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Sowing Season

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March 5th, 2011

The wood grain on the kitchen table is so worn and familiar, Stiles can still see it when he closes his eyes. The knot that looks like a weary eye is by his elbow, the lines that bend together to look like a feather directly line up with his nose…

His hands keep his head up, palms pressing against his forehead. His breath is steady but his heart rate is still elevated. He feels like he’s going to be sick.

He wouldn’t have even sent the text if Scott’s voice hadn’t haunted him for days: “Whoever it is, just tell them.” Whoever it is… just tell them. Like it was simple. Like that whoever wasn’t sort of losing it already and like just telling them was going to be the start of the solution to all this… Stiles is reluctant to call it what it is but… heartache. But hey, not telling whoever it is whatever it is wouldn’t get anything done either so…

There’s a sharp knock at the door to the backyard – a warning – and then the door swings open.

“What’s wrong?” Derek asks before the door has even swung shut behind him.

Stiles looks up and Derek’s face is clouded in concern. His shoulders are stiff and a little too high. His car keys dangle in his hand. His shirt is speckled dark with water and his hair looks slick…

“Is it raining?” Stiles asks because if he thinks too much about anything else, his whole body goes cold with terror.

Derek’s shoulders slump a little, irritation crossing his face. But he answers with a quick “yeah” anyway and moves to sit across from Stiles.

“Oh.”

Derek’s eyes settle on him with familiar pale intensity and Stiles avoids looking directly at him… He traces a thick line that tapers off as it arches and then traces it back toward him. If he had intended to go for flippant and casual with this, he’s already failed.

“Stiles?” Derek asks, suddenly grabbing him by the wrist. “You didn’t text me to come over this late just for this, did you?”

“No,” Stiles says, letting his arm sort of go slack in Derek’s grip. He’s tempted to check his phone to see exactly how he worded the message so he could back his way out of this as smoothly as possible but he remembers it exactly. “Can you come over? Need to talk.” Stiles had slaved over that text for way too long and almost didn’t even send it. He could feasibly play it off, but not without pissing Derek off. He could quirk an eyebrow and drag him up to his room and Derek would probably be okay with it, but it’d be dishonest.

“So… what?” Derek asks. Stiles pulls his hand away when he realizes that Derek’s running his thumb over the veins in the underside of his wrist and that feeling always makes his stomach swoop and soar…

“Why’d you come?” Stiles asks. He’d be lying if the text hadn’t sort of been a test that he’d sort of hoped Derek would fail.

“Uh, because you asked me to?” Derek answers, tucking his own hands under the table. The gesture makes him look sort of small.

“So I just have to text you and you come running?” Stiles doesn’t know why that sounds so bitter. Under normal circumstances, that’d be a good quality in the person you love…

“Should I just ignore you next time, then?” Derek asks, brows furrowing in the beginnings of anger.

“Maybe you should, Derek. You have a girlfriend.” And that’s the brunt of it, isn’t it? Just saying that sentence kind of hurts.

“You’re my best friend,” Derek defends.

“Is that what we’re calling it?” God, Stiles is just making this worse. That hadn’t been the point. Stiles had wanted Derek to jump at the chance to see him, which he did. He had wanted him to show up ready to talk. And he did. Stiles wanted him so badly it sort of burned sometimes. Like now.

Derek groans and rubs his face with both hands. “What the fuck is this about?”

‘What’d you think it was about?” God dammit, Stiles hated that he couldn’t just fucking say it. “Did you think this was a hookup or—?”

“You said you needed to talk, so I am here and listening. But if you’re going to just… play games, then I can go…” He moves his chair back from the table as if he’s going to stand, but he doesn’t.

“Don’t,” Stiles says on the tail-end of a sigh. He leans back in his chair and wrings his hands.

“Stiles?” Derek says softly and Stiles loves the way his name sounds in that mouth of his. He looks up at him even though he’s pretty close to chewing his lips off his own face. “Talk.”

“I like you,” he says before he can convince himself not to. But that’s not really it.

Derek’s mouth drops open and closes again. “I know?” he says, slowly like he’s talking to a crazy person. Of course Derek knows that. They’re friends who do things sometimes, so yeah. Obviously.

Whoever it is, just tell them.

“I mean… I really like you. A lot. And it’s sort of um… this is sort of just killing me.”

“This?” Derek asks, voice sort of distant.

“Us? Or I mean, the thing we’re doing, I know there isn’t really an us. But. I um… cut me some slack, Derek, please, I know this isn’t what you want and that’s fine, it is, I just need us to not… I need you to focus on Paige. And I need to, I don’t know, fuck around with Danny if he’ll have me and then we’ll be fine. Right? Because you’re one of my best friends and I don’t want to mess that up? We’re in a band together and we’re really good, so I don’t think we should let something like this fuck that up. College can fuck it up, or whatever. But… not this. Alright? So… yeah. I’m sorry.”

Stiles looks at him again, even though he feels fucking awful, and tries to smile. Derek’s shocked expression stings.

“This is your way out,” Stiles says, voice wavering.

Derek’s straight, Derek’s straight, this is just a phase…. Stiles has to remind himself constantly. Whenever he feels like telling him he loves him, he has to remind himself. Whenever he feels like commenting on how good it feels when Derek shudders underneath him, he has to remind himself. Whenever he imagines some future where Derek is with him for real, like really with him and in love with him and proud of it, he has to remind himself.

It’s hard not to hate Derek.

And easy. It’s really easy not to hate him at all. It’s the most natural thing in the world to like him. Love him. Whatever.

But Stiles wants more from Derek than Derek will ever be able to give him.


Chapter Text

August 12th, 2009

Last week of summer.
Wednesday

Stiles shouldn’t be running in this weather, he really shouldn’t, but Scott’s a good few yards ahead of him on the skateboard and Jackson is a closing in on him.

“Fucking ruuuun, dude!” Scott calls over his shoulder before laughing.

“I… fu-hu-huuucking hate you,” Stiles pants, praying for that last little push of energy. He thinks about the half-empty box of cigarettes in his back pocket and has regrets.

“You little piece of shit get back here you goddamn—“ Jackson’s cut off by a guttural OOF and the sound of a body hitting the ground.

Stiles twists around against his better judgment and sees Lydia straddling Jackson on the strip of grass beyond the sidewalk while he yells. Stiles lets out a triumphant shout as he turns and slams right into a parked police car.

The window rolls down and the Sheriff leans out of it to look at the point of impact before looking up at Stiles. “Explain yourselves.”

“Scott, bro, no warning?” Stiles asks, looking at him over the hood. He shrugs with his whole body, Jackson’s car keys glinting in the sunlight from where they hang off his index finger.

“Sheriff Stilinski, your son—“ Jackson starts.

“I know. I mean, I don’t know. But I know.” He gives Stiles a piercing look that softens when his eyes shift to the side. “Hey Red.”

“Hey, pops,” she says brightly. “Jackson’s a creep—“

“I am not a creep, I was coming to see Danny, not you—“

“Danny is three houses down!—“

“—and then your idiot friends—“

“We are not idiots,” Scott says, offended.

“—Grand theft auto over here, I should file a report—“

“—you’re like jacking off in a car outside of—“

“I WAS NOT JACKING OFF—“

Stiles loses track of all the yelling when he hears the electric buzzing of the automatic window being rolled up. He watches the cruiser slowly back away from them before making a U-turn and leaving. Everyone else stops and watches too.

“Not even the law is on your side,” Stiles tells Jackson darkly.

“Give me my fucking keys,” Jackson mutters.

Scott throws them and makes sure to peg him as hard as he can in the chest, laughing at him when he cusses.

And then they begin the journey back. Stiles hikes his shirt up to get some air flow. Jackson walks a few paces ahead of them. Lydia stands on Scott’s skateboard and clings to his shoulders to keep moving and still manages to glare at the back of Jackson’s head.

“Why were you outside my house?” Lydia asks after a silent block.

“I told you.”

“Danny’s still in Hawaii,” she snaps at him.

Jackson clenches his jaw. Stiles laughs. Scott makes a descending whistle capped off with a crash sound.

They’re quiet for another block and the sun is beating down on them and Stiles is definitely about to overheat and die after that chase.

“Your amps are bullshit,” Jackson mutters when the Martin house is in sight.

“I’m sorry, and what do you know?” Stiles asks.

“I just… never mind.”

“No, please. Mr. Lacrosse, please tell us about amps.”

“I said never mind.”

And then they fall back into silence. Nothing but footsteps and wheels on asphalt. And their amps are bullshit, actually. But they get the job done. So fuck Jackson.

“Next time I see you outside my house, those car key are going up your ass,” Lydia hisses at Jackson when he veers off toward his car and they head up to the front door.

Jackson sneers at them, gets in his car and goes.

“Don’t say a word,” Lydia says, leading the way through the house and back to the garage. “I mean it. I don’t want to hear it.”

“We weren’t going to say anything, were we, Stiles?” Scott asks with thinly veiled amusement.

“I mean, what’s there to be said?” Stiles grins at Scott while slipping his guitar strap back over his head.

Lydia narrows her eyes at them from behind her set, drumsticks raised in a peculiar way.

“You can’t blame the pretty fool for wanting to bone y—“ Scott starts, cut off when a stick flies in his direction. Stiles gets the idea that the other stick is for him should he say anything, so he keeps his mouth shut.

“Give me my stick back,” Lydia demands, hand out-stretched.

Scott obeys, grumbling, while Stiles kicks his amp to try to get it to stop its glassy rattling. He makes a note to harass Jackson about what he allegedly knows about amps later.

This is the summer routine. Stiles wakes up at some point and drives over to Scott’s and then he does whatever is required of him to rouse Scott from his deep slumber and then they go to Lydia’s. Their guitars and amps have been in the Martin garage since her parents left for whatever island paradise they were on this summer about a month ago. Lydia’s sister comes around to make sure the house is still standing every once in awhile and then heads back to San Francisco the next day.

Sometimes they jam, or practice, or whatever. Other times they float around the pool. Sometimes they smoke out, but usually they don’t have the funds or the supplies at hand. Sometimes they just watch movies all day. Sometimes they wander around the preserve or sneak into the Martin’s lake house for a weekend. Occasionally they throw last minute parties if Lydia feels like retaliating against whatever her parents are or are not doing.

It’s a good system. They’ll miss it the second summer is over.

And it’s practically over.

And it’s not going to end with a bang or anything. No big blow out parties or trips to the city or a last beach adventure. Nothing.

Stiles can’t decide if that’s a bad omen for a boring year or a good omen for an exciting year.

After a couple more hours of loose and lazy covers of songs and a lengthy eulogy for the Panic! at the Disco they knew and loved, they head out to Hank’s for a late afternoon slice of pie.

“Halfway done,” Scott says when they drive past the school on the way.

“Let the real countdown to college begin,” Lydia says, trying not to sound too excited even though everyone alive knows that she is.

Stiles doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t want to sound bitter and he doesn’t want to sound scared and he doesn’t want to pretend he’s excited. So he just focuses on the road ahead of them and hums along with the radio.

**

“So what was that I busted earlier?” the Sheriff asks from behind his newspaper when Stiles wanders into the kitchen.

“Jackson has it bad for Lydia. We saw him creeping. His windows were open. Scott distracted him, I reached in and got his keys, then it was off to the races.” Stiles considers the fridge and his growling stomach, pays no mind to his father’s huff.

“So are you considering a future in carjacking?” his dad asks. The newspaper crinkles as he sets it down and Stiles knows he has his dad’s full attention.

“Yo, I wasn’t but I am now!” Stiles teases, closing the fridge. “Let me guess, ‘speaking of the future, blah blah college blah?’ Am I right?”

His father doesn’t look amused. “As a matter of fact—“

Stiles groans loudly to cut his dad off. The thought makes his heart clench in his chest and his stomach twist and the room starts getting wobbly around the edges. Stiles doesn’t like to think about it. He can’t really envision his life after graduation. Not in a “there is no life after graduation” way. Not in a morbid death countdown kind of way. Just in an uncertain sort of way.

“You need to start thinking about this. You’re about to start junior year. Your counselor said this was the time you needed to start thinking about SATs and keeping your grades up and—“

“I know.”

“—and thinking more seriously about—“

“I know.”

“Stiles.”

“I know, dad, I know. I know, I know.”

“If you know so much, then tell me… what is it that you want to do?”

Stiles flops into the seat opposite of his dad and looks at him with his sternest face. His father answers with a sterner one.

“I’m going to be a rock star,” Stiles jokes, wiggling his eyebrows. His father sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose. “Don’t believe in me, pops?”

“I will always believe in you, kid, but I would find it easier to simply believe you if you ever took anything seriously.”

Stiles opens his mouth to argue, but realizes he has nothing to say. He’s never had a dream school, he’s never pictured himself studying anything specific, he’s never wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a scientist or an author or a teacher or anything normal people want to be. He used to think he wanted to be a cop like his dad, and now he just sort of assumes he will eventually become one anyway.

“It’s just something for you to think about,” the Sheriff says, smirking. Stiles frowns at him. “What? It’s fine that you don’t know, but you should think about it. That’s all I’m getting at here.”

“You’re killing my summer vibes with your parenting, dad.”

“That’s all I aim to do.”

**

August 14th, 2009.
Last week of summer.
Friday

The Sheriff has his head bent over a cup of coffee when Stiles makes it downstairs. He’s still in his uniform, his keys and wallet and holster are on the table next to him.

“Are you just getting in?” Stiles asks, voice thick with sleep.

“Hm?” He looks up and Stiles notes the exhaustion etched into his face, the faraway look in his eyes. “Yeah, long shift,” he says softly.

Stiles looks at the clock on the microwave. It’s about 11, his father had an overnight, he should have been home hours ago. He feels the heaviness of dread in the air, like if he walks out the front door the whole town will be on fire.

“What happened?” he asks hesitantly.

His dad knocks his knuckle against the table top, a small invitation for Stiles to sit. God, this feels awful. Stiles has found out so many horrible things like this.

“Do you know the Hales? One of them is your age. Derek.”

Stiles shrugs nonchalantly even though his stomach drops. He hates this. He hates finding out about classmates this way. He remembers being told that a girl the year above and her whole family had died because of a gas leak. He hadn’t known her, but he cried in the shower later that night after he’d been told. He hates watching his dad hurt about these things, he hates being afraid, he hates that things just happen to people. He hates finding out about people he doesn’t know but could know. It’s like a lost opportunity. It’s like death on the doorstep. He doesn’t know Derek or his sisters, not directly, but he could.

“Their father passed away this morning. I had to tell the family.”

Stiles bites the inside of his cheeks and rides a wave of hurt. He hates this part too. He hates it. He hates having this sort of thing in common with people because it’s not fair. He imagines Derek as best as he can. His clearest image of him is from across a party right before summer started. He was all smiles and broad shoulders and a good tan. Happy, beautiful, All-American jock kid. Stiles never thought much of him, good or bad. But now he feels like he knows him in a way he doesn’t even want to.

Stiles hasn’t said anything. He looks up at his dad, who is back to staring into his coffee, and he hates himself for thinking it but he’s thankful it wasn’t his dad. He always is.

“Did you know him?” Stiles asks.

His father nods. “He was a lawyer. Did most of his work in the city, but he’d take on cases for the community if he could. He was a good man.”

“What happened?”

His dad shakes his head. “The family wishes to keep the cause of death private. Sorry, kid.” He offers an apologetic smile. “Don’t go digging.”

Stiles nods his consent.

There’s a cloud hanging over the day, even when Stiles picks Scott up and even when they get to Lydia’s and even when they’re floating around the pool.

“Alright, who died?” Lydia asks, voice brash as it cuts through the somber quiet.

“Derek Hale’s dad,” Stiles says in a monotone.

She gasps. Scott’s head snaps toward him. “What?” they both ask.

“When?” Scott asks.

“How?” Lydia asks.

Stiles takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “This morning, I don’t know. Dad told me.”

For awhile, all Stiles can hear is the pool filter and a distant lawnmower. He stares straight up and sees nothing but sky. The mid-August pool water is tepid and the air is thick and warm and he feels lost in it.

“Poor Derek,” Lydia says after awhile. She lightly taps Stiles’ leg with her foot as she floats closer. Her hand closes around his ankle a second later. Comfort.

“I’ve never talked to him,” Stiles admits.

“He’s a good guy,” Scott says from the other side of the pool. “Or, he seems like a good guy. I don’t know him that well.”

“I hardly talked to him, but he’s better than most of them,” Lydia agrees. “Them” being the lacrosse/basketball/cheerleader crew she used to run with.

“Doesn’t he have sisters?” Scott asks.

“Older and younger, yeah,” Lydia answers.

Stiles shuts his eyes against the rest of their conversation and concentrates on Lydia’s hand still on his ankle. It’s an anchoring touch and he’s thankful for it. There’s a series of small waves and Scott’s voice gets closer. Scott’s tube bumps against his raft and Stiles reaches out to hold onto a rope handles to keep him close.

Combined, the three of them have four parents. If they count Lydia’s, which she doesn’t most of the time. The very real thought of losing another one slaps all of them in the face a little harder than it probably should.

Stiles has two best friends, the best dad in the world, Scott’s amazing mom and Lydia Martin’s house at his disposal. He is lucky and safe. He is taken care of. And they’re all going to be fine. It’s just a heavy day for them and it’ll pass.

But for some other family somewhere else in town, it’s the end of the world.

And that sucks.

**

August 23rd, 2009.
Second week of fall semester.
Sunday

Laura doesn’t even bother knocking softly first anymore. Just a sudden BANG BANG BANG and an angry “Derek, please!” And then Derek ignores her until he can’t anymore, or until she picks the lock with a bobby pin, and the same old fight starts up all over again.

And that’s how Derek knows it’s not Laura this time.

The knock is so soft he almost doesn’t hear it. He lifts his head to look toward the door and waits for a second knock. It sounds like the smallest tap of a knuckle…

“Derek?” Cora asks in a raised whisper.

He can’t deny her. He wants to, but he can’t. He gets out of bed, body aching from lying in the same position, and goes to her. When he opens the door, she’s halfway back to her own room.

Cora runs at him and plasters herself against his chest, arms tight around his waist. He drags her inside, closes and locks the door. It takes her almost no time at all to go from softly crying to full-body shuddering sobs.

“I need him back, I need him,” she cries, muffled against Derek’s chest.

He just hugs her back, rests his cheek against the top of her head and perseveres.

This he can handle. Barely. But he can. This is normal and acceptable. This is a real response. Cora’s here because Derek is almost a surrogate for the person she really wants. He’s almost the same height. He’s almost the same build. He’s almost a carbon copy of his father, they’d always said that. But when Derek looks in the mirror trying to find his dad, all he sees is himself and that is always deeply disappointing. But for Cora, maybe it’s less disappointing. Marginally.

They sink to the floor and Cora sobs and sobs and curls up against him and sobs and Derek is stoic. Derek is taking it all in and letting none of it out. This is acceptable.

Laura’s reactions have not been acceptable. Derek hasn’t seen a single tear from her. Not when they found out. Not at the funeral. Not when she decided to put Berkeley off for a year because “the timing isn’t right.” Never. She hasn’t cried, but she’s yelled. She’s yelled herself hoarse and she’s slammed doors and she’s let Derek have it and he’s heard her yelling at Cora too.

Derek hasn’t seen his mother since the night after the funeral. She’d held it together until then. Like the perfect, beautiful, mournful widow she is. And then she kissed her shocked kids on the foreheads and went into her room. And Derek went into his. And Cora went to hers. And Laura has marched around yelling between them ever since.

Now, Derek. Well. Derek cried. Once. At the reception after the funeral. He excused himself from talking to some sorrowful old coworker of his father’s and he took off his suit jacket and he just… ran. He ran into the woods beyond the edge of the yard and he kept going until he couldn’t draw in air anymore and he sat where he stopped and he yelled until he cried and he just got it all over with then and there.

And now he feels nothing.

His phone died a few days ago, he hasn’t cared enough to find the charger. Laura said something about someone calling her to check on him and that had started a whole thing. The charger remains unfound.

He’s supposedly getting emails from his teachers about homework assignments and notes to make sure he stays caught up. Apparently some of his friends have been trying to reach out to him that way too. Derek hasn’t turned on his computer in awhile, he’s not about to now. Laura yelled about that too. She begged him to go to school every day for a week and he still hasn’t gone.

Probably should.

Derek wonders how long he can get away without going before it’s considered truancy.

He just doesn’t want to see anyone. He doesn’t want to accept their sincerest condolences. He doesn’t want to go, he doesn’t want to do anything, he just wants to be left alone.

Derek feels hot and stifled by Cora and by August and by this house and by everything, but he endures. He holds his sobbing baby sister and he soaks it all up. Takes it all in. Envisions himself taking this away from her so she can find peace again and so maybe he can feel something. Anything. Even grief. (Especially grief.)

**

August 25th, 2009
Tuesday

There’s a firm knock at the door, no banging and no yelling. Derek’s tempted to open it until he hears Laura speak.

“Derek, can I talk to you?” she says, sounding more broken than she has so far.

Derek ignores her.

He hears what he assumes is her leaning against the door and then the slide of fabric against painted wood. The next time she speaks, her voice is closer to the floor. Which is where Derek is sprawled.

“You need to go to school,” she says softly. “I know you don’t want to, but you have to go.”

“You’re not going to school,” Derek says bitterly.

The resounding silence has a twinge of hurt to it, or so Derek would like to imagine.

“Yeah well, I have a high school diploma and I’m a legal adult, so I’m off the hook. You though, you need to go,” she answers eventually. “If you feel up to going today, you could even be on time for first period. It’s early still. You have AP Chem with Harris. Harris is even worse in AP, you don’t want to get too far behind. And then you have English, I know you like English. You’re supposed to be reading Death of a Salesman but uh… I think you can do some extra credit and get out of that, you know… considering.”

Derek squeezes his eyes shut and breathes as evenly as he can.

“Ashley misses you, she’s really worried.”

Derek hasn’t thought about Ashley in what feels like a month. He tries to summon any old emotion about her but can’t.

“And your friends too. Jackson and Danny stopped by and dropped off some notes and stuff a few days ago.”

Derek doesn’t care.

“I think mom really needs to see us doing okay right now, Der,” she says, voice catching. Derek opens his eyes and stares at the door. “She really needs us and I know I am a total nightmare, but I just need you to try to get back to some sort of routine that isn’t… this? You know? I just really… I’m trying so hard to just… keep it together. Okay? I’m sorry I’ve been terrible, but… I’m losing it.”

Derek opens the door slowly so she doesn’t fall back. She looks up at him, surprised. Her eyes are gleaming but her cheeks are dry. Close enough. He offers her his hand and pulls her to her feet and hugs her.

“Want me to drive you?” she asks. Derek nods. He doesn’t need her to, but she wouldn’t ask if she didn’t want to. “I’ll come pick you up whenever you want me to, okay? If you’re not feeling it, I’ll come get you…”

Derek nods. “Okay.”

And that’s how he ends up sitting in the science classroom with no idea what the hell is going on. For what it’s worth, Harris gives him a sympathetic look rather than a scathing one when Derek fails to answer the only question that is addressed to him.

“I uh, don’t… have any idea what any of this is,” Derek says, frustrated, when Harris tries to give him a hint.

No one laughs at him, but he feels like they would if it weren’t for the whole dead dad thing. The whole class is looking at him. Derek looks away from Harris and instantly locks eyes with Stiles Stilinski a few rows ahead of him. His face betrays nothing, but he turns around before everyone else does and raises his hand.

“Yes, Stiles?” Harris says slowly, sounding like he’s ready to be mad.

“I’m sorry, but what’s a mole exactly?” he asks.

The class laughs. Derek can’t see Stiles’ face, but judging by the set of his shoulders, Derek assumes he’s smirking.

“Stiles,” Harris warns.

“I’m serious!”

“If you’re serious, then how did you get into AP Chemistry?”

“My good looks,” Stiles counters. “You of all people should know that.”

“Stiles, give it a rest,” Harris sighs.

“AP Chemistry, as in Absolutely Perfect Chemistry, as in what we have, am I right, Mr. Harris?”

“You are wrong.”

The class collectively giggles and Derek assumes this is a sort of bit for them. Harris sends Stiles one last warning glare and then the class goes on.

After class, Derek slowly packs up to avoid the rush in the hall. When Stiles passes him on the way to the door, he almost expects him to say something, but his eyes sweep right past him and land on someone else.

“Scotty, listen, I was thinking about what you were saying…” he says, voice getting lost in the shuffling sounds of their classmates.

“Hey,” Lydia says as she passes, offering a small smile. Derek nods in acknowledgment even though she’s already dragging Scott and Stiles toward the door and off to their next class.

**

Stiles has English all by his lonesome after chemistry. He sits in the back corner of the class closest to the door to maintain his aloof appearance, but he’s probably the most vocal anyway. He’s flipping through his copy of Death of a Salesman looking for something he’d wanted to bring up in class when someone slips into the usually empty desk next to him. He looks up and sees a very uncomfortable Derek Hale.

Right. Stiles raises a challenging eyebrow at him when he looks over and instantly feels like an asshole for it. Derek just glares back.

“Hale, over here, man,” Jackson calls from across the room.

Stiles watches Derek closely, sees him take a centering breath before he pulls himself back up to his feet and goes to join his asshole friends.

It’s weird seeing him. It’s weird seeing him more than once a day, or even at all. Stiles used to just appreciate him from afar when he thought to even look. He’s a good looking dude. A very, very good looking dude. Aside from that, Stiles had never cared.

It was weird hearing his name during roll call on the first day of chemistry. The class went silent in that awkward way, Harris blushed and cleared his throat and moved on. And then it wasn’t weird because he didn’t even show up, which Stiles totally got. Most people probably got it. No one mentioned it.

But then actually seeing him in class was the weirdest thing. He showed up, bags under his eyes and looking smaller than Stiles had remembered, and the whole class felt different. The mood and tone of it changed. The cadence they’d fallen into over the first week had been upset.

But why is it weird? He’s just a guy at this school, and sure he’s never had a class with him before so it is sort of strange that suddenly he has two in a row. And yeah, Stiles feels bad for the guy but he doesn’t know his family. It shouldn’t be weird. Stiles should care no more about him today than he did last spring.

It hits him halfway through class. The whole class is laughing at something Greenberg mispronounced and Stiles looks to make eye contact with Danny but Derek’s blocking his view. And he’s the only one not laughing. He’s staring at his desk, shoulders stiff, hands clamped together in his lap.

He’s sad.

And he’s not hiding it.

Stiles’ laugh dies on his lips.

**

Derek makes it to lunch. Barely. He lets Jackson drag him along with him to a table outside and he tries to avoid all eye contact as he sits.

Ashley is instantly in his lap, arms wrapped tight around his neck. “Oh, Derek, I’m so sorry we’ve been so worried, I missed you so much I’m so glad to see you are you okay? You can talk to me—“

“I’m fine,” Derek says sharply. He’s fine. He doesn’t want to be touched or talked to or looked at but he’s fine. He tries to maneuver her off of him as gently as he can but she lets out an undignified sound when she slides onto the bench next to him.

He doesn’t look at her but he can feel the sympathetic face she’s making at him. The table has fallen silent and Derek is just about at his breaking point for today…

“Anyway,” Danny says loudly, drawing focus. “I ran into Coach before third period and he said something about finding a new and more treacherous trail for cross country, who wants to take bets on who gets hurt first this season?”

Derek zones out while the table erupts into conversation. Ashley keeps her hand on Derek’s knee but he ignores it. He’s seriously considering calling Laura for an escape when a new voice joins in at the table.

“Hey, sweet cheeks.”

“Shut up, Stiles,” Danny answers back.

Derek looks up slowly, catching Danny’s smile and Stiles’ smirk.

“Yo, Jackson, stop leaving your jizzy socks outside of Lydia’s window, it’s getting creepy, man.”

Scott laughs, Lydia elbows Stiles in the side and continues walking, Jackson goes red in the face with fury. Stiles gives the table one last smirk and then he and Scott keep going.

“I can’t believe you fucked that,” Jackson grumbles, rage barely contained.

“Unconfirmed gossip,” Danny says lightly.

“That you could confirm or deny but refuse to,” Greenberg points out.

“It’s none of your business either way.”

“Well, if you haven’t already, you should,” Ashley says.

Derek hasn’t heard any of this before. He doesn’t know the source, he hasn’t heard any theories or whisperings or anything. He’d spent his summer isolated from this – at a lacrosse camp on the east coast and then on vacation with the family and then… He missed the first week of school and life moved on without him. Of course it did. Nothing wrong with that.

He’s not even that interested in the topic, but watching his friends laugh and talk and riff off each other like it’s the easiest thing, like there’s nothing wrong with anything in the entire world… makes him want to yell.

He waits until the conversation moves on from teasing Danny right into teasing Jackson about his crush on Lydia Martin and then back to cross country…

And then he stands, shoving Ashley’s hand off his knee as he goes, and reaches for his cell phone to call Laura.

“Pick me up,” he says the second she answers, jaw clenched.

No one follows him.


Chapter Text

August 26th, 2009
Wednesday

Stiles watches Derek walk into the math classroom and actually stops talking midsentence to take it in.

“He wasn’t in here yesterday,” he finally says when Scott snaps his fingers in front of his face.

“He probably left early.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t know, man, he was a wreck yesterday so I’d have left if I was him too? Like he was supposed to say something in Spanish and he just stuttered until Señor let him off the hook, it was brutal.”

“Ouch.”

And he’s a wreck today. His arms are crossed tightly over his stomach and he fidgets as he talks to the teacher up at her desk.

Stiles didn’t handle his mother’s death well, not even remotely. But he was younger. He had Scott and he clung to him like a lifeline, but from the little Stiles has seen of Derek he seems to be afloat.

It’s none of his business. They’re not friends. Stiles shouldn’t care this much.

But he wonders how he copes.

Stiles watches him pass by the empty desk by the girl he’s dating and Jackson Whittemore to head for a desk a few rows over. The girl looks hurt, Jackson looks uncharacteristically worried.

Stiles can’t stop thinking about him long enough to really pay attention. It’s weird. It’s insane that he never used to take up any space in Stiles’ head but now he does. He’s still never even had a conversation with the guy.

It’s the dead parent thing. Stiles can’t help it.

He thinks about him so much he starts to feel like he’s implanting false memories of him, like maybe they have interacted at some point. They didn’t go to elementary school together, Derek had gone to the other middle school in town, but maybe they have had classes together…

And did he always seem a little miserable or was that some revisionist history? Stiles feels like he can remember Lydia referring to him as a faker. He feels like he can picture him looking bored out of his skull at a party. The pearly-smiled, pre-summer Derek seems impossible when faced with the hollow-eyed, current Derek.

He’s spiraling deeper and deeper into his own memory, looking for some evidence of Derek in there, when someone snaps their fingers in front of Stiles’ face.

Stiles blinks and follows the retreating hand back to Scott who points toward the front of the classroom.

“Stiles, are we distracting you?” Mrs. Delgado asks, unimpressed. There’s a half-finished problem on the board behind her.

Everyone is looking back at him. He catches the sharp edge of Jackson’s smirk, a few friendly teasing expressions on other people’s faces, and Derek’s sort of blank stare.

“No, ma’am, sorry,” Stiles says with as much charm as he can. He points toward the board, assuming he was asked to say something about it. “Divide that by the hypotenuse and you’ve got your sine.”

She rolls her eyes and hides an almost affectionate smile as she turns back to the board. Stiles looks back at Derek and looks away immediately when he sees that he’s still looking.

“Adderall issues?” Scott whispers at him.

Stiles shakes his head.

**

September 4th, 2009
Third week of fall semester.
Friday

Derek broke up with Ashley before his first week back was over by telling her to get her hands off him in the hallway after lunch. Well, he didn’t formally break up with her but she seems to have grasped it anyway. She keeps her distance and every time Derek sees her, she either glares or looks on with pity. Her friends don’t really know how to address him so they don’t. Derek doesn’t mind.

He prefers it, actually. He sort of wishes his friends would get the picture too. He avoids them, he ignores them, he never answers their calls or texts, he doesn’t sit with them in classes, he resents them.

He hates that he does, but he does.

He had been asked one too many times how he was doing at lunch on Monday, so now he doesn’t even bother trying to sit through it anymore. He goes to the library under the guise of “catching up” in his classes or he leaves campus altogether.

It’s too early to know for sure, but he’s probably failing at least three of his classes. AP Chem, trig/pre-calc and creative fucking writing. He’s mostly caught up in the other three. All six teachers just give him sympathetic looks and suggest tutoring or counseling. None of them suggest dropping from the AP and honors classes. Finstock is still under the impression that Derek is going to be going out for lacrosse…

When Derek tries to summon feelings about any of this, he just… can’t. He doesn’t care. It’s impossible to care.

But between the teachers and his friends and the people he catches looking at him, he gets mad. That’s it, just mad. Because they’re expecting someone who is dead and gone and they don’t know what to do with the pod person living in his place.

If he’s not feeling angry, he’s feeling apathetic. If he’s not feeling apathetic, he’s angry.

He can’t hear anything over the static.

And today he’s going to be late to first period because he couldn’t muster the strength to get out of his car until after the first bell had already rung. He makes it inside in time for the second bell. He spins the dial on the combination lock, yanks his locker open and pauses when he sees folded pieces of paper haphazardly placed inside as if they were poked in through the vents. He picks one up, reads the note scrawled on one side (“Change a few answers so you don’t get caught. Academic dishonesty is bad.”) and opens it up to reveal answers to the chemistry homework due today.

Derek shoves it and the other notes into his backpack and heads to class.

He doesn’t use the answers and he doesn’t turn anything in but he stares at another one of the notes (containing the homework from the day before and the message) while not paying attention in his next class. It’s not familiar to him. There isn’t a name on any of them. The handwriting isn’t round and flowy or angular and messy, it’s perfectly gender neutral. He has no idea who it’s from.

“Alright, Derek, I think you’ve had plenty of time to dissect that little love letter of yours, hand it over,” the teacher says from directly in front of him. Fuck.

“I uh…”

“C’mon, Mrs. Gibbs, you’re killing my game again,” someone says from right next to him. A hand reaches out and snatches the note away from him. “Can’t a guy woo someone in peace?”

“Stiles,” she says, putting her hand out palm-up.

Derek watches in horror as Stiles slips the note into his backpack. “No ma’am, I wrote some very saucy things in there, I can’t in good faith let a lady such as yourself—“

“Stiles.”

 

“Alright, alright,” he sighs, reaching into his backpack again. “I warned you.” He drops an entirely different piece of paper into her hand and makes a show of slouching in his chair.

Derek’s just as curious as she is to see what Stiles handed her. She unfolds the note, reads it, rolls her eyes and drops the paper onto Derek’s desk before walking back to the front of the class.

It’s a flier for guitar lessons…

“Your attention, gentlemen, please,” she commands. “English now, guitar later.”

Stiles snatches it back from Derek’s desk and tucks it into the front cover of his notebook.

When the bell rings, Stiles hands him back his still-folded chemistry answers without saying a word and leaves. Derek watches him dissolve into the stream of kids out in the hallway and feels the barest tremor of appreciation somewhere in the numbness.

**

September 10th, 2009
Fourth week of fall semester.
Thursday

What’s a mixtape between two strangers, really? Stiles is just being charitable. He’s using his experience as someone who has known their fair share of mourning to help out someone who is just at the very beginning of it. Worst comes to worst, he has a totally different taste in music and never listens to it again. Best case scenario, he finds some sort of answers in blasting angry rock music. It’s nothing. Stiles has a stack of blank CDs and a giant iTunes library and it’s nothing.

It’s… it’s a suggestion, alright? Because yesterday when Derek peeled out of the parking lot right as Stiles was pulling up to school ten minutes late, there was a distinct lack of angry music accompanying his escape.

Stiles is a firm believer in the magical healing powers of music. Everything in life can be underscored with a solid song or two or fifteen.

When the first bell for first period rings, Stiles pretends he’s forgotten something back in his locker to slip away from Scott and Lydia. He watches until the part of the hall where Derek’s locker is has cleared out and then he slips the unmarked CD through the gap.

There. Music for Derek to scream to. A good deed done so Stiles can wash his hands of all of this… this guilt? Or this fascination? Or this really frustrating awareness of Derek, whatever.

But then he suddenly feels really presumptuous. He scrambles back towards the locker and jogs his memory of how he figured out Jackson’s lock combination last year (so he could leave a fresh fish from the grocery store under his books…) but the thrill of panic makes it impossible.
Derek not blasting music the second he got in the car meant nothing. He probably had a stack of CDs to choose from. Or what if he wasn’t listening to music because that made it worse for him? Stiles doesn’t know anything about him.

Shit. He only figured out Jackson’s combination because he watched Danny do it when he went to borrow a book. Fuck.

He leans against Derek’s locker and takes a deep breath and asks himself why he cares that much. He shouldn’t. It’s fine. It’s an unmarked CD, Derek might just toss it. And if he’s curious enough to check, the first track isn’t too incriminating. Just a shouty song with no clear message. If he hates that type of music, he’ll stop right there.

He just doesn’t want to hurt him.

He should have thought this through.

But he did. He did think it through. Every song on there was hand-picked and arranged to perfection. He put more thought into it than he did into the English essay due second period and had to stay up way too late to finish it… Whatever, no, it was fine.

Stiles pushes off the locker and shakes off the nerves. It doesn’t matter. It’s not like Derek will ever find out it was him. He’ll either like it or he won’t.

He’s halfway to chemistry, dragging his feet through the totally empty halls, when he realizes that this still hasn’t wiped him clean. He’s still thinking about him and wondering about him and worrying about him.

He doesn’t want to be in this “kid of a dead parent” club at all, he doesn’t want Derek to be in it either, and he definitely doesn’t want to be in it with Derek.

Fuck.

“Nice of you to join us, Stiles,” Harris drawls when he gets to class.

“I know, I know, 10 points from Gryffindor,” Stiles snaps back as he sits on the vacant stool next to Scott. The class snickers but falls silent when Harris pans his piercing gaze across the class.

Lydia shoots him a questioning look over her shoulder that he waves off. Scott makes a worried face at him. He shakes his head without returning the eye contact.

**

September 24th, 2009
Sixth week of fall semester.
Thursday

Derek stares at the blinking black cursor in a sea of white and his head is empty. It’s getting dark in his room, the sun is setting. The night stretches on ahead, and then the sun will come up and Derek will go to school but only because he’s missed enough days in the first month and a half of school to really fuck himself over if he keeps it up. In more ways than one, too. There was talk of having his car taken away, but that was only after the other threats fell flat.

Derek scoffs at the memory. His mom threatened to take away his cell phone. He’d taken it out of his pocket and extended it to her without hesitation. Who cares. Who fucking cares.

And then she threatened therapy, but Derek knew that once she said the word “therapy” that he was going to have to do it regardless. He saw it in the way her face fell. That was the only thing that really hurt, seeing her like that. She was afraid. Derek had never seen her afraid before and he was the thing she was afraid of and… well.

She dropped it when Derek didn’t react and moved right on to the car and then Derek reacted. He’d yelled about that. He told her she couldn’t take away the only thing that made him feel like he wasn’t already dead. She looked like he’d slapped her, and he might as well have. The choice of words, the deadly weapon, the cause of death…

“Then you better start going to class and doing your work, huh?” she said, voice deadly cold. Face steely. Eyes shining.

He’d hurt his mom.

Out of everyone remaining in the world, there are only two people he never wants to hurt. And she is one of them. And he had hurt her.

There was a soft knock at his door and then it creaked open slowly. Cora sticks her head in and her face is cast in wide-eyed uncertainty.

Cora is the other person.

“Hey,” he says.

“Do you need help?” she asks.

“With what?”

She moves the rest of the way into his room but stays by the door. She shrugs. “I don’t know, homework? Or something?”

He shakes his head.

“I heard the fight, so I thought… I mean, I can’t do chemistry or trig, but creative writing is a dumb class to be failing, isn’t it?”

In another world, he’d laugh. In this one, he just nods. He has to turn something in tomorrow or he’ll have no chance of recovering. He hasn’t written a single word yet.

“I could help you come up with ideas or something.” She slides her hand along the wall and flips the light switch.

“How about you just write something for me,” he suggests.

She lifts an unimpressed brow. “I’m in eighth grade, I think they’d notice.”

He shrugs. “I don’t care.”

“You should care.”

He shrugs again.

“You and dad had your whole life figured out, you can’t just drop it because he’s not around,” she snarls at him.

The sudden mood swing sort of knocks him sideways until he registers what she’s said.

“Get out,” he tells her. He doesn’t want to have to yell it, he doesn’t want to hurt her, he can’t hurt both of his two people in one night…

“I’m sorry,” she says, but there’s still fire in it. “You know where to find me.” And then she’s gone.

He sighs and turns back to his computer. The cursor blinks at him, accusatory. His room is so quiet he can hear his light bulb humming. He feels like a caged animal.

He stands and goes to reach for his car keys, silently apologizing to his mom for the hundredth time, and then pauses. The CD that mysteriously appeared in his locker a couple weeks ago shines up at him.

He debates whether or not he should throw it away, ignore it, or take it with him. His curiosity settles the matter and he shoves it into his sweater pocket along with his keys.

Outside, the air smells like fall even though it’s a little too warm to feel like it. The sky is clinging to a dying gold. Summer’s last stand. Derek’s favorite time of year.

He tosses the CD onto the passenger seat as he slips into his car. He restrains himself from peeling out, even though he wants to and turns onto the sleepy road that leads through the preserve, away from Beacon Hills proper.

There’s a part where the road comes to a peak, making the trees look like some sort of heavenly gate and the gap of sky is an open door. He waits until he’s cresting it (cooling air whipping in through the open window so he feels like he’s afloat in the darkening purple sky) to reach for the CD and shove it into the slot.

A guitar blares from his speakers, one held chord that splits off into a melody before dying out to reveal a driving bass line. The guitar comes back, now with drums that stick close to it, and some guy starts yell-singing. Derek changes gear as his car dips down the slight but sudden incline and he evens out.

Oh.

The music is loud enough to make something in his dashboard rattle. The steering wheel vibrates in his hands. He lets the wind whipping in through the windows curl into his mouth and down into his lungs and he lets the guitar and frustrated voice of the singing sit with him.

He hadn’t realized how tight his chest felt until he exhaled and the tension ebbed away with his breath.

So he keeps going. The air gets colder the further into the preserve he goes, the higher the altitude, the later it gets. Derek doesn't really listen to the words, he just listens to the sound. Guitars, drum breakdowns, aggressive bass lines, singers and yellers and screamers who span the spectrum from dejected and disillusioned to furious and broken.

And then the mix hit a sort of middle point. Furious, building guitars and intricate drums but no words. Derek can't place it. He can't place most of the bands on here anyway, but a couple of them sound familiar. The instrumental winds down suddenly, notes tumbling down and tempo dropping. The next song is slower and clearer. The first song he can clearly point to silence under the music. When the singing starts, there’s no way to ignore the lyrics.

His foot lifts off the gas pedal, he shifts gears, he pulls into a turn out and stops. The woods around him are nothing but dark shadows against navy blue, silver studded nothing. The song plays out, Derek’s head lolls against the headrest, his hands limp in his lap. It feels like company. And then he pulls a u-turn to head back home.

This mix is like a damn journey. The dip into outright mournful is sort of brief, vamping back up to bitter hurt and sonic sorrow and then into defiant, righteous survival. Derek’s coasting back over the crest, headed home, by the time the last song on the CD is promising him that “everything, everything, everything is going to be okay.”

And it’s not that he feels healed or renewed when he parks his car behind Laura’s in the driveway. It isn’t. He heads upstairs and sits back at his desk. He wakes his computer up and the blinking cursor greets him again. He feels okay. His head feels clearer. Not clear, not quite, but closer to it than he’s felt in awhile. He sets his fingers on the right keys on the keyboard and hesitates.

Someone has been helping him through chemistry. He’s turned in enough homework that he’s not totally fucked. He’s even starting to pick up on the lessons a little if he actually pays attention. And either that someone, or another someone altogether, slipped him a sort of perfectly put together mix.

Derek types out a header. Derek Hale, enter. Mr. Delaney – Period 4, enter. Creative Writing, enter. September 24, 2009. He pauses.

Someone put a lot of effort into it and judging by the music, it wasn’t any of his friends. Former friends? Whatever.

Derek hits his enter key, types the word “TITLE” as a placeholder and hits enter again.

No matter how shitty this is, no matter how long it takes him, no matter how much sleep he loses, he is going to turn something in.

For his mom.

For Cora.

For the stranger, or strangers, who keep giving him things.

**

September 28th, 2009
Seventh week of fall semester.
Monday

Paramore blares from the cab of the Jeep while Scott and Stiles sit on the hood, leaning against the windshield. Scott yawns and rubs his eyes, Lydia’s chemistry homework next to his in his lap.

“How’d you get this?” he asks, turning to plaster her paper against the windshield.

The music turns down a little bit and Stiles hears her muffled “What?” in response.

“I got something totally different for four, what’d you do?”

Stiles looks over his shoulder and into the car. She continues applying her mascara in the rearview mirror as she explains. Stiles looks back up at the school that will be their prison for the next five days.

Jackson and Danny pass in front of them on the sidewalk. Stiles smirks when he catches Danny’s eye. Danny smirks back. Jackson glares.

A sleek car tears into the spot next to Stiles and he instantly recognizes the angry cacophony that is Welcome to Bangkok. He looks over and the music stops. Derek Hale steps out of his car, shows no sign of noticing him, and walks up to the school.

“Holy shit,” Stiles mutters to himself. He’s listening to the mix. Stiles had been a little offended that Derek showed no signs of giving into his gentle “listen to angry music in the car” suggestion…

“What?” Scott asked, following Stiles’ gaze toward the school. “You are so obsessed,” he teases.

“What do you mean?” Stiles snaps, flush rising in his cheeks.

“Everyone knows you and Danny are a thing, don’t play coy with us,” Lydia says lightly, half hanging out the window.

Oh. Danny and Jackson and Greenberg and a bunch of other guys are gathered in a clump by the door. Derek passes by them without so much as a glance (as far as Stiles can tell from this angle).

“We’re not a thing, we just mess around sometimes," Stiles says, distracted.

“That’s a thing,” Lydia points out.

“Danny’s nice, everyone likes Danny. It’d be weird if you dated him,” Scott muses.

“Are you saying I’m not well-liked, Scotty?”

“I’m saying you’re an asshole,” Scott answers, flashing a brilliant grin. Dimples, warm eyes, floppy curls stirring in the wind.

“Harsh words from someone with a birthday coming up,” Stiles teases, sliding off the Jeep.

Lydia climbs out of the driver’s seat and closes the door behind her. Stiles wraps an arm around her shoulders.

“Let’s cancel his sweet sixteen.” Stiles stage-whispers into her hair.

“Too late, already booked the bounce house.”

“Don’t joke like that, I’ll get my hopes up,” Scott laughs, landing on his feet. He hands Lydia her homework and shoves his into his backpack.

Stiles has it on good authority that it isn’t a joke.


Chapter Text

September 29th, 2009
Seventh week of fall semester.
Tuesday

It’s sunny and the air is fragrant – mowed grass, pine, wild flowers, sage, sun-baked earth… It’s hot, but a soft breeze cuts through the trees and sweeps across the yard. It’s crowded. Derek takes in the sea of people from where he stands on the deck. He looks for familiar faces, but can’t quite make out anyone’s features.

He can feel wood under his bare feet, he can feel the can of soda, cold and sweating, in his hand. He can smell and see and feel. But he can’t hear a thing.

Cora and Laura run down the steps past him, smiling and laughing and their mouths are moving but it’s like the sound is turned off.

He tries to call to them, but his throat constricts. He tries to make any sound at all, but nothing comes of it.

He sees his mom at the grill, chin hooked over his father’s shoulder and her arms around his waist. Derek tries to move, but he can’t. He tries to go to his parents, to ask them what’s going on, but he’s stuck. He can’t talk and he can’t move and the longer he watches his parents, the less clear his father’s form becomes and his heart starts hammering in his chest and he can’t breathe and—

It’s still dark in his room. The lingering sensation of the warm summer day bleeds to an icy cold and his chest aches. His whole body is stiff and he can still see the image of his blurry father as if it’s on a screen just behind his eyes.

He takes a deep breath when he finally can and lets it out slowly. He pulls his blankets up to his shoulders and turns onto his side so he can curl into himself. He can’t shake the unsettling feeling of not being able to talk or hear or move.

Derek had a dream about an empty casket and a room of weeping people at a wake the night before the funeral, but since then his sleep has been deep and black. He’s not sure which he prefers.

He tries his hardest to “unmask the villain” of the nightmare, but it wasn’t quite a nightmare. There were no hidden zippers in monster suits or projector-and-fog-machine ghosts or absurd scenarios. It had felt just like hundreds of Hale family barbecues. It could have been any Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day or random Saturday. His parents in the barbecue pit, their friends and family milling around… The more he thinks about it, the further he gets from sleep.

And the more he thinks about it, the more he remembers other details. The first time his uncle slipped him a sip of beer (he promptly spit out and tried to rub the acrid taste out of his tongue). His dad telling scary stories to all the kids over s’mores when it started to get dark. His sisters turning cartwheels in the grass until they were too dizzy to keep going.

And the music.

Slowly, he lays a track over the silence. Laughing, talking, sizzling meat on the grill, birds and a whispering breeze, Billy Joel over the sound system. Tom Petty, Van Halen, Elton John, Aerosmith, Queen, The Beatles. The weirdest assortment of piano rock and hair bands and classic rock his dad could assemble. The sounds of summer.

Derek reaches for his iPod, goes to Billy Joel and breathes through it. He remembers the adults tipsily singing along and laughing, he remembers fireworks and running through sprinklers and popsicles dripping down their arms. He remembers falling asleep on the deck furniture and being carried inside, his dad humming.

The next thing he hears is his alarm blaring. He can hardly open his eyes and he has the faint memory of a hard night’s sleep haunting him.

He’s pouring coffee into a thermos when Laura shuffles into the kitchen in her pajamas. She tosses her car keys onto the island and goes for the fridge.

“Why does Cora have to be so involved?” she mutters. “And who ever thought having practice before school was a good idea?”

Derek doesn’t say anything. He hastily presses the lid on and heads out.

“Pack a lunch at least,” Laura calls after him.

“Fuck off!” he says in the fakest and brightest tone he can muster.

He’s halfway to school, with his thermos halfway to his mouth, when he fails to swerve around a pothole. His tire’s blown and he’s covered in coffee and he’s trying his fucking best not to run off screaming into the woods.

His mom’s finally back at work. He has no friends. His only option is Laura…

Who shows up fifteen minutes after he calls with a few shirts and a brown paper lunch bag on the passenger seat.

“Options. And lunch,” she explains, eyes focused on the rearview mirror as she runs her fingers through her hair.

Derek feels… guilty. He strips out of his shirt and tosses it into the back seat, considers his options and pulls on the one that he knows to be most comfortable. He puts the lunch in his backpack without inspecting it and gets in.

Neither of them say anything until they pull up outside of the school. “Leave your car keys with me, I’ll take care of the tire,” Laura says, inspecting her nails.

He pauses before he gets out. He tries to figure out something to say, but even “thank you” gets caught in his throat. So he nods and gently sets his keys in her waiting hand.

**

“Get your feet off the dash, that’s county property.”

Stiles slides his feet off, leaving a streak of dirt behind. His dad gives him A Look until he leans forward to brush it off. He shoots him a smile around the straw pinched in between his teeth and turns back to the bag of takeout in his lap.

“So, pops,” Stiles starts, aiming for casual and falling a little short. The police radio fizzes softly, the dispatcher’s voice is smooth and drone-like. Familiar in a weird way. And there’s a clip of a memory that sits heavily in his stomach and he’s not sure if he can actually muster the strength to bring it up…

“Son,” his dad responds when Stiles doesn’t say anything else.

He can still hear it, said a little louder than necessary. Just a touch spiteful. ”I heard he killed himself.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

Derek heard it. Stiles had been watching him out of the corner of his eye. He froze and his hand balled up into a white-knuckled fist. Stiles found the culprit, some letterman jacket wearing jock who probably used to be friends with Derek.

“Shush, dude, he’s right there,” a second said.

“Whatever, man.”

Stiles heard a locker slam and turned to see Derek fleeing.

“Asshole,” the second hissed at the first, elbowing him.

“I just don’t see why he’s keeping it to himself, what’s the point?” the first asked, sounding a little spurned.

“It’s none of your business,” Stiles cut in.

“How did Mr. Hale die?”

His father sighs, rubs his hand over his face. “I told you not to go digging.”

“I’m not digging.”

“Then why are you asking?”

”Why do you care?” standard issue jock boy number one asked, assessing Stiles.

Stiles pushed off the lockers he’d been leaning on and sauntered forward a couple steps. “I don’t.”

“There’s a rumor going around at school that he killed himself…”

His dad instantly starts shaking his head. “No, absolutely not.”

Stiles believes him. The tar-like dread swimming in him thins out. He looks at his dad and frowns at the way his eyebrows are creased and the skin around his eyes is drawn tight.

“How well did you know him?” Stiles asks softly.

“Well enough.”

Stiles drops it.

Stiles messes with his straw and tries to stop feeling so fucking bad for Derek…

“How’s the son?” his father asks thoughtfully.

“He’s a mess,” Stiles answers without hesitation. “I mean. I don’t know? I don’t know him, we don’t talk,” he corrects.

But the Sheriff knows that of course Stiles is keeping an eye on him. And he’s the only one in the entire world who knows that. He gives him a sad smile and reaches across to ruffle his hair.

“You’re a good kid, even if you don’t want to be,” he says.

Stiles leans away from his touch and bats at him, but he can’t keep down the smile. He’s glad it wasn’t his dad. He’ll always be glad it wasn’t his dad. He’ll always feel bad for that. Like all the nervous nights he spent begging whatever benevolent force there was to keep his father safe had taken the luck right out of other people.

His dad drops his hand to the ignition and starts the car. They drive for awhile in companionable silence. Stiles listens to the police radio, tests himself on his memory of the codes, realizes there’s literally nothing going on in the not-so-seedy underbelly of Beacon Hills tonight.

“So let’s talk guitar lessons,” his dad says out of the blue while they’re stopped at a red light.

“Huh?”

“I saw the flier on your desk. I thought you were coming out with me tonight to butter me up…”

“I would never do that,” Stiles defends, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Uh huh.”

“I wouldn’t!”

“So when were you going to bring this up?”

“I don’t know, eventually. I just… I can’t get any better without actual guidance, you know?”

“I’m just glad to see you taking something seriously,” he says, teasing.

“Is that a yes?” Stiles teases back.

“Yeah, it is. As long as you keep your grades decent.”

“Yeeesss!” Stiles leans the seat back and kicks his feet back up onto the dash in celebration. He turns up the radio and starts air guitaring and singing along.

“County property,” his father reminds him, reaching over to shove his legs. It’s delivered with a crinkly-eyed smile so Stiles does nothing but continue singing.

**

September 30th, 2009
Wednesday

Stiles watches Lydia spin a drumstick between her fingers. She’s getting better at that. He’d tell her, but she’d just scoff and say it was just “showboating” and “doesn’t mean anything.” She has one hand on her hip and her eyes are distant and blank as she stares out the partially open garage door.

It’s starting to rain. Scott snores softly amongst their backpacks and sweaters on the couch. Stiles sits on the floor, feeling the full extent of the listless mood.

“Whatcha thinkin’ ‘bout, Lyds?” Stiles asks.

“Nothing,” she murmurs.

She’d been distracted all day. Stiles hates it. “C’mon,” he presses.

She sighs, shoulders slumping. “Do you ever feel like… something’s about to break?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like… something is about to change. Because it can’t keep going like it is. Like something is unstable.”

He doesn’t prompt her any further, just waits. The rain starts coming down harder, hammering on the roof and the pavement.

“I think my parents are getting a divorce. Or talking about it. I don’t know.”

Stiles isn’t surprised, but he lets out a shocked “oh” anyway. Lydia scoffs.

“Who cares, right? I don’t…”

She does.

She turns around and throws her drum stick toward her set. It clatters against a snare and rolls onto the floor. Scott wakes up with a jump and blinks at them. Lydia sinks to the floor across from Stiles and looks at him defiantly. As if he’d dare to tell her she cares…

“I hate them,” she says, hardly above a whisper.

Scott rolls off the couch and crawls toward them on his hands and knees.

“I don’t want them to get a divorce, they deserve each other. They deserve to be miserable together in this miserable house for the rest of their miserable lives.”

Scott pulls Lydia into a hug and she melts into it.

She doesn’t hate them. Not really. Stiles knows that. Scott knows that.

She just misses them. All the time. Scott has said that sometimes he catches her looking at Melissa like she’s never seen a mom before. Stiles has woken up on the weekends to her sitting at the kitchen table with his dad.

Scott is the tactile one. The bear hug one. The pick a person up and swing them around one. Stiles is the one who listens. The one who goes out and gets back at shitty ex-boyfriends. The one who does what needs to be done so Lydia can feel a little better. But he doesn’t know what to do here. So he reaches out and grabs her hand.

“So, can we please start having fun, this year has been such a drag so far,” Lydia says, sounding like she hadn’t just been close to tears. She doesn’t let Scott go though.

“Yeah, yeah, we’ll get our shit together,” Stiles says, squeezing her hand. She squeezes back. This is something he can possibly work with.

Scott shakes her back and forth until she laughs and squirms to get away from him.

“Let’s play some music, c’mon. I don’t know what but let’s just bang on some drums and shred and shit, alright? No more of this,” Scott says, clapping his hands for emphasis. He springs to his feet, offers a hand to Lydia and pulls her up next to him. He kicks at Stiles until he stands.

Stiles watches his friends. Lydia gets behind her drum set, smiling even though the stress still manifests around her eyes. Scott has the sort of manic buzz he gets when things get sad and he doesn’t want to face it as he pounds the top of his amp to get it to stop squealing.

Lydia’s right. They’ve spent enough of the year sort of skating by. And if her parents are headed for a nasty divorce and if Scott ends up reliving the nightmare of his parents’ divorce and if they’re all headed for angst city, they might as well do it together. And they might as well try to find a detour through it. Music, parties, pranks, adventures, whatever. Stiles can work with all of this. He feels a resurgence of energy flowing through him just at the thought.

**

October 1st, 2009
Thursday

Derek’s iPod weighs heavily in his sweater pocket. His instinct is to shove ear buds in his ears the second the bell rings so he can travel through the hallways in peace. No rumors, no awkward greetings, no reason to look up from the floor to see their worried or judging faces.

But Mr. Delaney had handed back everyone’s assignment except for his and said he wants to talk to him after class. And considering the state of his creative writing grade, he’s not in the position to turn him down.

Derek slowly puts his notebook and pencil away and pretends to look through his bag to stall. A few kids stream in, chattering amicably, greeting Delaney, pulling desks close together to sit… this is what people do at lunch. They go to a favorite teacher’s room or their favorite spot on campus and they enjoy their friends and time away from class. Fuck. It’s all so normal.

He stands up when someone pulls the desk in front of him into their tight circle of desks. He wraps his hand around his iPod and swallows his anxiety as best as he can.

“You wanted to see me?” Derek asks, voice softer than he’d meant. A brunette girl with big expressive eyes looks at him from beside Delaney.

“Mr. Hale, yes!” he says robustly. He hands the girl back her paper and smiles warmly. “Excellent work, Ms. Krasikeva, I’m looking forward to the finished product.”

She grins back at him in thanks and says goodbye. She heads out the door with a bounce in her step. Derek feels like his conversation with Delaney is going to end very differently.

“First, I’m glad you could stay,” he says, gesturing to the chair next to his desk. He digs around in the pile of papers on his desk until he finds Derek’s. He keeps it angled toward him so Derek can’t see the grade. “And I cannot express how happy I was to see your name in my grading pile.” There’s a note of sarcasm that isn’t lost on him…

“Okay,” Derek says lamely.

“Do you know why I wanted to talk to you in person?”

Derek shakes his head.

He lets out a cheerful “oh!” and smiles, his mustache sort of brisling forward. “I just wanted to pick your brain and see where on earth you were hiding this,” he says, finally handing Derek his paper.

There’s a big red A that’s been circled a few times right at the top…

“I… don’t know.”

“The idea was so simple but really nuanced, very thoughtful. I’m very impressed. What inspired this?”

“I uh, nothing? It just… I just,” Derek shrugs. “Wrote it.”

“Inspiration comes from mysterious places,” he says with a nod, as if they’re just two writers talking shop. Derek couldn’t feel more out of place. His cheeks must be blazing red… “But I’m glad you started showing up, physically and mentally, it would seem. This is great work, Mr. Hale. Keep it up and you’ll do just fine in my class.”

“Thank you, sir,” Derek says, scratching the back of his neck and collapsing into himself uncomfortably.

Delaney tilts his head at him and seems to study him. “My colleagues always gave me the impression that you were a very confident student. I hope you can find that again,” he murmurs.

Derek’s face gets even hotter, struck wordless. He feels like he’s under a magnifying glass.

“You’re not that far behind, honestly. If you ace the final draft, which I’m sure you will, I’ll be willing to cut a deal with you to make up for the missing work… How’s that sound?”

“Sure. I mean… okay. Thank you.”

Delaney goes over a few of his suggestions with Derek and then sends him on his way. The halls are mostly cleared out and Derek is speeding through them so the few lingering students don’t see his furious blush.

His heart is pounding in his chest and he’s not sure why. He’s glad he can make up his grade but he’s humiliated… he hates that he showed someone his soft underbelly through a stupid creative writing assignment and that there’s no going back now. He feels exposed and vulnerable and…

Stiles Stilinski is leaning on his beat up Jeep, blocking Derek from getting into his own car. He stomps closer and a wall of cigarette smoke makes him wrinkle his nose.

“Move,” Derek commands.

Stiles raises an eyebrow, the gesture coming across lazy and indifferent. His lips curl into a mean smirk. He lets out a little laugh that is little more than a huff of air and a lifting of his shoulders. Then he flicks his cigarette ashes toward Derek. Casual, casual, casual. Perfect little rebel. Derek would tear him apart if he wasn’t so eager to leave.

Derek doesn’t have time for this. He tries to push through to get to his door, but Stiles shoves off his Jeep and rotates until his body is pressed against Derek’s car.

He’s long-limbed and narrow and he has a careless aura or something about him. He looks at Derek with alert, sharp eyes even though the rest of him screams nonchalant.

“Where you goin’, stud?” he teases. Arms crossed, cigarette dangling, smoke rising in slow curls.

He is every inch the boy who flirted with Harris in class long enough for Harris to turn purple and give him detention last week. Twice. Derek thinks about the rumor about him and Danny and instantly believes it. He remembers the brief flirtatious interaction he saw right before Stiles turned around and hit Jackson with a barb that was only sharp enough to piss him off but just far enough below the belt to render him speechless. A rare skill.

“None of your business,” Derek snaps. Stiles’ level of amusement neither dips nor soars. “Get the fuck off my car.”

He rolls his eyes and pushes off. He exhales a cloud of smoke in Derek’s direction, eyes flashing mischievously when Derek waves it out of his face. And then he strolls back toward the front entrance and Derek gets the impression that their interaction has already been flushed from his thoughts.

He yanks the door open and violently throws his backpack inside before he realizes he doesn’t even care about the short story thing anymore. He has trig next and his car is still on the line and the day is almost over. He can do two more periods. Maybe. Maybe not.

He slides into his car and slams the door and sticks his key in the ignition. The mix CD hasn’t left his car since he first listened to it and it blares the second his car comes to life…

Fuck.

He rubs his hands over his face and breathes through the gaps in his fingers.

It’s Thursday, he has one more day before he can hide in his house for the weekend. He pictures the face his mom will give him if she has to talk to him about skipping classes again. He pictures his life without a car if he keeps failing his classes…

He breathes and he listens to a few more songs. He reluctantly turns his car off and grabs his backpack and climbs out.

The security guard stares, calculating, as he slips back into the school right before the doors are locked.

Stiles looks up at him when he passes his desk to get to his own. He expects him to say something snide like he had in the parking lot. “Well, look who it is.” Or “Look who decided to show up.” Or “There he is, Miss America,” or something stupid like that. Derek looks at him, challenging. Stiles’ face is perfectly neutral, verging on soft. He holds Derek’s eye contact until Derek breaks and looks away first.

**

October 2nd, 2009
Friday

It’s raining outside, so the entire school is inside for lunch. The halls are congested with people sitting against their lockers or standing in circles. The library is near capacity. Derek doesn’t feel like sitting by himself in a classroom with the herds of teacher’s pets. So his only option is the cafeteria. What a fucking joke.

But it’s Friday. He’s made it. He can last until the end of the day.

He spots his friends the second he walks in, of course. He sees a few of them spot him too. Their faces go dark and they mutter amongst themselves. Danny turns around but Derek’s headed the opposite direction before he sees his reaction.

All of the tables are taken and very few of them have more than a couple seats open. No buffer zones anywhere.

He pauses where he could turn, not sure what to do, and chair legs screech across the linoleum floor. He looks and sees Stiles Stilinski smirking up at him, challenging. He pats the chair next to him suggestively.

Rather than continue the search and rather than give Stilinski the satisfaction of a successful taunt, Derek sits.

Lydia Martin tilts her head across the way, questioning. She assesses him with big brown eyes before turning to assess Stiles. Stiles chews his food, staring back, and raises both eyebrows at her when he drinks from his water bottle.

“Hey, man, how’s it going?” Scott says as if Derek isn’t an unusual addition to his daytime routine. He has a friendly smile stretched across his face, which catches Derek off-guard.

He remembers that morning freshman year when a junior was found tied to the flagpole. He had a piece of paper taped over his face that read: "Scott was here."

“Uh, fine.”

Scott smiles wider like the answer means something to him and nods.

Derek has the feeling that they’d been engaged in perfectly easy conversation before this and now it’s weird. For all of them. It’s totally weird. He’d get up and leave if that wasn’t weirder. So he pulls his backpack into his lap and starts extracting his lunch.

What would Stiles Smart Ass Stilinski do?

He’d stare around at them defiantly, smirking. Probably. Derek settles for something a little more subtle. He just eats and stops avoiding their curious glances.

“Anyway,” Stiles says after a while, wringing his empty water bottle in his hands. “I left a tampon covered in ketchup on Harris’ windshield this morning, thank you Lydia. Any hope that the rain hasn’t destroyed the effect?”

Lydia glares at him. “Is that why you were in my purse yesterday?”

Scott looks thoughtful. “I mean, it’ll be fully soaked through, maybe the effect will be even better.”

Stiles laughs and high fives Scott over the table. Lydia shakes her head, a fond look on her face.

“What, too immature for you, huh?” Stiles asks, nudging him with his elbow.

Derek tries to think of something clever to say, but he feels out of practice. He doesn’t know why he cares. He could just glare at him and not say anything… but he doesn’t want to. Stiles huffs and leans forward on his elbows, mouth opening to say something to Scott, moment passed on and forgotten… But Derek remembers a prank Cora used to play on Laura all the time…

“You know those giant Tootsie Rolls?” Derek asks, not really looking at any of them.

He sees Stiles turn back to him in his periphery. “Yeah?”

“Pretty easy to make them look like a pile of shit. Just saying. Great hood ornaments for asshole teachers.”

Stiles narrows his eyes thoughtfully. “Damn,” he breathes. “That has a poetic touch to it, doesn’t it?” And then he smiles a wide, canine smile.

Derek doesn’t say anything for the rest of lunch, but he feels more at ease listening to them. He feels like he’s watching a rerun of a sitcom he’s never seen before… it’s a little baffling but not impossible to follow. He finds himself actually paying attention even though he pretends not to be.

He gets up before the bell rings, doesn’t say anything to any of them, and heads for class early to avoid the rush in the halls. He feels hollow… and then he feels selfish for feeling hollow. He has no right to feel lonely when he’s the one who ran away from everyone. He has no right to feel sorry for himself.

He’s staring at the clock, mentally psyching himself up for the last two hours of the day, when someone sets something down on his desk.

“You forgot this,” Stiles says, tapping his iPod.

Derek mumbles a thanks. A corner of Stiles’ lips quirks in an almost smile and he nods. The cold spot in Derek’s chest warms up a little.

Stiles shoots him a small wave and heads to his desk. Scott smiles at him before he and Stiles turn toward each other.

Two more hours until the weekend-- two whole days of hoping next week will be better than this one. At least it's ending okay.


Chapter Text

September 24th, 2007

Freshman Year
Monday

“Can I sit here?”

Stiles stutters to a stop midsentence and slowly turns away from Scott. Lydia Martin stands at the head of their table, clutching her lunch tray uncertainly, eyes averted and lip quivering.

“Yeah, of course,” Scott says, picking his backpack up off the bench and dropping it onto the floor. He offers her a perfectly welcoming grin that makes her smile tightly before she moves to sit.

Now, Scott might be down to act like this is totally normal and acceptable but Stiles can’t stop staring at this girl like she’s a damn alien species.

“What?” she asks in a quick puff of air, making direct eye contact for just a second before she lowers her gaze back to her tray. Her perfectly manicured hand is still curled tightly around the edge and her shoulders are tense. Stiles feels Scott’s eyes burning a hole in him, imploring for him to just let it go, but…

“What are you doing here?” he asks. Scott kicks him under the table and Stiles kicks back.

“Trying to eat lunch, what are you doing here?” she snaps back, finally releasing the tray with a sharp clack as it hits the table.

“Well, I was trying to convince Scotty over here that Blink-182 is dead and gone and that he should just accept that, but before I could get to the meat of my argument, the girl who hasn’t talked to us in public since… oh, I don’t know, Blink-182 was still a band decided to break her streak and approach us in plain sight, in broad daylight, in the middle of the cafeteria!—“

“Shut up,” Lydia sighs, sounding tired. She props her head up on her hand and listlessly pokes at her salad. “Scott has wanted a Blink-182 tattoo since we were seven, he’ll be their only remaining fan someday.”

And that shocks a laugh out of Stiles. Lydia looks up at Stiles with a smirk and shrugs at Scott’s offended yelp.

Alright, so she’s still Lydia Martin somewhere deep down. And of course they knew that. Every time she slunk in through Scott’s backyard during the summer to come kick their ass at Mario Kart or the few times Stiles came downstairs on a weekend to find her peacefully sifting through the newspaper over coffee with the Sheriff, Stiles knew she was still in there. It was just all the other times that made it harder to remember. All the sneering and the chorus of girls laughing throughout middle school. The way she pretended she didn’t remember their names on the first day of freshman biology. And a month later…. Aaand a few days ago, actually.

Lydia continues to pick at her food, but she hasn’t taken a bite. Stiles can feel the misery rolling off her.

“Alright, what’s going on?” he asks, voice soft.

“Nothing,” she answers instantly, tone way too bright.

“Oh, come on, Lyds,” Scott encourages, nudging her with his elbow.

“I just wanted to catch up with you guys!” The lie is accompanied with a tight-lipped non-smile and a furrowed brow. Stiles laughs and rolls his eyes.

Scott shakes his head, disappointed. “Bullshit!”

