“I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, I-” Derek’s sound of contempt interrupts Stiles before he can finish, making Erica elbow him in the side. He finally risks a glance at the other man to see him slowly flushing with anger, his jaw going tight and his eyes flashing with a familiar spark.

It’s Isaac, this time, who tries to save the moment. “Can you imagine trying to write with these two? Blah blah blah we dated, blah blah unresolved sexual tension, blah blah blah will we ever stop pining for each other.” He makes a gagging noise at the end that gets the crowd giggling, relieving most of the unease that had spread.

It also seems to help Scott finally remember his other questions and he begins to gently guide everyone back on track, bringing up their music and ending tour. Derek decides it’s best to let it go for now and by the time the interview is wrapping up, they’ve made it through without anymore incidents.

“Wow, this has all been fantastic. I really feel like you all opened up tonight and I know you so much better. Don’t you agree?” More clapping and whistles from the crowd make Derek try again to produce a more genuine smile. He really is thankful for the fans they’ve garnered, no matter how interested they forever seem to be in his and Stiles’ past.

“Just two more questions, before we go, arguably the most important: When’s the next album? And when’s the next tour?”

“Well, Scott, I’m sad to report this is probably our last.”

Derek feels shell-shocked when he hears it, his head snapping towards Stiles so fast he’s surprised there isn’t whiplash involved.

“What!?” Scott cries, for the second time that night.

Stiles smile doesn’t reach his eyes when he answers, his own stare never leaving Derek. “I know, I’m sad too. But it would seem The Exes are truly better apart than together. Derek’s talent has been recognized by a lot of people in the industry who think he should go solo. I think I speak for us all when I say we wish him well.”

The ringing in Derek’s ears is so loud he should track it and put it in his next song. He knows he must be gaping like a fish as well, but he can’t find any words to contradict Stiles’ statement. Erica and Isaac offer no help, their twin looks of bewilderment just as telling.

“Well folks, you heard it here first! Let’s all hope The Exes find a way to stay together because it doesn’t sound like any of us are truly ready to let go. This has been Scott McCall with Radio W, have a good night!”

++++

If Derek thought the headlines were bad before, they’re nothing compared to the new ones.

Laura snatches the magazine out of his hand as she sits down, replacing it with a mug of coffee. She throws it across the room and and scowls at him when he moves to try and pick it up, effectively sticking him back to his seat.

“Why do you even look at that garbage? They never actually have any of the details right and you know it,” she scolds him. It doesn’t stop the urge in him to finish the article. He also rather liked the cover photo of Stiles exiting the airport, sunglasses in place and his pillow slung under one arm, his bag under the other. He wonders how he can find someone so attractive and infuriating at the same time.

He sighs, admitting defeat and taking a sip of his coffee. They sit in companionable silence, picking at breakfast and ingesting the necessary amount of caffeine to start their mornings for a while before the ring of his phone interrupts.

“Hello?”

“Derek.” It’s a purr when it comes over the line, sending a shiver down his spine and not the good kind.

“Hello Kate.” He greets, having dreaded this call for the last week he’s been at home, waiting for everything to blow over. When he hadn’t contacted her on the last night of their tour, he knew it’d only be a matter of time and he was thankful for the small reprieve she’d given him, however brief.

“I’d ask you how you are but I’m pretty sure I can guess.” Her laugh is low and mean. “Relieved, is what I would bet. Looks like your worse half did all the hard work for you, breaking the news.”

Derek doesn’t enjoy the way she puts it nor the derogatory reference to Stiles no matter how angry he’s been with the other man.

“Yeah, something like that. Look, I’m sorry for not getting back to you sooner, I-”

“Oh sweetie, it’s no big deal. I, better than anyone, know how hard it is to detach yourself from those just trying to keep you down. I can’t wait till you’re on the road with me and I can show you what real appreciation feels like.” She interrupts him before he can even finish. Kate had always been a bit overbearing in the past, but Derek had assumed that was just her style, straight and to the point; but it’s beginning to lose its charm.

