Stiles glared venomously at his phone on the dash mount. Rerouting was the reason he was currently lost on some winding, unlit backroad in the middle of unfamiliar woods and possibly heading gradually up a mountain if the gentle incline and mounds of snow were any indication. The snow was deeper than he would’ve guessed on either side of the road, glittering white hills and slopes.
He rolled his eyes.
The car jerked.
Stiles clutched the wheel, chest tightening. “No, no, we’re fine,” he breathed. “Come on-” He gasped.
The jeep jerked left, then right, tires grinding and slipping over the road.
Stiles’s grip vised on the wheel, but he couldn’t wrest control back from the ice, couldn’t force the jeep back on track. He stamped on the brake.
The back tires squealed; the jeep fishtailed and slid to the right.
He squeezed his eyes shut as the road curved. The jeep shuddered and knocked around violently, tossing him hard against his seatbelt. His ears buzzed, blocking out everything but the white rush of panic and the wild thud-thud-thud of his heart. Red and purple seemed to flash behind his eyes as the jeep skidded. It jolted hard, slamming him forward, and tilted with a heavy thump toward the passenger side. He opened his eyes slowly.
The jeep was angled off the side of the road, the front grate resting against the tree that’d stopped his slide. After a moment, the headlights flickered and died.
Stiles swallowed. He had to do something, he knew. Just…his heart was racing and his body was still—he needed a moment. He peeled his hands one finger at a time from the wheel. The silence after so much chaos was ringing, as startling as everything else. Stiles patted his chest and head, hands trembling, but aside from throbbing where the seatbelt was, he seemed fine. He rubbed his hand over his mouth, fighting the urge to be sick. As accidents went, this one wasn’t that bad. He wasn’t hurt, the car was only one wheel off the road and didn’t hit the tree hard enough to deploy the airbags or badly dent the grate. He shakily grabbed his phone and huffed when he saw the Lost Connection warning on the screen.
No service, winding, dark road, creeping cold. He was in the beginning of a horror movie. He rubbed his hands together and squinted at the tree in front of him.
Didn’t look badly damaged.
He tried to start the jeep, but it didn’t even sputter, not that he was surprised. The jeep was already touch and go as it was; all the jostling probably knocked something dire loose. He pulled the keys out and shook his head. He was going to have to get out and poke at the engine, try to coax just a little more life from it, at least until he could get somewhere to properly fix it with something other than his go-to roll of duct tape.
Snow drifted across his windshield, gathering on the wipers. He sighed. He was going to have to walk or try to sleep in the icy cold jeep until daylight.
A low, deep rumble came from the dark to his left, heavy footfalls crunching and skidding over the ice.
Stiles twisted in his seat, slapping the lock down in a hurry. His heart hammered, mind a whirl of white panic and red fear, muscles clamping down and holding him in place. He yelped, heart lurching.
Huge black paws smacked the window, followed by a fuzzy face smooshing up against it.
He scrambled over the gear shift, tipping into the passenger seat. Bear, he thought hysterically. It had to be a bear, a freaking bear.
A big pink tongue rolled out, lips pulling back as the creature panted.
Heart hammering, Stiles fumbled his phone upright and turned on the flashlight.
A dog. A very, very big dog, but—not a bear, and with too thick a muzzle for a wolf…probably.
The dog jerked back suddenly, gigantic paws paddling the air desperately before falling with a thump to the snow.
A man leaned down, squinting in the shine of the flashlight.
Stiles pressed a hand to his chest, hoping to hold his heart in place before it took flight. The flashlight jerked with his heavy, uneven breaths.
“Are you okay?” the man asked loudly. “We heard you crash.”
Stiles just stared at him for a moment, too rattled to find his words.
The man frowned, brows drawing together. He tapped his temple. “Did you hit your head?”
Stiles croaked, “No.” He rubbed his chest, reassuring himself that he was still alive, and cautiously crawled back over to the driver’s seat.
“Want to roll your window down?”
Stiles shook his head. If he rolled it down, he probably wouldn’t be getting it closed again in the low temperatures. “Here.” He waved his hands until the man stepped back and got out, gripping the door hard to stay upright on his shaking legs. He gulped in a breath of thin, wintery air and felt his head clear, some of the fear dissipating. He eyed the man in front of him, wrapped up in bulky winter gear and flanked by two enormous dogs—a white fluffy one with a silvery collar and the black bear-like one with a green collar.
“Are you hurt?” the man asked, looking him over.
“Uh, no, I just skidded, but my car won’t start, so I need to call for a tow.” He crossed his arms to conserve some heat, phone still clutched firmly in his hand. The dark made everything seem more threatening, even the two wiggling, wagging dogs. “And, um, my phone has no reception.”
“Yeah, this road is bad for that.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’ve got a landline and decent service at my house, if you want to come.”
Stiles inched back, almost into the jeep. “I’m not sure.” His teeth clacked together as he shivered, shoulders raised to shield his ears.
The man shrugged. “You’re more than welcome to wait here while I call, but just so you know, I don’t think a tow will get here before morning.” Snow gathered in his dark hair. Instead of a hat, he was wearing one of those sporty-looking headbands to keep his ears warm. “Because of the storm.”
Stiles had one of his thicker hoodies on and some cheap gloves he’d picked up at a gas station. “Storm?” he repeated at last, miserable down to his icicle toes.
He nodded. “Supposed to lower visibility pretty bad.” He sighed. “Just stay in the car and try not to freeze to death before I return. I’ll go home, call a tow, and bring some blankets so you don’t freeze, if you won’t come with.”
The jeep was almost completely covered already by the snow; Stiles suspected it would be like sleeping in an icebox. He glanced back at the guy. “I’m Stiles Stilinski.”
His mouth twitched. “Derek Hale.”
“Hello, Derek. Are you going to murder me?”
He huffed a surprised laugh, filling the air between them with a white cloud. “No!” He grinned, white teeth flashing in the near dark. “I could’ve just left you to your fate.”
Stiles considered that. “Okay,” he said at last. He reached over the seat for his backpack and phone charger. He was so cold his fingers wouldn’t close properly around the cord. He would’ve gone with Derek even if he’d had a human ear necklace at this point, not that he would tell him that. He locked the jeep and turned back. “What’re their names?” he asked as they started to walk. His sneakers skidded on the same ice that’d sent his car into the tree. His phone light arced over the road, illuminating the tracks he’d made.
Derek grabbed his left arm before he could fall. “The white one by your side is Titania and the manner-less gremlin that jumped on your car is Tinkerbell. Titan and Tink.”
Stiles gingerly stepped from ice to snow; colder, as he sank almost to his knees, but he had more traction here. “You named your bear sized dogs after a pixie and a faerie queen?”
Derek grinned. “I’m partial to fairy tales.” He scratched Tink’s ears, making her tail wag. “They’re friendly and really like people,” he said, noticing how closely Stiles was watching Titan. “She’s four, Tink is three.”
“Ah.” Stiles carefully lowered his left hand to Titan’s fur. It was soft and warm under the surface, a welcome relief from the stabbing cold. He kept his right hand up, flashlight guiding his steps. “So, thanks for your help.” He glanced at him sidelong. “You know, assuming you don’t murder me.”
“You’re welcome, assuming you don’t murder me.”
“Wh-hey! You’re the one taking me to your creepy mountain house in the dark.”
“Or I’m the unsuspecting good Samaritan caught up in your clever ruse to kill me and steal my dogs.”
“And my house isn’t creepy,” he added mildly. “Your jeep, however, is definitely creepy.”
“Hey, you can insult me, besmirch my honor,” Stiles jabbed a finger at him, mouth twisting as he fought a smile, “but don’t you dare insult my jeep.”
Derek put his hands up. “Did not see you as one of those car fanatics, considering the state of that jeep. My apologies.”
“I’ve hidden depths,” he sniffed, and tripped out of the snow onto a paved driveway. His phone flew out of his hand, palms skidding; his gloves ripped. He sighed, turning his hands over to check for cuts.
“Are you alright?” Derek crouched in front of him. He had to push Titan back to keep her from licking Stiles’s face.
“I’m great.” Stiles sighed. “If terrible things could stop happening today, I’d be much better.” He swiped his phone, prepared for a shattered screen, and relaxed when he saw that it was fine.
“Come on, you’ll feel better inside where it’s warm.” Derek helped him back up and kept a grip on his arm as they walked up the driveway.
Stiles looked over his shoulder; he could see the vague outline of a mailbox and a curb, possibly where lawn met road, but everything else was a blur of white. He looked forward again.
The porch light was on, illuminating the redbrick walls and a big window to the right of the front door. The porch was just two cement steps and a three foot slab leading to the clear glass outer door, smudged with Tink-and-Titan height nose prints, and a deep blue door beyond that, marked with a wolf shaped door knocker.
“Scaring away visitors?”
“Ha, it was a gift. Big bad wolf.” He fumbled a bit with the keys, muttering a command to the dogs that had them sitting side by side on the steps. He got the door open and stepped in, tugging Stiles out of the cold.
The first blast of heat to the face burned like a slap on his chilled cheeks. He shuddered as warmth flooded back to his extremities, barely noticing as the dogs stampeded past him. The house smelled a little like wet dog and vanilla, which seemed about right.
“If you can put your shoes here, we can go to the kitchen and warm up while I call the tow company.” Derek indicated the heavy duty gray door mat by the wall where he’d already shed his weather-appropriate boots.
Stiles toed his sodden sneakers off, wiggling his toes in his lime green and purple dinosaur socks. Too late to feel silly, he decided.
To the immediate right, past a tiny wall rack with a jacket, keys, and two leashes hanging on it, was a living room taken up by an enormous black sofa covered in jewel toned throw pillows and sprinkles of white fur, two gigantic dog cushions, two kennels piled with blanket nests and toys, and a television on the wall overlooking the chaos.
Straight ahead was a short walkway to a dining room occupied by a rectangular dining table and assorted chairs, with a few photographs on the yellow-and-gray walls.
“Why don’t you sit? I’ll just—hang on.” He had about two hundred pounds of fluff vying for his attention, knocking into his legs and circling him. He grabbed a bone from a huge jar on the table and gave it to Tink.
Stiles chose a chair and sat down, chafing his arms for warmth. His hoodie was damp from the snow, his pants clinging to his legs.
Titan rested her head on his lap and let out a truly miserable whine.
Derek sighed. “Titan, go to your bed. Sorry, her favorite toy is in repair.” He pointed.
A red dragon with a missing wing and stuffing hanging out of the wound was set out of her reach on the table, confiscated.
Stiles rubbed her ears before she trudged off to her bed.
“Do you want some coffee?”
“Um.” He considered it—warm drink, comfort—and decided, “No, thanks. It makes me too jittery.”
Derek nodded. “What about hot chocolate? Just for something to warm you up?”
Stiles grinned. “Yes, please.”
Derek made the call while he was preparing the hot chocolate, moving about the adjoining kitchen with easy efficiency. He set a mug in the shape of a tree stump in front of Stiles while the line was still ringing.
Stiles glanced down and smiled. Pink marshmallows floated in the warm chocolate, melting from the heat.
