Stiles collapses against the wall, the weight of the footlocker he was carrying thumping heavily onto his thighs.
“ Ow , fuck.”
He lets his head fall back against the wall and tries to focus on breathing. He’s made it to the landing of the third floor; only one more to go. He can do it. He will do it. In just one more minute. He will.
“You need a hand with that?”
The voice is light, but also amused. This person is laughing at him; probably some dickbag upperclassman who thinks he’s better than all the freshmen. Never mind that Stiles and Scott aren’t freshmen, they’re juniors, thank you very much, it’s just that they’re transfers from the local community college. There’s nothing wrong with community college, in fact it’s an under-utilized resource, because why should anyone pay through the nose just to get their gen ed’s out of the way, and-
“You gonna answer me, or what? Did you pass out?”
The weight lifts suddenly off Stiles’ legs and he blinks his eyes open in annoyance only to have his mouth drop open in shock at the sight of the most beautiful man he’s ever seen in his life casually hefting Stiles’ footlocker onto a shoulder with one arm.
“Uh,” Stiles says intelligently at the dark-haired Adonis in front of him. The guy’s white T-shirt is sweat-soaked in the middle and straining around a flexed bicep, and Stiles is absolutely going to be dreaming about this tonight.
“Fourth floor, right?” Jacked-And-Unfairly-Handsome asks, holding out a hand that Stiles takes without thinking. He’s lifted from the floor without any effort on his part, his hand still wrapped in strong fingers. “You two have much left?”
“No,” Stiles manages to respond, “um, just-”
“Stiles!!” Scott’s voice echoes worriedly up from downstairs. “How are we gonna get the couch up?”
The beautiful man balancing Stiles’ overstuffed footlocker on his shoulder smiles. “Just the couch?”
“Yeah,” Stiles breathes. He feels like his knees are wobbling.
“Your name’s...Stiles? What’s that?”
“It’s better than my legal name, that’s what,” Stiles waves a hand. “You wanna do me a solid and go ahead and toss that in our place, man? I know you look like you eat only egg whites and small children, but that’s gotta be heavy, even for you.”
Prince Wet Dream starts heading up the stairs. “Small children only on weekends,” he tosses over his shoulder. “They eat too much candy, messes with my blood sugar levels.”
“Oh, good,” Stiles follows him up, absolutely not staring at the play of muscles in the ass in front of him. He trips over a stair and falls forward, but manages not to split his chin open on the metal anti-slip edger. “So you must never eat college students, then, I can only imagine what they’d do to your sodium levels. All that ramen.”
“Yeah,” the man lets Stiles’ footlocker down on the landing, right outside the open apartment door. He turns and catches Stiles’ eyes, smiles. “I save them for special occasions.”
Stiles is saved from his blatant staring (was that flirting ? Did the most beautiful man Stiles has ever seen in his life just flirt with him??) by Scott shouting up the stairs again.
“I’m Derek,” Mystery Adonis says, sticking out a hand that Stiles barely has the wherewithal to shake. “Looks like I’m your neighbor.”
“Stiles,” he answers, then winces, gestures vaguely at his head. “Right. We had that conversation. Sorry. ADHD, it’s a whole thing.”
Derek just smiles, and the edges of his eyes crinkle in a way that is too attractive for words.
“Nice to meet you, Stiles. Now how about we get that couch?”
Stiles doesn’t sleep the night before his first day of class. He tries, of course - he’d set everything up days before, his new notebooks, his pencils. He never used to be like this, but doing all his AP classes and homework with Lydia once he grew up enough that they could become friends had instilled some habits, ADHD or no. So, he’d stocked his backpack on Thursday, labeled all his notebooks on Friday, printed out his class schedule and a map of campus and pasted them to the inside covers of his notebooks on Saturday, and rechecked everything about a dozen times on Sunday.
Now it’s three in the morning on Monday and he’s wide awake, thinking of everything that could go wrong. What if he goes to the wrong class? What if his advisor thinks he can’t handle his courseload? What if he forgets pants?
Around four, he gives up and pulls on pajamas over his boxers. It’s the first week of September and only cooling down to about 75 at night, so he climbs out onto the fire escape in his bare feet and shirtless, hoping for a breeze and a moon.
“Be careful you don’t cut your feet,” comes a voice to his right, and Stiles startles so hard he nearly falls over the rail.
“ Jesus ,” Stiles places a palm over his pounding heart once he’s regained his balance. He turns to identify the speaker, and nearly falls over the railing again in surprise.
“Sorry,” Derek says contritely, “I didn’t mean to startle you. Can’t sleep?” He pats the metal grate of the fire escape next to him.
“No.” Stiles settles down, letting the adrenaline fade into the rest of his sleep-deprived dopiness. “Can’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”
Derek hums, a small sound. He doesn’t watch Stiles, which is nice; instead he’s busy looking out at the sky, at the handful of stars that are visible over the light pollution.
“This is your third year, right?”
“Technically,” Stiles agrees, “but Scott and me, we did our first two years at Beacon Hills Community.” He shrugs self-consciously. “Wanted to get the gen eds out of the way while we could live at home and work part-time, save up the money to go somewhere better for the last two years and then hope for fellowships or internships or something for grad school.”
Derek nods in understanding. “My sister Cora did the same thing,” he says. “Is doing the same thing, I guess. This is her transfer year, too.”
“Why are you awake?” Stiles asks before his brain catches up and realizes that maybe he shouldn’t pry, but it’s too late now so he bites his lip and waits, looping his arms around his legs and locking his fingers together.
He feels more than sees Derek shrug beside him. “Sometimes I don’t sleep well,” is all he says, and Stiles just nods, lets it go.
They sit in silence for a long time, and while Stiles doesn’t sleep, per se, he drifts in and out of wakefulness, watching in silence as the sky over the eastern mountains begins to lighten, erasing the stars one by one.
Eventually cars begin to move in the streets below them and Derek stands, stretching before he turns to offer Stiles a hand. “Time to go in,” he says quietly. “It’s a big day today.”
It could feel paternalistic, Stiles thinks, but something about the way Derek says it makes it feel like a secret they share, that maybe this moment isn’t supposed to be a big deal, but it is , for both of them, and they don’t need to tell anyone else, but can share it just together.
He takes Derek’s hand. It’s broad through the palm and strong, cool but firm against his own. Derek pulls him to his feet effortlessly, and Stiles gives a dumb little wave as Derek swings a leg over his own windowsill, pushing the curtain out of the way.
“See you,” he says, and Derek gives a small smile in return.
“Good luck today,” Derek tells him, and disappears inside.