“I still love you, but you’re losers,” Stiles quotes, deadpan. Lydia looks up at him sharply. “What? I’m just repeating what you told us.”

“You aren’t losers.”

“You hear that, Stiles? We aren’t losers.”

“That’s the nicest thing I’ve heard all day, Scotty.”

“Harris called you “almost competent” earlier,” Scott reminds him.

“You’re right. Second nicest thing I’ve heard all day, then.”

She’s glaring at them, considering something so hard they can practically see the wheels spinning in her head. It looks like she’s working up the courage to say something, but then all she ends up saying is, “Things are tense over there…” She gestures toward her usual spot. “So… if you guys would just… not be assholes and let me hide with you until it blows over…”

“Are you sure it won’t ruin your precious reputation?”

“Oh, please.” She finally takes her first bite.

Scott and Stiles stay silent for a second, giving her room to explain herself further. She raises both her eyebrows as she shoves another forkful of salad into her mouth. And that’s it. Lydia’s here. Casting longing glances at Scott’s fries until he shoves his tray toward her. Casually grabbing Stiles’ soda to steal a sip.

Stiles absolutely doesn’t have the energy to be anything but begrudgingly glad to have her. He swats her hand away from his bag of chips and resumes the conversation where they’d left off. “Okay, but you can still hang on to Blink-182 without having to listen to +44 and Angels & Airwaves, okay? I’m begging you.”

“But I have to support them,” Scott argues. “They’re not that bad, they’re just different.”

“Yeah, they’re different but they’re…” Lydia crinkles her nose. “Hard to listen to. Both bands have some decent songs, but overall? Eh. They work better together! +44 has the advantage! At least it has Travis Barker. Any band with Travis Barker is at least worth listening to based on drumming alone. Why are you even talking about this? It’s been years.”

“I hate both of you,” Scott sighs, watching Stiles and Lydia high five.

The rest of lunch goes well. It feels kinda nice to have a third voice in their usual conversations. Someone else to tease Scott until all he can do is pout. Someone else to call Stiles on his bullshit. Someone else to team up against with Scott. When the first lunch bell rings, Stiles is suddenly brought back to the earth where Lydia Martin is his flightiest, least present, most unwilling friend and this is temporary.

“Thanks for letting me hang out,” she says softly, not making eye contact while she gathers her things. She pauses, chews her lip as if she’s about to say something else… but then she just looks up at them both and lets her face go back to neutral. “See you later.”

They watch her go. Stiles feels a little disappointed somehow. Scott seems to feel the same way.

“Think she’ll stick around?” Scott asks.

Stiles scoffs. “Doubt it.”

**
October 3rd, 2009
Saturday

“Get up, loser,” Lydia says. Loudly.

He both hears and feels his blinds being opened. Stiles grumbles and turns over onto his stomach so he can more fully press his face into his pillow to get away from the light.

“Get up, get up!” Lydia repeats cheerfully. The bed dips under her weight and she lies down next to him. “Get up.” She prods him in the ribs twice, one for each syllable.

“It’s early.”

“It’s almost noon.”

“So early,” Stiles whimpers.

“Nah man, time to get up,” Scott says, coming around the other side of the bed.

Before Stiles can be bodily yanked out of bed and thrown onto the floor, as he has done to Scott more times than he can count, Stiles rolls onto his back and sits up. He’s in nothing but boxers, he can taste his own morning breath and his friends are… opposite. Dressed and clean looking, at the very least (Scott). Perfectly put together and faintly floral scented (Lydia).

Stiles rubs his eyes and face and groans into his hands while they stare at him, waiting. And when his brain is back online, he blinks up at Scott.

“Birthday week.”

“Birthday week,” Scott confirms, grinning.

“It begins…” Stiles whispers, conspiratorially.

A week of eating Scott’s favorite foods and watching his favorite movies and doing whatever he wants. Skateboarding, ditching class, video games, smoking out in the far reaches of the preserve, pranking Harris… all leading up to a blow out Sweet Sixteen party that’s been whispered about in the halls for the last month.

Stiles loves birthday weeks.

“Birthday bitch wants to spend today eating,” Lydia says. She springs out of bed and heads to Stiles’ closet. “And I promised him he could drive my car. He wants to, what did you say, Scott?” She examines the sleeve of Stiles’ softest flannel and he knows that she’s planning on stealing it…

“I want to do something illegal before it becomes legal.”

“You don’t even have your permit, it’ll continue being illegal for a long—“ He’s cut off when a pair of khakis hit him in the face. “What—?”

“I told you to get rid of those,” Lydia says, voice full of icy judgment.

Stiles opens his mouth to make a stand on their behalf but gets a pair of black jeans to the face before he can.

“I’m taking them from you. Anyway, yes. Food, illegal driving, and whatever birthday boy wants. Get dressed, we’re burning daylight here.” With that she tosses a shirt at him, slips his coveted flannel off the hanger and angrily snatches the khakis off his bed.

“I think she just stole your shirt,” Scott says sadly after the door has clicked shut behind her.

“She definitely did, Scotty.”

And she wears it brazenly, rubbing the cuff of the too-long sleeve between her thumb and forefinger as she examines the menu at Hank’s.

“I’m getting two milkshakes,” Scott says, slapping his palms against the table.

“You’re going to regret that,” Lydia mumbles.

“I’d regret not getting two milkshakes more,” Scott argues.

She sticks her tongue out at him and closes her menu with finality. Scott flicks a sugar packet at her. Stiles tries to decide between hash browns and home fries, hiding his smile behind his menu while they continue bickering playfully.

“Ohhh, oh ho ho, Scotty, look who it is,” Lydia says, barely contained laughter in her voice that makes Stiles look up and over his shoulder toward where Lydia’s pointing.

“Oh, fuck,” Scott curses, slouching until his head doesn’t clear the top of the booth.

“Is that Kara?” Stiles asks to rub it in.

Lydia and Stiles both watch her walk in that effortlessly elegant way Scott used to talk about in great detail. Scott’s face is a shade of red Stiles hardly ever gets to see. She sits at a table not too far away, her back to them.

“You’re safe,” Lydia says with a snort.

“Why isn’t she at school?” Scott hisses, twisting around and slowly peeking over the booth.

Scott spent the better part of last year entirely head over heels for her. Kara broke his heart with a friendly cheek kiss and a “aw, you’re cute” at an end of the year party they’d conned their way into. When she graduated, Scott spent about a week talking about how much he’d miss her and how they could have been great together if she’d noticed him sooner.

“What is she doing here?” Scott asks.

Stiles turns around to look at her again to try to come up with some sort of joke but stops when a pretty brunette slides into the open seat across from her.

“Laura Hale,” Stiles murmurs.

“Can you freaks stop staring?” Lydia says sharply.

Stiles swears Laura looks toward them, but he spins around too fast to confirm it. Lydia rolls her eyes. Scott’s face is returning to its normal shade. Stiles’ head is buzzing, trying to remember the last time he saw her. Before summer. Probably the same party that broke Scott’s spirit.

The table stays silent. Their waitress comes back to take their orders. Scott decides against the two milkshakes. Stiles settles on hash browns. Their menus are taken from them.

“So, Derek Hale,” Lydia says to break the silence. She clears her throat and looks up at them both with wide, inquisitive eyes.

“What about him?” Stiles asks, knowing this is directed toward him.

“It was just interesting.”

“What was?”

She’s fishing for Stiles to explain himself unprompted, but he won’t do it. She furrows her brow at him.

“Lunch yesterday.”

“Why? He was just sitting near us,” Stiles says.

“You invited him to sit.”

“Is that a problem?”

Her eyes slide over to Scott and Scott shrugs. “No, it was just interesting, especially because…” And he trails off.

“Because what?” Stiles is not letting either of them off easy.

“Because you’ve been really distracted lately and—“ Lydia punctuates the thought with a shrug. “—I just… we just noticed that you seem to pay a lot of attention to him.”

Right, of course. His friends aren’t dumb, of course they notice these things. Stiles involuntarily looks over his shoulder toward Laura but instantly corrects himself. “It’s the…” he starts, voice cracking.

“Dead parent thing?” Scott supplies softly.

Stiles nods.

“So you feel sorry for him.”

“Yeah, don’t you guys?”

Lydia and Scott both nod in sync. They make eye contact and Stiles knows some unspoken communication that he’s not privy to is going on.

“He’s a good guy,” Lydia says, voice taking on a more cheerful note. “We should ask him to hang out again or something.”

And if “so Stiles can feel like he’s keeping a closer eye on him” is the secret second clause of that sentence, she sure doesn’t let on to it.

**

September 24th, 2007
Freshman Year
Monday

It’s an understatement to say that Lydia seems delicate after school. She’d just shown up. Like she knew their schedule and habits. Which, apparently, she did.

She looks around Scott’s room like she’s never been in it before and trails her fingers along the spines of the books on his shelf. Scott pays no attention as he chews on his eraser while bent over the biology homework, but Stiles watches her. Everything in her body language screams uncomfortable.

She gets to the corner where Scott’s guitar case is propped against the wall and stops.

“Do you guys still play?” she asks. She looks back at Stiles with an unguarded face.

“Yeah,” Stiles answers with a nod.

She nods and continues her patrol around the room. Stiles tries to go back to reading. Scott is beyond distraction, his pencil scratching against paper at a frantic pace. Lydia knocks something onto the floor and Stiles looks up in time to see her bending down to pick up a picture frame. Stiles cringes.

“Cute, guys,” she mutters, peeling the Pokémon sticker Scott had put over her face off the glass. She rolls it up between her fingers and flicks it at Stiles before setting the frame back on Scott’s desk. The younger versions of themselves smile around the room with chubby cheeks and gleaming eyes and faces smeared with birthday cake.

“Don’t you have homework?” Stiles asks, looking back down at his book to hide his embarrassed, guilty flush.

“I finished it.”

“When?” Stiles presses.

“I’m trying to convince my mom to let me quit ballet,” she says, bored with Stiles’ line of inquiry.

“Okay? Good luck.”

“She said I’d need to take up something else in its place.”

“Tap dance,” Scott offers without looking up from his work. Stiles has to cough into the crook of his elbow to hide a laugh. They have a very vivid memory of Lydia throwing a fit during rehearsal for a Christmas pageant in second grade because the teacher wouldn’t let her have a tap routine.

“Fuck off,” Lydia says brightly. “I either have to stick to ballet or pick an instrument. Should I just join your guitar club or whatever?” There’s a bashful, hopeful note to it…

“No,” Scott says instantly, finally looking up.

Hurt flashes across Lydia’s face before she can mask it and Stiles shoots a look at Scott.

“Take up drums so we can start a band,” Scott says, totally earnest.

“Yeah, and drums would piss your parents off,” Stiles adds, turning back to her. She almost forgets to wipe the look of surprised affection off her face when they make eye contact.

“I could do drums,” she says thoughtfully.

“Set, though,” Scott reiterates. “None of that marching band shit.” And then he goes back to his work.

Lydia’s deep in thought as she drops into his desk chair and spins. Stiles watches her for a couple more seconds, trying to figure her out. He can picture her playing drums if he squints. Her disgusting impulse to be the best at literally everything would ensure her success and she’d look hot doing it. And Stiles can picture himself playing to a crowd with her behind him. He can picture Scott by his side. Even in his imagination, the set up feels a little uneven and lopsided. There’s always a fourth member, a faceless but killer bass player.

“Stop staring at me and finish your shit so we can do something,” Lydia commands, knocking him out of his day dream. He scoffs at her but obeys.

**

October 3rd, 2009
Saturday

Lydia stares up at the both of them with great concern, car keys clutched in one hand as if she’s ready to leave them there to die.

“Come on up, Lyds,” Scott slurs down at her.

Scott had driven them here, in Lydia’s car, and Lydia had clutched the dashboard with blatant terror the entire time. Sitting in a tree with illicit substances is probably not the way Lydia wants to come down from that.

Stiles squeezes his knees around his branch and slowly lowers himself into a reclining position. He can feel her staring him down, begging for someone else to be responsible. She doesn’t have to worry. Stiles isn’t going to let him break his neck. When Scott passes him the joint, he pretends to take a long drag, turns his head away from him and toward Lydia to “exhale” and passes it back. He looks at Lydia and sees a little relief.

“Please, Lydia,” Scott says, coughing a little. “Birthday bitch, remember?”

She audibly sighs, tucks her keys into her purse and walks to the trunk of the tree. Scott hangs his hand down, a misguided attempt to help. She smacks it out of the way, scolds him to be careful and makes her own way up.

“Lydia Martin can still climb a tree, I’m telling the whole school,” Scott mumbles, smiling softly. He extends the joint toward her and she just stares back. He reaches over her to hand it to Stiles instead. “Lydia Martin is a responsible girl who would never smoke pot in a tree though.”

“Damn right.” She carefully moves until her back is against the trunk, brushes her hands off and crosses her arms. Stiles looks at her until she looks back at him. He flashes her a smile and she rolls her eyes before smiling back.

“I’m going to go higher,” Scott says, grabbing a branch above his head and pulling himself up.

“No you aren’t, sit your happy ass back down,” Stiles commands.

“Then I’m going to get higher.”

“Not until we’re back on the ground, buddy.” Stiles makes a show of snuffing it out and tucking it into the chest pocket of Lydia’s flannel. His. His flannel.

“Fine,” Scott says, light and airy. He lowers himself back to sitting and smiles around at the dense leaves that extend miles around them in every direction.

With Scott safely stationary and the drugs put away, Stiles can appreciate this. The air is clear and sharp in the shade and up amongst the leaves. They can see pops of orange and red in the green out there. It smells like yesterday’s rain, pine, lingering weed, and Lydia’s perfume. Lydia’s a warm presence at his side, quiet and calm. Scott’s stretched out like a panther along his branch. All he can hear is their breath and a slight breeze through the leaves and birds.

It’s a good place to be.

**

September 27th, 2007
Freshman Year
Thursday

When Lydia doesn’t show up at the beginning of lunch a couple days into their renewed friendship, Stiles assumes her short flirtation with the little people of BHHS is over.

“She isn’t with them,” Scott says thoughtfully, looking past Stiles.

Stiles turns and quickly scans the table full of beautiful, all-American jock and cheerleader types that Lydia usually runs with. He turns back to Scott and shrugs.

“It’s weird, right?” Scott asks.

Stiles shrugs again. “I don’t pay attention to them.”

“Me neither, but it’s Lydia, you know?”

“Lydia laughed when Jackson Whittemore knocked your science fair project onto the ground last year, remember?”

Scott scowls, haunted by the memory, but shakes it off. “But it’s Lydia.”

“She found out I had a crush on her and made fun of me in front of all her friends when I said hi to her, remember that?”

Scott gives him a sympathetic look but doesn’t comment.

“Scott, you’re the nicest guy alive and I love that about you. But don’t expect me to be all sympathetic about her jock boy drama of the week. She’s done her fair share of bullying, she can handle a little bit of karmic retribution now and then.”

“Stiles, you’re an asshole and I love that about you. But it’s Lydia.”

Alright, Stiles concedes to Scott’s concerns when Lydia doesn’t show up to lunch at all. He’d brought an extra sandwich today in light of her stealing most of his the day before. That sandwich would not go to waste.

When she doesn’t answer any texts, Scott and Stiles use the last few minutes of lunch to track her down. They make a quick sweep of the hallways and end up near the bathrooms closest to Lydia's locker. A girl Stiles recognizes from some of their classes is rushing through the now empty hall in front of them.

“Cello girl!” Stiles exclaims, following the girl a few steps before she turns around.

“It’s Paige.”

“Right, hey, can you do us a favor?”

She looks between him and Scott skeptically. “I’m late for class.”

“So are we. Can you see if Lydia Martin is in there for us?” Stiles points at the girls’ bathroom and grins what he hopes is a charming grin.

“Why?”

“Because we’re trying to be good friends. Can you just poke your head in there? C’mon.”

Cello girl, no… Paige laughs and shakes her head. “Didn’t she make you cry in seventh grade?”

Scott laughs unhelpfully and Stiles really could take offense to all of this but… “Yes and she’ll probably do it again. Please?”

Paige rolls her eyes and marches right into the bathroom, letting the door swing shut behind her. Scott and Stiles wait in anticipation for a couple seconds before Paige emerges.

“She’s in there and she’s a bitch. You’re welcome,” she mutters and takes off down the hall.

“Lydia?” Scott calls, pushing his way through the door ahead of Stiles.

“This is the girls’ restroom,” she says in a too-high voice, sounding too nasally for Stiles’ liking.

Stiles finds her stall and starts knocking on it without ceasing.

“Go away.”

“I made a fucking sandwich for you, alright? You have some explaining to do,” Stiles says, slapping his palm against the stall.

“Lyds, what’s wrong?” Scott says soothingly.

A loud sniff and then: “Nothing, just go.”

“We’re not leaving! Stiles has an uneaten sandwich, I have concerns, you’re crying in a bathroom—“

“I’m not crying,” she cries. Stiles keeps slapping the door, slowly falling into a rhythm of sorts. Scott tsk tsk tsks and heads into the stall beside Lydia’s.

“Hope you’re decent,” Scott announces. She doesn’t say anything so he stands on the toilet and props his elbows on top of the stall. “Well, hey there,” he says, looking down at her.

“Leave me alone.” Stiles almost slaps Lydia on accident when she suddenly pulls the door open and glares at him. Her face is tear-streaked and red, makeup destroyed.

“Aw, Lydia,” Stiles says, taken aback. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she growls, brushing past him to go to the sinks. “I’m late for class,” she snaps. She pulls her makeup bag out and is about to open it when Stiles snatches it from her.

“So are we,” he points out while she fumes.

“I need to go.” She reaches for her bag but Stiles holds it over his head so she can’t reach.

“You’re not going to class,” Stiles decides. Scott moves to stand beside him and nods in agreement.

Stiles knows that she’d argue against this in any other situation, but she visibly deflates. Her shoulders go slack, her angry face smoothes away into something much more tired and sad and she lets out a breath.

“Fine.”

Stiles gives her the makeup bag back and looks to Scott. “Where to, captain?”

“Boiler room, ho!” Scott takes Lydia’s bag from her like the gentleman he is and offers her his arm. She still manages to roll her eyes even through the misery engulfing her, but obliges.

Once settled in, Lydia begrudgingly accepts Stiles’ sandwich and eats in silence. Scott and Stiles stare at her the entire time. Once she’s done, she looks back at them uncomfortably.

“So, we don’t know what to do with girls,” Stiles starts. “Like, not with the crying and stuff.”

“Don’t,” she says with a warning tone.

“But we’re your friends and we want to know what’s wrong. So um… you could tell us if you wanted to,” Scott finishes.

She snorts and runs a hand over her face. “Stop,” she says and lets her head fall back against the wall she’s sitting against. “Let’s pretend nothing happened.”

Stiles narrows his eyes at her. “Okay, but only if you agree not to ditch us at lunch and make us come looking for you again.”

Her eyes snap to Stiles’ and she considers him with a questioning expression. “What if I feel like it?” she asks, voice softer than it had been.

“Then we’ll have to come find you again and you’ll have to eventually tell us what happened and my geometry grade will be even worse than it already is,” Stiles says.

“But you’re good at math--?”

“Lydia, just tell us what’s up,” Scott interrupts.

“My old friends are assholes,” she says dismissively. “Do you need help in geometry? I can help if you want—“

“Maybe. But how are they being assholes?” Stiles presses.

“It’s just… gossip and rumors and bullshit, alright? Why do you care?”

Because when Stiles’ mom died, Lydia gave Stiles her dessert at lunch every day for months. Because Lydia told Scott she’d be his new dad when his father skipped town. Because Lydia once slapped Jackson right across the face when he said Stiles was stupid because he couldn’t pay attention in class. There are hundreds of little reasons that, when Stiles really thinks about it, sort of kind of at least a little bit erases all the bad stuff she’d done.

“Because you’re Lydia Martin and you should be making losers like me and Stiles cry in the bathroom instead of crying in the bathroom yourself,” Scott says.

“I don’t want to be that person anymore,” she says instantly, looking down at her hands.

“Then don’t be,” Stiles says.

When she looks back up at them, her eyes are shining and her mouth is pressed closed in a tight line. She nods once, smiles a little, and wipes her eyes on her sleeves. “Okay.”

“The guy I was dating was a real asshole so I broke up with him but now he’s telling all his friends that he caught me giving some guy I’ve never even talked to a blow job in the locker room after school. There. That’s what’s wrong.”

“Did he ever hit you?” Scott asks sharply.

She shakes her head. “No, he was just an asshole.” She looks up at him with big, knowing eyes and Scott relaxes a little.

“So what do we have to do to shut it down?” Stiles asks. “What’s his name?”

She shrugs. “Let it blow over.”

“What’s his name, Lydia?”

“Kyle.”

Stiles doesn’t love that answer, but he presses onward. “Why was today worse than the other days?”

She blushes a little. “Uh, just… I overheard someone saying that you guys only let me hang out with you because uh… you know. Which I mean, I know it’s not true, obviously, you guys didn’t even know the rumor but um… I don’t know, I just… it’s embarrassing and…” She shrugs a shoulder and squeezes her eyes shut. “They just ruined everything, you know? He ruined everything, I can’t even escape from it.”

Oh. Oh.

“Alright, who the fuck is this Kyle guy?” Scott asks.

“Uh, he’s a lacrosse player. Junior. Just… one of those guys, you know.”

“And who did you overhear?”

“Some of the girls.”

“We’ll handle it,” Stiles says, mind already working.

She shakes her head and sighs. “Anyway, I told my mom I wanted to take drum lessons.”

“And?” Scott asks.

“She said she’d think about it. When I tell her daddy said I should pick a girlier instrument, she’ll say yes though.”

“Did he seriously say that?” Stiles asks.

Lydia scoffs. “No, but she’ll have bought me a set and enrolled me in classes before she bothers to ask him anyway.”

Her eyes light up wickedly at the thought and Stiles wants to keep that going. “So what are we going to call our future band?” he asks.

“How about Little Dick Kyle?” Scott suggests.

Lydia laughs and Scott grins at her.

“Lydia and the BJs,” Stiles teases.

She keeps laughing but flips him off.

**

October 4th, 2009
Sunday

“I haven’t seen you all weekend,” the Sheriff notes when Stiles trudges into the kitchen. It’s just after six, there’s a frozen pizza in the oven, his father is pairing a beer with the newspaper crossword.

“It’s birthday week,” Stiles tells him, throwing himself into the chair across from him. “His Highness is running us ragged.”

“You love it,” his dad says. He taps his pen against his chin in thought, adjusts his reading glasses and carefully fills in a row of boxes.

Stiles thinks back to the war room. Or… Lydia’s garage, but with a white board that says “WAR ROOM” leaned against a never before used tool cabinet. His mind is still whirring from all the Mountain Dew and prank planning.

“I better not end up in that principal’s office this week,” his father mutters, as if reading his mind.

“Father, whatever do you mean?” Stiles asks, hands over his heart.

“No explosions, no permanent vandalism, no bodily injuries, nothing life threatening,” he lists off, looking at Stiles over his glasses.

“Of course not—“

“No sexual harassment, no poisoning, no character defamation. Nothing that can make it to a court of law. Nothing that results in legal action or jail time.”

“Dad, c’mon.”

“And be subtle, for Christ’s sake, you kids have no concept of a poker face.”

“Hey, we have a better plan this year,” Stiles defends, dropping his innocent act.

“Do you?” he asks, skeptical.

“We’re starting with the small, harmless stuff.”

“Oh, and no releasing animals on campus.”

“C’mon, we’re keeping that for the senior prank.”

He sighs and gets up to check on the pizza, but Stiles catches the affectionate gleam in his eyes. “Nothing that makes me send you to military school, don’t make me turn into my father, please.”

“In my defense, you were waaaay worse than I have ever been and grandpa made a good call.”

His dad chuckles. “Super glue something to the white board in my honor at least,” he says.

“Oh, definitely.”

**

September 27th, 2007
Freshman Year
Thursday

It’s been exactly long enough for the Sheriff to stop caring that Stiles has his feet on the dashboard of the cruiser but not long enough for him to stop complaining that Stiles ate all his fries.

“You shouldn’t be eating them anyway, you’re an old man.”

“I can’t wait until your metabolism finally gives up on you,” he grumbles.

“Uh huh. So Lydia’s been hanging out with us,” Stiles says. He still hasn’t stopped trying to figure out a good plan to avenge her.

“Oh? You two boys good enough for her again?” He says it with amusement, something Stiles used to resent in regards to this. “You guys growing into your ears enough for her to be seen with you?”

“Ha, dad. Anyway. Her old friends have been spreading rumors about her and she’s really upset.”

The disapproving murmur his dad lets out shows that Stiles has hit upon his soft spot for Lydia. “What kind of rumors?”

“Oh you know, gross kinds. Scott and I want to get back at them. Any suggestions?”

“Seeking revenge is a slippery slope, kid. Take the high road.”

“We’re not going to kill them, we just want to non-physically rough them up.”

The Sheriff doesn’t respond and Stiles isn’t sure if he’s listening to the crackle of the police scanner or ignoring him. But then he sighs deeply and turns to Stiles with an intense look about him.

“Alright, you have to do your research. First step is investigation. Figure out what sort of things make these little assholes tick. Figure out what will hit closest to home with the least amount of effort. It’s those harsh, simple truths that hurt most. Don’t be cruel, just be a little mean. No physical fighting, leave as little evidence as possible and make sure you have enough room to still be the bigger man at the end of it. That’ll hurt the most. I better not get any calls from the school, got it?”

“Got it,” Stiles says, a little stunned.

“You still want to marry Red?”

Stiles rolls his eyes even though his dad can’t see it. “No.”

“Not even a little bit?”

“Dad.”

“A tiny little bit?”

“Drop it.”

“Because if you’re trying to woo her with revenge, I strongly discourage that.”

“I’m not trying to woo her.”

“Alright, fine. I’ll take your word for it.”

“She was crying her heart out in the bathroom at lunch,” Stiles says.

The Sheriff hmms sadly. “Make the little jerks pay, then.” He smirks over at Stiles, ruffles his hair, and starts the car.

**

October 5th, 2009
Monday

When they get to chemistry, Lydia is already there at Harris’ desk next to him, paying very close attention to something he’s explaining to her. She looks up at Stiles and her lips quirk in a lightning fast smirk and then she responds to something Harris said without missing a beat.

Scott takes the seat next to Lydia’s backpack and Stiles sits at the empty table behind him. Birthday boy doesn’t have to be the AP Chem third wheel, that’s one of the first rules of this birthday week. Stiles watches Harris beam up at Lydia as she stands and heads back to her spot. The prize student. Totally not suspicious at all. She sits and turns to look at Stiles.

“Boys, good morning,” she says, looking triumphant.

“How’s it looking?” Stiles asks.

“Three for three,” she says. Scott lets out a happy sigh.

Stiles sees Greenberg approaching from the corner of his eye and slides his backpack onto the stool next to him. “Taken,” he says when Greenberg tries to call him out. “There will be no attempts to sniff Lydia’s hair today.”

“Taken by who, loser?” Greenberg finally gets out.

Stiles looks up at him and then around the room. Luckily for him, Tall, Dark and Moody is just breaching the doorway. “By him. Yo, Derek, saved you a seat!”

Derek shoots him a curious look. His eyes flit to Greenberg and back to Stiles. Stiles swears he almost smirks. He nods and actually walks over. Stiles moves his backpack for him to sit and they both stare menacingly at Greenberg until he picks another place to sit.

Neither of them comment on it. Lydia and Scott smile at Derek before turning around to face forward. Stiles watches Derek take his notebook out, open it and set it on the table. The page he turns to is already full of thick, inky doodles and he seems intent on adding more. Stiles wishes he could tell him their plans. Maybe get him to smirk again. Maybe even make him laugh.

Harris starts the class with his lofty explanation of the pH scale while he sets up for the experiment. Derek doodles on, Stiles watches Harris avidly, the rest of the class fights off their Monday morning exhaustion without knowing what’s in store for them.

He’s explaining every step of the experiment preparation, making the solutions with that casual arrogance he always has about him. He pours something into the beaker (Stiles would ask Lydia what it was actually supposed to be later), sets the beaker down, picks up a vial (that Stiles will also ask about later) and pours it into the beaker. He turns toward the board to write down the step before the bubbling begins… Stiles leans forward in his seat and elbows Derek to make him look up. He can’t miss this…

“… and after that, you’re going to—“ he turns around and stops mid-sentence just as column of thick foam bursts from the beaker, hitting the ceiling and falling in steaming coils onto the table. Harris’ mouth hangs open, the class erupts in sound – laughter, surprised yelps, excited conversation.

“Oh hell yeah,” Greenberg says, deep voice rising over the rest of the sound. “Finally something cool.”

“No, no, that was… I must have grabbed the wrong… class, settle down… I can’t believe I…” he sets about frantically cleaning up the mess, spewing a rote but impromptu safety lecture at them as he goes.

“Nailed it,” Stiles mutters when Lydia and Scott turn to smirk at him.

Lydia mimes a hair flip and turns back around. Scott nods sagely, biting down a smirk.

When Stiles settles back onto his stool, he realizes Derek’s staring at him.

“What?” Stiles asks, smirking.

Derek raises his eyebrows, his lips twitch as if he’s going to smile. “Nothing,” he says. He props his chin on his hand, hiding the bottom half of his mouth. The skin around his eyes crinkles a little bit and his shoulders tremor.

He’s laughing.

He’s watching Harris re-enact a Nutty Professor bit and he’s laughing.

“… Long weekend um… grading your disappointing lab reports. Clearly. This is uh… why you double check everything. I uh…” Harris stutters away. Stiles sees a few cell phones pointed at Harris, capturing photographic evidence. He’s too distracted to notice. “No, Greenberg, this is not the experiment. No one trusts you with real chemicals,” he snaps.

**

October 5th, 2007
Freshman Year
Friday

When Stiles and Scott get dropped off at school by a rushed Melissa McCall, they join the huge crowd gathering around the flagpoles.

“Oh man,” Scott mutters, rubbing his palms together. “This is it.”

They spent a week terrorizing this kid and his friends. Lydia told them all their secrets and they dropped them into the rumor mill, saving the most incriminating for last. They left the girls alone, Lydia’s request, even though they could have done even worse damage with those ones. Scott used the nurse station phone to leave ominous voicemails on Kyle’s parent’s cell phones (“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Moore, this is Doctor Uuuumbridge? I’m calling to discuss your son’s STD test results with you….”) Stiles copied enough faculty keys to get into their classrooms to replace tests and homework assignments. Lydia remained unimplicated.

But now Kyle is duct taped to the flagpole in his boxers for the whole school to see. Stiles had done careful research to figure out about how many Scott’s went to Beacon Hills High School before he let him put the “Scott was here” sign over the guy’s face. But it really does add a nice touch to it.

Crunch time had been getting from the school back to Scott’s in time to be taken to school by Melissa, but it’d all worked out. By now, Kyle’s only been up there for about an hour. He’d seen Scott and Stiles face to face. He knew the consequences of telling the principal who had done it. (A vague threat of “I know what you’ve done and you either let us handle this or the police would be happy to” had done the trick. Stiles doesn’t want to know what he actually did….)

“You guys are diabolical,” someone says, walking up beside Stiles.

“We had nothing to do with this,” Stiles says instantly, probably a little too fast.

Danny rolls his eyes. “Mad respect, he’s an asshole,” he says. He smirks, dimples popping, and heads up to the school.

“What’s all this?” Lydia asks, coming up on the other side of Scott. Her makeup is done, her hair is curled to perfection, she’s dressed like her old Queen Bee self.

“Nothing,” Scott says in a bored tone. He wraps his arm around Lydia’s shoulders and guides her away. Stiles follows. “He must have been a real jerk to deserve this,” he comments loud enough for the people parting around them to hear.

Lydia wraps her hand around Scott’s wrist to show her acceptance of his proximity. “Guess so.”

They’re closest to the flagpole when Kyle finally gets released. Scott’s calling card is removed from his face and he looks at them with wide-eyed terror. Stiles hears some faculty member ask him who had done it and walks slower to hear the answer. He makes eye contact with him…

“I have no idea, didn’t see them, it’s fine, I’m fine,” he says in a confident voice. “Just a little joke, no harm done…”

And even though he had sworn not to tell a soul, the whole school seems to know by the end of the day. The reaction is overwhelmingly positive. Girls bat their eyes at Scott and Stiles in the hallway. The lower castes of the Beacon Hills social hierarchy nod approvingly in their direction. Kyle avoids their glances. His friends laugh at him. Lydia walks with her head held high and pretends to have forgotten her old friends’ names when they approach her.

“I’ll be late after school, I have my first lesson,” Lydia tells them at the end of lunch, standing in front of her locker. Scott and Stiles grin at each other. “Don’t plan too much of Scott’s birthday week without me, I have ideas,” she says. She stands on the tips of her toes to kiss them both on their cheeks before brushing past them and off to her class.

“I guess she’s sticking around after all, Scotty,” Stiles sighs contently. “And she remembers your birthday.”

“Looks that way, my man, looks that way.”



Chapter Text

October 5th, 2009
Monday

It’s silent and calm until it isn’t.

A backpack slams down on the table top just above Derek’s line of vision and a hurried chorus of voices accompanies it.

“So the microscope thing worked, I saw Harris in the hall with a ring around his eye,” Scott McCall says. He sets a tray of food down and grins at Derek around a Red Vine. “Hey, man.”

“Uh…”

“And the long con is in place, right?” Stiles asks, dropping onto the bench across from him.

“Yeah, yeah, all according to plan,” Lydia assures them. “Hey, Derek.”

“Uh…” Derek repeats. He considers leaving, storming away from the intrusion of space. But then he remembers shaking with laughter in first period, laughing in general for the first time in what felt like years. So he stays. Mostly because the time for a dramatic exit has passed when Lydia offers him a Red Vine. Derek declines.

“How’d you do on the English essay?” Stiles asks.

Derek stares at him, not sure if he’s addressing him or not. Stiles raises his eyebrows and stares back. So, yeah, him. “Uh… not great.”

“Sucks.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah…”

The conversation dies. Derek’s free to go. He’s considering his escape when Lydia leans forward and levels him with a piercing look. Derek freezes.

“You. Harris would never suspect you.”

“Uh?” He wishes he could say more than uh.

“You know the foam thing this morning?” Scott asks, seeming to be on Lydia’s page as he leans forward too.

“Elephant’s Toothpaste,” Lydia corrects.

“Right, right, that.” Scott waits for Derek to nod. “Well, we’re planning something big for Friday. And you don’t have to help, but if you don’t help you have to promise to keep quiet. It’ll be worth it.”

“Uh…”

He thinks back the guy tied to the flag pole, Scott’s calling card taped to his face, the cocky smirk that didn’t leave his face for weeks….

“Nothing dangerous,” Stiles says, voice smooth with a twinge of humor to it. He reaches into his backpack, pulls out a crumpled piece of paper, and slides it across the table.

“Snape?” Derek asks, looking at each of them in turn.

“We’re calling this one Operation: Why So Severus?” Scott explains. He goes on to explain how they’ve already put a small picture of Snape somewhere inconspicuous in class. Every day, they plan to hide more and more until Friday, when they will sneak into the school before class and bomb the classroom with Snape paraphernalia. Scott finishes off with a wide grin and: “Harris will go nuts.”

Derek stares at them for a beat. Stiles watches him carefully, expression guarded. Lydia’s hiding a smile behind her hand. He visualizes a classroom bursting with pictures of Snape and… laughs.

“That’s so stupid,” he says, laughing harder the more he thinks about it.

“I’ve been calling him potions master for years, this is the ultimate pay off,” Stiles says, laughing too.

“We need man power. Three soldiers can only do so much. But, you, you have never gotten a detention from Harris which is something I cannot say for these two. He’d never know it was you,” Lydia says, eyes sparkling.

“You want to use me for a prank,” Derek corrects.

“We could use anyone for a prank, sweetie.” Lydia points at him with a Red Vine. “But this’ll be fun, we wanted our fourth to be worthy.”

“And why am I worthy?”

“Are you trying to say you don’t want to harass our dear chemistry teacher? It’ll be a bonding experience,” Stiles drawls. Derek’s eyes snap to him, trying to detect aggression. All he sees is the same nonchalance displayed when he was smoking on his car. It irritates Derek, but not enough for action.

“Fine,” he says, voice perhaps a little too challenging for the occasion.

Stiles smirks (which seems to just be the only facial expression he can make), Lydia takes a happy bite of her Red Vine and high fives Scott.

It goes against his recent shift in philosophy to show interest but he has to ask. “Why are you guys doing this?”

“Oh, it’s Scott’s birthday on Thursday,” Lydia answers as if it’s that simple. Derek stares at her, waiting for more.

“Birthday week, it’s a thing,” Stiles elaborates. He reaches over and ruffles Scott’s hair. “Birthday bub over here spends his more creatively than the rest of us, but let’s be real… we couldn’t pull this off three times a year. Gotta make it count.”

“Happy early birthday then,” Derek says, looking down at his abandoned lunch. Laura had packed it for him. She threw in an obscene amount of cookies as an incentive to eat.

“Save that for Thursday.” Scott’s tone is friendly and warm and it slots in perfectly with Derek’s first impression of the kid back in freshman year English, but goes against everything he’s heard since then.

“Right.” Because… he’ll be around for that, apparently. Helping with a prank. As a part of a birthday week tradition. Who even does that? Derek can’t imagine a single one of his old friends having the patience for a birthday week. They hardly remembered each other’s birthdays without Facebook anyway.

He listens to them as they plan. Stiles has a system worked out for how to print the many pictures needed, Lydia’s ordered cardboard cutouts that should be in by tomorrow, Scott has a Plans A-F figured out. They talk with supernatural ease, sometimes not even finishing full sentences and sometimes talking over each other in a confounding chorus, but it’s not impossible to follow. Mostly.

What strikes him most is the feeling of recalibration. Like his brain is tossing out an old set of rules and trying to figure out the terms of new rules. It’s almost like movement. Like he’s standing on a dais that’s spinning to show him a new angle of his little Beacon Hills world.

Because from afar, these kids are aloof and rough and secretly adored. All of them. Derek lost track of how many guys had crushes on Lydia. He used to roll his eyes every time the girls pointed Stiles out to each other. He’d personally advised other girls against trying to date Scott.

But from up close, they’re different.

When the bell for 5th period rings, Derek is slow to gather his things, wanting to soak up their energy as much as possible. Which is pathetic.

“Trig awaits, gentlemen,” Stiles sighs, shouldering his backpack.

Derek walks with them to class, feeling like he’s been swept away in a current.

**

“You’re a bad person,” Danny tells him, but that doesn’t stop him from threading a finger through Stiles’ belt loop.

“Bad person, stellar friend,” Stiles argues, angling his hips toward him.

“Is this—“ Danny yanks him closer, Stiles settles a hand on his hip. “—Supposed to be incentive or payment or what? Because if it is, you’re a bad friend too.”

“This is a bonus. This is a ‘Well, I just happened to be in the neighborhood so I figured I’d drop by.’ But I mean, if you don’t want to, we don’t have to.” Stiles pulls away but Danny just reels him back in.

“What am I getting out of this?” he asks.

“I mean, a blow job at least.”

“Not… no. I mean what am I getting out of helping the birthday week prank-a-thon?”

“The satisfaction of seeing Harris turn that one shade of purple again probably.”

Danny laughs, dimples on full display. Stiles feels that swoopy attraction that’s started to get out of control lately and smiles back.

When he told Scott and Lydia about this whole thing, he claimed there were no feelings involved. And there weren’t. Not really. Not then. Every time they ask if he’s changed his mind about it since then he says no but what he means is… maybe.

“Are you trying to charm me into this?” Danny asks, tracing his thumb along Stiles’ bottom lip. Fuck.

“I know you’ll do it,” Stiles says with a coy shrug.

“Oh, will I?”

“Yes, you will. It’ll take you an hour tops and it’s for the greater good. You’re already thinking about it.”

Danny rolls his eyes and drags Stiles even closer. “Yeah, you’re right.”

“I know,” Stiles says before pulling him into a kiss.

And that’s great. Danny kisses him back, hands tight on his hips, tongue in his mouth. Stiles winds his hand into his shirt and tries to shove him toward the bed.

“Hold on, hold on,” Danny says, pulling away. “Why has Derek been hanging out with you guys at lunch?”

Stiles shrugs and tries to go back in for a kiss. Less high school drama, more horny teenager shit.

Danny steps away. “You know he just like totally blew us all off, right?”

“I don’t talk to your friends, I don’t know anything,” Stiles lies.

Danny shakes his head. “Everyone can tell, everyone knows, everyone’s been talking about it. I know you know.”

“So what?”

Stiles hopes this isn’t going to turn into a fight. It’s not like they lured Derek away. It’s not like they poisoned him against them. There’s nothing to fight about. Stiles just wants to get Danny in bed, c’mon…

Danny makes a furious little motion with his hand, lets out a frustrated sound. And then deflates. “Is he okay?”

“Oh. Uh. I don’t know,” Stiles answers. “Probably not.”

It’s not like Derek has done a lot of talking in the last two lunch periods. It’s not even like they’re friends. It’s all new. And Stiles hasn’t been able to detect much from him anyway. From a distance, Stiles had been able to project some sort of story onto him but up close it’s all blurry.

Danny sighs and sits at his desk. The moment has passed and Stiles can still taste him.

“We’re worried,” he says, prodding his computer’s on button with unnecessary force.

Stiles scoffs and Danny shoots him a glare over his shoulder. Stiles holds his hands up in apology and he turns back to his monitor. Stiles watches him type lines of code off the top of his head like the genius he is and hopes he’s working on the favor…

“Just because your friends and you are weirdly co-dependent and up each other’s asses all the time doesn’t mean that’s normal, okay?” Danny says after awhile. Stiles wants to take offense to that and almost says as much, but Danny keeps going. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you would never let Scott or Lydia just disappear like we let Derek, but you don’t know Derek.”

“Okay.”

“And I don’t even know this Derek, I have no idea what to do to help him or if there’s anything we can even do. Like, what if he’s better off without us? I don’t know. At least he’s with you guys so he’s not alone anymore.”

“Why’d you even let him be alone in the first place?” Stiles asks, unable to hide the judgment in his voice.

Danny’s quiet for awhile, nothing but the sound of clacking keys filling the air. “Because that’s what he wanted,” Danny says softly.

Stiles can’t argue with that, even if it does make him think about the Scott who never left his side no matter how much he wanted to eject from the face of the earth by himself. Want and need are different things, Scott knew that. And maybe Derek’s friends knew that and didn’t care. Or… maybe Derek needed to be alone. Or maybe Derek had the wrong friends.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says. And he means it.

Danny stops typing and looks back at him. “Just… I don’t know, keep an eye on him if he sticks around. For me. And Jackson and everyone else.”

“Fuck Jackson and everyone else, but I’ll do it for you.” And for himself.

Danny laughs, shakes his head, turns back around. “So you just want the keyboard output scrambled? Nothing else?”

“I want Harris to think he’s going crazy,” Stiles says, gladly accepting the subject change.

“Got it, but imagine if something he’s sure to type comes out as a specific word…”

“Talk to me, Mahealani.”

“I can make sure the letters in chemistry spell out douchebag. I can make the whole cipher revolve around that.”

“Yes, you’re a prince! When do you want to collect on that blow job?”

“I’m in this for purple-faced Harris, keep your blow job.”

**

October 6th, 2009
Tuesday

Derek can’t believe he’s doing this.

And for what? For who?

Derek stares up at the school, arms tight around him for warmth, and waits. Stiles’ shitty old Jeep screeches to a stop in the spot next to his, engine rumbling and loud screaming music pouring from it. Derek winces against the sound until it Stiles turns the car off and throws his door open.

“Morning, sunshine,” he grumbles. He runs a hand through his unkempt hair and glares up at the school.

Scott rounds the Jeep from the other side, looking equally tired but way happier. “So I got a sophomore to confirm that the first Snape was perfectly deployed,” he says, thrill of mischief in his voice.

If Derek remembers correctly, the first one was lightly glued to the floor by Harris’ desk. (“Just enough that it’s hard to pick up, but not enough that he thinks it was glued down,” Lydia had explained the day before.)

Stiles leads the way into the school, talking casually over his shoulder so the few early birds milling around wouldn’t be suspicious.

“So I was telling my dad, right? I was telling him how there’s no way to avoid it, I really can’t be expected to—“ Stiles rambles, getting cut off when he walks into someone. “Watch it, cello girl,” he snaps.

A girl from Derek’s creative writing class rears around him, knocking him purposefully with her case. Stiles yelps and glares after her as she goes without sparing any of them a glance.

“Anyway, like I was saying,” Stiles starts back up, casually pushing the chemistry classroom door open. Once they’re all inside, Stiles flips the lock closed. He tosses his backpack onto the lab station at the front of the classroom and opens it. “Harris gets to campus by 7:15, we have five minutes, go.”

They work on shoving pieces of paper into various little spots that won’t be discovered quite yet, and some that will be. They’re going for a nice mix. It’s an art. Or so Scott explains as he unravels the projector screen so Stiles can put a screen cap of Snape dressed in drag inside.

After a couple minutes, Stiles breaks away and pulls markers out of his hoodie pocket as he heads to the white board to draw something.

“He’s just going to erase it,” Derek tells him once he’s finished shoving his stack of pictures into the drawer full of safety goggles. He watches him draw a weirdly elaborate cat on the board.

“Ye of little faith,” Stiles sighs, putting a few finishing touches on it. He recaps his pens and holds his arms up triumphantly. “Alright, roll out!”

They slip out of the classroom unseen and head back out to the parking lot to get as far away from it as they can. Stiles slumps against the side of the Jeep and digs around in his pockets, producing a pack of cigarettes.

“Smokes, smokes?” he asks, offering the pack to Derek and Scott in turn. Derek shakes his head, Scott admonishes him for it being too early, Stiles shrugs and lights one up.

“Mr. Stilinski, it must be my lucky day,” Harris’ cool voice asks from behind them. “Need I remind you again this is a tobacco free campus and you are a minor?”

Derek can see a flash of anarchy in Stiles’ eyes, but he takes a deep breath. “No, sir, I remember that just fine.” He flicks his ashes at his own feet, lifts his foot to snuff his cigarette on the sole of his shoe and tucks it away into his pocket. “I’m super pumped for class today, yesterday was amazing!”

Harris narrows his eyes at him but leaves without further reprimand.

Derek sees the point of the cat drawing about two minutes into class when Harris erases it only to reveal a graphic permanent marker dick beneath.

**

It’s a little different observing Derek during English now that they have some contact. Derek always takes whichever desk is open and closest to the door, so it’s not like he’s consistently seated anywhere. Stiles just so happens to end up next to him because it’d be sort of awkward to walk from chemistry with him and then not take that open seat…

But today, Derek doesn’t doodle through class. No, no. He stares blankly at the front of the classroom while Gibbs talks. Stiles keeps up his wise-cracking and teasing as usual and every once in awhile shoots a look toward Derek to see if he’s engaged enough to pick up on them. He isn’t.

He gets a brilliant idea about halfway through class though and scribbles it down on a loose piece of paper he finds floating around in his bag. “Carol safety goggles poster needs to be replaced with a Snape.” He passes it over to Derek when their teacher has her back to the class. Derek lifts an eyebrow at him before pulling it toward him.

And then he sorta smiles. Stiles loves those little sorta smiles. He feels great personal accomplishment when he makes them happen. He knows how hard they are to pull out of a grieving person.

Derek writes something and then passes the paper back.

“Carol never wore her safety goggles, so Snape took 20 points from Gryffindor?”

“Nailed it, Hale,” Stiles writes and passes it back.

When Stiles looks back toward the front of class, he makes eye contact with Mrs. Gibbs who gives him a minute, private little nod of approval.

**

October 7th, 2009
Wednesday

Derek doesn’t even think it’s weird when Lydia hooks her arm into his and drags him along with her at the start of lunch. He probably should.

“Stiles told me you were the one who put the Snape inside of the projector. I’m impressed. One of the freshmen told Scott it held up class for fifteen minutes while he tried to get it out.”

“Oh, uh…” Derek had showed up to school at the same time as the day before. Stiles had actually grinned when he saw him, as if he thought maybe he wouldn’t come. Scott clapped him on the shoulder and handed him more pictures to distribute. It’d been nice—It is nice to be a part of something. Even if it’s just harassing a teacher.

She releases him when they get to the cafeteria table where Stiles and Scott are laughing over something on a laptop. “How great would it be if this ends up staying up all year?” Scott asks, turning the laptop toward them so they can see the altered safety goggles poster with his suggestion to Stiles scrawled across it. Derek feels a little swell of pride.

Derek sits at the table and listens to them talk more than he contributes. He feels less out of place than before, he takes advantage of their fleeting warmth and company and tries not to feel pathetic.

“Why aren’t you eating?” Lydia asks, voice piercing through the gentle hum of them.

“Huh? Not hungry,” Derek answers.

She frowns and then shakes her head. “How do you expect to focus in the rest of your classes on an empty stomach? You’re, what, 16? You’re an athlete, your metabolism has to be really high, here…” She reaches into her purse, pulls out a pack of fruit snacks, and tosses it at him. Upon closer inspection, he realizes they’re Scooby Doo fruit snacks.

“Um…”

“She won’t let it go, no point in resisting,” Stiles sighs. “Eat the Scooby snacks.”

He has a full lunch packed and tucked away in his bag. A roast beef sandwich he watched Laura make that morning. An orange. Even more cookies than ever before. But he goes for the fruit snacks with a grateful nod.

**

October 8th, 2009
Thursday

It’s a big day for the birthday week celebrations.

The actual day.

Lydia texts Stiles all morning to make sure they’re in Harris’ classroom before she breaks into Scott’s locker to fill it with balloons and packing peanuts. Stiles curses his way through figuring out how to install Danny’s little keyboard scrambler thing onto Harris’ computer. Derek and Scott replace posters on the wall with nearly identical copies.

“Harris looked furious after school yesterday,” Derek says. “I saw him going to his car.”

Stiles looks at him over the top of Harris’ monitor. “That’s because he needed the safety goggles for his last period and found nothing but Snapes. Where’d you put the goggles?”

“Where the Bunsen burners were.”

“And where’d you put the Bunsen burners?”

Derek smiles. “Coach’s office.”

“And you did that all on your own, they grow up so fast,” Stiles coos, biting the inside of his cheeks to keep from smiling and letting his heart-eyes show.

“Go big or go home, I did not sacrifice sleep for small potatoes,” Derek says, snapping a rubber band onto a rolled up poster before turning to stow it in a never used cabinet.

“Can I just take a moment,” Scott says, fake tears in his voice. He puts his hand over his heart. “How much I appreciate your dedication to driving our science teacher to insanity all for my birthday? It’s a dream come true.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “My dedication to ruining Harris’ week is nothing compared to my dedication to you, Scotty.”

“That means a lot, Stiles, thank you.”

When class actually starts, things descend into chaos pretty quickly. Harris has the projector connected to his computer so he can show them what a real lab report should look like, a happy coincidence, so he loses the class to laughter almost instantly. He finds a drawer full of Snapes and a cabinet full of lacrosse balls, orders Danny to take a look at his computer while he tries to call IT to take a look at his computer but keeps on calling the nurse’s office instead because Lydia had swapped out his directory at some point in the week without telling them.

Scott positively glows through all of it.

Scott walks around with balloons tied to his backpack and the packing peanuts that had flowed from his locker have spread throughout most of the school by lunch. At lunch, Scott feasts on the junk food Stiles and Lydia brought for him.

**

Derek feels like an outsider the most on Scott’s actual birthday… and the happiest. It’s still bizarre to see how much effort they put into celebrating and how much love pours off of them. But it’s also nice and refreshing. It’s uplifting and addictive to be around. Their joy is infectious. He feels lighter than he has in awhile.

And he actually… likes these people. With every passing day, Derek gets more stares from other people – his old friends, people he never even knew but who knew him – when he’s with them. It serves as a reminder how weird it is that he’s with them. It serves as a reminder that he’s not one of them. But it also gives him some sort of satisfaction. It makes his inner rebel smirk and preen.

Derek turns them down when they ask him to come hang out after school, but he’s glad to have been asked. Stiles punches his shoulder in a friendly gesture before getting into the Jeep, Scott gives him a quick one-armed hug and a bright “see you tomorrow!”, Lydia smiles at him warmly.

He goes home and feels the happy little pocket of warmth in him get colder and colder.

His mom isn’t home from work yet, Laura and Cora are talking out in the backyard, the house feels cold and dark. He stands in the kitchen and leans forward with his hands splayed out on the gleaming granite countertop. He watches his sisters out the window, sees Cora lean against Laura’s side and Laura pulls her head closer against her neck in a gesture of comfort.

Derek keeps his eye on them when he sets to discretely putting his untouched lunch items back where they belong. He reaches into the paper bag and finds a slip of paper. He pulls it out and unfolds it uncertainly…

“I’m going to keep making you lunches and maybe someday you’ll actually eat them. Love you, baby brother. – L”

He drops it to the counter and looks back out the window. He considers joining them. He considers sitting on the other side of Laura and leaning against her. But he doesn’t. He puts everything away, throws the sandwich away, and leaves the note on the counter so she knows he saw it before he heads upstairs.

**

October 9th, 2009
Friday

Lydia joins them in the morning, the four Snape cardboard cutouts laying across her backseat. Stiles marvels at them through the window while she hisses details about Scott’s bounce house to him before Scott gets close enough to hear.

“Is Derek coming?” Scott asks, frowning a little. Lydia stops talking, Stiles pulls her door open and starts pulling them out.

“I don’t know,” Stiles says, struggling way too much to get the Snapes untangled from a seatbelt.

“I like him,” she says thoughtfully.

“Oooh,” Stiles teases.

Lydia thumps him on the back and he yelps. “Get the Snapes, shut up,” she commands. “I mean I think he’s cool. It’s been cool having him around.”

“I agree!”

Stiles agrees too but he’s too focused on getting the last Snape unstuck.

“Is he coming to the party tonight?” Scott asks.

Lydia makes an uncertain sound, probably accompanied by a shrug. Stiles finally emerges from the backseat with all Snapes in tow.

“Well he should,” Scott says.

“He might not want to,” Stiles says. It’s not like he’s suddenly cured and sociable again.

“I’ll let him know he’s invited anyway just in case.”

Just as they’re about to head into the school, Derek’s purring sports car pulls up alongside them.

“Sorry,” he mutters when he climbs out of his car. Stiles thrusts a cardboard cutout at him, smiles, pats his shoulder and leads the way.

By the time they’re done with the classroom, it’s nearly wallpapered with Harry Potter stills and press shots of Alan Rickman and photoshopped masterpieces. The cardboard cut outs stand sentinel around the room, the last one placed in front of the white board ready to give a lecture. Lydia takes a picture while Scott makes a snow angel in the pictures littering the floor. Derek nods around in approval.

“Oh shit, I forgot,” Lydia says, reaching into her purse.

She pulls out a new name plate, takes Harris’ old one and shoves it in a drawer under a stack of pictures, and smiles proudly down at it. It looks almost exactly like his old one except that it lists him as Potions Master under his name. Stiles nods approvingly.

“Fingers crossed he never notices this,” Derek says, bending a little to admire it.

Lydia talks a freshman into distracting Harris so he doesn’t get to class until the bell rings for the full effect to sink in.

“Do you guys just have a network of underlings or something?” Derek asks once Lydia tells them the plan.

“We have admirers,” Lydia corrects. “And we are very charming.” She flashes him a perfectly charming grin. Stiles snorts. Scott ushers their classmates into the room with his finger pressed to his lips and an amused fire in his eyes, everyone looks around them in wonder.

Danny drops his stuff off at his spot next to Jackson and heads over to Stiles. “I installed something else on his computer for you yesterday,” he says, smiling bashfully at him. “I’m excited for you to see it.”

“I’m excited to see it,” Stiles flirts back, shamelessly smiling back at him. Lydia clears her throat and stares them both down with a suspicious look about her.

The door bursts open just as the bell rings and Harris rushes in. “Sorry, I’m late, class, everyone….” His eyes widen as he takes the classroom in. “Please…” His mouth drops open and his face starts flushing. “Sit down… what the…?”

All hell breaks loose as Harris starts yelling his demands for answers and the class loses it. Harris only gains control by threatening the entire class with detention and the day’s lesson continues amongst the piles and piles of Snapes, Harris with a permanent scowl on his face.

When he turns on his computer, all he can get to work is the boggart scene from Harry Potter with his face superimposed over Alan Rickman’s. Stiles very well might be sorta in love with Danny Mahealani.

**

Derek feels a little bit like a voyeur here, just as he’d thought he would when Scott insisted he join them. The whole pre-party ritual seems too… familiar and private or something. Much like everything they do together. He’s noticed that all week. These kids are closer than Derek can even begin to understand. He sees it in all the little gestures, the way their eyes meet and entire conversations flow between them, the inside jokes, the way they move around each other. And now this room. Lydia’s room. He’s been in this house before, but he’s never been in her room. She always locks it for parties.

And that’s weird too. That he’s been in this house and that he’s been to these parties, all the same events that Stiles and Scott were at, and yet he’d never bothered to talk to them…

There’s a corkboard almost entirely full of concert tickets. A collage of pictures of them and places they’d been and things that must be inside jokes beside that. And then his eyes fall on a picture frame – clear glass, a thin black border – with nothing in it but a heart shaped sticky note. Derek wanders closer to read what it says.

“Stiles Stilinski’s V-Card, exp. May 9, 2008.”

“Is that…?” Derek asks, pointing at it before he can decide he probably shouldn’t pry. All three of them turn to look.

Scott snorts and collapses onto her bed. Lydia smirks.

“My virginity? Yeah,” Stiles answers, putting his hands on his hips proudly.

“Oh.”

“I told him I’d cherish it forever,” Lydia explains.

Oh.

Derek feels his cheeks heat up. He hadn’t ever gotten that vibe from them. They’re close, sure, but…

“Oh, now he’s thinking about it,” Scott says. He crawls on his elbows further up her bed and starts pawing at her bedside table.

“I’m not thinking about it,” Derek says quickly.

“Uh… huh,” Scott mutters, distracted by the nightstand. “Lyds, why is this locked?”

“It’s not locked,” she says, knocking Stiles out of the way with a hip check and slapping the back of Scott’s thigh as she makes her way around the bed to help him. She knocks his hand away and wrestles the drawer out. “It’s broken. You know. From when you broke it. And you,” she turns to face Derek. “Stop thinking about it.” She smiles and heads toward what must be her bathroom.

There’s a sudden blast of energetic drumming that fills the room and Scott cheers. Stiles turns the music down a little and air guitars as he walks toward the bed.

“Someone get the tequila,” Lydia calls from the bathroom.

This is no different than picking the girls up at Ashley’s place before a party. Or hanging out at Jackson’s. Not at all. Rich kids with no parental supervision is kind of the experience Derek is familiar with. Not with his own parents. The liquor cabinet and wine cellar are locked and frequently inventoried. But the rest of Derek’s friends, former friends… Anyway, It’s just weird to see it from this angle…

“As the responsible one tonight, I’m vetoing your tequila request,” Stiles yells over the music. Derek watches him pack a bowl. Responsible?

Lydia doesn’t argue it.

“You don’t have to just… stand there,” Stiles says. He pauses and looks up at him, eyebrows raised expectantly. “Sit, relax, read a book, steal Lydia’s chemistry notes while she’s unguarded, try on a dress. Make yourself at home.” He grins a crooked grin and looks back down.

Scott drags himself off the bed and heads for her desk. “Good idea, actually.”

“I hope you mean the dress thing and not the chemistry notes, you total nerd,” Stiles snaps.

Scott flips him off over his shoulder and rifles through Lydia’s bag. Derek starts wandering around the room just to do something. Her mirror is covered in things. There’s a note full of disastrous handwriting that forms a complimentary poem signed by Scott. There’s a picture of Stiles hugging a guitar. Another of a red haired girl who must be Lydia’s sister kissing the side of Lydia’s head. Liner notes signed by the band, a band Derek’s never heard of. A set of worn out drum sticks lies below the mirror on the vanity’s top.

“My first sticks,” Lydia says, leaning past him to grab a lipstick. She smells like fresh perfume, her hair has been re-curled and her makeup touched up.

“You play?” Derek asks.

“Uh huh,” she answers, distracted as she applies her lipstick.

He watches her press her lips together and make a kissy face at the mirror. It reminds him of Laura in a way that makes guilt flare up in him for a second…

“C’mon, relax, I thought you’d figured out we weren’t going to bite already,” she says, nudging him with her shoulder affectionately. She smiles at him in the mirror. His lips twitch in response. Not quite a smile, but… close. And it makes her smile warmer, makes her eyes squint even more.

“Weed’s up,” Stiles says, springing up from the bed. “Scott, stop with the chemistry notes!”

He thrusts the pipe into Lydia’s hands and goes to drag Scott out of Lydia’s desk chair. Derek backs up and out of the way until he can lean against the desk. Lydia thrusts the pipe back at Stiles and rushes for the desk.

“Stay out of my stuff!” she exclaims, sounding flustered. She elbows Derek out of the way to gather her notebooks together to shove them into her bag.

“Uh, okay,” Scott says, offended. He sounds like it’s the weirdest request he’s ever heard.

“You alright?” Stiles asks, parroting the sentiment.

“Fine, sorry.”

“I should go,” Derek says, surprising himself at how steady his voice sounds. He’s a mismatch here. He’s throwing them off balance.

“Wha- no, party hasn’t even started,” Scott says, disappointed.

Derek’s face is hot. The room feels stuffy. He’s an intruder here. He’s been an intruder all week and the company has been nice… it’s been a good vacation. But it’s done. It’s over. Half the grade is going to be in this house in just an hour and that will include his old friends and it just… doesn’t appeal to him. He thought it might. But it doesn’t. It really doesn’t.

“Thanks for the invite, I just… should get home, my um… sisters,” Derek stutters, pushing off of the desk.

Lydia gives him a sad look. “Okay, right,” she says. “Of course, um…”

“Do you need a ride?” Stiles asks, voice taking on that note of comfort that had baffled Derek earlier in the week. He looks at him and sees nothing but calm.

Derek had forgotten that he hadn’t driven…

“Oh. Uh.”

“Here, I’ll take you.” He hands the pipe to Scott, pats him on the shoulder, communicates something to him and Lydia with a look, and grabs his keys off of Lydia’s bed.

Derek follows him out into the hallway and down the stairs without saying anything. At least it’s cooler outside of her room, outside of that place cluttered with life and friends and memories and…

“We’re a bit much,” Stiles says when he gets to the foot of the stairs a few paces before Derek. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Derek mutters.

Stiles looks at him, expressionless except for the focus making his eyes sharp. “I am though.”

There’s a weight to it. Like he’s apologizing for something bigger than mild discomfort that doesn’t even require an apology. Derek should be the one apologizing.

“I…” Get the sense that you know me better than you let on. Feel like you get me and I don’t know why. “I’m sorry.”

Stiles shrugs. “It’s not a problem.” He smiles. “Let’s get you home to your sisters or whatever.”

Derek appreciates the light teasing tone in it.

He follows Stiles down the front steps and to his Jeep. And then he stops and takes in a deep breath of cold air. He looks up at the house. It’s empty and dark from the front. The only lit up window in the house is probably Lydia’s. He can imagine the place bustling with people like he’d seen it plenty of times. Loud music, dancing, talking, the sour scent of illegally consumed alcohol, splashing from the pool.

All those weekends. Parentless.

“You okay?” Stiles asks, leaning against his open door.

“Where are Lydia’s parents?” Derek asks.

Stiles scoffs. “Uh, not here. Lydia’s parents are hardly ever here.”

“That sucks.”

“Yeah, it kinda does,” he murmurs, thoughtful.

“So she has this place to herself?”

“She has an open invitation to Chez Stilinski and Casa McCall,” Stiles says, answering the real question behind the one Derek posed. Is she alone? Is she lonely? “And I think she kinda prefers it this way anyway. Not one for being fussed over, that girl.”

Derek doesn’t answer. There’s nothing to say. He doesn’t move to get in the car either. He just feels adrift and lonely and kinda cold. He hears the car door shut and Stiles walks toward him.

“What do you guys call this place then?”

“Huh?” Stiles asks, stopping about a foot away.

“Chez Stilinski, Casa McCall…?”

“Oh. Chateau Martin.”

Derek nods. Doesn’t know what else to say.

“You should just stay, you know. Have a good time. Be an irresponsible kid for a little bit like you used to be. Scott really wants you here.”

“I… can’t, I have to…” Derek trails off. He already knows that Stiles knows he’s full of shit.

“Okay,” he says with a shrug. He heads back to the Jeep, opens the driver’s side door and waits.

Derek doesn’t know why but… he’s changing his mind. A couple drinks and the prospect of… new friends and new memories with them or whatever is sort of appealing. The fact that they want him here, have wanted him around all week is… something.

“Why do you care?” Derek asks, not making a move toward the car yet.

“Huh?”

“I mean… sorry, I shouldn’t… I just. Why does Scott want me here?” That’s an easier question, directly rooted in something he actually said.

“He thinks you’re cool,” he says with a shrug.

Derek scoffs. Scott doesn’t know anything about him, not really.

“Scott’s a good judge of character,” Stiles says evenly, challenging Derek to disagree and insult himself.

Derek considers rising to it but doesn’t. Someone wants him there. A few someones, if Derek read Stiles and Lydia right. And he thinks he did. He doesn’t know why, but part of him wants to see what’ll happen. He wants to watch them in action for a little bit longer. He wants to figure them out.

“I’ll stay,” Derek says before he loses his courage.

Stiles lets out a triumphant yip, slams the Jeep’s door shut and smiles a genuine, dopey smile. “Great! I’m sure your sisters will understand.”

Derek scowls at him as he passes on his way back to the front door.

**

“Oh,” Lydia says when Stiles bursts through her partially closed door with Derek behind him.

Scott’s swiveling back and forth in her desk chair, grinning in a way that brings light to his whole face. Lydia springs up from her bed and tosses her phone at her pillows. She takes Derek in and smiles slowly.

“Want a hit?” she asks, wiggling her hand at Scott until he hands the pipe over.

“Uh, no I’m fine,” Derek says, voice strangled.

“Okay, well, here, sit. Or… stand. Do what you want. Be comfortable. Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

Stiles can sense her inner hostess scrambling for purchase. She hands Stiles the pipe and sweeps discarded clothes off of her vanity’s bench and gestures.

Derek slowly moves to sit and hides a smile by looking at the floor. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“Alright, we have half an hour until the bounce house guys show up, let’s do something fun,” Stiles says, sitting on the floor.

“BOUNCE HOUSE?” Scott exclaims.

“Happy birthday,” Lydia says, voice full of warmth. She lets Scott drag her down onto his lap for a hug and a few spins on her chair. “Yeah, yeah, I know, I know,” she says between laughter.

Stiles laughs at both of them, finally lifting the pipe to his lips. Derek keeps looking around Lydia’s room like he’s studying it. Scott lets Lydia go so she can grab her laptop.

“Party playlist, we’re running out of time here,” Lydia commands, falling onto her bed.

Stiles takes a second to follow Derek’s gaze around the room, trying to see it through his eyes. He puts himself in Derek’s shoes as much as he can. And all he sees is a room full of memories, his own memories, and the people he knows better than anyone else. He knows he’s lucky to have them, and this, and he wonders if it’s possible to help someone new feel just as welcome in all of this. He sure hopes so.

Chapter Text

October 9th, 2009
Friday
Derek was instantly overwhelmed by how many people were here. And this was normal. Derek knew this was normal, he’d been on the other side of this once. He sits halfway up the stairs with Stiles and Scott, looking out over it.

“Ohhh, Greg’s here,” Stiles says, elbowing Scott. “Promise me you’re not going to try to fight him again.”

“No promises,” Scott snarls.

“Scott, promise me,” Stiles insists.

Scott mumbles disagreeably.

“I’ll personally go pop that bounce house if you so much as approach him,” Stiles threatens.

“Fine.”

Stiles looks over his shoulder and up at Derek with a smirk. “Greg Schultz pantsed Scott in like fourth grade and I think they’ve gotten in about twenty fist fights since then, they’re enemies.”

“Greg Schultz?” Derek clarifies, snorting. He finds the kid in the crowd. He’s about twice Scott’s size and is no smarter than a goldfish. “That can’t be a fair fight.”

Stiles smiles, Scott huffs. “Our boy’s a scrapper,” Stiles says, nudging Scott. He turns back around and watches another group of people stream through the front door. “You’re a regular Great Gatsby, Scotty, the true belle of the ball.”

“Damn straight,” Scott says, using the railing to pull himself to standing. “Happy birthday to me,” he adds with a grin at both of them before he jogs down the stairs and instantly disappears into the sea of people.

“You got this?” Stiles asks, shifting on the stairs so he can look straight at Derek.

“Yeah.”

Stiles nods. “I’m sober Sally tonight, so if you want to leave just let me know.”

Derek nods.

Stiles screws his mouth up and looks worried for just a second. “Oh, and Lydia’s room is open to you if you just want to ditch out for awhile, that’s what we do.”

Derek lifts his eyebrows, somehow surprised…

“Huh? What’d you think we do in there?” Stiles asks, eyes bright with amusement. Derek doesn’t miss the implication that Stiles is just as aware as he is about his previous participation in these Lydia Martin events.

“You should hear the rumors about what goes on in that room,” Derek says, smiling.

Stiles smirks, bats off the suggestion. “We hold a Bible study and exchange recipes, that’s it.”

Derek laughs.

Stiles is still smiling. “Let me make you a drink, I’m a bartending prodigy,” he says, standing up.

Derek follows him through the crowd toward the kitchen, keeping his eyes on the back of Stiles’ head to keep from feeling paranoid about the people watching him. The crowd parts for Stiles and he barely acknowledges anyone as he goes. Derek is weirdly impressed. He’s sorta fascinated at how effortlessly he moves through the world, how easily words flow out of his mouth, how the atmosphere seems to bend to accommodate him.

Derek has never known anyone like Stiles.

He doesn’t want to seem desperate and pathetic though, so after Stiles thrusts a fruity but very strong drink into his hand, Derek lets Scott steal him away to the backyard. He lets Lydia introduce him to some of their friends, because apparently they do have other friends even if they don’t spend much, if any, time with them. He observes the party and walks through it by himself trying to look as confident and comfortable as he can even though there’s a roaring, hissing, snarling anxiety ripping through him every single second of it.

He purposefully avoids his old friends. He’s constantly on the lookout for them so he can change his trajectory before it gets awkward. It’s exhausting.

But he makes it a couple hours into the party even so, and then he’s just… done. He thinks about Stiles’ promise to take him home when he wants to go and starts looking for him.

When he finds him, he has his arms around Danny’s neck and his face attached to his face. Derek stops dead. Someone smacks into his back and grumbles as they edge around him.

Derek remembers Danny’s coy non-answer to the line of questioning that one day at lunch. Derek remembers them teasing him about it. He remembers feeling bewildered about not being privy to any of it. And now he’s watching it.