“Hey, is Kenny there? Uh-huh. Well, there was an incident. A tow truck.” Derek paced. “Yeah, I figured, but-” He paused, listening with a frown. “No one was hurt. There’s only—well…”
Stiles sipped the hot chocolate and sighed, slumping over the table. It was rich and warm, doing more to chase the cold away than the central heating ever could, and tasted just a bit sweeter than he was expecting, like a surprise burst of something he couldn’t identify on his tongue. It was possibly the best hot chocolate he’d ever had in his life, including Melissa’s.
Titan crept back over to the table, ears pinned, tail wagging low.
Stiles smiled and rubbed her ears.
Her tail wagged faster and she put a giant paw on his leg, muscles bunching.
“Off,” Derek called, leaning around the wall to shoot her a look.
She heaved a sigh and retreated.
“Sorry, she thinks she’s a lap dog. Yeah, I’m still here. I know, but it won’t start. Uh-huh.” He paced back into the kitchen.
Stiles looked over the dogs; Tink was sprawled over the large green cushion, chewing determinedly on a bone roughly the length of Stiles’s entire thigh. Titan curled in a pouty ball on her shimmery gray bed, tail over her nose.
“Nothing?” Derek’s voice had Stiles looking up, tense. He sighed. “Yeah, alright. Thanks.” He hung up and ran his hands through his hair, knocking that headband off. He took his coat off next, draping it over the back of the chair closest to him and meeting Stiles’s gaze grimly. “The tow truck won’t make it out until tomorrow morning because of the storm, like I thought.”
Stiles shuddered, imagining the cold just beyond these walls. “I—crap, I have to-”
Derek held up a hand. “I have a guest room if you want to use it, or I can try to drive you to town, but we won’t make it until past ten at this point and the storm will be worse.”
Stiles worried his lip between his teeth. Either he had to risk sleeping in a stranger’s house, which was dangerous, or tell Derek yes, he would like him to risk his life to drive Stiles into town in the middle of the night, and possibly risk it more just trying to get back home, in the middle of a snow storm. He rubbed his face. There wasn’t really an option, he guessed.
“I can drive you,” Derek said suddenly. “We’ll make it, it’s fine. We’ll just go slowly.”
Stiles shook his head. “No, it’s too dangerous. The tow guys were right, there’s no reason to risk it. I appreciate your hospitality,” he added with a small smile. “I just have to text my friend to let him know I’m alive.”
Derek sat down across from him. “Were you going to visit him?”
Stiles nodded as he messaged Scott. “He’s having his bachelor party in a week, so I was heading over early to hang out, help set up, you know. Best man stuff.” He sighed and set the phone down. The battery was nearly dead.
Derek smiled, eyes crinkling with amusement. “I’m supposed to go to a bachelor party next weekend, too. I wasn’t going nearly as early as you.”
Stiles laughed. “I figured, given our usual shenanigans, a week was still cutting it close.”
“You’re both troublemakers, then?”
“A little bit. It’s why we’re friends.”
Derek smiled again, softer, and Stiles sipped his hot chocolate to distract himself.
“I haven’t met the person I’m walking down the aisle with,” he blurted into the quiet. “My friend said we’d meet at the party, which should make everything nice and awkward.”
“I don’t really know many of the groom’s friends in my friend’s wedding party, either. I’m sure we’ll both be fine.”
“Sure, you’ll be fine. You’re probably great with people.”
Derek laughed. “You are the first person to ever say that to me.” He braced his hands against the table and stood. “Are you hungry?”
“Sure. Thank you.”
Derek gave him some leftover soup, which was pretty good—not nearly as good as the hot chocolate, but Stiles appreciated the comfort of a warm dish on a cold night and would obviously never say as much to Derek. After he’d finished, Derek showed him to the guest room and bathroom, directly across the hall from each other. “Extra towels are in there if you want to shower and I’m just down the hall.” He pointed at a door a few feet away. “Also, unless you want some visitors, I suggest you close the door.” As he was speaking, Tink stuck her nose in Stiles’s hoodie pocket, nearly knocking him over. “Tink,” he intoned.
She sat down and looked up at him adoringly.
His face melted.
Stiles hastily looked away. “So—thank you. Um, I think I will, uh, shower and change. If that’s okay. Wash the road trip and fear sweat off, y’know.” He flushed. Fear sweat. Nice.
“Of course. Goodnight, Stiles.”
Tink and Titan followed Derek to his room, leaving Stiles alone in the hallway.
He rubbed his eyes and crept into the bathroom. He hated using other people’s showers, but the horror of that was driven out of his mind by the fairy-tale-woods theme of the bathroom. The shower curtain was deep blue and green, covered in trees, yellow lightning bug spots, red-and-white mushrooms, and a path winding through the middle toward the distant silhouette of a cottage.
There was a mushroom shaped toothbrush holder by the sink and a sword-in-the-stone sculpture that Stiles realized was actually holding dental floss. The walls were decorated with jewel-and-pastel tone butterflies; a shiny, ceramic apple was set in a basket of flowers on the window sill, and a serpentine dragon lounged along the top of the mirror.
“Cool,” he muttered, fortified, and turned to face the shower.
The bed in the guest room was clean and cool, smelling of laundry detergent, and the pillows were soft and fluffy. Just like a hotel. Stiles kept his bag on the bed with him and stared at the ceiling. He thought about Tinkerbell and Titania, the fairy tale bathroom, and tried to understand the man who’d selflessly offered his house for the night.
Stiles didn’t get much sleep, jolting awake at every unfamiliar noise the house made, tossing and turning on the too-soft bed, kicking his legs to try to position the blanket just right over his toes. By the time he could see gray morning light creeping through the blinds, he was fuzzy-headed and miserable. He changed from pajamas to jeans and a sweatshirt, ran a hand through his hair, and grabbed his toothbrush.
He could hear Tink and Titan stampeding up and down the hallway while he brushed his teeth and wondered if that meant Derek was awake, too. He checked his messages before he left the bathroom, reassuring Scott once again that he was alive, and had not been murdered in his sleep.
Derek was on the phone in the kitchen when he emerged. He noticed Stiles immediately and pointed at the table.
A plate piled with scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon had been set where Stiles had sat the night before, beside a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Complete, he saw as he approached, with pink marshmallows. He mouthed, “Thank you,” and frowned when Derek responded with a tense smile. He poked at the eggs, too nervous to eat.
Tink snuffled along the edge of the table, moving hopefully toward Stiles’s plate before she rested her head on his right arm.
“Okay, thanks.” Derek set his phone on the counter. “Tink, go get your bone. Sorry, Stiles.”
“It’s not a problem. She was just looking.”
Tink left slowly, glancing back every few feet to make sure she was, in fact, being banished.
“So, the MacNamara brothers came and got your jeep this morning, took it to the mechanic. I can take you there—I have to get groceries,” he added, exasperated, when Stiles tried to protest.
“Oh. Fine,” he sighed. “Thank you.”
“Sure.” He grabbed his own mug and finished it off in one gulp. “You finish eating while I take these two out, then we can go.”
Tink and Titan had to stay home, which caused two long, pitiful howls as they were leaving, but the dogs weren’t allowed in the grocery store, so there wasn’t much to be done.
“The road is still a little icy,” Derek warned him as they were heading back down the way he’d come.
He was tense in the passenger seat, fingers locked around the handle and his seatbelt. “The road is steeper than I remember.”
“It’s a little different in the light of day.” He drove with confidence, which Stiles guessed made sense—he lived here.
Stiles watched him handling the wheel rather than the road to keep his mind off all the what-ifs he was coming up with.
The mechanic was across the street from a gas station, simply named HENRY’S. There was a liquor store to its right and the post office to its left.
“I can wait with you,” Derek offered while Stiles was getting out.
“Nah, go get your groceries, I’m fine. Thanks.” He grabbed his backpack and smiled before shutting the door. The lobby was blessedly warm and playing energetic violin music while a guy danced around behind the counter. “Hey…”
He spun around, hand on his chest, and laughed. “Oh, hey. I didn’t hear you come in. Let me guess: blue jeep?”
The guy’s face went a little more serious, making Stiles’s heart lurch. His nametag said Dan. “So, we checked it over already and found the issue.”
“Uh-huh.” Now was not the time for dramatic pauses, Dan.
He winced. “You need a couple parts that we don’t have.” He went on to explain what was wrong with the jeep in upsetting detail and how the only way to get it running again was to get those two parts. “We ordered them, they’re on the way, because with the weather, we’re not expecting them to be here for a few days, if you want us to go ahead with the repairs. If you don’t, there’s no charge other than the inspection.”
Stiles couldn’t do more than nod blindly, mutter that he did, in fact, want the jeep fixed, and stumble outside. The cold air slapped some sense into him, yanking his brain out of vehicular turmoil. He called Scott. “Hey,” he said weakly when he answered. “So I’m gonna be pretty late.”
“Are you alright? Do you want me to come pick you up?”
“No, I’ll just get a room, I just…just wanted to let you know.” He sighed. “They’re trying to revive the jeep, but they need some parts shipped here.” He crossed his free arm over his chest, shivering as he bounced on his toes.
“Sure you don’t want me to come pick you up? Isaac could come with, it’d be like a guys’ trip!”
Stiles scowled. He had to take a deep breath to make sure his voice didn’t sound as resentful as he felt. “No, I’ll be fine. There’s supposed to be some sort of snow storm and it’s my own fault I’m here. I should’ve just sat in traffic instead of letting the GPS reroute me,” he muttered.
“Well, keep in contact. We’ll find a way to get you if you need us to.”
“Thanks.” Stiles looked around after he hung up, but Jaye’s Peak was small and cold and it seemed empty, since everyone was hiding from the dropping temperatures safely indoors. He poked at his phone and begrudgingly followed the map to the only hotel in town, the Purple Lark Inn.
The parking lot was empty.
Stiles stared up at the two story building, shivering hard each time the wind gusted around him. There was a bright yellow notice on the front door: Pipes burst! Closed for Repairs.
He squeezed his frozen fingers into fists and tilted his head back. If he was remembering his clichés right, rain was supposed to pour over him any second now.
A tap on the shoulder had him spinning, nearly slipping off his feet. Derek looked over Stiles’s shoulder at the sign. “Guess you’re staying with me. Dan called,” he explained sympathetically. “Said, “jeep guy is outside turning into a Popsicle”. I thought you might come here.”
“I can find something else.” His throat felt tight. He wanted to go back in time and not take that stupid “shortcut”. He’d be at Scott’s house by now, or close to it, or maybe a hotel if he’d stopped for the night. Anywhere but stranded in a strange town at the mercy of the continuing kindness from a stranger.
“There’s nothing else for miles, and you still have to come back for your car. Come on, we can get groceries and head back.” He smiled crookedly. “I wasn’t that bad a host, was I?”
“No, of course not.” Stiles had to swallow. “I just—you’re doing a lot for me and I don’t even know you and you don’t know me, and I feel bad-”
“Don’t feel bad,” Derek said firmly. “Come on, I need to restock my hot chocolate supplies and I think there are pears on sale, Titan goes crazy for pears…” He shuffled Stiles away from the inn, down the street, and over to the grocery store, talking obviously to keep Stiles from thanking him again. “Why don’t you get some stuff you like as well?” Derek suggested. “I have the space, don’t worry, and I’ll feel bad if you go hungry because you don’t like what I get.”