He’s over-compensated and is too early for his first class, but he successfully got on the right bus and found the campus coffee shop branch that’s closest to the building most of his morning classes will be in, so Stiles is counting it overall as a win. The door to the classroom is unlocked, so he slips in and claims a seat in the back row. It’s a big room with theater-style seating and the little half-desks that pull up and over from between the chairs. He’s torn - on the one hand, the chairs are way more comfortable than the hard plastic ones at BHCC, but on the other hand, these little flip-up desks are tiny .
He gets himself situated as best he can when he’s working with less than a square foot of desk space; gets his bag stowed safely under his seat, makes sure his coffee’s somewhere he will neither kick nor elbow it during class, gets out his textbook and syllabus to review the reading for the upcoming week.
The rest of the class filters in, a buzzing mix of yawning and chattering and shuffling through the rows of seats. Stiles ignores them, busy double-checking the dates he’s put in his planner for the tests in this class, and also double-checking his phone to make sure that Scott has managed to get up and to the right class on time (he has).
Finally a hush falls over the class as an older man enters, followed closely by a younger man in a blazer who must be the T.A. Stiles is far enough back that he needs to squint, so he fumbles on his tiny desk for his glasses, shoving them into place just as the professor and T.A. both turn to face the class.
It’s Derek. The T.A. is Hot Neighbor Derek.
Stiles gasps so loudly half the row in front of him turns to stare and he has to make awkward ha ha, who made a noise, sure wasn’t me faces until they turn back around to pick up what the teacher’s saying.
Stiles doesn’t know how he’s going to get through this class.
It gets worse.
Derek is the T.A. for both his Monday/Wednesday intro class and his Tuesday/Thursday discussion seminar, which means that Stiles has to very carefully stare at the notes on the overhead and not at Derek’s beautiful, well, everything, for four hours a week.
“It’ll wear off,” Scott tells him on Friday as Stiles sits on a stool and slumps over their chipped formica counter. “It’s just the novelty of it. But this is like, what’s it called?”
“Yeah! That.” Scott reaches over and pats Stiles on the head. “It’ll pass.”
Stiles sighs into the countertop. “Yeah. Like my crush on Lydia.”
“The one that lasted for seven years.”
Scott makes a sad noise. “That was different, though.”
“I’m not sure it is, dude,” Stiles says, rolling his head back and forth in light despair. “I’m not sure that it is.”
“So.” The chair across from Stiles pulls out, and he blinks up at the interruption. “You’re in all my classes. What are you studying?”
It’s a rote question, one Stiles has been asked and asked himself a hundred times in the last six weeks, but Derek looks actually interested.
“Um,” Stiles hesitates. “The History and Philosophy of Mathematics?”
Derek nods, unsurprised but approving, and Stiles feels warm in his chest. Most people have no idea that his major even exists, let alone what it entails, but given that Derek is T.A.ing for two of his five classes, he probably has a pretty good idea.
“Professor Ludwig is great, and he’s the head of that program. It’s a tough major.” Derek sets his bag on the floor next to his chair and pulls out a stack of papers and a green pen. Stiles has already noticed that tests come back without red ink, and it’s such a dumb little thing, but that green ink makes him feel encouraged more than corrected.
“Yeah,” Stiles nods, watching as Derek gets his papers and pen and water bottle situated. “I researched him and the program before I applied here. And yeah, everything said it’s super hard, but I also just find it really exciting? And I dunno, I do best when I’m really invested in something. In high school, I was always finding the wrong topics and going off on tangents when I found classwork too boring, and-” he takes a look at the class number on the top paper of Derek’s stack. “Um, should I really be around while you’re correcting papers for a class I’m in?”
Derek raises an eyebrow. “Are you going to be reading my upside-down comments on other students’ work?”
Stiles squints at Derek’s writing and snorts. “Not sure I could if I tried.”
“Then there shouldn’t be a problem.”
There’s this grin Derek gives when he’s joking or being entirely insincere, all teeth and squinchy eyes, and Stiles finds it hilarious how someone so attractive can make themselves look so incredibly fake.
“Nah, dude, no problem.”
They sit in silence for a few minutes, Derek methodically working through the pile of assignments and Stiles highlighting his book.
“You’ve been here all morning,” Derek says eventually, voice casual, and Stiles startles and looks up. “And all of yesterday, too. Mid-terms aren’t for two more weeks yet.”
“Yeah. But I’m taking fifteen upper-level credits,” Stiles sighs, “and I have to maintain a 3.8 or higher to keep my scholarship. So.” He spreads his hands at the pile of notes and textbooks next to him.
Derek frowns lightly, the green pen pausing on the page. He pauses, and Stiles gets the impression he’s gathering his words carefully. “Just remember to pace yourself,” Derek says finally. “You’ve got two years of this to get through, and then grad school. If you burn yourself out right out of the gate, all your hard work will be for nothing.”
Stiles nods, because he knows that, he does, but also… also his GPA. And his homework. And his crushing fear of not having done enough.
“I think it will be easier after the first semester,” is what he ends up saying. “I feel like I’m still getting the measure of how hard I have to work to achieve what I need to achieve. But I’ll be fine.” He lets himself smile, thinking of his senior year and how he’d worked his way through the end of high school with a job, AP classes, and about four hours of sleep a night. “I’ve pushed through worse.”
Derek looks unconvinced, and Stiles’ heart gives a traitorous flop at the thought of Derek caring about him. It’s probably not that, though - no doubt he just doesn’t want to be put in the position of having to give a failing grade.
“I’ll be fine,” Stiles says again, more firmly this time, and Derek nods in acknowledgment, then picks up his green pen and turns over the next paper.
“Scott, I don’t know.”
Stiles turns in front of the cracked hallway mirror. The red glittery booty shorts leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. He is not a large guy in any sense, all long legs and round, but small, behind, but these shorts (borrowed from Erica next door) leave his asscheeks hanging out and his perfectly-adequate-but-average bulge looking like he’s packing.
“Here!” Scott puts a shot glass in his hand, sloshing something suspiciously cinnamon-smelling onto Stiles’ fingers. “Drink up!”
Stiles takes another look at the mirror and winces, then knocks back the shot. It burns going down and makes him cough, and in the mirror his bare chest flushes red.
“You look hot, dude!” Scott’s in skin-tight black pleather pants and a black mesh shirt, a pair of fuzzy cat ears on top of his head. He smacks Stiles’ ass and grins enthusiastically. “Have another shot so you don’t freeze on the way over.”