Danny’s hands are tight on Stiles’ hips, they’re flush against each other, Stiles’ cheeks are splotched red, Derek can see a sliver of pink tongue and he’s not sure whose it is and he doesn’t necessarily want to know but… rumor confirmed, he supposes.

He turns away from the scene and toward the stairs, toward Lydia’s room, toward a safe spot to hide away in… and sees Lydia heading toward the stairs by herself. He squirms through the crowd and catches up with her at the landing.

“Can I…?” he asks and fades out, not sure how to ask.

“Yeah, that’s where I’m headed,” she says, continuing to her door.

Once inside, she kicks off her heels and flops onto her bed. “Scott might just end up sleeping in the bounce house,” she muses, reaching slowly for a remote on her bedside table. “Are you a 30 Rock fan? I’m behind.”

“I haven’t seen much of it,” he admits. “Laura, uh… my sister, likes it though.”

“I know who Laura is,” she says lightly, turning her TV on. She keeps her eyes on the screen and navigates through her TiVo menu. “So, you okay?” she asks.

“Yeah, just… waiting for Stiles.”

“Waiting for him to do what?”

“Finish what he’s doing so I can ask him to take me home.”

“Ah.” She selects the recorded episode and pauses it. “What’s he doing?”

“Um… making out with Danny, I guess.”

She laughs. “So that could take anywhere from two minutes to an hour,” she informs him. She pats the bed next to her to invite him to sit.

So he does. He kicks his shoes off and settles in against the headboard and watches 30 Rock with Lydia Martin in her room while music thrums through the house below them and footsteps and giggles echo through the hall outside. It’s… bizarre.

“So have Stiles and Danny… been a thing for awhile?” Derek asks while Lydia fast forwards through some commercials.

“Uh… define “thing”?”

“I don’t know, people who make out with each other,” Derek clarifies.

She shrugs. “Didn’t Danny ever say anything?” she asks.

Derek shakes his head.

“He’s just like the rest of them, then,” she says, sounding disappointed.
Derek gets what she means by that. She means he’s a typical popular kid, too pre-occupied with his status to admit to anything his friends would think is lame or shameful. She means he’s an asshole. She means Stiles would be someone that someone like Danny would think is embarrassing. She’s wrong on all counts. “No he isn’t,” Derek defends. “I mean, he’s making out with him in the middle of a crowded party, so…”

Lydia looks over at him and studies him. “True,” she dismisses with a shrug and then focuses her attention back on the TV.

**

It’s not that Stiles gets bored with Danny, oh no definitely not that, it’s that someone taps him on the shoulder and tells him that Scott and Greg Schultz were seen arguing not too long ago.

“Sorry, damage control,” Stiles says, disentangling himself from Danny with an apologetic smile. Danny nods, understanding, and gently shoves Stiles toward his mission.

After dragging Scott away, escorting Greg to the door and watching him leave, they head up to Lydia’s room for a breather.

“Guess who almost got his bounce house popped—“

Lydia and Derek shush him in unison and Lydia points furiously at the TV. Stiles’ mouth drops open in mild surprise.

They’re watching a History Channel documentary about mummies… Scott “oh cool!’s and drops to the floor at the foot of the bed to join in.

When the commercials come on, Lydia pauses it. “Greg Schultz better have been asked to leave,” she says, looking at Stiles.

“He was.”

She nods her approval. “How’s Danny?” she asks, sly.

“Same as always,” Stiles answers. Sweet, good at kissing, hot, etc… “How’s everyone? Good nights all around?” he asks, looking between her and Derek.

Lydia nods, Derek nods, Scott beams and nods despite being in time out. Scott’s wasted. Lydia’s undetectably but probably a little tipsy. Derek seems sober.

“Anyone need any rides home or…?” he throws out there for Derek’s benefit.

“Maybe after this,” Lydia says, gesturing to the TV.

“You two are watching the History Channel… at a party?” Stiles asks. “And you’re perfectly happy with that?”

They both nod. “And 30 Rock,” Lydia adds.

“Alright, fine,” Stiles says. He sits on the floor next to Scott and joins in.

When Scott gets antsy and heads back downstairs after awhile Stiles reluctantly goes with him, leaving Derek and Lydia to continue bonding over mutual fascination with ancient Egyptian mummification processes.

“Nerds,” Stiles hisses at Lydia as he goes.

“Assholes,” Lydia hisses back, shooting him a fond look. Derek turns a faint smile his way just as the door shuts.

**

October 10th, 2009
Saturday

Derek wakes up the next morning after nowhere near enough sleep with Laura hovering over him.

“Huh?” he asks before burrowing back into his pillows.

“When did you get home?” she asks, sounding authoritative.

“Late.”

She walks over to the curtains and pulls them open, flooding the room in bright sunlight. Never one for delicacy, she asks, “How hungover are you?”

Derek sits up and looks at her, unamused. She seems surprised at his ability to move at all.

“Oh.”

Derek raises his eyebrows.

“Come to breakfast with us?” she asks, voice softening now that she doesn’t have to be disappointed.

“Please!” Cora adds from the other side of his half-open door.

“We’re going to Hank’s, mom has a taste for hash browns.” Laura sounds like she’s trying to talk him down from an impending hissy fit, cautious and forcefully gentle.

Derek grumbles his way out of bed and toward his closet. “What?” he asks sharply when he realizes she’s still rooted to the spot.

“So… is this a yes?”

He nods exactly once and stares back at her. Her face splits into a smile before she spins on her heel and leaves.

Derek feels like he hasn’t seen his mother in forever. He keeps catching her eye in the rearview mirror on the way to breakfast. She looks the same as always, wears the same perfume, does her hair the same way. But she seems different. Just a little. Quieter, maybe. She doesn’t sing along to the radio, but none of them do. She doesn’t go through her usual list of questions with each of them like she used to in the morning. (“How’d you sleep? What are you doing today? Any tests coming up? When’s that soccer game, Cora? Laura, did you clean the paint out of your bathroom sink like I asked you to? Who wants lasagna for dinner?” and on and on until one of them ran yelling and laughing away from her or until their father could interject with his own long list of questions, citing a cross examination.)

But maybe she’s just tired.

And at breakfast, Laura and Cora talk easily, guiding their own conversation while their mother and Derek listen in. Derek finds out that Cora’s got a crush on some boy in her class and that Laura’s friend Kara has a girlfriend at Berkeley and a bunch of other details of his sisters’ lives. Cora is excited for winter sports, Laura needs more canvases, Cora needs to study for a history test, Laura is reading a really good book right now…

He’s glad his sisters are doing better than he is.

When their food comes, they quiet down for a bit to concentrate on eating. Derek is starving, which is an almost refreshing sensation. It doesn’t take long for his sisters to start talking again and the sound of their voices is comforting.

He feels his mom’s eyes on him and looks up with a strip of bacon halfway to his mouth. She gives him a smile from behind her coffee cup. He raises a questioning eyebrow. She shrugs one shoulder.

“Where were you last night anyway?” Laura asks, addressing Derek.

“A birthday party,” he answers with his mouth full. His mom wrinkles her nose at him.

“Whose?”

“Scott McCall’s.”

Laura tilts her head, questioning. “Since when are you friends with Scott McCall?”

Previous to patting Scott’s back while he threw up in the guest bathroom, Derek might have disputed the “friend” distinction, but now… “Since like last week,” Derek answers. “You know him?”

“I know of him.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mom asks, propping her chin on her hand and looking between them.

“He tied a junior to the flagpole for all the school to see when he was a freshman,” Laura says, biting down the urge to laugh.

Their mom nods thoughtfully. “And?”

Laura shrugs. “He’s a little skate punk thing. Runs with a certain crowd. Was in love with Kara, actually.”

“What sort of crowd?”

“The cool crowd,” Cora offers.

“I don’t know,” Laura says, ignoring Cora’s contribution. “Cigarette smoking, rock ’n’ roll music listening, devil worshipping kids. Not Derek’s scene,” she finishes off in a mocking tone.

“So, your scene?” their mom asks, smirking.

“Exactly,” Laura says. She sticks her tongue out. “They’ll eat our all-American Derek alive.”

“Oh, shut up,” Derek mumbles, looking back down at his plate.

“Nothing wrong with new friends,” their mom defends.

“So are you friends with Lydia Martin and Stiles Stilinski too?” Cora asks.

“You’re 11, how do you even know who they are?” Derek snaps at her, irritated.

“I’m 13,” she corrects. “Everyone knows who they are.”

“Is that the sheriff’s kid? Stilinski?” their mom asks. Derek nods. “They can’t be that bad, Laura. Did you have fun?” She directs the question to Derek. His sisters look at him expectantly and he hates feeling observed and scrutinized, but…

“Yeah, I did.”

“Good.” Her smile is a touch warmer even if she twists her wedding ring absently.

**

October 12th, 2009
Monday

It feels weird not seeing Derek until class actually starts, truth be told.

There are still remnants of Snape all over the classroom, like Harris had finally had his spirit broken just a tad and couldn’t be assed to clean them all up. Stiles sits with Lydia, Scott takes the table behind them all by himself.

“Birthday week is over, you are now eligible for third-wheel lab partner once again,” Stiles taunts him.

Scott shakes his head. “Derek makes it even, bro,” he says.

Derek enters a couple minutes later and takes the empty seat next to Scott like it’s nothing. And Stiles supposes it is. Stiles had found Derek awkwardly patting Scott’s back while he threw up in the guest bedroom, you just don’t come back unchanged after a thing like that. Scott sends Stiles a smug look before turning to address Derek.

The trial period is over and he might stick around.

It’s weird. And awesome.

When Harris unfurls the projector screen and a bunch of little Snapes flutter free, that’s pretty awesome too.

“What do you have third period?” Stiles asks Derek on the way to English.

“Spanish, why?”

“For reference. I have the most ditchable class ever third period and I hardly ever actually ditch it.”

“What class?”

Stiles flinches. “Uh, choir. In my defense, it was a clerical error. I put creative writing on my class preferences but uh, apparently my handwriting is worse than I thought.”

Derek considers him. “Sucks.”

Stiles shrugs. “It’s not that bad, but like I said, easily ditchable. Spanish, not so much. I guess I’ll continue going like a good boy.”

“So you sing?” Derek asks, like he can’t believe it.

“Not really.” He was told he had a weak voice just last week, actually. “I play guitar though.”

“Yeah, I knew that.”

“Oh.”

“I mean, you and Scott used to play on the quad so…”

“Oh, right.” He’s not sure why it’s weird to him to think that Derek had known who he was before, even though… of course he did. This is Beacon Hills, not some giant school in a huge metropolis. And he knew that he at least knew of him, he just hadn’t considered that Derek had noticed him.

“I can skip presentation days probably,” Derek says thoughtfully once they’re seated in class. “Like if I’m not in the group that goes.”

“We’ll have to plan something,” Stiles says, excited at the prospect.

**

October 19th, 2009
Monday

Derek hasn’t even turned his car off when Lydia slaps her palm against his window. Rather than get out and face her wrath (though, he doesn’t know what she’d be mad at him for), he rolls down the window. “Yes?”

She hands him a piece of paper. “Big chemistry test coming up,” she says.

He takes the paper but doesn’t think to look at it. “Yeah.”

“You ready for it?”

“Uh… probably not.”

“Harris will know you’ve been copying your homework, he’s not stupid,” she says, leaning against his hood while she waits for him to climb out.

“What do you mean?” He stands in front of her, paper held uncertainly in his hand. She gestures down to it, frustrated.

So he looks. And it takes him a second to register what’s wrong with it because it looks so familiar. Impossibly neat handwriting, the same format as always, last night’s chemistry homework…

“Oh… how’d you get this?”

She stares at him as if he’s an idiot. And then he realizes.

“You… you’ve been the one doing this?”

She nods, casting her gaze aside.

“I’ve just been using them to check my answers for the past couple of weeks,” Derek admits.

She looks back up at him with an almost smile. “Well, that’s comforting.”

“Why’d you do it?” he asks.

She casts her glance downward and jerkily brings her hand up to examine her nails. “I’m studying with the other two after school, you should come. Scott and I can help you with what you missed.”

“Okay, um. Thanks, yeah…”

She nods and then starts walking toward the school. Derek hesitates. She stops and looks over her shoulder, haughty look on her face. Derek follows.

“You wouldn’t get in trouble, you know?” Derek says. “If I got caught, there’s no way it’d get back to you.”

“I know,” she huffs. “But that’s not the point. I didn’t go to all that trouble to help you just to get you slapped with academic dishonesty. You could get expelled for that. I mean, you probably wouldn’t just for this but you would probably fail the semester and you’d probably get kicked out of the class and you’d get suspended for sure. Colleges wouldn’t like that, you know? I didn’t want to ruin your academic career just because I wanted to… whatever.”

“Because you wanted to… what?” he asks, stopping at the bottom step up to the front door. “It’s not like we were friends when you started, you had nothing to gain—“

She stops and turns around, looking down at him. “Everyone needs someone in their corner,” she says, voice firm but expression soft. When Derek just stares at her quizzically, she shrugs. “It wasn’t a big deal,” she mumbles, sounding a little shy.

“Thank you,” Derek says.

“Thank me if you pass the test.” And Lydia’s all business again, turning around and leading Derek into the school.

Even with her answer, Derek’s not sure why she did it. He follows her to her locker because he doesn’t need anything from his and leans against the one next to it. She fixes her lipstick in the magnetic mirror and swaps out her books and Derek just watches her.

They’d been acquaintances back in freshman year before her asshole boyfriend fucked her over and she ran off with Scott and Stiles. She had been haughty and distant and mean sometimes, but Derek hadn’t had any run-ins with her. And then she was gone. And now she’s this. Someone who sneaks chemistry answers into a near-stranger’s locker just so they won’t fail, someone who watches the History Channel during parties, someone who takes in wayward people and befriends them for no observable reason.

He doesn’t know how to feel now that his knight in shining armor, or lady in shining armor, has been unmasked. He thinks he’s mostly just flattered.

“Were you the one with the mix CD too?” Derek asks.

She looks at him, face curious but blank. “Huh?”

“There was an unmarked CD in my locker once along with the notes, was that you?”

She shakes her head and closes her locker. “Nah. Was it any good?” she asks, taking off toward the chemistry class. Scott and Stiles meet them just outside the door coming from the opposite direction.

“Yeah, it was.”

“What was what?” Scott asks.

“A mysterious but good CD ended up in Derek’s locker,” Lydia answers.

“Sweet,” Scott says. “Secret admirer, maybe?”

Derek laughs. “Uh, no, it didn’t give me that vibe.”

Later, Derek listens to a couple songs from it as he follows Stiles’ blue Jeep to his house. He parks on the street and looks up at the place, weirded out by how normal it looks. Stiles is wearing tight jeans with holes in the knees and frayed hems and a shirt with a skull and a band name on it. That and everything about him sorta seems out of place against the very suburban, grayish-bluish Stilinski home.

“This place blows for studying. I don’t know why, maybe it has something to do with airflow or natural acoustics or the angle of the light or something. Maybe this house was built on an ancient burial ground, who knows, but this is not optimal for studying. I always do better if I’ve studied at Scott’s, it’s practically science. But if Mama McCall needs to sleep before her late shift, then this is all we can do. Lydia’s house isn’t good for studying either,” Stiles explains, arms held out to his sides as if presenting.

“He’s full of shit,” Scott tells Derek.

“My house is fine,” Lydia argues, surging ahead of him and unlocking the door herself. “And so is yours. You’re just too easily distracted.”

“I have a condition,” Stiles argues, tapping his head. “A disorder, even.”

“She has a key to your house?” Derek asks.

“And Scott’s, and the Jeep,” Stiles confirms, leading him inside. “Welcome to Chez Stilinski.”

Chez Stilinski, as it were, is a distinctly masculine household. Muted colors, big well-loved leather couches, not a lot of clutter, simple decorations if any at all. In fact, the only decorations seem to be framed pictures of a gawky little kid (Stiles), a kid with a mop of chocolate brown curls covering his eyes (Scott) and Stiles’ strong-jawed, friendly-eyed father in various locations, doing various things. A more recent picture of Stiles with his arm around his father’s shoulders as they stand on a hill with the Golden Gate Bridge and sparkling blue water in the distance makes Derek’s insides twist with jealousy so he tears himself away to follow the rest of them further into the house.

Scott’s already setting up camp at the table in the kitchen and Lydia’s going through the cupboards.

“I’m making a pot of coffee,” she informs them.

“And I’m making pizza bites,” Stiles proclaims as he yanks the freezer open.

Derek sits across from Scott and starts pulling his notes out. Scott reaches for Lydia’s bag and pulls out a notebook and slides it to him.

“Always start with her notes, they’re the best,” he says, shooting Derek a smile.

Yeah, Derek’s figured that out.

**

October 21st, 2009
Wednesday

When Stiles gets home from his guitar lesson, his fingers are killing him and Scott McCall is dead asleep in his bed. He puts his guitar down in the corner of his room and creeps back downstairs to find his father.

“Scott’s in my bed,” Stiles says conversationally, leaning in the doorway to his office.

“Yeah? Must have been here before I got home,” he muses. He’s still in his uniform and everything. “Ask him if he’s hungry.”

Stiles nods and heads back upstairs. He sits on his bed next to Scott’s sleeping form and tickles his face with the edge of his blanket. Scott sniffs a couple times and twitches away before he actually wakes up.

“Hey,” Stiles says.

“Hey.” Scott stretches out like a cat and rubs his face. “Sorry.”

Stiles shrugs even though Scott’s not looking. “What’s going on?” he asks.

Scott groans into his hands for awhile. “My dad called. I knew he was going to ask to talk to me so I left.”

Stiles hmms sympathetically.

“They started fighting pretty much instantly,” Scott sighs, sitting up and knocking Stiles’ blankets off of chest.

“I’m sorry.”

Scott’s answering shrug is a furious little movement accompanied by a scowl.

This is something Stiles has never been able to fix or figure out for Scott. His father is a shitty parent who has left Scott full of pure, rarely tapped rage. No matter how loving and understanding Melissa is, no matter how present and firm the Sheriff is, no matter how deep their friendship is… no one can mend it. There’s a naked-to-the-untrained-eye scar on Scott’s temple from being pushed into the corner of a coffee table that will never heal all the way either.

Stiles reaches over and tugs Scott into a side hug. Scott’s only stiff and reluctant for a second before he relaxes into it.

“How was your lesson?” Scott asks, rubbing his head against the side of Stiles’ before he pulls away and stands up.

“My fingers hurt,” Stiles says, showing Scott his angry pink finger tips. “But it was good.”

Scott holds his hands out to compare calluses. Scott’s better about practicing on his own and learning things by himself, Stiles is a little envious. His fingers are tougher and smoother than Stiles’.

“You are a stronger man, McCall,” Stiles says, pushing his hands away to play at indignant but his voice comes off too affectionate for that.

“Nah,” Scott disagrees.

Stiles doesn’t like the self-deprecating tone the dismissal carries, but he lets it slide. “Oh, I was supposed to ask if you’re hungry,” Stiles says instead of calling him out.

When they get downstairs, it seems his father already assumed Scott would be because he’s got the table set for three.

“I ran into Talia Hale earlier,” the Sheriff says out of nowhere seconds after they’re seated and eating.

“Yeah?” Stiles asks, exchanging a questioning look with Scott.

“She mentioned that Derek’s been spending time with your merry little band of hoodlums.”

“Can you really call it a band of hoodlums if it’s just us and Lydia? Does Lydia really qualify as a hoodlum?” Stiles asks.

“Did she or did she not fill the Whittemore’s pool with feminine hygiene products and blow up dolls?” The Sheriff barely hides his amusement.

“That was mostly Maisie, Lydia was just an accomplice,” Scott says in her defense.

“She’s still a hoodlum. Anyway! Talia Hale, as I was saying, wanted to thank you.”

Stiles squints suspiciously at his father, unsure how to take that.

“For what?” Scott asks, looking equally suspicious.

The Sheriff shrugs. “She said Derek seemed to be happy.” Stiles catches the hidden, implied “er” at the end of that. Happier.

Now, Stiles is just fine at traveling the world on his own terms, making sense of emotions and feelings and personal relationships and things wordlessly and with faux nonchalance that keeps all parties feeling properly insulated. He knows how to affectionately, delicately, and discreetly handle Scott’s hatred of his father and most of the hang-ups that come with that. He knows how to make sure Lydia feels paid attention to and properly adored without fussing too much or making it too obvious. He’s figuring out how to bring Derek into the fold now too. He gets it. But external feedback from parents… that’s weird.

“It’s nothing,” he dismisses, feeling like he’s been somehow caught. He turns his attention to the food before him and tucks in without another word. Scott instantly starts babbling about how good the chicken is.

The Sheriff snorts at them both. “You two aren’t as hard as you think you are, I see right through it.” His baseless accusation is met with silence. “Anyway, how’s Maisie? Still intimidating her fellow med school students?”

“Lydia said she gets to dissect a cadaver this year,” Scott says, excited. The Sheriff looks unimpressed.

Chapter Text

October 23rd, 2009
Friday

Derek wakes up to a hard morning. Opening his eyes slowly to the alarm, not a single ounce of strength in him, a weight on his chest, his stomach a cold and empty pit, the house quiet and still.

The alarm is still going off and he’s still trying to think of reasons worth getting out of bed when he hears Laura get back from dropping Cora off. He reaches for his phone just to turn off the sound so she won’t come knocking when she gets upstairs and sees that he has one unread text from Stiles.

“Chemistry fuuuuuuuuck!!!!! I begged Lydia for a last second cram sesh, come to school early.”

Chemistry test first period. Good enough reason, Derek supposes. He can’t afford any more fuck-ups in the academic department, especially not when his grades are starting to bounce back. He sends Stiles a quick confirmation and drags himself to his closet.

He still feels heavy and cold and weak when he gets to school, but Stiles shoves a greasy white bag full of donuts toward him when he sits.

“I am not going to get fucked by Harris. Did you see my last homework grade? Like I don’t care about chemistry, okay, I don’t. I don’t need this shit for college or anything, but I will not let that man break me,” Stiles mutters. He looks up when Derek doesn’t reach for the bag. “Dude, those are maple bars from the best donut place in town, you need one.”

Lydia tears hers in half and hands one piece to him. Derek takes it only because he can’t deny it. She gives him a soft look Derek could almost describe as understanding. “Practice questions,” she says simply, sliding a piece of paper toward him.

Scott shows up about fifteen minutes later, looking refreshed and ready to go. He digs into the bag of maple bars and reads over his own notes until the bell rings.

And when Derek walks out after class, the others following close behind him, he feels… decent. He’d known how to answer all the multiple choice and he’d known how to do most of the problem sets. He was going to be fine.

Lydia and Scott discuss their answers on their short walk together before branching off for their own classes, Stiles acts like the test never happened at all.

“You okay?” he asks, pausing outside the door to their class.

“What?”

Stiles lifts an eyebrow. “I said, are you okay?”

Derek nods, shoots him a confused look and dodges around him to push open the door. Stiles doesn’t say anything else while they sit and wait for class to start. Derek flips to the page in his notebook that’s almost entirely covered in swooping, thick black ink lines and continues working on it. He feels Stiles’ eyes on him but doesn’t look up.

**

Stiles hates choir. And he especially hates choir on Fridays when Mr. Hannigan tries to appeal to the youth by letting them pick whatever songs they want. All that even means is that the overly-involved soprano girls and the one weird bass guy they pal around with pick a bunch of songs off the radio. It’s hell.

Today they’re trying to figure out how to arrange Poker Face for a capella while the sad sacks who don’t enjoy this class half as much as they do just sit and pray for death.

Stiles’ phone vibrates in his pocket and he doesn’t even try to hide that he’s looking at it. The last time Hannigan took his phone away, Stiles sang too loud and off-key on purpose for the rest of class.

Stiles swears he’s dreaming when he reads Derek Hale’s text asking him, “How’s choir?”

“Hell on earth. How’s Spanish?”

“Mas o menos la misma.”

“Look at you, Mr. Bilingual. Ditch out, go to the bathroom across from your class.”

Stiles doesn’t even wait for Derek’s confirmation before he slinks out leaving Mr. Hannigan and his pets to plunk at the piano for pitch, lost in their own Lady Gaga world.

“Still can’t picture you singing,” Derek says when Stiles gets to the bathroom.

Stiles shrugs. “Unlike fairies, I do not require your belief.” He strides to the wall opposite of the door and wrenches the window open. He lights a cigarette and leans against the wall before realizing that Derek’s staring at him. “What?”

“The fairy thing…”

“Peter Pan, c’mon, Hale. Smoke?”

“No. And I know. How do you even get those?”

“A store.”

“Do you have a fake ID?”

Stiles actually laughs at that. Of course he does.

“How do you get away with all this shit?” Derek asks. He shifts in his spot on the sink so he’s facing Stiles more head-on.

Stiles is used to one of two things from Derek: silence or a long list of questions. Stiles puts up with both, even though the questions thing sorta baffles him. It makes him feel like a criminal or a celebrity or like a strange new species.

“I don’t know,” Stiles answers honestly. “Dumb luck mostly.” He takes a long drag of his cigarette and turns to blow it out the window.

“Why do you smoke?”

And the questioning continues.

“Bad habit.”

“If you know that, then why do you do it?”

“Calms my nerves,” Stiles admits. The first one he smoked was at the top of summer after hyperventilating outside of The Jungle. Some guy offered it to him with a skeptical “you look too young to be here.”

Derek huffs and Stiles can’t tell if it’s because he thinks it’s a bullshit reason or because he thinks Stiles has no reason to have nerves in the first place. Stiles tilts his head at him, studying him right back.

He’s still got the tightly coiled shoulders and the dark circles under his eyes and the sunken cheeks going for him. He’s still not looking terribly put together. But Stiles feels a marked difference in him. Maybe. Maybe he’s full of shit. Maybe he’s just hoping he’s doing better.

“How are you?” Stiles asks, jutting his chin toward him and making the words sound as light and airy as possible. No double meanings here, Derek. No meddling. Just honest conversation.

“Fine.”

“You don’t talk much,” Stiles says before he can stop himself. Derek’s been hanging out with them for three weeks now, not that Stiles is counting. It’s not like he expected miracles. He has no idea what he expected, actually.

“Don’t have much to say,” Derek answers, shifting uncomfortably. He casts a nervous look at the door and crosses his arms.

Stiles remembers the feeling. It’s either nothing at all to say or way too much and both options lead to silence. He waits for Derek to turn back toward him and shrugs.

“Isn’t Scott in your class?”

“Yeah,” he answers, dropping his crossed arms again. “Should I have brought him?”

“Scott McCall doesn’t skip Spanish,” Stiles laughs. “Scott McCall only cares about science and Spanish and guitar, everything else is unnecessary.”

“He talked about Kara Simmons for twenty minutes solid yesterday at lunch,” Derek deadpans.

“Scott also cares about girls.”

“She has a girlfriend.”

“What? Really?”

Derek nods, a slight smirk taking over. “My sister mentioned it.”

“Ohh man. How do we break it to Scott?”

Derek shrugs. “Could just be a college thing, I guess.”

Stiles takes another long drag of his cigarette and blows it out the window. “The phase theory, huh?”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Like what?” Stiles challenges, playful. He bends his knee so one foot is flat against the wall behind him, stretches his body out. Derek’s eyes stay on his face.

“Offensively.”

“Now, why would I be offended?”

Derek stares at him, unamused, and puffs up his cheeks before letting his mouth drop open in an attempt to answer. “Uh…”

Stiles laughs. He slides his foot off the tile wall and assumes a normal posture again. “I’m kidding. The whole… being out thing is new and fun still.”

“Are you out?” Derek asks. There we go, back to the questions.

“It’s a rolling release sort of deal. I’m letting the news spread itself. Like a soft opening.”

Derek smiles slowly. “Dirty,” he says.

Stiles nods, grinning because Derek made a joke, and says, “Has been so far.”

**

October 31st, 2009
Saturday

Halloween was his dad’s favorite holiday.

He was a notorious hater of Christmas who would tug at his tie in church and mutter about how unbelievable it was that they were exactly the type of people who only showed religious reverence when “the Big Guy and all the judgmental old assholes in this town are watching.” He patiently put up with his wife’s enthusiasm for Christmas. Dutifully balanced on ladders to hang string lights along the roof. Judiciously selected the fullest, greenest and tallest tree for the foyer. Cheerfully gave presents and opened presents and cleaned up the wrapping paper and ribbons afterwards. But still, he hated it. It was actually a part of the season for the Hales to observe just how much he hated it and endured it.

But everyone knew Halloween was his. The second October 1st hit, the house would slowly start to fill up with decorations up until the week prior when suddenly the front yard was a construction zone for an honest to God haunted house.

And then there was the annual Full Moon Hale Hayride (“Haleride, get it? Get it?” he’d say at least once, beaming to himself about the pun). A bonfire in the backyard, hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks, a telescope set up to look at the moon, scarecrows and hay bales set up, everyone who worked with or knew either parent, the whole family, Derek and his sisters’ friends. Half the town ended up attending.

Derek had actually forgotten that until the day before when Cora subtly noted how weird it was that she hadn’t been picking fake cobwebs off her clothes all month.

Laura actually made a sound, like she’d been socked in the stomach, and covered it up by coughing into the crook of her elbow. Derek’s heart dropped to his feet.

He wakes up on the day of and feels so extraordinarily numb that he can’t move. The longer he stays still, the more the numb gives away to icy loneliness.

There’s a soft knock at his door when the cold is at its peak. Derek “what”?s just loud enough for the person on the other side to hear and then the door creaks open. Cora pokes her head in, a wide-eyed and fearful look on her face.

“What?” Derek repeats.

“Can we watch Casper?” she asks, voice shaking a little.

Halloween is Cora’s favorite holiday too, Derek remembers with a sharp pain.

“Yeah,” he says, sitting up slowly.

She pushes the door open further and leans against the doorway, looking out Derek’s window beyond his bed.

Derek wraps his comforter around himself and shuffles toward her. “Count Chocula?” he asks. Her lip actually quivers.

“We don’t have any,” she says.

Derek nods. “Let’s go get some.”

So of course he runs into Stiles and Scott at the grocery store, still in pajamas with his little sister still in hers as well.

“Batman, nice,” Stiles says, gesturing to Cora. Cora blushes and crowds closer to Derek.

“Count Chocula run?” Scott asks cheerfully, grinning at both of them.

“Yeah,” Derek answers, shaking the box in his hand. “Candy run?” he asks.

“More like egg and toilet paper run,” Stiles answers, smirking devilishly.

“And shaving cream. And, I don’t know, what else…” Scott adds, tapping his chin thoughtfully.

“Vegetable oil,” Cora says in a small voice.

“Huh?” Scott says, looking at her.

“Makes uh… I mean, it makes things slippery, right? Hard to clean up.”

Derek tries not to smirk at that. Stiles’ and Scott’s creepy smiles mirror each other and Cora squares her shoulders proudly.

“I like her,” Stiles declares. “I’m Stiles, this is Scott,” he introduces. “And you must be little Hale.”

“Cora,” she corrects. “Nice to meet you.”

“What are you doing tonight, Der?” Scott asks.

“Uh… just hanging out with my sisters,” he says, though he knows Laura will be scarce.

“Great, why don’t you and your sisters come hang out with us?”

“She’s twelve.”

“I’m thirteen,” Cora growls through her teeth.

“What do you think we’re planning on doing, Derek? Nothing illicit on this high holy day,” Stiles says, faking shock. “Just some light pranking and heavy candy eating, nothing inappropriate for the youth. Lydia could use some additional girl power tonight, c’mon.”

Derek looks uncertainly at Cora who looks back up at him with wide, hopeful eyes.

“Fine, sure.”

“Alright! Until later then, friends. I’ll text you details,” Stiles says with a clap.

“They’re cool,” Cora says when they’re in the car headed back to their Casper screening.

“Yeah.”

“Are you really going to let me hang out with them?” she asks uncertainly.

“Yes.” He wonders when Cora got so timid…

When they get home, they sit on the couch wrapped in blankets with the box of Count Chocula and a gallon of milk on the coffee table and watch the movie. And it’s weird. Hollow almost. Lacking without Laura reciting all the lines along with it, less charming without their father making vague promises to haunt them in death (promises, Derek thinks to himself, that he has not kept). Cora cries through most of it, for what must be hundreds of different reasons, and Derek understands. He doesn’t press the issue, he doesn’t remark on it, he doesn’t suggest turning the movie off. But he does set his cereal bowl down so he can pull her into a hug that lasts up through the credits.

**

Stiles spends all afternoon planning out detailed maps and rationing the exact amount of supplies needed for every stop. He even plans out alternative routes and alibis and rendezvous points should they get separated on the battlefield.

Lydia doesn’t participate in the prep, she just watches from the couch in her garage while taking down caramel apple pop after caramel apple pop until her teeth hurt. Scott just obeys orders and suggests taking breaks every now and then.

“Are you ever going to let me throw a Halloween party?” Lydia asks after awhile. “Like a real, genuine costume party or something? Stupid punny costumes, scantily clad girls, lacrosse boys finding excuses to be shirtless?”

“You can if you want,” Stiles says in a way that means he will not be attending if it means not doing this.

She huffs out a sigh.

“Text Derek, tell him and his sister to be here and dressed in black in an hour.”

“You get this whole intensity about you on Halloween,” Lydia observes. “I find it troubling.”

Stiles looks up from his map of Beacon Hills to glare. “This is serious business.”

Lydia’s eyes look past Stiles’ shoulder and he knows she’s making significant eye contact with Scott. Stiles chooses to ignore that. She rolls her eyes and reaches for her phone.

By the time Derek and his little sister arrive, Stiles has everything ready to go. He explains that the plan is to wait out the trick-or-treaters so they have minimal witnesses, so until then they’ll be eating pizza and watching all the Halloween episodes of any TV show they can find.

When kids have stopped ringing the Martin’s doorbell and the neighborhood seems pretty clear, they all pile into Lydia’s dad’s car (for anonymity and stealth’s sake) and head out. Lydia forces all the boys into the backseat so Cora can sit comfortably next to her. She flashes her a kind smile and Cora looks a little starstruck.

“We hit Mrs. O’Leary first, but gently. Just a few rolls of toilet paper over her trees. She may have been an evil librarian, but she’s old.” Stiles is already planning on offering to clean it up for her tomorrow when he casually drives past her house. He’s a sucker. “And then we make our way through Mr. Davis, Mrs. Weisman, the Kemps, and finally the Greenbergs.”

“Are these all teachers?” Cora asks.

Stiles leans forward to put his elbows on the center console. “Mostly. You have any you want to get?”

“No. Well…”

Stiles grins at her. “C’mon, who?”

“Coach Herbert. She’s my swim coach and uh…”

“She’s a bitch,” Derek supplies. Cora makes eye contact with him over her shoulder and nods. “She lives by Harris, who I’m assuming you’re planning on hitting anyway,” Derek says.

“Perfect, we’ll get her.” Stiles reaches out and ruffles Cora’s hair before settling back.

“Seriously, nothing that will get us arrested, right? She’s tw—“ Cora glares at her brother. “Thirteen.”

“Hellooo, I’m a professional ruffian, we’ll be fine.”

**

Cora had fidgeted in the car the whole drive over to Lydia’s but she hadn’t said anything about being nervous. She just flipped the sun visor down to frown at her still-puffy eyes in the mirror like she’d done a hundred times before leaving the house.

But now that she’s tossing a roll of toilet paper to Stiles who is precariously perched on the roof of some teacher’s house, she is nothing but smiles.

Real, radiant, blinding smiles. Derek hasn’t seen her so happy in months.

“Good arm, ace!” Stiles says in a barely audible voice. She beams.

Scott climbs back over the fence and tosses an empty bottle of vegetable oil to Lydia so she can throw it away in a big black trash bag, part of Stiles’ “no evidence left behind” policy. She wipes her hands on her ratty old black jeans and heads back to the car.

Seconds later, they’re all back in the car talking and laughing over each other. Derek’s been exiled to the passenger seat so Stiles, Scott and Cora can talk strategy.

“Stay in the car if you’re going to be slow,” Stiles says when they stumble out of the backseat, looking directly at Lydia.

Lydia huffs and flips him off, resolutely not taking her seatbelt off.

Derek hesitates.

“Go ahead,” she says, flippant. Her frown says otherwise.

Derek shrugs. “Not a fan of this?” he asks.

She props her elbow up on the door and rubs her left temple. “It’s fine.”

“It’s fine but…” Derek prompts softly.

She jerks her head to look at him, eyebrows furrowed. He feels like he’s being assessed. “It’s fine,” she says sternly. “Are you not having a good time?” she asks, though it sounds like a threat.

Derek nods. “I am.”

“Okay then.” She turns away from him and slumps in her seat.

They’re silent for a couple seconds, Derek not sure what to say or do in this situation. He knows he’s not needed out there and that he’ll just mess up Stiles’ delicate timing by trying to join in this late in the game so he just waits.

“It’s not that I don’t like doing this,” Lydia says, voice clear and defensive. “And listen, I don’t know how you and your little crew used to operate, but I can promise you that we’re different. I do not talk behind their backs, they do not talk behind mine, got it?”

Derek stares at her, barely resisting the urge to let his jaw drop. “That’s not what I was trying to do.”

“We are loyal to each other,” she continues, leveling him with a piercing glare.

“Uh okay, I—“

“And this is not my favorite way to spend Halloween, but those two-“ She nods out the window toward the house they’re terrorizing. “Love doing this. Got it?”

“Yeah, got it.”

Derek participates at the rest of the houses on the route, Lydia doesn’t. Stiles elbows him outside Coach Herbert’s house, right before the grand finale at Harris’, and smiles at him.

“Don’t worry about her,” he says in a low voice. “She can be rough.”

“Rough? Understatement!” Scott adds. “Did she bust your ass, man?”

“No,” Derek says, but he supposes she did.

Cora finishes drawing a giant shaving cream angry face on the hood of her coach’s car and looks at it proudly. Scott jogs up to her to scheme some more.

“What’d she do?” Stiles asks, watching Cora and Scott like he’s their proud mentor.

“Lydia? Nothing.”

“She hates, hates, hates doing this, she’d rather be orchestrating another rager.”

Stiles hmms and nods thoughtfully. “I don’t know, dude, ignore it. She’ll be fine once we’re back home watching movies and shit.”

They nail Harris’ place with a vengeance. Derek thinks this whole vendetta is excessive, but he does find it therapeutic to coat his windows in a thick layer of shaving cream. Stiles leaves mayonnaise filled condoms all over the bushes that line his house, wiggling one at Derek and sticking his tongue out, eyes positively sparkling with mirth.

They stand back on the sidewalk and marvel at the mess they’ve made for exactly two seconds before the porch light flickers on.

“Shit!” Scott grabs Cora and Stiles by the backs of their shirts and practically tosses them into Lydia’s car. Derek dives into the passenger seat.

Just as they get the door closed, the front door creaks open, knocking over a pile of half-full soda cans.

“Go! Go! Go!” Stiles yells at a startled Lydia.

“Idiots!” she hisses at them, cranking the car to life and peeling out while Harris yells after them. “Did he see you?”

“I don’t think so,” Stiles laughs, clutching his chest.

“Put on your seatbelts! Oh my god!” Lydia exclaims, reaching back to try to slap whoever she can reach. “Oh my god! You said he’d be at the bar, Stiles! What the fuck was that! I need good grades in his classes, you irresponsible assholes. Not you, Cora, you’re innocent in this, but those two!” She slows to a stop at a red light and seethes.

“Hey,” Stiles says, popping up from the back to lean on the center console. “Look at me.” Lydia reluctantly looks at him. “You’re the best getaway driver I could ever dream of and I love you very much, Lydia Martin.”

She grumbles an “I love you too” and Stiles smacks a wet, messy kiss on her cheek before retreating to the back.

“You’re the best, Lydia!” Scott throws in for good measure. Cora enthusiastically agrees. Derek catches Lydia smiling,

“I think it’s actually more satisfying to see an immediate reaction,” Scott muses.

“I think you’re right, Scotty,” Stiles says. “As long as there isn’t a warrant out for our arrest in the morning.”

When they get back to Lydia’s house, Lydia grabs Derek by the elbow and drags him toward the kitchen. “Your former friends hurt me,” Lydia says in a low, quiet voice. “But you were always nice to me. So I’m sorry for earlier. It wasn’t fair.”

Derek remembers. He’d told the guys off right in front of Lydia once, and behind her back hundreds of other times. He’d never had a reason to be mean to Lydia, she’d never done anything to him…

“He was an asshole,” Derek says softly.

Lydia tilts her head. “Oh, Kyle? Yeah.” She smiles. “Worked out in the end, though.” She lifts her chin in the direction of the living room where Derek can hear Scott and Stiles teasing Cora while she laughs.

“Looks like it.”

**

Cora’s knocked out with her head on Derek’s knee, Lydia and Scott are arguing about how to make popcorn balls out in the kitchen, the very beginning of Rocky Horror Picture Show is paused on the TV. Stiles stares at the gentle, protective hand Derek keeps on the side of Cora’s head. It’s the weirdest thing.

Stiles had never pictured Derek with his sisters, especially not his younger sister. He had never really pictured his little sister at all so he’s not sure if he’s surprised or not. She’s feisty and sharp-tongued but sweet and lively. She looks like Derek, just like Derek looks like Laura. Stiles has never seen their parents, but they must be beautiful if their kids are anything to go by.

“She’s a good kid,” Stiles says softly.

“She’s okay,” Derek answers with a snort. “Halloween is her favorite and uh … um, so… thanks.”

“No problem. She was a great addition to the team.” Stiles doesn’t voice that he knows Halloween can be really hard because honestly who really resonates with that? Stiles has had a skeleton decoration hanging in his room for years because skeletons were his mom’s thing and Halloween was her thing and pranks were her thing too… So Stiles doesn’t exactly know why this year would have been harder for Cora, but he can imagine.

Derek nods and they fall into silence again. Stiles listens in on Scott and Lydia’s argument about whether or not they should use peanut butter over the sound of popcorn popping in the microwave. His mom always made them with peanut butter and Scott is vehemently pro-peanut butter in there. Stiles knows that Scott knows and Stiles loves him. Truly, deeply, eternally. True brotherhood is fighting the small fights.

“I can’t believe we didn’t get caught,” Derek says.

“Skill, luck, and know-how, Hale.”

“You’re the Sheriff’s son,” Derek states.

“Indeed.”

“So how do you get away with everything? Everyone knows who you are and who your dad is…”

“I told you. It’s all about skill, luck, and know-how.”

“But he has to know you’re a punk-ass.”

“Yeah, of course he knows, but he never catches me.”

“How? How on earth does he not catch you?”

“He catches me sometimes,” Stiles defends.

“And do you ever get in trouble?”

“If my punk-assery gets me in trouble at school and he finds out about it, he’ll change the wifi password on me.”

Derek stares at him, incredulous before laughing a little. “That’s it?”

Stiles shrugs. “I think he feels a little out of his element with me sometimes.”

“He’s law enforcement, I doubt that.”

Stiles shrugs again. He thinks about it, which he rarely allows himself to do. He thinks about that look his dad gets when punishing Stiles… that sort of lonely, lost look that Stiles hates inspiring. His mom had always been the punisher. She was the only one Stiles couldn’t charm his way out of trouble with. He remembers how frustrated he got with how stubborn she was. They could have a stare off for days without either of them breaking. And no one could ever reach her level of effectiveness when it came to the “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” tactic. Stiles hardly ever acted out just to avoid it.

“Maybe he just goes easy on me because of my mom,” Stiles muses.

“What about your mom? Is she a hard-ass?”

“She’s dead.” Stiles’ insides twist and twist and twist into knots and he remembers his first Halloween without her, wishing all the legends of the dead walking the earth for just one night were true so he could spend it with her.

“Oh. Sorry, I didn’t know,” Derek says, sounding strangled.

“Alright, we need a tie breaker,” Lydia says as she walks in from the kitchen. “Peanut butter in these things or no?”

“Yes,” Stiles says softly, picking at the frayed hem of his jeans.

“Yes,” Derek agrees, just as softly.

“Fine. You win, Scott!” she announces, heading back.

“It’s okay,” Stiles says once she’s out of earshot. “Anyway, I can’t believe you’ve never seen Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

**

November 18th, 2009
Wednesday

When Stiles gets to the station with dinner in tow, his dad is out on a call.

“What is it?” Stiles asks the deputy at the front desk. “Murder? Domestic disturbance? Noise complaint?”

“You know I can’t tell you,” Tara says, leaning against the counter and leveling him with a disapproving look.

“Hey, it’s a citizen’s right to know. I can get the police scanner feed on my laptop. This is an equipped society, Tara.”

“Then go do that,” she says with a smirk.

“I will.”

“But I am under orders not to tell you what calls your dad is out on, even if it is just a drunk and disorderly call.”

Stiles grins. “You’re just doing your job, I understand.”

“He’ll be back soon,” she says, buzzing him through. She points toward his office and gives Stiles a stern “don’t fuck around” face.

Stiles sits in the Sheriff’s chair because he likes to feel important. He takes all the red ink pens out of his dad’s pen holder and hides them in the top drawer. He reaches for the cube of post-it notes and knocks the mouse over in doing so. The monitor wakes up at the movement and Stiles sees that the report system has been left open.

Huh.

His dad would scalp him for toying with it. If he ever found out.

The temptation is overwhelming.

But no. He pulls the post-it notes toward him and starts writing a note to hide in his dad’s desk.

“I, Sheriff John Stilinski, love my son and owe him one (1) increase in allowance by $20 dollars for the month of January 2010 because the new Motion City Soundtrack AND Wonder Years albums are coming out then.” He draws a line for his father to sign on and sticks it to the framed picture of him in a T-ball uniform being hugged by his mother.

When that feels a little cheap, he peels it off and sticks it on the phone.

He spins in the chair so his back is toward the temptress of a computer and stares up at all his dad’s fancy awards and things.

He thinks back on lunch, which had been pretty low-energy and low-morale all around. Lydia’s parents were dragging her out of town for the whole next week to have Thanksgiving with her grandparents in Santa Barbara. Scott’s dad had been arguing in favor of Scott spending the holiday with him in San Francisco (Scott had staunchly refused, but it still soured his mood). The Sheriff informed him that he’d be working Thanksgiving, which sucked. And Derek… well.

Stiles’ first Thanksgiving after his mother’s death had been spent at the McCall’s while his dad went on a solo fishing trip.

And that’s why Stiles got the bright idea to invite him out to the preserve for a de-stressor that weekend. Smoking, talking, wandering around the woods, being outside and invisible to all human life. It’s always helped Stiles. There’s a specific spot in the woods that makes him feel centered like no other place on earth ever has.

Stiles lets his head fall back against the top of his dad’s chair as he looks up at the picture of his dad from the day he graduated from the academy. His mom kisses him on the cheek, his dad rests his hand on her swollen Stiles-filled belly. Stiles takes a deep, shuddering breath.

That first Thanksgiving had been spent playing video games with Scott while Melissa cooked. She had asked Stiles what his favorite food was the day before and he’d said corn dogs and there had been a plate full of them next to the turkey. He smiles at the memory.

It’d helped so much to have people who knew everything about what happened to his mom. He never had to talk about it, he never had to explain, he never had to handle it totally alone. Melissa knew the things to say and the way to treat him that would help him. Scott had known to stay present and what not to talk about. It’d meant the world to him.

He hopes Derek has something like that. He hopes Derek will be okay.

His fingers practically itch with the desire to reach back for the computer. Maybe if he just knew… he wouldn’t have to tell Derek he knew, but maybe if he knew he’d be able to be a better friend.

He spins back around and clicks on the name field, types HALE before he can think better of it, restricts the search to the county, and hits enter.

The only result is an accident report filed on August 14th, 2009. Stiles holds his breath as he clicks and skims over the details as fast as he can, increasingly worried that his dad will be back any second.

What he gleans from the report, which is basically written in hieroglyphics as far as he’s concerned, is that James Hale died in a car crash. He’s trying to decode more of it to find out why the Hales would keep that secret when his father appears in the doorway.

“Heeeey, pops,” Stiles says, exiting out of the report and staring up at him with wide eyes.

His dad heaves a sigh. “What was that?”

“Nothing.”

He rounds the desk and looks at the screen.

“I had the database up when I left, didn’t I?” he asks, knowing the answer.

“Yeah.”

“And you just closed it.”

“Yeah…”

He levels Stiles with a piercing glare until Stiles rolls away from him and stands, heading to his proper space on the other side of the desk.

“Let me guess,” the Sheriff says, settling into his seat and clicking around. “Ah yes, I see Hale has been searched for recently.”

“Shit,” Stiles curses.

“Close the door, son.”

Stiles obeys and sits back down, slumping in his seat as he prepares for the yelling.

“Keep that information to yourself,” his dad says softly, looking at him with a sad expression.

“Yes, sir.”

“How much did you understand?”

“I uh… was making a mental note to look up codes later.”

“He was driving home from the city. It was late, visibility in the preserve was low, the car was in good condition prior to the collision. Tire marks show an abrupt swerve, possibly to avoid an animal, he crashed into a tree at full speed. He was alive and conscious enough to call 911. Jaws of Life were required to get him out of the car. When he was removed from the car, he started to succumb to his injuries. He was rushed to the hospital where he died in surgery. He had a blood alcohol level of .065. For a man of his stature—“

“Impaired, but not legally drunk,” Stiles finishes. He feels cold all over.

The Sheriff nods. “In his 911 call, he said he’d had a few drinks with a client.”

Stiles chews on the side of his thumb, his mind whirring. “Why aren’t they telling people? It’s not that bad…”

“Ah, well,” his dad breathes. “A few reasons. James was primary council for some big drunk driving legislation before you kids were even born, it was his claim to fame. And the family just… didn’t want to harm his reputation. He was a very good man, son. No one else was involved, no legal action came from it.”

Stiles nods and isn’t quite sure what to make of his emotions. “Sorry, dad.”

“You could get yourself and me into a lot of trouble for going through those files, refrain from doing so in the future.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t tell anyone, not even Scott or Lydia about this, alright? That family has been through enough, respect their wishes.”

“Yes, sir.”

He leans forward, elbows on his desk, and looks Stiles straight in the eye. “I understand why you were curious, I do. And I know you’ve been a good friend to Derek. But sometimes you have to respect a person’s boundaries and let them come to you themselves.”

Stile nods. “I know…”

His dad nods, satisfied with the small lesson. Stiles keeps his head bowed for a few more minutes, guilt crashing down on him. He looks up when his dad slides a takeout container into his line of vision.

“Chinese, tonight, huh?” his dad asks, digging into his own.

Stiles nods, reaching for his chopsticks.

They eat in silence until his dad softly “hey”s at him. Stiles looks up.

“Don’t beat yourself up too much.”

And it’s not so much that as it is… Death’s twisted sense of irony. The fact that horrible things happen to good people, that good people are taken from their loving families, the way the universe probably giggles to itself about it while people’s homes fall into oppressive silence. His mother was a good person, she saved lives, she delivered babies, she died in the very hospital she worked in…

“I’m not, I just…” he shrugs. “Don’t die, alright?”

His dad raises his eyebrows, eyes wide. “Dying isn’t in the plan, kid, don’t worry about me.”

“It sucks that you’re working on Thanksgiving,” says quickly, not ready to delve into this conversation again.

“I know. I’ll make it up to you.”

Stiles shrugs and shoves a too-big piece of chicken into his mouth for the excuse of chewing.

**

November 22nd, 2009
Sunday

”Guys, cut it out.”

Derek sits in his car, wringing his hands around his steering wheel in fury while he tries to decide what to do.

Thursday at lunch. ”Guys, cut it out.” And a meaningful, scared little look. And that’s how Derek realized his privacy had been violated.

Lydia had been ranting about her parents fighting more and more the closer their Santa Barbara trip got and Scott had been talking about how his father was trying to guilt him about not spending Thanksgiving with him and then the two of them had jokingly toasted “to our fathers wrapping their cars around a tree.” Derek hadn’t even blinked, hadn’t felt a single thing in reaction to that because he knew they weren’t thinking but then…

”Guys, cut it out.” And a knowing, worried look. And Derek stared at Stiles until he realized that Stiles knew. Stiles fucking knew.

Derek didn’t move a single inch for the rest of lunch. He tried to act like he wasn’t furious, still sat with them in class, still walked to the parking lot with them. Stiles kept shooting him nervous glances but he refused to rise to them. Derek declined their invitation to hang out and drove home.

“How’d you find out?” Derek asked Stiles over a text when he got back home.

“My dad’s police files… don’t hate me.”

Derek wasn’t sure if he hated him. But he completely avoided all of them on Friday. He turned his phone off on Saturday and stayed in.

And he still isn’t sure if he hates him for it. But he’s sitting in his car and not totally against meeting him in the preserve like they’d arranged a few days before. Stiles had texted him early that morning to say he’d still be going to the preserve if Derek still wanted to come.

He gave his steering wheel one last good wring and figured he could at least punch the living daylights out of Stiles if he felt so moved if he went.

He drives to the fifth turnout past the preserve’s welcome sign, parks, and heads to the clearing with his hands shoved deep in his pockets.

It’s finally getting cold. And not the superficial cold of October either. Biting cold that settles into the bones and makes clothes feel damp. The skin stretched across his throat stings with it.

He sees Stiles up ahead through the trees, standing with his arms wrapped tight around him, hands curled around his sides. Derek feels a surge of anger that goes so deep he almost vibrates with it…

“You actually came,” Stiles says with wide eyes, amber in the beam of sunlight that falls over his face. He looks weirdly reserved and smaller than usual amongst his extra layers.

“I told you I would,” Derek answers.

“That was before…” he says, voice uncertain. Derek nods once. “And yet you’re still here.” Derek rolls his eyes and nods again.

Stiles shoots him a fragile, cautious little smile and awkwardly points with his thumb behind him. Derek follows him, keeping his eyes on the sloping line of his shoulders.

“I’m sorry you’re mad at me,” he says after a stretch of nothing but leaves and twigs underfoot and rustling breeze overhead.

Derek stops walking and stares at the back of his head. Stiles walks a couple paces more before he turns around, lips set in a frown.

“You’re sorry I’m mad at you?” Derek asks, barely containing the wave of fury crashing over him. “How about you’re sorry that you dug through your father’s police files to answer a question I didn’t want you to have the answer to?”

Derek’s not even sure exactly why he’s so mad, that’s how mad he is. He’s mad because Stiles went behind his back, he’s mad because Stiles knows about his dad, he’s mad because he had been starting to truly trust him and the others, he’s mad because he doesn’t even know what the others know, he’s mad because he doesn’t want their fucking pity or their sympathetic looks, he’s mad because he’s not sure if he’ll feel comfortable with them ever again and things were finally, finally getting okay again…

“Yeah…” Stiles murmurs, looking down at his feet. It’s not a fucking answer or an apology or anything, so Derek bristles.

“How about you try to explain yourself, huh? Why was it so important to know? Why did it matter? Why couldn’t you have left it alone?” Derek asks, the words tumbling out of his mouth. He wants Stiles to explain himself, to redeem himself, he wants to understand, he wants to be able to forgive him, he wants him to fucking apologize because Derek is hurt.

“I wanted to understand,” Stiles says, looking him straight in the eye even though he sounds vulnerable. Vulnerable… is not a word he would have ever thought to use to describe Stiles before he knew him, it doesn’t quite make sense even after knowing him.

“All you needed to know was that he died, the rest of it wasn’t your business,” Derek says, ignoring that Stiles Stilinski was trying to understand him. When Stiles does nothing but stare back at him wordlessly, Derek feels like being cruel. “How’d your mother die?”

Stiles cringes like he’s been slapped and looks over his shoulder at the path.

“I think I deserve an answer.” But he doesn’t. Derek knows he doesn’t. He knows this isn’t fair, he knows he’s being an asshole…

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he says, voice thick. Derek thinks his eyes might be glittering with tears but he can’t actually tell. He feels like an asshole…

“What did you think was going to happen?”

Stiles sniffs, his Adam’s apple bobbing, rubs his eyes and turns back to face Derek. “I wanted to understand you better. I wanted to know how to talk to you.”

Derek feels the last bit of anger subside, replaced by something softer. Stiles looks him straight in the eye, even though his eyes are still shining with hurt. And Derek believes him.

“You talk to me just fine,” Derek half-whispers.

Stiles shakes his head and chews on his bottom lip, looking anywhere but at Derek’s face before he speaks again. “I just… I lost her and the only person who really understood me was Scott. And I don’t know if you have anyone like that… I wanted….” He trails off and makes a frustrated gesture with his arms. “I’m sorry.”

“How did your mother die?” Derek asks again, this time out of curiosity instead of cruelty.

Stiles squeezes his eyes shut and seems to take a few centering breaths like he’s building himself up to it. It hurts more than Derek thought it would to watch. He wonders if he’ll be the same way in however many years it’s been for Stiles… Derek grabs his arm before he can open his mouth.

“I’m going to give you the grace you didn’t give me and I’m not going to force an answer out of you. And I’m not going to dig it up. And I’m not going to ask anyone else,” Derek promises.

“Frontotemporal dementia,” he blurts out. His eyes sweep over Derek’s face. “I owed you. Grace or not, that’s the fairest I can get.”

“What does that mean? Frontotemporal dementia?”

“She got sick. And she died,” he says in a too-cheery, conversation ending tone.

Derek wants to know how long ago she died and how much it hurts now, he wants to lay their timelines out next to each other so he can pinpoint the exact second this shit gets bearable, he wants to know when he’ll be able to think about the future without thinking of his absent father and all the places he should fit in… But instead he just nods and drops his hand off of Stiles.

“I’m sorry.”

Stiles grimaces more than he smiles and turns around to continue walking. Derek follows. Derek takes deep, even breaths just to fill the empty spaces in him and watches the stiffer-than-usual swing of Stiles’ arms. He’s hurt. Stiles is hurt. Derek recognizes pain in another human that isn’t related to him and going through the same hell. Derek identifies. Derek empathizes and sympathizes for another living being. He feels genuine affection toward Stiles.

He shouldn’t. The asshole ruined his week.

But he does.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think,” Stiles says out of nowhere, still walking and facing forward.

“It’s okay.” And it is. It’s actually okay. It’s fine.

“I didn’t tell anyone else,” he says, sounding the guiltiest and most honest Derek has ever heard him sound.

“Thank you.”

They walk in somber silence until the trees give way to another clearing. Stiles heads straight for a huge tree trunk in the dead center and sits, reaching his hand to smooth over initials carved near it’s innermost rings. Derek sweeps his eyes over the other initials, dates, and hearts with arrows, and crude drawings carved there too. Derek sits and looks around them.

“I’ve never been in love, or whatever,” Stiles says softly, shifting uncomfortably. “But I believe in it.”

“Yeah, same.”

“I blame my parents,” Stiles mutters, digging through his bag.

Derek can’t stop the mental image of the way his dad just looked at his mom sometimes or how tenderly she would rest her hands on his cheeks before kissing him on the forehead or how twisting her wedding ring has become a nervous tick or how she hasn’t taken that ring off yet and probably never would… But still, Derek smiles. “Me too.”

Derek wonders what special hell he invited himself into by coming here if all it meant was letting these unwelcomed thoughts filter through his defenses. He doesn’t know why he isn’t falling apart, honestly. He watches Stiles pull a joint and a lighter out of a small tin box and actually feels his staunch Drug Free policy sorta slip.

“You really don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Stiles tells him. “I don’t even have to if it makes you uncomfortable.”

Derek observes him, eyes locking in. Earnest. Earnest is another word Derek is surprised to find applies to Stiles. Vulnerable, earnest, caring… “Go for it,” he says.

He watches Stiles shrug, light up, and inhale as he reclines. He watches his face smooth out and his shoulders relax against the bark. Stiles must feel his eyes on him because his eyes flick toward him.

“Want some?” he asks, barely extending the joint toward him.

“I’ve never inhaled anything on purpose in my life,” Derek admits. What he means is yes, teach me.

“It’s as easy as breathing,” he says while sitting up. “Here.”

He takes a long hit, cheeks puffing out. He pulls the joint away and keeps his lips tight. He leans closer into Derek’s space and taps his chin. Derek’s watched enough people do this before that he sorta gets the concept. Shotgunning. He can handle that.

Derek leans forward and lets his mouth fall open, feeling uncertain. Stiles puts a hand on the back of his head and pulls him closer before blowing the smoke into Derek’s mouth as he breathed. He feels Stiles’ lip on his for the tiniest fraction of a second but focuses on not coughing instead.

“How was that?” Stiles asks when he pulls away.

“Weirdly intimate,” Derek says, his throat still full of soft smoke.

“Don’t make it weird, Hale.”

After that, Derek attempts the joint somewhat successfully a couple times. He feels like tight coils in him are unraveling. They don’t talk much. They just watch the sky and soak in the cold and listen to the wind in the trees. Derek’s head is light, his heartbeat steady and slow, sadness laps at him gently, but so does contentment.

He pictures his dad the last time he saw him alive, the morning before he died. He’d been tugging at his tie with one hand and clumsily flipping through the New York Times with the other. He pulled out the sports page and the comic strips and handed them to Cora. He handed Laura the arts and culture section. He jokingly handed Derek the stocks. “NASDAQ’s not lookin’ too good, huh kid?” he had asked when Derek scowled at him.

He can’t remember the color of his tie or if their mother had smoothed his hair down into something presentable yet or if he complained about a typo on the front page or what he was eating….

His vision swims with hot, thick tears and he tries to talk about it, he tries to make a case for his dad just in case Stiles thinks he was some irresponsible drunk instead of the man he really was, but he only gets a few words out. Stiles wraps his fingers around his hand but doesn’t say a word.

Derek feels so much. He feels like the world is turning slowly, he feels cold and warm at the same time, he feels sad. Totally sad. He misses his dad, he misses his family the way they used to be, he misses thinking life was good and simple. But he feels anchored by Stiles’ hand on his.

And he doesn’t feel alone. Not even when he tries to imagine later on when he’s not with Stiles anymore. They’ve all told him time and time again that they’re always just a text or phone call away and now he really believes it.

He lets a couple fat, hot tears roll down his temples toward his ears and it feels sort of good. He takes a deep breath and the air feels clean. He lets it stretch his lungs out and then he exhales with a laugh.

Stiles turns his head toward him, looking concerned.

“This is great,” Derek murmurs, letting his head fall to the side.

“Weed?” Stiles asks, grinning.

Yeah, that too. Derek nods. Stiles nods back.

“How don’t you get in trouble?” Derek asks. Stiles rolls his eyes.

“I’m going to start asking you questions back, you know?” he says. “Because you keep asking me like one hundred questions a second and I never get to ask you any.”

“Then ask,” Derek challenges.

“Favorite band?”

“Don’t have one.”

“Impossible. You’re just embarrassed.”

“Fleetwood Mac,” Derek corrects.

“Really? Huh… not embarrassing at all. Weird, but not embarrassing.”

“How is that weird?”

“Because! What 16 year old boy’s favorite band is Fleetwood Mac?”

“Me.”

“Okay, but what other bands are you into?”

“Why does it matter?” Derek asks for the sake of being difficult.

“What!” Stiles splutters. “Music is everything, it’s the only thing that matters. What, don’t tell me you’re like… a Nickelback guy Or… oh shit, you like Creed? And Linkin Park?”

Derek laughs and rolls his head back and forth.“No, no, and no. I’m like… I listen to like… Vampire Weekend, Bon Iver, Death Cab for Cutie, Ryan Adams, Jack’s Mannequin, whatever. I’m into whatever.”

“As long as it’s respectable whatever, then I accept. Favorite book? If you say you don’t have one, I’ll deck you.”

On the Road,” Derek answers instantly. He feels smug when Stiles looks surprised.

“Little hipster baby over here,” he teases. “I didn’t take you for a beatnik. I was expecting like… Moneyball or some Tom Clancy garbage.”

“Let me guess your favorite… Catcher in the Rye.” He seems the type.

“Nope,” he says, popping the last syllable. “The Little Prince. My grandma used to read it to me in Polish and then I read it to my mom when she was in the hospital.” Derek feels a twinge of sadness at that, but Stiles’ smile is sunny.

“You speak Polish?”

Stiles’ smile widens and he nods.

“That’s amazing,” Derek says in an embarrassingly awed voice.

They stay like that, shooting questions back and forth for hours, until the high has long worn off and it’s getting dark. They haphazardly traipse back through the woods toward their cars while Stiles tells Derek about the time his dad actually arrested him and Scott and threw them in “an honest-to-God jail cell, I swear on my life” when they were 10 years old for hitting a baseball through the McCall’s front window.

“We were in there for like a good half hour,” he concludes with a serious nod, leaning against his Jeep.

“You deserved it,” Derek says, leaning against his car too.

Stiles nods as he unlocks his car. “Oh, and you should recommend some music to me, I don’t usually listen to that… super cool indie shit that you apparently listen to.”

“Sure. Mix tape?”

Stiles nods. “You’re speaking my language. Your goal is to convince me that Bon Iver isn’t just sorta pretty noise.”

“Challenge accepted.”

Stiles says goodbye, makes him promise to hang out with him and Scott over Thanksgiving break, and leaves after one last warm smile.


Chapter Text


November 23rd, 2009
Monday

Not as big as Dad’s Halloween and paling in comparison to Mom’s Christmas, Thanksgiving in the Hale household had always been a more restful and delicately festive affair. But even still, it’s an event. Family from all over the state, every other year their out of state grandparents fly in, food up to their eyeballs. And this year it’s canceled.

Derek, Laura, and Cora all stare at their mother in wide-eyed shock as she tells them this the Monday of Thanksgiving break.

“What do you mean…?” Laura asks slowly.

“It’s just too much this year, kids, sorry,” she says, light. She continues slowly stirring sugar into her thermos and caps it with too-steady hands.

“Too much for who?” Laura asks, fury dripping into her tone.

Their mom looks up at her sharply, a warning, but doesn’t answer. She turns her back to them to reach into the fridge. “We’ll order in and watch a movie or something, it’ll be easier on everyone.”

“Easier on who?” Laura presses.

“Laura,” their mom warns. She sets her lunch box down on the counter with a thump and forces herself to smile. “There will be more Thanksgivings,” she says with an eerily even voice.

“So what’s the rest of the family doing?” (Derek and Cora exchange nervous looks, Cora shifts away from Laura subtly.)

“Their own thing, Laura.”

“So why don’t we go to them?”

Their mom doesn’t even attempt an answer.

“San Francisco isn’t far, we can go to Uncle Peter’s.”

Their mom shrugs one non-committal shoulder.

“You can’t just cancel holidays!” Laura yells, temper officially lost. “That’s not how it works, mom! You don’t get to make that call! This isn’t fair!”

“Laura, in this case, fairness is not what rules this household I—“

“You’re being unreasonable!” Laura stands so fast she knocks the barstool over.

Derek stares at her and can hardly recognize her.

“You don’t even get to say that there will always be more Thanksgivings because guess what, last Thanksgiving was dad’s last. So you’re wrong. You’re selfish and you’re wrong and you already ruined Halloween and you’re going to ruin Christmas too, wow. Thanks mom! Fucking fantastic. Keeping the holiday magic alive with the Hales, what a fucking dream!”

And then, with a slammed door and stomping on the stairs and one final door slam, she’s gone. Derek and Cora stare at their mom, horrified at whatever fallout there might be, but there isn’t any. She focuses intently on selecting a fruit from the fruit bowl, carefully places it in her lunchbox and zips it up.

“I’ll see you two later,” she says with a slight smile before she leaves.

Derek waits until they hear the front door close before he even attempts speech. “Wow.”

“Yeah,” Cora agrees, sliding off her barstool to right Laura’s.

She sits back down and goes back to finishing her cereal. Derek takes another sip of his coffee and thinks about whether or not he should text Stiles or someone for an excuse to get out of the house so Laura can have it to herself.

He doesn’t even really think about the impact of a cancelled Thanksgiving. He doesn’t even care.

**

November 26th, 2009
Thursday

Okay, he cares. He cares a lot.

He sleeps in as long as possible and tries not to wish he’d been woken up for the Macy’s parade by a gaggle of cousins jumping on his bed.

Derek passes his parents’ office on the way downstairs and catches a glimpse of his mom at her desk doing work. Laura and Cora are stationed in the living room with the football game on even though neither of them seem to be watching. Derek gets to the kitchen and it’s sterile. He takes the last of the coffee and leans against the counter. It’s quiet. The downstairs house phone rests on top of a pile of takeout menus.

Derek looks up from glaring at them when Laura shuffles in, hands deep in her hoodie pockets. “I offered to cook,” she says.

“And?”

Laura moves the house phone and taps the top menu. “We’re getting Japanese.”

Derek almost apologizes, but just nods instead.

Laura hasn’t been around much since Monday. Derek doesn’t know where she goes when she leaves or whether or not she was even home at all the last couple of days, but she’s here now. Stoic, tired, sad. Derek feels for her, but he can’t express it. He can’t just do what he did so easily for Cora on Halloween, he can’t save her from this or provide her any comfort. Derek didn’t even know she cared that much about Thanksgiving. Maybe she doesn’t, maybe it’s just… another loss. Derek feels like it is.

He and Laura used to be closer than this. Derek used to sit in her room to do his homework while she put on a record and painted. She used to introduce him to her friends’ younger sisters with suggestive smirks. He used to go to her for advice.

And now he can’t properly remember the last time seeing her didn’t just make him mad.

“I’m going out,” Derek decides, voice embarrassingly thick in his throat. He sets his half-empty mug on the counter and pushes off.

Hurt flickers over her features but she nods. “Dinner’s at 5. Kinda early but the place closes early so…”

“Fine.”

Derek texts Stiles when he gets out of the shower to see what he’s doing. He hadn’t talked to any of them all week, no matter how badly he had wanted to sometimes, so he’s a little surprised when Stiles answers him immediately with a “DUDE come over to Scott’s, we’re making pies and stuff” followed by an address.

A warm-eyed woman with soft curls opens the door when Derek gets there. She looks up at him with a second of speculation before she smiles. “You must be Derek, come on in.”

Derek ducks his head and mumbles a greeting and an awkward “thank you, Mrs. McCall” as she steps aside to let him in.

“You can call me Melissa,” she gently corrects.

Scott yells a drawn out “moooom” from somewhere in the house, Melissa snorts and leads Derek toward the kitchen.

“I told you, I don’t answer to ‘mom’ anymore,” she teases, ruffling Scott’s hair while he’s trapped with his hands covered in dough.

“Queen?” Scott asks, grinning at her. “Pie doctor?”
“Pie queen?” Stiles contributes from where he sits on the counter. Melissa points to him and nods in approval. Stiles grins at her before looking over at Derek. “Derek! Favorite pie?”

“Uh, apple.”

“Boring,” Stiles sighs. He hops down from the counter and takes a seat at the kitchen table, slapping his palm against the table top in front of the seat next to him to tell Derek to sit.