“Kate, I’m not sure I’m ready to go back on the road yet, if I’m being honest. Stiles and I have over half of the next album done and I thought we would be able to finish it while I took a break to come with you but now-”

“A break? Derek, I thought we talked about this. Opening for me would finally be the opportunity you need to be rid of this little band gig. You can solo, put those songs on your own album, start anew. I’m more than happy to assist-”

Derek can’t help but pull the phone away from his ear midway through. He feels the bottom drop out of his stomach at her words and he starts to wonder why he originally thought this was a good idea. All issues with Stiles aside, he’s extremely proud of the music they’ve created together. It didn’t happen exactly as he’d first pictured, but he wouldn’t take it back. He’s glad he agreed to be in a band with his maddening but talented ex and the more he listens to this woman ramble, the less sure he feels about leaving.

Laura catches his look from across the table, her own phone in her hands from where she’s obviously been texting. Lydia, he assumes, probably keeping her updated. She looks sad but supportive.

“...Derek? Hello?”

“I’m so sorry, Kate, I’m going to have to call you back.” He hangs up before hearing her response. Laura’s eyes go wide.

“Did you just hang up on Kate Argent? Was that a good idea?” She asks. Her phone audibly buzzes a few times, more alerts to incoming messages.

“I don’t know. Worse, I’m not sure I care. What the fuck am I doing, Laura?” Derek feels a tiredness he didn’t realize was there make itself known throughout his entire body. He wonders if his sister would let him get away with going back to bed. It’s still early. Surely the rest of his day can be put on hold.

Before she can respond, her own phone begins to ring. She hits ignore and tries putting it to the side but it just begins to ring again. Derek sighs.

“Go ahead, it’s obviously important.”

She looks at him in apology before finally hitting accept.

“Lydia, I can’t talk right now - What?...Where?...For how long? Okay, just stay there, it’s fine, you know he gets like this sometimes. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Threaten to call the Sheriff if you have to, but I’m sure we can fix it when I get there.”

Derek perks up at the mention of the Sheriff. Stiles’ father? It’s serious if they’re using him as a bargaining tool. Laura hangs up almost as quickly as she answered, immediately getting to her feet and heading towards the door.

“I’m sorry Derek, I’ll be right back. There’s just a tiny problem Lydia needs help with but I promise it will only take a bit and then we can talk, I swear.”

“What’s wrong with Stiles?” Derek follows her as she moves toward the front door, snagging her keys off the entry table while she’s not paying attention. He shouldn’t care. He doesn’t. Mostly. He’s just curious.

“Who said anything about Stiles? I said I was going to help Lydia.” She’s stuffing her boots on her feet as she talks, barely stopping to tie the laces. Her jacket is on inside out by the time she realizes her keys aren’t where she left them.

“Lydia has never needed help with anything in her life except for Stiles. Just tell me, Laur. It’s not like my morning can get more fucked up at this rate.”

++++

If Derek were to ever write a handbook for how to deal with Stiles Stilinski, he thinks toward the top of the rules list would probably be: Never underestimate Stiles Stilinski. Honestly, he should save himself the trouble and just tattoo it somewhere visible on his own body.

When they arrive at Stiles’ house, Derek having refused to let Laura leave alone after she finally revealed what was going on, Erica is the first person they run into, seeing herself out the door.

She looks startled to see Derek there but quickly turns a side eye towards his sister.

“Seriously? You really thought it was a good idea to bring him?”

“He wouldn’t let me leave without him! What was I supposed to do?” Laura doesn’t stop to talk as she passes, just yells over her shoulder as she hurries inside. Before Derek can follow her, his bandmate grabs him by the arm to halt him.

“Wait, just let them handle it. He’s just bluffing, Derek, he’s not really going to do anything to the music. He’s drunk.”

“Drunk? It’s 9:30 in the morning.”

“Yeah, well, he’s had a long night. He hasn’t been sleeping very well and he was trying to write and I thought he went to bed when I did but apparently he stayed up. But seeing you is not going to help, Der.”

Derek doesn’t like the way that statement makes him feel. He used to be the only thing that could help when Stiles got like this, over-tired and flayed raw from trying to bleed all of his feelings out into audible chords. He refuses to admit there’s a big part of him that wishes that had never changed.

“I’m not trying to make anything worse. Besides, I thought he’d made it pretty clear he doesn’t care where I am or what I do. I’m here for Laura, not him.”

Erica rolls her eyes so hard that her head actually goes back with them. She drops the hold on his arm to throw her hands up instead.

“Jesus Christ, y’all deserve each other. Do what you want, Derek. I’m going to go get lunch for everyone for when this shit storm calms down.” With that she moves past him, grabbing Laura’s car keys from where she’d haphazardly thrown them with the rest of her stuff.