“Scott-” Stiles turns again, eyeing himself. He has more muscle definition than he did a few years ago, but he’s still basically a wiry beanpole. “I’m gonna be a laughing stock on Monday. And I’m going to literally freeze my balls off between here and the frat.” He knows he’s whining, but he doesn’t care. It’s been a tough couple of months, and he doesn’t want to piss away the couple of social connections he’s managed to make since they landed in mid-August through some ill-advised Halloween shenanigans.
“Here,” Scott says, handing him a pile of red slippery fabric and feathers. “Erica gave me this for you when she heard what you were going as. And here-” He pours another shot into Stiles’ empty shot glass. “This will help.”
Stiles hangs on to a corner of the pile with his fist and shakes out the fabric. It resolves itself into a knee-length brilliant-red satin cape, edged with equally crimson feathers, complete an oversized hood and a long red ribbon at the neck. He stares at it, drapes a corner of it over his shoulder and looks in the mirror. Erica had come over earlier and done eyeliner on both Scott and him, and it makes his eyes look huge and penetrating. The lipstick she’d carefully painted onto his mouth (“no smearing, I promise. This shit won’t come off no matter what you rub your lips on!) makes him look obscene, like he’s been painted for a night sucking cocks.
What the fuck , he tells himself, it’s Halloween .
He throws back his shot.
The party is huge, students spilling out of all the doors and some of the windows of the Alpha Beta Omega house. Stiles and Scott stop a block away and stare. They’ve been to their share of parties in Beacon Hills, and even a couple here since the start of the semester, but this is different: this is a party thrown by kids with money, and not just one or two like Jackson and Lydia’s parties - this is a whole house full of business students and wealthy scions.
“ Dude ,” Scott says, and Stiles nods emphatically.
“Bro,” he agrees.
They resume walking.
Stiles is incredibly glad he refused to wear the red sequined heels that Erica had offered because he not only would have sprained an ankle, he also would have already had his toes stomped into smithereens by all the drunken frat bros who keep sauntering up to him. Besides, it may be ridiculous, but somehow the fact that his combat boots keep his ankles covered make him feel less vulnerable in his next-to-nothing costume.
“Hey, Little Red, where’s your wolf?”
Stiles turns to the dude who shouted what he clearly thinks is the funniest joke of all time, and bares his teeth.
“I’m my own wolf, dude!”
He’s not sure if the guy can even hear his witty comeback over the noise of the bass that’s thumping through this house, but Scott must catch enough of it, because he grins and then points across the room.
“Nuh uh,” Scott shouts in his ear, and Stiles follows the direction of his finger. “Pretty sure that’s your wolf, bro.”
Everything slows down, from the drumming music to the shouting of the drunken revelers as Stiles catches sight of Derek from across the crowd of drunken debauchery between them. He’s dressed in a black t-shirt that looks like it shrunk in the wash and a leather jacket that Stiles has no idea how he’s wearing in the heat of the room. He looks like someone Stiles wants to climb like a tree, and then Stiles notices his costume - a single pair of black and grey wolf ears on top of his head.
Derek is the big, bad, wolf, and Stiles wants nothing more than to be eaten up.
Scott’s still laughing in his ear. Stiles grabs the nearest full red Solo cup and chugs it.
He’s not nearly drunk enough for this.
Stiles is a lot drunk and little dressed by the time Derek runs into him, literally, at the party. Derek’s just trying to get from the bathroom, where he’d admittedly gone to try and get three minutes of peace and quiet (it hadn’t worked; he’d had about ninety seconds before someone had started banging on the door), to the kitchen. He’s in the middle of picking his way across the living room-cum-dance floor when a body knocks into him hard. Derek grabs at the person instinctively, pinning their body to his own even as they wave about in surprise, keeping them both upright.
He doesn’t realize it’s Stiles until he’s pulled them both to the edge of the room. He catches the person by the hips and steadies them, turning them around to face him with the intent of giving them a lecture on watching where they’re going.
Instead, he finds himself staring into huge brown eyes that have been smeared with eyeliner and a wide, open mouth that’s nearly as red as the silky cape that clings around broad shoulders.
“Ohhhh,” the body he’s still clutching says, drawling out the vowels with the cadence of someone who’s had a few too many. “It’s Hot Neighbor! And Hot T.A.! Dude! Hi!”
Stiles flings his arms around Derek’s neck, still doing a sort of hip wiggle that must be intended to be some kind of dance. He absolutely reeks of alcohol, and Derek is viscerally torn between wanting to pull him close so no one can see how naked he is and wanting to hold him at arm's length so he doesn’t have to breathe in the fumes.
“Derek!! Derek Derek Derek ! Dance with me!”
Stiles’ skin is warm and smooth under Derek’s palm, and he ducks his head for a moment just to check. Thankfully, Stiles is wearing something under his ridiculous cape, if a scrape of red-sequined fabric that barely covers his modesty counts as “something.” Derek breathes in through his mouth, but it doesn’t help. He can taste the heated, faintly sweet scent of booze mixed with Stiles’ cologne thick on his tongue.
“Let’s dance our way to the kitchen to get you some water,” Derek answers, and Stiles pouts and then trips on air.
Derek manages to navigate them through the crowd into the kitchen, and then through the crowd doing body shots to the sink, where he pours a big cup of water for Stiles and makes him chug it. Stiles obliges, then wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, blinking up at Derek with smeared eyeliner and that red, red mouth.
Derek wants to do unspeakable things to him, but Stiles is first of all wasted and second of all in Derek’s classes, and he can’t, he can’t .
He remembers all too well what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an abuse of power.
He takes in Stiles’ glassy eyes and gentle sway, and refills the cup of water. “Are you here with anyone?”
“Nope,” Stiles grins and ignores the cup of water to wrap an arm around Derek’s waist. They’re near to the same height, and Stiles’ shoulders are surprisingly broad for his frame, but Derek’s got fifty pounds on him at least. Stiles still manages to look up at Derek most of the time, like he does now, with a slow bat of his thick, dark, lashes. He slips a hand into the back of Derek’s jeans. “Just you.”
Right. Derek internally curses his phrasing. “No,” he corrects, “I meant, did you come with anyone who will be worried if I take you home?”
Stiles’ whole face lights up, and Derek wants to face-palm. “Yes, please, I want to go home with you! Take me home, Derek!” He wraps a leg around Derek’s hips, and Derek really did not need to know that Stiles was this flexible. He glances down involuntarily and gets an eyeful of red sequins pressed against the front of his own black jeans.
He looks back up in desperation, and catches sight of Scott in the doorway. They lock eyes, and Derek gestures at Stiles, then jerks a thumb toward the outdoors. Scott’s eyes go big, but then he gives a thumbs up, and while Derek’s sure that he’s just given the entirely wrong impression, at least Scott knows where Stiles will be, and presumably won’t worry when it’s time to leave the party and Stiles is nowhere to be found.