The McCall’s kitchen looks like it’s usually clean, but currently there are flour-handprints on almost every cupboard and strainers full of berries lining the counters and dishes stacked in the sink. Derek can smell baking turkey and fresh cinnamon. The house is full of sound – 80s music pouring out of a portable radio set on top of the fridge, the football game on in the other room, Stiles and Scott and his mom talking cheerfully over each other. Derek’s chest aches.

“So what brings you to us?” Stiles asks Derek, shoving an apple and a vegetable peeler into his hands. He flashes a charming grin at him when Derek just stares back at him. “Crazy family?” Stiles prompts, starting to peel his own apple.

“Uh, no, just… it was too quiet.”

Stiles tilts his head but doesn’t comment on it. “So what are you guys doing for dinner?”

“Japanese.”

“Huh?”

Derek twists his mouth up to keep from saying anything and takes out his frustration on peeling the apple in quick, sharp movements.

Stiles drops it. “So Melissa, seems sweet and motherly, right?” he asks, gesturing toward her. She turns toward him with a suspicious eyebrow raised. Stiles pointedly keeps his eyes focused on the task at hand but can’t fight his smirk. “You’d never know that Beacon Hills Memorial’s finest nurse uses slave labor to bring holiday cheer to her patients.”

Melissa scoffs and throws a dish towel at him.

“She’s had us here since sunrise—“

“Oh please,” Melissa laughs. “I was asleep at sunrise, these two monsters woke me up—“

“SINCE SUNRISE!” Stiles emphasizes, talking over her. “Washing berries, rolling out pie crusts, Scott had to put his hands inside a turkey today, pray for him…”

Scott fakes a sob that breaks into a laugh when Melissa thwaps him in the stomach with the back of her hand.
Melissa approaches them and wraps an arm around Stiles’ throat as if to choke him. “And if you don’t have those apples peeled ASAP, you’ll regret it,” she threatens half-heartedly, smiling. She kisses the top of his head (Derek smarts at the display of affection and misses his own mom) and releases him. “As soon as those apples are all cut up, you’re free to go.”

Scott’s singing along to ACDC and assembling a pie while Melissa takes a seat with them at the table. “So Derek,” she says, propping her head up on a fist while she gets a good look at him.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Pie queen, not ma’am, show some respect,” Stiles teases.

She waves her free hand at Stiles dismissively. “How’s that knee?”

The question surprises Derek so much he stops peeling and looks at her curiously. “Huh?”

“Mom, no one likes your creepy medical questions!” Scott defends him during a guitar break.

She smirks. “I’m pretty sure I took care of you after a lacrosse game last year,” she clarifies.

“Oh!” Derek blushes and laughs a little. “It’s fine.”

“Good to hear. Now, how’d you end up running with these troublemakers?”

Derek’s not sure how much she just knows about him or how much Scott and Stiles have told her, but he does know that she probably knows every single one of their friends so of course she’d notice he was a new addition.

“Stockholm Syndrome,” Stiles answers for him.

“We have classes together,” Derek answers.

She nods. “And how are your classes going? Good grades?”

Uhh… “I have okay grades.” Not a lie, exactly.

She nods her approval. “And what do you want to do? What are your goals?”

It’s been a long time since Derek has met a new parent, he’d forgotten that this was a standard line of questioning. “I um…” He wanted to be a lawyer. Say it, Hale. He wants to work for his family’s firm. C’mon.

Melissa grins at him. “It’s okay, you’ll figure it out. Had to be a typical mom for a second there. Now, more important question, how do you feel about football?”

“I like it.”

“Who do you think is going to win today, Packers or Lions?”

“Oh, Packers, obviously.”

“Raiders or Cowboys?”

He narrows his eyes at her, trying to read whether or not she’s a Raiders fan. “Cowboys…” he says slowly. She nods in agreement.

“Giants or Broncos?”

“Probably Broncos?”

She keeps Derek talking even when she gets back up to get back to cooking, Scott keeps singing along to the radio, Stiles listens in and sometimes contributes when prompted. When the last apple is peeled and sliced, Melissa applauds them all.

“Thank you, boys,” she says. “Now get out, go on,”

“When do you have to be back?” Scott asks Derek as he leads the way up the stairs.

“Uh… whenever.”

“Whenever?” Scott asks, exchanging looks with Stiles.

“I mean, I can just leave when your dinner stuff starts,” Derek corrects.

“But when does your dinner stuff start?” Scott asks.

“You mean Japanese takeout? I don’t care,” Derek answers, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

“Oh.”

“Uh, anyway,” Stiles says. “Mario Kart?”

Stiles starts setting it up and Scott looks at Derek with unmasked sympathy. Before Derek can get mad about it, he leans closer.

“You can stay for dinner if you want, you know? Open invitation.”

“No, I don’t want to impose.”

“Dude, we have like mountains of leftovers every year, it’s just us and the Sheriff when he gets off his shift anyway. My mom won’t mind.”

And he knows it’s a shitty thing to do to his family before he even verbally agrees to it. He knows it’s selfish to want to soak up the warmth of the McCall household and to want to eat their traditional Thanksgiving dinner. He knows it’s selfish to want to spend the day anywhere other than home. But that doesn’t stop him from sending Laura a cold “order without me” text when she asks where he is shortly before five o’clock.

**

Derek doesn’t feel great when he gets home. He feels jealous anger, lonely hurt. He parks his car in the driveway and heads in through the garage. The kitchen is dark, the dining room is dark, the dark stairway leads up to a dark landing and dark hallway and dark rooms. There’s one light on in the living room and Derek can hear the muffled sounds of the TV. He doesn’t care who is still up. Doesn’t want to talk to them. Doesn’t want to see them. He tries to get to the stairs as silently as possible, but Laura’s silhouette moves into the doorway.

“Where were you?” she asks, voice purposefully even to mask some fury.

“None of your business,” Derek answers, challenging. Daring her to say anything back so he can go for her jugular.

“It’s Thanksgiving.”

“Could have fooled me.” He makes a sweeping gesture to the dark, clean, scent-free kitchen.

“Mom was really upset.”

“Was she?” Derek asks. “Because last I checked, she’s the one who canceled on us. How upset was she, Laura? Was she like… Laura-failed-Spanish upset or Dad-died upset, where on the scale of our mother being upset was she?”

Laura shifts her weight between her feet and crosses her arms. “You’re an asshole, she wanted you here, we needed you here.”

Derek makes a show of pulling his phone out and looking at the screen. “Hm, no missed calls, no texts… What makes you think she gave a shit whether I was here or not?”

“Stop! Stop acting like a goddamn baby about everything!” she yells, pointing furiously at him.

“Oh, shut up.”

“We are a family and—“

Derek’s hand wraps around a glass before he can stop himself and throws it at the ground at her feet. She jumps away from the shatter with a yelp. “And what? And we’re supposed to care about each other? Well I don’t give a shit about you—“

“And we’re worried about you!” she cries over him, sounding desperate. She gestures to the broken glass at her feet. “And apparently we should be more worried about you! What the fuck is wrong with you? Why are you acting like you’re the only one going through this?”

“Oh so you can throw a fit but no one else—“

“Hey!” their mom barks from the landing. They both look up at her. Cora’s leaning against the railing next to her, her face indiscernible. Their mom has her arms crossed over her chest, lost in her robe. “That’s enough,” she says, gentler but just as authoritative as before. “Clean that up,” she says, pointing at Derek. “Laura, go to bed.”

Laura carefully steps over the glass and heads up the stairs. When she slams her door, the windows shake. Derek’s hands are still shaking and he hasn’t moved, his heart hasn’t settled yet. He can still sense his mom looking at him. He hears soft footsteps head away followed by a door pulled shut. He looks up and sees his mom still staring.

“I’m sorry…” he starts to say.

“It’s okay,” she says. He can’t read her face or her voice. He has no idea if it is okay. He has no idea if she’s okay. He keeps hurting her.

He gets the broom from the closet in the hall and his mom is sitting on the top step when he gets back. She watches him clean up the glass in silence. Derek puts the broom back and dusts his hands off on his pants and heads back. She’s still there, standing this time. He climbs the stairs, expecting her to turn her back and head into her room before he can reach her, but she doesn’t.

When he’s close enough to make out her face, she offers him a sad smile. “Hi there,” she says, reaching a hesitant hand out to him like she wants a hug.

“Hi,” he says, barely a whisper. He lets her touch his shoulder and guide him into a hug.

He instantly feels touch-starved when she releases him with a pat on the cheek.

**

November 30th, 2009
Monday

As far as Stiles can tell, Derek hasn’t paid attention at all during English this year so far. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he tells Gibbs that he’s not engaged in the subject at hand.

The delivery though… that’s the surprise, really.

“I don’t fucking care about The Great Gatsby,” he’d practically snarled when she simply asked if he had anything to say about the reading.

Stiles and the rest of the class are still gaping at Derek in wonder when the bell rings. Derek’s hands are curled tightly around the edges of his desk and he’s looking at Gibbs as if he’s waiting for retaliation. She sets her jaw furiously and makes pointed eye contact with Stiles – a silent command to get this little asshole out of my classroom.

“Alright, Bruce Banner, we’re getting out of here,” Stiles says authoritatively. He passes Derek and grabs him by the elbow on his way out of the classroom.

“Where are we going?”

“Off-campus. It’s a beautiful December day, who knows when it’ll be so nice again. Possibly never! Winters, man, am I right? We should get our vitamin D in while we can.”

“But what are we going to do off-campus?” Derek asks, trying to dig his heels in a little. Stiles tugs him once, hard, and Derek trips forward.

“We’re going on a drive,” he says. “You know, windows down, music playing, etc. It’ll be good for us, come on.”

It’s way too easy for Stiles to waltz out the front door and down the front steps, the girl working at attendance watching them go idly while she snaps her gum.

“Do you want to drive, or should I?” Stiles asks. “You’ve got that sweet little sports car, she’s probably really nice and zippy.”

Derek reaches for his car keys but pauses. “Laura…” he says, grinning wickedly.

“Huh?” Stiles asks, tilting his head.

“Laura has a convertible, come on,” Derek says, throwing his backpack into the back seat. Stiles follows suit, grinning.

“Is she going to kill you?” Stiles asks, standing by the passenger side door of Laura’s car in the Hale garage not too much later. It’s red and shining and ostentatious and Stiles gives more than passing thought to the likelihood of his dad being out patrolling the preserve…

“She might,” Derek says. He spins her keys on his index finger before sliding into the driver’s seat.

Stiles climbs into the car and wonders if he should try talking to him about his angry outburst while he’s driving or not. Probably not. Definitely not. Stiles values his life, he has plans.

Derek reverses out of the garage a little too fast, the back end of her car swinging out with squealing tires before peeling out. Stiles “oh my god”s and holds onto the dashboard.

“Top down?” Derek asks when they get onto the preserve road leading further away from town.

“Is that even a question?”

He reaches for the radio and sees an auxiliary cord leading toward his feet. He grabs it and carefully pulls up an iPod.

“So,” Stiles says casually, turning the iPod on and scrolling through it. “Don’t give a fuck about Gatsby, huh?”

Derek grunts.

“See, I think you’d like it if you gave it a shot. I was surprised, actually, by how much I liked it. The whole Lost Generation thing really flows into the Beat Generation, of which you are a fan, so…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Derek says.

“Alright, then we don’t have to talk about it. But I’ll tell you right now, I looked at those Spark Notes and they are unsatisfactory so… if you need help, I can give you a quick rundown…”

Derek doesn’t say anything. His focus on the road is actually sorta comforting. He seems to have good control over the car, his eyes are pointed forward, he’s regularly checking his mirrors. Stiles takes a deep breath and lets it out, trying to relish the feeling of the air whipping past him on all sides.

Derek pulls aside at a point that looks out over the preserve and parks. Stiles tears his eyes away from the tree-covered hills beyond to look at Derek who is staring at his hands.

“I don’t…” he starts. He stops and wrings his hands in his lap. He lifts his head to look out his side window at the preserve and doesn’t say anything else for awhile. Stiles waits. “I don’t know what to say most of the time,” he says finally.

“About what?”

“Anything.”

“Not cussing at teachers is a good start, just a pointer,” Stiles says softly, trying to infuse some humor into it.

“I mean, I literally never know what to say to anyone and when I do say something, I usually make things worse.”

Stiles hmms in thought. “Truth or dare,” he says. He’s flying by the seat of his pants here, but….

“Huh?”

“Truth or dare, c’mon. Humor me.”

“Dare.”

“Dare, really? You do know who you’re playing with, right?”

Derek shrugs.

“I dare you to tell me what happened on Thanksgiving,” Stiles says.

Derek’s jaw tightens. Stiles watches as he forcibly releases it to speak. “My mom canceled it. Decided to just do takeout with me and my sisters instead. I didn’t think I cared, but I guess I did.”

Stiles is uncomfortably reminded of his dad’s fishing trip the Thanksgiving after…

“Are you mad at her?” Stiles asks, trying to sound cool and even.

Derek shakes his head. “No, not really.”

Stiles hadn’t been mad at his father either. Just…

“Disappointed,” Derek supplies after some thought.

Hurt. Abandoned. Yeah, Stiles knows. He nods.

“Truth or dare,” Derek asks back.

“Dare.”

Derek looks around them as if searching for a good dare. “I dare you to eat a leaf.”

Stiles barks out a laugh and is climbing out of the car before Derek can even register his response. “I wasn’t aware I was playing by middle school rules, Hale. I like your style. Vintage, nostalgic, innocent. Reminds me of better times. Well, not exactly better, but…” Stiles swoops up a handful of fallen leaves off the ground and heads back to the car. He extends his hand to Derek. “You pick, Kimberly. And then I’m going to find out what base you’ve gotten up to in the next round here. Can’t wait to freeze your bra later.”

Derek smiles. Pearly whites and all. Stiles doesn’t blush (because seriously what the fuck is there to blush about?) he’s just a little warm all of a sudden. Derek reaches forward and plucks a bright orange, mostly intact leaf from the pile and waves it in front of Stiles’ nose. Stiles tosses the rest back onto the ground and climbs back in the car.

He’s crunching on a leaf and thinking very seriously about his next move when Derek turns to face him more directly.

“Truth,” he says.

Stiles raises an eyebrow at him and struggles to swallow down the last of his leaf. “Okay. What base have you gotten up to?” he asks in a teasing tone.

“Uh, home run? Ask me a real one.”

“Okay, fine.” Stiles chews on his thumbnail in thought before settling on something simple. “Are you okay?” he asks, searching Derek’s face to read between the lines of whatever he might actually end up saying…

“Not really.”

Well, that was surprisingly honest. Derek’s shoulders slump and he lets his head fall back against the head rest. His hands go limp in his lap. Stiles offers a sympathetic smile.

“It’s okay, you know? To not be okay yet. No one is expecting you to be.”

“Yeah, they are,” he mumbles.

Yeah, that’s probably true. “Well, I’m not.”

He feels like he’s overstepping a boundary somehow. Like if Derek was his old self he’d probably answer that with something along the lines of “who gives a fuck what you think?” But instead, Derek rolls his head along the headrest to look over at him, face neutral and searching.

“Thanks.”

Stiles swallows around a lump in his throat and nods. “If you ever need someone to talk to or whatever…” he starts.

Derek nods back when Stiles trails off and smiles a sad, crooked smile. “I can’t miss too much school…”

Stiles looks at the time on the dashboard clock. “It’s lunch now, safe to sneak back in.”

**

Derek feels a little more level-headed out in the open air. He feels like he can actually get a real lungful of air, at least. It helps. Driving helps. And Stiles… Stiles helps. He’s familiar in an unfamiliar way. He’s brand new to Derek, but somehow enticing. He’s got something about him that Derek inherently trusts.

He’s starting to forget what he used to think he knew about Stiles Stilinski and his friends.

The silence is broken by a song that Stiles instantly starts singing. Derek looks over at him in surprise. He’s got Laura’s iPod sitting on his knee, his head thrown back against the headrest, a bright smile on his face as he goes…

“Where is your boy tonight, I hope he is a gentleman, maybe he won’t find out what I know, you were the last good thing about this part of town,” he sings before starting to air drum along. Derek tears his eyes away from him.

He remembers asking him if he sang. He remembers Stiles saying “not really.” There are people in this world who can’t and shouldn’t sing (Jackson, for instance), and Stiles is absolutely not one of them. Derek doesn’t say anything for fear of spooking him. The song ends and the next song is one of Laura’s favorite guilty pleasure songs, Stiles just laughs and continues singing every word while Derek just shakes his head at him.

“When I grow up I wanna be famous, I wanna be a star, I wanna be in movies. When I grow up, I wanna see the world, drive nice cars, I wanna have groupies—come on Derek, I know you know the words to this—be careful what you wish for ‘cause you just might get it—“

Derek pulls up to his house, parks Laura’s car where it was when he took it, and cuts the engine. The music stops, Stiles frowns comically. Derek reaches out for the iPod, disconnects it and wiggles it toward Stiles before getting out.

Once back in his own car, Derek plugs in Laura’s iPod and hands it back to Stiles. Stiles grins and goes right back to singing whatever song starts playing next.

Stiles is singing along to (and mostly keeping up with) John Legend when Derek parks outside of the school. There’s no world in which Stiles Stilinski isn’t a good singer. This is a fact that Derek feels blindsided by for some reason. Stiles strides up the front steps of the school with the same casual air as always as if he didn’t just reveal a rare talent to someone…

The security guard eyes them suspiciously and looks like he’s about to say something, but Stiles claps him on the shoulder like an old friend and slips past him before he can.

**

December 4th, 2009
Friday

“Well, maybe if you took the time to actually teach this class rather than rely on a bunch of teenager’s attention spans and an out of date textbook to teach ourselves I’d actually give a fuck,” Derek says and instantly regrets it even though he feels acute, pure rage coursing through him still. The classroom falls silent, Harris’ mouth is partially open in dumbfounded shock. Derek keeps his face strong even though alarms are going off in his head. He imagines little Derek running around inside his head screaming at each other about filters being offline and the failsafe failing.

Lydia sinks her face into her crossed arms and groans next to him, he can only imagine what for.

“He has a point, you know,” Scott pipes up from directly behind him. Derek whips around just in time to catch Stiles opening his mouth and Scott elbowing him hard in the ribs. “I mean, Bill Nye inspired our generation and you came and ruined it.”

Harris is turning purple at the front of the class and Lydia is softly hitting her head against the tabletop and Stiles has his hand clamped tight over his own mouth. Scott smirks up at the front of the classroom, pencil still poised for notes in his hand.

“Carry on, Mr. Harris, we’re just trying to learn here.”

“Detention, both of you,” Harris grits out. He shoots Derek an almost woeful look before spinning on his heel to write furiously on the board.

“I can’t believe…. I cannot believe I’m the only one who has never gotten a detention from Mr. Harris, you guys are… perfect for each other,” Lydia half-wails as they walk out of class. “Guys, it’s Friday. We had plans. I mean, Derek, you weren’t aware that you had plans, but you did, okay? We were going to drive over to Beacon Heights to go to a show, it was going to be your first real punk show, we were gonna get milkshakes after, we had plans, Derek. And Scott, what the hell?”

Scott grins. Derek thinks he’s a little crazy. “Leave no man behind, Lyds. Had to take one for the team.”

“Why though? Why? I would never take a detention for any of you, I hope you know that. That was so deeply unnecessary, what the hell is wrong with you!”

Scott and Lydia break off and head toward their classes, still arguing, while Derek and Stiles continue to English.

“If I get another detention before second semester, I’m up for suspension, I hope you understand,” Stiles tells Derek.

Derek stares at him. “I don’t even know why Scott did that, I wouldn’t expect you to—“

“No man left behind! Certain things, especially with Harris, are better when diffused across multiple parties. Trust us, we know. You were looking at a solid week of detention there from that, going by my estimates. Scott distracted him.”

Derek rolls his eyes but nods. He pauses at the door to the classroom. He just needs a second, just a couple more breaths to dispel the enraged adrenaline coursing through him. Stiles grasps Derek’s upper arms and maneuvers him to look him in the eye.

“Stop cussing at teachers, man.”

Derek nods over and over again until Stiles releases him. He takes a deep breath and heads inside.

Derek’s never had detention before. Which is not to say that he’s been undeserving of it, it’s to say that he used to flash his teachers an apologetic smile or say something about being stressed out about the big game that week and they’d let it slide.

But this time, Derek didn’t have an ounce of charm in him and the big game that week was going to be played without him anywhere near it.

When detention rolls around, Scott struts in five minutes after it was supposed to have started and sits right next to Derek, grinning impishly at Harris when he looks up to scowl at him.

“Mr. McCall,” he says, icy. A warning.

“Mr. Harris,” Scott says, friendly and oblivious. He thumps his backpack onto the table and starts pulling out a book. “Time to get my study on, isn’t that right?”

Harris’ eyes narrow dangerously but he just slowly turns back to grading.

Derek’s glowering at the front of the classroom, the fury he’d felt earlier upon receiving this detention back full-force. Scott nudges him with his elbow and taps his book when Derek looks at him.

“I’ve glared my way through many a detention, doesn’t make them go any faster,” he whispers.

He’s right. So instead, Derek buries his face in his hands and tries to resist groaning his way though detention instead. Anger buzzes through him, surging violently as he imagines taking a baseball bat to Harris’ car or kicking him in the shins.

He has a full revenge fantasy playing on a stage in his head by the time Harris releases them. He blows out of the classroom without even considering Scott until he gets to the front steps of the school. He sinks down and buries his head in his hands, feeling exhausted.

“I get it,” Scott says softly from above him. Derek looks up and watches him sit on the stairs next to him.

“Get what?”

“That,” he says, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb before clasping both hands in his lap.

“Hating detention?”

“I mean, yeah that too, but I mean… the anger. I get the anger.”

Derek exhales loudly through his nose and rubs his face with both hands. He’s still furious even now, he’s trying to ride it out before he gets in the car but it’s not going away.

Scott is silent beside him for awhile and then he clears his throat. “I uh… it’s different, it’s toootally different so please don’t think I’m trying to act like I know what you’re going through, but when my dad left… I mean, I’m still…” he compulsively cracks his knuckles in thought and then takes a deep breath. “I was really angry when my dad left. I’m still angry.”

When Derek doesn’t respond, he keeps going. “It’s different, I know. Your dad didn’t want to go and you can’t get him back, and I’m sorry for that.” Derek waits for a “but” that never comes. Scott sits in thoughtful silence for awhile, scratches the back of his neck. “My dad left because he didn’t want us. He didn’t want me. So. Different bullshit, but it still sucks.”

Derek can’t imagine what idiot wouldn’t want Scott McCall. He nudges him with his elbow to say as much. Scott nudges him back.

“It’s weird to hear other people talk about the relationships they have with some of the most important people in their lives when you don’t even have a person in the same roles as them, you know?” Scott murmurs, staring at the steps below them. “Like… Stiles, right? His dad is everything to him. I’ve never understood it. I’m totally jealous of it.”

“But you have your mom,” Derek reminds him, hugging his backpack to him and propping his chin on it. He pictures her on Thanksgiving, head bopping back and forth to Madonna while she and Scott sang, twin grins and sparkling eyes.

“Yeah, and Stiles doesn’t. And it’s hard for him too, I know. But what I mean is, like… I’m never going to be able to get advice from my dad about like… barbecues or girlfriends or I don’t know, dad shit. See? I don’t even know!”

Derek has a list of questions running through his head at any given time that he’d love to ask his dad, he knows exactly what advice he’s missing out on. He knows exactly what family traditions he won’t ever be able to participate in again. He clenches his jaw and nods, not sure where Scott is going but absolutely not wanting to shut him down.

“And that pisses me off,” he says. “I resent the hell out of that.” He gives Derek a sad, crooked smile. “So, I don’t know, man… it’s normal to be mad. Don’t feel bad about being mad.”

Derek feels his face go slack. He feels the last bit of hot anger slip away from him, replaced by cold sadness.

“Thanks, Scott,” Derek says softly, gaze trained on his own shoes. Scott nudges him with his elbow and lingers a little bit.

“Any time.”

They sit for a couple more minutes in thoughtful silence before both of their phones go off at the same time. Derek doesn’t reach for his, but Scott does.

“So the show got cancelled anyway, new plan is pizza and movies at Lydia’s, let’s go,” Scott says, jumping to his feet.

Derek follows Scott to his own car and laughs maybe a little harder than called for when Scott goes straight for the Pussycat Dolls song on Laura’s iPod. But it feels good to laugh. Scott makes a bold argument in favor of the song, laughing too, while it pours out of his speakers on the way to Lydia’s.


Chapter Text


December 7th, 2009
Monday

“Are you in that?” Scott asks, jutting his chin toward something on the bulletin board across from the lockers.

Stiles whips his head up, a stone sinking in his belly because he already knows what it is…

“Of course he is,” Lydia answers, not bothering to hide the hint of laughter in her voice.

Dammit.

“Please don’t…” Stiles starts.

“Stiles,” Lydia placates, very seriously. “Nothing brings me greater excitement and holiday spirit than the idea of you performing in a—“ She looks back at the obnoxiously bright poster. “—Holiday Sweater Sing-Off.”

“Honestly, kill me,” Stiles moans, burying his face in his locker. “Please, please…”

“Please go? Of course!” Scott teases, clapping him on the back. “Do you already have your sweater?”

Stiles curses at him and tries to make himself look very interested in his history textbook, hoping the shadows of his locker hide his blazing cheeks. He sees a set of black-booted feet arrive next to Lydia on the other side of his door and hopes Derek’s arrival distracts them…

“Derek, we’re going to go to Stiles’ choir winter recital, want to come with?” Scott asks.

Stiles slams his locker door shut and glares at all of them. “I don’t want you guys there—“

“Do you have any solos?” Lydia asks, smirking.

He does… “No. I don’t. See? No reason to go. Just me singing Latin hymns and shit with a bunch of other losers in ugly sweaters. My dad’s not even coming because he’s working, so there’s literally no reason to go! I just need to go and do it, get my grade, burn the sweater, move on with my life, recover until the next humiliating choir recital and then hope and pray that the repression of memories is swift and effective. Hey! You guys can come when I burn the sweater! We can have a bonfire and burn our first semester shit, it’ll be great. Maybe even do it during the New Year’s party, make it a thing. C’mon, Lydia, don’t tell me that doesn’t sound like a great idea! You can spin a theme out of that, right?”

“So is that 7:30 start time when the auditorium opens or when it starts?” Lydia asks.

“Lydia please… Derek, talk some sense into these people, you don’t want to have to go sit through that, right?”

Derek slowly looks away from the poster and back at Stiles. “You’re a really good singer,” he says. Which is nice, but unhelpful to the cause. “There’s a canned food drive, that’s cool,” he says, looking back at the poster.

“So what are you guys singing?” Scott asks.

Stiles glares at him but Scott keeps smiling.

“Ave Maria. That’s it. Just Ave Maria for an hour.”

“What about that song from Charlie Brown? I feel like that’s a popular one,” Lydia muses.

“That’s for concert choir, I’m in chamber.”

“Isn’t that better than concert choir?” Lydia asks, grinning like she’s caught Stiles in a compromising position.

Stiles’ face is burning again. “Yeah. They needed more guys, it’s not a reflection of my skill, it’s just….” The bell rings, Stiles is saved. “Please, my friends, my best best friends, please don’t do this to me…”

Lydia sends a little flutter of a finger wave over her shoulder on her way to Latin, Scott hooks his arm around Stiles’ neck and drags him along the hallway after Derek to trig. Stiles is fucked, he’ll never be able to look his friends in the eye again.

“Seriously, dude, do you have your sweater or not because we, your “best best friends” would be more than happy to help you shop for one,” Scott says once they’re seated in class.

Stiles looks up at Derek, hoping for sanity and sympathy, but is treated to a smug grin. “Yeah, Stiles,” Derek agrees. “We’d love to.”

“Shit.”

**

December 11th, 2009
Friday

Mr. Delaney is walking slowly through the rows, handing back the most recent draft of their short stories, and talking but Derek is doodling in his notebook and not paying attention. When Delaney finally gets to him, in the back corner by the door, he only has one paper left in his hand. Derek looks up at him, he pauses in his speech and smiles before handing it to him. There’s a red, “Excellent!!!” scrawled across the top. Derek bites the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling.

“Alright, find an editing buddy!” Delaney says to everyone with a satisfied clap of his hands and heads back to the front of the class.

What?

Desks all around him start screeching along the tile, everyone starts talking excitedly, Derek stares.

Editing buddy?

“Mr. Hale, it’s called peer editing, not self-editing, find a partner,” Delaney chides from his desk once the movement has settled. “We have an even number, everyone is here, no odd men out,” he says, surveying the class.

Derek’s cheeks burn. He’s never had this problem. Never been picked last in gym or left without a group partner… He doesn’t even want one but…

“Ms. Krasikeva, noble effort! Could you please join Mr. Hale?”

One of the girls in a cluster of desks nearest to him stands up and slowly tugs her desk over toward Derek. Her facial expression betrays nothing.

Derek missed the directions, that is clear to him now. The girl stares at him, eyebrow lifted slightly, mouth in a haughty straight line. She’s expecting something of him. His draft is now curled into a tube and crushed in his hand and she’s sitting there with hers in front of her on her desk, her small hands folded over it. Prim. She’s very prim. Derek has never felt so judged.

“Are you going to give me your paper or what?” she asks, in a tone that gets Derek’s hackles up.

Derek’s stare turns into a glare and she rolls her eyes. “I can just tell Mr. Delaney that you’re refusing to participate…”

He forces his hand to release his draft and shoves it toward her. She slides hers to him and crinkles her nose when she has to reach for his. He watches her carefully smooth it out on her desk. She has a pen in her hand, the cap of it touching her chin as she starts reading. Derek looks down at hers, notes her name – Paige – and starts reading too.

Paige’s short story is funny in a dry way, sarcastic and sharp. It’s about an orchestra summer camp counselor and her sheltered city kid charges. He finishes hers before she finishes his, just by a few seconds, and looks up to see that she has her hand up over her eyes like a visor. She rubs her face and shoots him a glare before gently passing it back to him.

“I’m surprised you’re that literate,” she says. Then she winces. “I mean, it’s really good.”

“Uh… thanks?” Derek slides hers back to her. “Yours too.”

“Thanks.”

They sit in uncomfortable silence for the rest of the class, disinterestedly flipping through their drafts to look at each other’s comments. Paige didn’t have a lot to say, just some minor sentence suggestions every now and then, a couple things underlined with exclamation points in the margins that Derek translates as compliments. Derek hadn’t had a lot to say on hers either.

When Mr. Delaney announces that they’ll be working with their editors until the final draft is due, Derek’s not that upset about it. Paige doesn’t seem to be either.

**

December 12th, 2009
Saturday

Stiles is slowly coming to terms with his upcoming social death. Very slowly. He watches Lydia paw through a rack of thick, woolen sweaters with a crinkle in her brow. Scott has the most ostentatious, feathered hat perched on his head and he’s sitting on a peacock green velour couch. Derek looks like he had meant to go into the sporting goods store down the block but took a wrong turn.

And Stiles has his arms full of sweaters. Some scratchier than others, one with actual garland hot glued to the front, one with a cat Santa.

Lydia lets out a little gasp and then covers her mouth with one hand to hide her (malicious) grin. “Derek, look,” she says, parting the sweaters so he can get a clear look at whatever it is. “It lights up, there’s a battery pack…”

Judging from the (malicious) mirth in Derek’s eyes, Stiles doesn’t want to know but…

“Are you Jewish?” Derek asks.

“Not really, no.”

“But your grandparents--?” Lydia starts, already knowing the answer.

“Leave my little Polish grandparents out of this,” Stiles cuts her off.

Lydia pulls out the sweater and Stiles groans.

“Stiles, it lights up,” she implores, shaking the bright blue sweater at him.

Stiles takes in the horrific white “Happy Chanukah!” and the Star of David and the menorah with little light bulbs on the candles and isn’t sure how to react. There’s a battery pack swinging below the bottom hem.

Scott wails with laughter.

“It’s perfect, cool, let’s go,” he says, unceremoniously dropping his armful of sweaters onto Scott’s lap. Hannigan wanted tacky, Hannigan was going to get tacky. If Stiles was going to suffer, he was going to suffer brilliantly.

He’s still cross about it later on at Scott’s too, even though he’s pretending not to be.

“What’s up?” Derek asks, not even looking up from his work.

“Nothing,” Stiles answers shortly, casting a look over at the others. Lydia has her headphones on and her nose buried in her Latin homework. Scott is stretched out on the floor behind the couch, invisible to all of them and possibly asleep.

“Sure about that?” Derek asks, looking up and gesturing toward where Stiles has unraveled half of the spiral wire on his notebook.

Stiles is feeling… cranky and anxious. Nervous. Bordering on jittery. Unable to focus on anything other than destroying his English notebook, apparently. But he’s not going to confess to any of that. “I’m fine.”

“So you’re Jewish?” Derek asks.

“Not really.”

“How can you be “not really” Jewish? I’m just straight up not Jewish,” Derek challenges.

“My mom’s side is Jewish, which, technically speaking, makes me Jewish. But. I am not.”

“Got it. So why don’t you want to do this recital?”

“It’s stupid,” Stiles says, twirling his pen to do something with the energy bursting at his fingertips.

“How?”

Stiles continues twirling his pen and tries to think of a smart-ass answer, but all he can concentrate on is the horrible motion in his stomach and the way his skin is going cold. He’s nervous. He’s horrified of standing up on a stage and singing in front of classmates. He’s preemptively embarrassed for himself. He’s had a few stress dreams about singing horribly or tripping or showing up naked or forgetting all the words… okay, so he’s had a lot of stress dreams about it.

Stiles’ fingers stumble and he drops his pen into his lap. His cheeks are heating up, embarrassed and panicked all at once. Fuck. Derek raises an eyebrow. Stiles mouths wordlessly, throat closing up. He tries to keep his breath as even as possible.

“Truth or Dare,” Derek says, voice low and even as if he’s trying not to scare off a wild animal.

“D-d-dare,” Stiles stutters.

“I dare you to throw your pen at Lydia,” Derek says.

Stiles grins. His chest already feels looser, the air feels thinner again. He takes one deep breath and flings his pen in Lydia’s direction, hitting her in the shoulder.

She’s too focused to even react, leaving Derek and Stiles to laugh to themselves.

**

December 14th, 2009
Monday

Paige doesn’t even bother going through the pretense of starting class out next to her friends. She strides into the room, gently tosses a paper onto Derek’s desk and sits next to him. She digs through her backpack, pulls out a crumpled piece of sheet music with an unhappy sigh and tries to straighten it out. She gives up after a few attempts and dives back into her backpack. She finally extracts a folded up paper from within and sets her backpack down beside her.

“What’s this?” Derek asks, flapping the paper in her direction.

“I was thinking about your story over the weekend and I wrote down some thoughts,” she says briskly.

“Oh…” is all Derek gets out before Delaney starts the class.

He’s tempted to read it, but he feels pressured to pay attention with Paige sitting next to him. He waits until Delaney instructs them to get with their editing partner before he ducks his head to read it.

It’s a list of questions. Derek looks up at her as she drags her desk toward his and raises an eyebrow.

“What?”

“These are questions.”

“Yeah. Questions that I, as your reader, want the answers to. Or, questions that you as the writer should be thinking about, either way.”

The first question is, “But who left the things in his locker?”

“Consider it a writing exercise,” she says, shrugging. She slides her new draft toward him and waits for his.

He sheepishly hands it over.

Halfway through reading through her revisions (and smugly noting where she took his suggestions), he looks up at her. “Is this autobiographical?” he asks. She flicks her eyes toward him and down to the page, smirking when she sees where he’s stopped.

“Maybe.”

“So,” Derek starts, tapping a paragraph. “You really instructed your campers to spray their enemy cabin’s clothes with sugar water before the big hike?” he asks in a slightly teasing tone.

“No, but my counselor instructed me to do so when I was just a wee camper myself,” she says, flashing him a wicked grin.

“And they really got swarmed by bees?”

“Maybe.”

That maybe looks like a yes if the evil glint in her eye is anything to go by.

When they’re both done reading, they hand each other their drafts back and look each other directly in the eye.

“So, who is leaving stuff in his locker?” she asks.

Derek shrugs. “I don’t think that’s the point of the story.”

“I just think it’d show some level of… thought if you at least knew. It’d hold more weight, it’d inform more things in the rest of it if you as the author knew who it was. And I really, really want to know.”

“I don’t know,” he insists. Well, he knows, in real life, who some of the things came from…

“You can just make it up, you know? Just… like, what if it’s the chemistry teacher leaving chemistry notes in the locker, that’d be an interesting twist.”

Derek snorts. “It definitely isn’t. And why would they put the mixed tape in there, isn’t that a little weird?”

“So it could be two people, maybe more?”

Derek shrugs.

“I just think it’d add something to it. Like… I don’t know, I root for this guy.” She reaches across and taps Derek’s paper. “I want things to go well for him. I’d like to get more of a sense of who this mystery person is, to see how much or why they care about him. It doesn’t have to be explicit. Like, even if it’s just… a classmate. Or someone who has a crush on him. Or one of the old friends he doesn’t talk to anymore.”

“Or maybe it’s supposed to be mysterious. Maybe it’s… magical realism,” Derek defends, pulling the term out of the air from something that was said in English earlier.

“So maybe it’s a benevolent universe blessing our sad hero, huh?”

Derek scoffs.

“That’s kind of beautiful too, isn’t it?” she presses on. “I think if you want that to be true for this, then you can work little things into the rest of it. That’s… so profound, actually.” She leans back in her seat and screws up her mouth. “That would seem so… hopeful, wouldn’t it? That even if he lost so much, something wanted to give a little back.”

Well, when you put it like that…

Derek’s shoulders slump a little. He feels a prickle of sadness and tries to mask it. She tilts her head at him as if she sensed it anyway.

“Is this autobiographical in some way?” she asks. She has these big, expressive, dark brown eyes and Derek’s not sure how she manages to convey so much heart with them but she does…

“Not… entirely.”

She nods understandingly. “Even the chemistry notes thing?” she asks, smirking the tinest smirk she can, voice still soft.

“No,” he lies. Lydia’s academic dishonesty rant comes back to him in astounding clarity…

“Shame.” She hesitates for a second before pulling the list of questions back toward her. “How do you feel about that magical realism, benevolent universe angle?” she asks. Derek bashfully admits he likes it with a slight nod. She smiles and scribbles something down in the blank space below the first question. “So then, what do you think the next gift would be if you were to keep on writing?” she asks, reading off the second question.

“Shouldn’t we be talking about your draft too?” Derek asks, feeling uncomfortably exposed.

She waves him off. “We have time for that later.”

“This is due on Friday,” he reminds her.

“That’s plenty of time.”

**

December 18th, 2009
Friday

Lydia nudges the Sheriff in the side with her elbow and points toward a group of girls settled into the first row of the auditorium.

“Our boy has admirers,” she tells him.

“Stiles? Nah,” the Sheriff says with a fond teasing tone.

“You’ll see, pops.” She taps the edge of the program against his arm to punctuate the thought. “He has those girls wrapped around his little finger, they worship him. That’s how we get all the intel we need.”

“Been watching Bond again?” he asks, smiling proudly but otherwise not commenting on his son’s popularity.

Lydia huffs and rolls her eyes, settling back into her seat. She looks over at Derek and shakes her head. “You know, it’s good they’re here.”

“Why?”

“Because Stiles will pretend he’s not nervous to impress them.”

Derek has never seen any indication that Stiles is interested in any of those girls, or any girls at all. Just Danny. Who Derek saw kiss Stiles on the cheek before he hit his trumpet case against Stiles’ thigh when they first got here.

And he barely even saw any indication of nerves. Just stony silence and a slight sheen of sweat from wearing a jacket over his already bulky Chanukah sweater and mild irritation at his dad getting the night off all of a sudden.

The Sheriff chuckles. “He’s so nervous.”

Scott and Lydia agree. They’re the experts.

After various bands and concert choir, the chamber choir finally comes on. Stiles stands on the top riser with the other guys in the choir and looks perfectly at ease. His Chanukah sweater twinkles merrily, the blue sticking out against his choir mates’ red and green. He smirks a little when Lydia, Scott, and his dad keep cheering a little longer than necessary. The girls at the front have fallen into reverent silence.

The chamber choir is way better than Derek had expected them to be. Lydia clutches Derek’s arm during Stiles’ solos. Derek catches Scott grinning proudly too.

Lydia and Scott both attack Stiles the second he appears in the lobby where everyone is milling around afterward. He laughs brightly and hugs them back, begging them to shut up. The freshmen girls approach him one by one to awkwardly tell him he did a really good job before scampering off together, giggling. The Sheriff watches the display in utter shock, exchanging looks with a very smug Lydia.

“Told you,” she says.

“Can we eat, I’m starving,” Stiles begs, grabbing Derek and the Sheriff by the elbows and dragging them along behind him toward the exit. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Am I going to have to go into witness protection?” Stiles asks, eyes catching the passing streetlights when he turns around to face the three of them in the back seat.

“No, you were wonderful,” Lydia tells him very honestly.

Stiles’ feline grin falls into a soft smile.

“I might be biased, but you were the best dong of all the ding-dongers in all of Carol of the Bells,” Scott says, tone very serious.

The Sheriff snorts and shakes his head, Stiles clicks his tongue, finger guns at them, and turns back around. “Pops! Father mine! I hunger! My people hunger!”

“Yeah, yeah, just tell me where I’m headed,” he answers gruffly.

Derek watches the interaction between them, thinks back to Thanksgiving when the Sheriff tucked a napkin into the collar of his uniform like a bib at the dinner table, endured Stiles’ and Scott’s constant teasing chatter, and woefully left (“before seconds, what a world”) to answer a call.

“Dad, is that a question? Do you even know us?”

“Hanks is closed, you kids ate them out of business,” he teases. He flicks the turn signal and gets into the turn lane to head toward it though.

Derek should be jealous. Derek’s stomach should be twisting into knots with grief. Derek should want to run off into the woods to yell until he cried like he had after the funeral but… He feels warm. He presses the bare skin of his exposed wrist to the cold window and takes a deep breath. He can smell Lydia’s perfume and the toe of her boot unconsciously taps his shin along with the movement of the car. Stiles continues to rib his father, his father continues to answer. Scott chimes in every now and then but mostly he just smiles softly out the window, his face reflecting back at them in the glass.

Derek feels less empty. He doesn’t know if he feels less empty right now or if he’s been getting filled up slowly over time.

“Derek, kiddo,” the Sheriff says. Derek looks up at the rear-view mirror and meets his eyes.

“Yes, sir?”

“You look like you could take this one. Give him a good old swirly for me first thing when you get back to school after Christmas for disrespecting his father, would ya?” he asks, gesturing to Stiles.

Derek allows the smile, doesn’t even second guess it. “Sure thing.”


Chapter Text

December 21st, 2009
Monday

Stiles shivers in the Jeep while Scott takes his sweet time gathering the supplies inside. Lydia’s been texting him in a state of extreme irritation for the past fifteen minutes asking where they are. Derek still hasn’t even woken up, probably. He has no idea what hell awaits him.

Scott yanks the door open and throws his backpack into the backseat, nearly hitting Stiles square in the face with it.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” Stiles commands impatiently. “Gotta go, Lydia’s going to flip out.”

“Any progress with Derek?” Scott asks as he climbs in and buckles up. Stiles tears out of the driveway and turns toward Lydia’s.

“Not yet, you try.”

It’s the first snow.

Lydia had been up late reading when she saw the first flurries outside her window. Stiles and Scott had been guzzling energy drinks and playing Call of Duty when she called them to scream about it.

“He’s probably asleep,” Scott says, his phone pressed to his ear.

“It’s the first real night of break, what is he, a nun?” Stiles asks, teeth chattering a little.

“It’s like four in the morning,” Scott argues in Derek’s favor.

Lydia’s sitting in her car already when they pull up next to her in the driveway. Stiles and Scott burst out of the Jeep and nearly dive into the blessed warmth of a heated car.

She casts a haughty look at Stiles that is 100% about his winter unfriendly car. “Derek?” she asks.

Stiles tries calling him one more time and is surprised when Derek actually answers.

“Get dressed,” Stiles says, smirking for his own benefit.

“Why do I have 20 missed calls?” he grumbles.

“Get. Dressed. It’s snowing.”

“It’s four in the morn—“

“It’s snowing. We’re coming to get you, get dressed.”

Derek mumbles something that doesn’t sound very complimentary and hangs up.

“So?” Lydia asks.

“He’s coming.” Stiles wiggles in his seat, squirming deeper into his jacket.

Scott sings along to the radio, thrumming with energy. Lydia has a child-like smile on. Stiles watches the snow in the headlight beams right up until they pull up to the Hale house looking perfect with snow starting to stick to it. There’s a light on upstairs that Stiles assumes is Derek’s room.

Stiles calls him again. “We’re outside.”

“Where are we going?”

“Snow.”

“Snow is literally everywhere right now, so…”

“Shhh, you’ll see,” Stiles says. “Bring a change of clothes.”

“What, why?”

“Sleepover.”

Derek groans and the light upstairs blinks off. “Fine.”

Stiles hangs up on him.

**

Derek’s exhausted and cold. He’d be exhausted, cold, and bitter too if this wasn’t so… worth it. He stands in a line with Scott, Stiles, and Lydia a few feet from the edge of a cliff somewhere deep in the preserve. Beacon Hills twinkles up at them through soft falling snow. The air is biting cold but it smells pure, tinged with chimney smoke and evergreen.

“It’s so quiet,” Lydia says, reverent. Derek looks over at her just in time to see her stick her tongue out and tilt her head up.

The snow sticking around their feet is pure white, the footsteps they’d made on their way to this spot are starting to fill in already. Derek knows that then the sun starts to rise, it’ll reflect off the trees stretched out below them and paint them gold and glittering. He’s seen the preserve in snow thousands of times, he’d stopped being impressed by it a long time ago.

But from this angle…

From this angle, Beacon Hills looks quaint and cozy. It looks like a painting on a Christmas card. The company’s not bad either.

“I am freezing my ass off,” Stiles says, sounding fairly happy about it.

“Shh,” Lydia whispers, bringing her finger up to her lips.

Stiles runs his hands up and down his arms, the water proof fabric of his jacket rustling. Scott crouches down and starts gathering the thin layer of snow at his feet into a snowball.

“If you throw that at me, I swear to god,” Lydia warns.

“It’s for Stiles,” Scott argues.

“I—“ Stiles starts to dispute, but he’s cut off when Scott’s snowball hits him right in the side of his face. “Now I have to kill you,” he says somberly as he bends down to gather his own snow.

Before Stiles can throw his snowball at Scott, Scott throws another at Lydia. She screeches and reels around right as Scott ducks and pulls her over his shoulder.

“You’ll never catch me!” Scott yells over his unoccupied shoulder, running off toward the woods.

“C’mon!” Stiles yells at Derek, laughter caught in his throat. He takes off after them, Derek follows.

**

“What’s this?” the Sheriff asks from the door separating the kitchen and the living room, still in uniform from his shift.

Stiles squints up at him from the pile of pillows and blankets that make up the cleared-out center of the floor.

“It snowed,” he says.

“Uh huh,” the Sheriff agrees.

Scott’s elbow is pressing into the soft spot below his ribcage. Lydia’s on the other side of him, wrapped up as tight as a fresh mummy. Stiles lifts his head to make sure Derek’s still there too. He’s sleeping facedown not too far away, clutching a pillow.

“Am I going to find a soggy pile of clothes in the bathroom?” the Sheriff asks.

Yes. Stiles grins at him innocently. His dad shakes his head and heads back into the kitchen. Stiles can hear him tending to the coffee pot.

Stiles sits up, dislodging Scott a little, and gets a good face rub in. Derek shifts and stretches with a slow groan before squinting up at Stiles. His hair is magnificent, sticking up at the front and looking overgrown around the ears. Stiles’ stomach does a treacherous thing that he decides to ignore.

“Morning, sunshine,” Stiles says. Derek scowls. It’s pretty cute.

Cute? Whatever.

Scott twists his hand into Stiles’ shirt and whines in his sleep, that’s just as cute. Totally.

Derek pulls himself up into sitting position and scoots closer to Stiles.

“Do you guys do that every year?” Derek asks, referring to the night before.

“This is the first year Lydia has physically thrown me down onto the ground and shoved snow in my face, but otherwise, yeah. Pretty much. If not the first snow, one of the first.”

“She’s vicious,” Derek says, looking over at mummy Lydia.

Stiles nods.

“You guys have a lot of traditions. Way more than… normal people.”

“Psh, we just enjoy life, Derek. Truth or dare?”

“Dare.”

“Wake Lydia up—“

“Truth. I mean truth,” he corrects with a laugh.

Stiles grins. “Do you have frostbite now?”

Stiles thinks back to Derek cursing and shaking his hands out after the snowball carnage. He’d left his gloves behind. Stiles had grabbed Derek’s hands and rubbed them to warm them up. The rest of him had been soaking wet and cold but his hands were warm. Derek’s hands were soft.

“Nah,” Derek says, stretching one hand out toward Stiles as if to prove it. Stiles clasps his hand around Derek’s warm fingers for just a second to check.

“Good, glad to hear it.”

“Truth or dare.”

“Dare.”

“Wake Lydia up.”

“No sweat,” Stiles says, reaching over to Scott and tugging his pillow out from under his head in one swift motion. Scott flails in shock and kicks Lydia. Lydia bolts up and glares at Scott.

“Nice,” Derek drawls.

**

December 22nd, 2009
Tuesday

Derek refuses to think about Christmas. It’s out of his hands. He spends the first weekend of break with Stiles, Scott and Lydia. He spends Monday with them. He sleeps over at their houses two nights in a row and doesn’t bother going home at all in those 48 hours.

And he feels great. Better than he has in months.

He spends all his time with his friends, bouncing between Lydia’s garage while they fuck around on their instruments and driving around in the Jeep (teeth chattering) and playing video games at Scott’s. He leaches what he can of the Christmas spirit from them— Lydia’s opulently done-up home, the McCall’s cozy and homespun decorations, the Stilinski’s continued dedication to minimalism that they more than make up for in spirited Christmas movie marathons.

But when he finally goes home late Tuesday, mostly because he’s out of spare clothes and extroversion, there’s nothing.

“Oh, so you’re alive,” Laura says when she sees Derek. Derek is pretty sure he hasn’t seen her around in about a week.

He hates her.

He’d just come from the McCall kitchen table where Melissa had roped them all into a ginger bread house kit she’d bought on a whim. He still has frosting under his fingernails.

“Shut up,” Derek snaps, breezing through the living room toward the kitchen.

He hears Laura get up to follow and braces himself.

“Where have you been?” she asks. “Mom was worried—“

“Mom was not worried, she knew where I was,” Derek interrupts. He yanks the fridge open with a little too much force and stares into it.

“Fine then, I was worried, where have you been?”

“Should have asked mom,” Derek says, dead set on being difficult. He shuts the fridge without having found anything suitable and heads for the stairs.

“I’m asking you,” she growls, grabbing Derek by the wrist to stop him.

Derek spins around and tears his arm away from her. “None of your fucking business,” he growls back. His heart is pounding in his chest, ready for a fight.

“I’m just asking, I just care, Derek.” There’s almost a begging tone to it under the fury. “I’m just trying to talk to you—“

“Oh, stop, you’re just a nosy bitch.”

Derek knows exactly what calling her that does, and she reacts exactly as expected. Her entire face goes slack before her cheeks get bright red and her eyes get bright and then, with a low and terrifying voice, she says, “Don’t you dare call me a bitch.”

“Not going to argue the nosy part, then?”

“I’m not nosy, I’m trying to help you and I can’t help you—“

“Help me?” Derek asks, voice ratcheting up in volume and pitch. “Help me with what, Laura?”

She splutters as if that should be the most obvious thing in the world and she doesn’t even know where to start. “We’re family,” is what she settles on.

“What kind of fucking family are we exactly?” Derek asks, throwing his arms out to gesture around the seasonless kitchen.

“Christ,” she spits. “Grow the fuck up, Derek. Your little rebel phase isn’t cute anymore.”

“Your replacement parent act isn’t cute anymore either.”

“I’m not trying to be a replacement parent—“

“Really, because the whole hovering, lunch-making, ass-kissing, laying around the fucking house all day shit seems pretty stay at home mom—“

“Fuck you.”

“Get a fucking life, Laura, and keep out of mine. Dad’s dead, you’re a shitty substitute.” Derek turns around to leave but Laura yanks him back.

“I’m not trying to be a substitute, why the fuck are you being so goddamn mean I’m just trying to help. You know, every time you use Dad being dead as a fucking scare tactic you don’t make yourself look any fucking bigger than the scared little asshole you are—“

Derek ignores the last part because it hurts and goes for her damn throat. “Stop trying to help! No one wants your help! No one needs you, Laura!”

“I’m here to help mom, I am here for a reason, I wanted to be here—“

“Do us all a favor and take a couple classes or something, you’re fucking suffocating everyone. Shit, get a hobby, even. Better yet, leave. Move out like you were supposed to.”

“I stayed for a reason,” she says, trying her best to keep her voice even and low. Derek can see the fissures in her façade…

“Because the chance to be a fucking dictator at home was way too great to pass up? Dad would be so disappointed in you.”

And that’s what seems to do it. Her eyes widen, her lips barely part to take in a hurt breath.

“I deferred,” she says in a soft, wounded voice.

“Yeah, for what fucking reason exactly?”

With the last spark of fire in her eyes and a wordless shout, Laura shoves Derek as hard as she can until his back makes sharp contact with a counter. Before he can decide if he wants to lunge back at her or not, she glares at him through tears Derek hadn’t even seen spring up.

“I hate you,” she says, voice quivering. Her eyes are already red, her cheeks wet. She stomps toward the stairs, Derek can hear her choking on sobs as she goes.

Derek feels like he’s been doused in ice water.

Laura’s crying.

Derek hasn’t seen Laura produce a single tear in months.

Derek stands silent in the empty kitchen, heart in his throat, eyes stinging, back aching from where she slammed him into the counter.

**

Stiles is warm and comfortable and half asleep when the doorbell rings.

Like… the doorbell. Downstairs. Rings. Stiles can’t remember the last time someone who wasn’t an undesirable actually used the doorbell. The novelty of it drives him to crawl out of bed.

When he opens the door, Derek’s headed back down the steps.

“The doorbell, really? Do you know what time it is?” Stiles asks, leaning in the doorway. He shivers a little in the cold. Derek stops walking but keeps his back to him for a troubling second. He’d seen him an hour ago and he’d been fine… “Hey, what’s up?”

Derek turns back around. His hands are shoved into his sweater pockets, he looks cold. “Sorry.” His eyes dart down to Stiles’ legs and Stiles refuses to be embarrassed by his worn old pajamas. Sorta.

“For what?” Stiles asks.

“The doorbell.”

Stiles waves it off and gestures for him to get inside.

“Can I stay over?” Derek asks.

“Sure, man. You okay?” Stiles throws the question over his shoulder as he heads back up the stairs. Derek follows close behind.

“Yeah.”

He’s not okay. Outwardly, he’s not behaving in an unusual way but… Stiles knows.

“So are you just here to sleep or…?” Stiles makes a stop at the linen closet, pulls out a stack of extra blankets, and shoves them into Derek’s chest until he accepts them.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Do you want to talk?” Stiles prods.

Derek shrugs. Which isn’t a no.

Stiles flops back onto his bed and wriggles until he’s sitting up against his headboard. Derek stoically arranges the blankets in a spot on the floor, avoiding eye contact.

“You can sleep on the couch if you want.”

“This is fine.”

“Kay.”

Derek kicks off his shoes and shrugs out of his jacket. Stiles notes the tense line of his shoulders and his tight jaw. He casts his gaze around Stiles’ room almost as if he hadn’t been there before. He pauses at the guitar leaning against the wall next to the bed and then his eyes skip right over Stiles to take in the posters on the other side.

“So… what’s up?” Stiles tries again.

“Fought with my sister,” he mumbles. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Do you mind if I just…” Derek points toward his blanket nest. “I’m tired…”

“Right, sure, go ahead.”

Stiles waits for him to get somewhat settled before he turns off the light and crawls back under his covers. He’s too hyper aware of Derek’s presence so he just stares up at the dark ceiling listening to his breath, waiting for it to even out into sleep.

Derek rustles around, turning fitfully. He falls silent and still again. And then he moves again.

“You okay down there?” Stiles asks.

“Yeah.”

“Do you need more blankets or anything? Another pillow?”

“No.”

“Is the floor cold?”

A pause. Derek warring with his good manners and the truth.

“The floor is cold,” Stiles asserts.

“A little.”

“Well if you’re not afraid of catching my alternative sexuality, I do have a full sized bed…”

“How contagious is your alternative sexuality?” Derek asks in a dry tone as he gets to his feet.

Stiles laughs. “I don’t know, haven’t tested it.”

Derek snorts and sits on the opposite edge of the bed.

“I could, if you wanted,” Stiles teases, playing off his laughter.

“Rain check.”

Stiles’ treacherous inner monologue whispers a “I’ll take you up on that” and Stiles pushes the thought away.

Derek scoots under the covers and carefully rolls onto his side to face away from Stiles. He might be taking the contagious sexuality thing a little seriously… or, Stiles reminds himself, most dudes aren’t use to bed sharing with their fellow dudes. Scott had made sure that awkwardness would never occur years and years ago.

Derek takes a shuddery breath and Stiles rolls to face his back, concerned. He strains his ears to try to figure out what caused it, if anything.

And there it is again. Distinctly… tearful.

“Hey,” Stiles says, wanting to reach out to touch his back but keeping his hands balled up at his chest. “You okay?”

Derek rolls onto his back and stares up at the ceiling, breathing carefully.

“What’s going on?” Stiles asks, voice barely above a whisper.

Derek shakes his head and takes another deep, shaking breath. And then another more shallow breath, and then another…

Stiles is not the comforting one. Stiles can get back at ex boyfriends or say satisfyingly disrespectful things to deadbeat dads in people’s (Scott’s) defense. Stiles can plan a prank war. Stiles can embarrass assholes like Jackson in front of all his friends. Stiles can throw a good punch. Usually Stiles gets hugged – by his dad, by Melissa, by the other two. Stiles only knows to initiate hugs with Lydia and Scott because he’s been in the trenches with them for years.

But Stiles wants to hug Derek.

“Hey,” Stiles says, cautiously. He reaches his hand out and places the tips of his fingers on Derek’s arm.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says through clenched teeth. The dim light from the moon outside glints on wet patches on Derek’s face and Stiles feels the urge to hug him surge.

“Don’t be, you’re going through a lot,” Stiles whispers at him, closing his hand around Derek’s wrist.

That seems to break him. Stiles tugs on his wrist and Derek allows himself to be drawn closer, curling onto his side.

Stiles thinks of Scott when he hugs Derek, astounded that the same warmth settles in his chest at the contact. Stiles thinks of Lydia and how she fits sort of perfectly under his arm and against his side. Derek presses his face against Stiles’ chest and shakes, Stiles lays his cheek against the top of his head.

And they just stay like that, mostly silent save for a little labored breathing on Derek’s part. Stiles waits until Derek’s grip on his shirt loosens and falls away, his hands lightly curled up between their stomachs. He pulls his head away to look down at Derek, rubs a hand up to the back of his neck and squeezes gently, hoping it’s comforting.

“Sorry,” Derek says, nasal. He rolls onto his back and onto his feet to pace a little, rubbing at his face with his arm. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Stiles says, sitting up against the headboard.

“She just…” he starts. “She’s…”

“Which one?” Stiles asks. He slaps his palm against the bed next to him to get Derek to sit. Derek reluctantly obeys and mirrors Stiles’ position against the headboard.

“Laura,” he answers, tone of voice suggesting that should be obvious. Derek never talks about Laura.

“So what is she?”

“She’s annoying.” He doesn’t sound entirely convinced though. “She’s nosy. She’s…” He trails off again and stares at his own hands in his lap.

Stiles waits him out.

He ends up waiting for a long time. Stiles can hear the second hand of his Star Wars wall clock ticking away. He can hear the wind outside. He can hear Derek rubbing his thumb against his own palm in some self-soothing gesture.

“Truth or dare?” Stiles asks, voice soft.

“Dare,” he says.

“Dare you to tell me what happened.”

Derek opens his mouth to speak but ends up biting his lip instead. He shrugs.

“That bad?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, so… truth or truth?”

“Wouldn’t that just be called truth?”

“Okay, then True or False.”

Derek looks up at him, questioning.

“I don’t know, I can try to guess what happened.”

“That’s 20 Questions.”

“Not when you say True or False instead of yes or no,” Stiles argues. Derek smiles and rolls his eyes. “You in or what?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. True or false, your sister pissed you off.”

“True.”

“She told you your ears stuck out.”

“What? No,” Derek says, hand flying to the side of his head as if to check. Stiles smirks. “I mean, false.”

“Okay, she bitched at you about coming in late.”

He thinks about it, as if backtracking through the fight. “False.”

“She borrowed your clothes without asking?” Stiles has no idea what real siblings do, his only example is Lydia and Maisie…

“Uh, false.”

“You started the fight?”

Derek chews on the side of his thumb in deep thought. He looks guiltier the longer he thinks. Derek shrugs. “Maybe true.”

“You feel bad about it.”

Derek’s back to staring at his hands when he nods. “True.”

Stiles doesn’t know what else to say really. He’s trying to pick between saying something ridiculous or giving up entirely when Derek clears his throat.

“I made her cry.”

“Oh.”

“She hasn’t cried… like at all. This whole time, not even at the…” He makes a small, rigid gesture with his hand. Stiles takes that to mean funeral.

“What’d you do?” Stiles asks.

“She just… doesn’t give us space. Cora’s okay with it but I… hate it. It’s like she’s trying to parent us and I don’t want her to.”

“Understandable.”

Derek picks at a scab on his knuckle, the movement nervous and impulsive. Stiles reaches over and flicks his wrist to get him to stop.

“How’d you make her cry?”

“I was an asshole.”

“Are you still mad at her?”

“Yeah,” he says with a disbelieving laugh.

“For… not giving you space?”

“It’s stupid,” Derek says. “It’s really stupid. I shouldn’t be mad at her. There’s nothing to be mad at. Fuck. She makes me lunch, you know? She taxis Cora around, she helps mom out around the house.”

Stiles chews on the inside of his cheek.

He goes right back to picking at his hands. Stiles peels himself off the headboard and turns toward Derek. He grabs his hand and yanks it toward him more forcefully this time.

“After my mom died, I used to panic if I didn’t know where my dad was,” Stiles murmurs, hand firm around Derek’s still. Derek stares at their clasped hands, shoulders slumped. “And sometimes even when I knew where he was…”

Derek nods.

“I still do sometimes,” Stiles confesses. “One time really recently my dad didn’t get back from a day shift in time for dinner and I couldn’t reach him and the station said he was out on a call, and they’re not allowed to tell me what his calls are. So I was trying to figure it out on the police scanner and I heard them talking about an officer involved shooting and I… lost it. I totally lost it. But it wasn’t him.”

Derek’s hand starts to grip him back.

“I’m not trying to be… against you, here. Not with this, but… I can see where she’s coming from.”

“I was an asshole, I told her dad would be disappointed in her.”

“Ouch.”

“He wouldn’t be,” Derek says, barely audible.

“Tell her that,” Stiles suggests.

Derek nods. “Okay.”

“But it’s late, so you might as well stay.”

Derek laughs a little. “Yeah, okay. Thanks.”

**

December 23rd, 2009
Wednesday

Derek wakes up with an ache radiating from a spot on his back. He assumes it’s Laura’s bruise. He rolls onto his side and ends up with his face against Stiles’ back. He takes a deep breath before he can encourage himself to pull away. He sits up and rubs his hand through his hair and shakes the misery loose. He looks back down at sleeping Stiles and debates waking him up.

“Hey,” Derek says softly. He repeats himself a little louder and nudges Stiles.

“Hm.”

“I’m going to go talk to my sister.”

“Hmm, good call, good man,” Stiles mutters, turning over just enough to press his face into his pillow.

Derek gets up and gathers his things and folds the blankets he’d left on the floor in the gray light coming in through the blinds as quietly as he can. He reaches for the door handle to go and Stiles sits up.

“Hey. See you later?” Stiles asks.

“Yeah.”

“Good luck.”

“Thanks.”

Derek drags himself back home even though he’d rather swallow nails. He parks in the garage next to Laura’s car, their mom’s out at work. Cora may or may not be home.

Derek sulks in through the kitchen, keeping an eye and an ear out for either sister. The TV is on in the living room. He pokes his head in, trying not to make a sound. Cora’s wrapped up in a blanket with a bowl of cereal in her lap.

“Hey, jerk,” she greets without looking.

“Hey.”

“She’s in her room,” she says, equal parts smug and judgmental.

“Thanks,” he says, ducking his head as he makes for the stairs.

Derek knocks his bent knuckle against Laura’s door and waits for a response. He knocks again, a little louder, when there isn’t one.

“What do you want?” a miserable, muffled Laura says from somewhere distant in her room.

“To talk.”

“Fuck off!”

Derek thunks his forehead against the door. “Laura, please.”

He hears shuffled footsteps that lead to the other side of the door, but nothing else.

“Laura?”

“Are you going to be a dick?” she asks, voice closer and clearer than before.

“No.”

She tugs the door open just wide enough for one shoulder and her head to fit through. The sharp line of her eyebrows seems sharper than usual, set over fierce eyes and an otherwise neutral face.

“I’m sorry,” Derek starts off with.

Laura rubs her arm across her forehead, hand stained with paint. She doesn’t look him in the eye, she doesn’t let him into her room.

“Okay,” she says.

“Dad um… wouldn’t have been disappointed in you,” he says sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. “At all, actually.”

He’s surprised at how fast she tears up. She rolls her eyes, probably at herself, and stares up toward the ceiling. Derek notes a slight tremor in her.

“Fuck,” she curses before wiping at her eyes. She kicks her door open and wanders back into her room.

Derek cautiously steps inside, looking for changes. She throws a sheet over a huge canvas leaning against a wall before he sees anything and nudges a tray of her supplies out of the way.

“Talk,” she says, dropping heavily onto her bed. Derek notes that there are paint stains on her comforter.

“Have you slept?” he asks.

“No,” she snaps. “Are you here to apologize or…?”

“Yeah, right, uh." He sits on her desk chair. “I was an asshole, last night and… lately. But I took it too far last night.”

“Yeah you did.”

“I’m sorry. I think I sorta did want to make you cry but uh… now I wish I hadn’t.”

“Why? Why did you want to make me cry?”

“Because you don’t.”

“Yeah I do.”

“You’ve just seemed… okay and I was… I don’t know.”

“I haven’t been okay, if that makes you feel any better.”

“It doesn’t,” Derek admits. “Not really.”

Laura shrugs. “Well, at least we’re in this shit together, aren’t we?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m still, despite my better judgment, going to make your stupid lunches.” Laura lets a small smile crack through.

“Good.”

“Good,” she echoes.

Derek picks at a dried streak of white paint on her desk. “So Thanksgiving…”

“Oooh, is this a list of apologies?” Laura asks, sounding more like herself.

“No. Well. Yeah. But I mean… let’s not… let Christmas be like that.”

**

Lydia’s busy all day and Stiles and Scott are out of things to do by the time Derek actually answers their series of texts.

“Come over if you’re bored.”

“Over where?” Scott asks out loud.

“To his house,” Stiles answers.

“Really?”

“I guess.”

“Hm…” Scott spins around in Stiles’ chair. “I’ve always wanted to see inside that house.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees.

“It’s probably haunted.”

“Don’t!” Stiles warns, flashing back to holding a crying Derek. His cheeks heat up. “Not the time!”

“I wasn’t going to do anything! It just looks haunted, doesn’t it?”

It sort of does.

The house is something out of a movie, Stiles thinks. Beige brick and gabled black roof and pure white window frames, all set against a wall of trees and surrounded by a lot of winter-dead lawn.

Stiles parks the Jeep behind Laura’s sleek red car and hopes that the Hale siblings talked their shit out. Cora tosses the door open as they approach, grinning. She schools her face into something less enthusiastic and lets them in with a very cool, teenage, “Hey.”

“Hey, little Hale!” Stiles greets, ruffling her hair. Her smile slips back into place.

“We’re making Christmas,” she says, leading them into the living room where Laura stands in the direct center, considering the corner by the fireplace with extreme scrutiny.

“Hey,” Derek says from amongst a pile of dusty boxes. He reaches into one of them and pulls out what looks to be a homemade tree topper – an angel with a horrific face.

Laura looks over her shoulder, sharp eyes appraising the both of them, and then looks at Derek. “God, not that one,” she says.

“I’m not that bad,” Stiles teases. Laura looks back over at him and her expression says that she disagrees. He feels thoroughly judged.

“Uh,” Derek says uncertainly. Laura huffs and goes back to staring at the corner. “Christmas decorating? Not very cool but…”

Scott and Stiles are all about this.

“Seven foot tree,” Laura says eventually. “Throw that hideous thing away.” She wheels around and points at Derek who still holds the tree topper.

“Mom would be heartbroken,” he says, holding it up and making it dance for her.

“That thing freaks me out,” she mutters.

“I know the point is to surprise her with Christmas, but I think she’ll want to pick out the tree,” Cora says from the couch.

Oh.

Laura’s face softens when she looks at Cora. “You’re right,” she agrees. “And mom has the SUV. The alternative was to strap the tree to Derek’s Camaro.”

“No it wasn’t,” Derek argues. She sticks her tongue out at him.

“How are you little shits with heights?” Laura asks, looking at Scott and Stiles for the first time since her first assessment. “String lights don’t hang themselves.”

**

Stiles and Laura seem to get along by the time they’re wrapping the banister with pine garland and string lights, dryly insulting each other and trying not to laugh. Scott gives Cora a running piggyback ride through the inch or so of snow that had gathered throughout the evening before they go to meet up with their respective parents.

The Hale siblings only have a few minutes to enjoy their hard work and festive decorating know-how before they hear tires crunching down the driveway.

Derek expects one of two things from their mother when she gets home: tears of anger paired with ordering them to take it all down or nothing more than a tight smile and “how nice.”

They decide not to run outside just in case it doesn’t go in their favor.

So she calls Laura from somewhere between her car and the front door to tell them to come outside.

“Did she sound mad?” Cora asks, walking slowly directly behind Derek to hide.

“No.”

“Happy?” Cora asks.

“No.”

“Shit.”

Their mom stands in the middle of the front yard, head tilted up. Christmas lights reflect in her eyes and the brass buttons on her coat, glint off her glossy black hair. The thin layer of snow at her feet is streaked with green and red light. They approach with caution.

“So, what’d you kids do today?” she asks. Derek sees the hint of a smile play at her lips.

“Uh…” “Well, you see…” “We um…”

“I hope you didn’t get a tree,” she says, sounding very serious. Derek’s stomach drops. “You know I love picking the tree.”

Laura lets out a sigh of relief and laughs. Cora assures her that they didn’t.

“Come here, my babies,” their mom says finally, pulling her hands out of her pockets to gather them all to her. She kisses all of them on the cheeks and foreheads (pulling Derek’s head down to do so). “Let’s go tree shopping.”