The entry no longer barred, he moves inside where he can sort of hear Laura and Lydia patiently pleading at the locked door at the top of the stairs.

“Stiles, buddy, you have to come out. Come on, you’re starting to worry us.”

Derek takes a seat on the bottom step. He has every intention of keeping his word to Erica to not interfere. Stiles isn’t his problem, not anymore.

When they had left that now infamous interview last week, everyone catching different cars back to the hotel before their flights home in the morning, Derek had tried to stop the other man to talk. Stiles, however, would barely even look at him, sunglasses firmly in place on his face despite the fact it was night. Yet he was the first to speak this time.

“It’s fine, Derek. It’s what’s best. I meant what I said in there, I really do wish you well. Just be careful with Kate. I know villainous is your type but I wouldn’t trust her if I were you. Business and pleasure really do rarely work out.”

And before Derek could even argue, much less get out his own thoughts, Stiles had walked away and slid into the nearest car. Derek stood there long enough to watch the tail lights disappear into the distance before taking out his phone and moving up his flight so he could leave that night. If that’s how Stiles really wanted to end things, so be it. Derek was done trying to understand the other man.

So home is where he had gone and home is where had stayed since then, only letting Laura in the house long enough to feed and berate him. Until today.

“Stiles, seriously. This isn’t funny anymore. Even joking about deleting all your new work is not cool. You just need to come out and rest, you’ll feel better after you’ve had some food and sleep.” Laura is beginning to lose her patience, he can hear it in her voice.

Derek tries not to exhale too loud, practically fidgeting in place where he still sits. God, he regrets not making another copy of their most recent songs. While on the road, their space is always so limited that when they record, they usually just do it all on Stiles’ computer. He keeps track of everything and because he likes to play and fine tune until it all sounds exactly how he wants it, Derek doesn’t argue. It had never been an issue till now.

If it were up to Derek, he would have already picked the lock on the door. He doesn’t really believe Stiles will harm any of their tracks, but he didn’t like how long Erica had said he had been in there. And that he hasn’t been sleeping. A sleep deprived Stiles is not a rational Stiles. He wonders when the last time he even took his medicine was. Since when is he even drinking again-

“...Do you smell smoke?”

Derek curses under his breath before rapidly deciding he’s had enough, good intentions be damned, and makes his way out into the backyard. He knows from experience this is much faster than picking the lock. From there, he can see the balcony doors to Stiles studio wide open, in direct contrast to the one inside their managers are still fruitlessly banging at. He says a silent prayer for himself as he begins climbing the ivy lattice leading up to the second story, hoping nothing gives out under his weight before he can make it to the top.

He hasn’t even fully lifted himself over the railing before he feels that familiar heavy gaze find him, tired, whiskey eyes trying to bore through his soul. Stiles is horizontal on his piano bench, a large bottle of alcohol in the hand resting over his stomach and a cigarette above a trash can on fire in the other.

“What the fuck, Stiles?”

Derek goes for the fire first, dumping an entire flower vase full of water on top of it. The flowers were dead anyway. Stiles barely even flinches, only bothering to move his cigarette out of the way and up to his mouth to take another pull before blowing the smoke back out towards Derek.

“What are you doing here?” His voice is gravel low when he speaks and Derek hates the instant association of memories that floods him of when else his voice usually sounds like that. Now is not the time.

Derek doesn’t even acknowledge that before he moves over to the door where things have gone hushed from the outside and unlocks it, cracking it open enough to see his sister and Lydia still standing there with similar looks of surprise and concern.

“I’m not sure why we didn’t think of that, but I can take over from here-” Lydia starts.

“It’s fine, I’ve got this,” he tells them. “Go eat something. Maybe bring some water and tylenol back when you get a second.”

“Derek, are you sure…” Laura asks. She looks ready to bowl him over if necessary to get inside but he tries to relieve her. “Yeah, I am. I’m just going to get him to go to bed and then I’ll leave. Scout’s honor.”

Laura looks less than convinced but eventually tows the other woman away. When he finally turns back around, Stiles still hasn’t moved. Derek takes a moment to look around the room, notices all of the papers strewn everywhere, a few instruments on the floor instead of their holders, empty cigarette packets on just about every surface.