“Alright.” He dazedly grabbed a basket and shuffled to the produce section, grabbing apples blindly as he did math in his head. If the inn would’ve charged seventy five a night—better round to an even hundred—and the parts likely wouldn’t arrive before Monday, maybe Tuesday…
He looked up. His face flushed hot. “Whoops.” He had about eight potatoes in his basket. He put back six, mortified. As they walked from produce to the meat department, he ventured, “I can pay you for my room…”
Derek’s shoulders stiffened. “Not necessary.”
“Just what I would be paying for a hotel,” he insisted. “It’s only fair, you’re giving up your privacy, sharing electricity and water-”
“I don’t want you to pay me,” he said flatly. “I think I’ll make some stew tomorrow.” He reached around Stiles to inspect the meats.
Stiles glowered at the back of his head. He’d just find another way to pay him back. He wandered away, aiming for the frozen section. He wanted things he could make quickly, to avoid getting in Derek’s way or taking up his kitchen. Maybe he’d cook for him a few times as a thank-you, since he wouldn’t accept money.
The drive back to Derek’s house was tense. Stiles was pretty sure he’d offended him, but he refused to apologize for trying to show him appreciation for his help. They carried the groceries to the house in silence.
Titan let out a mournful “awoo-woo” from the house, her nose pressed up against the living room window, and Stiles couldn’t help laughing.
Derek relaxed and smiled as he let him in the house, and just like that, the tension was gone.
Tink poked her nose in every bag while they were putting things away; Titan watched from the dining room, hackles raised.
“She doesn’t like plastic bags,” Derek explained. “Which wouldn’t be a problem if she hadn’t eaten my reusable bags three days ago.”
Stiles laughed. It made for a funny—if pitiful—image, a ninety pound ball of teeth, muscle, and white fluff, cowering away from plastic bags. “It’s okay, Titan, I’m afraid of the Kool-Aid man.”
He grinned sheepishly. “Those commercials used to freak me out. I’d have nightmares of him bursting through my wall at midnight.”
Derek snickered. “Suddenly the bags don’t seem so ridiculous.” After the groceries were all put away, Derek turned to Stiles with an apologetic expression. “I have to work, but you’re more than welcome to the TV. The storm might knock the internet out, but until then, it’s all yours.”
“Thanks,” he said softly.
Derek smiled and went down the hall, past his bedroom to a third room that must’ve been his office.
Tink followed him at a gallop.
Stiles perched on the edge of the couch, tense, and spent time updating his father on his whereabouts, clearing his multiple inboxes and calendar alerts—two weeks until New Project! began—and found himself lounged back with Titan sprawled over his feet, chewing a bone. He blinked spots out of his eyes and patted around the cushions for the remote. He turned on Netflix, some reality show about a magician or something, for noise, and glanced back down at Titan. “Do you have a rope?”
Her head snapped up, ears pricked. Her tail wagged.
Encouraged, Stiles repeated his question.
She kicked him in her mad scramble to her feet, dashing over to a wooden box in the corner. She emerged with a raggedy orange braided rope and trotted to him.
Stiles grinned, dropping to the floor and grabbing the free end. They played tug for a while, during which Titan nearly yanked his shoulders out of the sockets at least three times. “Okay, okay, I give up.” He let go and rolled onto his back, arms flopping out.
Titan pushed her nose against his ear, then his neck, tickling him into senseless giggles that only made her wiggle closer. She swiped her tongue over his cheek and forehead.
He pushed her muzzle away so he could catch his breath. Maybe he should get a dog. It’d be nice to have company, and would force him to take a few walks a day, stretch his legs. Of course, he’d have to take breaks on their schedule, which historically didn’t work well for him when he was deep in his work. Any interruption felt like being poked with a cattle prod. He looked at Titan and sighed. “So probably a cat,” he said. “Or maybe just a picture of a cat, which would require even less care.” He sat up, annoyed with himself for being lonely. He’d moved across the country, it wasn’t like anyone had forced him. And it was a good thing no one had tried, because he was contrary by nature and it would’ve ended badly for everyone involved.
Titan swiped her tongue over his cheek once more before leaving the room at a trot.
Stiles waited to see if she would return, then got worried she was getting into something she shouldn’t. He grimaced and stood, creeping down the hall.
Titan’s back legs and tail were sticking out of Derek’s office, waggling with excitement.
Stiles crept closer, curious but worried about intruding on Derek’s work space.
Titan turned and ran to him, bumping excitedly against his legs.
“You can come in,” Derek called, making him jump guiltily. “I’m just working.”
Stiles stepped in. “Sorry, I was just…whoa.”
Derek was at a large desk, studying a storyboard covered in sketches, illustrations, panels of…maybe a comic.
“What is it?” Stiles asked, moving closer to study a picture of a girl cupping red light in her hands.
“I write and illustrate children’s books,” he said, cheeks going pink.
“Wow! What’s this one about? Or do you not like to talk about it when you’re working on it?” he asked, wincing.
“No, I’m not secretive. It’s…I guess about forgiveness.” He tilted his head back to look at one image of another girl kneeling in front of a cluster of flowers. “I mean, under the surface. The main character is going to go on a quest, you know. Typical stuff.”
Several of the panels showed the girl defeating average monsters: the big bad wolf, a dragon, a witch, but they seemed unfinished.
“Huh.” Stiles peered at the girl. “What’s to forgive?”
Derek sighed. “I’m struggling and a little stuck,” he admitted.
Stiles smiled. “Ah. Well, we’ve all been there. Need some help?” He shrugged. “I could just listen while you talk it out.”
“I’m sure you don’t want to listen to me work through plot issues.”
“I offered.” He spotted a reading chair on the opposite side of the room, in front of the window, and curled up in it. “Hit me.”
Derek started out warily: he wanted to tell the girl’s story and he didn’t want the dragon, the wolf, or the witch to actually be bad guys. With some prompting, Stiles managed to excavate the rest of the story, and together, they talked it out a bit.
“Well, what if they team up together to break a spell? Maybe a bad—what’s Ruby?”
“A sorceress.” Derek was scribbling as they spoke.
“Maybe a bad sorceress cursed them or an object and they all have to work together to break the curse?”
“Hmm.” He turned the page around. A cluster of five roses curled up from the middle of the page. “White roses?”
“Sure, that sounds good.” Stiles grinned; he recognized the hazy look in Derek’s eyes. “I’ll go make lunch while you get back to work.”
“Thank you.” He spun back to his desk, hunching over a sketch pad.
Stiles left him to make a couple frozen pizzas, the safest bet he could make, given how little he knew about Derek’s preferences. There were unframed pictures stuck to the fridge, featuring Derek with two dark haired women, one with a couple who might’ve been his parents, Tink as a puppy, and the women holding Tink and Titan with huge grins on their faces.
Derek came out a minute after the pizzas finished, stretching his arms over his head. “Thank you, that helped a lot. I’m taking a break now that I figured out where I’m going.”
“That’s great! I’m glad you’re not stuck anymore.”
He grinned. “Me too. Oh, thanks,” he said when Stiles handed him a plate. “After lunch, I’m going to take the dogs for a walk. Want to come?”
Did he want to wade through the snow with two horses? No. “Yeah, sure.”
Derek lent Stiles a coat to put over his hoodie, protecting him from the frigid wind. The dogs bounced and dove in snow piles like seals in water, barking and snarling playfully. Stiles couldn’t understand how they were so happy when it was freezing out, but he had to concentrate on not falling or running into things, so he didn’t try too hard to figure it out.
Derek meticulously picked up after them, then whipped out a couple tennis balls—purple and blue—to play fetch with. Stiles threw one while Derek threw the other, alternating as Tink or Titan chose who to bring the ball back to.
They talked about books while they froze and played fetch, then movies, then, as they were urging the dogs toward the house, Firefly. Turned out they were both fans. The wind picked up as they were walking, making Stiles hunch further into his borrowed coat. His nose was frozen; it was going to snap off like a twig.
Derek frowned up at the sky.
“Snow,” he sighed.
“No,” Stiles groaned. “Isn’t there enough? Isn’t there a quota?” He flushed when Derek laughed at him. “What?”
“Nothing. You’re from somewhere warm, I guess?”
He grinned. “Me too.”
“Are you calling me a wimp?”
“Yes.” He dodged when Stiles kicked snow at him, then lunged to catch him when he slipped. “Look.” He helped Stiles catch his balance and tilted his head back.
Snow drifted lazily over their heads.
“Huh. Impressive. Do you always predict the weather or was this a fluke?”
“I have a lot of practice.” He let go of Stiles’s arms and pointed at Tink. “Bed. Not the couch. Bed.”
She wagged her tail.
Stiles bounced on his toes when they got inside. “Brrr, oh my god.”
Derek laughed and rubbed his hands briskly up and down Stiles’s arms. “Go stand under the vent. I-Tink! Off!”
She wagged at him from the couch, which was damp from the snow dripping off her fur.
Stiles turned away to keep from laughing.
Derek sighed and shook his head as he went down the hall.
Stiles hung his borrowed coat up and put his shoes by Derek’s boots, then peeled his wet socks off with a long, sad sigh. He was leaning on the table, scowling at the pictures Scott and Isaac were posting online, when Derek returned carrying a dusty radio.
His expression was grim. “Second snow storm on the way,” he said, nodding at the radio. “It’s supposed to be bigger.”
Stiles set his phone down. “Bigger…in what way?”
“More ice, more wind.” He looked at the radio thoughtfully. “I’m going to check the generator, make sure the fuel I put in is still ready.”
“Generator as in the power might go out?” He crossed his arms, straightening from the table.
“It’ll probably blow by,” Derek said, but he looked as worried as Stiles felt. “I’ve got to check the generator, then I’ll make some hot chocolate and we can watch the news to keep track of the storm.” He put the radio on the table and switched it on.
Tink followed him outside.
Stiles sat at the table, staring at the dented speaker while it crackled about dropping temperatures and wind chill. He flinched when Titan put her head on his leg, then stroked between her ears. “I guess Derek would know,” he mumbled. “I hope it goes by.”
The weatherman on the radio didn’t seem to think it would.
They watched Firefly that evening just for something to do. Derek spread two towels on the floor and sat on one, then began brushing Titan’s fur halfway through the second episode.
“Want me to brush Tink?”
“Sure, here’s her brush.” He gave him the brush that’d been next to his leg. “Have to do this every few days or they’ll be a mess.”
Stiles was just glad to have something to do. It only took him sitting on the towel, brush in hand, for Tink to scramble over, wiggling and squirming until she was sitting between his knees, tail whacking his leg. He laughed quietly and started below her collar.
Tink melted, sighing and body going utterly relaxed, tail slowing to a content ticking. It was like she was getting a massage.
Beside them, Titan watched with huge save me eyes, ears pinned.
“She had a bad experience with a groomer once, so she doesn’t like being brushed,” Derek explained in a low, soothing voice. His hands moved gently, working through knots as carefully as he could, being sure not to pull. “We’re working on it.”
“I see Tink doesn’t have the same problem.” Stiles enjoyed watching her coat get glossier and neater with every pass of the brush and he kind of also enjoyed watching Derek murmur comfortingly to Titan as he brushed her coat. He made himself focus on Tink.