**

December 26th, 2009
Saturday

Stiles has a list. He has items to distribute rolling around on the floor of the passenger seat and a list of people to gather and a loose plan. It looks like it might snow, no matter what the weather guy on the radio says. He texts all three of them to see the order in which he should pick them up. Lydia has to endure a little more before their grandparents leave, Scott has (predictably) just woken up and needs to shower, and Derek is actually ready.

When Derek opens the passenger side door, he unceremoniously tosses a couple CDs into Stiles’ lap. “For you,” he says simply. He looks down at the floor and starts to carefully shove things aside.

“Oh.” Stiles reaches down to help and picks up a worn copy of Wind, Sand, and Stars. “For you,” he says, offering it to Derek.

“Oh.”

“It’s a pauper’s Christmas, so that’s literally something from my own bookshelf but I’d like you to have it. Unless you hate it, then give it back.”

Derek climbs into the car before he takes a good look at it. Stiles takes up one CD in each hand and looks between them. “Which one should we listen to?” he asks.

“Oh, uh, you don’t have to listen to them now, you just asked me to… convince you Bon Iver doesn’t suck, so…”

Stiles remembers the conversation. He tries not to smile too much. “Dude, I can’t not listen to music when it’s presented to me. Which one pairs better with doing scoundrel shit with your friends?”

Derek taps on one without hesitation. “The other one is more for thinking deep and lonely thoughts in the rain,” Derek says, a joke in his tone even though Stiles figures he probably means it.

“Noted.” Stiles opens the thin case and pops the CD into the player.

Something instrumental and catchy starts pouring out of Stiles’ speakers as he bounces down the driveway back to the road. Derek flips the book over in his hands and reads the back.

“It’s by the guy who wrote The Little Prince. It’s adventurous and philosophical and shit, if you like Kerouac as much as you say, you should like that,” Stiles says.

The book is well-worn and the edges of the pages are yellow and pocked with dog-eared corners. Stiles knows those dog ears point to underlined sentences and paragraphs. Derek turns it over in his hands, thumbs running over the soft cover.

“In all fairness, you might not like it,” Stiles says, feeling like he needs to make excuses for it.

“It looks cool,” Derek says. Stiles watches out of the corner of his eye as he protectively curls his hand around it in his lap.

**

Derek’s not even aware that he’s falling asleep until there’s a soft, Cora-like knock at his door that jolts him closer to awake. He mutters a “come in” and rubs his eyes.

“Were you sleeping with the light on?” his mother asks, teasing. She enters his room slowly and looks around as if to see if anything had changed in the last few months. She has something black folded over her arms.

“No,” Derek murmurs, crooking a smile at her. He pulls himself up into a sitting position, knocking Stiles’ book off his chest. “Reading.”

“Ah,” she breathes. She waves at him to scoot over so she can sit on the edge of his bed. She looks down at her hands and the lump of jacket in her lap before looking over at Derek. She reaches her hand out toward him and he tilts his head toward her reach until she runs her hand through his hair. It’s a soft, familiar gesture that soothes something in Derek that he hadn’t known needed soothing. She trails her hand from the top of his head down to his cheek, pinches his chin lightly and drops her hand again. “You’ve been out all day. Did you have fun?”

Derek thinks back to Scott nearly falling out of a tree and Lydia laughing so hard she choked on a fry and Stiles sliding and tumbling down a snowy hill. “Yeah,” he answers, honest. She smiles. “What’s up?” he asks, eying the jacket.

“I was going through the closet. I figured it was time to… Work on moving forward.” She nods her head once, diplomatically. She sounds like she’s still trying to convince herself. “And I think you should look through his things to see what you would like to keep, your sisters too...” She takes a deep breath and looks at Derek cautiously. Derek bends his knee to nudge her gently. She smiles. “But this, I know for a fact he would want you to have.” She slides the jacket off of her lap and toward Derek.

Derek knows what it is even before he rests his fingers against the cool leather. His heart threatens to drop but stays put. His breath only gets caught in his throat for a second.

“Take care of it, that thing is a classic,” she warns.

“I will, thank you.”

She reaches out to pet his hair again instead of vocalizing a response.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, leaning his head into her hand. He’s not sure what he’s apologizing for. All of it, maybe.

“Me too,” she says, fingers carefully working out a knot at the back of his head. “I really appreciate what you and the girls did for us this year, I’m one lucky mom.”

“Yeah you are,” Derek agrees to keep it from getting too mushy. She flicks his ear in punishment and he grins.

**

December 31st, 2009
Thursday

Derek has had a lot to drink (and a little to smoke) by the time Lydia drags him into a circle of people alongside Scott and Stiles. “Truth or dare, truth or dare,” she whispers at them, looking devious. “I need one of you to dare me to make out with that one.” She points discreetly toward a senior Derek barely recognizes. He spots a tattoo peeking out of his rolled up sweater sleeve.

“Only if you dare me to make out with someone to make that one—“ Stiles points less discreetly at Danny. “Jealous.”

“Deal.” She crawls away from them and into a proper spot in the circle, smoothing her black sequined skirt out over her knees.

She plays coy when everyone insists that she be the one to start off, eating up the attention.

“Okay, I’ll start!” She taps her chin with one finger and surveys the circle, eyes ultimately falling on Stiles. “I dare youuuu,” Lydia slurs, pointing at Stiles with her beer bottle. She squints at him, clearly thinking devious thoughts. Stiles raises two challenging eyebrows at her and smirks. “I dare you to kiss….” Stiles’ smirk splits into a crooked, smug grin. Lydia scans the circle, eyes hesitating on people as she considers them. Jackson looks disgusted, Danny looks hopeful, a couple girls look like they’re trying not to look eager, a couple of the guys look a shade too curious to be purely nervous. Scott sticks his tongue out at Stiles and does obscene things with it while fake moaning. “Scott.”

“Huh?” Scott asks, looking over at Lydia, tongue slipping back into his mouth.

Lydia flashes her sparkly grin at Scott and turns back to Stiles. “I dare you to kiss Scott.”

“Alright,” Stiles says. “Come here, baby.” He shoves up onto his knees and crawls toward Scott while everyone cheers them on.

Derek hopes his face isn’t betraying whatever weird emotion is swirling in him.

Scott’s grinning as he scoots forward to meet Stiles in the middle. Stiles grabs him by the chin and pulls him closer. Derek’s holding his breath, but no one is paying attention to him to notice. Stiles puckers his lips comically and plants a loud smack of a kiss on Scott’s lips. He pulls away laughing, Scott’s laughing, Derek’s relieved, almost everyone in the circle is boo-ing them in disappointment.

“What is this, 7th grade?” Lydia admonishes.

“Too late, already did it.”

“No, my house, my rules,” Lydia demands.

Others at the circle agree, most notably Danny saying, “Yeah, Stiles, since when do you have something against a little tongue.” Derek opens his mouth to stand up for them, but Stiles and Scott laugh and lean back in.

Derek’s cheeks heat up watching them. Stiles has a hand twisted up in Scott’s collar, the other on Scott’s shoulder. Scott has both his hands resting on his own thighs. Derek thinks focusing on their hands will keep him from blushing harder and more obviously, to keep him from exposing himself as… innocent or prude or conservative or something. Derek’s not sure what it is.

It’s… weird. It’s weird watching these two people kiss. His eyes slide to them, curiosity betraying his best efforts, and he notes the pretty flush of both of their cheeks and how their eyes are softly closed but a tightness around their eyes shows that they’re probably trying not to smile or laugh. Their lips are wet with each others’ spit and it’s absolutely fucking bizarre. Derek of course is still looking when Stiles finally takes the “tongue! tongue! tongue!” chant to heart and deepens the kiss. Derek’s stomach drops and he forcibly looks away from the circle entirely.

The circle cheers and laughs and discussion breaks out and Derek looks again. Stiles and Scott are wiping their mouths on their sleeves and moving back to their spots.

“You’re a good kisser, dude,” Scott says as if he’s commenting on someone’s good penmanship.

“You’re not so bad yourself, Scotty.”

And just like that, their friendly ease remains untarnished. Derek wonders what he would have done in their shoes, if he’d have been willing to go along with it or not, if he’d be able to nonchalantly laugh it off afterward. Maybe he’s not as confident or secure as them, maybe he doesn’t understand a friendship like theirs…

“Derek, truth or dare,” Stiles says.

Either option could be bad.

“Dare.”

Stiles taps his chin in thought, eyes narrowed. “I dare you to wear lipstick for the rest of the night and then if someone says something about it you have to kiss them on the cheek.”

“Okay,” Derek laughs.

“Oooh, I have just the perfect shade for you.” Lydia rises to her feet and runs up her stairs and back down in record time.

Lydia kneels in front of him and uncaps a bright magenta lipstick. She wiggles it and her eyebrows at him. “Pucker up, babe,” she says, grabbing his chin. “Actually, don’t, do this.” She does something with her lips that Derek’s laughing too much to truly achieve but she drags the lipstick over his mouth anyway.

Derek accepts the tube from her when she shoves it into his chest, pleased with her work, and tilts his chin across the circle at Scott. “Scott, truth or dare?”

“Truth.”

“How do I look?”

“You look damn beautiful, man,” he says, already leaning forward and tapping his cheek. Derek grabs his head and kisses his cheek hard enough to leave a clear kiss print.

Derek catches the edge of a fond look on Danny’s face and something more complicated on Jackson’s face beyond him as he pulls away, but he ignores it.

“Alright, Lydia, I dare you to make out with that guy,” Scott says, pointing at the aforementioned senior.

“What if I was going to choose truth?” she asks, trying to sound put-upon.

“Booooo,” Scott responds. “Kiss the dude, loser.”

The guy shoots Lydia an attractive grin and gestures for her to come closer.

“Fiiine,” she says, smirking.

**

“C’mon,” Danny says, tugging on Stiles’ shirt. “Half an hour.”

“They’ll know,” Stiles says. “They’ll say shit, I’ll have to deny shit…” He lets himself get tugged along anyway. Danny grins a sparkling grin, Stiles’ stomach drops. “And your friends, I have no idea what your friends think.” He’s digging, he’s begging to be told. Danny’s grin stays in place, he shrugs and slides his hands over Stiles’ waist. “Jackson might dump you. Friend dump, but still dump.”

“Jackson is cool,” Danny says with a slightly warning tone.

“With us?”

“What are we that he has to be cool with?” Danny asks. Stiles hopes he masks the (surprising) hurt he feels. Danny’s hands fly up to cup Stiles’ cheeks. “I mean, no, I meant… I mean, he knows we’re… messing around, that’s what I meant, not that we aren’t… something.”

“So we’re something.”

Danny pulls Stiles’ face closer and Stiles feels a little woozy. “I don’t know,” he says softly. “Sneak out with me. Half an hour. They won’t even notice. You can tell them whatever you want if they ask.”

Stiles bites his lip and smiles around it, knowing very well what that expression looks like. “Okay fine.”

Danny’s grin melts into a satisfied smirk. He grabs Stiles by the hand and drags him toward the front door. “My parents are out,” he explains over his shoulder when Stiles resists. Stiles stops resisting.

They jog through the cold across two unaffiliated yards and stumble into Danny’s house. Stiles hooks his fingers into the waistband of Danny’s jeans and tries to keep up with him jogging up the stairs. He only trips a little.

They don’t waste any time getting undressed once they get to his room. Danny’s instantly rummaging for supplies, Stiles is sucking on his neck and reaching between them to grab him.

They’re used to rushing, taking advantage of an unsupervised half hour if they’re lucky. They’re used to quick and quiet. And even then, they don’t get around to this as much as Stiles would like (or as much as Danny would like if the looks they exchange at school mean anything).

Stiles lets Danny maneuver him onto his back, legs hooked over Danny’s elbows while they kiss. The position makes his hip lock up but he doesn’t say anything. Danny moves anyway to reach for the lube and to get things started, which Stiles chews the shit out of his lip during. Still. God. It’d get less awkward, right? Stiles assumes it will.

“You ready?” Danny asks, fingers inside him and moving slowly. Stiles’ dick says yes, Stiles says absolutely. Get the awkward part over with. Stiles nods, Danny kisses. He presses into him and it occurs to Stiles that they could have probably gotten away with blowing each other but then Danny hits the spot and he forgets all about that.

“You’re so cute,” Danny says, laughing a little against Stiles’ lips.

“Hot, I’m hot,” Stiles corrects, punctuating it with a moan. Danny grazes his teeth against Stiles’ jaw and laughs again.

“Yeah, that too.”

Stiles gets lost in it, in the sweat and sound and heat and buzzing nerve endings and the stretch and near burn and everything. Danny’s skin is slick and warm, his mouth is slick and warm, Stiles himself feels pretty slick and warm. There’s no better way to end the year.

Stiles comes first, gritting his teeth and squeezing his eyes shut, and digging his nails into Danny’s side. Danny comes after, making a strangled sound and ramming into him while Stiles pants underneath him, limbs all jelly.

Danny carefully pulls out and presumably handles the condom and collapses on top of him and they just breathe together. Breathe and sweat and recover. Danny’s heavy on top of Stiles and Stiles loves that. He reaches down for Danny’s hand and intertwines their fingers. Danny turns his head and kisses Stiles’ collarbone, squeezing his hand back.

“God, I love sex,” Stiles says once he gains enough energy to do so, feeling giddy. Danny huffs a laugh and slowly looks up at him. “I really do, Danny.”

“Me too.”

“Tell me, is it as good for you as it is for me?” Stiles runs his hand through Danny’s messed up, gel-crunchy hair. They should probably get back, midnight is approaching rapidly.

“Yeah,” he says, pitched higher than normal to sound casual. Stiles pauses his hand and tilts his head at him. “Sometimes I feel weirdly jealous of the uh… position.”

“How?” Stiles asks. He considers reaching for his phone to make sure no one has texted to ask his whereabouts.

“Uh… I miss receiving... It’s been awhile.”

“Oh!” Stiles feels his cheeks heat up. “Uh… well.”

Danny’s eyes have a predatory edge to them. Stiles forgets how to swallow for a second and has to clear this throat once he remembers. It’s just… Stiles… hasn’t thought about this too deeply yet. Or rather, that’s a lie, he has thought very deeply about it. He spent a summer wondering what it meant that he liked getting nailed. His masturbatory fantasies stay sorta… in this realm of things. Him on his back, receiving. Him on top, receiving. Him against walls, receiving. Him on all fours, receiving. He’d somehow built a partition in his head between the gay stuff (him, receiving, always) and the straight stuff (things done in the common fashion, of course). Two separate sex acts. Two different categories of penetration.

But there really is something to it, now that he considers it. Danny, all gleaming tan muscles and quietly assertive, on his back under Stiles, legs around Stiles, Stiles sliding into him.

“Oh, fuck,” Stiles breathes. He can already feel his blood flow diverting. Danny runs his hands down Stiles’ body, tracing his finger tips over his hip bones and swooping around to touch the sensitive skin on the backs of his thighs. Stiles shudders.

“You thinking about it?” Danny asks in a low voice.

“Tonight?” Stiles counters. “Right now?”

Danny smirks and presses his hips up and against Stiles. They’re both theoretically ready. Standing at attention, full mast, all the euphemisms for up for it

“I wouldn’t mind,” he says. Danny’s hand squeezes between them and travels toward their dicks. Stiles doesn’t mind at all, not one bit.

“Okay.”

Danny rolls away instantly, all convincing he needed to do officially complete. He reaches for the bedside table for more condoms and Stiles decides to make himself useful by searching for the lube they’d just tossed amongst the sheets.

“How do you want this, what are we doing?” Stiles asks, unable to get rid of his nervous tremor. Danny shoves Stiles back against the pillows and drops a condom onto his stomach before throwing on leg over him. “Oh.”

“Like this,” Danny says and runs his hands down Stiles’ chest.

Oh. Oh oh. Stiles fumbles with the condom and Danny gets himself ready (which makes Stiles blush furiously and avert his eyes). And then it’s happening. Danny sinks down on him, Stiles groans and moans and clutches the sheets and then Danny’s hips and he absolutely doesn’t move at all.

“You can help, you know,” Danny grits out, good-natured. If that’s a thing one can be at a time like this.

“Right, right, you’re right. Sorry. How do I… what do I… do?”

“Just move a little.”

Okay. He can do that. He tightens his grip on Danny’s hips and experimentally bucks up into him. Danny lets out a low laugh and rocks his hips in a slow arc and Stiles tries again. The resulting sound is more satisfied. Danny leans forward to brace his hands on either side of Stiles’ head, redistributing his weight. Stiles takes advantage of the freedom it allows and moves more, matching Danny.

“There we go,” Danny pants.

Stiles imagines this would feel good for him no matter how inexpert he was, so all he has to go off are the sounds Danny makes and the way he shakes. So he’s doing okay. He digs his nails into Danny’s skin and his body tenses up and honestly he’s surprised he’s lasted this long… Danny grinds down one more time and Stiles is done. He tears one hand away from Danny’s hips to at least jerk the guy off.

**

Stiles is out of breath and flushed when he skids to a stop next to them. He hooks his arm around Scott and takes a deep breath. He nods at Danny who scoots past them. Lydia narrows her eyes at him.

“What?” Stiles asks, trying to sound nonchalant. Too bad his smirk shows through anyway.

“Where were you?” Lydia asks, poking his ribs.

“Shhh. Countdown is starting.”

And sure enough, the crowd of partygoers takes up the countdown, the rebroadcast of the ball drop in New York playing on the big screen. Derek looks between Scott, Lydia and Stiles, and then at the people around them. Acquaintances and former friends and sorta-enemies and total strangers, all in various states of sobriety, his magenta kiss print bright on upturned faces sprinkled throughout. Stiles reaches for Derek and pulls him to his side by his waist. Lydia finishes the circle on Derek’s other side by shoving her way under his arm and linking arms with Scott.

This… Derek tries to find a word for it. Scott, Lydia and Stiles are excitedly counting down along with everyone else, but they only look at each other and Derek. Smiling, bright eyed. Stiles squeezes Derek’s middle and hip checks him. They make eye contact as Stiles continues to count down.

“Five… four… three… two..”

Derek chimes in at the end. He yells Happy New Year with the rest of them. Lydia kisses Scott, Stiles and Derek on their cheeks in rapid succession and pulls them into a hug.

“Freshen up your lipstick, Hale,” Stiles says, arm still around him.

“Why?” Derek asks, suspicious.

“The night is still young, the dare still stands.”

Derek hands the lipstick tube to Lydia who does a shaky, sorta slapdash job. She mutters something about being too drunk to fix her own makeup as she caps it and slips it into Derek’s jacket pocket.

“You look good in magenta,” Stiles says, smirking. His lips look swollen, his cheeks look a little stubble burnt.

“Asshole,” Derek says, wrapping his arm around Stiles’ shoulders to pull him closer. He kisses Stiles hard on the cheek until Stiles laughs and pulls away, but not out of his grip.

Chapter Text

January 1st, 2010
Friday

Derek has a headache and chapped lips when he wakes up. The first thing he sees is a red headed non-Lydia girl looking down at him with a tilted head.

“Who are you?” she asks in a familiar cadence.

Derek looks around him before answering. He sees Stiles stretched out on the other couch, Scott curled up on the rug.

“I know who they are, but who are you?” the girl presses.

“That’s Derek, Maisie, you’re scaring him,” Lydia mutters from behind her, shuffling forward.

“Who?”

“Hale, Derek Hale, my friend Derek Hale,” Lydia snaps at her.

Maisie raises her eyebrows. “Well, Hale Derek Hale Lydia’s Friend Derek Hale, welcome to the cleaning crew. Stiles, Scott, get up, c’mon.” She moves to gently shove at Scott with her foot and shakes Stiles’ shoulder. “Mom and Dad are leaving Aspen now, they’ll be here by noon, you guys can nap when the house is clean.”

“Have you been here this whole time?” Stiles asks, blinking up at her in surprise.

She bends down and cups his cheek. “I was having sex with a lawyer in San Francisco last night, baby, whatever sin happened here remains between you guys.”

“Maisie!” Scott says adoringly from the floor.

“Morning, sweetheart. Coffee and pastries in the kitchen and then you’ll be making sure that stain comes off that stupid couch of Mom’s, up, up!”

“She promised our parents she’d supervise last night soo…” Lydia explains, smirking. Maisie sighs.

“How was the sex, then?” Stiles asks.

“You’re like twelve,” Maisie answers, nose wrinkled. “None of your business. It was good.”

Derek’s not sure how they make it to the kitchen, but they do. He’s picking listlessly at a croissant while Maisie and Lydia argue about the stained couch. Once they stop talking, Stiles blearily looks around at all of them.

“Hey,” he says.

They look toward him.

“I topped Danny last night,” he says, grinning.

Derek doesn’t know how to respond to that.

“Skank,” Lydia says, grinning back.

“Nice.” Scott slowly initiates a fist bump.

“You’re a baby, this worries me,” Maisie says, frowning as she leans against her elbows. “Condoms and lube? Proper preparation? I have pictures of STDs in a textbook in my car, do I need to talk you through them? Do I need to call that Mahaelani child over here?”

Stiles wrinkles his nose. “Yes condoms, yes lube, yes prep. God, no, not again please. And leave Danny alone.”

Maisie exchanges a very Lydia look with Lydia and huffs.

Derek’s head pounds dully as he collects trash in the frosty backyard. Scott is using the pool net to try to dislodge a shirt from the branches of a tree at the opposite end of the yard. They both look toward the sliding glass door when they hear it open followed by Stiles loudly protesting. He’s pushed, he stumbles, the door slides closed. Maisie glares at him from the other side, hands on her hips.

“Whatever they tell you, I didn’t make the stain worse,” Stiles declares.

“So, Stiles,” Scott says in a pointed way, grinning. “How was the sex?”

Stiles grins back. Derek turns his head against his shoulder as if to wipe his nose or something, but really it’s to hide his undefined reaction.

“Are you sure you want to have this conversation?” Stiles asks, perching up on the low wall around the barbecue pit.

“Dude!” Scott exclaims, packing a whole incredulous sentence into the one syllable. He leans the pool net against the tree, orphaned shirt forgotten, and heads over to Stiles.

Derek extracts the final plastic red cup in sight from a bush and wanders around looking for more trash knowing that there isn’t any. He blocks out their voices as best as he can.

He wonders why he can’t do this, or why he doesn’t want to. Derek had listened to his friends talk about sex enough. He’d talked about sex with them with no problem. When Danny had started doing things with guys, Derek had no problem listening to that either. But maybe in those cases, it was always just Danny and some other guy. In this case, it’s Danny and Stiles. A former best friend and a new rising best friend. Why should that matter? Was it because it was Stiles? He’d known his other friends way longer before sex entered their lives, it was a natural progression in available conversation topics. But with Stiles, it’s like sex was a default. Divorcing Stiles and sex seemed impossible and Derek wasn’t sure if it ever wasn’t.

Derek ties off his trash bag and sets it on the ground before reaching for Scott’s abandoned pool net. He manages to free the shirt with a couple sound pokes and looks to see if Scott saw, wanting to tease him. But Scott has arms crossed over the top of the barbecue and is listening to Stiles with total attention, looking engaged and fond. Stiles has his legs crossed and he’s curved forward, body soft and casual as he talks.

“He’s suuuch a good kisser,” Derek remembers hearing one of the girls say back in freshman year. The other girls at the table had giggled and leaned closer toward each other over the table, heads bowed together. Derek had rolled his eyes and made to turn back toward the guys but the girl whispered something and the rest of the girls burst into a flurry of “oh my god!”s and wordless yells. “He really did that? So you’re literally only half a virgin now, I can’t believe you didn’t tell us, oh my god! Stiles Stilinski? Oh my god” etc etc etc from all of them. Jackson had probably scowled, Danny had probably not given a shit but tried to look similarly vaguely anti-Stiles, the other guys probably hadn’t been paying enough attention to hear any of it.

And Derek had that association burned into his mind. He hadn’t known anything about Stiles, but sometimes when he saw him he’d remember that. Or he’d remember seeing him flirting successfully at a party. Or he’d remember hearing other rumors. Or he’d remember the way the girls in their group would go quiet and predatory when he was nearby and the guys got huffy about it.

Derek snaps back to the present when the sliding glass door opens again and Lydia appears to tell them her parents are almost back and they need to be looking natural somehow.

Maisie is fast forwarding through a movie when they get to the living room. She makes a furious little gesture toward the couches to tell them to sit and stops on a scene.

They barely settle against the cushions before a car pulls into the garage. Lydia and Maisie have the same faux-casual tilt to their heads as they listen over the movie. The door to the garage opens and instantly Derek hears arguing.

“—If you hadn’t insisted on checking two suitcases for a goddamn week, this wouldn’t be happening.”

“And now you’re the mad one, aren’t you? Telling me I have no right to be mad about the goddamn airline losing our luggage but now you’re mad that I even brought it—“

“Because! You are acting like this is the fucking— Uh, hello, kids,” a clean cut middle aged man says from the kitchen. He squares his shoulders and plasters a smile on.

A pretty red haired woman appears behind him, her head barely clearing her husband’s shoulder. “Maisie,” she says, sounding exasperated. “I asked you not to park crooked in the garage.”

“Oops,” Maisie says without looking away from the TV.

“Mom, Dad, this is Derek,” Lydia says, also not looking away from the TV. There’s a tightness to her face.

“Nice to meet you, Derek,” her mother says, polite.

“Derek Hale, right?” her father asks, striding forward with an extended hand. Lydia shoots her father an annoyed look. Derek sits up and turns around to better receive the handshake.

“Yes, sir.”

“Looking forward to getting back on the field?” he asks jovially. Derek draws a blank and his face must reflect it because Mr. Martin tilts his head a little and smiles. “Lacrosse, right?”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” Derek says ineloquently.

Mr. Martin seems satisfied with the answer. “Scott, Stiles,” he says with a friendly nod before picking up his carry-on bag and heading for the stairs.

Mrs. Martin quickly sorts through a stack of mail she must have grabbed in the kitchen and extracts something, wiggling it toward Lydia. “Grades,” she says, handing it over. Lydia tosses the envelope onto the coffee table and otherwise doesn’t acknowledge the moment happened. Mrs. Martin turns her smile on everyone else, landing on Derek a little longer as if to commit him to memory. When she gets to Stiles, she narrows her eyes. “Honey, you have a little lipstick…” she says, gesturing to her own corresponding cheek.

And then she’s gone too.

“Can we go somewhere and sleep,” Lydia asks, voice barely containing a simmering anger.

“Yeah, let’s go,” Scott says.

Later on, after dozing on and off at the McCall house, Derek drags himself back home. His mom is in the kitchen with Laura and Cora, something simmering on the stove.

“Grades!” she announces before any other greeting, grinning. She hands him an envelope that’s already been opened.

“You look too happy,” Derek says, heart in his throat with nerves. She schools her smile away and watches him expectantly.

He reluctantly slides the report card out of the envelope and braces himself for disappointing news. But he passed everything. Even chemistry. With Bs. He lets his smile slip and Cora cheers for him. His eyes catch on his creative writing A+ and linger there.

“Guess I’ll let you keep your car,” she says, reaching out to run her hand through his hair.

No one says anything about how Derek had been an A student before. Derek allows the victory.

**

Jaunary 11th, 2010
Monday

Lydia isn’t even trying to be discreet when she looks over her shoulder at Danny and stares. Stiles makes eye contact with him and shrugs, Danny’s eyes flit back toward Lydia before he echoes Stiles’ shrug and grins.

“Okay, so what’s going on there?” Lydia asks when she turns back toward the table.

Stiles is just about to answer, getting his sly smile in place and everything, when someone appears in a flash of movement and slams their hands down on the table.

“Hale,” the newcomer barks, exclamation points inherent.

“Oh,” Derek says, startled. “Hey, Coach.”

“Tryouts after school, see you there.” He points an intense finger at Derek and his eyes narrow. “We have a good set of guys this year, headed straight for state. Something for you to work with.”

“Uh…” Derek says, eyes wide.

Stiles lifts an eyebrow in his direction, Derek looks at him as if for help.

“You,” Coach barks, turning his frenzied gaze toward Stiles. “Who are you?”

“Um, Stiles…”

“What kind of name is that?” Stiles opens his mouth to answer but Coach cuts him off. “Forget about it. How tall are you?”

Stiles isn’t sure why he answers him, but he does. “Five elev—“

“Great. Skinny though… you, how about you?” He looks over at Scott. Scott looks like he’s tempted to say something snarky, but the Coach already looks back at Derek. “Where’s Jackson and Mahaelani?”

Derek points in their vague direction. The Coach crinkles his brow at Derek skeptically, seems to really see who Derek’s sitting with for the first time, and shrugs. “See you at tryouts.”

He’s gone just as fast as he arrived.

“So that’s Finstock,” Lydia says thoughtfully. “He’s exactly how I imagined.”

“Ah shit, now we’re going to have to go to lacrosse games,” Scott laughs. Stiles thinks this might be a good excuse to go for Danny too…

“I’m not playing this season,” Derek says in a firm way, as if rehearsing it for another audience.

“Since when?” Stiles asks.

Derek flicks his eyes toward him. “I just don’t want to,” he says with a tight jaw, like a warning. Stiles gets the message loud and clear.

Scott lets out a low whistle. “Is your family like… a lacrosse family? Is that going to be an issue?”

Derek clears his throat and looks down at his lunch before looking back up, composing an expression. “They’re not… that much of a lacrosse family.”

Scott lets out a low whistle, Lydia laughs humorlessly. Stiles feels a twinge of concern.

“Well, I successfully quit dance after like 10 years of it, so if you need any pointers, let me know. I suggest taking up a musical instrument, parents like that,” Lydia says. “And so do college admissions boards.”

Derek smiles at her and Stiles’ concern ebbs away. Lydia smiles back. Scott narrows his eyes and examines Derek closely.

“We need a bassist,” he says finally, leaning back in his seat.

“I play piano,” Derek says, not making eye contact with anyone. Embarrassed.

Stiles, Scott, and Lydia stare at him until he’s forced to look back. Stiles isn’t sure what’s going through the others’ minds, but he is 100% thinking about how hot this guy would look playing a piano. Dexterous fingers. Stiles definitely doesn’t blush, right?

“Could we use keys?” Scott asks seriously, looking at Lydia.

“I think so,” she says. “Stiles?”

“What do you mean, use keys?” Derek asks.

“Keys could work,” Stiles answers thoughtfully. “We’ve been wanting to start a band for forever. We still need a bassist though.”

Lydia nods, hmming thoughtfully. “And why won’t one of you switch to bass?”

“It’s too easy, we’re guitar players, Lydia,” Scott argues.

“Whoa,” Derek says. “So why should I play bass?”

“You shouldn’t now that we know you play piano,” Stiles says, smirking.

But there’s a competitive sheen about Derek. “Why do you think bass is easy?”

“It’s one less string and way less fun, it’s not hard to master. Look at Pete Wentz.”

Derek looks lost.

“Pete Wentz? Fall Out Boy. Good lyricist but he himself says he’s not that great at bass, and does that keep Fall Out Boy down? No,” Stiles says, impassioned.

“Right. Does it have to be easy? Can it be more complex or are we talking the tambourine of guitars?”

Lydia looks like she appreciates the comparison. “Why don’t you find out?”

“If my mom loses it about lacrosse, maybe I will.”

**

Stiles is objectively beautiful, Derek thinks. The light filtering through the branches overhead is kind to him is all. Lydia is beautiful too by the same standards. They sit on a fallen tree and pass a joint back and forth between them, their fingers pink and frail with cold.

“Wasn’t Scott supposed to meet us?” Derek asks, drawing their attention to him finally. He’d needed something to do after school, something to keep his guilt from getting too corrosive.

Stiles exhales a cloud of smoke that flows over his lips. “He apparently swindled his way into an interview at the vet.”

Lydia holds the joint out toward him. Derek shakes his head so Lydia passes it back to Stiles. “I have to go,” she says, standing.

“Ah man, why?” Stiles asks, looking up at her with an exaggerated frown.

“My parents want to talk so they’re taking me somewhere nice for dinner.” Her tone is light and airy but Stiles’ exaggerated frown melts into a genuinely sad expression. Lydia shakes her head at him, smiling slightly. “It’ll be fine, who cares,” she says with a shrug. She pats the top of Stiles’ head and kisses Derek on the cheek before she goes.

“Oh, get used to it,” Stiles says, smug. “Quit blushing.”

“I’m not blushing,” Derek argues. “It’s cold.”

Stiles pats the tree next to him, Derek sits, Stiles continues to smoke and look around at their surroundings. Everything is stark and cold and dead and unreasonably beautiful. Winter is beautiful. Stiles has sharp cheekbones and a good profile and long fingers and messy hair and he catches the light and the light seems to glow in him…

“What are you looking at?” Stiles asks. He pulls his old Altoids container out of his backpack and hesitates, offering the joint to Derek one last time. Derek shakes his head again, Stiles puts it away. “What?” Stiles asks.

“Nothing,” Derek says. “What’s up with Lydia’s parents?”

“They hate each other,” he says like it’s a straight fact. Water is wet, it’s cold out, they have a chemistry quiz tomorrow, Lydia’s parents hate each other.

Derek mulls it over. His image of Lydia’s parents has already dwindled into a caricature – a typical middle aged man with a tie and furrowed brow, a frowning older Lydia.

“She’s been waiting for them to get divorced for years,” Stiles explains further when Derek doesn’t say anything. “But I think she’d lose it if they did.”

“Why?”

“Well, for one, because they hate each other and fight all the time, why shouldn’t they get divorced? And two, she’d lose it because… they’re her parents, you know?”

Derek knows, he just can’t imagine it. Stiles rubs his hands together before shoving them in between his knees. He stares out at the forest around them – face sharp like a fox, back hunched over, knock-kneed.

“I think Lydia’s the loneliest person I know,” Stiles says, voice so soft it almost gets lost in the ambient sounds around them.

Derek thinks of her smiling, laughing, huddling against Scott’s side, tucked under Stiles’ arm, comfortably quiet in a sea of sound, in control. He doesn’t think of her as lonely. “She doesn’t seem lonely to me.” But sometimes she does seem sad.

“Lydia doesn’t want to seem like anything to anyone, so she’s doing a good job I guess. But I’ve known her forever and I can see right through it.”

“She has you and Scott.”

“And you,” Stiles says. He straightens his back and turns toward Derek. Derek watches the tips of his cold fingers disappear into the sleeves of his jacket before looking into his face. “She likes you a lot, you know? As a friend, I mean. Scott and I do too.”

“I like you guys too.”

Stiles smiles and the seriousness of the moment before thins out. Derek smiles back, he can’t not.

“Truth or dare,” Stiles says.

Derek weighs his options. He looks up into the bare branches overhead in thought and can still feel Stiles’ eyes on him, clear and watchful. Watchful enough to note loneliness in someone who never shows it. Truth is dangerous with someone like that. Stiles clicks his tongue impatiently and Derek looks back at him, eyebrow raised. Stiles has a devious smirk on, though when doesn’t he?

“Dare.” Because for some reason, Derek gets a thrill out of the possibilities in that devious smirk.

**

January 12th, 2010
Tuesday

Lydia shows up to chemistry right when the tardy bell rings, which is late by her usual standards. Stiles watches her gingerly set her things down at the spot next to Derek. Derek watches her with unguarded concern. Her pen rolls off the table and he hands it back to her with a gentleness about him. Lydia gives him a genuinely sweet smile before pressing her cheek against his shoulder for a quick display of wordless thanks.

“Mr. Stilinski, your attention to the front of the room, if you please,” Mr. Harris sighs from the front of the room. Lydia sticks her tongue out at Stiles before he turns around.

“You’re welcome,” Stiles says, making uncomfortable eye contact with Mr. Harris.

“I didn’t say thank you, did I?” he challenges.

“No you sure didn’t, you have terrible manners.” Stiles slaps his hands on the tabletop for emphasis. Scott must be grinning beside him because Mr. Harris’ eyes slide over to him before going into a full eye roll.

“It’s too early for this, Stiles.”

Just then, the door bangs open. “Hale!” someone barks. Everyone swivels in their seats to look. Harris sighs deeply.

“Yes, coach?” Derek grumbles in response.

“See me after class.” Finstock points, eyebrows drawn together, mouth in a thin line.

And then he’s gone. Everyone else turns back around, Derek included. Stiles keeps looking, trying to read his expression. Stiles is pretty sure he hears Harris say something about hating lacrosse, but mostly he’s focusing on Derek’s stormy scowl.

“Stiles, seriously, focus,” Harris snaps.

After class, Jackson shoves himself in between the rows of lab tables, knocking roughly into Stiles before leaning against the table in front of Derek.

“Asshole—“ Stiles mutters, feeling the urge to deck him rise.

“Derek, you don’t have to go talk to him,” Jackson says, ignoring Stiles entirely. Stiles elbows him hard as he slips out from between the tables to stand beside Derek. He’s shocked to see such a soft look on Jackson’s face…

Derek ignores him in favor of putting his things away.

“Fuck off, Jackson,” Lydia says, fiery.

“Problem here?” Scott asks, crowding uncomfortably close to Jackson.

“Call off your bodyguards, Der,” Jackson hisses. “I’m trying to help—“

“I don’t need your help,” Derek says in an icy tone.

“Jackson,” Danny says, standing by the door. He has his jaw set in an unreadable position, Stiles feels conflicted. “Let’s go.”

“We understand why you’re not playing and it’s fine,” Jackson says, looking deeply uncomfortable as he takes in Stiles, Lydia, and Scott in turn. He squares his shoulders and stands up straighter and talks a little more confidently when he says, “There’s always next year.”

Derek scoffs, swings his backpack onto his shoulder and stands. Stiles, Scott, and Lydia fall into step behind him. Instead of heading to Finstock’s office as instructed, he leads Stiles straight to English.

**

January 15th, 2010
Friday

Derek passes the week as inconspicuously as possible. He convinces his friends to eat lunch outside to stay away from the lacrosse guys and to have a better escape route if Finstock finds him. He avoids his family as much as he can, spending only long enough near them to get through the typical homework and friend questions but not long enough to get to any extra curriculars.

All that really gets him is an uncomfortable sense of inaction and anticipation.

Until Friday.

“Congrats,” Paige says dryly, drawing the word out as long as she can. She drops her newest draft on Derek’s desk before sitting at her own.

“On what?”

“Making the team,” she answers, making a face and spreading her fingers out for a brief jazz hand.

Derek stares at her blankly before what she said sinks in. “The team?”

“Ah, see, that doesn’t work, I know you’re not dumb now,” Paige teases.

“What team?” Derek asks, voice rising.

“Lacrosse, Derek, jeez. The list went up today.”

And he’s on it. He didn’t try out, but he’s on it. Cold fury settles over him. Paige’s unimpressed, secretly disappointed thing falls away when she takes him in.

“Are you okay?” she asks, leaning across the aisle of space between them.

“Fine,” he says through gritted teeth.

He hardly focuses during class, but Paige allows it without so much as a snarky comment. Derek storms out of the classroom the second the bell rings to go handle this.

“Heeey, there he is,” Finstock says when Derek bangs into his office. “Didn’t want to punish you just because you’re going through it, but know that I can’t just make you a captain without making you earn it—“

“I’m not playing,” Derek says. He plants his feet and squares his shoulders as best as he can.

Finstock stares at him, blank faced. And then he laughs, slapping his palm against his desk. “Good one, Hale. I hope you’re still in good shape, we’ll be running drills on Monday, rest up!”

“I’m not… playing,” Derek repeats. He doesn’t have a more compelling argument than that, doesn’t have any supporting thoughts to add in. Just that. He’s not playing.

So he leaves Finstock frowning and confused before he has to say the same three words again.

He tears through the halls, furious, and ignore the looks and the whispers and the hard glares from the other lacrosse guys. He shoulders Jackson out of the way when he tries to approach.

Stiles. He needs Stiles. Stiles would have something witty to say, some good comeback. He’d know the best retaliation. He’d smirk his smirk and say something cunning and infuriating, he’d shut Finstock up and close the case. He’d let Derek keep hiding.

“Yooo,” Stiles says when Derek finds them shivering at a table outside by the gym.

Derek waits for any of them to say something, anything. Scott scoots over and pats the spot next to him. Lydia furrows her brow at him in concern but doesn’t vocalize anything. Derek slams his stuff down and sits.

“What’s going on?” Stiles asks after awhile of Derek staring moodily at the table.

“Coach put me on the team even though I didn’t try out.”

“That’s probably a violation,” Lydia says very seriously. “I’ll look into it.”

Derek lifts an eyebrow at her. She lifts one back.

“There has to be something in the school’s by laws if not CIF rules and regulations. And if you just don’t show up, you’ll be kicked off the team anyway, right?”

Derek takes a deep, clear breath. She reaches across the table and tentatively touches Derek’s backpack. She wiggles both eyebrows at him and smiles.

“What?”

“Did your sister pack those cookies again?” she asks, biting her lip.

Derek rolls his eyes and shoves his backpack toward her. “Yeah.”

He observes her meticulous perusal of his stuff for a second before turning to look at the others. “Have you heard back from the vet yet?” Derek asks.

Scott perks up. “Not yet, but I’m going over after school. The Sheriff needs to pick up one of the dogs and said I could go with him.”

Derek looks to Stiles expecting a reaction to Scott hanging out with his dad but doesn’t see one. “Charlie? That dog hates me,” Stiles says sadly. “The others, though, total pals. Anyway!” He pounds his fist against the table. “What are we doing later?”

“Show,” Lydia says around a mouthful of cookie, her hand in front of her face to retain some sense of propriety. “That one band is playing, I can get us in without having to pay.”

“Which band?” Scott asks.

“The one with the drummer who wants to suck face with our girl,” Stiles answers.

“Your girl wants to suck face with that drummer, so it works out for everyone involved.” Lydia shrugs a coy shoulder and flicks her hair away from her face.

“Which one? Raw Dog?” Scott asks through a teasing smile.

Lydia reaches across the table and smacks his arm. “Rad Ox,” she corrects.

“What’d you say? Raw Dog?” Stiles laughs. Lydia elbows him. “Derek, did she say Raw Dog?”

“That’s what I heard,” Derek teases.

She throws a balled up napkin at him. “You guys are gross.”

**

Derek’s shoulders are tight and high even as he drinks a milkshake. He chews on the straw in between sips and stares off out the window. Stiles snaps his fingers in front of his face.

“Hale, be present,” Stiles says when his eyes flick over.

“Sorry.”

“What’s wrong?” Lydia asks, nudging him fondly. “Lacrosse still?”

Derek shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“Do you want to play?” she asks.

“No.”

“Then you won’t have to.”

He nods.

Stiles wants to reach across the table and grab his hand. Ever since the whole Derek crying in Stiles’ bed thing, he’s had that silly little instinct pop up every now and then. He never acts on it, obviously.

Lydia slips out of the booth and breaks Stiles’ concentration. “Bathroom,” she explains, shaking her makeup bag. “And then we’ll go get Scott.”

Stiles nods. He waits for Lydia to be out of earshot before he looks back at Derek, whose pale eyes are already trained on him.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” Stiles says. Derek lifts his eyebrows and chews on his straw. “That mix you made, or… both of the mixes…”

“Yeah?” he asks, interested. He shifts in his spot and tries to look casual.

Stiles reads an enthusiasm that he really respects out of the movement and smiles. “You were right. Bon Iver, more than pretty sound.”

Derek smiles, Stiles’ heart stutters and he totally hates himself for it. “How much more?”

“You’re pushing it, Hale,” Stiles says.

But what Stiles really thinks is… well, he couldn’t sleep the night before and he’d listened to the same two songs over and over again. He’d felt more swirling emotions than he had names for. He’d pictured himself sitting in front of a campfire with his guitar in his lap and the air cold all around him… And he felt like he knew a part of Derek that he never would have seen before… and that was something to wonder about.

“I can burn you the album if you want,” Derek says, smug.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Fine.”

“Alright, let’s go,” Lydia says, surprising both of them. She has a fresh coat of red lipstick on and her hair has been swept up into an intentionally sloppy pony tail.

**

Lydia insists that the first band playing is worth skipping, Scott agrees. Stiles shrugs and says something disparaging about learning from other peoples’ mistakes. Derek is lost in a brand new world with no sense of direction, so he follows them out to the parking lot.

He looks at the other groups of people gathered in clumps, smoking cigarettes and weed, drinking beer out of paper bags and harder liquor out of water bottles. Voices, crashing drums, discordant guitars, audio feedback, unintelligible screaming into a mic held too close to a mouth… Derek never pictured himself here. He looks down at his worn old Converse sneakers and thinks his pants might be too loose to really fit in. He shoves his hands into his jacket pockets and rounds his shoulders against the cold.

“Hey,” Stiles says, looking up at Derek from where he sits on the curb. There’s a cigarette in between his index and middle finger, a lighter in the other hand. His tight black jeans and faded black shirt and thick flannel shirt paint him into the scene like a perfect picture. Derek thinks he was born to be aloof outside of punk clubs, streetlamps casting shadows under his cheekbones and glistening in his eyes.

“What?” Derek asks.

Stiles crooks a grin his way. “Relax.” He lights the cigarette, the orange flame illuminating his face as he waits for it to catch. Stiles slides the lighter back into the pack and tucks the pack into his chest pocket.

Lydia shivers and tugs her skirt a couple inches lower.

“Told you to wear pants,” Scott says in a sing song voice, throwing his arm around her shoulders.

“Yeah, yeah,” she grumbles, reaching over and plucking Stiles’ cigarette right out of his mouth to take a couple of drags.

Derek is a tourist here. Derek’s shirt has a logo for a skateboard company on it and he doesn’t even skateboard. He plays piano. He spent his summer at a lacrosse camp.

And just as a reminder of how foreign he is here, he sees a pack of letterman jacket wearing, lacrosse playing assholes strut up, Jackson at the helm. That’s where he should be, he thinks with a sick twist in his gut. But that’s not where he wants to be.

“Since when is this your scene, pretty boy?” Stiles asks Jackson, voice dripping with malice. Derek turns just enough to look at him, still seated and casual.

“So you think I’m pretty?” Jackson taunts back. “You’re not my type, Stilinski.”

Stiles looks like he wants to say something back but Derek notices Danny looking at Stiles pointedly. Stiles sets his jaw and takes a deep drag of his cigarette.

“Aw, you got him whipped already, Danny?” Greenburg teases.

Derek sees Stiles’ anger in his eyes, but he remains stoic. Danny doesn’t do anything either.

“So, Derek, are you going to get over your little breakdown in time for practice on Monday or what?” Kyle fucking Stevenson asks.

“His dad died, you asshole,” Danny snaps.

“Yeah and if my dad died, I wouldn’t abandon all my friends.”

Derek bristles. Lydia digs her nails into his wrist, just enough to ground him. Derek takes a deep breath. He’s not sure if he’s imagining it or not, but there’s a hush surrounding them. He can feel eyes on him from every angle. Lydia’s nails pressing into his skin, Stiles’ presence at his back, Scott balling his hand up into a fist just at the edge of Derek’s vision. Derek takes a deep breath, takes stock of his surroundings, engages with a part of him that he’d let die.

“You’re just mad because you actually had to try out to barely make first string,” Derek says, surprising himself with how easy it is to draw on that dormant bravado. He stands up straighter.

Kyle’s mean smirk falls slack before the sneer sets in. “Are you going to back that ego up or are you going to let us all down again?”

Derek almost says that he didn’t see any of them trying to be there for him, but he knows it’d make him look weak. And that’s not strictly true. He purposely doesn’t look at Jackson and Danny.

“I’m flattered that you miss me so much, but it’s time to move on,” Derek says in his cockiest, most self-assured voice. He caps it off with a smug half smile and a snide shake of the head.

He turns toward Scott and makes direct eye contact with him. He can see how badly Scott wants to fight, he talks him down with a look. Scott gives him the smallest nod humanly possible and turns back around to face Stiles. Lydia’s hand is still tight on Derek’s wrist, her whole body still and watchful.

“I hope Lydia’s keeping your dick wet at least, other than that what’s the point of them,” Kyle says, laughing.

Derek has a split second to absorb what he’s said before he spins back around, shakes Lydia’s grip off his right wrist and slams his fist into the side of Kyle’s face.

His whole world narrows to just Kyle Stevenson. He distantly hears scuffling behind him and yelling on all sides. He feels bodies pressing in closer, gathering in a ring around them. But all he knows is how to take advantage of Kyle’s surprise. He grabs him by the jacket and hoists him up into the air and throws him onto the asphalt. He kicks him in the stomach before he kneels over him, pressing his knee into his sternum, just enough to make it hard to breathe. There’s blood on Kyle’s face and blood on Derek’s hands. He takes his jaw into his hand in a vice-like grip and forces him to look up at him. Derek reels his arm back for another punch but someone grabs him around the middle and somehow pulls him away.

“Alright, alright,” Stiles says, mouth close to his ear. “You’re going to get the police called, stop fighting me,” he says through grit teeth. Derek goes limp in his arms and lets himself be pulled away.

“Get your asshole friends out of here!” Scott yells, pointing emphatically at Danny before following Derek and Stiles through a side door into the venue.

Derek’s whole body hurts, his joints are stiff and uncooperative, his heart is racing, his blood is pounding in his ears, he can hardly see straight. Stiles pushes him to sit on the edge of a counter.

“Damn,” he says, his long fingers wrapping around Derek’s hand. “Damn,” he says again, voice shaking slightly.

“Where’s Lydia?” Derek asks.

“I’m here,” she says from not too far off. She moves into view next to Stiles, wide-eyed and pale with shock.

“What he said, fuck him,” Derek says. He can hear the shake in his voice.

“Yeah, I got that,” she says.

Stiles tugs Derek’s arm until he relaxes and lets Stiles maneuver it however he wants. He feels cold water flow over his hand and takes deep, centering breaths.

No one says anything.

The more air Derek takes in, the more tension he breathes out. His vision clears, he notices angry punk music thumping outside the door, he feels how close all three of them are to him.

Lydia presses a wet paper towel to his forehead and takes a heaving breath. “Thank you,” she says. “Don’t do that again, but thank you.”

“I would have decked him if you hadn’t,” Scott says, pressing against Derek’s side. “What a piece of shit.”

“I didn’t want you to,” Derek mumbles. Stiles is drying his hand off with paper towels and Derek squeezes his fingers. “You’re trying to get a job.”

Scott falls silent. Stiles looks up at him, honey eyes locking with his. Lydia reaches out with her other hand to stroke Scott’s cheek, closing the circle between all of them. The four of them. Jammed together in a small, dark punk club bathroom, hip to hip and holding hands and touching faces. A tangle of limbs, a collection of breath. Derek feels something clicking into place and locking.

“Fuck,” Lydia says, her hands dropping from Derek and Scott at the same time. The wet paper towel slowly slides off his forehead and into his lap. Lydia pitches forward and hugs both him and Scott, resting her head on their touching shoulders. Stiles scoffs and clucks his tongue like a disapproving mother. He’s stopped taking care of Derek’s hand, but Derek’s still clutching him.

“Sorry I ruined our night,” Derek says.

“It’s not a punk show without a fight, Derek,” Stiles says calmly. “Welcome to the scene.”

Chapter Text

February 3th, 2010
Wednesday

Stiles doesn’t talk to Danny for awhile. And not even because one or both of them is too busy, which is usually the case. No, Stiles very intentionally avoids him. Walks the other way when he sees him in the hall, pretends he doesn’t see or hear him trying to get his attention, doesn’t answer texts or Facebook messages, none of it.

He knows why, he’s just not sure if it’s an appropriate response.

“Why are you avoiding him?” Derek asks, jutting his chin toward someone behind Stiles. Stiles watches his eyes track whoever it is but doesn’t respond, instead he looks down at his hand. Derek’s knuckles are still bruised and tender from their impact with Kyle Stevenson’s face even though it’s been a couple weeks.

Stiles shrugs when Derek’s eyes fall back on him. “Been busy.”

Not entirely untrue. Stiles has guitar lessons and choir and homework and valuable friend hangout time to juggle. Derek fits into their group like he’d always been there now, somehow. Stiles doesn’t feel like he has to impress him anymore. Lydia and Scott drag him places without Stiles around now too. He’s integrated. He’s home.

“Bullshit,” Lydia says.

“Danny’s cool, man, had nothing to do with that shit,” Scott agrees, gesturing to Derek in a general way.

Derek nods.

Stiles shrugs again.

If Danny had nothing to do with it actively, he had something to do with it passively. He enabled the group’s outing to the venue even if just by not saying no. He enabled the encounter itself by standing with them at all, by walking up to them, by not dragging his friend away when he first opened his mouth, by letting Jackson talk to Stiles the way he always did.

Okay, so Stiles doesn’t want to see Danny for a lot of reasons. He doesn’t want to talk to him because his idiot friend hurt Derek, insulted Lydia in a way Stiles has never once stood for, and was utterly useless. Stiles can’t stand for that, no matter how good the sex is.

“Alright, alright, we get it,” Lydia says, her fingers prying Stiles’ hand away from his mouth. “No need to bite your fingers down to bloody stumps.”

He thrusts his hands under the table and soothes his newly bitten cuticles with his thumb.

After school Derek has to pick Cora up and Scott has to go to work and Lydia refuses to cancel her manicure, so Stiles goes home. He’s planning to divide and conquer the kitchen as he pulls up to his house, too focused and hungry to pay attention. He hops out of the Jeep and heads for the door.

“Stiles, c’mon,” an exasperated voice says behind him. Stiles spins toward the voice, shocked. Danny’s leaning against his own car parked at the curb.

“I didn’t see you,” Stiles defends.

Danny rolls his eyes. “Like you haven’t been seeing me at school?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be at lacrosse?”

“Not today.”

Stiles is out of things to say, so he turns back around and continues to the front door.

“Stiles, stop, I just want to talk—“

“Nothing to say!” Stiles calls over his shoulder while he unlocks the door.

Danny seems to think that’s an invitation because he follows Stiles right inside and plants his feet right there in the living room. “Hear me out.”

Stiles crosses his arms and stares him down.

“I’m sorry for what happened, Kyle’s an asshole.”

Stiles raises both eyebrows.

“What is this even about, what did I do?” Danny asks, voice rising a little.

Stiles scoffs and rolls his eyes. Distantly, he wonders if Danny thinks he’s being overdramatic and emotional and he hates that. “You didn’t do a damn thing, that’s the problem.”

“What was I supposed to do?”

“Leave us the fuck alone, honestly. Why the fuck were you guys even there? Why did you let friends talk to me like I’m your little bitch? Why did you let Kyle Stevenson open his stupid mouth? Why didn’t you jump in?”

“I…” he starts. “We wanted to go, you don’t get to decide who goes to what, sorry. And it’s not like you’re not an asshole to Jackson all the time, you can handle yourself.”

He has a point, but Stiles doesn’t like it. He feels that same simmering sense of betrayal rear up and hurt him.

“I tried to get Kyle to stop and Derek decked him before anyone had time to do anything anyway.” Danny is the perfect picture of exasperation and anger, much like how Stiles feels. He can feel himself losing his own footing in the fight and he just wants Danny to leave. He’s about to say so when Danny laughs humorlessly and makes a furious gesture with his hands. “And I know Derek, he can handle himself, he fights his own damn battles. Kyle has a broken nose to prove that, so why the hell are you taking it so fucking personally?”

“You don’t know shit about—“

“Derek was my friend before he was ever yours!” Danny yells.

“Yeah, it shows,” Stiles sneers, as scathingly as he can.

“Oh, fuck you,” Danny laughs.

“Am I wrong?”

“I tried. We tried, he didn’t want us, got it? So congrats! You won! We were shitty friends, you were right, how does that feel?”

Stiles wants to bite back but Danny seems so genuinely hurt that he falters. “It’s not about how I feel,” Stiles starts, still trying to figure out how to send the statement…

“Isn’t it? This whole thing is about you being mad at me so I think it has everything to do with how you feel, so let it out. Tell me how much I suck.”

Stiles deflates. “You don’t.”

Danny laughs, shakes his head, and makes to leave. Stiles catches him. “You don’t. I mean, you did a little bit, but… I don’t know, I just…”

“Just what?” Danny asks, pulling his arm out of Stiles’ grip.

“He’s getting better, you know?” Stiles says. “He’s happier.” Stiles almost says something about how Stiles wants to keep that fragile happiness safe but it feels a little… much.

“He can handle himself, Stiles, you don’t have to protect him.”

“But I do.”

Danny sighs. He steps closer to Stiles and touches his cheek. “You’re sweet.”

“Don’t tell anyone,” Stiles jokes half-heartedly.

“I won’t, you’re also an asshole.”

“Everyone knows that already.”

“I thought Jackson was going to strangle Kyle for what he said about Lydia.”

That’s endearing, kind of. “Good.”

“We miss Derek a lot, you know.”

“You’ll make it to the Super Bowl of high school lacrosse without him, don’t worry.”

“I don’t mean the assholes on the team, I mean us, I mean Jackson and Greenburg and me. He was our best friend.”

Stiles finds that concept difficult to grasp.

“Imagine how you’d feel if Scott left you guys to come hang out with us,” Danny says.

Stiles snorts. “Impossible.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what we would have said about Derek leaving us for you guys.”

Hm, Stiles sees the point. “You can’t take Scott from me, I would wreck your life, don’t even try it.”

Danny rolls his eyes. “Fine. Can we be good again? I’ve missed you.”

But the hurt is still there, Stiles can’t explain it away even to himself. There’s still something from the encounter that doesn’t sit right with him. He looks at Danny’s handsome face, his hopeful half-smile, and doesn’t have a real answer to give him. So he says, “I guess.”

Danny’s smile falters.

**

February 12th, 2010
Friday

It’s the day of the first game of the season, a fact that no one alive in Beacon Hills can be ignorant of.

Derek is stretched out on the couch in Lydia’s garage instead of taking part in the usual pre-game warm-ups, which is exactly where he’s been for every lacrosse practice so far this season. He watches Stiles’ fingers slide up and down the fret of his guitar, he watches Lydia’s cymbals wave and flash in the dingy light, he watches Scott slap the side of an amp with increasing irritation.

“We need a new fucking amp,” Scott yells over the music. Stiles stops playing midway through a minor chord progression and Lydia artfully decrescendos to finish something out, leaving the garage silent save for the glassy ringing and electric hum of the faulty amp.

“You’re the employed one,” Stiles says.

Scott shoots him a dark look.

“I’ll get daddy’s credit card,” Lydia offers, sounding more vindictive than sweet.

Scott shoots her an even darker look. She holds up her hands in defense, sticks held against one palm by her thumb.

“You can probably fix it,” Derek adds unhelpfully.

Scott just sighs. “Remember when Jackson said it was shitty? Over summer?” he asks, looking to the others.

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Stiles scoffs.

“Well is he wrong? Is our amp not shitty?” Scott challenges.

“Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, Scotty.”

“I wonder what he knows… Derek, is Jackson a secret audio god?” Scott turns to face him again.

“No.”

“Fuck.”

Scott sets his guitar aside and crouches next to the amp to puzzle over it. Stiles rubs his hands through his already disastrous hair and lets his guitar bump against his stomach with the movement.

“So uh…” Derek starts. He clears his throat when Stiles and Lydia turn to look at him. He can detect Scott’s divided attention by the tilt of his head. “My family still thinks I’m playing tonight…” Might as well seek counsel while he can.

Stiles barks out a laugh and extracts himself from his guitar strap. “Let me guess, they’re going to the game tonight?” He shoves at Derek’s legs until he moves them and flops onto the couch.

“Yeah.”

“Why didn’t you tell them?” Lydia asks, standing in front of them with her hands on her hips.

“Never got a chance…”

“Never manned up and told them, you mean,” she corrects.

It’s amazing how Lydia can make feel Derek feel thoroughly scolded. He thinks that should be enough, that should spare him from what lies ahead in the near future.

“Better tell them before the game.” Her voice is a little softer on that delivery. She shakes her head fondly at him before moving to shove at Stiles until there’s room on the couch.

“Honestly, bro, rip off that bandaid,” Scott advises from the other side of the amp. He seems to have given up on it.

“Is it really ripping off a bandaid when the game starts in half an hour and Derek still hasn’t told them?” Stiles asks with a philosophical air. Derek glares. “What, not helpful?” Stiles asks, grinning back.

“Fuck,” Derek curses.

**

Derek sits in his car in the garage for as long as he can get away with. Laura, investigating the sound of Derek’s car, pokes her head out the door with a puzzled expression.

“What are you doing here?” she asks. She’s wearing a BHHS lacrosse shirt.

“Is mom here?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

Derek gets out of his car and drags himself toward the door. Laura moves aside to let him in and twirls around to follow him down the short hallway to the kitchen. He smells dinner cooking and hears Cora talking through way through an algebra assignment. His eyes fall on his mom perched on a stool at the bar.

“Derek?” she asks. Cora looks up from her homework next to her, eyebrows drawn together.

“I’m not playing tonight,” Derek spits out.

“Are you okay, are you hurt?” she asks, sliding from the stool to come inspect him.

“No.”

“Are you in trouble?”

“No.”

“Ridiculous,” she mutters. “Do I need to talk to Coach Finstock?”

“No, I… I quit.”

Derek can feel his sisters’ shock but doesn’t look away from his mom to check on them.

“You… quit?” she repeats, feeling the words out. They don’t seem to sink in until Derek nods. “Laura, Cora, can you—“

“Yep!” Laura says, brushing past Derek and grabbing Cora by the arm.

“Hey!” Cora protests as Laura drags her toward the living room.

The kitchen is deafeningly quiet for a second while his mom clutches the edge of the island and gathers her thoughts. Derek doesn’t move an inch.

“You quit,” she repeats, voice too even.

“I mean, I didn’t… I didn’t even try out, so I didn’t quit, I just… I’m not doing lacrosse this season.”

She nods over and over again, bringing one hand up to rub at her jaw. An anxious gesture. Her wedding ring glints in the light. Derek waits.

“Are you okay?” she asks finally. Derek knows she’s talked herself down from being angry.

“I’m fine.”

“Where have you been after school if not at practice?” she asks. And that’s where the anger wouldn’t be quite so irrational.

“Hanging out with friends.”

“Your new friends,” she clarifies. “Because I assume your old friends are still on the team…”

“Yeah,” Derek says, rubbing the back of his head.

“And what do you do?”

Derek shrugs. “Hang out.”

“I’d like to meet them if you’re going to be spending so much time with them.”

Derek’s cheeks flush. God, that’s embarrassing. But he’s getting off easier than he thought. “Okay.”

“And I think it’s time I schedule an appointment for you with a therapist.”

“What!” Derek barks out.

“I’m worried about you.”

“I’m fine!”

“Then it won’t hurt, will it?”

Derek glares at her.

“Non-negotiable.”

“What if I dropped lacrosse so I could focus on other things? What does lacrosse have to do with therapy?”

“Well, then we should have had this conversation sooner, huh? And it’s not just lacrosse, Derek, it’s the grades and pulling away from your friends and the attitude and the silence and fighting with your sister and—“

“My grades are better!” Derek argues, knowing he’s lost already.

“I know, I recognize that and I’m proud of you, but I’m still worried about you, okay?”

Derek wants to punch a wall but he figures that wouldn’t help his case. “I don’t need therapy.”

She sighs and looks Derek in the eye. He sees a lot on her face – worry, anger, frustration, love – and feels his resolve weaken. “Then prove that to me by giving it a shot. If you really don’t need it, you can stop going. But I’d like you to try.”

**

February 17th, 2010
Wednesday

Stiles has a book open on his chest but he’s staring at the ceiling while Derek’s mixed CD – the softer one – plays in the background. It’s raining and the house is quiet and his dad is home. Lydia occasionally texts him updates from a tense family dinner. He still hasn’t been able to figure out whether her parents are getting divorced or not. Ben Gibbard sings over moody guitar and a steady but driving drum beat and something that sounds like mourning doves or a creaky swing and that is… interesting.

He’d reach for his guitar if he wasn’t so comfortable. He’d fool around with Garage Band if he weren’t so close to sleep. He gets another text and the effort required to reach for his phone is all he has.

“Can I come over?” Derek has asked without any preamble.

Stiles half sits, worry tugging him up. Stiles answers in the affirmative. Not too long after that, he hears the distinct sounds of someone climbing onto the bit off roof below his window. Stiles scrambles upward to turn off the stereo and turns just in time to see a melancholy Derek appear against the field of dusky purple sky out the window.

“Well, hi,” Stiles says after sliding the window open. He moves aside to let Derek in. “Too good for the doorbell now, huh?” he teases.

“Your dad’s home.”

“Yeah, and I’m not Rapunzel, he doesn’t mind visitors.”

Derek doesn’t respond, but not in the usual way he doesn’t respond to Stiles’ dumb jokes. Usually he at least rolls his eyes or tries not to smile or stares at him blankly. He stares out the window he just came through, shoulders drooping.

“What’s up?” Stiles asks, grabbing the book that’d fallen on the floor when he sprung off his bed just for something to do.

“I just…” he starts. His mouth moves without ever forming any words for a couple attempts and then just shrugs.

“Are you okay?” Stiles asks. He wants to do something like put the back of his hand against his forehead to check for a fever because he looks pretty pale. He wants to drag him toward a chair and get him a glass of water. Stiles has no idea what to do.

“I’m really tired, I’m fine,” he says. And he sounds more tired than fine, but Stiles lets it slide.

“Okay,” Stiles acquiesces even though he wants to investigate further. He wants to ask why he’s here if he’s just tired, he wants to ask where he was before, he wants to ask if he’s fought with his sisters or his mom or whoever, he has a lot of questions.

Derek kicks off his shoes and moves a pile of Stiles’ clothes from the bed to the floor and sits with his back against the headboard. At least he’s comfortable enough for that. He’d watched Scott do it enough times, anyway. Stiles goes back to the stereo and considers his options.

“This mix,” he says, hitting play. Stiles watches Derek’s face go from blank to ever so slightly smug when the music starts up. “Is unreal.”

“Still listening to it?”

“Well if you’d give me a new one, I wouldn’t have to.”

“Yeah? And where’s mine? You’ve never made one for me.”

Stiles is about to disagree with that very strongly, but stops. “Fine, I’ll make you one.”

Derek answers with a half-smile.

“I’ll make you one now,” Stiles says, diverting his path back to his bed to go to his desk instead. He opens his laptop and works on untangling his earbuds.

“Fine.”

After awhile Stiles turns around to tease Derek but he’s knocked out. His hand is curled loosely around the pen he’d been using, his notebook is open and falling off his lap. Stiles approaches and reaches his hand out toward him, trying to think of what he’ll say when he wakes him.

He touches Derek’s shoulder and Derek responds just a little, half awake.

“C’mon,” Stiles says softly, taking his pen and notebook from him. Derek doesn’t need any further instruction to wiggle under Stiles’ blankets and go back to sleep. Stiles tries not to watch him even though he loves how Derek’s face looks like that. Peaceful, young, unburdened. Derek never looks unburdened when he’s awake.

Stiles finishes up the mix and burns it to a CD. Stiles finishes his English assignment. Stiles dicks around on YouTube. Derek sleeps. Stiles crawls into bed next to him and falls asleep to the cadence of his breath.

Stiles wakes up to a barely dawn-tinted room and Derek’s face close to his on the pillow. Derek’s arm is thrown over Stiles’ waist and they are so close. Stiles shivers a little and pulls his blanket back over his shoulder. He nuzzles his face into his pillow and can’t look away from Derek’s dark eyelashes. Derek’s lips fall into a natural frown, but the smoothness around his eyes makes the downward curve look elegant somehow. Stiles holds his breath to listen to Derek’s for a second. Noting how deep and even it is, he dares to reach his hand the few inches needed to feel Derek’s hair where it sticks out over his ear. It’s softer than it looks. Smooth and cool, thick and soft. Stiles traces the path of it to velvety skin behind Derek’s ear and jerks his hand away, feeling like a creep.

He falls back asleep wondering why he doesn’t know if the skin behind Danny’s ear feels like that.

**

February 18th, 2010
Thursday

Derek’s phone buzzes on the bedside table and Derek’s face is pressed against Stiles’ chest. He wakes up slowly, realization spreading out from his head to his arms (wrapped around Stiles). Stiles feels small and soft in his arms, it’s the weirdest thing. His phone keeps buzzing.

“It’s so early,” Stiles groans, pulling away from him to turn onto his other side. Derek watches him disappear under the blankets as he reaches behind him for his phone.

“Where the fuck...?” Laura says when Derek answers. She sounds shaken.

“Oh fuck, I didn’t…” He didn’t meant to fall asleep here, he hadn’t meant to stay to morning. He sits up and swings his legs out of bed. “I’m at Stiles’ house.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Laura asks, the same note of loving terror in her voice that their mom gets sometimes.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I just fell asleep.”

He hears Laura take a deep breath and let it out. He can picture her with her eyes closed and her hand pressed to her chest. “You’re okay?” she asks after a couple beats of regular breathing.

“I’m fine, I’m okay.”

“Goddamn it, Derek,” she hisses. He can see her rubbing her forehead now, eyes squeezed shut. “You’re okay.”

“Yeah. Did mom…?”

“She went to bed early, she hasn’t come downstairs yet, you’re lucky.”

He apologizes a few more times until Laura seems to accept it and hangs up. One big brown eye peers up at him from within the blankets. Stiles blinks slowly, his eyebrow furrows.

“What?” Derek asks.

“Everything okay?” he asks in a muffled, gravelly voice.

“Yeah.”

After awhile, Stiles drags himself out of bed and goes to his closet. Derek watches the muscles in his lithe back when he takes his shirt off and looks away. Derek inspects his own clothes and wonders if he should go home before going to school. A shirt hits him in the side of his head and Stiles slips out of his room.

When Stiles comes back, his hair has been flattened against his head with water and his skin looks pink. “Clean up, we’re getting food before school. Go, go, go!”

Derek isn’t even given an option to drive himself, Stiles hip checks him into the Jeep’s passenger door before he circles around to the driver’s side.

“McDonalds? I could really go for some goddamn McDonalds breakfast, how about you?” Stiles asks.

“Whatever, up to you.”

“McDonalds, then. Have a strategy, Scott and Lydia are going to want something too and they will be expecting a prompt delivery.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Yeah you are.”

“No I’m not—“

“No. You have to eat, you can’t stop living. Not on my watch. Still gotta eat, still gotta get up, still gotta shower and stuff.”

“I thought you said it was okay not to be better.”

“It is, but you have to keep trying. Now I don’t know what is going on, but that phone call… You know, just… wait a second.” He mumbles the last part as he whips into the drive-thru line.

Stiles’ attention floats out the window toward the takeout menu. When the speaker asks him for his order, he prattles off a list of items without bothering to ask Derek and pulls up to the next window.

Derek listens to the sound of the Jeep’s engine and watches the drops of condensation on the passenger window. Stiles fiddles with the tricky radio dial, trying to get the static fuzz to clear up enough to be listenable. They don’t talk. Stiles thrusts the bags of takeout against his chest and drives too fast on his way out of the parking lot, clipping a curb.

“Sorry,” Stiles mutters once they’re closer to school.

“For what?”