“Okay,” he says, wrapping his arms around Stiles and trying not to notice how good it feels, how well Stiles fits against him. “Let’s get you home.”
Stiles talks the whole way home.
Not that he doesn’t talk normally; he does, he definitely does. Stiles is a motormouth, especially when he’s excited about something, and Derek often rises to the sound of Stiles’ voice through the wall and goes to sleep to the sound of it muttering on the fire escape as Stiles works through notes or talks to Scott or his dad or his friend Lydia, or even just to himself.
But that’s different - most of that is, for lack of a better phrase, white noise. Not that it’s meaningless babble, but just that a lot of it is observational, or informational, or self-directed. It has importance, but it’s not important.
What Stiles is saying now - Derek wants to wrap his mouth up the same way that he’s wrapped his leather jacket around Stiles’ shoulders, pulled his arms through the sleeves and zipped the front like Stiles is a child who needs to be protected from the cold. It’s vulnerable , and it’s making Derek grit his teeth, because the Stiles he knows would not be comfortable with this.
“I miss my dad so much ,” Stiles says as Derek steers him along the sidewalk. “I didn’t want to leave him, but I just can’t stay home any longer. We love each other so much, but I can’t sacrifice my future to my fear.” Derek hums in response. It sounds like a phrase Stiles is repeating, like something his dad says, or someone else has lectured him on. “I know I’m going home for Thanksgiving, and then for Christmas, but sometimes I think of him there in the house all alone, my mom dead and me gone, and I cry.”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Derek forces himself to say, and Stiles nods sagely as he wobbles along the curb.
“That’s what he says. But who knows, Derek?” Stiles stops and grips Derek by the arm, staring at him intently. “ Who knows ?”
Derek gets them moving again, but two blocks later it’s, “Scott’s my best friend, but sometimes I can’t stand him. He doesn’t understand me at all, not like,” Stiles makes a complicated gesture, “like he knows me, he knows me so well , but he doesn’t understand me.” Stiles eyeballs him. “ You understand me. I don’t know why, but you do. Scott just wants easy things. He wants- he wants to be a vet, and then he wants to, to move home and get married. To Allison! And then he wants to have lots of babies, and I just-”
Stiles breaks off to puke into a bush. Derek makes sure he doesn’t tip over, then hands him a handkerchief when he’s done. Stiles stares at him with what might as well be stars in his eyes. “You’re the best , Derek,” he says fervently, and tucks the used handkerchief into the pocket of Derek’s leather jacket while Derek tries not to wince. “The best .”
They’re all the way to the stairs of their apartment building when Stiles says, “I worry that I’m not smart enough to be here. I never feel like I belong anywhere, and I keep waiting for someone to figure it out. No scholarship, no admittance, no Professor. No Derek.” His voice is heartbreakingly sad, and Derek basically hauls him up the four flights of stairs and into his apartment just so that he can stop listening to this. “Just flipping burgers in Buttfuck Hills until my dad dies and I’m middle-aged and alone.”
Derek pulls off the leather jacket and unties the cape so Stiles doesn’t strangle in his sleep. He wants to do something about the red sequined briefs, because they sure don’t look comfortable, but that would be clearly crossing a line. Discretion is the better part of valor, he decides, and pushes Stiles lightly onto the couch so Derek can untie his boots.
By the time Derek has Stiles set up with a blanket and a bucket and a big glass of water, Stiles is nearly asleep. Derek manhandles him further down on the couch so he’s lying on his side and wraps the blanket carefully around his bare feet.
“Derek?” Stiles asks suddenly, and it’s the most lucid he’s sounded all night.
“Go to sleep, Stiles,” Derek tells him, and those big dark eyes stare at him like Stiles is trying to see into the depths of his soul. “You’ll feel better in the morning.”
“Won’t,” Stiles mumbles mutinously. “Gonna feel worse.”
Derek suppresses a laugh, because Stiles is right. He switches the table lamp on low and flicks off the overhead. By the time he comes back to stand next to the couch, Stiles is asleep, breathing open-mouthed onto a cushion. Derek makes a mental note to throw it in the wash the next time he does laundry.
“Hey,” he whispers, and drags a hand across Stiles’ head. His hair is thick, coarse and springy under Derek’s palm, as unruly as the mind it covers. “You belong,” Derek tells him softly, letting his fingers linger. “Don’t ever doubt it. You belong. Here.”
Scott stays in Beacon Hills with Allison for New Year’s, but Stiles heads back to school on the 29th. His dad’s vacation will be up on the 28th anyway, and he doesn’t really want to be the third wheel to ScottandAllison, or to try and hang out with people he knew in high school. It’ll be weirdly less lonely in the apartment by himself, he thinks, than in his house, and at least if he’s back at school he can get a jump on the spring semester reading.
Besides, Derek will be back, so. It’s not like he won’t have company if he needs it.
All of which is how he finds himself sitting on the fire escape with a bottle of champagne and Derek, sharing Derek’s thick couch throw as they listen to the countdown echoing from the TV.
It’s bittersweet, Stiles thinks - a new year, a fresh start, but still the same old him, still banging his head against things he wants but can’t have, like Lydia’s brains or Scott’s relationship or Derek’s success.
Still , he thinks, breathing out. Important to be grateful for what he has.
What he has is a lot, he decides. A ride-or-die best friend who’s known him nearly his whole life. A genius other best friend who takes no shit, gives no quarter, but for some reason deems Stiles worthy of her affection. A father who has spent Stiles’ whole life loving him, no matter what Stiles has or hasn’t done to deserve it.
A new year, a new future, Stiles thinks. The dawning of a new day. New risks, new opportunities, new ways to be.
“1! Happy New Year!!”
Fireworks erupt with a loud bang from the hill in front of him, explosions echoing in the freezing night sky as a cacophony of bottle rockets and Roman Candles go off in the streets below. Derek’s laughing, which he almost never does, the bright lights of the chandelier sparklers reflecting in the light hazel of his eyes.
“For luck,” Stiles says, whether to himself or Derek he’s not quite sure, but then he grabs Derek by the shirt-front and pulls him into a kiss.
He means for it to be short; not a peck, necessarily, but certainly not the lengthy, warm, wet affair it turns into. He starts to pull away, but Derek follows unthinkingly, and that’s all Stiles needs to take a firmer grip of Derek’s shirt and press in, licking Derek’s lips and groaning when Derek’s mouth opens to him.