Titan fled to hide in her kennel when he was done, curled up in a white ball of resentment.
Derek sighed. “One day she’ll get over it. Maybe. Thanks.”
“No problem.” Stiles prodded Tink’s shoulder, but she only flicked her gaze back at him before closing her eyes again. She was completely limp, draped over his right leg. He couldn’t help rubbing her back and side, dragging his fingertips through her newly-brushed fur. “She doesn’t seem to mind.”
Derek snorted. “Yeah, she loves getting brushed, I think she thinks she’s at the spa.”
“Probably.” Stiles looked up just as the episode ended.
Derek yawned and stretched, back arching over the couch. “I better get some sleep. They’re on a schedule and will wake me up whether I’ve just fallen asleep or not, which happens.” He got to his feet and bundled up the towel he’d been sitting on, gathering tufts of fur before they could hit the carpet. “Feel free to stay up as long as you want,” he added.
Stiles shook his head. “I better get some sleep, too.” With any luck, the jeep would be done and the storm would pass by, so he could get on his way.
He couldn’t fall asleep. He stared at the ceiling after he’d brushed his teeth and changed into pajamas, listening to the wind raging outside long after he’d climbed in. He could hear ice or snow or whatever it was plinking off the glass and could imagine the knee deep snow rising, the roads becoming slicker, more dangerous. He wondered how it would affect the delivery of the parts for his jeep, and immediately felt guilty. His travel plans were less important than delivery drivers being safe on dangerous roads, obviously.
He could still be upset about it.
The plinking got louder, the wind rising in pitch until it sounded like someone screaming.
Stiles rolled out of bed and pulled the blinds.
It was pitch black outside with white specks gusting around, turning it into gray television static. It glittered like stars against the dark woods, shimmering, deceiving. He could feel the cold seeping through the glass, even though he wasn’t touching it.
He swallowed, gaze catching on the ice gathering outside the window. He rested his forehead against the cold glass. There was no way he was making it to Scott’s early enough for bro time. Just the party, if that.
Stupid to be upset. At least he hadn’t been hurt.
He rubbed his forehead where the skin had gone numb and left the room. He’d just get some water and try to talk himself to sleep. He’d done it before.
Light spilled down the hall when he opened his door. Derek was at the table with Tink and Titan curled up around his chair like a poorly drawn Yin-Yang symbol, sleeping soundly. Tink was snoring. Derek was scribbling in a battered notebook, hunched over in a position Stiles recognized.
He winced. “Your back is going to hurt tomorrow.”
Derek looked up.
“I can’t sleep,” Stiles admitted with a sigh. “The storm is making me nervous.”
Derek straightened up, flinching as his back popped. “Do you want me to make some hot chocolate?” He was wearing baggy gray sweatpants and an “It’s a Good Day to Write” t-shirt, hair mussed like he’d tried to sleep, too. They’d obviously both failed.
Stiles smiled. “That sounds great, thank you.”
Derek got up, causing a disgruntled rumble from both dogs. He rolled his eyes all the way to the kitchen. “So,” he began as he clattered around, “the bachelor party you’re going to. Have you known him long?”
“Yeah, we’ve been friends since the seventh grade.” Stiles flinched when the wind whistled. He made himself focus on Derek instead. “Um, we met because we both forgot to do the math homework.”
Derek laughed. “I remember those days. Only for me it was usually the science that got neglected.” He set a mug with a sea dragon on the side in front of Stiles, pink marshmallows already melting.
“Thanks. Yeah, I guess we got started with trouble making and just went from there.” He smiled, bringing the mug up to his face to let the steam run over his cheeks.
Titan groaned and moved over to lay across Stiles’s feet, making both of them laugh.
“Your hot chocolate is amazing,” Stiles sighed after his first sip. “I want to drink gallons of it. Why is it so sweet? You should be canonized.”
He laughed. “Saint Derek.” He shook his head. “My sisters mob me for it, I know it’s good.”
“How many siblings do you have?” Stiles already felt calmer with his hands cupped around the warm mug, more relaxed with each sip.
He grinned, ducking his head a little. “Just two, plus various cousins, aunts, and uncles. We’re a big family, we’re everywhere.”
“Must be nice,” Stiles sighed. “It’s been mainly me and my dad for most of my life, but we get by.” He sipped more. “What was it like growing up with siblings though? I’ve heard some terrible things and would love answers.”
“Loud,” he said with a quick laugh. “I value my solitude now and then but more often than not I get lonely. I miss my sisters roaming around like a herd of elephants or my parents clattering around. Not that I’d ever tell them that,” he added hastily. “I would never live it down.”
“Never live what down, calling them a herd of elephants?”
“No, letting them know I like having them around.” He grinned when Stiles laughed.
“Do you visit them often?”
“Yeah, usually when I’m not working on things.”
Stiles nodded, trying to think of more questions. His brain felt slow, comfortable and sleepy. “That’s nice, that you still visit.”
“I usually manage to visit everyone over the course of a month, try to knock it all out.” Derek picked his pen up, running it between his fingers. His gaze darted to his notebook and away. “They’re used to me disappearing up here to work on my books.”
Stiles yawned and tried to hide it behind his mug. “Yeah, my dad—I kind of get absorbed, too, so he’s used to me just spacing out on, um, on calls.” He yawned again. His sleepless nights combined with the warm milk in the hot chocolate were finally defeating his nerves over the storm. Even so, he was reluctant to leave the table, the warm light of the dining room and Titan’s weight on his cold feet, the comforting white noise of Derek’s pen scratching notes across his book. He propped his chin on his hand and made himself take another slow sip, eyes on the blue cap of Derek’s pen.
Derek’s face was set in concentration, hand clenched tight; he was writing really hard, something Stiles knew from experience would leave him with a sore wrist.
He should say something. Tell Derek to write more gently or he’d sprain his wrist. They could laugh about Stiles’s own dumb injuries and maybe talk until the storm passed…
He woke on the couch, under a fuzzy blanket and Titan’s enormous weight stretched over him. Stiles blinked at her, confused.
She blinked back, tail swishing over his legs.
He scratched her ears, twisting his neck to look around the living room. Other than Titan, he was alone. “Off,” he said, hoping to mimic Derek’s command.
Titan sighed right in his face and flopped sideways off the couch, landing with a wall-shaking crash. She stayed on her side in front of the couch, watching him balefully.
Tink galloped from the kitchen to investigate the noise, poking Titan all over with her nose.
Titan endured while staring accusingly at Stiles.
“Sorry, but you weigh as much as a pony.” He sat up, pushing the blanket off and picking his way around the dogs on his way to the kitchen.
The dogs’ bowls were half full, refilled recently, and there was a green mug in the sink. He shuffled off to brush his teeth and get dressed, then ate some pizza rolls at the kitchen window, watching snow blow around in the still-harsh wind.
Titan was stretched out on the runner by the front door, sighing, her tail wagging.
“Uh…hang on.” Stiles went to find Derek.
He was in his office, hunched over a tablet this time.
Stiles bit his lip. Maybe he should leave him be. He did owe Derek for helping him. He could pay him back by doing some chores for him. He backed away from the office with that in mind. He had to borrow Derek’s outerwear because there was no way he was going out in that snow wearing just a hoodie. He was hesitant, but the dogs seemed fine when he clipped their leashes to their collars, even though he’d never seen Derek use them.
They didn’t pull much either, although they were squirming to get outside.
“Holy fucking balls,” Stiles hissed as soon as he stepped outside. The cold was like a punch to the face and almost as solid, making his eyes sting and water. “Do what you’ve got to and do it fast, oh my god.” He inched his way off the slick, icy steps, gripping Titan’s lead like a vice.
Tink watched impatiently, feet tapping like she was dancing.
“You just—I don’t have a fur coat,” he muttered. The snow crunched underfoot as they waded into the yard. It was past his knees.
The dogs seemed to like it, despite the sharp, stabbing wind and flurries of small, hard balls of ice.
“Hurry up,” Stiles whined through chattering teeth. “I’m turning into a snowman.”
Once they’d finished, Stiles had to bribe them back inside; Titan wanted to roll in the snow and Tink had burrowed a tunnel through it, and they wanted to stay and Stiles was going to freeze solid. He had no idea what to do about the snow caught in their fur, so, in a panic, he kicked off his shoes and ran to the bathroom with both dogs, hands clenched on their leashes. He closed the three of them in, much to their confusion, and grabbed a couple towels from the little cabinet by the shower. Tink hopped in the bathtub, tail slashing the air, mouth hanging open.
“Sit,” Stiles ordered, and was delighted when both wet, fuzzy butts hit the floor—or the bath, in Tink’s case.
Tink tried to play tug with the towel while Stiles was drying her and Titan put her paws on his leg like she was comforting him through the harrowing experience, which was so cute he almost died.
Twenty minutes and two very frizzy dogs later, Stiles flopped on the guest bed and called the mechanic.
Dan answered and once again was tasked with delivering the bad news: the missing parts hadn’t arrived yet, and it wouldn’t turn on no matter how many ways they tried to bypass the need for the parts.
He called Scott next, and tried to let his cheery optimism soothe his bad mood before he checked in with his dad. He rolled to his feet more exhausted than he’d started and wandered out to find Derek frowning into the living room.
Tink and Titan were tangled together, snoozing on Titan’s cushion.
“Um, I took them out for you.”
Derek’s face cleared. “Ah, that’s what happened. They’ll usually ring a bell when they want out,” he explained. “That’s when I take a break and take them for a walk.”
“I’m sorry, I just felt like I should help out since you’re letting me stay here.” He shuffled his feet and laughed awkwardly. “And I managed to screw up your schedule instead.”
“It’s fine, I appreciate the help. I got a lot done, too, so that was nice.” He scratched his jaw. “Hungry? I was going to make a sandwich, do you want one?”
“Sure, thank you.” Stiles followed him to the kitchen. “Sorry I messed up your routine.” It felt a little how he’d felt when he’d tried cleaning the kitchen for his dad as a kid, and had instead just filled the house with fumes, scared the hell out of his father, and earned child-safety locks on the cleaning supplies at age ten. Ten.
“It worked out in my favor, it’s absolutely fine.” He got out a loaf of bread and some plates while he spoke, moving with a kind of spring in his step. “Even if I’m on a roll, I have to stop and take them out, which usually disrupts my momentum and I end up taking forever getting back into the groove. Not a bad exchange in the long run,” he added with a smile when Titan trotted into the kitchen to investigate the noises, “but momentarily frustrating. Especially if I’ve been struggling and just finally hit my stride.” He scrubbed a hand over Titan’s head, making her wiggle excitedly, before he washed his hands and started making the sandwiches.
Stiles leaned his shoulder against the wall. “It’s good to have a set schedule, though, or so I hear.” He wasn’t good at keeping one himself, but plenty of other people thought so.
“Yeah, that’s what they all seem to say.” He shrugged. “So, after lunch, I’m going to take them out for their usual longer walk. Do you want to come? I know it’s cold, so don’t feel obliged.” He held out a plate to Stiles with a small smile.
“Sure,” he said helplessly, “I’d love to come with.”