“I don’t want to… counsel you or whatever, I want you to just… do what you want, be whatever you want.”

Derek chews the inside of his cheek as he mulls that over. Stiles passes the school without an ounce of hesitation. “Wait, what—“

“We’re skipping chemistry,” Stiles says. “We’re eating.”

Stiles takes the first turn into the preserve and parks on the shoulder. He grabs one of the bags from Derek and extracts a wrapped Egg McMuffin that he hands directly to Derek.

“I’m not…”

“Derek,” Stiles says. He yanks his emergency brake up and turns the Jeep off and turns in his seat to look at Derek directly. “You have to try.”

“I thought you just said you don’t want to counsel me.”

“I do, though, that’s the thing,” he confesses. “Are you not hungry or are you too sad to eat?”

Derek wants to get defensive, he does. But Stiles looks stern and open at the same time, which is unusual. He looks at Stiles sometimes and just wants to tell him everything. “I started therapy.”

Stiles’ expression shifts, the openness taking over the sternness until it’s gone. “How was it?”

“It was awful.”

Stiles nods. “What kind of awful?”

“It was just… exhausting.”

Stiles nods.

“I feel like I failed.”

“Why?” Stiles asks. He reaches over the center console and takes Derek’s sandwich back, but only to unwrap it before pressing it back into his hands.

“I don’t want to have to go back, I didn’t want to go at all,” Derek says in lieu of really explaining it.

“There’s nothing wrong with it, you know.”

“It sucked.”

“I know.”

“My mom made me go because I quit lacrosse.” Derek expects Stiles to be indignant about that, he expects Stiles to see that for the bullshit it is.

Stiles just puffs up his cheeks and exhales slowly, eyes wandering toward the windshield. He takes another deep breath before he says, “My dad sent me because I didn’t do my science fair project.”

Derek stares at him as the meaning of that dawns on him. “Wait, so you…”

“Yeah,” Stiles says with a shrug. “It’s not unusual or a sign of failure or anything, it just… happens.”

Derek tears his eyes away from Stiles to stare at the food in his hand instead. He takes as much time as he needs to be able to casually ask, “Did it help?”

“Yeah, it did.”

Derek takes a bite out of his food for lack of anything else to contribute. He feels just as raked raw as he had felt after his session the night before, the soft comfort he’d taken from Stiles’ bed more like a distant memory now.

Stiles moves slowly, like it hurts him to do so, until he’s facing forward again. He paws through the bag until he finds a hash brown patty. The radio is still pouring shapeless static into the air between them, the windows are foggy with their breath, the trees beyond softly blur into a green-gray-brown wall. Derek wants to feel that soft comfort again.

“When did she die?” he asks, as soft as he wants to feel.

“I was 10,” Stiles answers.

“So it gets better?”

“Yeah, little by little.”

**

March 6th, 2010
Saturday

“Oy! Birthday Week, Lydia, what do you want?” Scott calls from somewhere behind them on the trail. Derek looks over his shoulder in time to see him trip over a root and laughs at him. Scott hears the laugh and whips his head up to look at him with a mischievous smirk.

“No,” Derek warns, smile still stretching his face. But Scott doesn’t heed his request. He launches himself at Derek’s back and Derek just barely catches his weight without falling forward.

“I want Derek not to be suffering from a back injury,” Lydia says, looking back at them with wickedly bright eyes.

“Focus, Lyds,” Stiles says. “Build your request list, we have planning to do.”

Scott reaches his hand out to Stiles from his elevated position on Derek’s back, patting his head. “San Francisco,” he says when Stiles looks up at him.

“I heard AFI has a show that week…” Stiles says thoughtfully, anticipating Lydia’s—

“I would never forgive you, Stiles Stilinski!”

There it is. He grins at her. She glowers back.

“How about shopping?” Derek suggests. Stiles marvels both at how he’s not even breaking a sweat carrying Scott and at his willingness to bring up shopping to Lydia Martin.

She eyes him suspiciously. “You men are too weak.”

Derek scoffs. “I have sisters.”

Lydia considers that. “Maybe.” Stiles can hear the shy “yes” in the statement and mentally adds it to the list.

“Molly Ringwald,” she says once they get to the smattering of fire pits and park tables that make up the camping grounds. She climbs to sit on top of the nearest table and reaches her hand out to Stiles until he hands her his backpack. She goes straight for the Altoids container in the front pocket.

“Huh?” Scott asks, sliding off Derek’s back to sit next to her.

“Molly Ringwald,” she repeats. “I want a day where you assholes can’t say you’re too tired or not in the mood for some goddamn Molly Ringwald. I’m talking Sixteen Candles. Pretty in Pink. Breakfast Club.”

Stiles suppresses his groan.

Lydia smirks to herself as she packs a bowl. Derek sits on the bench between Scott and Lydia, leaning against the table. Lydia affectionately knocks his shoulder with her knee.

They make a pretty picture. Stiles feels a surge of pride just looking at them sitting close together, Derek smiling easily and laughing easily and existing easily. Stiles wants to ask him how therapy is going in private, but he hasn’t wanted to break Derek’s streak of good days. And it’s not like he’s been going long enough to really know. He assumes it’s going okay, at least.

“So, Hale,” Lydia says, passing Derek the piece and a lighter for the honorary first hit. “What’s up with you and Paige?” she asks. Stiles’ heart does something a little painful in his chest and he’s not sure why.

Derek’s eyebrow crinkles, confused. “We have creative writing together,” he answers slowly.

“Hm,” Lydia murmurs, suspicious and teasing. “And Stiles, how’s Danny?”

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Stiles answers. Scott stares him down, questioning. Stiles moves to sit on the bench on the other side of Scott’s legs so he can’t see the expression head-on. Derek gives him an eerily similar facial expression to Scott’s.

“What does that mean?” Lydia asks.

Stiles watches Derek somewhat clumsily light the pipe while he considers what to say. He reaches out to reposition Derek’s fingers and Lydia clears her throat expectantly.

“It means we haven’t talked much.”

“Have you guys stopped… whatevering?” Scott asks.

Stiles recalls a post-lacrosse practice emergency blow job in Danny’s car a couple weeks ago and tries to remember the last time anything before that had happened. “I mean, we hook up sometimes.”

Derek hands the piece behind him back to Lydia. “Is this because the fight thing?” he asks.

“No, no, not anymore. It’s just…” Stiles shrugs. It’s just that he can’t imagine cuddling with Danny after sex really. He can’t imagine falling asleep with him and waking up the next morning and reaching out to touch him like he needs him. He can’t picture comfortable silences or deep talks in the dark or any of it. He doesn’t know why his perspective has changed, just that it has.

“It’s just what?” Scott presses.

Stiles wants a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. A solid person, his person. But he doesn’t want to say that out loud.

“Danny’s nice,” he says instead.

“You want a jerk?” Derek asks, amused.

Stiles scowls at him. Scott hands Stiles the pipe over his shoulder and he takes it as a good excuse to avoid the rest of this conversation.

“And Scott, you’re still talking to that dance team girl, aren’t you,” Lydia says, sounding disapproving.

“You say that like she’s the devil himself,” Scott accuses.

“She’s dumb!”

“She’s not dumb!”

They bicker back and forth about it while Stiles takes a deep inhale and holds the smoke in his lungs until it almost burns. He lets it out through his nose, letting his head fall back against Scott’s knee.

When he hands the pipe over to Derek, their fingers brush and Stiles’ skin feels too tight for his body, heat radiating from that single point of contact.

They all sit like that for awhile, moving on from the dance team girl to Scott grilling Lydia about the drummer from that one band to anything and everything. Stiles lets his hand linger on Derek’s hand the longer the passing of the pipe continues, the more his head feels light and swimmy.

“I really think,” Lydia says after a long pause. She curls her body forward and rests her forehead on the back of Derek’s head. Derek moves to look back at her until her forehead is against his temple. “That you should date Paige,” she says, breaking off into a giggle.

“Don’t,” Stiles says, the word punched from his chest.

“Why not?” Lydia asks.

“She’s… cello girl,” Stiles reasons.

“And you’re choir boy,” she shoots back.

“And Derek isn’t trying to date me so it doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t want to date Paige,” Derek says. “We’re friends.”

“Then bring her around,” Lydia says.

“No, don’t,” Stiles argues.

“Are you sure?” Derek asks.

“Invite her to my birthday party,” Lydia says very seriously. “You’re too handsome to be so single, you should seeeeeee the looks you get.”

“Dude, you really should, I’m like jealous,” Scott hops in.

Stiles seethes. Why is he seething. He hasn’t noticed people looking at Derek but of course they would.

“Uh, don’t be,” Derek says, sounding uncomfortable.

“Guys, leave him alone.”

“Paige is cute, what’s wrong with Paige?” Lydia asks.

Derek blushes and Stiles feels crushed. “Nothing, she’s great.”

“Sooooo?”

“We’re just friends,” he maintains. “I don’t even talk to her outside of class.”

Good, Stiles thinks to himself.

Lydia sighs as if Derek’s a lost cause. “Fine.”

They stay there a bit longer, until Stiles’ back is starting to ache where the wood table digs into him and until it’s getting cold and damp out. They’re mostly sober and starving by the time they get back to Lydia’s car. Scott claims the front seat and commandeers the radio. Stiles feels himself blushing in the backseat because Derek’s hand would be so easy to hold, what with the way he just has it casually resting on the seat between them.

Oh.

Stiles’ blush deepens and he’s thankful that the car is mostly dark. He balls his hands up into tight, white knuckled fists in his lap and stares straight at the back of Scott’s head.

Oh god.

He has a crush on Derek.

“Uh, you okay?” Derek asks, a laugh just under the surface of his voice.

“I’m fine, let’s get some grub,” Stiles says, forcing his hands to relax and plastering a casual smile on his face.

Chapter Text

March 11th, 2010
Thursday

It’s a Thursday evening and Stiles is incapacitated in bed. Scott keeps texting and calling and Stiles keeps on not answering. He feels worn thin and ragged from the last week.

“C’mon, man,” Scott says after Stiles’ bedroom door crashes open. The Sheriff tells Scott to watch it as he passes by in the hallway. Scott apologizes. Stiles burrows into his blankets.

Stiles figured Scott would show up eventually. “I’m sick,” Stiles lies.

“Yeah, you’re sick alright,” Scott says. He makes a spectacle of flipping his shoes off his feet, targeting the side of Stiles’ bed. He walks around to Stiles’ side and straddles him with his whole body, face uncomfortably close to his. “You asked for help with chemistry, you’re getting it. Time to get up.”

“Not today,” Stiles says, trying to free his arms from his blankets to push him away.

“Why not?” he asks, chin digging into Stiles’ shoulder.

“Because I’m sick.”

“Lovesick!” Scott accuses, grinning wickedly.

“What?” Stiles splutters, going for a full body wriggle to knock Scott off of him.

Scott rolls away and ends up spooning him from behind. Stiles allows it. “Just talk to him.”

Stiles’ heart stops until he realizes he means Danny. Stiles has spent all week convincing himself (uselessly) that he doesn’t have a crush on Derek, their straight friend Derek, but they all think his mood is about Danny. Unbelievable.

“Word on the street is he’s still into you.”

“So what!” Stiles argues.

“Well then, what do you want?”

Stiles doesn’t know what he wants. He wants to go back to the time when he didn’t think he had a crush on Derek.

“What would you do if I fell in love with you, Scotty?” Stiles asks, sorta regretting it instantly.

Scott goes quiet, but without the visual clue Stiles doesn’t know if it’s a thoughtful quiet or a scared quiet.

“Scotty?” Stiles prompts.

“That’s like a theoretical, right?” Scott asks. His tone is even and cautious.

“Yeah, dude, I am not… no offense, I mean, but no…” Stiles stammers.

Scott laughs and squeezes him. “Theoretically,” he starts to cut off Stiles’ stuttering. “I would try.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I would give it a shot, I guess.”

“Give what a shot?” Stiles asks, voice going high and incredulous.

“I don’t know, man, I’d check the whole boy liking thing out for you before just rejecting you.”

“Stop.”

“I would! Maybe.”

“Maybe."

“I mean, we’ve made out so like what else is there?”

“A lot. There is a lot more to it than that.”

“I already love you, I’d see if it could grow to be… more.”

“You’re only saying all this because it’s hypothetical.”

Scott clicks his tongue. “I guess we can’t know that until you get a crush on me.”

“Not gonna happen, I know the real you,” Stiles teases, prying Scott’s arm off of him so he can slither out of his blankets.

Scott stretches out on his back, starfishing across Stiles’ bed. “Is this about Danny? I’m not seeing the connection,” he asks.

It’s about Derek. It’s about being unable to unsee how nice his bone structure is and how nice his smile is. It’s about wishing he could cuddle with him while awake and more frequently. It’s about not wanting to ruin this fragile new thing they’ve all developed with him.

“I’m confused,” Stiles answers out of not wanting to lie about it being about Danny.

“Again?” Scott asks very seriously, frowning.

“Not like that. I’m… afraid of showing interest in other guys, maybe. Danny’s a safe bet.”

“I mean, I don’t think you have to worry about that.” Scott sits up and grins at him.

“What do you mean?”

“Guys always say they’d be flattered if Danny had a crush on them, I’m pretty sure that would extend to you.”

Stiles scoffs. “Delusional.”

“And you wouldn’t like the guys who wouldn’t be flattered anyway, they’re dicks.”

“You know, it really sucks being one of like five out guys at this goddamn school.”

“So you’re not into Danny anymore?”

Stiles bites the side of his thumb in thought. It’s not exactly that. It’s just that Derek exists. But maybe if he tried again with Danny, maybe he’d be cured. If not with Danny, someone else.

“I still like Danny. I’m just confused.”

“Fair enough. I wish I could understand your situation better but…” He shrugs, in search of words.

“Chemistry?” Stiles suggests, even though it’s the last thing he wants to do.

“Sure. Oh, hey! We should call Derek over, we need to finalize our girl’s birth week celebrations.”

Stiles’ stomach flips. “Yeah, we should.”

**

August 23rd, 2008
Saturday

Stiles doesn’t even realize he’s staring until Scott slams into his side. He calls out a “sorry, man!” as he spins away from Stiles and continues fleeing from a soaking wet, furious looking Lydia. Ordinarily, Stiles would join in the chase but…

He looks back toward the pool and sees nothing but skin. Danny’s skin. Dark tan and smooth, stretched across muscles that flex and bulge every time he slaps the beach ball back to the other side of the pool. He’s grinning and dimply and glistening with pool water and Stiles…

“STILES, I’M GOING TO KILL YOUR FRIEND!” he hears Lydia yell.

“Hey, hey, play nice! He’s your friend too!” Stiles calls after her, tearing his eyes away from the line of hair leading down from Danny’s navel.

“Give me one fucking reason,” Lydia says, leaving the “not to kill him” part unspoken. She has him cornered in the back of the yard. Stiles thinks he doesn’t look as scared as he should.

“It’s a pool party, Lydia!” Scott appeals. “You’re supposed to be in the pool.”

“He has a point,” Stiles says.

“I had no intentions of going in the pool myself, you idiot, I live here. I can go in that thing whenever I fucking want.”

Stiles hooks his arm around her neck and drags her away from Scott. “Run!” Stiles says over his shoulder. Scott laughs his way all the way back to the pool. Stiles feels the jut of Lydia’s hip against him and he focuses on the girls lying out on towels in the grass. He traces their curves with his eyes and pictures the feel of a female body under his hands. God, yes. His head clears a little. He steals another glance toward Danny and resolves not to look again.

Lydia elbows him in the side until he releases her. She stands in front of him, hands on her hips and glares at him. Her hair falls in tendrils around her face, her sun dress is sucked tight against her body, revealing every line of her bathing suit underneath. The glare is totally useless. Stiles reaches both hands out and pokes her cheeks.

“Live a little, Lydia, whoever you’re trying to impress would probably rather see you wet than perfectly primped,” he teases.

“You’re disgusting.”

“I didn’t even mean it that way!” he argues on his own behalf as Lydia stalks away from him. She gets to a lounge chair occupied by some guy Stiles sorta recognizes from school, shimmies her way out of the dress and plops it on the guy’s chest with a very demure smile.

Someone calls Stiles from the pool, so he turns toward it again. Emma, a girl he’d been flirting with, waves for him to come join her in the shallow end, smiling prettily. Stiles smiles back and heads over. Once in the pool, he grips her waist and hoists her up to half-carry her toward the deeper end. He tickles her sides and laughs as she squirms and twines her arms around his shoulders. Stiles wants her, he really does.

“Yo, Stilinski, take her to dinner first,” Danny says from not too far away. Emma giggles, Stiles smirks as he shoots a look toward Danny. Danny smirks back and Stiles is 80% sure his eyes sweep over Stiles. He’s 20% sure that Danny would never look at him like that. And he’s 100% unsure why the latter 20% disappoints him so much.

**

March 13th, 2010
Saturday

Stiles very carefully adjusts the mirrors in his father’s SUV and turns around to check everyone’s seat belts. “No funny business,” he says very sternly. He points at Lydia. “He’s only doing this for you because he knew the Jeep wouldn’t make it and he doesn’t trust Derek’s car.”

“What’s wrong with my car?” Derek protests.

“It’s fast.”

“I’m a good driver!” Derek argues. “Why doesn’t your dad trust me?”

“He trusts you, not the car,” Stiles clarifies. Derek doesn’t see how that’s any different. “There will be no eating or drinking in this car. No smoking of any substances. Nothing. We leave it as clean as it is now. Cleaner, even.”

Derek doesn’t see how that’s possible, the car looks like it’s barely been used.

“Okay, dad, let’s go,” Lydia says.

“My dad can and will get my license revoked, he knows people,” Stiles says.

“No he won’t, he doesn’t want to taxi your ass around. Now fucking drive, Stilinski,” Lydia says through gritted teeth.

Stiles finally starts the car, turns to look out the back windshield, and very cautiously pulls out of the driveway. Scott stifles a laugh that makes Derek look at him in amused agreement.

“I’ll turn this car around,” Stiles says, not taking his eyes off the window but smiling good-naturedly. He catches Derek’s gaze in his own as he turns back around and slowly accelerates down the street. Derek likes a self-aware, high-strung Stiles.

“What’s our itinerary?” Lydia asks, turning to look back at Derek and Scott.

“You’ll seeee,” Scott says for what has to be the hundredth time in the last few days. Lydia pouts. “It’s supposed to be a surprise.”.

“I don’t like surprises,” she reasons very sweetly.

“We’re leaving you at Alcatraz where you belong,” Stiles says.

She ignores him. “C’mon, Derek,” she says, turning her best pout toward him.

“I’ll turn this car around,” Stiles threatens again.

Derek shrugs at Lydia who huffs and turns back around. She perks up when Stiles hands her his iPod already connected to the auxiliary cord.

“Since when do you like Bon Iver?” Lydia asks after a second of scrolling. Stiles’ eyes flick to Derek’s in the rearview mirror, but he doesn’t answer. Derek’s almost glad he doesn’t. Something about it feels almost intimate.

“What’s wrong with Bon Iver?” Derek asks.

“Nothing at all, it’s just that Stiles doesn’t have that level of taste.”

“Hey!” Stiles protests.

Lydia smirks at him and pointedly starts playing something that’s all screeching guitar and guttural yelling to prove her point.

Stiles and Scott both start head banging in tandem, Stiles laughing through it while Scott impersonates the vocals. Lydia sets the iPod down on her knee and starts air-drumming along.

The rest of the two and a half hour ride toward the city is spent with a lot of air-guitaring and air-drumming and yelling along to songs Derek mostly hasn’t heard before but some that he has. They’re out of breath with laughter by the time they finally make it.

Derek loses track of time with them once they really get the day started. Every other time Derek’s been dragged off to San Francisco, it was with family to do things his family wanted to do. Museums, Ghirardelli Square, Laura trying to get them to re-enact the Full House intro, Cora getting crankier and crankier as the day stretched on. But this is different. They weave their way through the city, hitting spots each of them loves. They pour over old records in a store in Haight-Ashbury and prowl around City Lights and sit on a dock to watch people and boats and seagulls.

Lydia’s surprisingly easy to travel with. He’d expected a degree of high-maintenance from her that is entirely absent. She delights in the tourist attractions and smiles easily. She carries her own shopping bags, yanking them away when any of them offer to hold something for her.

They make it to Dolores Park just as the sun is starting to tint everything golden in its descent. Derek gives Lydia a piggyback through the congregation of picnickers and Frisbee-players dotting the hillside while Scott and Stiles scope out a spot ahead of them.

They sink into cool grass and kick off their shoes and stretch out. They pass a joint around and watch the sunset in exhausted, happy silence. Derek looks around at them, set against the blazing sunset over the San Francisco skyline. It’s not just the weed and it’s not just the cool, coastal air, and it’s not just the day itself… but Derek feels less like one, lonely person and more like a part of a larger organism. He looks at his friends bathed in yellow and pinkening light and feels a sense of belonging he’s not sure that he’s ever felt before. Stiles seems to notice his eyes on him and returns the look. His amber eyes look impossibly colorful as he offers a soft smile before looking away.

“I love you guys,” Lydia says, lying down in the grass. “I really do.”

“Yeah, you’re alright,” Stiles says, reaching across Scott to ruffle her hair.

She bats his hand away from her and laughs. Scott falls onto his back next to her and retracts his arms all the way into his sweater. Stiles leans over and ties his empty sleeves into a knot in front of his chest.

“Derek, when are you going to learn bass, huh?” Lydia asks, flapping on arm over to hit his knee. “When’s the band getting together?”

Derek hadn’t been sure they were serious about that. He’d tried to use the whole “maybe I want to do other things with my time” excuse about lacrosse as a Hail Mary pass and hadn’t let himself consider it too seriously.

“Yeah, dude, I’ve been thinking about it and I think you’d like bass,” Scott adds. “I mean, you can do some cool shit with it if you want to. You can learn guitar at the same time basically, I think.”

“What do you think, Stiles?” Lydia asks, propping herself up on her elbows to look at him.

Derek looks over at him too. Stiles has an expression on his face that’s foreign to Derek. Something shyly hopeful, maybe. His eyes sweep from Derek to Lydia to Scott and back to Derek.

“If he wants to, then yeah,” Stiles says. “Approach it like a piano, let’s see how interesting you can make it.”

Derek smiles. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Stiles smiles back.

Lydia and Scott fall asleep in the back seat in record time once they get back in the car to head home. Derek could fall asleep too, but he’d rather spend the drive awake and talking to Stiles. Stiles who smiles a dopey, lopsided smile when he looks in the rearview mirror to see Scott and Lydia leaning against each other like two tuckered out kids. Stiles who turns the music down and the seat warmers on. Stiles who everyone at school thinks is a bad ass. Derek starts fiddling with the Sheriff’s GPS system just for something to do.

“Do you think your dad would appreciate the Australian lady or the British man better?” Derek asks when he pulls up the voice options.

Stiles snorts. “Change it to Korean or something, he’ll be so confused.”

“Is that considered leaving the car better than we started?” Derek asks.

“Absolutely.”

Derek settles on an English speaking voice anyway. Stiles keeps his eyes on the road but shakes his head in somber disappointment.

They pass some time in silence, the sound of the wheels on the road threatening to lull him to sleep. He’s reminded of car rides with his family, his sisters sleeping as he listened to his parents talk softly in the front seat.

“Laura changed our dad’s phone to German once and that’s how we learned he actually spoke German. Maybe your dad speaks Korean,” Derek says to break the silence.

Stiles smiles. “I guess it’s a faint possibility. How did he learn German?”

“He took it for his language requirement in college and spent his summer before law school in Berlin.”

“Hmm, let’s go to Berlin, route us there,” Stiles says, gesturing to the GPS.

“You just have to keep going east past Beacon Hills for a little."

“We’ll get there in no time!” Stiles spares Derek a glance, his smile widening when he sees that Derek’s laughing. He looks back at the road and clears his throat. “Where’d your dad go to school?”

“Stanford undergrad, Hastings for law.”

“Is that what you want to do?” Stiles asks.

It used to be. Maybe it still was. Derek has no way of knowing. He’d asked himself time and time again and he could never get his mind to reach far enough into the future to decide. “I don’t know,” he admits.

Stiles murmurs and nods.

“What do you want to do?” Derek asks.

“I don’t know,” Stiles admits.

**

October 18th, 2008
Saturday

Scott and Stiles have set up camp on the couch outside of the dressing rooms while Lydia tries on a mountain of clothes. Stiles idly watches the poor sales girl rush around to get other sizes and colors on Lydia’s request.

“Boyfriend couch, huh?” someone asks. Stiles whips his head toward the familiar voice and can’t help the smile that grows on his face at the sight of Danny.

“Yeah, you know how it is, the old lady runs us ragged,” Stiles quips back.

“You guys are into some freaky shit,” Danny says, resting against the arm of the couch, smiling a sparkly-eyed smile at Stiles. “So is it a brother husband sort of deal or…?”

Scott pats Stiles’ knee. “There is no sweeter love made than the love made between me and my boo here,” he teases. Stiles laughs and nudges his hand away.

Danny’s about to continue the bantering when Jackson brushes past him on his way toward the dressing rooms.

“Ah, the boyfriend couch, huh?” Stiles parrots back at Danny who rolls his eyes.

“Sure feels like it. He wishes.”

Stiles isn’t sure if Danny is paying more attention to him than usual or what, but Stiles doesn’t mind the glowy smiles and the attention. His heart thumps along in his chest, not letting Stiles forget it’s there.

“Oh? Is Jackson not your type?” Stiles teases.

“Nah, I like them a little scrappier and scrawnier,” Danny says, eyes quickly tracing down Stiles’ body before locking eyes again.

“Well, I’m sure there’s plenty of those around,” Stiles counters.

“Let’s go, I cannot fucking believe that goddamn piece of shit keeps showing up—“ Lydia is ranting as she stomps their way with a slightly smaller pile of clothes in her arms. “Hey Danny,” she sighs. “Tell Jackson he needs a hobby.”

“It was my idea to come in,” Danny says, flicking a look toward Stiles. Lydia didn’t miss the glance if her eyebrows are anything to go by.

“Hm. Well, we’re off to get these boys some new guitar strings, leave your pet outside where he belongs if you want to swing by,” she says sweetly. “Bye, Danny!”

The second they’re outside and walking, Scott nudges Stiles hard in the side. “Damn, Stilinski sexual allure now works on dudes!”

“Shut up,” Stiles says, cheeks burning.

“You should be very flattered,” Lydia tells him.

“He does not… that wasn’t…”

“Don’t be an asshole,” Lydia says.

“I’m not being an asshole! It would be very… ego boosting if Danny liked me, but he doesn’t.”

“Uh huh,” she says, exchanging smug looks with Scott.

“He definitely does. Lydia, you missed it. Danny basically said Stiles was his type.”

“Please shut up,” Stiles begs. His stomach is doing flips in his body in an attempt to escape this mortal realm.

“If you’re going to be weird about a guy having a crush on you I will be so fucking disappointed in you as a human being, Stiles Stilinski,” Lydia scolds.

“It’s not that!” he defends, blushing deeper.

“Good,” she chirps in a clipped, final way. “I need a new drum head for my snare,” she says to change the subject as she leads the way into the music store.

**

March 15th, 2010
Monday

Derek stands watch next to Stiles as he rearranges Lydia’s books in her locker to accommodate a giant balloon. Every time he puts too much pressure on it, he activates the singing mechanism.

“God dammit,” Stiles mutters. He mockingly sings along with it for a couple bars before finally getting Lydia’s locker to shut. The song continues on, muffled inside the locker. “The battery or whatever hell magic that powers this demonic thing is going to run out.”

“Hell magic never runs out,” Derek deadpans back.

Stiles snorts. “Scott is picking up breakfast stuff, the balloon is in place, you good on the confetti cannons?”

Derek nods and swings his backpack around to extract one to give to Stiles. They may not be doing a whole prank-a-thon like they’d done for Scott, but that didn’t mean they didn’t want to make Harris’ life a little difficult. The plan was to deploy the confetti cannons when her name was called for attendance. It’d be silly string on Tuesday, a well-timed song on Wednesday, nothing on Thursday because there was a quiz and none of them wanted to incur Harris’s wrath, and Stiles had gotten some of the kids in choir on his side for something on Friday.

Stiles inspects his cannon before shoving it into his sweater pocket, nodding approval. He leans back against Lydia’s locker and stares off down the hall.

“When’s your birthday, anyway?” Stiles asks after a couple beats of silence.

“Oh. It passed.”

Stiles turns his head slowly back toward him, the effect eerie when coupled with his narrowed eyes. “When?”

“December.”

“What the fuck?”

“I don’t do anything for my birthday, sorry… I would have invited you guys if I did—“

“Invited us? Uh, what do you not understand about birthday week?”

“My birthday is too close to Christmas for that, it’s fine,” Derek says, feeling his face get hot with embarrassment.

“How close to Christmas? Did we hang out on your birthday?”

“I mean… Christmas Day.”

“What the fuck?” Stiles mutters, shaking his head as he looks back toward the opposite end of the hallway. He looks just in time for Scott to push open the door and stride in, grin visible even from this far away. “Hey Scotty!” Stiles calls when he gets close enough to hear. “Did you know we missed this fuck’s birthday?” he asks, gesturing to him.

“No? What the fuck!” Scott calls back.

Derek wants to climb into whoever’s locker he’s leaning against.

Scott stomps to a halt in front of them and sets a bag full of breakfast down the on floor at his feet. He switches the drink carrier full of coffee to his other hand and menacingly leans into Derek’s space. “When’s your birthday, Derek?”

“Christmas.”

“What the hell, man,” Scott says, disappointed.

“It’s not a big deal. My family doesn’t even—“

“I’m sorry, what?” Stiles asks, head retracting back in surprise.

“I mean, we celebrate it in June. Half-birthday. Otherwise, my birthday gets lost in the holidays. Big family and all.”

Scott’s disappointment smoothes out. Stiles looks over at him thoughtfully.

“So half-birthday week is still a viable option…” he mutters. Scott nods. Stiles nods back. “Okay.”

“You don’t have to.”

Scott and Stiles share a synchronized eye-roll and shake their heads.

“So you’re already 17?” Scott asks.

“Yeah.”

“You’re fucked up, I can’t believe you didn’t tell us. Though, Stiles, this is good news.”

“Is it?”

“He’s the oldest one,” Scott says emphatically. “He’ll hit 21 first, in December. We are so set.”

Derek’s heart clenches at the idea of still being in their lives when they’re 21. Stiles lights up and laughs at that like it’s a sure thing. And Derek feels like it is too.

**

January 1st, 2009
Thursday

Stiles is curled up into a ball in his bed, his fingers painfully twisted up in his sheet. He keeps trying to think of things that’ll get his heart rate to return to normal and his traitor of a dick to go soft. He thinks of his grandma teaching him Polish and repeats a nursery rhyme she’d used in his head. He thinks of detention and the time Scott sneezed in his face and the time Lydia threw up in his lap. He thinks about the time he split his knuckles when he punched Greenberg in the face and broke his nose when they were in 7th grade. His eyes are squeezed shut and his cheeks are wet and he is consumed with shame.

After awhile, he can stop cycling through unpleasant thoughts and he can release his hold on the blankets and he can stretch his body out. He can breathe evenly. And the first thing that comes back to mind is the night before.

Danny handing him a drink, the private and beautiful smile on his face, his fingers lingering on Stiles’ fingers, his hand looped around Stiles’ wrist, his voice hot and airy against his ear when he leaned into whisper something flirty at him, the way Stiles’ jeans got tighter the longer they talked like that.

Stiles reaches for his phone and calls Lydia.

“Please come over,” he says, voice shaking and desperate. He hadn’t meant to sound like that. Lydia’s answering “I’m on my way” sounds terrified.

Twenty minutes later, she bursts into his bedroom and instantly goes to him, crawling on her knees across his mattress.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m freaking the fuck out,” he admits, accepting the hand she offers to him. He wraps both hands around hers and pulls her closer.

“Why, what’s going on? Are you okay?”

“What if I’m gay?” Stiles asks, the words feeling heavy as they leave his mouth.

Her other hand flies up to touch Stiles’ cheek. She swipes her thumb through a wet streak below his eye and he hadn’t even realized he was crying.

“Then that’d be okay, wouldn’t it?” she says softly.

“I don’t want to be.”

“Stiles,” she says, moving closer. “What’s going on?”

“I… Danny just… I think…”

Lydia takes a deep breath and lets it out. “Stiles, it’d be okay. You’d be okay, you’d be happy.”

“I don’t want…”

“What do you want then?” she asks. She has that voice on, the one that reminds him of his mother. The voice that says her only priority right now is fixing this. The voice that is strong enough and loving enough. She could have been smug, she could have made fun of him, she could have laughed. But she wouldn’t. She never would.

“I don’t…”

“Breathe,” she warns.

Stiles breathes. “It’d be okay?” he asks, bypassing her question. He can’t answer that question, he doesn’t want to say what he wants.

“It’d be okay,” she says with a reassuring nod. “Let’s puzzle this out, okay? Treat it like a math problem.”

Stiles groans and she smiles at the reaction. She pulls her hands away from Stiles and peels his blankets back to get cozy next to him. She offers her hand back to him and he takes it, intertwining their fingers together.

“So… a word problem. You are afraid that you’re gay, which we will revisit in the next question. You are experiencing attraction to a boy. If attraction to a boy equals X, solve for X.”

“X equals gay, doesn’t it?”

“Show your work, Stiles.”

“Boys who like boys are gay. Done.”

“Stop being stubborn,” she scolds. “Boys who like boys can be bisexual, you know.”

Stiles hadn’t considered that, he’d been too panicked. His silence must speak volumes because Lydia squeezes his hand and nudges him with her elbow.

“So X equals either gay or bisexual,” she says. “So do you like girls still?”

Stiles shrugs.

“C’mon, picture it, think about girls. I know you have at least at some point very recently had a thing for girls, I see everything.”

“Hopefully not everything,” Stiles mutters before taking a deep breath. He closes his eyes and pictures curves and the soft press of breasts against him and the sounds Emma had made when he touched in between her legs. He can’t help but think of Lydia because she’s here next to him and how he first learned about sex in her bed. He lets that breath out and opens his eyes, calmer.

“So?” she asks.

“I don’t know, I’m… confused, I think I do.”

“So, X can continue to be either gay or bisexual or maybe even something else, that’s fine.”

“Is it?” he asks.

“Yeah. We’re young, Stiles. Sexuality can be static or it can be fluid or it can disappear and come back later, whatever. It’s not black and white.”

Stiles lets his head fall back against his headboard, the tension in his shoulders seeps out of him.

“Next question,” Lydia says after some thoughtful quiet.

“Okay.”

“Why are you afraid of being gay?”

“I just…”

“Is it about us?” she asks, meaning her and Scott. “Do you think we would think of you any different?”

“No,” Stiles says, knowing that to be true.

“Is it about your dad?”

Stiles shrugs.

“Your dad loves you, I don’t think you have to worry.”

“But would he be disappointed?”

“I don’t think so,” she says. “Do you?”

“I don’t know.”

“No one would be disappointed in you,” she whispers, leaning her head against his shoulder. “I promise.”

“You promise?”

He feels her nod. “But would you be disappointed in yourself?”

“Yes,” Stiles says too quickly. “No. I don’t know.”

“What would be disappointing about it?”

“I don’t know.”

She’s quiet for awhile, but she’s warm and comforting against his side. “I love you, Stiles,” she says, maybe thinking that’s the only thing she can say.

Stiles lets the sentiment wash over him. “I love you too.”

**

March 18th, 2010
Thursday

Derek has seen Lydia happy before. Smile radiant, eyes shining. But he hasn’t seen this. As Stiles sets a cake they had made themselves in front of her, extolling Derek’s frosting handiwork (a misshapen thing that’s supposed to be a high heel, an approximation of a drum set, and a lopsided set of pink lips crossed out in the same green they used to write her birthday greeting), she’s actually wiggling.

“This is the most beautiful cake I’ve ever seen,” she gushes, all irony absent from her voice.

Scott slides into the seat next to her, beaming. “It’s funfetti and strawberry mixed together,” he says. “Stiles, candles.” He digs into his pocket and slaps a lighter down on the table.

“Aye, aye! Derek, candles!”

Derek turns around to dig through the grocery bags and takes the opportunity to let his dopey smile fight to the surface. The Stilinski house is cake-scented and warm. The kitchen is lit in golden light that centers over the table, that casts them all in honey-toned light like this is the happiest scene in an already very happy film. Derek hands the candles to Stiles who follows Scott’s directions on where to place them.

The front door opens, followed by two sets of footsteps. Lydia looks toward the kitchen door with wide, hopeful eyes.

“There she is,” the Sheriff says, arms full of takeout.

“Cake before dinner?” Melissa asks, edging around him to set a grocery bag full of drinks down on the counter.

“You two are late,” Stiles accuses.

Derek looks back at Lydia, whose grin is even wider than before.

“Happy birthday, Red,” the Sheriff says, putting his hand on top of her head. She tilts her head to look up at him. “How old are you now, twenty-five?”

“Thirty,” she answers.

The Sheriff huffs a laugh. Melissa rounds the table finally and hip checks the Sheriff out of the way to claim a hug. She whispers a “happy birthday, sweetheart” against the side of Lydia’s head and squeezes.

The Stilinski house is bright and loud with everyone in it. Derek soaks it in. Derek memorizes it. He thinks Lydia’s grins have a bit of sadness to them. Derek wonders where her parents are. Derek wonders how Lydia manages to be so aloof and cold sometimes when this kind of light lives in her.

“Derek, who knew you were a cake decorator,” Melissa teases him when the cake is brought back to the table after dinner.

Derek smiles and shrugs, ducking his head.

“Derek’s full of surprises,” Lydia says proudly. “You can almost tell that’s a shoe.”

Stiles nudges him with his elbow and shoots him a grin. He passes Derek the lighter to light the candles.

They sing an out of tune, messy Happy Birthday to her and tease her as she cuts the cake. After, when the parents have moved into the living room and when Scott and Stiles are in the middle of clean-up and splashing soapy dishwater at one another, Derek catches Lydia smiling softly at the backs of their heads.

“What?” she asks, turning to look at Derek.

Derek shrugs.

She smiles that same soft smile at him.

“How’s birthday week going so far?” Derek asks.

She pretends to consider the question seriously for a moment, tapping her finger on her chin. “Perfect,” she decides on.

**

March 21th, 2009
Sunday

“I think you should tell them,” Lydia says just when Stiles thought he was the only one still awake. Scott snores softly next to him where they lay on the blow-up mattress on the floor.

“You should sleep that hangover off before it starts, birthday girl,” Stiles whispers. She sits up in her bed and Stiles knows she’s staring down at him even if he can’t see her facial features in the dark.

“I’m fine,” she says dismissively. “You’ll break his heart if you hide it from him.” The him in question continues to snore.

Stiles wants to say there’s nothing to hide but he doesn’t. He can still feel the pull and push of Danny’s lips and tongue against his mouth, he can still call upon that beautiful clarity that blossomed in him at that first tentative kiss. Stiles had told Lydia in confidence because he needed someone to know.

“Don’t you wish you could gush with him about it?” she asks as if reading his mind.

He does. He’d wanted to tell them both at the same time, he’d wanted to see the transition from total shock to total excitement he knew Scott would express.

“Don’t you want to just… stop being afraid, don’t you want them to know you as best as they can? They would do anything in their power to keep you happy and safe, don’t you want to help them do that?” The they is in reference to Scott and Stiles’ father. Melissa too, maybe. Her parents even.

“Yes,” Stiles whispers.

“Okay,” she says, surprised.

“Can you help me?” Stiles asks.

“Always.”

Lydia falls asleep not too much longer after that, but Stiles can’t sleep at all. In the morning, he feels wrung out and jittery while they all sit together in the Martin’s kitchen with mugs of coffee and glasses of water and a bottle of Advil scattered around them.

“So,” Stiles starts.

Lydia and Scott turn their attention on him.

“I made out with Danny last night.”

Scott’s face goes from total shock to pure joy in about two seconds. “Nice! That’s my boy,” he says, slapping Stiles on the back.

“So, what does that mean, huh?” Lydia asks. Stiles detects a hint of “told you so” in that.

“I don’t know, guess I like guys too,” he says as dismissively as he can.

Scott nods seriously like that makes perfect sense and the smile is right back on his face. “You know we love you very much,” he teases, reaching across the table to put his hand on Lydia’s like they’re a sitcom mother and father. “We support you.”

Lydia’s smile is smug. Stiles rolls his eyes and laughs.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Way later that day, when Stiles is barely able to keep his eyes open anymore, he gets an email from Scott that looks long enough to be a book. It starts with, “I just wanted to thank you for what you told us today but figured I could organize it better if I wrote it out so…” and ends with, “Anyway, I love you a lot, I’m glad you’re my best friend, and I am totally down to talk about hot dudes with you.” Stiles answers it with a simple, heartfelt: “I’m going to punch you for making me cry.” He’ll hug the hell out of him tomorrow.

**

March 19th, 2010
Friday

It’d been four weeks since Stiles and Derek had shared Stiles’ bed for the second time and Stiles still hasn’t been able to forget the feel of his body. Stiles has shaken himself awake from dreams to find a pillow pressed against his chest, a poor substitute. Stiles has, embarrassing as it is, touched himself with one hand and imagined the planes of Derek’s broad shoulders under his other. Stiles is suffering.

Stiles was trying to go back to Danny. He tried to feel the same way he had before the fist fight, he’s tried to flirt the same way, imagine his abs the same way, fantasize about how it felt to fuck him. Danny flirted the same way as before, Danny had the same body as before, Danny could probably still fuck like before… but Stiles was the changed one in the equation.

That doesn’t stop him from trying, though.

Stiles waits on the birthday girl hand and foot until the lacrosse guys show up after their game. Scott takes over the second shift and Derek is the designated sober one for the night so she’s in good hands. Stiles sees Lydia’s drummer friend arrive when he’s scanning the crowd for crimson jerseys or letterman jackets and coyly points him in Lydia’s direction when they make eye contact.

Stiles finds Danny in a cluster of lacrosse boys, Jackson included, drinking beers and smiling with a cocky swagger that tells Stiles they must have won tonight. They usually do. He shoulders his way into the center of the circle, casting disinterested looks at the other guys, and stops with his chest barely an inch away from Danny’s. Danny’s eyes flick to Stiles’ lips as he bites his own. Jackson huffs next to them. Stiles puts a hand on Danny’s hip and slides his eyes over to Jackson in a show of dominance or bravado or something, who the fuck knows. Stiles feels a thrill run through Danny and looks back.

“Hey,” Danny says when they lock eyes. He leans back against the wall behind him so Stiles is forced to rock closer. “We won tonight.”

“Congratulations. Shall we go celebrate upstairs?” Stiles asks, voice low but not too low for the others to hear.

Danny shoves off the wall and Stiles catches him in a filthy kiss that has Jackson raising his voice to complain. The other guys cheer Danny on with lewd encouragements.

Stiles hooks his finger into a belt loop and guides Danny toward the stairs. He hears Lydia “boo, you whore!” him as he passes but can’t afford a glance in his friends’ direction.

Danny’s body is still just as beautiful as when Stiles caught a glimpse of him shirtless by Lydia’s pool a year and a half ago. He’s the same person, the same charming smile and witty tongue, that fueled Stiles’ bisexual revolution. With Danny’s hands on his naked skin, he still feels the shockwaves from when Danny touched him the first time.

But there’s something gone now. Something Stiles desperately wants back.

Stiles fucks him as desperately as he can. Hands almost bruising on his hips and fingernails digging into his skin and sweat dripping off of them both so everything is slick and wet and hot and tight and easy. Danny shudders and begs and whimpers until Stiles grabs his dick to jerk him off. Stiles bites into his shoulder to muffle a broken, frustrated whine he can feel building up in his lungs and that sends Danny over the edge, spilling hot and thick between their bodies. Stiles squeezes his eyes shut and lets his hips fall out of rhythm as his body shakes and shakes. When he finally comes, he collapses against Danny’s chest and bucks involuntarily through the end of it.

Danny laughs, delighted. His hands are gentle on Stiles’ waist and his lips are soft against the side of his face. Stiles does what he never does and lets himself stay inside him, he lets himself nuzzle into his neck and inhale the scent of him. He kisses and lightly sucks on the skin there behind his ear and below the hinge of his jaw.

“That was inspired,” Danny says.

“Mm, you know how lacrosse wins get me,” Stiles murmurs.

Danny scoffs. He trails a hand up and down Stiles’ spine. “I’m glad you expanded your sex repertoire,” he says after a long bit of silence. Stiles mumbles his agreement. “You’re good at it for a rookie.”

Danny convinces Stiles to kiss him and tightens his grip on Stiles to move them onto their sides. He half-sits up and takes care of the condom, touching Stiles gently and inspiring a wave of guilt in him that he can’t quite explain. When Danny lies back down he reaches for Stiles’ hand.

“Am I dating material?” Stiles asks.

“Are you asking me to date you?”

“I don’t know. Do you want to date me?”

“I don’t know, would you ever pick me over your friends?”

Stiles pulls his hand away and Danny knows he’s messed up. Stiles pulls away from him entirely and starts grabbing for his clothes scattered around the bed.

“No, no, no, you don’t get to look mad, I’m just,” he says as he struggles to sit up. “I mean if you’re going to date someone, you’re going to have to spend time with them away from your posse sometimes and you’re going to have to spend time with their friends and I just don’t think you’d ever do that for me.”

“You’re right,” Stiles says, unable to keep the anger out of his voice. He turns his back to Danny as he pulls on his underwear and shakes out the rumpled leg of his jeans.

“Don’t be an asshole.”

“I’m not being an asshole,” Stiles argues.

“Stiles, I like you a lot, I have liked you a lot for a long time now, everyone keeps asking why I haven’t sealed the deal and you know exactly why I fucking haven’t.”

“Glad that’s settled.”

“There’s no room in your life for someone that isn’t one of them.”

“You are exactly right, so we’re done here aren’t we?”

Danny looks hurt when Stiles turns back around. “I guess so.”

Stiles’ blood is pounding in his ears by the time he gets to the hallway. He presses his back against the wall, half-waiting for Danny to come out of the room to see what he’ll say. The other of half of him is reeling at the suggestion of having to choose anyone at all over his friends. In the couple of minutes there outside the door, he tries to picture a life where they aren’t his priority and can’t and then he feels stupid. Because of course they’ll grow up. Of course they’ll grow apart. Of course they’re stupid kids who think they’re the only people in the world who have ever felt how they feel and that they’re different from everyone else. They’re no different. They’re no different at all. Stiles will eventually pick someone over them. They will pick people over him. High school will end.

He thinks he’s made a mistake.

Danny finally pushes the door open and his face betrays everything. Stiles’ stomach sinks as he takes it in.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

Danny sets his jaw and shakes his head, eyes avoiding Stiles’ at all costs. “Yeah, me too,” he says, bitter. Hurt. Stiles wants to ask him to wait, he wants to grab him by the wrist and pull him closer and hug him and kiss him and tell him yeah, of course I’ll choose you over them sometimes.

He only gets so far as the “wait” before his heart tells him he won’t do any of that.

Danny doesn’t wait anyway.

Chapter Text

March 20th, 2010
Saturday

Derek’s feet are tangled up with Scott’s on the bathroom floor. He’s the only sober one in the room, Scott in a fairly close second. And then there’s Stiles.

“I think I’m dying,” he slurs, voice echoing a little in the toilet bowl. “God, God, please God…”

Derek continues rubbing in between his shoulders, Scott rolls his eyes and smirks at Derek.

“I hope I’m dying,” Stiles continues. He pulls himself to sit next to Scott with his back against the tub. He lets his head droop to one side and closes his eyes. “I really do, guys.”

“Okay, so what happened?” Scott asks, ignoring the dramatics. “You were saying something about something sexy and then you were puking…”

Stiles groans. “Derek doesn’t want to hear this.”

“I don’t care,” Derek defends. Stiles opens one eye to squint at him. “It’s just sex.”

Stiles closes his eye again and groans, slumping against Scott. “It’s gay sex, Derek.”

“So?”

“The sex isn’t even the point.”

“So what is?” Scott asks.

“Danny.”

“What about Danny?” Derek asks.

“I asked him if I was date-able and he asked if I’d pick him over you guys and I said no and now he hates me.”

Derek tilts his head in thought, making eye contact with Scott.

“What did he mean by picking him over us?” Scott asks.

“He literally just meant like… typical dating shit and I had to go be a dumbass.”

“Is it being a dumbass if it’s the right call?” Derek asks.

“What if it wasn’t the right call?” Stiles mumbles.

“If it was the right call, you’d have said yes.” Derek thinks that’s pretty straightforward.

Stiles groans and slowly reaches out until he can wrap his hand around Derek’s wrist. “I really don’t need to hear things like that from you,” he says, sounding wrecked.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Derek asks, indignant as he tries to pull his arm away.

Stiles tightens his grip and tugs Derek’s arm with as much strength as he can muster. It’s enough to pull Derek up onto his knees. “Nothing bad, shhhh,” he says. “Don’t be mad at me too.”

He really does look miserable, beyond just the drunkenness, so Derek lets it go. He walks a little closer on his knees so he can sit back down and keep Stiles’ grip uncompromised.

“Where’s Lydia, is she having a fun?” Stiles asks, his face buried in Scott’s shoulder.

“She and drummer guy were making out haaaardcore, she’s fine,” Scott assures him.

“Okay, good.” Stiles’ grip on Derek’s wrist loosens and his hand slides further down toward Derek’s. “I’m really suffering,” he says, more to Scott.

Scott nods sympathetically. “I know, buddy.”

“You need water,” Derek says, squeezing Stiles’ fingers before extracting his hand and standing up.

Stiles mumbles in agreement as Derek slips through the propped open door into Lydia’s dimly lit room and out into the busy hallway. He’s halfway to the kitchen when Danny steps into his path.

“Hey,” he says, eyes locking on Derek’s with an angry intensity.

“Uh.”

“How’s it going?”

“Fine,” Derek says, trying to edge past him. Danny just moves to stop his progress.

“Your friend,” he says, putting special emphasis on the “friend” part. “Is an asshole.”

“Is this your idea of an ice breaker? Insulting Stiles?”

“Kinda, yeah,” he says, frustrated. “Ask me how I’m doing.”

“I know how you’re doing,” Derek says.

“That’s not how small talk works.”

“I don’t want to small talk with you.”

“I’m fine. My mom asked how you were doing, I told her I hadn’t talked to you in months and she thought that was pretty sad. You seem to be doing alright, though. Your friend sort of broke my heart a couple hours ago. Honestly, I should have known what I was getting into. I guess I’ll be fine. Well, see you later.”

Derek stares at his retreating back as he shoulders his way through the crowd back to the lacrosse guys. He catches Jackson’s icy glare and looks away.

**

March 20th, 2010
Saturday

“Brandon and I hooked up,” Lydia announces over a bleary breakfast at Hank’s.

“Who?” Derek asks.

“Drummer guy,” Scott clarifies. “Nice work, Martin.” He extends a fist toward her until she bumps it back with her own.

“Thank you.”

Stiles feels like he’s been hit by a truck, but he can’t let that ruin the birthday week conclusion. “Alright, stats?” he asks, rubbing his eyes under his sunglasses.

“Derek doesn’t want to hear this,” she says.

“Do you guys think I’m a prude or what? What’s with all this “Derek doesn’t want to hear this” shit?” Derek asks.

“So you want to hear about another guy’s dick?” Lydia asks, propping her chin on her fist.

“If you want to talk about a dick, you can talk about a dick, I don’t care.”

“What if I compared it to Stiles’?”

“Can we not?” Stiles pleads. Stiles must imagine that Derek’s face reddens just a little.

“Respect a man, Lydia,” Scott says in his defense.

“I’m just testing out boundaries here. Anyway, it was a decent dick.”

Lydia regales them with the tale of her romp in the backseat of a shitty car. When asked why she didn’t just go up to her room, she makes a strong case for everyone needing to have sex in the backseat of a shitty car. Stiles finds himself agreeing on the concept of it.

“Anyone else?” she asks, wiggling her eyebrows.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Stiles says when her eyes settle on him.

“So you did.”

“Yeah and now Danny hates him,” Scott fills in.

“Thanks, Scotty, very helpful.”

“What do you mean, what happened?”

“Drama,” Stiles says in a mystical voice.

“Danny called Stiles out for not being able to commit to a relationship with someone because he’s too into us,” Scott says.

Stiles is about to dispute the loose translation of events, but it’s pretty accurate. Stiles nods to confirm the story.

“Shit,” Lydia says, leaning back in the booth. She looks over at Derek, calculating, and nudges him. “What’s your read?”

“My read?”

“Yeah. You and Danny were friends, what’s going on here?”

“Oh, uh. Well, he doesn’t hate you probably? You two will probably never have sex again though, so… Yeah, I don’t know.”

“Why wouldn’t he hate me?”

Derek shrugs. “Danny doesn’t hate people.”

Stiles supposes that lines up with what he knows of Danny. It doesn’t make him feel much better anyway.

Stiles watches Derek tug his sweater sleeves down over his hands and remembers when he squeezed his fingers the night before. He remembers the feeling of the fine bones in his wrist in Stiles’ hand, his fluttering pulse. Derek’s hair sticks up on the side from how he slept, the skin around his eyes looks soft and creased with sleep deprivation. The good, healthy kind of sleep deprivation. The night spent celebrating birthdays type of deprivation.

God, he’s so cute.

Stiles shoves his sunglasses up off his face so he won’t have an excuse to stare anymore. He leans into Scott’s space and steals a bite’s worth of French toast right off his plate. Scott retaliates by flicking his nose to get him to back away.

“Anyway, I hope you’re ready for this Molly Ringwald marathon we’re about to have, gentlemen,” Lydia says brightly.

**

March 25th, 2010
Thursday

Derek doesn’t ask Stiles if he can show up anymore, he just goes when he has to. Stiles is always up in his room, his father is sometimes home and sometimes not, Stiles is always quiet when Derek needs him to be and talkative the times he doesn’t.

But this time, Derek doesn’t know what he needs.

He feels tense and tired from his session but like he’s worked all afternoon on unearthing something that’s still underground. He sits in his car outside the therapist’s office and listens to something Stiles had slipped into his CD player sometime in the last couple of weeks as he decides what he needs.

There’s a tap on his window. Derek follows the sight of a retreating hand up an arm until the person crouches to look at him. Paige waves and smiles, adjusting the strap of her cello on her shoulder. Derek rolls his window down.

“Hey.”

“Hey! What are you doing here?” she asks, pointing vaguely at the shop he’s parked in front of. There hadn’t been any parking directly in front of his therapist’s office a few doors down.

“Just uh…”

“What do you play?” she asks.

“Play?” He finally looks out the windshield at the music store and understanding dawns on him. “Oh. Piano.” He’s not about to tell his editing partner that he’s in therapy, that’s for damn sure.

“I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah… So uh… cello lesson?” he asks, pointing at her case.

“Yeah. I should get in there. We’ll talk more about this later, Hale,” she says with a very serious finger point. “See you in class!”

Derek echoes the farewell and rolls his window back up. He watches her push her way through the door and then looks in through the front window. Gleaming brass and golden wood and sparkling silver instruments line the back wall, from what little he can see. He taps the steering wheel along with the music pouring out of his speakers and thinks about that gnawing, unearthed thing in him.

He’d mentioned piano to his therapist as an offhanded thing. It was an item buried in a list of things he used to do that he felt like an entirely different Derek used to do. His therapist had asked if he liked music. She’d asked if he had felt connected to the expression it offered. Derek had shrugged his way out of it.

But now, he remembers Stiles singing in the choir recital and singing in Laura’s car and bent over an acoustic guitar. He thinks of Lydia behind her drum set and Scott making his electric do remarkable things. He thinks about the loving way Paige describes music in her pieces for class.

He wants to go to Stiles’, but he doesn’t know if he wants to talk or not. He doesn’t know if he wants to stretch out on his floor and listen to whatever band Stiles wants him to hear today or if he wants to curl up on his bed and fall asleep.

And because he doesn’t know, he goes home instead. Laura and Cora are home but out of sight when he gets there, his mother is in the kitchen. He drops his backpack off by the front door and kicks off his shoes and approaches the baby grand sitting in the corner. It should be dusty for how often it gets touched (never), but its black wood is smooth and polished. Derek doesn’t even know the last time it was tuned. His father used to make sure someone came out at least once a year, even after Derek quit. Something about honoring the “most expensive furniture piece in this house.”

Derek pulls out the bench and lifts the lid and splays his fingers out across the keys, not putting any pressure down at all. He just wants to see his hands there.

“Oh,” his mom says, surprised from the doorway. Derek looks up at her and opens his mouth to explain. “Don’t let me stop you,” she says before he can formulate anything. She looks like she has way more to say, but she disappears down the hallway.

Derek puts each finger on a key, one by one, and names the chords he’s touching. When he presses, the weight of the keys feel just right and the sound that is coaxed from the propped open lid resonates in his chest. He shifts his hands and presses down again. And again. Until he’s playing. Something he only barely remembers, some song he’d had to play for a recital once. Something simple, because he’d never been great at this instrument. Just okay. But right now, okay feels fine. Okay feels great.

After awhile, he just presses keys and works through chords and constructs sound like a sculpture, trying to find combinations that sound good and feel good in his chest when they vibrate through him.

Eventually, he feels like he’s being watched. He stops and turns to find his sisters sitting on the stairs. He shouldn’t be embarrassed, but he is. He closes the lid and clears his throat and gets up.

“Derek, that was…” Laura starts.

He cuts her off with a: “I was just messing around.”

He heads into the kitchen when they head back up the stairs. His mom has her thinking face on where she stands leaning against the island.

“You said you quit lacrosse because you wanted to try other things,” she says slowly, looking at him as if trying to decode him.

Derek nods.

“What other things?” she asks.

“I uh… kinda want to learn an instrument,” he confesses.

“Which?”

“Bass.”

She raises her eyebrows. “As in, guitar?”

“Yeah.”

“Why not just guitar?”

He shrugs.

“Does this have to do with your friends?”

He shrugs again.

“Do they play instruments?”

Derek nods. “Lydia plays drums, Scott and Stiles play guitar.”

She looks like she’s going to disapprove. She looks like she’s sniffing out teenage rebellion. She looks like she’s about to claim rock and roll is Satan worship.

“Okay,” is what she actually says. “I still want to meet them.”

“Okay?” Derek asks, looking for specifics.

“Yeah, okay. Let’s look into it. Invite them over for dinner.”

“Okay. Are you going to embarrass me?”

She smirks and shrugs.

**

Stiles gets told not to watch his own fingers on the fret at lessons, but sitting in Scott’s room he can watch whatever he wants. He spends hours a day running the thumb on his left hand across the calluses on his finger pads and thinking about chords and trying to pick out notes from the songs he listens to.

He doesn’t think about how he’d been disappointed when Derek didn’t show up during his usual window of time. Derek doesn’t always show up, but Stiles always wants him to. He’d gone to Scott’s when he knew Derek wasn’t going to show so he could stop imagining in detail what he and Derek would talk about or what they’d do.

He focuses on the guitar in his hands instead. When there’s nothing else, there’s always this.

Scott’s guitar is different from Stiles’. It’s just barely heavier, it sounds different when Stiles taps the curving side of its body, it feels different in his hands. Scott uses a different brand of strings, something Stiles only knows because he’s always with him when he buys them and they’ve argued the merits of the different brands before. But he thinks they do feel different, maybe.

“Here, try this,” Scott says, reaching over to readjust Stiles’ pinky on the E string. The new position takes strain off his hand.

“Ah,” Stiles says, strumming with his right hand. He smiles at the sound. Scott’s guitar has such a damn beautiful tone.

Scott flops back against his bed while Stiles continues to play. He watches his fingers on the fret board, memorizing how they look, adjusting his grip to test out new ways to make changing chords feel more fluid.

“How does the action feel to you? I think it’s too high,” Scott mumbles.

Stiles hmmms thoughtfully through a few more chords. “A little,” Stiles agrees. Scott sighs. Stiles veers off from the memorized chord chart in his head and plucks out a familiar piece of music. Scott snorts and hums along.

“Wonderwall, really?” Scott teases, tapping Stiles’ hip with his foot.

Stiles stares at Scott over his shoulder as he stretches it out, distorts it, sings in a minor key against it until Scott shoves his head under his pillow. Stiles laughs and changes the melody, shifts his hands to a different key, plays a little softer.

“What’s that?” Scott asks, voice too clear to still be under a pillow.

“Nothing,” Stiles says.

“I like it.”

Stiles watches his fingers and listens, lets the vibration in the body of the guitar and the air around him find its own meaning, lets himself feel blessedly other. Stiles smiles softly at how much this reminds him of choir warm-ups, the feeling of harmony that resonates in his whole body when everyone is hitting their notes just right. The fact that one instrument can make that sensation will never cease to amaze him.

With a contented sigh, Stiles leans Scott’s guitar against the bed and flops back next to him.

“When’s your next choir thing?” Scott asks, as if he’d been sitting in Stiles’ head.

“End of the semester.”

“Cool.”

“You guys don’t have to go.”

Scott shrugs an over-exaggerated shrug. “They’re cool.”

Stiles scoffs. “No they aren’t.”

“I mean, it’s cool that you’re good at it. It’s like, weird. Like, I know the things you’re good at and I know the things you don’t care about but could be good at, but you being good at singing and actually caring about it is cool to me.”

Stiles let’s his silence answer for him.

Music is a secondary skill, Stiles thinks. Lydia is a great drummer, sure, but she’s the undisputed top of their class if not the whole school. She’s been preparing for the ivy leagues since she was born. She was going to become a rocket scientist or something and she’ll forget about drums. And Scott is a natural beast on guitar, but someday he’ll be the head of Doctors without Borders or something equally incredible. He’ll cure a disease, maybe. And he’ll do it all with a smile a mile wide. And what will Stiles be? What can he possibly accomplish?

Stiles turns his head away from Scott to hide whatever look on his face he might have. Fear. Disappointment. Something.

All Stiles can do is sing okay. Play guitar okay. Maybe he should try harder at something. School, probably. He should probably try in school. He knows he’s capable, he just doesn’t give a damn.

Scott nudges him. “What’s up?” he asks, voice soft. Like he’s in Stiles’ head. Again.

“Nothing,” Stiles says, not sounding very convincing.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“You’ve seemed off your game lately,” Scott says in his let’s have a serious conversation voice. The deeper, quieter one that draws a person in like a lullaby.

Stiles looks back at him, no more immune to it than anyone else. He tries to look neutral or confused at Scott’s observation, but fails. “I’m fine,” he says.

Scott narrows his eyes at him.

If Stiles was a braver guy, he’d tell him. He’d say, “Hey, best friend, you and Lydia are amazing humans with bright futures and I’m pretty sure I’ll be bumming on your couch or being a burden on my father until he convinces me to apply for the force. And I feel really awful about Danny because I basically chose a crush over him. Oh, and I have a crush on Derek that’s eating me alive.”

But he doesn’t say any of that. He shrugs. “I’m just going through some stuff,” is what he does manage to say. Which is just brave enough to be deserving of Scott’s concern, but just vague enough to feel bad.

Scott frowns a sympathetic frown at him. “Well…” he says. And then he brightens. “Your birthday is coming up. What do you want to do?”

Stiles smiles. “We’re watching Star Wars.”

Scott scowls.

**

March 26, 2010
Friday

“The second they’re out of detention, we’re going,” Lydia tells Derek. She squirms around in the passenger seat, sliding across the leather. “Your car is outrageous, Derek. Who gives a kid a Camaro? The insurance premiums must be ridiculous. This is basically asking for reckless driving.”

“I’m not reckless,” Derek says in a monotone, otherwise ignoring her criticism and checks the time.

She concedes to that point and continues her exploration of the contents of his glove compartment. He watches her pull out the car’s manual, his registration information, a jumble of old auxiliary cords and car chargers, an empty bag of cough drops, and an open box of condoms. He blushes instantly.

“Oh hooo,” she says, shaking the box at him. “And that’s why he has a Camaro,” she says smugly, carefully arranging everything and closing the compartment.

“I… had a girlfriend, and…” he stutters, still blushing.

“Is there even room for that in this car?” she asks, looking into the backseat to judge it.

“I mean… yeah. Didn’t you just hook up with drummer guy in a car?”

“His car was not a slinky little two door Camaro. So Ashley Hartman, huh?” she asks, crossing her arms over her chest and looking at him smugly. “Anyone else?”

Derek is still blushing, why the fuck is he still blushing?

“Didn’t have a car until Ashley Hartman, so no.”

“I didn’t mean the car thing, just in general.”

Ah, Derek sees where this is going. He feels a rush of relief, represented by a quick laugh. “I can’t believe you still remember that…”

Lydia grins. “So was it true or not? I could never tell.”

Up until Ashley, none of his friends would believe that he wasn’t a virgin. No matter what he said or did. And it was all because of the girl in question. Jenny Douglas.

“It was true, I swear on my life,” Derek defends.

A party after a football game freshman year, Jenny Douglas the captain of Girls’ Volleyball, one of Laura’s best friends. Blonde, tan, perfect Jenny Douglas.

“Damn, she was too hot for you,” Lydia says, echoing the sentiments of all the lacrosse guys he’d told. She laughs, though. She starts messing with the radio, giving up after a few rounds of his presets. She hits the button for the CD player and music starts playing.

“Bleeech, Funeral for a Friend. Did Stiles give you this?” she asks, hitting the next button. “Matchbook Romance? Stiles definitely gave you this.”

“I don’t know who—“ he starts but stops abruptly when Lydia keeps skipping through the familiar songs and suddenly… it makes all the sense in the world. He remembers thinking the chemistry notes and the mix CD came from the same person, remembered finding out that wasn’t true, and then he stopped wondering. He allowed the magic of the CD exist unquestioned.

“To be fair, this is a solid mix. Stiles is a pro at these,” Lydia says, settling on a few songs long enough to appreciate them. She stops on the first song of the CD and lets it play out.

Finally, mere seconds after 4pm, Stiles and Scott burst through the front doors of the school and jog down the stairs.

“He made us do that old school Bart Simpson shit,” Scott pants as Lydia and Derek get out of the car to let them into the back seat. “We had to write “We are a poor knock-off of a rebellious teen cliché” on the white board until time was up.”

Lydia bursts into laughter. Derek bites his own smile down and gets back in the car.

“My hand is going to fall off,” Stiles moans, cradling it to his chest.

“Seatbelts,” Derek commands.

“That’s honestly what you get. Spitballs really are quite passé,” Lydia says.

The drive to the Hale house is spent coaching the three of them on things not to mention to his mother, just in case. No indications of weed or underage drinking. No talk of parties, she knows they happen but let them remain a mystery. Don’t talk about detentions. Don’t talk about prank wars. Don’t cuss, not even once. Don’t insult the San Francisco Giants. Don’t speak ill against Obama. Avoid politics entirely unless they want to be totally schooled by Laura.

“We know how to deal with parents, we’re not street rats,” Stiles tells him once they pull up to the house.

“I know, I just… if you want the okay for the concert on a school night thing, we have to be smart about it,” Derek explains.

“Hm, I see your point.”

And that had been the catalyst for this dinner. Derek asked, “Hey mom, we want to go to a concert for Stiles’ birthday but it’s on a Thursday night and it’s in San Francisco, can I go?” And the answer had been, “I still haven’t even met them, now have I?”

Which was a fair point.

**

Mrs. Hale is terrifying. Taller than Stiles expects moms to be, and with perfect posture to make her seem even taller. She has a beautiful, sculpted face much like Derek’s. She seems like a dignitary, like an honest to god Ambassador to another country or something.

But she has a warm smile and a gracious demeanor. Stiles is still scared.

Scott charms her instantly, Stiles can see that. He’s all wide grins and “dinner smells great!” and sweet as honey. Lydia has the careful etiquette and obvious intelligence that all mothers want to see in their kid’s friends, so obviously Mrs. Hale adores her.

Stiles though. Stiles can’t seem to make a real impression on her. Or to be able to read one, at least. She regards him with friendly distance, like a substitute teacher almost. Like she’s putting up with him until she never has to see him again. Or maybe he’s just paranoid.

Laura and Cora appear in the dining room after they’re already seated. Laura ruffles Stiles’ hair as she passes and Cora slides into the seat next to him, beaming at him. He feels himself relax a little. The sisters he can handle.

“Hey, sport,” Stiles says to Cora.

“What concert are you guys trying to go to?” she asks, no preamble. “Derek told me it was going to be a death metal show and I don’t believe him.”

“Weezer and Motion City Soundtrack,” Stiles answers.

“Two fairly harmless bands, mom,” Laura explains, pointing across the table.

She waves it off, bookmarking the subject for later. They spend dinner getting casually interviewed. They’re asked about their interests and extracurriculars and about their families. Turns out, she knows all of their parents in some fashion. Small town living and all. She’s most familiar with the Sheriff, turns out. Laura taunts her mom for being so transparent every now and then. Derek weathers it all with a stormy look about him, only interjecting to save them a couple of times.

After it’s all said and done, Stiles is pretty sure she thinks Stiles is a total loser. Lydia and Scott though, she loves.

“So about this concert,” Mrs. Hale says (“Stiles, you can call me Talia,” she had insisted. Stiles is too scared to fall into that potential trap. Mrs. Hale she shall remain…). “Sheriff Stilinski allows his kid to drive into the city on a school night for a concert without a chaperone?” she asks in a tone of voice Stiles only ever really hears from Melissa McCall.

“I mean, he considers Lydia to be a chaperone, to be honest,” Stiles jokes. The joke doesn’t land. Mrs. Hale regards him like a school principal, neutral but disapproving. Stiles clears his throat.

“Mom, he’s joking,” Derek says.

“And this is for your birthday?” she asks.

“Yes, ma’am,” he answers. He knows his cheeks are red and blotchy and he can’t help it. He feels a foot tall with her eyes on him.

She props her elbow on the table and rests her chin against her fist. “Turning 17?” Stiles nods. “Ever been arrested?”

“Not technically,” Stiles says and instantly regrets it. Her face shows nothing. “No, no, I mean, my dad has joked, like I’ve never… I mean to say, I’ve been in the back of a squad car… but because of… my dad. Not… and I mean he put Scott and I in a holding cell once but it was… mostly… a joke, I have never been arrested, no. Heh.” God fucking dammit.

Her mouth twitches into the slightest ghost of a smile.

“She’s joking, Stiles,” Derek translates, sounding tense.

“Sorry,” Stiles says, ducking his head.

She lets out a laugh.

“If you want us to have a chaperone, my older sister lives in the city. She’s in her twenties, she could come with us if that’d make you feel better,” Lydia offers, sounding perfectly responsible and trustworthy.

“As long as Derek doesn’t have any tests that Friday, I don’t see why an exception to curfew can’t be made,” she says. “It’s in your best interest to be on your best behavior or it won’t happen again, isn’t that right?” she asks, looking directly at her son.

Stiles finds the tone hard to read but Derek laughs when he rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, mom.”