It’s the best kiss Stiles has ever had, first or otherwise. Derek tastes like champagne and starlight, the stubble on his chin and upper lip rasping against Stiles’ mouth in the best possible way as his tongue traces the outline of Stiles’ own. Stiles feels like he’s flying, like he’s been shot out of a canon, like someone has set fire to his feet and launched him into the cold night sky.
“No,” Derek says suddenly, pulling back, and Stiles’ whole face and front are cold before the word even processes through his brain. Derek looks utterly stricken, but Stiles can’t process that, either, just stares at Derek as the booms echo around them, rainbows of light streaking through the stars above them.
“No,” Derek says again, more softly.
Stiles nods, stands up, and climbs back in through his window, leaving the blanket, and Derek, in the cold darkness outside.
“He hates me, Scott.”
Stiles flings himself onto the couch and sighs as loudly as he can muster. It’s only four pm, but it’s nearly full dark out, and it feels like a metaphor for his life - dark, cold, and lonely.
“He doesn’t hate you.” The eyeroll can’t be seen from where Stiles’ head has fallen below the arm of the couch, but it’s definitely implied in Scott’s tone.
“He does .” Stiles drags out the sound, letting the vowels round in his mouth. “Derek hates me.”
“Bro.” Scott emerges from the kitchen with a dishtowel. He’s started trying to cook more recently, at Allison’s suggestion. It’s...well, it’s a hobby, at least. Stiles tries to just stay out of the way. “He told you you were cool. He still texts you.” Scott throws up his hands. “He came by yesterday to drop off a book he thought you’d like!”
Stiles rolls over onto his stomach and buries his face in the couch cushions. Objectively, Scott’s right - Derek has been as polite and friendly and supportive as anyone could ask. He’s cheerful, and asks questions about Stiles’ new semester and his dad and… he does it all from a very careful distance.
There’s the sudden bang of a pot lid and the muffled sound of cursing. Stiles sighs again, deeply, for good measure, before mumbling into the cushions.
“He hates me.”
The first week of classes back is brutal, not only because the teachers seem to have come back armed and ready for battle, but because Derek is his T.A. Again. For three of his classes.
Admittedly, this is what Stiles gets for specializing in such a specific major and for then taking all the classes offered by his favorite professor, the one who also happens to be Derek’s post-doc mentor. So sue him, he’d signed up for this course load when he and Derek had seemed like they were gonna be the bestest of bros, and hopefully even more. And besides, they are classes that apply to his major, and Professor Ludwig is legitimately awesome.
Still. It means that he’s stuck staring at Derek four days out of the week, and that’s without counting the number of times that they run into each other on account of being neighbors.
It’s painful. It’s honest-to-god painful. Stiles hasn’t felt like this since his ill-fated love affair with Lydia back in high school, and he hasn’t missed this particular feeling at all. Derek is his first thought when he wakes up, his last thought before he goes to sleep, and at least fifty percent of the thoughts during the time in between.
The worst part is how nice Derek still is. He brings Stiles a coffee on the first day, because he clearly knows that Stiles will be tired after being unable to sleep the night before. He finds Stiles in the library during his designated study sessions and sits silently going over his own notes while Stiles bangs his head against his homework (metaphorically; only sometimes is it literal, and that’s usually later in the semester).
He’s being supportive , Stiles realizes. Derek is supportive, because he is an adult. An adult who is five years older than Stiles, and who knows how to navigate the emotional minefields of unrequited emotional attachment, and who is committed to the relationships he starts, even if they get tricky or uncomfortable at times.
It’s commendable, and impressive, and Stiles wishes he could hate Derek for being so goddamn mature, but he can’t.
He loves Derek, and Derek doesn’t love him, at least not like that. Not in the way Stiles wants him to.
But they are friends, and honestly, aside from Scott, Derek’s the best thing in Stiles’ life, and he’s not going to lose that. He refuses to compromise this relationship just because of his goddamn feelings and his inability to maintain chill for longer than two seconds.
He will be Derek’s friend.
He will be the best friend Derek could ask for.
“What are you doing for Valentine’s Day? Got a hot date?”
Derek just rolls his eyes and throws a cheeto at Stiles where he sits on Derek’s moonpod. Stiles catches it in his mouth and crunches happily.
“What?” he asks, mouth open just to get Derek to make his disgusted face and look away. “You’ve got to know that a solid two-thirds of the campus population would sell more than one body part to go on a date with you, and the rest would at least consider it.”
“Stiles-” Derek starts, then looks away for a long moment. The air feels sucked out of the room, and Stiles bites his lip. He knows this feeling - it’s the ‘Stiles has really stepped in it now’ feeling, the one where he opened his big mouth to talk some bullshit and ended up shoving his shitty, beat-up sneaker straight down his own gullet until he chokes.
Derek shakes his head. “No,” he says at last, his tone rueful. “I don’t have a hot date lined up. I don’t really… date at all, actually.”
“A loss for us all,” Stiles intones dramatically, hand pressed to his chest. He means to leave it there, but he’s never been good at not poking things. “How come?” he grins maniacally, and yes, maybe he shouldn’t have had that second energy drink this afternoon, but that ship has sailed. “Why so celibate?”
“Well,” Derek answers dryly, taking a long pull from the beer bottle that dangles between his fingers, “my first girlfriend died in an accident. My high school girlfriend got arrested for statutory rape and eleven counts of attempted murder. My first college girlfriend used me as an excuse to stalk and harass my friends, which I didn’t find out until she kidnapped them. And my last girlfriend got arrested on weapons charges. Soooo yeah, I’m off dating for the foreseeable future.”
Stiles stares. “I’m sorry, you - Christ on a fucking cracker , Derek. I am so sorry !”
“It’s okay.” Derek laughs awkwardly. “It was going to come up at some point. Better to just put it out there. What about you, though?” Derek takes another drink, spins the half-full bottle between his hands. “Got a hot date for Valentine’s Day?”
Stiles just snorts and gestures vaguely at himself. “Yeah. Right. Can’t keep the suitors off with a baseball bat.”
“Oh, come on. Surely there’s someone.”
Now it’s Stiles’ turn to laugh awkwardly, because yes. There is someone. Someone that Stiles wants and evidently can’t have, someone with hazel eyes and dark hair and big, gentle hands and a soft voice. Someone who will never love Stiles back.
“Yeah, no.” Stiles shakes his head. “My love life isn’t quite as tragic as yours apparently, but it’s no picnic, either. I loved the same girl from third grade through sophomore year with no luck.” He rubs at the back of his head. “Well, that’s not exactly true- we’re good friends now. But she was never interested in getting all up in this.” He waves a hand at himself, bare toes and pajama pants and worn Beacon Hills LAX hoodie. “Not that I can blame her. And then there was Heather, we dated kinda for a minute, but she died. And then a third girl when I was in community college; we started out dating, but turns out we were better as fuck buddies.”