“Were you really going to destroy all of our work?” He asks as he agilely picks his way back across the floor, careful to not step on anything that may be important. He makes it all the way to the chair opposite the piano, an old leather monstrosity worn butter smooth with age and use. It’s as comfortable as he remembers as he settles into it, his adrenaline rush thankfully starting to fade.

“...Maybe. I don’t know. Probably not.” Stiles is no longer looking at him when he answers, his eyes unfocused towards the ceiling. His cigarette is practically gone and he only notices when he goes to take another drag, finding barely anything to put his mouth on. He frowns as he crushes it into the ashtray next him, not even bothering to look to make sure it’s the right spot. Evidence of his practice of the motion speaks for itself.

“What was in the trash then?” Whatever it was, it’s ruined now, between the fire and the water.

“Just the song I was working on,” Stiles whispers. He looks exhausted. Derek is still annoyed at how much it worries him.

“When do you leave?” Apparently it’s Stiles turn to ask a question.

Derek has to bite back the immediate vitriol that rises in him. Even worried, he can’t help but want to keep lashing out, to keep trying to hurt this man back who seemed to so easily and carelessly throw Derek’s heart away when it became an inconvenience. But that hasn’t gotten either of them anywhere. They just keep trading blows and Derek is honestly just as tired as Stiles looks.

“I don’t know. I hung up on Kate when she called to ask.”

This makes Stiles peer at him again, his eyebrows pulled low in what must be astonishment as he takes Derek in. It’s a cute expression.

“Well that’s rude. Mama Hale taught you better manners than that, I know so.” The casual way in which he mentions Derek’s mom, indicating their shared past, makes him grow bitter all over again. He would in fact know that. They’d spent a lot of time with Derek’s family over the years they were cowriters and then friends and then boyfriends. His family had loved Stiles as much as him and though he wasn’t gone from Derek’s life, it had still made things kind of awkward for everyone. Two could play that game though.

“Yeah? And what would the Sheriff think if he heard you’d locked yourself in this room, drunk, threatening to burn all your hard to the ground?”

Stiles doesn’t answer, just huffs out a dark laugh before pulling himself up right to turn his back on Derek. He sets the alcohol bottle next to him on the bench as he leans over the piano, his fingers slotting over the proper keys out of instinct. He doesn’t play anything, just strokes them carefully, obviously losing himself back in thought.

Derek lets them hang in that silence for as long as he can stand it. “Stiles…”

“I meant what I said that night, you know. I really do regret it. I’m sorry I thought we couldn’t be together and play music. I just...I don’t know. At the time, the only thing I loved more than you was what seemed like my only chance to make it. To finally prove to not only myself but everyone else that everything up to that point hadn’t been just a waste of time. So many years of writing and playing...but even when it came time, I couldn’t really let you go. I asked you to stay because none of my songs seemed to come out right anymore without your help. I panicked. I didn’t think you’d actually say yes...but you did.”

Derek feels so many different emotions as Stiles speaks. They fly through his entire body, one after the other as he grips hard at the armrest of the chair he’s still sitting in, his eyes glued to the other man’s back as he tries to process.

In all this time, Stiles has never apologized. He had barely even acted like it phased him to break up with Derek, much less ask him to record and tour with him. Derek had agreed, despite his broken heart, because he saw the chance for what it was too, at the time. A chance to make something of themselves. And he thought getting to be around Stiles, even just as friends and bandmates would be better than nothing at all. So he squashed his own feeling and just dealt with it. Until he couldn’t anymore. Until Kate Argent was suddenly offering him an escape, practically a get out of jail free card.

“I should have known, though.”

Derek tries to swallow some of his feelings, to find his voice again. “Known what?”

“That I loved you even more than that chance. That that chance wasn’t even a chance if you weren’t there to take it with me.”

Derek doesn't really try to stop his tears this time. They just spill out of his eyes without permission. It feels like the bottom of his chest has finally cracked open and a year’s worth of sorrow and longing are pouring out. The soft sob he can’t contain is what makes Stiles turn back to him, his inebriation making him slow to understand what’s actually happening. When it finally dawns, he stumbles to his feet and moves slowly in Derek’s direction, wobbly and unsure.

“Wait, no, I’m sorry. Don’t cry. I take it back. Why are you even here? Where’s Lydia? I need-”

“Shut up.” Derek barely manages to catch his breath. “Just shut up. You are such a fucking asshole, Stiles Stilinski.”