“No chaperone needed, though it does make me feel better knowing there’s an adult you can call nearby,” she adds to Lydia, looking grateful.

Lydia beams at the maternal blessing.

“She hates me,” Stiles says when they get up to Derek’s room and out of parental hearing range.

“She doesn’t hate you,” Derek says. “You’d know if she hated you.”

“Well, I feel like I know she hates me.”

“She just doesn’t know what to think about you,” Laura says, surprising them. She’s leaning in the doorway when they turn. “She likes them though, that’s a good start.”

Stiles scowls at Lydia and Scott and turns a frown toward Derek.

“Did I fuck it up? I tried really hard not to fuck it up, but your mom is scary. I’m usually good with parents,” Stiles whines.

Derek laughs. “I don’t know, I think she can smell fear.”

“Oh definitely,” Laura says, inviting herself into the room. “She outwardly hates every guy I’ve ever dated, so I can tell that you’re not in the doghouse,” she says.

“That’s because you date losers,” Derek interjects.

Laura continues on, ignoring him. “You’ll win her over more if you actually call her Talia, you know.”

“I just… it feels wrong.”

“Your mom is incredible,” Lydia says, flopping onto Derek’s bed next to where he’s seated.

“She’s pretty bad ass,” Laura agrees.

“I can’t believe she said yes to the concert, I really thought she wasn’t going to.” Scott takes a couple spins in Derek’s desk chair to release some pent up energy. “She’s like a real, strict parent, it’s so wild. Like I felt like I was in a movie or something. Is your whole family sarcastic like that?”

“Pretty much,” Derek grumbles. “She’s not that strict.”

“She can be,” Laura says, thoughtfully. “She’s half cool mom, half strict mom.”

“And I’m pretty sure her number one trusted advisor here helped our case on the concert thing,” Derek says, pointing at Laura with his thumb.

Laura smirks. “We’ve been talking about it, yeah. I confessed that I used to sneak out to the city way more than she realized, so she seemed to respect that Derek at least asked her.”

**

April 1st, 2010
Thursday

Stiles is working at his desk with his headphones on, furiously typing away at an essay. Derek watches his back from his bed. He curls his fist into Stiles’ blankets and smoothes his thumb over the fabric and takes a deep breath.

Therapy had been good, but exhausting. He’d talked about his mom meeting his friends and how scared he’d been that she wouldn’t love them and how it’s weird that she’s so indifferent to Stiles. He’d thought she’d love him as quickly as he had, as quickly as his sisters had. It’s not that she doesn’t like him. Derek had asked her point-blank how she felt about him.

“I like him just fine,” she’d answered in a diplomatic voice. And that had been it.

And Stiles was so afraid of her he couldn’t tell if he liked her or not. Derek can hardly believe that Stiles ever feels real fear about things as mild as his mother.

Derek hears Stiles make a frustrated, totally un-self-conscious sound of irritation and rolls onto his stomach to prop his head up to watch. Stiles tugs his headphones off and spins around in his chair.

“What’s that word for like… it doesn’t seem like it goes, it’s out of place, like it sticks out… but a smart word… in…?”

“Incongruous?” Derek suggests.

“Yeah, that. Thanks.” He spins back around and continues typing. Derek knows Stiles has one of the highest grades in English, but it always surprises him to see him care.

Stiles always surprises him.

Like when they sat down to discuss his birthday week, Derek was expecting nothing short of an all out bacchanalia. Releasing wild animals into Harris’ classroom, setting his car on fire, the concert, a blow out party and who knows what else. But he was wrong.

Stiles and his father go on a weekend camping trip for his birthday, cutting his week down to Saturday through Thursday, rather than the standard Saturday through next Sunday. They’ll spend the weekend watching Star Wars and whatever else. They’ll get him his favorite foods. They’ll go to the concert on Thursday. And that’s it. He’ll be totally unplugged and unreachable for the final three days of his week. Nothing crazy at all.

“He likes other people’s birthdays more than his own,” Lydia had explained. When Derek asked why, she shrugged and said, “Always has, even when we were little.”

Stiles prints out his paper and shuts his laptop with a triumphant smack. “Nailed it!” he announces as he rises. He falls onto the bed next to Derek, face planting in his pillow.

Derek’s face is level with his feet so he sits up and falls back so they’re eye to eye.

“Where do you and your dad go camping?” he asks.

“Big Sur,” Stiles says, grinning.

“Have you ever read Big Sur?”

“No, should I?”

“Have you read On the Road?” Derek had told him it was his favorite book months ago, he hopes that he has…

“I read it ages ago,” he says.

“And did you like it?”

“Yeah, it’s cool. I was thinking of a reread, considering it’s your favorite.”

Derek narrows his eyes at him, waiting for the insult to hit.

“Dude, you get a lot of quality intel on a person once you know their favorite book,” Stiles defends, smirking.

“Well, Big Sur is one of my favorites too, so get the intel from there. I’ll let you borrow it.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, smiling a slow, crooked smile. “Did you ever read Wind, Sand, and Stars?”

“It’s next on my list,” Derek says, though the truth is that he’s been slowly picking his way through it since Stiles gave it to him. It feels so overwhelmingly like Stiles sometimes that he has to stop.

“Yeah, it’s a marvel you’ve been actually doing the English reading as it is,” Stiles teases, landing a solid poke to Derek’s ribs.

Derek laughs and squirms away. He almost confesses to being a quarter of the way through the book, actually. And then in the conversation that unspools from there in his head, a different version of himself says he knows it was Stiles who gave him the mix CD and the different version of Stiles smiles at him, honey brown eyes sparkling, and asks how much Derek can tell from a person’s favorite bands.

“True or False,” Derek says instead.

“Okay.”

“You don’t like your birthday.”

“Hmmm, false,” Stiles says, smile fading a little into something more thoughtful.

“I thought your week would be the most over the top,” Derek confesses.

“I just like enjoying my friends and family without distraction, I don’t like it feeling like an event that requires real energy. The week lets me soak it up more, you know? True or False, you’re going to want a chiller birthday week too.”

Derek smiles. “True, I guess. You guys really don’t have to do anything.”

“We’re going to. I find no greater joy than doting on my loved ones, you will not take this from me,” Stiles says sternly.

“Okay. True or False.” Derek considers what to say to completely change the topic. “That Fight Club poster is totally jerk off material,” he says, gesturing to the half naked Brad Pitt on his wall.

Stiles yelps, sitting up to look. “That is so not fair!” he exclaims, falling back and laughing. “No!”

**

April 8th, 2010
Thursday

Derek has his arms around Stiles’ waist and he can barely focus on the opening band playing in front of them. Holy shit. They’re so close to the stage, Stiles can see sweat droplets on the drummer’s forehead. Lydia is pressed to the barricade, Scott directly behind her to protect her from being crushed in the thronging crowd. Derek had made the mistake of lifting his arms to squeeze through a spot and found that he had nowhere to put them once the humans around them slithered into the empty space made.

“I’m stuck,” Derek had laughed directly into Stiles’ ear, arms uselessly lifted. He tried to lower on arm and found his hand tangled in some girl’s hair. He scowled and lifted his arm again.

“Here,” Stiles had said, squeezing into the space in front of him. Derek lowered his hands to his shoulders and laughed. Stiles had led him closer to Scott and Lydia and stood his ground against the swaying crowd.

And now… now his hands have fallen from Stiles’ shoulders. And worked their way around Stiles. And now this is Stiles’ station in life, an unfair birthday present from the Fates. His arms are around his waist. His thick, strong arms. Stiles’ shirt is damp against him, they are sharing sweat, his ass is pressed against his crotch with every surge of the crowd. This is hell.

“Sorry,” Derek yells into his ear over the music. “Is this weird?”

Stiles just points to Lydia and Scott who are in a similarly awkward position, neither of them caring at all. Stiles leans his head back to speak closer to Derek’s ear. “It’s the nature of the pit,” he says.

Derek laughs, a sound that Stiles feels against his back more than he hears. He leans back against him, his own hands settling over Derek’s arms. He’s playing it off as a joke as best as he can but the reality of it is he’s trying so hard not to pretend this is real.

Stiles has to tilt his head back to catch some fresh air every once in awhile, the back of his head sliding against the side of Derek’s head as he does so. Derek turns toward him once, coincidentally, his nose pressing into Stiles’ cheek. It’s a damn good thing that if Derek could feel Stiles’ heartbeat through Stiles’ back, it’d be lost in the bass and the reverb.

After the concert is over, when Stiles feels the height of concert euphoria take its first little dip, he turns around to face Derek, his arms finally dropping away from him as the crowd shuffles away from the stage toward the exits. He still feels music like a ghost pumping in his ears, can still feel the bass in his stomach. His throat is raw with singing and cheering and he feels entirely wet with sweat.

Derek is grinning too, a light in his eyes. “That was amazing.”

Stiles nods enthusiastically. “Best feeling in the world, right?” he asks. Derek nods eagerly. He feels a small hand fall on his shoulder and turns to see that Lydia and Scott have fought their way back to them.

“I’m never sleeping again, I’m so fucking wired,” Lydia announces back in the car. She reaches over to turn the air conditioning up and drums on the steering wheel. “I’m not going to school tomorrow, I don’t know about you assholes.”

Stiles is already excused from classes, he’ll be with his dad on the way to Big Sur in about 12 hours.

“Yeah, fuck it,” Scott says. “Derek, will your mom kick your ass if you skip?”

“She doesn’t have to find out,” Derek says, sounding emboldened.

Stiles remembers how strong Derek’s arms were around him and softly hits the back of his head against the headrest.

“Okay, here’s the plan,” Lydia says. “We’re stopping to get like… Gatorade. I need so much Gatorade right now. And then we’re going to Scott’s and we’re sitting on the roof, got it?”

Everyone agrees.

**

They make the drive home in about two hours, their energy staying high thanks to blasted music and enthusiastic singing along. They quiet down as they pull into Scott’s neighborhood and carry the gas station bag full of drinks and snacks up through Scott’s bedroom window and out onto the roof.

Everyone recounts their favorite moments from the show, their favorite songs played. Derek thinks his favorite part was just… all of it. The energy, the vibe, the technical elements coming together, everything. He’s been to concerts before, but they’ve felt different than that. He liked the pit and the sweat and the people pressing around them. He liked seeing the moving parts of a band up close.

He listens to Stiles, who is sprawled out next to him, gush about how cool it would be to be a roadie, to go on tour at all.

“I want to be a guitar tech,” he declares. “Literally, how amazing would that shit be?”

“It would be cool,” Scott agrees.

“New city every night,” Lydia says dreamily. “When the fuck are we starting this band? C’mon, let’s be rockstars.”

“What about MIT, huh?” Stiles taunts. “The real dream.”

“MIT can wait, I want a summer on the road under my belt at least.”

“We’re waiting on this guy, aren’t we?” Scott asks, tossing a chip at Derek. Derek bats it out of the air and sends it sailing over the dark yard.

“It’s a go,” he says. He hadn’t told them yet, he’d been too shy. His mom had promised to go shopping around this weekend.

The others keep their celebration as quiet as possible, trying not to wake the neighbors, but they do celebrate. Derek blushes under cover of night and shakes his head, smiling, at all of them. They settle back down and Scott and Lydia start talking a mile a minute about the possible future of their band.

Stiles just looks up at him, expression impossible to make out in the low light.

“What?” Derek asks him softly.

He shakes his head. “Nothing,” he says, sounding sleepy and content. He holds his hand up and out toward Derek, initiating a handshake. Derek puts his hand in his. “I look forward to doing business with you, good man,” Stiles says in a business-like voice.

“Shut up,” Derek laughs.

Derek’s hand lingers when Stiles releases him. Stiles lingers back, callused fingers ghosting over the tips of Derek’s smooth ones. Derek thinks distantly that his finger prints will feel the same soon, thinks distantly about getting pressed against Stiles’ back by the crowd a few short hours ago.

Chapter Text

April 9th, 2010
Friday

It’s a four hour drive to Big Sur, but the drive is part of the appeal. The Sheriff’s SUV is stuff full, the windows are rolled down, Bob Dylan pours out of the speakers while both of them do their best impersonations while singing along. Stiles is detailing the weekend’s weather report to his father with increasing excitement.

“It’s going to be like 50 at night and 70 during the day, sunny all weekend, perfect camping weather.”

“It could do to be a little warmer at night,” his dad says.

“Nah, this is prime campfire weather. Cold and damp.”

His dad scoffs and shakes his head. “When you’re as old as I am—“

“In 80 years?”

“In exactly 80 years, yes. Punk ass.”

Stiles grins as he sinks down into the seat, propping his feet up on the dash. He dares his father to scold him about it with a smug look. He just shakes his head.

“How was that concert, huh?” his dad asks an hour into the drive.

“Oh, it was awesome,” Stiles gushes. He prattles on about it for a few minutes, telling him about how Scott spilled a soda in the back of Lydia’s car on the drive down and how close they got to the stage and everything.

“What time did you get back?” he asks afterward.

“Uhhhh, later than intended,” Stiles confesses. “We went and sat on Scott’s roof after.”

“Did you make Derek break curfew?” he teases.

“What?” Stiles asks, sliding his feet off the dash to sit up.

“I ran into Talia Hale yesterday,” he says by way of answering. Stiles stares at the side of his head until he continues. “What?” the Sheriff asks, looking over at him. “We talked about the concert, she said she assumed Derek would break curfew but would cut him some slack. She seems taken with you kids.”

“Huh?”

“Huh what? Here’s a parenting secret: we know you’re rule breaking little punks, sometimes it’s healthy to let you guys get away with it.”

“Not that, but noted,” Stiles says slyly. “I meant the taken with us thing. Lydia and Scott, sure, but I’m pretty sure that woman hates me.”

The Sheriff shakes his head. “She said you were a nice kid. She said you told her you’d been arrested over dinner and then got all flustered. And I said, my kid? Flustered? Stiles? Impossible. Note I didn’t deny the arrested part.”

Stiles scowls. “She thinks I’m a nice kid?” he asks, ignoring the taunt.

“Do you think she’d have let Derek run off on a school night with you if she didn’t?”

“I guess not.”

“Is there a reason she shouldn’t think you’re a nice kid?”

“I don’t know! She just seemed to not like me, that’s it.”

“Not everyone is going to fawn all over you, you’re not that charming,” his father teases. “It’s a tough world, son, I know.”

“I’m super charming.”

“Uh huh.”

“What do you think of Derek?” Stiles finds himself asking. He knows exactly how his dad feels about the others, their presence in the Stilinski men’s life has been a constant for so long that there’s no ambiguity there at all. But Derek. Stiles has never thought to even wonder what his dad thinks.

“I think he’s great,” he answers simply. “Good kid. Smart, polite, a little quiet though. You know, Talia asked me how he seems to be doing…”

“What’d you say?”

“I said he seems to be coming to terms with things, but I don’t know.”

There’s an unspoken question there. So Stiles answers it. “He is,” he says, softly. “He’s better than he was.”

“Hm.”

They’re quiet for a minute, Stiles looking out the window as Napa sprawls out around them. He thinks about the Derek they know now and tries to remember how Derek had been at first. From scowling and folding in on himself at the lunch table to wrapping his arms around Stiles and laughing in his ear at a concert. Stiles bites the inside of his cheek to fight down the smile that comes with the swell of pride he feels.

“That’s why she thinks you’re a nice kid no matter what impression you got from her, by the way,” his father says thoughtfully.

“What? Because Derek’s doing better?”

“If I had to guess, yeah.”

“I mean, that’s not my doing, that’s his.”

The Sheriff shrugs. “Yeah, but friendship is a powerful thing. When you see someone doing a lot of good for your kid, you can’t help but love them.”

Stiles thinks first of Scott, and then of bruised knuckles and being held and a funeral and having someone always within arm’s reach. He thinks of Lydia and a funeral. He thinks of a funeral. He looks at his hands in his lap and runs his thumb over his rough fingers.

“And anyhow,” his father says softly after a couple minutes. “You’re not as much of a devil as you’d like to think.”

“I take offense to that,” Stiles protests.

**

Derek wakes up around noon, feeling groggy with too much sleep. He can hear music blaring from Laura’s room. Which means she knows he’s ditching school and she’s allowed it.

He forces himself to sit up and forces himself to stand and drags himself toward the sound.

“He rises,” Laura says, looking up from her sketchbook where she sits in the middle of the floor.

“Is this what you do all day?” he asks, not meaning for it to sound rude. (And surprising himself that he doesn’t mean for it to sound rude…)

“What’s it to you?” she asks, smirking.

He shrugs. “Curious.”

“How was the show?”

“It was good.” Understatement.

“Good.” She looks back at her sketchbook and taps her lip with her pen. “Want to see something?” she asks, faux casual, eyes not meeting Derek’s.

“Sure.”

She hoists herself to her feet and goes to the canvas that’s been leaning against her wall for months. She fists her hand in the sheet covering it and hesitates, just long enough for Derek to detect her shyness.

“Don’t… like… it’s not done,” she says, looking at him over her shoulder.

She pulls the sheet away and Derek’s gaze lands directly on a set of eyes straight out of every desperate dream he’s had this whole year. His mouth drops open. He forces himself to look elsewhere on the painting. Cheekbones, eyebrows, jaw, an easy smile…

Derek is speechless. He looks at his father for the first time in what now feels like centuries and everything in him aches. He tears his eyes away to look at Laura, whose face so clearly mimics her subject. She’s waiting for a response. Derek steps closer, eyes sliding back.

The closer he stands, the more he sees. The layers of paint are so thick in some places that Laura must have painted over them a thousand times. The thick, solid lines that makes up the cheek bones, shaped as though sometimes the apples of his cheeks were risen in a grin or like they were sunken in a frown. The ridge that makes up his brows, sometimes furrowed or sometimes raised. The lips sometimes stretched thin or screwed up. Derek has no idea what former versions Laura has hidden under the top-most painting, but Derek can imagine them perfectly.

“Laura,” Derek says, voice caught in his throat.

“It’s not done,” she reminds him. Derek can’t see how that can be true. “I can’t get the eyes right.”

“Laura, it’s perfect.”

“It doesn’t feel like him yet,” she insists.

She’s wrong. Derek sees every possibly facial expression, a direct line from his memory to the canvas. A perfect projection. Derek can almost tell which picture she used to start this – the portrait hanging in the law firm next to their grandfather’s and their uncle’s. The one where he’s supposed to look austere and legal, but he’s got a tight lipped attempt not to smile distorting his face into something impossibly friendly. Their mom had always joked that that picture was the truest representation of him. But now there was this.

Because over that impossibly friendly face, Laura had at some point attempted a stern lawyer. A loving husband. A proud father. A man who laughed with his eyes. A man who could rule his kids with one dangerous look. And she settled on this, over all of that. A man who smiled easily, whose eyes were lit from within. This was a painting of a dad who combed newspapers for typos while his wife sorted out his hair into something presentable.

Laura has silent tears streaming down her face the next time Derek tears his eyes away.

“Hey,” he says, moving toward her. “It’s perfect.” And it hurts. And it feels like a deep breath after being submerged underwater.

“I can’t get the eyes right,” she says again. She sniffs and rubs at her cheeks, gathering herself. “The color… I got the hair right, the highlights, see…” She points them out. Derek feels her snapping into a different mode of being. “I got those from staring at myself in a mirror under different lights, right? And his skin tone too, not hard. But the eyes, I don’t have his eyes, so…”

But Derek does. “Yeah,” Derek says, answering her unasked question. “Whatever you want.”

“Thanks… Sit here,” she says, dragging her desk chair forward.

It’s awkward sitting there with a desk lamp pointed directly at his face while she scrutinizes him and mixes paint and squints at him and mixes more paint. Derek watches her work, impressed by how delicate the effort is. Derek can’t see any differences at first. By the time Laura gives Derek one last too-close squint and looks back at the painting with a small nod, he sees what she meant.

“Is it done now?” Derek asks her.

“I guess… I want to give it to mom, but I don’t know…”

“Do it,” he urges.

Laura takes a deep breath and sighs, staring up at her own work with an air of only partial approval.

“Hey,” he says, getting up from the chair and stretching. She looks at him. “You’re pretty good at this art stuff.”

She smiles and rolls her eyes. “Thanks.”

**

April 11th, 2010
Sunday

Stiles is campfire-scented, dirt-encrusted, and truly exhausted on the drive back at the end of the weekend. When he closes his eyes, he sees dappled sun through leaves and crushing blue waves against rocks and he can so easily recall the sound of birds and water and wind and his father’s voice and he can still feel the whisper of cold, coastal breeze on his skin and… He takes a deep breath in through the nose (the car smells like them, that is to say like wood smoke and pine and seawater) and exhales slowly, sinking further into the seat.

“Hey, no sleeping,” his father scolds.

“C’mon, pops,” Stiles mutters.

“Nah. One hour left, co-pilot. Never leave a man behind.”

Stiles groans and wiggles back to a more upright position.

“Did you finish that book you were reading?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“Was it for school?”

Stiles is too tired to be offended. “Nah.”

“I caught you writing down quotes, that good, huh?”

Stiles blushes a little. “Yeah.”

Stiles hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Derek the entire time. He thought about him with every single word that he read, from the way nature and emotion were spun together into prose to the main character’s struggle… He wanted to curl up with Derek and ask him questions about it. He wants to know when he read it and why it was his favorite and his favorite quotes and what it all meant to him. He wants to read more of what Derek loves, he wants to get into the heart of him and puzzle him out. He spent his whole life not knowing Derek, and then assuming Derek was one thing, and then learning that Derek was absolutely not that one thing, and all year he’s been learning that Derek is… complex. That he’s quiet and angry and smart and sad and kind and poetic and caring and…

“Earth to Stiles?”

“Hm?”

“I asked you what book it was…”

“Big Sur, actually,” Stiles answers.

“Kerouac?” Stiles nods. “It’s my fatherly duty to tell you that alcoholism isn’t glamorous and the Beats were assholes.”

Stiles laughs. “I know.”

“Don’t get any ideas.”

“We had this talk after On the Road,” Stiles reminds him.

“That’s right, don’t you forget it.”

Stiles shoves the book from his mind, focuses on the actual place again. He liked spending time with his dad. He liked seeing him miles and miles away from the uniform and the gun and the radio and the cruiser. It helped him feel like his dad was just his and not a person who belonged to the whole county in some fashion. Stiles sometimes forgets that he misses him when he doesn’t see him much during the week.

“Favorite moment of the weekend, go,” Stiles prompts, speaking just to cover the growing disappointment he feels with every second they get closer to home.

“Watching you fall in the river.”

“Not fair.”

“Okay then, when the old ladies at the tackle shop were flirting at you.”

“Listen,” Stiles argues, fighting down a laugh. “Your son, that is, myself… is a handsome young man.”

His father scoffs. “Look at his pretty eyelashes, Dorothy,” he quotes in a wavering, old voice.

“My eyelashes are pretty,” Stiles asserts.

“You were bluuuuushing.”

“I don’t blush.”

“You sure do, especially when old ladies cackle about wanting to pinch your rear end—“

“Okay, this is stricken from the record.” Stiles is blushing all over again. “I’m a minor, you’re an arm of the law, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

Once his dad is done laughing, he clears his throat. “Eh, my favorite part is just spending time with my kid,” he says, tone more serious. “Yours?”

Talking by the campfire, his dad listening without interrupting while Stiles told him he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, feeling for the first time like it was okay not to know, singing along to the radio, falling into the river and getting pulled out of it by his laughing father… “When that fish slapped you riiight in the face and you dropped it,” Stiles settles on. “I learned a whole new way to cuss, I can’t wait to practice it.”

“Figures.”

**

April 12th, 2010
Monday

“True or False,” Stiles posits, swatting a tree branch with spring-soft leaves out of his face. He feels wild today, like his weekend in the woods awakened the inner Lost Boy. His eyes reflect the sky, not in color but in brightness. “You want to be Jack Kerouac.”

Derek is offended. “False!”

“Then what’s the fascination with him?” he asks, stopping to let Derek catch up to him.

Derek supposes that’s a fair question. “I think… the writing is cool. Like…” He trails off, feeling embarrassed for no real reason. “It’s just… it’s like not like anything else that came before it, really. And people don’t write like that now either, so it’s just a sorta blip in history. Experimental and weird and kinda hard to really follow sometimes but… I don’t know, I think even though it’s not that good, technically speaking, it feels truer than a lot of other things I’ve read. And that’s his whole thing, kinda…”

Stiles is looking at him with an expression that’s hard to read. And then he’s walking again. “I see what you mean,” Stiles says over his shoulder, dismissive.

“So did you like it or not?” Derek asks. He’d given it to him the morning he left, and Stiles had handed it back to him in Chemistry.

Stiles hesitates. “I loved it, actually,” he says.

Derek can’t help the smug pride that washes over him. He stops walking, arms crossed over his chest smugly. “What about it?” he presses.

Stiles turns around, already smirking. “You’ve made your point, you have good taste, we get it. C’mon, asshole.” He takes a couple more steps, Derek stays put. Stiles grabs his hand and tugs, dragging Derek along. “Okay fine, but we gotta keep walking, man. We’re almost there.”

“Your hands are cold,” Derek comments, twisting their fingers together. Stiles is unrelenting in his path, Derek follows his foot falls exactly to keep from tripping.

Stiles ignores him and launches into a full review. He uses his free arm to gesture wildly, glancing over his shoulder at Derek every now and then. They reach the clearing right as Stiles is winding down.

“I don’t know, I guess I just… it’s the emo fuck within, I guess, but I like that melancholy shit. I like that he was at his lowest point and how going out and living basically alone in the woods forced him to think beautiful thoughts but didn’t actually heal him. Maybe that’s it. And the running away from your problems thing is so… romantic, sorta? Not like… love romantic but like… life romantic, whatever.”

Stiles drops his hand and sits heavily on the tree stump. He looks up at Derek, his face settled into something unguarded and thoughtful. Derek can’t help the soft smile he gives him. Stiles averts his eyes and smiles in a way Derek would label as shy if he thought Stiles could ever be shy.

“And I could feel you through this whole book, you know? I felt really close to you.” The tone is hard to decipher. Derek feels heat spread out from his chest to his cheeks in response before he can decide what it means, though.

“Yeah?” he asks, soft. “So I guess your favorite book theory thing isn’t far off.”

“Oh, it’s tried and true, my friend,” Stiles says.

“So what do you know about me now that you didn’t before?”

“That you’re a romantic,” he says simply. “You’re not afraid of being broken, you probably think you could fix yourself by running away to the woods if you had to, but you’re wrong… and you know that. But you’re an optimist, hidden in a pessimist. You know there’s always going to be something good out there, even if it’s just like… the beach or a good sandwich or something.” He crooks a smile that makes Derek mirror it. He shrugs. “True or False?”

Derek thinks about it, shrugs. “I guess… you’re not wrong.”

“But not right?”

Derek shrugs again. “Mostly right, I guess. A fair assessment.”

“Fair, but not true?”

Derek sits and pulls Stiles’ backpack from his lap. He opens the front zipper, takes out the Altoids tin, opens that. Stiles leans closer to reach for the joint first, having caught Derek’s hint.

“So why isn’t it true?”

“Because I don’t know about some of that yet. I don’t feel like an optimist.”

Stiles hmms. “Were you an optimist before?”

Before his father died. Derek can’t help but press his shoulder against Stiles’. A thank you for knowing him. A thank you for not treating him like glass. A thank you for the dedication, or something.

“I don’t think I had ever been tested enough to find out.”

Stiles nods in understanding. “I guess we’ll see, then.”

“Yeah, guess so.”

**

April 30th, 2010
Friday

Well, Stiles is fucked. Totally fucked.

He has Heather Stevens pressed against him, and she’s no Derek. Derek whose sweaty chest was pressed against his sweaty back for an entire concert… But she’s so cute. So, so cute. Long blonde hair, blue eyes, sweet face.

Danny shoots him the meanest look Stiles has ever seen on his face when Stiles catches his eye over her head without meaning to. He’s not doing it to make him jealous, he swears. He needs to stop thinking about Derek’s sea-glass eyes boring into him, his arms around him, his favorite books, him. Him. Everything about him. Heather’s lips find his and his eyes fall shut as he kisses her back. He needs her. He absolutely needs her.

He needs to go back in time so he can lie to Danny. He hates being hated by him. He hates that people whisper about them in the halls, simultaneously painting Stiles as a monster (though that part might be true) and a stud. It’s not fair, it shouldn’t work this way. Stiles should either be vilified or not, not both.

When she pulls away from the kiss, it’s to whisper something suggestive in his ear. Stiles shivers in response. His eyes slide open and he catches Danny smiling and laughing with some guy. A guy who will probably give Danny what he wants. And that’s fine, this isn’t about him.

“Ooooh, get it!” Scott cheers as the girl leads past his friends, all three of them smirking at him as he heads toward the stairs.

Stiles looks at Derek even though he shouldn’t. He’s smirking just like the rest of them. Because why wouldn’t he. Stiles closes the distance between him and Heather and slides his other arm around her waist, whispering something suggestive against the side of her head. She giggles and squirms and Stiles thinks only of her. Only of her body under him and her mouth on him and his mouth on her and that helps clear things up.

He and Danny are done. Him and Derek will never happen. Stiles isn’t built for relationships, he’s built for stupid crushes on straight guys and for hook-ups. He’s a better object of crushes than he is a crusher. He always bets on the wrong horse, but he’ll soak up the attention like a damn solar panel and let it fuel him until he feels better.

Love me, adore me, Stiles practically begs as he kisses his way down Heather’s body in the guest room.

She puts her hand on Stiles’ head, her fingers gripping his hair, and breathes out a soft, “Stop.”

Stiles stops. He looks up at her. She’s flushed and panting and so pretty, but he sees something in her eyes.

“I’ve never…” she says, averting her eyes.

“That’s okay,” Stiles says.

“I know, I mean… I don’t… want to… do all that.” She looks so embarrassed.

Stiles moves to lean against the headboard next to her. She has nothing to be embarrassed about. His body is still reeling with arousal but now he’s making the slow descent back to earth, a place where he suddenly feels his age. Young. Fallible. Awkward.

“It’s okay,” he says again, smiling at her.

“I thought I wanted to but…”

“It’s okay,” he says again.

“You probably think I’m so lame,” she says, laughing nervously, covering her face with her hands.

“Not even a little.”

“You’re Stiles Stilinski…” she says, skeptical. And in his own name, as spoken by a near stranger, he hears his name defined as one thing. As a guy who would think a girl was lame for saying no to sex. As a guy who would be an asshole about that. As a guy who fucks around and breaks hearts and drinks too much and smokes too much and doesn’t care about a damn thing. He thinks of himself as the others see him. He wonders how true some of their impressions are. He wonders what definition he’d rather his name invoke when spoken by strangers…

“And you’re Heather Stevens.” Which is to say, sometimes reputations aren’t exactly earned. Because Stiles had heard that Heather lost it at Bible camp years ago. Stiles had heard that she’d slept with a teacher. He’d heard plenty of things about her and he’d never known which were true. And now he knows. None of them were true at all.

She laughs, nodding. “Touché.”

“What do you want them to think?” Stiles asks, meaning the people who saw them leaving together.

She shrugs. “They’re going to think whatever they want.”

“That’s defeatist. The general public of Beacon Hills High is very easily swayed. What’s our story?”

“I don’t mind them thinking we… you know. It’s better than pretty much everything they already think.”

“Well then, how about I take your virginity?”

She stares at him like he’s stupid until she gets it. And then she smiles. “But what’s the aftermath, huh? We’re not going to date, so what will they think?”

“Say you don’t like me like that, say I asked you out and you said no.”

“And how do you feel about that?”

Stiles pictures himself in school on Monday, figures it’ll be the same as it has been lately. Surrounded by his friends, not having much to say, feeling like a hypothermic Bruce Banner has a first closed around his chest, trying to keep his eyes off Derek. What a good cover.

“Totally bummed,” Stiles says, but with a confidence inspiring smile.

“Does this not still make me sound like a slut?”

“I think you turning me down will ease that up a little,” he theorizes. “And I’m not above fighting for your honor with a broken heart.”

She laughs and rolls her eyes. “Okay.”

They stay lounging next to each other, talking about nothing important. They hardly know each other at all. But she’s smarter than he had assumed, nicer than rumored. Maybe she feels the same way about Stiles. He hopes so.

**

May 15th, 2010
Saturday

“For fuck’s sake,” Scott mutters, drawing Lydia’s and Derek’s attentions forward.
Derek watches Stiles kiss the fifth person he’s seen him kiss since the Danny thing and wonders why it’s so weird. He’s shorter than him so his head is tilted down to meet him. His arms are wrapped around Stiles’ neck, Stiles’ hands are on his hips for a second before they smooth across his back and drag him closer.

“Isn’t that…?” Lydia asks, trailing off as she tries to place it.

“A freshman?” Scott supplies, sounding disapproving.

“Yeah, that, but isn’t that Delgado’s son?”

“Oh, shit,” Scott says, breaking away from them to go break it up.

Derek watches Scott intervene, still speechless. Lydia presses against his side, shivering in the cold, so Derek puts his arm around her shoulders and drags her closer.

“He’s a fucking idiot, you know? He’s totally acting out, he’s literally just like… sowing his wild oats or whatever because that goddamn Danny fiasco. And honestly, all that’s done is help both of their reputations. Can you fucking believe that? Like, what is wrong… with men? Boys, honestly, not even men, that’s giving them too much credit. But Danny is the martyr, of course, as he should be. Everyone feels bad that big bad Stiles Stilinski broke his heart, but then Stiles now has this … socio-sexual capital and he totally knows it. Like he’s just climbed ranks. You know what would happen if Stiles was a girl? I’ll tell you what!”

Scott is still struggling to get Stiles to walk away from the kid without looking like an asshole. He has a friendly arm around Stiles’ shoulders, keeps pulling him away every time the guy steps closer. Stiles is shooting a death glare at the side of his face. The kid is clueless.

“A girl would be vilified. A girl would be called a slut for fucking a guy, smashing his heart into pieces, and having the nerve to look smug about it. And then if she were to… do this! Whatever this is! Oh my god, she would never be able to show her face again. That’s a double standard.”

“You are right,” Derek says. Lydia huffs and crosses her arms, huddling closer to Derek.

“It’s fucking bullshit.”

“Yes it is.”

“He’s my best friend, you know that, but he is…”

Approaching. Scott drags him by the sleeve and grins despite how furious Stiles looks.

“You’re a piece of shit,” Lydia tells him.

Stiles’ mouth drops open, ready to defend himself.

“He’s a kid.”

“We’re all kids!” Stiles argues, shaking Scott of his sleeve with one violent motion.

“He’s a teacher’s kid, so you bet your fucking ass if rumors started or whatever, you would be in deep shit,” Lydia says, pointing emphatically.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I wasn’t going to fuck him.”

“Good, because he’s 14 and you’re 17, that’s a huge fucking difference.”

Scott hooks his arm back around Stiles’ neck and drags his lean frame into a bent up shape, better to control the fire flickering in his eyes probably. “Let’s go not fight Lydia, eh? Let’s go uh… not fight over there,” Scott says. Derek watches Scott drag him off toward where one of the bands is unloading a drum kit from the back of a pick-up truck.

Lydia fumes, Derek tries to find something to talk about. “Kind of funny how every time I’ve been here there’s been a fight…” he goes with, unsuccessfully.

Lydia looks at him sharply. Derek looks back at her, challenging. She’s not mad at him, he just waits for her to realize that…

She deflates and sighs. “He’s got a self-destructive streak and I hate it,” she says.

“I know.”

“What a big fucking baby,” she curses, turning her back against them.

Derek sees Stiles and Scott talking to the band, gauges Stiles’ furious posture, and turns his back on them too. Solidarity. Or something.

“Alright, let’s go talk to Brandon’s band, I’ll introduce you,” she says, hooking her arm in his. “Drummer guy,” she clarifies, cutting off Derek’s usual impending “who?” before he can even think to use it.

**

May 18th, 2010
Tuesday

“Remember when I said I’d let you make up your grade?” Delaney asks, a mischievous smile emerging from under his mustache.

“Too late, you already gave me the A,” Derek quips back, smug. He’d forgotten all about the deal.

“You earned it. It’d have been robbery not to give it to you. And I knew you’d be good for it.”

Paige looks over the top of Derek’s most recent draft. Derek taps the end of his pencil against Paige’s, thoughtful.

“There’s an event every year in Beacon Heights, the local creative writing and poetry teachers each pick a handful of students and have then read their work. An artsy, pretentious coffee house sort of gathering. I’d like you two to read for it.” He gestures to Paige, who blushes and averts her eyes.

“Is this what you meant by the deal?” Derek asks, confused. That had been at the beginning of the year. He’d said if Derek did well on his final draft, he’d let him make up the missing work somehow…

He betrays nothing but a sparkly-eyed smile and a nod. “Paige, I’d love for you to read the summer camp piece, but pick whatever you’d like. Derek, I think this piece would be good.” He flicks the back of the bundle of papers in Paige’s hands. And then he goes to check in on the next group.

Paige raises her eyebrows at Derek and smiles. Derek blushes and looks back down at her draft with nothing to say for himself.

They work in silence until the bell rings and quietly pack up their backpacks. Paige waves to him as she stands to go, and Derek’s window of opportunity is closing…

“Oh, wait,” Derek says to keep her from going. She hoists her backpack over one shoulder and tilts her head at him. “Lydia told me to tell you… er, ask you… invite you?... To the end of year party. At her house. She said you could bring friends too, so if you’re not comfortable or whatever.”

“What?” she asks, tone flat.

“End of year party?” Derek summarizes lamely.

“At Lydia Martin’s house.”

“Yeah.”

“Isn’t she the devil?” she asks.

Derek never really talks about his friends with Paige. He doesn’t talk about much outside of writing or books or music with Paige, really. But he especially doesn’t mention his friends, past or present. Their own friendship is transient enough as it is. They’re just friendly classsmates, people who have bonded despite all social constructs or clichés. Whatever.

“She’s my best friend,” Derek answers in Lydia’s defense. The words flow so easily off his tongue that they almost catch him. He feels warm being able to say that with such confidence, to know it’s true. “Whatever you think she is, she’s not.”

“She’s inviting me to the end of year party… why me?”

“She knows we’re friends or whatever.”

“So you talk about me to them?” she asks, tone changing. Derek’s blush deepens.

“Yeah, sometimes…”

“Okay.”

“Okay what?”

“Okay, maybe I’ll show up to this party. When is it?”

“Friday of finals week.”

“And I won’t end up covered in pig’s blood for attending?”

“No.”

“Like this isn’t going to be some 90s teen rom-com character building moment for me, is it?”

Derek feels a smile pull at his lips. “No, it isn’t.”

“We’re in different social castes, you know that, right?”

They’ve never acknowledged this. Paige has alluded to it in subtle digs, at first aggressive and now teasing. It doesn’t sit well with Derek.

“That’s all made up bullshit, you know?” he argues. “That’s not what I’m like, that’s not what they’re like, that’s not what you are like.”

She mulls this over, eyes trained on him. He sees the moment she comes to some conclusion flash across her face, but has no idea what the conclusion is. “Okay.”

The classroom population has swapped classmates for lunchtime citizens. They still stand there, studying each other. Derek feels his phone vibrating in his pocket, one of the three probably trying to track him down. Paige looks away finally and clears her throat.

“Anyway, are you going to Stilinski’s choir thing?” she asks, making a move toward the door.

Derek follows. “Yeah.”

“Cool, because his choir thing is also my orchestra thing.”

Derek had thought of that. “I know.”

“You knew,” she repeats distantly. They’re walking in the hallway now. He’s somehow walking her to the orchestra room because he knows that’s where she spends her lunch periods. “Cool.”

“Yeah.”

“So you won’t be like… on your phone or sleeping or getting to the concert late, right? Like, you’ll be watching the orchestra performances? I have a pretty cool solo to sweeten the deal…”

“Yeah, I’ll be watching the orchestra performances,” he says. They stop walking in front of the orchestra room door. He smiles. She smiles.

“Cool.”

Derek’s phone buzzes again. The orchestra door opens as someone leaves, someone else calls Paige’s name, voice frantic and laughing. Other voices join in, also calling her name.

“Quartet practice,” she explains, blushing as she points over her shoulder. “See you later.”

“See you.”

He only makes it a couple steps down the hallway before Danny walks around the corner and zeroes in on him.

“Oh great,” Derek mutters.

“Derek, hey,” he says in that same friendly-but-challenging tone he’s had for all their interactions lately.

“Hi.”

“How’s it going?”

Derek stares.

“I’m doing really well, myself. We got eliminated from play-offs in the round right before State, which sucks, but that’s just freed up my time, which is convenient because I’m seeing someone new. Related to that, you can tell Stiles to stop being a chicken shit around me, I’m over it. How are your sisters? Has Laura sent her intent to register to Cal or is she taking more time off? My sister said Cora won something in swimming, tell her I say congrats.”

Derek grinds his teeth and waits for the barrage to pass. He’s aware he’s been asked questions, but usually Danny talks right over Derek’s silence and leaves. But this time, he waits.

“Uh, they’re good. Yeah, she’s going to Cal. I’ll tell Cora.”

Danny raises his eyebrows and smiles. “Wow, he speaks.”

“You asked me questions, I answered.”

“Progress,” he says, raising his hand next to his head and wiggling his fingers. “See you around.”

Danny’s barely out of sight down the hallway before Stiles manifests in front of him. Derek feels whiplashed.

“There you are! We’re going to the lacrosse field to soak up some sunshine, c’mon.”

**

May 23rd, 2010
Sunday

“He was how old?” Lydia hisses, fury in every syllable.

“See, this is why I was never going to tell you guys,” Stiles says, trying to sound biting rather than embarrassed.

“That’s illegal, man,” Scott points out, his usual flippant observational tone miles and miles away.

“He was 22, not 87, for fuck’s sake.”

“Still illegal.” Scott shifts uncomfortably and looks over at Lydia.

“You’re a fucking disaster.” Lydia looks back at Scott and they share a look.

“Are you going to weigh in?” Stiles snaps at Derek, looking at him to look away from their nonverbal communicating.

“No,” he says, crossing his arms to mirror Stiles.

Stiles stares, willing him to speak, waiting to see if he’s got an opinion he’s just bursting to contain. He doesn’t seem to.

The front door opens, Lydia and Scott turn to look over their shoulder toward the sound of the Sheriff’s heavy boots.

“Don’t…” Stiles warns.

“See, you know it’s wrong,” Lydia says, whirling back to face him.

“Please don’t,” he re-iterates.

“Don’t what?” the Sheriff asks, appearing.

“He’s trying to convince us not to go to the choir thing,” Derek says so naturally that Stiles himself almost believes him.

“Oh, we’re definitely going,” the Sheriff laughs.

The other two leave after they’ve finished their homework in near silence. Stiles spends the whole time acting like it doesn’t bother him and wishing he could explain himself and make a real case. He’s trying. He’s trying so hard to stop feeling the way he feels. He’s trying to latch on to someone new. He’s trying to figure it all out. Does he even need someone new? Will he just get over it? Will the sick, poisonous feeling he gets when he thinks about Derek ever go the fuck away?

Derek is stretched out on the floor of Stiles’ room, chewing on a red pen as he looks over what appears to be an essay. Stiles has nothing else to do, so he sits on his bed and watches him. God, he’s exhausted.

“Go ahead,” Stiles says, desperately needing Derek’s attention on him.

“Hm?”

“Say something.”

“About what?”

“About the 22 year old. Or anyone else. Tell me Danny didn’t mean that much to me and that I’m being irresponsible.”

“It’s not my place to comment,” Derek says. He still hasn’t even lifted his eyes from the fucking page he’s reading.

“Oh, you’re more than qualified to opine on my life, Derek, you’ve earned it.”

Now he looks up with a bored, raised eyebrow. “What’s this about?”

“It’s about!” Stiles starts, with no real direction. “It’s about the fact that my friends are being total assholes.”

“They care about you, they’re worried,” Derek says, maintaining Stiles’ eye contact.

“Worried about what, I can fucking handle myself—“

Derek sighs loud enough to cut him off and pulls himself into a sitting position. “Listen,” he says, voice low. “He was 22, yeah? That’s statutory rape. That’s a fact, that’s law. You lied to him about your age, so your case wouldn’t go very far if you for some reason ended up trying to press charges, so sure… ethically ambiguous on your end. No sympathy from a jury. Unfortunate. The legal system is flawed.”

Stiles stares at him, surprised.

“But you’re not asking for legal advice, because you already know that. You’re asking my opinion on it.”

“Yes.”

“I don’t have one.”

Stiles wants to be petulant. He wants to force him to answer, he wants to stomp his foot and ask why not. He wants Derek to care about this more than he had even realized. Is he doing this just for Derek’s opinion? Is he doing it to make him feel something? Just how manipulative is he? He’s frowning so deeply, thoughts swirling and twisting, that Derek sighs again.

“It’s your sex life,” Derek clarifies. “You have to make your own calls.”

“Okay,” Stiles mutters, staring at his own hands.

“But… if you really want me to have an opinion, then… you don’t seem to be enjoying yourself.”

Stiles scoffs. “Trust me, I do,” he says, trying to sound lewd but failing.

“If you seemed like you were actually having fun, they wouldn’t be as frustrated.”

And the second Derek says it, Stiles knows it to be true. They’d never judged him for the things he liked to do before.

“Are you frustrated?” Stiles asks, picking at a seam on his comforter.

“I wish you were happy,” Derek says slowly, carefully.

Stiles nods. Guilt licks at his insides, stoked by his own shitty intentions and the stupid lie.

“I didn’t have sex with the 22 year old,” he confesses. “Or… I mean, I have no idea how old he was, he was at The Jungle so I assume he was over 21. He bought me a drink, we danced, he kissed me, that was it.”

He looks back up when Derek doesn’t say anything. Derek looks confused and thoughtful. “Why’d you lie?” he asks.

“I don’t know, guess I wanted to sound edgy.” Maybe that was it. Maybe he just wanted to sound more adult or more experienced than he was. Maybe he wanted to convince them and himself that he is mature enough for serial hook-ups. Maybe he doesn’t want to admit that he isn’t any of those things.

“I’m glad you didn’t have sex with the maybe 22 year old,” Derek says after a stretch of silence.

“Ha, so you had an opinion,” Stiles says, trying to sound lighter than he feels.

Derek shakes his head. “I had a legal opinion. That’s different.”

The conversation dies, Derek turning back to his work. Stiles weighs whether or not he should text the others to clear it up and apologize against his desire to be upset with them. Being upset wins. He’ll explain tomorrow.

**

May 25th, 2010
Tuesday

“I’m going to break this piece of shit with a baseball bat,” Scott announces in a tone far too cheerful for the message. He gives his amp a half-hearted kick and the whining continues. He bends and turns it off with a loud click and sets his guitar down. Lydia yawns loudly and sets her sticks down with a clatter.

None of them can focus anyway. Lydia is weirdly off-beat sometimes, Scott keeps forgetting the key he’s in, Derek long ago gave up trying to read for class and has been drifting in and out of sleep ever since. Stiles is suffering through an extra choir rehearsal back at school, probably not any more focused than they are.

After his bass lessons, Derek has no interest in anything but music. He still refuses to play in front of any of them, but being near them feels so important. Scott holds his hand out in front of Derek’s face, a command for Derek to show him his angry red finger tips.

“Are you going to be shy about playing with us? Stage fright? Performance issues?” Scott asks, rubbing his hands over Derek’s fingertips like he’s trying to start a fire.

“No,” Derek laughs. “I’m not good enough yet.”

“Okaaaay,” Scott draws out, looking unconvinced. He stops rubbing and drops Derek’s hand so he can sit on the floor. “How are you liking it?”

Lydia flops onto the couch next to him and throws one leg over the arm. “Yeah, how is it? New love of your life?”

“I like it a lot.” He loves it. He loves everything about it. He loves his acoustic, honey brown bass and the way it sounds and the personality of it. He enjoys practicing it. He enjoys lessons. He enjoys looking up tabs and messing around with chords and rhythms. He totally loves it.

“Good. We’re starting the band this summer whether you’re ready or not, mark my words.” Lydia pokes Derek’s ribs for emphasis and laughs when he squirms. He pinches her side in retaliation.

“We’re going to be a Blink-182 cover band. Start studying up. Mark Hoppus, bitch.”

“We’re going to be a Paramore cover band, actually.”

“Stiles can’t sing like her!”

“He’ll figure it out.”

“Well we’re going to have to be a cover band anyway, like… you know songs have to be written and shit, right?” Scott hugs his knees to his chest and looks up at the both of them, expectant. “Unless one of you is a secret songwriter…”

Derek and Lydia both scoff. “Yeah, no,” Lydia laughs.

Derek feels a distant humiliation at even attempting to write songs.

“Maybe Stiles is a secret songwriter,” Lydia muses. “If not, we’re going to have to settle for being the best wedding band of all time.”

“I’d be okay with that.” Scott sings a bit of a song from The Wedding Singer and rolls onto his back.

“Oooh, let’s go watch that,” Lydia suggests, struggling to re-emerge from the couch. Derek pushes her shoulder upward and away from him to help. She pats his head gratefully once she’s standing. “Let’s go.”

Stiles shows up about halfway through, looking cranky. He squeezes in between Derek and the arm of the couch and slumps against Derek’s side. “Don’t come to this concert,” he tells all of them.

“We’re going, asshole, get over it,” Scott says, tossing a throw pillow at him.

“You remember that one song, that one song, Unwritten? That stupid fucking song that won’t die? We practiced it for a solid hour, people. An hour. We are not going to this concert.”

“Well, you are definitely going, and we absolutely need to see this, soo…” Lydia taunts.

“I’m not going, I’m taking the F, I’ve drawn a line in the sand, I have to stand up for my beliefs, Lydia. This is a fuckin’ human rights violation. An hour. Of singing that song. With the freshmen, the freshmen can’t hold a goddamn note in a fucking bucket, people.”

“Shh, watch The Wedding Singer,” Derek says, covering Stiles’ mouth with his hand. Stiles takes a deep breath and squirms into the couch to knock Derek’s hand off of him.

“Fine.”

“Do you have to wear anything embarrassing though? I really hope you have to wear something embarrassing,” Scott says from his station in the recliner.

“Fuck off, Scotty.”

Scott cackles to himself, satisfied. Lydia un-pauses the movie and reaches across Derek to sympathetically pat Stiles’ arm. Stiles grumbles and digs his elbow into Derek’s side to win more space for himself. Derek doesn’t move, though. He presses against Stiles and laughs when he squawks and playfully shoves him away.

Chapter Text

May 28th, 2010
Friday

Stiles has a cigarette in one hand and hot tea in the other. Before the cigarette had been decided upon, his nervous hands had gotten tea sloshed all over him and onto the cuff of his white button down shirt. Fuck.

The bathroom door pushes open and Derek comes in, eyebrow already raised in question and phone still in his grip. “What’s going on?”

Stiles’ cigarette hand shakes its way up to Stiles’ face and he sucks in a little too much and blows most of it over his shoulder toward the open window. “I’m freaking the hell out,” he says, too nervous to be embarrassed.

“About what?” he asks.

Stiles would wave his arms around emphatically if he wasn’t holding two things that could burn him. “This fucking concert!”

Derek blinks. “Why?”

“Why! Why!” Stiles exclaims. He takes another long drag and blows it out.

“Isn’t that bad for your voice?” Derek asks.

“Yeah.” He lifts the tea as if in a toast and takes a sip.

Derek rolls his eyes. “Why are you freaking out?”

“Because I’ll be singing, using my voice, in front of a live audience with a group of people who, frankly, I cannot stand. What isn’t there to freak out about?”

“Uh, you’ve done this before.”

“Once.” Stiles avoided all extra-curricular opportunities. Never sang at assemblies or pep rallies or anything else that would suggest school spirit or involvement. Nothing that would unnecessarily test his anxiety.

“Did you freak out like this for that?” Derek asks, sounding very judgmental.

“Yes, but by myself.” He had been trying to do it by himself this time but he couldn’t. He needed someone stoic and calm and quiet to balance him out. Derek. He’d needed Derek.

Derek looks sympathetic but says nothing. He crosses his arms over his chest and leans against a sink. Stiles stares at him, takes another drag, hits the filter, and stomps it out before Derek’s facial expression even changes. Sometimes he’s like a glacier, slow-moving and staggering and breath-taking. Stiles has never seen a glacier, but he assumes that to be what they’re like…

Whatever, Derek Hale is a goddamn beauty. Stiles lets himself indulge in a good long look at him in his black v-neck (when did he start wearing v-necks?). He takes a deep breath in and lets it out before he brings the tea up to his face for a sip. The corner of Derek’s lips quirks up in a smirk.

“Didn’t think you’d be a tea drinker.”

“I’m not.” Stiles takes another big gulp of the hot liquid and cringes as it slides down his throat.

“Where’d you even get that?”

“These choir fucks always have it backstage to protect their precious, precious vocal chords or whatever.” He realizes how hypocritical he sounds and tries to make up for it with: “One of the girls I actually talk to in there knows I’m a nervous smoker so she handed it to me when I was running off.”

Derek raises an eyebrow, smirking even more. “One of the girls you actually talk to, huh?”

“Whatever, whatever,” Stiles says. “What time is it?”

Derek checks his phone. “7:45, you’re on in 15.”

“Shit, and you’re missing orchestra,” Stiles realizes with a pang of guilt. “Cello Girl’s solo is in the last song, you should go back.”

He looks caught, a flush rising on his cheeks. Stiles feels jealous, Stiles wishes the thought of him made Derek Hale look like that. Stiles is a goddamn idiot.

“It’s okay if I miss it, I’m here for you not—“

“I know you are, but go watch your friend play her solo. I’ll see you after.”

“Do you feel better?” he asks.

Sorta. Sorta better, sorta worse. Different sets of emotions for different things entirely, so it’s fine. Stiles can compartmentalize. “Yeah I do, thanks. Now go.”

He watches Stiles for one more piercing second and shrugs. “You’re ridiculous,” he says, fondly. He shoves off the sink and waves over his shoulder as he goes. “Break a leg.”

“Thanks, asshole.”

The door swings shut behind him and Stiles chugs the rest of the tea down, tossing the cup toward the trash can and missing. Derek and Cello Girl. Former Lacrosse champion Derek and the cello playing summer camp counselor. Black v-neck wearing, rising star in the Beacon Hills punk ass scene Derek and that stuck up nerd. What a damn world.

He pushes it out of his mind as he walks back to the choir room. He hears the orchestra playing the closer he gets. Cello Girl really knows how to cello from what he can hear. He gets pulled into a circle of overly emotional choir kids crying about the seniors’ last pre-concert warmup and gushing over the best memories of their time at Beacon Hills High being in this room yada yada yada.

The girl with the tea makes eye contact with him across the circle and rolls her eyes. He smiles. She smiles back.

“See, even Stiles is moved,” one of those senior sopranos says.

“Boy am I! Now can we just warm up or what?” he says.

**

“You did it, kid, you never have to sing ever again,” Stiles’ dad says back at the Stilinski house after the concert.

“Now I don’t know about that,” Stiles says, leaning heavily over the back of the couch in between Lydia and Derek’s heads.

Lydia reaches up and pats his cheek. “Our boy’s got pipes!” she says proudly.

“That song you guys finished with, the one that’s on the radio all the damn time…?” the Sheriff starts, face screwing up.

“Right?” Stiles asks, monotone.

“That was… something.”

“Dad, it was a goddamn travesty!” Stiles howls, pitching forward so his face lands in the couch cushion. His laughter is muffled but his body shakes with it.

All his complaining hadn’t been for nothing, that’s for sure. Derek wouldn’t call it quite a travesty though. Not entirely. Scott starts singing it, not knowing half the words but knowing the melody. Lydia joins in, toneless and out of rhythm.

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” the Sheriff says, hands clasping over his ears as he retreats to the kitchen. “Who wants pizza?” he yells, trying to drown them out.

Scott “oh oh oh me”s and leaps over the coffee table to trail him into the kitchen. Lydia scrambles up to follow. Derek feels the same vibrant energy coursing through him but stays put. He watches Stiles slither awkwardly into the spot Lydia vacated without lifting his face from where its buried until he flips over to lie on his back. He looks up at Derek with a grin.

“How’d you like Cello Girl’s solo?” he asks.

Derek covers Stiles’ face with his entire palm and gently shoves. “Shut up.”

Stiles’ hands both come up to grasp Derek’s wrist and he moves his hand aside to give Derek a quizzical, assessing look. “So then how was my solo?”

Derek half-heartedly attempts to shake Stiles off his wrist, Stiles clings. “It was really good.”

Stiles smiles, shy and authentic and wholly unlike anything Derek has seen from him. He lets his arm go limp in Stiles’ grip.

“Can I tell you a secret?” Stiles asks.

“Sure.”

“I lied about getting put into choir on accident,” Stiles says.

“Huh,” Derek says, twisting his body so he is facing Stiles, still sprawled on his back, more directly. “And why would you lie?”

His cheeks get splotchy, he shrugs.

“I thought you hated choir.”

“I hate it… most of the time. But I learned a lot.” The splotches get redder, his eyes skirt away from Derek’s and toward the rest of the living room. He clears his throat and looks back at Derek, expecting a reaction of some sort.

But Derek only nods. He thinks he understands.

“Don’t tell the others,” Stiles says in a soft voice.

“I won’t.”

**

June 2nd, 2010
Wednesday

Derek’s insides are fluttering after Delaney gives him and Paige the rundown on the whole reading thing. He walks a couple steps behind Paige who is uncharacteristically quiet and stiff.

She stops dead in front of him just a few feet away, making him almost bump into her. He archest his body and swings to the side to avoid the impact right as she swivels around.

“Do you want to carpool over?” Paige asks, tucking a chocolate brown lock behind her ear and looking up at Derek uncertainly.

“Sure,” he says. The idea of being nervous with someone else and the possibility of maximizing his time spent with Paige appeals to him.

She smiles and ducks her head, Derek’s heart squeezes in his chest. “Cool. You drive.”

“Ah, you just wanted to meet the Camaro,” Derek laughs, smirking.

Paige makes a gagging noise. “Gross, not if that’s how you talk about it.”

“Admit it,” he teases back, nudging her shoulder with a gentle fist.

She “ugh!”s in disgust and turns on her heel to keep walking down the hall. Derek moves to follow. “Maybe just a liiiittle bit,” she admits over her shoulder.

Derek smiles at the back of her head and drops it before he moves into position next to her. He slides his eyes down her just to appreciate the sight. He considers the image of her in his car - shiny brunette hair and sharp, lively eyes and her floral print skirt splayed out against the black leather passenger seat. His cheeks heat up and his stomach drops. He forces the image out of his mind.

“Are you nervous?” she asks.

“Are you?” he counters.

She shrugs. “A little.”

“Me too.”

“But we have nothing to be nervous about, honestly, we’re awesome,” she asserts, shooting him a cocky smile.

Derek rolls his eyes. She elbows him in the side, glancing off the top of his hip because of the height difference.

“So uh, do you wanna just pick me up?” she asks when they slow to a stop in front of the orchestra room.

Derek teasingly wraps his arms around her and hoists her up into the air just a little. She’s so slight and warm in his grip. She breaks out in a pretty peal of laughter and he spins her around before setting her down. He feels light and airy with her sometimes. She smacks his arm lightly, cheeks bright.

“Smart ass,” she drawls. “In your car, at my house, later. Or you can just carry me there if you really want, I’d never deny you the pleasure.”

“Good thing you’re so portable then,” he says. He feels a familiar smile on his face, one he hadn’t used in awhile.

“I resent that,” she says with a half-hearted point of the finger. “I’ll see you later.”

After school, he dodges Scott, Lydia, and Stiles’ line of questioning about where he has to be after school with relative ease. He rushes home to change and waits for Paige to text him her address and paces the stretch of the landing in front of Laura’s room.

“Oh, little brother dressing up for the rapscallions,” Laura says as she trudges up the stairs toward him.

He doesn’t correct her. “Do I look stupid?” he asks.

“No,” she says, side-eying him. “I’m sure Stiles will appreciate your effort—“

“Don’t be gross, Laura,” Derek snaps.

“What! I’m not being gross!” she exclaims, throwing her hands up.

She disappears into her room before Derek can press the issue. His phone dings in his hand and he heads down the stairs. Not too much later he’s pulling up to a white house. Paige jogs down the porch steps, now dressed in an entirely different floral print dress paired with a black jacket. Derek thinks idly that she’ll look even more at home in his car now. What a stupid thing. He zeroes in on his glove compartment in the seconds before she opens the door and prays that she won’t decide to go through it. He really needs to get those condoms out of there…

“Hey!” she says, full of nervous energy as she slides into the car. Her eyes sweep over the dusty dashboard (he probably should have dusted) and at the lit up buttons and things. “Nice,” she says, running her hand over the leather seat beside her thigh.

“Didn’t know you cared about cars,” Derek says. He’s being more mindful of his driving than usual and hopes she can’t tell.

“I don’t really. But you care,” she says, sending a friendly smile his way.

He scoffs. “I don’t really care that much, I just like my car.”

“Oh.”

“And since when do you care about what I care about?” he asks, not unkindly.

She shrugs, shit-eating grin and all. Derek laughs. Derek wants to show that he cares what she cares about too.

“Favorite band?” he asks. “Or uh… orchestra? Composer?”

She laughs. “Uh, Regina Spektor, does she count?”

“Sure.”

“Her. And I don’t have a favorite orchestra, nerd. Stravinsky for composer, though. Rite of Spring is probably one of the coolest things ever.”

“I’ve never heard it.”

“You have to!” she exclaims, passionate. “I’ll send you a good version later.”

“Okay,” he says around a smile.

Derek teases her for answering his band question with a singer for awhile until she lists a few bands. She has her arms crossed over her chest in a haughty fashion, very Lydia-like, by the end of the taunting.

“Sorry, I just… like knowing what people like listening to,” he apologizes in case she’s actually mad.

“I get it, trust me,” she says, dropping her annoyed pretense to smile. “Music is everything to me, it’s the only thing that matters.” She blushes at the admission and looks out the window quickly.

But Derek has heard that before. The sentiment had proven itself true again and again, it had saved Derek in thousands of microscopic ways. Derek hadn’t even realized how true it had become for him too. How the truth of it is more nuanced than the thought could ever capture. He doesn’t press Paige to say anything else. They get to the coffee shop before the silence can get awkward.

**

Derek waltzes right on into Stiles’ room like he belongs there, some paper rolled up in one hand and his car keys dangling in the other. Stiles props himself up on an elbow to watch him.

“Your dad let me in,” he explains, like he always does if that’s the case. As if he doesn’t want Stiles to think he’s breaking and entering. Something he also always does, if him climbing through Stiles’ window counts.

His presence washes over Stiles, clicking into place. Stiles lifts an obvious eyebrow at how he’s dressed — clean cut black button up shirt, jeans, hair carefully arranged.

“Were you on a hot date?” Stiles asks, trying to tease him while trying not to sound… jealous? Or wistful?

“Uh, no.”

Derek tosses his car keys onto Stiles’ desk, unbuttons the top few buttons on his shirt and kicks off his shoes. He shoves Stiles’ leg aside to make more room for him on his preferred side of the bed and sits.

“Here,” he says, extending the rolled up paper toward Stiles.

“What is it?” Stiles asks, taking it from him reluctantly. He holds it above his head as he struggles into a sitting position. His knees just so happen to be touching Derek’s when he settles. He doesn’t move.

“It’s one of my creative writing pieces. Our teacher chose some students to read at some thing with other local high schools or whatever.” He shrugs dismissively.

Stiles keeps the paper rolled up and tries to keep the ridiculous swell of pride he’s experiencing from making it to his face.

“Dude, that’s… a really good thing, right?”

Derek shrugs again and tags a nod on to the end of the gesture.

“That’s awesome! Why are you giving me this?”

“It’s only fair. Trade-off for letting us go to your choir shit.”

Stiles can’t fight a smile, so he ducks his head to at least hide it a little. “Oh. So I can read it?”

“If you want to.”

“I want to.”

“Well. You can.”

“Okay.”

“Not when I’m watching you though, like… later.”

“Okay. How’d the reading go then?”

He blushes and scratches at the stubble on his jaw and looks toward Stiles’ window. “It went well.”

“I wish I could have been there,” Stiles says before he even has time to consider that might sound like flirting.

Derek “heh”s and looks down into his lap, scratching the back of his neck now. His eyelashes fan out dark and thick and long and Stiles wishes he was in an alternative universe where he could pitch forward and kiss the soft skin under his eyes and put his hands on him and—

“Wow, it’s definitely about to be summer, it’s so hot in here,” Stiles says, springing from his bed to throw open the window. “Stuffy.”

“I gotta go,” Derek says, sounding regretful. He stands and stretches his arms over his head and hides a yawn against a fist. “I uh… I guess when you read this you might…”

Stiles tilts his head at him.

“I wrote my first piece in this class about things appearing in someone’s locker,” Derek says. He’s got Stiles pinned with a serious gaze. “And I don’t know, I just ended up connecting with this mix CD thing and I thought it’d be cool to write that into all the things I wrote all year, Delaney ate it up…”

Stiles is frozen to the spot. He’s not sure where this is headed, but he thinks about how all the mix CDs Stiles has ever made him, even the first one, permanently live in Derek’s car and how happy that makes him every single time.

“And so before you read that, I just wanted to tell you that… I know it was you.”

Stiles flinches but holds Derek’s eye contact. “What was me?” he asks, wanting Derek to spell it out.

“The mix CD in my locker. I figured it out.”

Instead of feeling embarrassed or caught, Stiles feels relieved. Derek’s looking at him with clear but investigative warmth. The confession feels weighty, like Derek’s trying to say more than just that. Stiles isn’t sure what else there is to say exactly, but he feels a lot of something himself too.

“Ah,” is what he actually says out loud about it. “Sorry.”

“I’m not mad, I’m actually glad it was you after all.”

He gives Stiles a lopsided, closed mouth smile. Stiles gives him one back.

“I gotta go,” he repeats, voice soft.

“Get out, I have reading to do,” Stiles says, leaning out of bed to playfully shove him as he walks past.

Derek shoves him back, laughing easily. He shuts Stiles’ door behind him with a casual “see ya” and Stiles listens to his footsteps on the stairs.

Stiles doesn’t dive into reading right away. He smooths the papers out flat on his bed and runs his hands over the text. He thinks about Derek typing this, about his fingers flying over a keyboard and the thoughtful furrow in his brow he gets when he’s concentrating. He thinks of the exposed hollow of his throat over the unbuttoned shirt and the lingering smell of his cologne and the splay of his eyelashes. His cheeks heat up when he thinks about all this and adds in the memory of Derek’s arms around him, chest pressed against his back, mouth close to his ear. He pushes the paper aside and pitches forward to bury his face in his blankets and groans in frustration.

He should have just developed a crush on Scott, that’d have been way easier. Either Scott would break the spell himself by doing something typically Scott-like or he’d good-naturedly give him a chance. And it wouldn’t work, obviously. Scott loves girls way too much for it to work. And Stiles would probably never be able to actually look at him as anything but a brother anyway so he’d gross himself out (he’s grossing himself out now as it is, case proven). And then it’d be done. But no, it had to be Derek.

**

June 4th, 2010
Friday

Stiles is already saying a cheerful hello when his hand falls on Derek’s shoulder and skirts across his chest until his arm is wrapped loosely around Derek’s neck. A hug of sorts. Derek accepts it by bringing a hand up to curl around his arm.

“Lady and gents,” Stiles says, still holding Derek. “School…” Dramatic pause. “Is out for summer.”

Scott and Lydia cheer, Derek laughs. Stiles tosses his phone, wallet and keys onto the Martin kitchen table and releases Derek. Derek wonders where he had to go right after school until he produces a plastic bag from his pocket.

“Weed,” he says simply, wiggling it. “Greenberg’s finest, or so he said. I guess we’ll find out.”

“Wait, Greenberg is your dealer?” Derek asks, shocked.

“His older brother.”

Thinking back, that makes a lot of sense.

Lydia nods approvingly at it, Scott gathers up the discarded deck of cards on the table and shuffles them, Derek composes a text to Paige that hopefully sounds casual but not too casual.

It ends up reading: “You’re coming tonight, right?”

Scott deals out the next hand while Stiles digs through the fridge, chattering about how his dad is on duty tonight so they “better damn well not get busted, my dad will arrest me for the whole summer if he finds weed on my person, you guys, I’m not fucking kidding.” Derek turns his phone over and over and over in his hand while he waits for her answer.

Right after the first needlessly violent round of Spoons, when Derek is laughing cruelly while Scott nurses his hand and glares at a triumphant Lydia, the answer comes.

“Yeah, I’ll be there. :)”

“What are you smiling at?” Lydia asks coyly. “Is Paige coming?”

“I don’t know,” Derek lies. “I think so.”

Stiles “ugh”s next to him and shoves his cards away from him.

“Why don’t you like her?” Derek asks, sounding more accusing than he had meant to.

“That’s a great question, actually,” Lydia says, shoving her cards away too so she can prop her chin on her hands and stare at Stiles with an unnerving smile.

“I just don’t.”

And that’s that.

“Okay, you don’t have to,” Derek says.

“I know I don’t.”

Derek chews the inside of his cheek, willing himself not to be irritated. He doesn’t want to fight with Stiles, especially not about this. Lydia and Scott carry on conversation as usual, Stiles stews, Derek stews. And then after awhile, Stiles wiggles his shoulders as if relieving tension and leans into Derek’s space.

“I’ll play nice,” he says, knocking Derek’s knee with his. “For you.”

“Thank you,” Derek says, knocking his knee back.

**

The party rages on inside, loud and sweaty, but Derek and Paige are sitting outside the garage. They can hear splashing and yelling from the pool in the backyard and music thrumming through the house.

“Are you having fun?” Derek asks her.

“Yeah,” she says, smiling at him.

She’s sober, so he’s sober. She had asked to try some of Derek’s drink when she’d gotten there and they’d ended up just splitting it. She wasn’t a drinker, she said. Or she’d never had the opportunity to be. She said she didn’t want to get drunk, looking embarrassed. Stiles had scoffed rudely and Lydia had elbowed him hard for it. So Derek told her she didn’t have to and that he didn’t want to get drunk either. Stiles was clearly not trying too hard to be nice and the music had gotten too loud to talk over, so they came outside.

“Are you?” he asks, shy. This really doesn’t seem to be her scene, she doesn’t seem entirely comfortable,he feels bad for making her come.

“I am, yeah,” she assures him, leaning to knock his shoulder with hers. “You were right about Lydia, by the way. She’s not what I thought she was.”

Derek smiles. “See? I’m a good judge of character.”

“Sometimes,” she agrees, laughing. “Scott’s nice too.”

He nods.

She doesn’t say anything about Stiles, but she doesn’t have to. The refusal to acknowledge him says plenty. He almost wants to say something in his favor anyway. Something like he’s just hard to get to know, he’s aloof, he’s so good deep down, he’s such a good friend, he’s so loving and loyal… But she definitely wouldn’t believe him. So he leaves Stiles’ name unsaid even though he’s thinking of him.