So Stiles ended up outside again, freezing in a borrowed jacket, scarf, and hat while Tink and Titan frolicked and Derek walked close to Stiles, one arm out just in case he slipped…again.
“You’re just having terrible luck this weekend,” he observed, fighting back laughter, eyes dancing.
“Yeah, it’s been awful.” He grabbed Derek’s arm hard, sneakers sliding like ice skates.
It was dim and gray outside, the sky hidden by heavy gray clouds that were still dropping snow on them; the wind had died somewhat, but it didn't warm the frigid air any. Each breath felt like it weighed ten pounds.
They had to climb over piles of snow to keep up with the dogs, holding onto each other before they could sink in and be lost forever.
“So,” Stiles chattered, “talk to me. Were you ever a monster to your sisters? I’m gonna freeze.”
Derek shook his head. “Cora and I once put dry Kool-Aid in the shower head before Laura showered. Mom made us clean the stains off and buy Laura an apology gift,” he said mournfully. “Her skin was…a little stained.”
He grinned guiltily. “Uh, red. She looked like she had a bad sunburn.” He smiled when Stiles laughed. “Whoa, watch your step!” He caught Stiles’s arm, too late to keep him from hitting the ground. He tugged him back up. “Um, another time after everyone left for school and work, I went back home and put all of Cora’s clothes in Laura’s closet and vice versa, and insisted that I didn’t. No one was home, so they had no proof.”
“Did they ever catch you?”
“No proof,” he repeated, smug. “Everyone suspected, but I stuck to my story.”
“Why?” Stiles laughed. “Even once you got away with it?”
“Because they’ll always wonder. They can say they know it was me, but there’ll always be a little part of them that wonders if it wasn’t me, then who was it?”
Stiles laughed, shocked. “Oh my god. You’re evil, that’s awful.”
“They did stuff like that to me, too!” He caught Tink by the collar and pried a splintery stick from her jaws. “No, it gets stuck in your gums.” He shook his head at Stiles, exasperated, and stuck the stick in his pocket.
Stiles put his hands under his arms. “I might have to abandon sh-ship.” He shuddered as the cold slithered beneath the collar of his coat, seeping into his skin.
“We can all go back together; the snow is falling harder. Tink, Titan, let’s go home.”
Both dogs kicked up snow as they shot off, racing each other for the door.
The snowfall got heavier and heavier as the day crept into afternoon, the wind rising and falling like an invisible tide, sending the trees groaning and creaking. Stiles alternated listening to the weather reports and playing with Titan until he finally gave up, bade Derek goodnight, and retreated to his room. It was only nine at night.
He left the light on and dragged his backpack onto the bed. He had some old receipts at the bottom and a cracked Bic pen, some gum wrappers and a loose sock.
Outside, the wind rose in a howl, then dropped low, hissing by the window like a threat.
He stretched out on his stomach and doodled on the back of the receipts, mindless scribbles to empty out his head. He drew mermaids and sharks and underwater castles, beachy things to take his mind off the wintery disaster outside. He should’ve brought a sketchpad, but it was in his other bag in the jeep. Stupid, but he had hoped he wouldn’t have time to get bored here. Scott’s optimism had clearly gotten to him.
“Not bad,” he muttered, lining the receipts up until it made a complete scene. One of the mermen had very…distinct similarities to Derek. He could never let him find these. He swept them into a pile, face heating. It was no big deal; he tucked people he knew into scenes all the time, his dad’s eyes here, Melissa’s smile there. He was just making use of his…environment.
The room went black.
Stiles yelped, jumping. He nearly toppled off the bed, grasping at the blanket to keep his balance. He slid his hand along the surface until he found his phone and flicked the flashlight on. Nervous laughter bubbled out of his mouth; he’d been here a few days ago: fumbling around in the dark, heart hammering, with only his phone. At least he wasn’t alone this time, and he knew Tink now, so he wouldn’t have to worry about bears. Probably.
Derek was in the hallway when Stiles made it out, messing with the circuit breaker. He sighed. “I can’t get it back on. The generator is supposed to come on automatically, but it always sticks the first time.” He frowned. “I’ll have to get to it in the morning.”
“Right.” The house was already getting colder, and the wind was that much louder without the hum of electronics.
“It’s going to get really cold.”
He nodded. “Okay, I’ll layer up.” He wasn’t sure what Derek wanted him to say to that; it still beat sleeping in the jeep. “Goodnight.” He backed up to his borrowed room, grabbed his spare hoodie, and crawled under the covers.
By eleven, Stiles was shaking so hard his muscles ached, despite the sweatshirt, two hoodies, and two pairs of socks he’d layered on. He clutched the blanket over his head with just a tiny space open to breathe, curled in the tightest ball possible. His fingers hurt. He tucked them to his chest and rolled onto his stomach.
He gave up at 12:05.
He wrapped the duvet around his shoulders like a cloak and ventured out of the room, teeth chattering. Maybe if he slept on the couch, one of the dogs would join him and warm him up.
Derek came out of his room when Stiles’s door opened. He looked half-frozen, too, and exhausted. “Grab all the blankets from the closet in there, meet me in the living room.”
Stiles’s jaw was chattering too hard for him to speak, so he just nodded jerkily and retreated. The closet in his room had a pile of blankets—some crochet, quilts, store-bought comforters, at least ten total—which he grabbed and hugged to his chest. The weight nearly took him down, but it felt nice, something covering his half frozen fingers.
Derek was spreading a huge comforter on top of about three others on the floor of the living room. He nodded at Stiles. “Start piling. Leave three to cover yourself with,” he added seriously.
By the end, they had a nice, cushy pallet on the living room floor; Tink and Titan immediately snuggled in the center.
Stiles dropped his pillow beside them. “That was the plan, right?”
Derek nodded. “They give off heat and like cuddling. Cover up. I’m gonna put a blanket over all of us to sort of trap the heat, too.”
“Nice.” Stiles dove under his three blankets, tucking his hands under Titan’s belly to warm them; she rolled closer, groaning the way dogs did that made them sound like old men. “Thanks.”
“I was cold, too.” Derek flipped a large comforter over all of them before crawling under on Tink’s other side.
Stiles snuggled his face into his pillow as his muscles relaxed one at a time, warming under the covers. “They’re very good dogs,” he mumbled.
“Yes.” Derek chuckled when a tail wagged under the covers. “I’m sorry about the generator.”
Stiles’s eyes closed slowly. “S’okay, I can feel my fingers again. You’re a nice person,” he slurred, because he was falling asleep and he said things when he was tired. “And you have really big cuddle dogs and a lot of blankets.”
He was almost asleep when Derek said, quiet and sweet, “Goodnight, Stiles.”
He smiled against his pillow.
Stiles woke up overheated, with his left arm tingling, completely numb, and his nose tucked up under Derek’s jaw. He blinked once, twice, until his brain fully processed how they were curled up tight like a couple of puzzle pieces fitted together. He gasped and jerked backward, mortified.
Derek’s eyes fluttered open, hazy and confused. “G’morning,” he mumbled, watching Stiles fight with the pile of blankets he’d gotten tangled with.
“Sorry, I don’t—don’t know what happened.”
Derek tilted his head back to look at the couch. “It’s cold and we were abandoned.”
Stiles followed his gaze.
Tink and Titan were sprawled together on the couch.
“Oh.” His face was still hot. “Um, I’m just gonna—I gotta use the bathroom.” He leapt to his feet and fled the room, mortification stinging his cheeks. He took his time in the bathroom, brushing his teeth and washing his face so thoroughly, he was surprised he wasn’t sparkling when he finally dared reemerge.
Derek was pulling on boots when he found him. “I’m going to get the generator on, but it’ll only turn on the urgent things like the heat, the lights, fridge, and water heater.”
Stiles nodded. “I get it, we’re livin’ wild.”
He laughed. “If you call no internet living wild, I’m guessing you’ve never gone camping.”
Stiles shuddered. “Ugh, no, why would I do that? Home has everything I need.”
“S’mores are pretty good.”
“Yes, they are, and I can make them perfectly well at home.”
Derek made a face. “It’s not the same.”
He shook his head, but he was smiling, so Stiles figured he hadn’t entirely ruined Derek’s image of him.
“Can I come out with you? I know I’m going to regret it,” he added, “but I feel like I need to see the damage.”
Derek snorted. “Sure, if you want.” He whistled, one hand on Stiles’s arm to keep him on his feet when Tink and Titan stormed into the foyer, while Stiles was pulling on the spare jacket. He grabbed a shovel from behind the door and tucked it under his arm. He reached out and tugged the zipper of Stiles’s jacket up to the chin absently, knuckles brushing gently against the skin of his throat.
Stiles swallowed, flushed and confused. He let Derek and the dogs out first while he tried to figure out what to do about that. Nothing, probably. Derek was clearly just a nice person. He hadn’t even noticed he’d done it.
The snow outside was covered in a hard layer of ice and was at least another foot deeper than it had been the day before; Derek used the shovel to clear a somewhat shallower path around the side of the house, despite Tink and Titan’s best efforts to play with it as he worked.
“That’s just going to have to do until later,” he muttered, eyeing the uneven path. Under the powdery snow was more ice, slick and bumpy somehow. “I’ll come out with some salt after we get the heat going so we don’t slip all over the place. Drop it,” he said sharply.
Tink let go of the end of the shovel, staring up at him before, with a huff, bouncing headfirst into the snow.
Stiles laughed as she kicked her legs, squirming deeper into the snow. “You’re gonna freeze.”
Stiles grimaced at him. “That was awful.”
Derek grinned. “Do you mind keeping an eye on them while I get it going? They usually don’t wander far, but just in case, they’ll come when you call their names.”
“Yeah, sure. Where is the generator?” Stiles asked as the dogs rolled together in the snow with playful snarls and growls.
“In this little shed; the woman I bought the house from built it.” He opened the door with a heave, sending ice shards scattering at his feet.
Stiles leaned to the right to see over his shoulder; the generator was bigger than he’d been expecting, but he didn’t have much experience with them in the first place, so that made sense.
Titan squirmed out of a pile of snow while Derek messed with it, trotting to Stiles and sitting at his feet.
“You’re very cute,” he cooed, “but you’re covered in snow and my hands are freezing, so I think I’ll admire you from afar, thank you.”
She leaned heavily against his legs, staring up at him adoringly.
He fought down a smile. “Still cute, still no.”
Across the yard, Tink rolled around on her back, covering herself with snow until she looked like a badly disguised shadow of Titan.
The generator started with a roar that made Titan jump.
Stiles flinched. “Is it always that loud?”
“Yeah, it’s noisy, but better than freezing in the house.” He closed the shed and brushed his hands off.
Titan gave up trying to get Stiles’s attention and dove snout-first into the snow.
“We can cook now, at least. It’s-” Derek gasped.
Stiles’s hands jerked up automatically when movement flashed in his peripheral, catching at Derek’s arm before he even realized he was falling. His feet slid out from under him. Derek’s momentum took them both down.
Stiles rolled off of him. “Oh, god, are you okay? I was trying to catch you.” He sat up on his knees, wincing as the ice seeped through his jeans.
Derek stayed sprawled on his back. “I’m okay. Are you?”
“Uh-huh. Here.” He got up, digging his shoes into the snow, and reached down to help Derek up.