Stiles trips before he makes it to the chair, Derek just barely standing in time to catch him. He sways where he holds him, but gently tries to wipe at Derek’s cheeks with his overly long sleeves, barely avoiding accidentally taking out one of Derek’s eyes. He concentrates, mumbling something to himself about “tears bad, bad Stiles” like he doesn’t even notice that if Derek were to let go of him right now, he’d crash.

Derek officially hits his wall. He had wanted to go back to bed before he even left his own house but now he truly doesn’t have the energy to continue to try and deal with this anymore. With a firm grasp on the other man’s waist to help support him, he begins to push him.

“W-where are we going?” Stiles demands, but doesn’t fight. Derek leads them out of the studio and down the hall into the last bedroom on the right, a space he used to be quite familiar with but hadn’t seen in some time. It’s pretty much how he remembers it, though he doesn’t take a lot of time to note the small differences.

He hauls Stiles all the way to the edge of the bed and then pushes. Stiles goes down with a squawk.

“Der, I don’t want to go to bed. I don’t even have my pillow and-” He stops talking when Derek begins to manhandle him up enough to undo his jeans and pull them down his legs.

“Derry!”

He flails wildly but this isn’t Derek’s first rodeo, despite being out of practice. He straight up ignores the old pet name, unwilling to relive the last time he heard it. This is about sleep. When Stiles is finally stripped down to boxers and his shirt, Derek grabs the blankets from the end of the bed where they’ve been kicked and pulls them up, effectively trapping all the wild limbs into one area.

“Der-”

Wait.” Derek’s tone brooks no argument. Stiles clutches at the comforter, his eyes big in his face as he goes quiet and does what he’s told. Derek goes back to the bedroom door and yells out.

“Lydia! Where’s his pillow?”

Derek can hear a bit of scrambling around from downstairs before Lydia appears at the top of the landing, said pillow in hand with an obviously freshly laundered case. She looks wary as she brings it to him.

“You got him into bed?” she asks.

“I said I would, didn’t I? Just wake us up in a few hours, I know he still needs to eat something.”

Derek is already closing the door again when Lydia calls out “Wait, us?!”

Stiles is where he left him when he gets back to the bed, not having moved even an inch. He continues to not move, possibly not breath, as Derek shucks his own pants and climbs onto the mattress.

“Lift up.”

New, obedient Stiles lifts up enough for Derek to put the pillow behind him before crawling under the covers himself. Stiles squeaks as Derek lays down next to him, gently urging him to turn over enough for Derek to be able to pull him back into his chest, the warm weight of him finally letting some of Derek’s muscles relax. Stiles reeks of cigarettes and stale alcohol but the bed smells like home and he wraps an arm around his ex’s waist, curls his legs into the curve of the other man’s knees.

Stiles’ own body loosens in increments, melting against him with each minute that passes and every breath that slowly begins to sync between them, rediscovering an old harmony.

“...Shouldn’t we talk about this?” Stiles’ voice is still deep but drowsy, and Derek buries his face into the back of his neck in no hurry to answer, but does, eventually.

“Yes. But later. For now, you should sleep.”

A few more minutes pass before Stiles asks “Will you still be here when I wake up?”

“I have nowhere better to be, Stiles.”

++++

Derek wakes up warm.

His head moves slightly up and down where it rests on someone’s stomach and there’s the sound of a pen rasping over paper above his head, annoying. He wishes it would stop.

But instead of doing anything about it, he continues to lay there, otherwise content to stay wrapped around the familiar body. Memories of the morning float back to him slowly. He has no idea what time it is at this point but if he had to guess, probably late afternoon. Probably long enough for his bed partner to finally be sober.

The hand holding the pen absently scratches through his hair for a few minutes, a gesture he remembers from when this used to be a normal occurrence. Waking up to Stiles, writing in bed. It leaves again, the hand, struck with inspiration, but always eventually returns.

“You gonna stay down there all day?” Stiles questions, after a while.

Derek exhales in response, his arms tightening practically of their own accord. The small chuckle this receives sends a jab of pain through his chest but he breathes through it, slow and steady. He missed this so much. He wasn’t even fully aware of how much until he’s here again, right where he always wants to be.

More time passes in a heavy haze, Stiles eventually abandoning his notebook to bury both hands into Derek’s hair as he lays back down, his long fingers lazily scratching and tugging through the dark strands. Derek is almost asleep again when there’s a knock at the door.