Derek nods knowingly. “No guys? I thought you were bi.”
“I am,” Stiles shrugs, “but it was a small town. I wasn’t really gay enough for the gay boys to want much to do with me, and it took me a while to figure it out anyway. I’d hoped for college to be different, but so far…” he spreads his hands resignedly. “You?”
“No, no guys for me either. Not as relationships.” Derek shakes his head. “Just by coincidence, not design. My sister Laura says that because I grew up with such strong women in my family, I tend to trust them and like it when they take the lead, and that leaves me vulnerable to the ones who come on strong, but don’t mean well.”
Stiles frowns. “That seems both kinda self-aggrandizing and like blaming the victim.”
“It’s not, actually,” Derek chuckles. “If you met my family, you’d understand. The women are all exactly as amazing as they think they are, and she’s probably right.” He catches Stiles still frowning, and reaches over to rest a hand on his knee. “And she doesn’t blame me. None of them do, even though it was my underage fooling around that nearly got them all killed. She just means that I should be more cautious about who I open up to.”
“I guess.” Stiles is dubious, but he’s been trying to get better about giving people the benefit of the doubt. And Derek seems otherwise pretty well-adjusted, particularly given what Stiles now knows about his romantic history, Jesus , so maybe his sister is right.
Derek sighs, and looks uncomfortable. Stiles hates it. He never wants Derek to look uncomfortable, to be uncomfortable or sad. Especially not because of Stiles.
“So you don’t date at all?” It’s really not changing the subject like he meant to, and Stiles kicks himself. Fuck, what is wrong with him?
“Not really.” Derek shrugs and gets up, heading to the kitchen half of the main room. “You want some hot chocolate?”
“Sure,” Stiles says, and lets the silence linger because he is apparently failing at making things better, so the least he can do is not make them actively worse.
“I don’t want anything casual,” Derek says after a long pause. He’s gotten out the milk and the saucepan, heating it up on the stove because if there’s one thing that Stiles has learned about Derek over the last six months, it’s that he’s methodical and believes in doing things right. He doesn’t even own a microwave, heats everything on the stove or in the oven and cooks from scratch nearly every evening. “And most people my age aren’t interested in something serious from the start.”
“Huh.” Stiles thinks about this. “Aren’t you like, twenty-five? I thought that was when people started really pairing up.” Admittedly, his comparison pool is low, but his parents had met when they were about twenty, and Scott’s parents around the same time (though, to be fair, look how that had worked out). Allison and Scott have been together since sophomore year, and while Lydia doesn’t have anyone serious now, she certainly hasn’t shied away from serious relationships.
“I mean,” Derek gets down two mugs and his fancy organic hot chocolate powder, measuring it carefully. “I’m sure it’s contextual. But, in grad school or post-doc, most people don’t have the time to invest in something serious if it’s not a relationship they were in before.” He turns the heat down on the stove, stirring to prevent a skin. “It’s not a time for starting new things.”
That makes sense, Stiles supposes. It’s not that different from where he thinks he would be, if he hadn’t gotten so hung up on Derek. Relationships, as Scott has proven time and time again, can be a real distraction; one he can’t afford.
“Yeah,” he agrees, watching Derek’s hands as he stirs the chocolate into the hot milk. “Yeah, that makes sense. They take a lot of time and energy, I guess.”
Derek nods, face toward the cups as he brings them over, careful not to spill.
“They should,” he says, handing Stiles his mug handle-first and finally meeting his eyes. “If they’re important to you, and you want them to last.”
Stiles takes a sip of the chocolate. It’s too hot, and burns his tongue, which is definitely the reason that he feels like he’s about to cry.
“Thanks,” he says, and Derek lifts his cup in salute.
Stiles takes another sip. “Yeah,” he agrees, nodding sagely, like he knows how this goes, like he’s ever had any choice. “Who has time for that?”
Usually it’s February that Derek hates the most - it’s past the holidays, so everything’s back to the same old normal slog, but meanwhile the novelty has worn off from parties and presents and you’ve no doubt over-indulged. And yet it’s still dark when he gets up in the morning, and dark when he comes back from class, cold in the morning and noon and night, and even the snow that had fallen beautiful and white and cleansing a month ago is now grey slush that seeps into his boots and makes his pants wet and tracks into the hallways leaving salt lines everywhere as it dries.
Usually it’s February he hates, but this year March hits with a vengeance.
First, Professor Ludwig has a family emergency and has to go out of town for the two weeks before midterms, leaving Derek to teach his full class load and handle all the assignments, as well as keep office hours for all of the panicking students who are coming up on midterms. He makes it through that by the skin of his teeth (and by dint of losing progress on his own work) just in time for midterms to hit and the campus to lose its collective mind.
Stiles is taking too many classes this semester, which Derek had told him when he signed up for them last fall, but did he listen? No, of course not. Scott says, and Derek is starting to believe, that Stiles is an experiential learner, and that the way for him to figure out where his own personal walls are is to hit them, sometimes repeatedly.
Derek hears him studying all night, nearly every night. When he sees Stiles in the hallway, he looks like a raccoon, what with the darkness of the bags under his eyes. Derek nags him when he sees him, reminds him to sleep and to eat and to hydrate, but between his own work and covering for Dr. Ludwig, and then Stiles’ frankly ridiculous load, Derek hardly sees him at all.
It’s for the best, he tells himself. His feelings for Stiles are not friendly, or at least, not only friendly, and Stiles was clearly very hurt when Derek had been forced to turn him down at New Year’s.
It’s not like Derek had wanted to. It’s not like Derek had wanted anything more than to drag Stiles closer, to kiss him while the sky exploded into stars around them.
But he knows better. He can’t. Not while he’s in a position of authority; not while Dr. Ludwig and Stiles, not to mention the rest of the students, are trusting him to do his job. He’s already probably too compromised; the least he can do is maintain the pretence of a boundary between them.
He can’t stop himself from thinking about after this semester, though. To be honest, he doesn’t really try.
Scott goes home for spring break, and Derek assumes that Stiles does, too, until he’s awakened by the sound of a gut-wrenching cough at three in the morning on the first Sunday of break. He lies awake listening to Stiles hack his lungs out until four, then gets up and grabs his keys and heads for the all-night pharmacy.