He got up painstakingly, gripping Stiles’s hands tight. His left leg collapsed under him as soon as he put weight on it.
Stiles got his arm around him before they could fall again. “Okay, what hurts?”
He sighed. “My ankle,” he muttered. “I twisted it a little, that’s all.”
Stiles tightened his grip around Derek’s waist. “Let’s go inside so we can make sure it isn’t broken.”
“It’s not broken.” His voice was tight with pain, arm like a steel bar around Stiles’s shoulders, so he thought he’d be the judge of that.
“Could be, so let’s be careful. Titan, Tink!” he called.
Titan shot over first, standing close to Derek’s side. Before Stiles could shoo her, Derek dropped his other hand on her back and leaned a little of his weight on her.
“Okay, let’s go,” he sighed, limping forward.
Titan kept pace with their slow, unwieldy walk like a pro, which Stiles realized, watching the way she stayed next to Derek and let him lean on her, she might be.
Tink tripped over her own feet and front flipped into the snow, then raced over to run terrified circles around them.
“Tink, go home,” Derek ordered breathlessly, hand tightening around Stiles’s shoulder.
Tink bolted for the front door.
The house was markedly warmer when they got inside; Stiles paused only to take his shoes off and help Derek get his boots off, then shuffled him straight to the couch.
“I’m fine,” Derek insisted, but Stiles made him prop his foot up on a pile of throw pillows anyway.
“You’re in pain. Let me see.” He gently prodded and tested Derek’s ankle, grimly noting the swelling and the way he flinched when it moved. “I have a little practice with this, Scott and I are both clumsy and were constantly spraining or straining something as kids. Looks like you’re right,” he added, standing up. “Just twisted it.”
Derek had his head back, arms crossed over his face.
“So…you want some ice?”
“Get out of my house.” His mouth curved, a smile flashing before he hid it in the crook of his elbow. “Terrible jokes stay outside.”
“Okay, pupsicle man.” Stiles went to his guest room for his bag, and returned with a bottle of ibuprofen and an elastic bandage he kept with him.
Derek eyed him. “It isn’t sprained.”
He ignored this and filled a cup of water in the kitchen before returning. “It’s good to take care of it anyway. Here, take these and I’ll wrap your foot.” He handed over the ibuprofen and water. “You’re fussy when you’re injured.”
“Who isn’t?” he grumbled.
“Take them,” Stiles instructed, and gingerly lifted Derek’s foot. He was careful as he wrapped, wincing every time Derek tensed or flinched; he was trying to hide it, but Stiles was holding his leg and he felt every twitch. “Okay, now keep it propped, or the swelling could get worse.” He was pretty sure, anyway. That was what Melissa used to tell him and Scott.
Stiles eyed him. “I’ll be right back.”
There was a bag of mixed vegetables in the freezer that was still frozen, which was clearly a testament to the fact that he and Derek were obviously super humans to have survived the night. Stiles grabbed one of the juice pouches he’d bought, too, and a kitchen towel.
Derek was petting Tink’s ears, propped up in an uncomfortable twisted position. “She was trying to climb up here.” He rubbed under her jaw. “Go get your bone.”
She put a heavy paw on his arm.
“Tink, go get your bone.”
She whined, mouth open like a complaining teenager.
Stiles wrapped the vegetables up in the towel and laid them over Derek’s ankle. “I was joking earlier, but we really should ice it to bring the swelling down.”
“Thanks,” Derek said quietly.
Stiles looked up, mouth opening to make a joke about ice pops, and got caught in Derek’s gaze just a beat too long, a bit too soft, too fond. He jerked his eyes away. “So, um, so…hey! Tinkerbell,” he intoned, and she froze, halfway on the couch by Derek’s injured foot.
“Go to your bed. Your dad is hurt! Hey.”
Titan popped over the back of the couch, paws flattening the cushion.
“No, I know you both want to cuddle or something but you’re enormous and going to make his ankle worse. No, Tink.” He squirmed between her and the end of the sofa, scrubbing a hand over her ears. “Puppy eyes will have no effect.”
She sat down and lifted her paw for a polite shake.
Helpless laughter escaped before he could stop it. “No, I will not be charmed. Bone,” he said in a voice wavering so hard with laughter that the order was lost.
Derek snapped his fingers. “Go get your bone!”
Both dogs scrambled to their cushions.
“Oh, sure.” Stiles huffed and rearranged the pillows under Derek’s leg until they were on his lap. “Just in case,” he said, making “I’m watching you” gestures at the dogs. “So.” He turned to Derek and grinned. “How’s the book coming?”
“Good. I was stuck on the villain again but I feel better about things now.”
“Oh?” He waited a beat. “Don’t leave me hanging!”
Derek laughed. “Okay, okay. The plan is for the sorceress Ruby to go on her quest to stop the big bad wolf, the evil witch, and then a dragon from destroying their respective towns. Only as she’s “defeating” them, she figures out that they’re under a spell, so she saves them instead.”
“Actually, another sorceress, who’s just learning magic and put the spell on them by accident. So instead of defeating the villain, she apologizes, and goes to each town to help fix everything that was ruined. After that, Ruby takes her to where she’s been learning magic.”
Stiles sat back. “That…is a very sweet story.” He smiled. “To sum up, the supposed villain apologizes, fixes what she can, and goes to learn how to keep from making the same mistake?”
“That’s pretty good.”
Stiles laughed, patting Derek’s leg. “No, you’re right, it’s amazing and parents are going to fight each other to buy it for their kids.”
“Much better.” He grinned and relaxed against the side of the couch. “Now if only I could go work on it…”
“You need to rest your ankle.” Stiles passed him the juice pouch he’d forgotten on the arm of the sofa. “Drink your juice.”
“Wild cherry,” he sneered. “Fruit punch is better.”
“Wild cherry is far superior.”
“It’s the flavor little kids get and it tastes like garbage.”
“Your taste is garbage. You don’t deserve juice, give it back.”
“No, you gave it to me. S’mine now.” He held it out of reach.
Stiles pretended to scowl at him. “Fine. But just know, the wild cherries will know your disrespect.”
As Derek was laughing, Stiles’s phone went off twice; once with Scott’s tone, once with the default text chime for unknown numbers. He wiggled it out of his pocket and sighed at the screen. Scott was just checking in; the other was from Dan.
‘Hello, Mr. Stilinski, this is Dan from HENRY’S, I am contacting you to inform you that our power is out and we have yet to receive the parts necessary to finish repairing your vehicle. We are working on getting the power back on and hope to get your vehicle running again soon.’
He replied to both of them, frowning at the phone until his face hurt. He wasn’t surprised the jeep wasn’t done yet, though he did feel guilty for being relieved—at least now he had a reason to stay until Derek’s ankle was doing better. He was surprised that Scott had texted him while he was having so much fun with Isaac.
He sighed. That was stupid, of course. Scott was worried that Stiles was stranded at a stranger’s house, and Scott was perfectly welcome to have other friends.
Why did it have to be him?
Stiles was probably not giving Isaac a fair chance. He and Scott had become friends quickly, and it’d been jarring for Stiles to suddenly have to share the best friend mantle that he’d held alone for so long. Dumb, he told himself, and made himself put the phone away. “So…got any board games?”
They played fetch with the dogs, War with a deck of cards Derek had in a kitchen drawer, and Battleship on a spiral notebook he’d had on the end table, which effectively wasted time until the dogs had to go out again.
“I got it, I got it. You rest your ankle,” he ordered, and let the dogs sweep him out into the cold.
Stiles made dinner for Derek while he sat at the table, foot propped on a chair, dogs circling like curious, fuzzy sharks.
“This is overkill. The swelling is mostly down.” Derek tapped his fingers on the table.
“If you keep walking on it before it has a chance to heal, you’re going to make it worse. Now. How much food do I give these two?”
Derek sighed. “Two full scoops each,” he grumbled.
“Thank you. No wonder you two are the size of ponies,” he muttered. He fed the dogs and made spaghetti with spinach and cherry tomatoes for dinner.
Derek couldn’t make his hot chocolate to go with it, and refused to part with the recipe, so Stiles was forced to make Melissa’s recipe—which was just as good as Derek’s, just different, and Stiles wanted as much of Derek’s as he could get before the jeep was done.
“Do you cook a lot?” he asked while Stiles was bringing plates to the table.
“Uh, kind of. I live alone and I do have to eat occasionally.” He set a cup of hot chocolate beside Derek’s plate and waited for him to try it.
His brows went up. “It’s—spicy? It’s good,” he added hurriedly. “But spicy.”
Stiles laughed. “It has a little kick to help warm you up. My friend’s mom taught me how to make it. Closely guarded recipe. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” He waved with a flourish at the bowl of pasta. “Try it. I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.”
“I haven’t come across a noodle I don’t like,” Derek promised. He tilted his chin up so he could smile at Stiles straight on. “Thanks.”
Stiles made himself shrug. “It’s nothing.” He sat down to eat his own food, a little dazed. What a terrible idea. It was just the snow, the atmosphere. It was making time feel strange. He smiled blindly. “I’m glad you like the hot chocolate. It was my favorite as a kid.”
“The pasta is good, too.” Derek had sauce on his chin.
Stiles bit down on a laugh and passed him a napkin. He cleaned up by himself after dinner while Derek listened to the radio forecast at the table, then took the dogs out. The cold knocked his senses for a loop again, but this time it helped shake off the weird, dazed feeling he’d had since dinner.
Derek had moved back to the couch when the three of them returned, holding a laptop which had certainly not been in the room before Stiles left. “It’s charged,” he said hopefully. “Want to watch a movie?”
“Hurt my ankle more, I know. You’re a bit of a worry wart, aren’t you?”
“Hey, pal, you took in a stranger, you deal with the consequences and let me take care of your injured ankle.” He hung his borrowed coat back up.
“I’ll remember that next time I think of doing something nice.” He waggled the laptop. “Please?”
“Terribly. If you give them a bone from the table, they’ll be occupied for a while.” He grinned, such an obviously pleading expression that Stiles couldn’t say no.
“Fine.” He gave Tink her bone first, then Titan, who waited politely while looking down her nose at Tink’s excited squirming. He shut all the lights off except the one in the kitchen and sat beside Derek on the couch.
“I figured we could watch Serenity, since we watched Firefly a few days ago.”
“Sounds good to me.” Stiles hid a yawn against his elbow and pulled a blanket over his legs. He hadn’t thought to clean up the pile of blankets from the night before, so caught up in keeping Derek off his ankle, and realized he probably should have. One of them was going to trip over the pile, and they’d be worse off than they already were.
Stiles’s gaze jerked to the screen as the movie started; he’d seen it a million times, knew every line, joke, and twist, but he’d always watch it if it was on, like he was hypnotized. It was comforting in the way that old favorites were, like an oft-told bedtime story, well-loved and soothing. He settled in, let himself relax and smiled when Derek leaned closer so he could see better, their shoulders pressed together companionably. He kept his eyes on the movie.
Stiles woke to a quiet “boof” right next to his ear. He blinked and turned his head, jolting. Titan’s snout was touching his nose. He was sprawled along the outside of the sofa, hands and feet tucked against Derek, who was also asleep, head tilted back, mouth open, one arm flung over the back of the couch.