“Der?” Laura doesn’t wait for a response before she opens it, one arm held in front of her eyes to block her view. Stiles snorts in amusement but doesn’t remove his hands. Derek doesn’t move either.

“We’re clothed, Laura, come on. What’s up?” He’s annoyed at the interruption. He knows the world is still out there and absolutely none of their problems have been solved, he and Stiles haven’t even talked yet, but he just wanted more time to enjoy this. Can’t everyone else just wait?

“I’m sorry, but Argent’s agent won’t stop calling me. I told them there was a family emergency to buy us some more time, but she wants an answer asap. I don’t know how much longer I can hold them off.”

Derek feels Stiles stiffen beneath him, the hands in his hair finally going still. He hates it, the feeling of tension rebuilding, the walls he can practically see being slammed back into place as all of reality finally rushes back in. So he doesn’t hesitate this time.

He groans a bit before pushing himself up enough to turn over, his head coming back down on the spot he’d warmed but this time facing the other man. Stiles looks worse for wear. His hair is a mess, his skin pale and waxy, his bright amber eyes almost too big in his gaunt face as he stares back at Derek, for the first time in a long time meeting his gaze head on. Derek loves him.

“I’m not going.” He doesn’t look away as he answers, watches the words register on Stiles’ expressive face. Confusion, anger, concern, and then maybe something like relief flash by in waves. He doesn’t break their eye contact either though.

“Are you sure?” Laura asks, for the second time that day. She’s a good manager. An even better big sister and Derek knows that even if this isn’t the perfect choice for his career, it’s the right choice for him. And she will back him no matter what.

“I’m sure.”

Laura’s laugh is wicked. “Hell yeah. I’ll send her your regards. Y’all need anything?”

Stiles finally looks away from Derek to Laura. He doesn’t answer aloud, only shakes his head no. His hands are trembling a bit when he puts them back in Derek’s hair.

“That was actually rhetorical. The clear answer was a shower, because Stiles, old pal, you smell like death. Like an actual corpse. I have no idea how that heathen is near you, I’m tempted to go get the hose and a soap bucket. And it would serve you right. You just wait until you're clean, because you and I are going to have words when you eventually come out of this room. How dare you pull what you-”

She’s cut off by who Derek can only assume is either Lydia or Erica, pulling her out of the room with a loud slam of the door.

“This isn’t over! You can’t hide in there forever!”

Stiles makes a soft, scared noise that Derek can’t help but smile at. He would offer words of comfort but they would be false platitudes. Laura will absolutely tough love Stiles for the stunt he pulled earlier and a small part of Derek looks forward to it. The other man kind of deserves it.

Stiles notices his amusement. “You would help her hide my body, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course. But I wouldn’t really let her kill you to begin with. Probably. Assuming I could stop her.”

Stiles whines again, reaching down and grabbing the covers to pull over both of their heads, successfully confining them in their own dark little space. Derek laughs, fighting to break out. They struggle for a minute, Stiles almost kicking Derek off the bed entirely before Derek gains the upper hand and sends all of the blankets flying. Stiles tackles him in retaliation, their heads landing on the same pillow as they face each other for the first time in a long while on even ground.

There’s an easy quiet between them as they both catch their breaths, a smile still playing at the corners of Stiles lips before he becomes serious again.

“I’m really sorry, Derek.”

“You said that already.”

“I know, but you deserve to hear it a few more times. I barely deserve the opportunity to say it.”

“That’s not true. But I’m sorry too. You aren’t the only one who fucked up.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t have to turn Kate down-”

“Stiles, I don’t want to go with her. I never really did.” Derek realizes he means it as he says it. He was fooling himself thinking he’d ever want to play music without Stiles again. They’ve been successful because there’s something magical about them together. He secretly thinks maybe neither of them had any luck before because they were waiting to find each other, he can’t help it. He’s a romantic at heart.

“I’m still in love with you.” Stiles breathes it like a confession, like he’s admitting to something taboo. Like he’s scared Derek doesn’t want to hear it and it’s going to ruin everything.

Derek thinks it’s the only possible thing that could fix any of this. Not right away, not even quickly. But if they were able to make a whole album out of missing each other, thinking it was all lost...well, he can’t wait to see what comes out of finding each other again. There’s already the first few notes of a love song strumming through his chest.

Derek lets it play.

 

++++

 

“...Who’s going to tell everyone we have to change our band name?”