He knows there’s been a nasty flu going around campus, so he stocks up: cough drops and gatorade, Ny-Quil and Day-Quil, chicken soup in a can (even though it hurts his soul), a digital thermometer, and four boxes of tissues. At the last minute he grabs a couple issues of comics from the impulse-buy section as he’s checking out - he doesn’t really know which ones Stiles follows, but something’s got to be better than nothing, right?
The coughing has stopped by the time Derek gets back to the apartment around five, but he uses his spare key and lets himself into Stiles’ and Scott’s place anyway. A cough like that wasn’t a one-off, even if Stiles has managed to fall back asleep.
The apartment is in total disarray, which tells Derek that Stiles must have been coming down with this for a little while. He’s not truly a neatnik, but Stiles is by far the more tidy of the two, and Derek knows he takes pleasure in putting his space back in order after he finishes a project or tests. Midterms certainly should have qualified, and Scott’s been gone for two days now, which should have given Stiles plenty of time to clean if he’d had the energy
Derek dumps his supplies on the counter and heads to Stiles’ room, gatorade in one hand, Ny-Quil in the other, and thermometer in his pocket. The room stinks like fever, but Derek enters anyway. He tends to have a very sturdy constitution, can’t actually remember the last time he was really sick in spite of years of dorm living, so he’s not too worried about contagion.
Stiles sounds like he’s not sure if Derek’s real, which, when Derek unceremoniously shoves the thermometer in his ear and gets a result of 103, seems fair.
“Hey,” he says softly, keeping his voice low. “Have you taken anything?” He looks around the room for any sign of medicine, not wanting to accidentally double-dose.
“Cough drops,” Stiles mumbles, and Derek nods, spotting the wrappers in the trash by the bed.
“Okay,” he says, “c’mere. We’re gonna give you some meds, wait till they kick in, and then you’re gonna take a shower, eat some soup, and go back to bed.”
“‘s a lot,” Stiles moans, dragging himself upright, and Derek forces down a grin. Coherent, lucid, Stiles is never whiny like this; in fact, he’s actively not whiny in a way that suggests he’d trained himself out of it in an attempt to be more likable. Derek’s sure the novelty of crabby Stiles will wear off quickly, but right now it’s somewhat endearing.
He pours a dose of Ny-Quil into the cup and hands it over. “Hold your nose and knock it back, he orders, and Stiles makes an aggrieved face, but complies, shuddering as it goes down. “That’s the way. Now, up.” He hands Stiles the thermometer, a bottle of gatorade, and a clean blanket. “Wrap up, go sit on the couch, and drink this until your fever’s down to 101. I’ll come check on you in a minute.”
Stiles makes some kind of incoherent protesting noise, but lets Derek haul him unsteadily to his feet. Derek pulls the blanket around his shoulders, making sure he’s got both beverage and thermometer, and points him to the living room. “Go,” he says, “sit.”
Derek uses the time to strip Stiles’ bed and re-make it with the sheets he knows live in the hallway built-ins. He also digs through the basket of unfolded clean laundry in the corner for fresh boxers, sleep pants, t-shirt, and a hoodie. Fortunately it seems like Stiles managed to do at least one full load recently, because it’s not hard to locate everything he needs, even a matching pair of socks. He does a cursory pick-up of Stiles’ room when he’s done with the bed and clothes; he empties the trash into the kitchen garbage, hangs up Stiles’ coat and puts away his shoes, stacks his textbooks and notebooks on his desk.
By the time he comes out to the living room, it’s been about half an hour and Stiles is looking moderately more alert, if not actually well .
“What are you at?” Derek asks, and Stiles obligingly shoves the thermometer into his ear until it beeps.
“Good!” Derek’s honestly pleased with the quick progress. Hopefully that means that this won’t be too hard a bug for Stiles to kick. “Shower.”
Stiles nods resignedly, but wobbles alarmingly on his way to the bathroom. Derek suspects it’s low blood sugar - who knows when Stiles last ate a real meal.
He comes to a decision swiftly, even if he doesn’t like it. “Stiles,” Derek grits his teeth. “Use the toilet and then strip down. I’m going to come sit in the bathroom with you while you shower so you don’t fall and hit your head. Okay?”
Derek holds his breath. If Stiles says no, he’ll just… he doesn’t know what. Sit outside the door and listen for thuds, he supposes.
“Okay,” Stiles says, and the door closes behind him, leaving Derek to simultaneously exhale in relief and wince at what he’s about to do. As a neighbor, this is crossing a line. As someone with academic authority over Stiles, this is super crossing a line. As Stiles’ friend... it’s necessary.
They get through it with as much dignity as Derek can muster. Stiles is too sick and too doped up to care, as far as Derek can tell, which is probably for the best. He brings in Stiles’ fresh clothes and a new towel, shampoos his hair when Stiles says he’s dizzy. Helps him out and towels him off, then leaves the room while Stiles dresses to go heat some soup.
He gets Stiles into bed and leaning against pillows with a bowl of soup in his hands. His fever’s down to 99.5 for the moment and he’s nearly perky, sucking down his soup with a will and drinking another gatorade as Derek picks up the kitchen. By the time Stiles is done, Derek’s taken care of the dishes and run the trash down to the dumpster, which has done a lot to improve the general livability of the place.
Stiles is listing sleepily to one side, full of Campbell’s and cough medicine, his cheeks pink from the shower and the remains of his fever. His breathing is still thick, but the steam definitely helped.
Derek helps him lie down, pulls the blankets up. Stiles’ eyes are already closing, and Derek is flashed back abruptly to the first time he did this last fall, when Stiles was drunk on Halloween.
“Okay,” he whispers. “I’m gonna go back to bed. I’ll come check on you around ten, alright? Text me if you need me.”
Stiles mumbles into his pillow and Derek straightens up.
“No,” Stiles says suddenly, throwing out a hand and looking at Derek pleadingly. Derek’s not even sure he’s fully awake. “Stay?”
Stiles’ voice is equal parts hopeful and resigned, already expecting a no, and it’s that which caves Derek’s heart in.
Boundaries , a voice that sounds like Laura’s sings in his head. Boundaries, Derek .
He tunes it out and sits down. Stiles needs him; Stiles wants him.
It takes Stiles the full week of spring break to recover from the flu. Derek says it’s because he had run himself too ragged, but what does Derek know? (Probably a lot, but Stiles and denial are old friends, and denial says that he’s doing just fine.)
A week after that, Derek comes down sick, which is hilarious because he is apparently the grumpiest, least patient sick person in the entire world. First he refuses to even admit that it’s possible he could have gotten sick (“I haven’t been sick since middle school, Stiles, I’m not sick now!”); then he tolerates the evidence of his own infirmity for approximately thirty-six hours before he decides he’s better now, all evidence to the contrary. Stiles has to drag him home from his office with a fever of over a hundred and tissues stuffed up his nose because it won’t stop running, and it would be obnoxious if it weren’t so goddamn funny.