Stiles looked at Titan.
Behind him, a bell jangled.
“Ah, shit.” He got off the couch carefully, tucking the blanket around where he’d been so Derek wouldn’t wake. “Come on,” he whispered.
Titan trotted after him.
He bundled up in Derek’s things, too groggy and cold to worry about it, and took the dogs out. He stood on the porch, fumbling through the messages on his phone. Nothing would send, just floated in limbo as his reception wavered. He was sure Scott was fine and could wait until morning for a response anyway. “Tink,” he hissed when he could no longer feel his toes. “Titan! Come on!”
They gamboled through the snow like fuzzy reindeer, skidding on the icy path Derek had made earlier.
Stiles returned to the living room as an ice pop, leaning over to make sure Tink and Titan hadn’t jumped on Derek as he slept.
They were curled up together on Tink’s bed.
Derek moved, rolling so he could blink, confused, at Stiles. He mutely held the blanket up like an invitation.
Stiles stared at the open space, narrow enough that they’d be tucked up against each other again, this time on purpose. He glanced at Derek’s face and saw that he looked more alert, aware of what he was offering.
He kept holding the blanket up.
Stiles could go to the guest room. He didn’t really know Derek. But he liked him. He sighed and climbed onto the couch, snuggling under the blanket, tucking his hands against Derek’s warm chest to chase the cold away.
Derek settled the blanket and, hesitantly, his arm over Stiles, tugging him just a little closer.
Stiles curled his face down, telling himself it was just to warm up faster. He tucked his nose against his soft, warm t-shirt, hands resting against Derek’s ribs, counting each gentle breath he took. The blanket created a secluded little world, warm and safe and dark. At least he wasn’t the only one. He thought they were both the same kind of strange, allowing this, encouraging this when they both knew how it was going to end. He closed his eyes and imagined that it didn’t have to. It took a long time to fall asleep.
Derek was still limping the next morning, Tuesday, but not nearly as badly, which he used as a reason to get up and wander the house. Stiles dressed and was heading to his room when Derek passed by.
“Utility crew’s up the road, working to get the power back on,” he told him. “They stopped in to make sure we hadn’t frozen to death.”
“Oh. That was nice.” He looked down at his phone. “I better go check in.”
He felt Derek watching him until he shut the door of his room, the back of his neck hot and prickly. “Hey, Scott,” he squeaked. He cleared his throat, rubbing his face. “Yeah, it’s still in the shop.” He clenched his jaw while Scott cheerfully told him not to worry—Isaac was helping set up for the party, wasn’t that great?
“Yep, sounds awesome. Hey, I have to call the mechanic,” he lied. “I can call you later. Have fun, bye.” Stiles flopped on the bed, pouting at the ceiling. It was a good thing Scott and Isaac got along, it was a good thing that Isaac was helping in Stiles’s place. Scott deserved to have a fun bachelor party, even if Stiles didn’t make it. He would make it, it wasn’t until Saturday. He got up, tired of himself, and left the room.
“You okay?” Derek asked when he got to the kitchen.
He sighed. “Yeah, just missing my friend…s.”
“Not your fault. You’ve been amazing,” he added, heartfelt. “You’ve done so much for me, I-”
“It’s not a big deal.” Derek avoided his gaze, his cheeks flushed. “Here, I made breakfast. I have to work, but you’re more than welcome to join me in the office. Tink and Titan already went out, but it’s too cold to let them play out there, so don’t be alarmed.”
“I’m just going to give them some puzzle toys.” He picked up two giant-dice shaped plastic boxes off the counter. “Have some waffles.”
Stiles leaned around the wall to watch.
Derek set the boxes on the newly blanket-free living room floor and told the two very tense dogs, “Okay!” with a flourish.
Apparently puzzle toys turned them into ninety pound cats.
Stiles watched, amused, as they batted the boxes around, jumping and pouncing at them.
A piece of food came out when they rolled it a few times, which Stiles guessed was why they liked the toys so much.
Smiling to himself, he turned away and made a plate of the waffles and bacon Derek had made.
He eventually got bored enough after eating to give up and creep into Derek’s office.
Derek waved at him without looking up, so Stiles took the seat by the window.
He’d like to say he stared out peacefully, observing the snow and glittering trees, but he tapped his fingers and played with his phone instead, antsy and frustrated. “Do you have any extra paper or pens?”
Derek pointed at a black and white tower of plastic tubs with handles. “Third and fourth drawer, help yourself.”
Stiles opened the third drawer and found notepads, spiral notebooks, and sketch pads. He tried to select one that looked like it’d been cheap, wincing, and opened the fourth to find an assortment of writing and drawing utensils, also meticulously organized. He should probably take notes, he decided. His own supplies were a horrific mess. He glanced at Derek.
He was hunched over his desk sketching, too lost in the world he was creating to care what Stiles was doing.
Stiles smiled to himself and settled into his chair, balancing the notepad on the arm.
They spent most of the day in the office, with Derek occasionally having outbursts about dragon scales or the shape of flames and Stiles mindlessly creating possible characters for New Project, now only a week and a half away from the actual planning stage. Survivors…magic…he needed a solid plot and setting, but for now, vague characters were fun and time consuming.
“Whoa, you’re good at that.”
Stiles looked up, startled to find Derek standing over him with snow in his hair, holding a plate. “Where’d you go?”
He smiled. “I told you I was taking the dogs out, but you didn’t look up. Those are really good.”
“Ah, it’s just ideas.” He set the pen down and stretched his hand to work out the kinks. “That for me?”
Derek rolled his eyes goodnaturedly. “Yeah, I figured you were as hungry as I was. No mayo,” he added. “Do you draw a lot?” he asked, retreating to his desk.
Stiles said, “I have some practice,” thinking about his graphic novel series. He didn’t know why he didn’t tell Derek about it, but it just felt strange, like he would be trying to show off.
Derek was a professional too, but still…
“They’re good—not really my area of expertise, but I’m sure if you wanted to, you could get them published.”
Stiles shrugged. “Maybe.” He took a bite of his sandwich.
The house returned to full power by six; to celebrate, they took the dogs out, gave them new bones, and ate pizza in the living room. They watched Crawl on the now-functional TV and ate popcorn, leaning against each other companionably. Derek held the popcorn bowl, using his leg to block Tink’s questing muzzle, until the movie ended.
“I have to admit, I’m kind of disappointed,” Stiles grumbled, gathering up their pizza plates.
Derek took the empty mugs and popcorn bowl. “Oh?”
“For one, that was advertised as a monster movie—I was ready for a giant mutant alligator.”
“No, god. Gator.” He rolled his eyes. “For another, that’s not how alligators behave, and finally, we had dozens of gators and only one death roll!” He put the plates in the sink and flipped the water on to rinse them.
“I’ll make sure to log the complaint,” he said dryly.
Stiles elbowed him. “Admit it, supersized alligators would’ve been awesome. Or just one, like that movie Anaconda. Or King Kong!”
“Ah, yes, cinematic classics.” He opened the dishwasher and loaded while Stiles rinsed.
“I’m not saying they’re deep cinematic masterpieces, I’m saying I want to see a giant alligator fuck up some hapless travelers, that’s all I wanted.”
“You’re so bloodthirsty!”
Derek laughed, reaching for the mug Stiles was clutching with outrage. He stepped closer and tugged on the handle, eyes searching Stiles’s face.
He caught his breath, a flush moving over his cheeks at Derek’s obvious scrutiny. He wasn’t sure who moved, but he felt Derek’s shivery breath on his mouth, his hand hovering between them. Stiles’s breath shuddered, lashes fluttering.
Derek’s warm lips brushed his, just a light touch, the softest kiss, and Stiles wanted to pull him in, to dive headfirst into kisses and embracing and-
Bad idea. He stepped back before either of them could make it into something more. He caught sight of Derek’s worried expression before dropping his gaze. “I’ll finish these. I think I heard the bell,” he said even though he hadn’t.
“Okay,” Derek murmured and, after a quiet moment, left the room.
Stiles braced his hands on the edge of the sink, dropping his head. He winced when he heard the front door. He wanted to kiss Derek. But once his jeep was fixed, where would that leave them? Stiles had somewhere to be and he didn’t exactly live close; it would just end in heartbreak. Better not to start.
He finished the dishes before Derek came back and retreated to the guest room to go to bed, or pretend to anyway. He curled up on his side, irritated at himself all over again. He should go explain to Derek why he thought it was a bad idea instead of hiding like a coward. But if he did that, there was the possibility of Derek laughing that he wanted anything after Stiles had left.
He flopped onto his back. That wouldn’t have been so terrible, he decided, if he didn’t like Derek so damn much.
Maybe Derek liked him, too. He’d looked worried, not annoyed, when Stiles had stepped back in the kitchen.
Same kind of strange, Stiles thought drowsily. That put him back to square one, of course—it would end in heartbreak, big or small, and he wasn’t willing to risk that. He fell into fitful sleep trying to work it out.
Stiles woke to his phone ringing. “’Lo?” he mumbled before he’d pried his eyes open. He sat up painstakingly, using one arm to prop himself up. He grimaced; his mouth tasted like death.
“Hello, Mr. Stilinski, I was just calling to inform you that your jeep is up and running.”
His eyes snapped open. “It is?”
“Yep, just got it going this morning. If you want to come in, we’re open and ready.”
“Yes, I’ll be there. Thank you.” Stiles jumped out of bed, tripped over his backpack, and launched at the door. The jeep was fixed, it was Wednesday, he could still make it to the party! He tiptoed to the bathroom so he could brush his teeth, riding the buoyancy all the way until he closed the door behind him, gaze catching on all the little fairy tale items Derek had decorating the room. He grabbed his toothbrush. He wouldn’t have as much time to hang out with Scott before the party, but that wasn’t so bad, he decided, determined to see the bright side of this whole situation. He’d met Derek, which he likely wouldn’t have if he hadn’t slid on the ice, so that was a good thing, and cell phones were a thing. He and Derek could be…internet buddies. Pen pals.
“It’s perfect,” he muttered to his reflection and started brushing his teeth maybe a little too roughly. He had to ask Derek for a ride, something he put off by packing up his things very carefully, checking all of the pockets on his backpack, and making the bed.
Derek would probably change and wash the sheets as soon as he was gone, but it seemed impolite to leave the blankets in the curled up bundle he’d made in his sleep. He sighed, smoothing out the wrinkles in the pillowcase, and swung his bag over his shoulder.
Derek agreed to drive him to HENRY’S with a neutral expression, and asked if Stiles minded if he brought Tink and Titan along for the ride.
They rode in the back, although it didn’t feel like it with their heads sticking over the netting keeping them from climbing into the front seat. They were like horses in a very small stable.
“Thank you for all your help,” Stiles said as they got on the road. “I really appreciate it.”
“It wasn’t a problem. Did they say the jeep was completely done?” he asked, blatantly changing the subject.
“Yeah, apparently it was a quick fix once they got the parts.”
Titan stuck her snout against Stiles’s ear, snuffling noisily and making him laugh.
He stroked under her muzzle and across her ears, pressing a kiss above her nose. “You two are the friendliest bears I’ve ever met.”