Derek bounces back after about four days, and is fully back to his five-am-yoga and after-school-run self by the end of six, but Stiles takes care of him in between. It’s only fair, he tells himself. Derek’s had to take care of him when he’s been severely incapaciated twice now; he owes it to Derek to return the favor.
If it’s also the kind of domestic he longs for - laundry mingled as he folds it on Derek’s couch while Derek takes a shower, cooking soup under Derek’s stuffed-nose instruction - then that’s between him and the pillow he sighs into at night. It’s no one else’s business but his own.
They come through into the middle of April and suddenly it’s almost finals time. It feels surreal - the year has gone so fast, and he only has one more left after this.
He hadn’t been talking to anyone about it, but he’s applied early admittance for the graduate program in the same department, with Dr. Ludwig as his supervisor. He won’t find anything out until the fall, and it will all be contingent on him keeping his grades and scholarship through his senior year, as well as completing the rest of his needed courses for graduation, of course.
It’s something, though.
Scott’s going home for the summer to do an internship at the local vet while Allison teaches archery at the day-camp outside of town, but Stiles has decided to stay. His dad doesn’t get summer breaks, so there’s not much point in going home, especially if all of his friends are going to be working. He’s gotten a work-study job in the library, thirty hours a week to handle their digital initiatives while he takes a summer course on prehistoric languages, for no reason other than that it interests him.
He doesn’t know what Derek’s doing.
And, he decides, it doesn’t matter. Derek is his friend, his good friend, and that’s that. He’s grateful for it, and he won’t take it for granted, and he’s going to stop wishing for anything more. It’s unfair to Derek for Stiles to keep hoping for something Derek clearly doesn’t want to give, and it’s unfair to Stiles to keep himself pining for someone he can’t have, not in the way he wants.
He throws himself into studying, finishing his papers and exams with flying colors. He listens as Scott bemoans his laboratory exams and the results thereof. He slips granola bars under Derek’s door when the light’s on too late, meaning Derek’s up late grading.
He helps Scott pack.
(He doesn’t think about being alone with Derek all summer.)
It’s not like Derek doesn’t know that Stiles has feelings for him. Stiles has clearly thought he’s attractive from day one, which, well, Derek knows what he looks like. But it’s been more than that, Derek’s sure of it; the way they click, the way they kissed, the look on Stiles’ face when Derek had told him no…
He feels sure of Stiles’ feelings.
He feels sure of them right up until he’s bought a bouquet of sunflowers and put on his nice jeans and his leather jacket and is climbing up the stairs to the fourth floor a couple hours after Scott has pulled away with a loaded hatchback and tearful goodbyes.
What if Stiles only ever wanted to fuck him? What if Stiles did have feelings for him, but doesn’t anymore? What if-?
His thoughts are interrupted by his arrival at Stiles’ apartment door. It’s open to let the breeze through on the unseasonably warm day, so Derek walks in, looking around. It looks half empty, which stands to reason, but it feels sad, and Derek hopes he’s not jumping the gun. Maybe he should let Stiles have a day or two to mope before he says anything. Maybe he just shouldn’t say anything at all, maybe play it by ear for another month or two. Maybe-
“Yeah?” Derek’s voice cracks, and he wipes his hands on his jeans.
“I’m on the fire escape.”
Derek leaves the apartment, goes in through his own and opens his window. Call him a coward, but he wants to be able to beat a quick retreat if Stiles says no. He climbs out onto the metal grating, settling down next to Stiles, who is staring absently out at the slowly sinking sun.
Derek holds out the flowers, and Stiles looks at him in surprise.
“Yeah.” Derek nods, wipes his now empty palms on his pants again.
Stiles looks at them, smiles. They’re the kind of sunflowers with the extra orange in the petals, and they make Derek think of Stiles - warm, cheerful, opening to warmth and energy directed his way.
“What’s the occasion?” Stiles asks, turning the bouquet in his hands.
“I wanted to ask you- I’m asking you - to dinner.” Derek holds his breath. Stiles just looks confused.
“Um, sure? I mean, we can just order pizza, too.”
“No,” Derek shakes his head sharply in frustration. “I wanted to ask you to dinner .”
Stiles frowns. “Yeah, dude, I mean, if you want to go into town for something, we can do that. You’re driving, though.”
“No!” Derek can’t help but laugh, drags a hand through his hair and reaches out to take Stiles’ free hand. “Stiles, I’m asking you on a date .”
There’s a complicated play of emotion that flickers across Stiles’ face fast enough that Derek can’t follow it all, but it ends up settling into hurt confusion, and Derek’s heart sinks into his stomach. “A...date?”
“Yes,” Derek says softly, still hanging onto Stiles’ hand. “The semester’s over. I’ve seen your schedule next year, and asked Dr. Ludwig not to assign me to those classes. I don’t have a conflict of interest anymore. So, if you’re interested…” he trails off.
“This…” Stiles starts, then stops. He looks at Derek, then down at their hands, then at the flowers. “This was because you were my T.A.?”
“Yeah.” Derek sighs. “I’m sorry. I thought you knew? It’s against school policy. I could have been fired and expelled from my program for dating a student in a class I worked on, and you could have lost your scholarship.”
“Uh, no, Derek, I very much did not know that.” There’s a spark of anger in Stiles’ eyes, and his grip tightens. “I would very much have appreciated you using a few more words at some point about all of that.”
“I’m sorry?” Derek hangs his head. He’s an idiot. Of course this wasn’t going to go smoothly. What was he thinking?
“Hey.” Stiles’ voice is gentle, and he tips Derek’s chin up with a finger. “I’m kinda mad at you, and I’m probably gonna be for a while. I really thought you just didn’t like me as more than a friend, and that hurt.”
Derek nods morosely. He deserves that, for sure.
“But,” Stiles continues. “Before I’m mad at you for a few days, I’m gonna go put these bad boys in some water, and then you’re taking me to dinner, because yes , Derek, I would very much like to go on a date with you. Dates, plural. Several. Maybe even a lot. Probably a lot.” Stiles laughs nervously, his finger still warm on Derek’s chin. “But before that, you’re going to kiss me. Okay?”
His eyes are a little wet, but they’re as warm and welcoming as Derek has ever seen them, and his grasp on Derek’s hand is steady, even as the flowers tremble slightly with Stiles’ nerves.
Derek leans in and kisses him.