The drive was quicker this time, it seemed, over before Stiles knew it. They sat outside of HENRY’S for a moment.
Stiles fiddled with the strap of his backpack, then, steeling himself, pulled out the folded up paper he’d tucked into the side pouch of his backpack. “Here’s my number,” he blurted. “Um, you know, so if you ever get lost in my neck of the woods.” Then, feeling brave, “Or if you just want to call.”
He took the paper and nodded. “Sure,” he said quietly, with a little smile. “Of course.” He finally looked at Stiles. “Good luck with that bachelor party.”
“You too. I’m sure you’ll have fun.”
Derek grimaced. “I’m not very social.”
“Oh, please,” Stiles laughed. “You took in a complete stranger for days.”
“No, really, I’m not,” Derek insisted, making Stiles laugh again.
“Okay, sure, keep telling yourself that.”
Derek smiled, turning his face down.
Stiles’s heart fluttered. “I should go. Thank you,” he added once again, putting as much of what he was feeling into the words as he could. “So much.”
Derek reached behind the seat. “For the road.” He held out a silver thermos with Little Red Riding Hood on the side, holding a sword and facing down shadows.
Stiles cradled it between his palms, carefully set it aside, and threw his arms around Derek’s neck. The gear shift jabbed into his hip, but he didn't care, and when Derek turned his head, Stiles kissed him with everything he had, one hand curling in his hair, the other clamped on his shoulder. Bad idea, he thought. Shut up. He pulled away panting. “I-I really should, um, go. Bye. Bye Tink, Titan.” He patted them blindly and scrambled out of the car, clutching his backpack and the thermos. He ran inside HENRY’S lobby, too afraid to look back. When he was safely inside, he chanced a peek and saw with a pang that Derek was gone.
He swallowed his regret and walked to the desk. “I’m here for the jeep,” he said firmly.
Thursday and Friday passed in a blur of wedding talk, three player video games, and getting the last of the supplies for Scott’s at-home bachelor party. He also had to deal with Isaac’s weird, pointed conversations about famous comics and graphic novelists that Stiles obviously hadn’t reached the level of yet, which was extra fun. It was like constantly being reminded that he wasn’t as good as them every time he and Isaac were left alone in a room.
“Stiles,” Scott chastised when he muttered about it again. “He is trying to get to know you. He wants to be friends and the only thing he knows about you is that you write graphic novels.”
Which wasn’t what Stiles wanted to hear, since it added guilt to his frustration, so he went in a huff to sleep in the secondary guest room-slash-office, since Isaac was sleeping in the room Stiles usually stayed in. He glared at the ceiling. It’d been two days.
He missed being squished and nearly knocked off his feet by gigantic dogs and bumping elbows with Derek in a tiny kitchen.
Let it go, man, he thought, and tried to sleep.
Saturday was spent ushering Scott’s friends, old and new, into the house for what Stiles thought of more as a get-together than a bachelor party, but it was what Scott wanted.
Isaac shared door duty with him and had a hilariously accurate and rude comment for everyone who arrived, so they bonded over being unfriendly, finally.
“Whose grandpa did he fight for those pants?” Isaac muttered, and Stiles laughed, spilling beer on his shirt. Isaac grinned.
“Stiles! Door,” Mark called.
“Mark,” Isaac mocked in a falsetto, “drinks!” He smirked at Stiles, who forgave him for being Scott’s new buddy. With enough time, Stiles could turn him into a tolerable asshole.
“Hey.” Scott bumped into Stiles’s side. “You’re gonna like this guy. He’s Allison’s best man, they’re old family friends.” He caught him by the elbow and led him to the door. “You two might have a lot to talk about. He illustrates kids’ books, which I know isn’t the same-”
Stiles frowned, suddenly back in Derek’s freakishly organized office. “It’s not that different, either,” he mumbled.
Scott beamed at him and stopped at the door. He grinned and opened it with a flourish.
Derek Hale stood on the porch looking over his shoulder toward the driveway, wearing a leather jacket and not a speck of white fur.
Stiles looked between him and Scott, sure he was hallucinating. Or wrong, he could be wrong, he couldn’t fully see the guy’s face-
He turned and froze, staring at Stiles wild eyed.
“Hey, Derek, come on in. It’s nice to see you again,” Scott added, tugging him into the house himself. “I hope it was an easy drive, you should hear how Stiles’s trip went. It was madness. Isaac and I almost went to get him, we were so worried-”
That was news to Stiles.
“-but some guy helped him out. Stiles,” he said in that breathlessly excited way he had, bringing Stiles back into the conversation. “Derek agreed to be Allison’s best man so Cora could be her maid of honor, we have the most complicated wedding party in the history of weddings, don’t think too hard about it.”
“Anyway, Derek, Stiles writes graphic novels, they’re so cool—you guys okay?”
“We’ve met,” Derek said, strangled.
Scott’s brows shot up. “What, really? How? When?”
Stiles smiled a little at Derek. There was so much happening that he couldn’t even bother continuing to be shocked. “Remember how some kind stranger let me stay in his house while the jeep was in the shop?”
“Yeah…oh! Oh my god, how incredible is that? Guys.” He beamed at them. “I cannot wait to tell Allison about this, oh my god. Hey Isaac!” he shouted over the chatter. “Listen to this!” He waded through the crowd, his bright green Groom-to-be shirt highly visible all the way through.
Stiles slowly turned back to Derek; the party felt a million miles away, separated by snow and giant dogs and gusting wind.
He shuffled his feet. “So…you know Allison’s fiancé.”
He laughed. “So you know Scott, which is amazing.” He smiled at the cup he was holding like a shield. “I’m glad you do. I thought we’d never, you know, talk again.”
Derek nodded. “Yeah, I—once you left, I just figured that was it.”
Stiles smiled again. He couldn’t help it. “Well, if you’re family friends with my best friend’s wife, we shouldn’t lose touch. We have a responsibility to keep in touch, honestly.” He glanced over his shoulder and winced. “Speaking of, I think we’re neglecting our duties.”
Derek followed him into the living room, where people were playing Uno on the coffee table while another group played a video game over their heads.
“So do you live in your isolated murder house year round?”
Derek rolled his eyes. “It’s not a murder house!” His voice rose just as there was a lull in conversation.
He turned red.
“Come on,” Stiles snickered, “let’s go get you something to drink.”
Derek cleared his throat and followed him once more. “No, I only go up there when I need to concentrate or I’m stuck. This year it just so happened to be mid-winter.”
“Oh.” So where did he live the rest of the time? Stiles couldn’t ask; a friend of both Derek and Scott, who Stiles didn’t really know, came to talk and say hello.
It was strange, watching Derek, who was, in Stiles’s head, a separate entity from Scott, interact with Scott and Scott’s work friends, and Isaac, like he knew them. Which he did. It was a good thing, Stiles thought, but also a weird thing.
“Where are Tink and Titan?” he asked while they were being dealt into a game of Uno.
“Oh, my sister Laura has them at the moment. Thanks,” he added when Stiles passed him his cards.
“I miss them,” he admitted, flushing when Derek’s gaze zeroed in on him.
The games and festivities lasted well into the night, ending with karaoke and drunken toasts to Scott and Allison’s wedding.
Stiles and Isaac passed out gifts to designated drivers as they ushered everyone out, except Derek, who Scott was trying to push onto the couch.
“No, you’re a guest. Let those two clean up, they’re here all the time.” Scott was also very drunk.
Isaac rolled his eyes at Stiles. “He had four beers all night.”
Stiles laughed. He supposed Isaac was okay.
Isaac and Scott fell asleep on the couch, leaving Stiles and Derek to finish clean-up, which consisted mainly of putting leftovers in the fridge and trash in bags and calling it good until morning.
“Jeeze, it’s two in the morning. Don’t you need to go?”
Derek looked surprised, then blank. “Scott had asked me to stay the night, but I can-”
“No, no, I just didn’t know. Sorry.” He looked at his feet. “Do you wanna go upstairs and talk?”
The stairs creaked as they went up, and Stiles was entirely too aware of his arms, his walking speed, the way his hair was probably sticking up everywhere. This was not Derek’s cozy house, there weren’t two horse-sized dogs ready to provide a convenient distraction should things get awkward, and Derek had suddenly become part of Stiles’s real life, someone connected in some way to his oldest friend. He had things to say and no idea how to say them. His face heated as they reached the second floor, remembering the kiss they’d shared right before they’d parted ways. He swallowed and opened the door, striding in and flopping on the bed.
Derek followed him, to his surprise, and smiled. “Hi,” he said softly.
“Hi.” Stiles couldn’t look away if he tried. “You shaved.”
He ducked his head. “I was trying to look presentable.”
“The scruff looked good. This does, too,” he added hastily.
“Thanks.” He picked at a loose thread in the blanket. “Do you live close?”
Stiles shook his head. “But I want to move back.” He blinked, rearing back, as the truth of his words hit him. He wanted to move back. He had an agent and a publisher; there was no reason to stay in New York when he could submit his work online.
He took a deep breath. His heart was fluttering again. He straightened his shoulders, gathered his courage in both hands, and asked, “Do you want to go out on a date?”
At the same time, Derek asked, “Do you want to come to my place for a writing retreat?” He stopped, eyes going wide.
Stiles turned red. “Oh-I—I’m sorry for—if I made you—I-”
“I read your graphic novel,” Derek blurted. “Strangers of Magic was your first published series, right? It was good.”
“Thanks.” Stiles couldn’t meet his gaze.
“I mean, I read it, and I thought about texting you to ask if you wanted to come back for a writing retreat because I was too nervous to ask you out.”
“Oh.” He looked up.
“I would love a date, instead.” Derek smiled at him.
Stiles smiled back, relieved. “I’m starting a new project in a week. Maybe we can go on a couple dates…and have that writing retreat afterward? I could use a change of scenery.”
“That sounds perfect.”
Stiles licked his lips and figured he couldn’t get much more embarrassed than he already was. “Can I kiss you?”
Derek’s smile widened. “Yes.”
Stiles cupped the back of his neck and brought their faces together, dipping down to suck Derek’s bottom lip gently before kissing him for real. He balanced himself with his other hand next to Derek’s leg, moving closer.
Derek laced their fingers together while they kissed, then broke away to rest their foreheads together. “Can I sleep in here? Just sleep.”
“Yes.” Stiles squeezed his hand. “It’s too cold in here.”
Derek laughed and smacked a kiss against his mouth, sweet and surprising and casual, like they’d done it a million times.
Stiles pulled the blankets back. “You are incredibly sweet for someone who claims to be anti-social.”
Derek shook his head. “I can’t wait for Allison to hear you say that.” He stretched out on the bed, then curled into Stiles’s side when he laid next to him. Sweet, just like his hot chocolate. He sighed quietly and nuzzled under Stiles’s chin.
They really should’ve changed before going to bed, but Stiles couldn’t make himself care. He kissed the back of Derek’s head and smiled when it made him melt, one arm sliding across Stiles’s middle. “We are too comfortable with each other, did you notice that?” he yawned. “S’weird.”
“Same kind of strange,” Derek replied. He squeezed his arm around Stiles’s waist and went quiet, his breaths even and gentle against Stiles’s neck.
He closed his eyes and smiled.