“So uh, what are you doing this summer?” she asks.

“Nothing really, just hanging out, music stuff, SAT shit.” It feels good to say. All his summers before had been chock full of lacrosse camp and training. “You?”

“Camp,” she says with a shrug. “I’m counseling for both sessions, so I’ll be gone all summer pretty much.”

“That sucks,” he says, feeling a little let down. “Or, no… I mean, I’m used to seeing you all the time so it’ll be weird.”

She laughs. “It’ll be like old times.”

He frowns at her and her laugh subsides into a smile. “We’ll see each other in the fall. Maybe we’ll have another class together.”

“I mean, we can be friends even if we don’t have a class together, right?” he asks.

“Yeah, of course.” She checks her phone for the time. “I should go, my parents are the curfew enforcing types,” she says.

Derek springs to his feet to help her up. “Okay. I’m glad you came.”

“Me too,” she says, allowing herself to be pulled into a hug. “You can go get drunk like you want to now, I’ll see you in August.” She’s smirking when she pulls away.

Derek laughs, cheeks warming. “Have a good summer.”

Derek moves on autopilot through the rest of the party, tired and peaceful. He drinks with his friends, he laughs with them, he throws Scott into the pool, he gets dragged into the pool himself, he catches Lydia and drummer guy kissing in the jacuzzi, he catches Stiles kissing some pretty dark haired girl in the hallway by the garage, he helps them all clean up a little after everyone has left.

He showers off the chlorine and sweat in the guest room bathroom after Scott and falls into bed with all three of them afterward. Stiles drag’s Derek’s arm around him so they fit better and they fall asleep jammed together with their whole summer stretched out gloriously ahead of them.

Chapter Text

June 10th, 2010
Thursday

Less than a full week into summer and Stiles already has a summer fling. Which is good, because he’s also seen Derek shirtless and wet pretty much every day so far. It’s a dangerous thing. He’s all abs and broad shoulders and tan and tight athletic body. It’s criminal. He’s even caught Scott admiring him, though with a different vantage point. The not wanting to fuck him vantage point.

Anyway, summer fling. Maria Noriega, the girl from choir. The girl he made out with at the end of year party. The girl currently putting her bra back on as her knees shake.

“You sure you don’t want to go again?” Stiles asks, sad to see her body get more and more covered up as she dresses.

“I have work,” she dismisses. “Frappucinos don’t make themselves.”

See, they’d just made out at the party. She’d put her hand on his crotch over his jeans and he’d reached up her shirt, but that’d been it. And he didn’t think he’d see her again until school started. But Lydia had insisted on driving through the only Starbucks in town and Maria had been at the window and she’d written her number on Lydia’s cup along with “(for Stiles, but you’re cute too)”.

When he texted her, she told him in no uncertain terms that she wanted sex out of this and Stiles is a gentleman, who is he to deny a lady?

“Later, then?” Stiles asks.

“Desperate,” she teases, bending down to kiss him. “Sure. You owe me,” she says, miming a blow job.

Stiles grins. “Yes I do.”

He wiggles back into boxers when she leaves and lays stretched out in bed for a couple blissful seconds of silence and then—

“Was that Maria Noriega I saw driving away?” Scott asks from the doorway. “Did you guys fuck?” he asks, voice going up in pitch as he takes in Stiles’ state of undress.

“Oh god,” Stiles says, curling in on himself and pulling a sheet half over him. “Yeah.”

“Nice!”

“What are you doing here?”

“Coming to snuggle my number one, obviously,” he says, sitting heavily in Stiles’ computer chair and spinning. “We have a birthday week to plan, it’s June. He’s going to want a chill one, isn’t he?”

Oh right. “Yeah he is.”

“Lydia brought up using the lake house over the weekend. Maybe having a beach day. What do you think?”

Stiles thinks of skinny dipping at the lake just like every other summer but this time with Derek Hale. “Absolutely,” he says, letting his enthusiasm slip.

“Oh and Lydia wants you to drive us over there so we can talk about this band.”

His heart squeezes in his chest, his stomach flips with excitement. “We’re doing it?”

“Oh yeah, she’s serious about it. She has like a timeline and everything. Derek’s already over there, let’s go. Put on some clothes, skank.”

He loses track of time with them, he always does. They sit in the garage and talk excitedly over each other about the band and then about the summer and then about everything. Lydia’s timeline is a living, breathing document scrawled in dry erase marker. It starts with Derek jamming with them and hits upon covering songs and the middle point is writing their own songs and trying to play gigs. The end is a big question mark surrounded by smiley faces.

And around all that, they envision time at the lake house and beach days and the Beacon Hills Fourth of July barbecue and the county fair and shows and everything.

Stiles gets a text message from Maria saying she’s off work. Stiles tells her something came up without even thinking twice. They’re in the middle of convincing Lydia to light the fire pit in her backyard so they can roast marshmallows and Stiles is pretty sure she's going to give in.

**

June 20th, 2010
Sunday

Derek wakes up abruptly when his bed lurches under some foreign weight. Lydia’s red hair hangs over him and Scott’s gleaming smile looms just beyond that.

“Morning, sunshine,” Stiles says, tearing his pillow out from under his head. “Birthday week commences!”

Derek groans, covering his face with his arm, but all three of them converge on him and wrestle him out of bed. He’s laughing by the time all of them thump to the ground, tangled in sheets.

“You gotta pack, I’ll help. Chop, chop! We’re burning daylight!” Lydia commands, standing up and putting her hands on her hips.

“Pack? For what?”

“Oh god, for a lot of things,” she says. “Hence why I’m helping. Your mom’s cleared it already, so no arguing.”

Derek rubs the sleep out of his eyes and tries to clear his head enough to comprehend this invasion.

“Here, I’ll do it” Stiles says, throwing Derek’s closet open.

“Where are we going?” he asks, turning to look over his bed at Stiles who is unearthing an Adidas gym bag from its depths.

“Chateau Martin, Lake House Division,” Stiles says.

“For how long?” Derek asks, watching Stiles stuff a bunch of shirts into the bag.

“A few days.”

“And then we’re road tripping to Santa Cruz for beach camping. Sorta…” Stiles says. “Beach car sleeping. Two nights.”

So much for chill, Derek thinks to himself. But he’s glad. He’s grinning at Stiles’ back and then swiveling to grin at the other two. “This isn’t chill,” he says.

Lydia nods solemnly. “It’s chiller than other things.”

“It’s your brand of wild though,” Scott says. And he’s right, it is.

“And my mom cleared this, really?”

“Yeah, but you have to call her a bunch of times,” Scott says.

“And your parents are cool with this too?”

“Yeah, but we have to call them a bunch of times,” Scott repeats, laughing.

“Swim trunks, Hale, where they at?” Stiles says from deep inside the closet.

“In the drawers.”

“With your unmentionables?”

“Yeah.”

“Lucky me, I get to go through Derek Hale’s underthings,” Stiles says, a smirk in his voice.

“Don’t be a creep,” Lydia admonishes. “I’ll do it.” She sticks her tongue out at Derek and races Stiles to his drawers.

Derek untangles himself from his sheets and stands. “Can I shower?” he asks, running his hands through his messy hair.

“Make it quick,” Lydia says. She giggles when Stiles buries his elbow in her side trying to shove her out of the way. She pinches him and he yelps.

Scott flops onto Derek’s bed and gives him the thumbs up. “I’ll keep them in line.”

“Oh I’m sure you will,” he says, closing the bathroom door behind him.

**

The lake house isn’t far, it’s just nestled deep in the preserve. It’s remote and old, decorated like a very posh 60s townhouse in the heart of New York City. Stiles loves it.

The windows in Lydia’s car are rolled down, the wind that whips around them is sharp and pine scented. Stiles moves his hand in a wave formation outside the window, cutting in and out of the current of air.

He looks at the back of Derek’s head and listens to him laughing. Lydia sings along to the radio, voice hoarse from over-use. Scott has his feet resting on Stiles’ legs, his back against his door.

“I hope you guys are ready to get naked,” Scott yells over the rushing air and music and laughing.

“What?” Derek asks, turning around.

“Oh maaaan, you have to pay your respects to the lake house,” Scott says.

“Skinny dipping,” Stiles tells him.

“In broad daylight?”

“Yeah, you shy?” Scott asks.

He shakes his head, a mischievous glint in his eyes. He turns back to the front. “Are you?” he asks over his shoulder.

“No, man, nothing to hide!” Scott says.

Stiles keeps his face neutral but alarms are going off in his head.

“Someone bring a ruler?” Lydia asks, sly.

“The water will be cold still, that’s not a fair measurement,” Scott informs her.

She grimaces.

The first order of business after they park is to get everything inside. The next is to run down to the boat garage to get in the water. Lydia is dressed in the least to start - a dress over a bikini that she sheds in a flash before jumping into the water. Scott follows, doing a fairly impressive flip. Derek hangs back uncertainly. Stiles stands beside him, down to his boxers.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Stiles tells him, just in case he doesn’t know.

Derek smirks at him. “You neither,” he says, gesturing to his boxers.

“Psh, like I care,” Stiles says. He shucks his boxers off and hands them to Derek, who swats them away.

Stiles falls backwards into the water, flipping Derek off as he goes. When he emerges, Derek is kicking his boxers off one ankle and Stiles ducks back under the water before he can see him naked, suddenly shy. The water rocks when Derek dives in.

Lydia cheers. “The lake house welcomes you!”

The water isn’t clear enough for them to see each other unless they’re close enough to touch, which they make sure not to do just naturally. Aside from their own noise, it’s quiet. The Martin’s lake house is perched in a little cove, shielded from the other houses peppered along the shore. It’s not a big lake to start. And it’s certainly not a tourist destination. It’s early enough in the summer that they might be the only people there at all. And they all feel so free here.

Light flashes on the surface of the water, blotting out the reflection of leaves and blue sky and muddy brown from the silty lakebed deep below their feet. Their voices carry on the water and echo strangely, bouncing off the house and water and getting absorbed by the trees around them. Stiles thinks he comes here in dreams sometimes, but can’t ever quite remember. He races Lydia across the mouth of the cove and back toward the garage in the same path they’ve raced for years, Scott cheers them on. Derek has the most amazing laugh, bright and unbridled.

Stiles is the first to pull himself out of the water, gathering his jeans to his crotch for modesty. He sits on the edge of the garage and pants. Lydia’s in better shape than him, which she tells him as she floats just out of kicking range.

“And you’re a better swimmer, I knooow,” he says, kicking water her way. He laughs when she gets it in her mouth and gags a little.

Scott climbs out next, not bothering to cover up at all. He just heads toward the closet where dusty old towels live.

“Avert your eyes, gentlemen,” Lydia says, swimming to the ladder. Scott clamps a hand over his eyes and holds a towel out in her direction, Stiles looks away dutifully. “Scott, you’re with me on sandwich duty. Half-birthday boy, glory in your own nudity as long as you want. Stiles, you’re on clean up later.”

She has the towel firmly wrapped around herself and her clothes gathered in her arms. She touches her chin to her shoulder to be demure and cute and heads into the house, Scott tosses towels at Stiles and follows.

Stiles stays where he is, jeans clutched to him and all. He looks at the tree line and breathes in the smells - the tar and wood of the garage floor and the fishy, mossy smell of the water. Derek bobs up and down, face relaxed as he looks up at Stiles.

“Hm?” Stiles asks.

“You love it here,” he says, smiling.

“I love everywhere in the preserve.”

“Me too.”

Stiles smiles. “Just a couple of Kerouac reading assholes out in the woods, that’s what we are.”

“Yeah.”

Derek swims toward the ladder and Stiles looks down into his lap to give him privacy. He looks out of the corner of his eye when he straightens up, catches a good look at the profile of his body (ass, mostly) and looks away.

He grabs a towel from the spot next to Stiles and wraps it around him. He tosses the remaining towel at Stiles. Stiles is pretty sure Derek catches Stiles watching a drop of water travel from the hollow of his collarbone down his chest, but he doesn’t comment on it.

Maria had told him to call him if he got bored at the lake house, bored with a very specific definition. And he just might. He’s not so sure he can just stand up and go in right now, not with Derek watching. He’s not about to move the jeans away, they conceal more than the towel would.

Luckily, Derek doesn’t wait. He heads inside and leaves Stiles to it. He scrambles to his feet, gathers his clothes and the towel and bee-lines for the bathroom.

**

“Never have I ever…” Lydia starts thoughtfully, tapping her chin. “Kissed a member of my sex.”

She smirks over at Stiles and Scott. They clink their beer bottles together and take a drink.

“Never have I ever kissed more than one member of my own sex,” Scott says to one up her.

Stiles drinks proudly. “Never have I ever fucked a drummer in the backseat of his car.”

“Too specific, c’mon,” Lydia says, but drinks anyway.

“This game is just an excuse to get drunk fast when you know everyone too well,” Derek observes. “Never have I ever thrown up on Stiles.”

Lydia and Scott both drink. Stiles looks like he’s considering it. “I mean, technically…” he says, lifting the beer to his mouth. “And it’s only a matter of time for you,” he says after drinking, pointing at Derek.

“I’ll try not to for as long as I can.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Never have I ever been walked in on by a parent,” Lydia says.

Scott’s the only one to drink, blushing. Stiles howls with laughter.

“Story time,” Derek declares, clinking the bottom of his bottle against the wood floor.

“Uuugh,” Scott says, rubbing his face. “It was sophomore year, I was sorta seeing Amy Nguyen and I got my mom’s schedule messed up and she walked in on us making out. I had my hand up her skirt, it was so…” He breaks off into a shuddery groan and rubs his face.

“What’d your mom do?” Derek asks, unable to picture Melissa’s reaction.

“Oh god, she gave us the most thorough safe sex lecture of all time, emergency room horror stories and all. I almost went celibate right there.”

“And to this day, Amy Nguyen can’t look Scott in the eye,” Stiles concludes.

“But I bet she has the safest sex,” Lydia adds.

“Never have I ever had a period,” Scott says just to get back at her.

“Are you sure about that?” Lydia shoots back, drinking anyway.

“C’mon, no cheap shots,” Stiles says, nudging Scott. “Never have I ever been out of the country.”

Derek and Lydia drink.

**

June 23rd, 2010
Wednesday

Derek doesn’t really want to leave the lake house. They spend most of the last day there floating around on inner tubes while their high wears off. Derek lets his eyes sweep over Stiles’ nude back, noticing how his skin has gotten just a little darker and more populated with dark freckles than before. His mind supplies the word “pretty” but he argues with it. Attractive, interesting. He’s always had a thing for freckled shoulders on girls. Ashley had always had them. Lydia has them too, along with a cute stripe of them across her nose and cheeks. Scott has a deep, even olive-toned tan.

But anyway, Derek trails his fingers through the water and arches his back to get his hair wet.

“Let’s leave super early tomorrow morning,” Lydia suggests, voice lazy and tired.

“Okay,” Stiles agrees easily.

Scott murmurs his agreement.

Lydia looks over at Derek, paddling slowly to get closer. “You okay with that? We haven’t done a bonfire yet.”

Derek is more than fine with it. “Sure.”

So far, his half-birthday week has just been days of just eating and napping and playing in the water and talking all night until they exhaust themselves. He couldn’t ask for anything more. He feels utterly at ease, happy, centered. They’ll be exhausting themselves with the second half of the week, from what he understands. A four hour drive south toward the Pacific, sleeping in the Sheriff’s SUV, trekking through sand. He and Scott have talked about trying to learn how to surf, so they might also die of a concussion. Who knows. But they might as well spend one more night in this perfect, secluded bubble of theirs. He wishes he was always in a place that felt like this.

They float around until they feel positively water logged. They eat sandwiches on the shore and talk about the band, dreaming up a life on the road, egging each other on and playing off each other. By the end of it, they’re a glam rock band in the 70s who wear matching glitter body suits and sing about space. They tour with Queen, Stiles and David Bowie date, they’re banned from Texas for being too sexy, Lydia gets arrested at protests everywhere they go, and they’re all out of breath from laughing back in reality.

Later, Derek sets up the bonfire in the brick-lined pit while Lydia supervises. “How often do you come here?” he asks.

“Me personally? Not a lot. Mostly with the boys. My parents never have time. Maisie and I will sometimes come out here for a night, usually if my parents are home, usually around holidays when they’re fighting more than usual. I guess we don’t as much now that she’s in med. school.” She shrugs that off, nonchalant. But Derek feels sad for her anyway.

Derek nods and gets back to stacking the firewood over the dry bits of grass and twigs they’d gathered in the yard. Lydia hands him the can of lighter fluid.

“it’s mine, you know?” she says after awhile. Derek looks over at her but she’s slowly taking in everything from the sky above the lake to the lake house itself. “My grandparents left it to me in the will. It’s mine when I turn 18.”

Derek smiles. “That’s cool.”

She nods. “Think I should just move out here?” she asks, smirking. “Live here, go to college, come back here on breaks.”

“You could, but your parent’s house is so much closer to all of ours,” Derek says.

“True. Can’t pass that up.”

With the fire going, the four of them huddled together on the side facing the lake, the light dancing in their eyes, Derek feels a little bit infinite. Like he’s always known these people, like he always will know them. He’s never had a birthday, or half-birthday, that felt this celebrated in his life. No offense to his family, none at all. Those birthdays had always felt special too, but louder and less focused. Less intimate. And his old friends had done what most people do for birthdays. Cake, presents, singing to him. Normal stuff. There’s nothing wrong with normal. But this… He feels all three of them pouring into him. He feels himself radiating toward them right back. This is something different.

They’re something different. Together, they’re all something different. He almost doesn’t doubt the possibility of waking up in the 70s with them, dressed in a glittery body suit and singing about aliens. Nothing seems impossible.

**

June 24th, 2010
Thursday

After leaving the lake house, they’d dropped off things and packed more things and piled into the Sheriff’s car all before 6am. Stiles is impressed by their collective hustle. The non-drivers in the car stay awake in solidarity, fueled by gas station coffee and loud music. But they’re about halfway to the beach when Stiles turns off the radio and the talk gets deep and serious.

“So why don’t you date him?” Derek asks. Stiles looks in the rearview mirror and sees that his and Lydia’s legs are stretched out next to each other across the backseat. Scott turns around and leans against the center console to join in.

“I can’t,” she says, simply. “It won’t work.”

“Brandon’s cool though,” Scott supplies.

“Yeah, he is,” she agrees.

“So why won’t it work?”

Stiles watches her chew on her lip in his mirror and flicks his eyes back to the road.

“I just… it never works.”

“Are you bad at dating?” Derek asks.

“No, well… maybe. I just… I don’t…” She sighs and stutters before settling on. “I just don’t believe in relationships.”

“So jaded,” Derek says, teasing.

She laughs a little. “I mean… this is not the person I can see myself not destroying. And honestly, he’s a great guy, but I’m not going to date him and he’ll lose interest because I won’t date him and things will stop. Things are already stopping.”

“And you don’t mind?” Derek presses.

“No, I honestly don’t.”

“And you really think you’ll destroy people by dating them? That’s cynical.”

“I watched my parents destroy each other, so yeah, I really do think that.”

The car falls silent. Stiles checks the mirror again. Derek is looking at Lydia with blatant empathy.

“I think…” Scott says after awhile, still bent over the center console. “I mean, I think sometimes people aren’t meant for each other like that. My parents weren’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s always bad.”

Lydia stretches her hand towards him and he grabs her hand, twining their fingers together. “Maybe so,” she says, sounding lonely.

“My parents didn’t destroy each other,” Stiles says, voice quiet so they have the option not to hear it.

“Mine neither,” Derek says.

Lydia locks eyes with Stiles in the mirror.

“I mean, my dad… I guess he was messed up after she… but I think I’d rather that, you know? Like… do you think it’s bad to love someone so much that losing them kills you? Or would you rather never have and never lose.”

She lets her head fall against her headrest and she stares at the ceiling in thought. “I guess I don’t have the framework to even think about that.”

Scott sits up to look more solidly at Stiles. “Hey, and sometimes losing them is good, right?”

“It can be, yeah,” Stiles says, knowing Scott’s thinking about his dad.

“And is it okay to not want any of it?” Lydia asks, meek. “I don’t think I want any of it. I don’t need… a regular sex partner to be in love with, I don’t need that kind of love, I just… I want what I have now, I want to keep it. I don’t want to lose anything.”

The car falls silent. Stiles slows the car to a stop as they hit a pocket of traffic. He turns to look over his shoulder at her.

“You’re not gonna lose it,” he says, knowing she meant them.

“I think it’s more than okay,” Derek says.

“Yeah, we’re not going anywhere,” Scott says

She rolls her eyes and scoffs to break the moment. She looks out the window and shakes her head. “As if I’d let you guys leave me anyway.”

Derek smiles at her, Scott nods, Stiles turns back around to focus on the traffic ahead.

“How’s Maria, Stiles?” Lydia asks.

“She’s fine.”

“Are you guys dating?”

“Not really.”

She laughs a little. “You’re okay, right?” she asks.

“Huh? Yeah.”

“I mean, I just think… after Danny…”

Stiles laughs. “I’m fine, I’m over the Danny thing.”

“Don’t tell me you’re too cool for love now, that’s my thing,” she teases.

“Definitely not too cool for love,” Stiles admits. “I just don’t love her, I hardly know her.”

“Do you love someone else?” Derek asks, the question punching Stiles right in the heart.

“Nah, not right now. Nothing wrong with that.”

“What about you?” Scott asks, turning to look at Derek from in between the passenger side door and his head rest.

“Nah. You?”

“Nah.”

“So what kind of girl are we going to be looking for for Scotty this year, huh?” Lydia asks.

Stiles feels the mood lightening back up.

“Oh man,” Scott says dreamily.

“Tell us about your dream girl, Scotty, c’mon,” Stiles encourages.

“Dude, she has to be… like a total bad ass, right? Takes no shit, strong independent woman, someone Melissa McCall would respect, basically.”

“I’d marry your mom,” Stiles says.

“I’d support that… sorta,” Scott says, screwing his face up thoughtfully. “No I wouldn’t, don’t marry my mom.”

“You can’t stop me.”

“I’m asking you, my best friend, to respect my wishes and not marry my mom.”

“Too late, I’m going to marry your mom. Don’t you want me to be your dad?” Stiles asks.

“No, Lydia’s already my dad.”

“It’s true,” she says.

Derek laughs incredulously.

“What, do you not think I’m this young man’s father?” she asks.

“No, I see it,” he answers, holding his hands up defensively. “I just didn’t know.”

**

Scott proves to be a natural on a surfboard, which doesn’t surprise Derek much. When it’s Derek’s turn, he gets the hang of it without too much personal injury. Stiles, who is the actual owner of the surfboard, yells encouragement from the shore, jumping up and down next to Scott. Lydia lays out not too far away from him, ignoring all of them entirely.

They tire themselves out taking turns on the surfboard and falling on their ass with the wake boards and chasing each other through the waves. They convince Lydia to join them by picking her up and tossing her in while she curses at them.

They rinse off in the beach shower and stroll around the boardwalk and eat cheap burgers at a diner. Derek feels like they’re shoving as much of summer as possible into this week, making it into the perfect picture, so they have room for so much more afterward.

Derek thinks sleeping in the car will suck, but they find a lot to park in where you can still hear the waves. They open the moon roof and lay the back seats flat and pile it with blankets and pillows, throwing their duffles into the front seats. They sleep like that. Tired from all the sun and salt and running, curled against each other.

**

June 25th, 2010
Friday

Stiles wakes up to the smell of salt water and the feel of thick, sweet coastal air on his skin. Lydia sits up and rubs a hand through her hair. Stiles watches her, blinking to clear his eyes.

“Let’s go,” she mouths when he sees he’s awake, pointing toward the SUV’s back door.

Stiles does his best not to knock Scott around too much as he crawls out behind her and shuts the door quietly. His body is stiff from sleeping curled up and unmoving. He stretches and takes in the sight of the gray morning settled close to the watery horizon.

“There’s a gas station not far, let’s be good friends and get breakfast,” Lydia says, wrapping her hoodie tighter around her. She walks to the front seat of the car to get their shoes and wallets.

They walk in comfortable silence, waking up slowly. They divide and conquer the gas station, Stiles going for the coffees and waters while Lydia grabs food fit for breakfast. They walk back as the sun is turning the sky pink and orange, starting to burn off the clouds.

“I was just thinking,” Lydia says. “Last night, and I guess all week, about how good this year was.”

“Was it?” Stiles asks.

She nods. “Yeah. I’m glad Derek’s around.”

“Me too.”

“It feels like he always has been, right? Like he just fits?”

“Yeah, it does.”

She hums happily and swings her plastic bag back and forth. “I think the band might work,” she says. “I just have a feeling.”

“Well, it’ll be cool,” Stiles agrees. He doesn’t let himself think as wildly as she does, he’s the one who will be most disappointed when nothing happens. He wants the band to work too, but he’s the only one without any real prospects if it doesn’t.

“I just think that… it’s not very often groups of people work like us, and we’re all super talented and cute and I think we could do it.”

“Do it like… get some gigs and local popularity? Or…?” Stiles asks, wanting her to say it. He can allow himself to dream as long as it’s piggybacking off of her dreaming.

“I don’t know, I think more than that. I’m excited.”

“What about college? MIT, Harvard, Stanford, wherever you end up.”

“I think those things can wait if they have to.”

She’s said that before, sitting on a rooftop infected with a post-concert euphoria, and he hadn’t believed her. This time, he sorta does. Maybe just because he wants to. Maybe because she means it more. Maybe because it’s pure, one of her first cohesive morning thoughts.

They get back to the car and knock on the back window, stirring Scott from his sleep and grabbing Derek’s groggy attention. Stiles holds up the drink carrier and they both perk up considerably.

They feast on their gas station coffee and Hostess pastries while leaning against the back bumper, watching the sky over the water. Stiles thinks of the band. Lydia might be thinking about it too. He’s not sure what the others are thinking about, but it’s probably still pretty monosyllabic up there.

He lets himself imagine, just for a second, that they’re on tour and stopping off to fuel up their shitty van before heading to another city.

**

June 26th, 2010
Saturday

Derek is bone tired, longing for a long hot shower and his bed, and can’t remember a single bad thing in the entire world. There’s no evil, only good. Only the sound of waves and seagulls and his laughing friends.

Stiles yawns in the passenger seat while Lydia drives. Scott is looking through Stiles’ iPod and assembling a playlist to underscore their drive home. He hands it back to Stiles who plugs in the auxiliary cord and hits play.

They all start mindlessly singing along with the first song, voices soft and sleepy. Stiles’ voice cuts through, purer than the others. Derek harmonizes to him without meaning to, the others adjust to fit in too, their voices melding together sweetly. They get more enthusiastic and playful as they go, Stiles continues singing the last few lines while they “hip hip” along.

“We’ll never feel bad anymore, no noo,” he croons, exaggerating his phrasing, tilting his head up, lips curling in a smile. The song fades out and another Weezer song with a similar vibe follows it.

“You harmonized with me,” Stiles says, pointing over his shoulder toward Derek without turning.

“Oh, kinda.”

“No, not kinda.”

“Sorry?” Derek laughs.

“No! That was awesome. You’ve got a cool voice.”

Derek blushes. “Nah.”

“Yeah, you totally do,” Scott agrees. Lydia murmurs positively too.

“Whatever.”

“Looks like you have backing vocals, huh?” Lydia says.

Derek groans.

“I have a whole choir, you can all carry a tune,” Stiles says supportively.

“I can’t sing and play at the same time, too much effort,” Scott says.

“You’ll learn,” Stiles assures him.

“Derek, name our band,” Lydia says.

“How can we name it? We don’t know what we’re going to sound like yet, we don’t know our vibe!” Scott argues.

“Make shit up, all of you,” she commands. “Lydia and the Guys,” she suggests, laughing.

“Weezer Cover Band,” Stiles suggests. “And then we won’t even cover Weezer.”

Scott laughs. “Blink-281, and then we’ll cover Weezer.”

“Fall Out Bro, covering Blink-182,” Derek counters.

“Anxiety! at the Disco, covering Fall Out Boy,” Lydia continues.

The playlist plays on, inspiring even more shitty cover band names as it goes, until Scott falls asleep and Stiles does soon after too.

“Shoulda made you sit up here, I guess,” Lydia says, turning the music down.

He yawns and still tries to answer with a joke. She laughs and shakes her head fondly.

“You can sleep too.”

“If you get tired, wake one of us up,” Derek says, voice serious.

“I will. Now, feel free to nap.”

So he does, to the chaotic sound of Pixies being played softly and Lydia drumming her thumbs against the steering wheel.

Chapter Text

July 4th, 2010
Sunday

“I’m sorry in advance for my overwhelming family,” Derek mumbles from the front seat of his car.

“It’s your birthday!” Stiles exclaims, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Technically it isn’t. It’s the 4th of July.”

“I’ve heard some good food rumors though,” Scott says very seriously.

Those rumors are true.

Derek sighs, but really he’s glad they want to be there. He’s hoping it’ll distract him from who isn’t there, even if it’s just a little.

Christmas had been hard, but Derek was so used to not caring about his own actual birthday that it didn’t really hit him on that level. But this was different. This was the day his family had always celebrated his birthday, switching one holiday for a different one. He’d woken up to blueberry pancakes and a kitchen full of balloons and his mom and his sisters chasing him around to smack him 17 times each. He’d been kicked out of the house so everyone could get things ready. Some of his cousins and aunts and uncles and family friends were already arriving when Derek was getting shoved into his car by an overzealous Cora.

And as much as it felt like every other year, there was still a very big piece missing.

His dad had always woken him up by walking into his room blasting The Beatles’ Birthday followed by a rousing God Bless America. His dad never joined in with the smacking but would spray him with a water gun as he ran from his sisters. His dad used to be the one driving them away from the house so the others could prepare and they would drive through the preserve and talk and listen to music with the windows rolled down until they were told they could return…

Derek thinks about his dad every day, but he’s not sad everyday anymore. Not really. He can be reminded of his father without the bone-crushing, heart-stopping hurt that used to shoot through him. He can miss him without falling apart entirely.

But today it’s hard.

Scott and Lydia are talking easily in the backseat, Derek can barely hear them over the radio. Stiles is silent next to him. He shoots him a look out of the corner of his eye and sees that he’s looking back, searching.

“You okay?” he asks, voice soft enough that the others don’t hear.

Derek nods curtly. “I’m fine.”

Stiles nods back with a sad smile.

Derek feels a little bit of the heaviness lift. It’s good to be known. It’s good to be understood. It’s good to have Stiles, Lydia, and Scott. They don’t fill the hole his father left, they fill holes in him he hadn’t even known existed before.

And it’s weird to realize that he had been lacking something before. It’s weird to realize that in some ways, Derek feels more himself than ever. It’s weird to realize how good things can be even though…

Well, it’s not quite guilt and it’s not quite regret. But part of him wishes he’d befriended them under better circumstances, he wishes he could see his dad interact with them. He’d pull Lydia into political arguments just to see her brain work, he’d tell Scott his wildest stories from college and law school, he’d be fascinated and amused by Stiles.

Derek parks the Camaro off to the side of the garage so he doesn’t block anyone in and he tries to mentally prepare as much as he can. Lydia climbs out of the back seat and instantly hugs him.

“It’s going to be fun,” she says when he looks down at her and hugs back.

Stiles and Scott are leaning with their arms crossed on the top of the car, watching. Scott has his usual confidence-inspiring grin on, Stiles looks concerned.

It’s so, so good to be known.

“Yeah, don’t let the lawyers scare you,” Derek warns, referring to his uncles. “They’re full of shit, don’t believe a word they say, I mean it.”

Stiles smiles then, which is what Derek had been waiting for without realizing. “My kind of people,” Stiles says, pushing off of the car and turning toward the house.

**

He sits on the bottom few stairs in the kitchen, partially hidden from view. The kitchen is cooler than outside, quieter, emptier. He watches his smiling mother cross the deck and reach for the sliding glass door. The music and chattering outside is temporarily clear and loud before she slides the door closed behind her.

“Hello, son,” she says, walking straight to him. She puts a hand on the top of his head and rubs her fingers through his hair as she looks down at him.

“Hey.”

“You doing okay?”

He nods. She extracts her fingers from his hair and gently flicks his nose. “Your friends were looking for you.”

He shrugs.

He’s trying. He’s trying so hard. One of the aunts had said he looked so much like his father, her voice faltering on the last syllable that slipped from her mouth. He saw Peter in a rare quiet moment, looking around the yard and the people gathered with a sad and private smile. He sometimes thought he heard his father’s voice hidden in the other men’s conversations. He’s trying. He just needs a second.

His mom sighs and sits next to him on the stairs. She throws her arm around his neck and tugs him into a sideways hug. “I know,” she says.

He almost wants to ask her what she knows, he can feel his bad mood rising. But she presses a kiss to his temple and he feels a part of him break just a little. She knows. She knows exactly what’s wrong.

“It’s hard,” she says. And that’s it, no “but it’ll get better,” no “but he’d want you to be happy.” no “but you have to move on.” Just that it’s hard.

“Yeah,” Derek agrees, voice gruff.

She doesn’t let him go. They both watch the backyard through the glass in silence, her cheek pressed against the side of his head.

Derek watches Stiles and Lydia sit on the railing around the deck while Scott stands in front of them with his hands on his hips. Melissa McCall and Sheriff Stilinski are supposed to stop by after their shifts later, in time for fireworks. The thought of all of them here, together, feels right. His mouth twitches in an almost smile. His mom hums happily.

“I like them,” she says, knowing where Derek’s eyes are. “They’re good kids. Kinda.”

Derek scoffs. “Don’t lie.”

“I do, I like them.”

“And you think they’re good kids?”

“Kinda.” She pulls away from him and Derek catches her smile. “Lydia’s good, Scott seems mostly good, Stiles… eh, questionable.”

“He’s good too,” Derek assures her.

“How good? What’s the proof?” she teases.

Derek considers joking back, but instead… “He’s been really uh, supportive… I talk to him after therapy a lot, he’s uh… sorta been there. His mom died awhile ago, so…”

The mirth in her face softens, something sad flickering in her eyes. “That’s right, yeah… I had forgotten about that. That’s good to hear, though, I’m glad you two talk about those things.”

Derek just nods rather than spew his explanation that it’s more than talking too, it’s quiet companionship a lot of the time, and it’s talking about totally different things other times. It’s building a bridge between him and someone else so he isn’t trapped by himself.

And it’s not that that’s not true for the others too. He feels bad even just thinking it sometimes, but it feels more with Stiles than it does with Scott and Lydia.

**

Stiles sits in this window sill, one bare foot out on the gritty roof tile and the other rooted in his bedroom carpet. The air is cooler but still sluggish. Stiles feels sweaty just sitting here but the breeze soothes the discomfort. He watches what he can see of the vacant streets, waiting for a shining black car to slide out of the darkness. Scattered around Beacon Hills, there are still occasional bursts of fireworks. He idly flips his phone over and over and over in his palm.

Derek had called him. Which, aside from quick logistical calls, is a rare thing. Derek either texts him or appears at his house when he wants to talk. But he’d called.

Stiles had been playing a game on his phone, unable to sleep, when the call came through. His heart leapt and he hesitated to answer it. He made sure to sound bored and tired.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Hey…” A pause. “Did I wake you up?”

“No.”

“Good. Uh…”

And Stiles bit his tongue to keep from asking him how he felt and how the day had gone for him. He’d disappeared for a bit during the middle of everything and Stiles hadn’t wanted to invade his privacy but he wanted so desperately to make sure he was okay.

“Today was uh… it sucked, but I was glad you guys were there,” Derek said eventually.

Stiles smiled at the ceiling. “Do you want to talk about it?”

And he had. So they did. Until Derek fell silent again and cleared his throat. “Can I just come over?” he said, and Stiles refused to read anything into the tone even though it felt like an “I just need to see you.”

So now he was waiting. He was training himself not to apply romantic meanings to this. He was coming up with mantras (“he’s straight, don’t be manipulative, be a good friend, don’t be a creep, he’s straight, he’s straight, he’s straight…”). He was tricking himself into thinking he was just as excited to see him as he was to see the other two. Friendly love! A beautiful thing!

Stiles is perfectly casual when the Camaro pulls up to the sidewalk in front of the house. He sends a lazy wave his way when Derek looks up at the house. He watches Derek expertly use the tree to get on the roof and moves back inside to let him in.

“Hey.”

“Hey…”

Derek kicks off his shoes and tosses his car keys on the desk chair and sits cross-legged on Stiles’ bed like he belongs in Stiles’ space as much as Stiles does. He leans his head back against the wall and looks at Stiles, assessing and closed off.

“So you were saying something about the plan?” Stiles prompts, making finger quotes in the air.

“No, I can hear the lowercase in your tone. The Plan. With gusto,” Derek says, light eyes coming alive with a flash of humor.

Stiles laughs and sits too, facing him, his back facing the rest of the room. His whole world narrows to Derek. It tends to do that more than he’d like. “Okay, so what about it.”

Derek holds up one finger. “Lacrosse, good grades, good class rank.” He holds up a second finger. “Get into a good college, preferably Stanford, possibly on a athletic scholarship.” He holds up a third. “Good grades, internships, campus involvement, student leadership, blah blah blah.” A fourth. “Apply for law school, aiming for Harvard but actually wanting Hastings, all the Hales have gone to Hastings.” He flips his palm toward Stiles and releases his thumb to make 5. “Pass the bar, join the firm, focus on corporate law, make a lot of money.”

He lets his hand fall into his lap. Stiles lets out a disbelieving laugh.

“That’s pretty well outlined,” he comments.

Derek shrugs. “I wanted it. I watched my dad and my family and I listened to their stories and I asked how they got where they got and i wanted to be just like them. My dad focused on the type of law that’s for the good of the people, Peter focused on corporate and banking and he’s loaded and that sounded way sexier than what my dad did. So I wanted that.”

“Wanted, past tense?”

Derek closes his eyes and smiles a humorless smile, shaking his head. “I don’t know what I want anymore,” he says, soft and strangled.

Stiles watches him, absolutely does not look at how pretty his eyelashes look against his skin, and shifts just a little closer so his knees line up with Derek’s.

“I think,” Derek starts, eyes still closed, his humorless smile having tightened into a near-grimace. “That if my dad was still alive, I would want the same things I always did.”

“But you don’t without him?” Stiles asks. His hands itch to touch him, to comfort him.

Derek shakes his head slowly. “I sometimes can’t even think as far as graduation, I just want him back so bad.”

Stiles feels a shock of pain through the center of him, fresh as a memory.

With a sniff, Derek turns his head to press his shoulder against his nose and mouth, trying to suppress whatever emotion is welling in him. “I think if he was still alive, I hope I’d eventually have wanted to be less like Peter and more like him,” he struggles to say.

Stiles reaches for the hand Derek has clamped over the bend of his knee and pries it up to hold. Derek squeezes back, shoulders shaking just a little. Stiles wants to hold him, but he can’t and he won’t.

Derek gives himself a few indulgent, tearful breaths before he sniffs again and lifts his unoccupied hand to rub at his eyes. “Sorry,” he mumbles. He leans away from the headboard, back curling.

Stiles lifts his other hand and presses it against Derek’s cheek, feels the stickiness of tears and sweat under his palm and silky locks of hair under his fingertips. Derek is so real. He makes Stiles’ skin sing. Derek’s eyes bore into him, begging for an answer that Stiles can’t give him. Stiles presses his forehead against Derek’s. In comfort, nothing more. He feels when Derek gives him some of the weight of his heavy thoughts, the transfer of support from his neck to Stiles’ so it’s a shared burden…

Derek’s hand goes limp in his so he lets him go, only to put his hand to good use on Derek’s neck and shoulder. He squeezes the tense muscle there just slightly, feeling it soften just slightly under his touch. Comfort. Stiles just wants to comfort him.

He can feel Derek’s breath on his lips. Derek moves his hands so all ten fingers touch Stiles’ leg, stretched out as if settling on piano keys.

Stiles could kiss him. Softly. He could just tilt his head and press his dry, closed lips against his for just a second. Comfort. A peck. It feels like Derek would let him… He’s so vulnerable and pliant. So Stiles can’t and won’t. He refuses to hurt him or take advantage of him, he refuses to give into anything more than comfort.

“What are you thinking?” Derek asks, voice barely a whisper.

About how your mouth tastes, Stiles thinks. “I don’t know,” he answers. “I wish I could save you,” he admits, feeling stupid the second he says it.

Derek breathes out a laugh, a laugh that Stiles happens to breathe in. “You save me all the time.”

Stiles wants to kiss him, touch every part of him, taste him, love him. Fuck. God dammit.

“Maybe, but I want to do more.”

Derek lifts his head a little, the movement making Stiles’ face lift up too. HIs heart hammers in his chest, the feeling before someone leans in, the fear, the hope, he hates it. Derek lifts his hand just enough to touch Stiles’ knee, his thumb tracing a wide circle over his skin. “Thanks.”

Stiles pulls away, the opposite of what he wants to do. He pats Derek’s cheek affectionately, playfully platonic, and stands up to walk around to the other side of the bed. He crawls under the sheet while Derek looks down at him, unreadable. Derek works on lying down and turns onto his side to look at Stiles with uncertainty. He shifts closer.

This is not Scott or Lydia. He can’t jokingly say, “Want to cuddle?” to Derek. It’s not Scott and it’s not Lydia and this isn’t funny. So Stiles just shifts closer too, closing the space between them. He wraps an arm around Derek and pulls him against his chest, twisting onto his back. Derek tucks his head under Stiles’ chin and holds onto him for dear life.

Comfort. It’s just comfort.

Derek’s hair smells like shampoo and humid summer air. It’s soft against Stiles’ throat and the underside of his chin.

God, he’s beautiful. Every single thing about him is beautiful.

**

July 5th, 2010
Monday

Derek wakes up feeling sheltered and bizarrely comfortable in Stiles’ loose grip. He breathes in the scent of his body-warm laundry detergent and soap and can hear his heart thumping along in his chest and his lungs inhaling and exhaling.

Derek lifts his head from his chest to look at him. He sighs in his sleep, his arm tightening a little around Derek’s waist, secure. Derek carefully sets his head back down.

Part of Stiles’ shirt had gotten rucked up under Derek’s hand while they slept, revealing a strip of skin that’s just barely tinged with summer. Derek runs his thumb over the jut of his hip bone, fascinated by how soft the skin is and how sharp the bone is there.

Derek feels Stiles’ breath change cadence just before he wakes. He can feel the sigh, the pause, the first conscious inhale moving through him.

“Hey,” he says, voice gruff but sweet. His hand tightens around Derek’s side, his other hand comes up to rest on the side of Derek’s head to keep him there.

“Hey,” Derek says back.


His thumb is still moving on Stiles’ skin, unable to stop quite yet, and the skin there is warmer for it. Derek should move, he really should. He should at least stop with the hip thing. He pulls himself away slowly, Stiles’ grip going lax to let him go. He shifts just enough to be off of him and on his own side of the bed, but his hand stays on Stiles’ stomach. Smooth, creamy skin broken up by a strip of coarse hair and Stiles’ honey-toned eyes are on him… He can’t help but stare. He slides his hand away, the last point of contact broken.

“How are you?” Stiles asks, turning onto his side.

Derek does not look at the curving line of his body, no matter how much he wants to. It’s just casual curiosity, that’s it. How can a guy’s body have such soft, sharp spots, how can they curve so languidly? Pure science.

“I’m good. Better. Thanks,” Derek answers.

He smiles. Derek smiles back, his heart floating like a buoy in his chest. Stiles’ eyes at close range, caught in the sparkling early morning light…

Derek almost wants to put his hand back on his hip and pull him closer, just so he can explore the textures in his irises even closer.

“Breakfast?” Stiles asks, breaking the spell.

“Yeah.”

Stiles sits up and rubs both hands through his already wild hair. “Let’s go to Lydia’s and see if she’ll fire up the ole waffle iron.” He half-leaps out of bed, his sleep-mussed clothes untwisting around his lean frame and falling back into place.

Derek gets up and follows, feeling like he’s caught in the same air current.

**

July 14th, 2010
Wednesday

It’s hot.

Like, really hot.

Lydia’s garage is not the hottest place in the world, it’s not even the hottest place in Beacon Hills, but even still Stiles feels encased in sweat. The fan in the corner doesn’t do much if anything at all. Opening the door or the windows is not an option. Stiles holds his guitar away from him, looking at the dark sweat stain on his shirt in mild horror. Derek has clearly gone to his inner fortress of solitude, his eyes distant and his mouth in an unconscious scowl, his bass hanging uselessly on him. Lydia holds a water bottle to her neck, her greasy hair up in a ratty bun.

“If we had better amps,” Scott says, sitting on the floor, his guitar lying on it’s back not far from him.

This all feels distinctly unglamorous. Entirely opposite.

“It’s not the amps,” Lydia says. She’s using her spare hand to pull at the collar of her loose tank top and her sticks are lying across her lap.

Stiles looks at her and is jealous of her and her lack of sweaty guitar strap. He has to get it off him or he’ll yell. He’ll throw it. His patience is quickly approaching zero.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Scott snaps at her.

“It means it’s not the fucking amp’s fault we can’t focus on anything, you dick,” she snaps right back.

Derek blinks a few times, looking between them. A bead of sweat rolls from his hairline to his temple, Stiles looks away.

Scott opens his mouth to say something shitty back but what is there to say? Nothing. Stiles growls in frustration to cut off any attempts and angrily lifts his guitar all the way off him. A second’s worth of cool air hits the back of his neck when the strap is finally off of him but then it’s all back to hot anyway.

Stiles pulls his shirt off over his head, balls it up, and throws it as hard as he can at the couch. “I’m fucking done,” he half yells. “I’m getting in the pool.”

Lydia stands too, tossing her water bottle aside and stomping to the door that leads to the back yard. It slams against the wall with how hard she opens it and then she’s absorbed by the bright light outside.

“Let’s go, up,” Stiles says, tugging Scott by the arm until he lurches to his feet.

“She’s mad at me,” Scott grumbles.

“It’s 500 degrees,” Stiles says, unable to formulate a real argument for how that’s not true. “Derek, c’mon.”

Derek’s already put his instrument down. He reaches over his head and pulls his shirt off from the back of the neck, dropping it next to his bass. He breezes past Stiles and Scott (all broad shoulders and gorgeous tan, god damn…) and out into the light as well.

Scott follows, Stiles follows him, the air outside is just as hot and humid as the air inside. But when he falls into the pool, he lets out a hiss of relief and lets himself sink to the bottom just until his lungs start squeezing in his chest. He floats back up toward the shimmering light and breaks through with a deep breath.

None of them say a thing for awhile. Stiles floats on his back, eyes closed, delighting in the slight breeze stirring across the surface of the water.

And then Lydia clears her throat.

“It’s not the amps,” she repeats.

“So it’s just us?” Scott asks from the opposite end of the pool, terse. “We just sound bad.”

“No,” she says firmly. “You guys sound good even with the shitty amps.”

“Aw, thanks,” Stiles coos at her. He’s hoping Scott will let it go. Stiles ducks under the water again and comes back up facing Scott.

Scott floats around thoughtfully for a second. Lydia’s eyes track his slow movement. Derek is holding onto a crocodile floaty, not giving a fuck about any of this. Stiles doesn’t blame him.

“We could use it…” Scott says after awhile. Lydia lifts an eyebrow. “We keep trying to go for a really polished sound, but we just can’t right now, so let’s go rough, right?”

“So go grungy?” Stiles asks, already thinking of what that means for him in terms of vocals.

“Not totally, I think you should still sing how you sing, I mean when we get to that point.”

“Amazing what an acceptable body temperature can do for a person,” Derek says, moving closer to them. So he had been listening, even with the aloof air. Stiles shoots a look his way, one he hopes goes unnoticed. But Derek makes eye contact. “Try dragging the melody a little,” Derek tells him. “Just stretch it out.”

Stiles can sorta envision how it’d sound in his head. He nods and shrugs, totally willing to attempt it.

“And we can play around with pedals and shit,” Scott says, sounding excited. “And like, I think Lydia’s style is so clean and technical, it’d really shine through, right? That and Stiles’ voice. I think it could be cool.”

“See? Not the amps,” Lydia says. She splashes Scott and laughs when he charges toward her, fake-growling through a grin.

Derek slips under the water and comes up in Scott’s path, “saving” Lydia with his face split in laughter. Scott wraps his arms around Derek and drags the both of them down into the depths. Lydia takes the opportunity to steal the crocodile. Stiles waits for her to settle on top of it before rushing forward and capsizing her.

The battle continues, loud and joyous yelling and splashing and yelping. Stiles’ heart almost stops when Derek’s arms slide around his chest and waist and trap him against him. Their slick skin sliding together makes him woozy. He thinks again, for the thousandth time, about the path Derek’s thumb was making on his naked hip and that’s is a truly dangerous though. He wrestles back, turning around in his grip and hooking his leg around him. Lydia climbs onto Derek’s back and claims herself queen of the mountain, making Derek release Stiles.

They all end up stretched out on the hot concrete, lying in a puddle of water that’d sloshed out of the pool, panting and laughing.

“Pizza rolls,” Stiles says, voice dreamy.

“There’s a box in the freezer,” Lydia informs.

“Corndogs,” Scott pitches in, reverent.

“This is why Derek has abs and you two don’t,” Lydia observes, not cruelly.

“I like corndogs,” Derek defends.

“I have asthma,” Scott points out.

“I’m really skinny, I can eat as many pizza rolls as I want,” Stiles argues.

“All your fat storage is in your ass,” Lydia teases.

“You like my ass, Lydia?” Stiles asks, propping himself up on one elbow to look at her.

“Love it,” she answers, toneless.

“You have a great ass, baby,” Scott tells him.

“Thanks, baby. Derek, would you like to opine?”

Derek smirks. What the fuck does that mean. “And stroke your ego more?”

Stiles bites his tongue before a “you can stroke something else if you’d prefer” can slide right out of his mouth. He grins instead. “My ego’s in good shape, I don’t need your input. Pizza rolls, lady and gents!” And with that, Stiles struggles to his feet and makes his way toward the house.

“And corndogs!” Scott calls after him, helpless.

“And corndogs!”

**

July 31st, 2010
Saturday

Derek wakes up from a dream that he instantly forgets. It laps at the edges of his memory, filling him with vague sensations from it. Warmth, gentle waves, hands on skin. He kicks his blankets off and rolls onto his stomach to bury his face in his pillow for more sleep. There’s no reason to be up before noon.

But he hears the sounds of the house — Laura playing music, Cora on the phone with someone, his mom vacuuming the stairs. He winces at the vacuum. He had promised her he’d do it days ago.

He squeezes his eyes shut and hugs his pillow and tries to remember more details of his dream. He still feels like he’s floating from it. He catches the corner of an image (brown eyes) and tries to chase it, but it leads nowhere. Brown eyes. Paige. Stiles.

Paige. He wonders how Paige is. She’d sent him a postcard from camp, he’d sent her a letter back. He told her about his birthday week and the band. He’d asked her to tell him stories from camp. He hoped she would. He’s smiling into his pillow just thinking about her.

Stiles. Derek gives up on sleep and reaches for his phone. The group text between Stiles, Scott, Lydia and Derek has hundreds of messages just from the night before. Derek doesn’t even bother catching up. The most recent messages make up a chorus of the other three all-caps requesting Derek to wake up and talk to them.

“What?” he sends, smiling stupidly.

“Make us pancakes,” Lydia sends back immediately.

“Duuuude, we want to go see Inception again, you in?” Scott sends.

“Make your own pancakes, yes Inception,” Derek answers. “What’d I miss here?” he asks.

“Maria broke up with Stiles, kinda. It’s a STORY, we’ll cover it later.”

“Thanks, Lydz, ya jerk,” Stiles interjects.

“Who?” Derek sends. He laughs into his pillow when Stiles’ “ha. ha.” comes through.

“That was sort of her point too, WE SHALL DISCUSS LATER. Mama McCall said she’d make breakfast burritos if you guys came over, so please help a brother out and come over,” Scott says.

Derek gets out of bed immediately and heads out in record time. He sees the Jeep parked crookedly in the front driveway and Lydia’s car out on the curb, so he lets himself in.

“Bacon or chorizo?” Melissa calls from the kitchen.

“Chorizo, you want the chorizo!” Lydia yells.

The kitchen is potato and warm tortilla scented. Scott is shirtless and messy haired at the table, Melissa is lording over an electric skillet, Lydia is sitting up on a counter. Derek has to give the room a second sweep to find Stiles and still comes up empty.

“Where’s the other one?” Derek asks.

“We’re heavily favoring chorizo here, so if you want bacon speak now or forever hold your peace,” Melissa prompts again, looking at him over her shoulder.

“Chorizo,” Derek confirms, grinning at her. “Thanks.”

Hands fall on his shoulders and squeeze before a slim body edges past him to get into the kitchen. Stiles plops down next to Scott, crosses his arms on the table, and lowers his head. Derek tries to read the blank expression on his face but comes up empty.

“Scott, avocado, make yourself useful,” Melissa orders. Scott pops up from his seat to help.

The Scott and Melissa relationship is a rare thing, Derek thinks. If she was any other type of woman, she would probably seem like an absentee parent. Derek thinks Scott probably has her in mind more than most kids have their parents in mind when going about their daily lives. Derek knows that Scott is definitely unavailable when Melissa has the night off and that Scott will ride his bike to bring her dinner if he has to. In turn, Melissa lives what seems to be her ideal life with Scott when she has time. Cooking together must be a big part of it.

Derek watches Melissa touch Scott’s cheek affectionately as she steps back to let the egg and chorizo mix cook up.

“Derek,” she says as a proper greeting now that she can. She reaches up to pat the top of his head, probably trying to flatten a cowlick. “How’s it going?”

“Good, you?”

“Oh, you know,” she says with the usual note of almost-sarcasm. “Are you okay?” she asks Stiles, turning just a little to look at him.

“Yeah.”


She furrows her brows, unconvinced. Derek is unconvinced too. He makes eye contact with Lydia and she shrugs.

“Is this a Maria thing?” Scott asks.

“No,” he says. And Derek believes that.

“Did you want bacon? You could have said,” Melissa teases.

Stiles smiles a little. “Nah.”

Melissa has her hands on her hips as she observes him. Stiles stares cooly back, clearly used to it.

“Is your dad off today?” she asks.

“Yeah.”

She nods. “Hm. I’ll pack something for him.”

“Okay.”

She sighs and ruffles his hair as she walks past to attend to the food. Derek finally moves to sit next to him. Stiles looks up at him, head still down. The room is bright with sunlight but not bright enough to illuminate his eyes. Dark brown eyes, dark brown eyelashes, the lightest wash of freckles across his cheekbones… Derek nudges Stiles’ elbow with his own. Stiles nudges back, a small smile ghosting across his face.

“So what happened with Maria?” Derek asks.

Stiles rolls his eyes and closes them, sighing. “Honestly, it’s not that bad.”

“It’s indicative of a trend,” Lydia says. She slides off the counter to come sit on the other side of Stiles. She runs her fingers through his hair and he shakes his head half-heartedly to knock her away.

“It doesn’t matter,” Stiles huffs.

“Who is this Maria?” Melissa asks.

“A girl from school,” Scott answers.

“I should hope so.”

“Stiles was sorta seeing her.”

“Listen,” Stiles says, sitting up finally. “What happened is, I forgot to tell her when we got back from the beach and then i kept forgetting to text her back and then I’d text her back but she’d be busy and ultimately, the thing is, neither of us really are that interested in not doing what we want to do to spend time together and that’s totally valid and fine. So at least this time it was mutual. That’s it.”

Derek remembers the Danny situation and how bummed out he was after that. He tries to compare notes and finds no similarities at all. Derek had forgotten about Maria too.

“What do you mean this time it was mutual, who did this happen with before?” Melissa asks.

“Danny,” Stiles mutters.

“Danny’s a nice kid, I can’t believe he’d—“

“Oh, he didn’t,” Scott says quickly to cut her off.

“Oh.”

“Maria and I are cool though, no hostility. I didn’t say anything to horribly offend her, at least.” Stiles crosses his arms over his chest and scowls. “And it doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter. I don’t care about it, it’s sort of a relief.”

And Derek believes that too. So it’s something else. But Stiles has thrown a wall up that Derek doesn’t want to bother.

“Alright, let’s assemble some burritos, who wants what?” Melissa asks.

They eat in happy silence, but Derek can’t stop checking on Stiles out of the corner of his eye. He just seems so much less bright and shiny than usual. Derek hates it.

Stiles finishes first and stands up to clean up after himself.

“Don’t forget your dad’s,” Melissa reminds him.

“I won’t, thank you.”

“Where are you going?” Derek asks, feeling cheated of his presence already.

“Family stuff,” Stiles says simply.


The other two keep acting normal, say their goodbyes around bites of food. Melissa stands up to fuss over the burrito, finding a plastic grocery bag for him to take it in after wrapping it in a paper towel. Derek watches her make eye contact with him and smile softly. Stiles frowns, eyes sad. She touches his chin softly and pulls him into a hug that he stays in for a curiously long amount of time. And then she lovingly shoves him toward the door.

She sits back down when the front door clicks shut. Derek listens for the Jeep. Scott looks at his mom with a soft smile.

“So, what’s going on?” Derek asks.

“It’s his mom’s birthday, they go do stuff,” Lydia answers.

Oh.

**

Stiles appreciates that his friends text him updates throughout the day so he doesn’t feel left out. He appreciates being able to look down at his phone and see their names. It’s comforting.

He also appreciates how it feels to speak Polish with his grandparents and how smoothly his first name sounds when they say it. And it’s good to see how over the years, his dad doesn’t hide from this stuff as much as he used to. It’s good to spend time with him during it instead of the painful, confusing distance his dad used to impose on them all.

Stiles gets it now, he hadn’t then. But it’s better now.

And honestly, it’s not so bad in general anymore. Just reflective, quiet, loving.

The grandparents, mom’s parents, drive up from Petaluma every year for this. They go to the cemetery and leave flowers and grandma cooks and Stiles practices Polish and gets praised for being handsome like his father and pretty like his mother at the same time. His dad can’t understand a word of Polish, so they take advantage of that to get the real dirt on how he’s doing out of Stiles. In the last few years, it’s been more laughter than sadness and that’s good. His mom was a funny lady, she deserves that.

Stiles’ grandma cries when she leaves every time, holding Stiles’ face in her small hands and kissing him a thousand times but they’re happy, loving, proud grandma tears.

When they leave, Stiles sits close to his dad on the porch swing. His dad lets him have some of his beer. They don’t say much. This is how it goes. Every year.

It’s comforting even if it sorta sucks.

“So,” his dad says, pushing his foot against the floor to rock the swing a little. “What’d you tell grandma about me this time?”

Stiles smiles. “That you’re doing well. She says you look like you need to lay off the cheeseburgers.”

“Don’t lie about your poor old grandma to further your own agenda,” he scolds, laughing.

Stiles laughs too and feels some of the tension he’d been holding ebb away. “She asked me if I had a girlfriend or boyfriend,” he says.

“See, it just takes old people longer to get it,” his dad says thoughtfully.

Grandma had never been disgusted or disappointed or anything, just confused.

“It didn’t take you long,” Stiles teases.

“Jerk.” They both take a moment of silence to appreciate the bantering.

The bantering, now that’s the most comforting of all. It was how this family functioned. His mom used to reign supreme at it. Stiles used to watch his parents go back and forth like he was watching a tennis match, head turning back and forth and back and forth. His father always joked that the first sentence out of Stiles’ mouth was sarcastic, and honestly, it probably was. How could it not be? The people who taught him language, the people who crafted his thoughts with their own voices, were sarcastic.

“You know, if you ever wonder…” his dad starts, sounding serious. “How your mom would feel about you now… I can tell you.”

“Hm?” Stiles prompts.

“She’d be very entertained, I know I am.”

Stiles holds his breath for a second to take that in. He smiles and looks down at his lap to hide it. “So I’m entertaining?”

“You’re a riot, kiddo. Never a dull moment. She’d have loved it.”

When they finally go back inside, Stiles reaches for his phone. He opens it. He ignores the group text and goes straight for his thread with Derek.

“Can you come over?” he asks him. He doesn’t even know if they’re all still hanging out. Maybe they are. It’d be okay if they all came over, but Stiles just wants quiet togetherness, he just wants Derek.

“Yeah, on my way.”

**

Stiles’ hair is still wet from a shower and he smells good. He’s stretched out on his stomach, face turned toward Derek. Derek is searching his face for all signs of distress or hurt or anything.

He smiles a natural, beautiful, soft smile and snuggles into his pillow. “I’m fine,” he says. “I got to talk shit in Polish all day and hear my first name get pronounced correctly, I’m good, don’t worry.”

“I’m not worrying,” Derek says, trying to sound casual. He wonders what Polish sounds like and what Stiles’ first name even is.

“Uh huh. Did they tell you what today was?”

“Yeah,” Derek confesses.

Stiles murmurs. “It’s okay,” he explains. “It’s not hard, it’s just somber. I’m good, I’m happy. I just… wanted… to see you, I guess.”

Derek feels honored. “Well, I’m here.”

“Thanks.”

The light from the bedside table behind Derek make his eyes a bright whiskey brown. Derek should start a mental catalogue of the shades of brown eyes he hadn’t known could exist before he knew Stiles.

“Alright, tell me about your day, what did you guys do?” Stiles asks.

So Derek turns over onto his back to get more comfortable and runs through a list of things. After breakfast they had dragged Melissa with them to go see Inception because she said she hadn’t seen a movie in theaters since she took Scott and Stiles to go see Iron Man. They dropped her back off at home and went swimming at Lydia’s. Scott made Derek listen to a Blink-182 album he’d never heard before. Lydia insisted on a popsicle tasting… When he lays it all out like that, it sounds like a lot. It had felt lazy and slow and Derek had found himself wishing Stiles was there to opine on banana flavored popsicles…

“I cannot believe the popsicle tasting happened without me,” Stiles whines.

“The freezer in the garage is full of popsicles, you can have your own tasting next time.”

“I will, too, I don’t give a fuck,” he asserts. “Did you guys miss me, at least?”

Yeah. Derek missed him a lot. He loved Lydia and Scott one on one just as much as in the group. He loves all of them so desperately. But Stiles balances everything out and everything with him feels like an adventure, even if it’s just looking for weird inflatable pool toys at Walmart or finding boxes in the garage to flatten and slide down the stairs on.

“We did,” Derek answers. “I needed someone on my side about banana popsicles.”

“I love banana popsicles, man.”

Derek punches the air above his head triumphantly. “Yes, I knew it.”

Stiles props himself up on his elbows to look down at Derek, smiling fondly. “Damn, now I have to share banana flavored things with someone?”

“Yep. Laffy Taffies too.”

“Damn,” Stiles sighs. “Good thing I like you.”

Derek puts on his best Stile Stilinski smirk in response. Stiles rolls his eyes.

“What’s your first name?” Derek asks him.

“A dangerous state secret,” Stiles says.

“Is it embarrassing?”

“A little.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s so unabashedly not English and apparently impossible to pronounce.”

“That’s no reason for it to be embarrassing.”

“Go back in time to first grade and tell our classmates that when they were making fun of me, then,” Stiles says.

“I will.”

Stiles laughs and shakes his head. “You’re somethin’, Derek Hale. It’s Mieczyslaw.” And then he spells it out.

“Mitchyslaw?”

“God,” Stiles laughs. “Myeh-chi-suave,” he says slowly. “The L with the bar thing is like a “W” sound.”

“How did they make fun of it?”

“Well, first off, I’ve never heard it pronounced correctly outside of my family even once. Even my dad messes it up sometimes. So when people used to mispronounce it, I’d get all upset, and then I’d get made fun of for getting upset about it. But then people started calling me coleslaw. And then kids just started making weird noises at me to see if I’d answer. So…”

Derek nods sympathetically. “Well, I think it’s cool.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“I’m not going to attempt it again though.”

Stiles laughs. “For the best.”

Derek mulls it over though. Stiles watches him.

“So do Lydia and Scott remember you before you were Stiles?” Derek asks, screwing up his mouth to keep from laughing.

Stiles “ugh”s and flops back onto his face. “Actually, Lydia could say it fairly well, why do you think I was in love with her? I was an easily won over kid. Scott actually came up with the nickname though.”

“So as far as everyone is concerned, Scott McCall named you.”

“Technically speaking, yes. I never thought of it that way.”

Derek stays awhile longer, talking aimlessly. He’s tempted to fall asleep here again when he gets a text from his mom saying she’s forgotten what he looks like and misses him.

“I guess I should go,” Derek says reluctantly, sitting up.

Stiles reaches a hand up toward him. Derek twists their fingers together and squeezes.

“Thanks for coming over,” Stiles says. He makes no move to get up for a real goodbye.

“Any time,” Derek says, sliding his hand away slowly.

Chapter Text

August 3rd, 2010
Tuesday

August moves at a snail’s pace. The days feel longer than ever before. The day hangs forever just a few calendar spots away. Every day is overcast with rumbling thunder in the afternoons that never bring any rain so it’s also humid. Derek doesn’t even have to move to feel like he’s drenched in sweat.

He wishes this month was over and it’s only just started.

Stiles shifts beside him, readjusting his guitar in his lap. His skin looks dewy and flushed. He looks miserable, just like the rest of them.

Lydia lifts her head a little. “Are you going to sing?” she asks, gentle like she doesn’t want to spook him.

Stiles hasn’t sung at practice all summer. He’d promised he would before school started again. Derek had moved on from just wanting him to sing so they could work on band things and right into just wanting to hear his voice again. Half-volume, no effort singing along to the radio only scratches the surface of that craving.

One night while sitting on a picnic table in a clearing in the preserve, high, tipsy, happy… Stiles had leaned closer to Derek and rested his chin on his shoulder and whispered to him that he was afraid.

“Of what?” Derek had asked.

Stiles had shaken his head, digging his chin into Derek’s shoulder. “Of disappointing everyone.”

Derek’s pretty sure that had applied to the singing. But also to other things, probably. Derek wanted to steal Stiles away and go for a long drive and blast his favorite songs and tease him until his voice spilled from him as easily as his laughter and then he’d bring him back and put him in front of a microphone and see what would happen…

Stiles clears his throat, Derek watches his Adam’s apple bob when he swallows. He nods, eyes darting away from anyone’s contact. He curls his long body over his guitar and starts playing something softly.

The intro is so long and intricate, Derek thinks he might not sing after all. But he watches his pale, long fingers along the fret and is mesmerized anyway. He seems plugged in and focused and Derek can’t look away. Neither can the others.

And then he opens his mouth and he hits his first note with more confidence and strength than Derek thought he would and his voice… He hears Lydia let out a hiss and a “damn” and he agrees.

“I get so distracted by some peoples reactions that I don't see my own faults for what they are…” And then he keeps going. He’s okay. Derek doesn’t even move, he hardly breathes. It’s just Stiles sitting cross-legged on the floor of Lydia’s garage, it’s just him singing a song someone else wrote but making it sound like it’s pouring out of his own thoughts. The air is still uncomfortably thick, but it just makes Derek feel even more like he’s caught in amber. Everything about this, everything…

The song ends, the guitar strings ring almost inaudibly, no one moves or makes a sound. Stiles’ cheeks are flushed red with embarrassment, he still won’t make eye contact.

“How do you do that?” Scott asks after a little, voice stripped of anything but honest awe.

Stiles shrugs. “So it was okay?”

Lydia nods eagerly, a slow smile emerging. “You’re amazing, you did it!”

Stiles “heh”s uncomfortably and sets his guitar aside. He rubs at the sweat on the back of his neck with a shaking hand.

Derek doesn’t realize he looks as worried as he feels until Stiles lifts an eyebrow at him. “What?” he asks.

“You’re shaking,” Derek notes.

“Nerves,” he explains.

“We’ve heard you sing thousands of times, what’s there to be nervous about?” Scott asks.

Stiles sends a desperate look toward Derek, and Derek hears that “I’m afraid” all over again, but he doesn’t say anything. Stiles doesn’t either.

“Stage fright,” he says. “I can work through it.”

“We know you can,” Lydia says, encouraging.

“Thanks… So can I have my popsicles now, or…?” He flashes a hopeful smile at Lydia. Derek feels the usual Stiles returning to them, the atmosphere lightens, he can breathe easier again.

“Nerd,” Lydia mutters.

Stiles pops up from the floor and gallops toward the freezer with more energy than Derek had seen in him all day.

“Everyone gets a popsicle, you, and you, and you, and me,” he yells dramatically from the freezer, carefully picking things out from the many boxes Derek knows are stacked in there. Derek smiles. He recognizes the surge in energy from him from how he was after his choir concerts.

Stiles tosses a bright purple thing at Lydia and hands a blue one to Scott. He sits back down next to Derek and holds out two yellow popsicles for him to choose from.

“Are they lemon or banana?” he asks, wiggling both options. “Won’t know until we try, huh?” He grins.

Derek grins back and takes the one on the left.

**

August 9th, 2010
Monday

“It’s not haunted,” Derek says, an amused smirk twisting his lips.

“I never said it was,” Scott says, defensive. He’s looking up at the Hale house, large and old and set against a sky of marbled gray and black storm clouds.

“They sense fear,” Laura says in a creepy voice from within the darkness of the garage. Scott whips toward the sound of her voice, nervous.

Stiles laughs. Derek watches Laura emerge with his arms crossed over his chest.

“What are you nerds doing here?” she asks, leaning against Derek’s car. “Isn’t Richie Rich’s place your preferred club house?”

Richie Rich, or rather… Lydia raises an eyebrow at Laura.

“Mom’s out of town,” Derek says as if that’s an explanation.

“Yes, I’m aware.”

“Scott wants to go ghost hunting.” Stiles bites the inside of his cheek to keep a straight face.

“No I don’t,” Scott argues.

Laura strides forward and hooks an arm around his neck. “I once saw something up in the attic,” she says with a spooky air.

Thunder rumbles overhead. Scott ducks to get out of her grip and “ha ha”s humorlessly. Laura cackles as she heads back into the garage. Derek leads the rest of them after her.

“No keggers, please,” Laura says. “I’m in charge or whatever.”

“We just wanted a change of scenery,” Derek says.

Which is true. Stiles had only ever been here a handful of times, same as the others. And only twice for longer than a few minutes. It’s a big house with a lot of rooms, Stiles wants to poke around.

“What are you doing home?” Derek asks. He leans against the center island in the kitchen and watches Laura open and close cabinets.

“Well, brother, it’s supposed to storm and I didn’t want to get caught in it driving back so, here I am. And I know you’ll miss me soon enough, so I figured I’d crash your friend gathering, obviously. You know Cora’s going to be hanging around ‘cause of this one…” She nods her head toward Stiles.

“She can hang out if she wants,” Derek says in Cora’s defense. “She’s the one I like.”

Laura sticks her tongue out at him. He laughs.

“Siblings are weird,” Scott notes.

“Wait, does your sister like me?” Stiles asks, squaring his shoulders and smirking.

“No,” Derek says at the same time as Laura says, “Yes.” Derek amends his answer to: “I don’t know, it’s not like she’d tell me.”

Stiles tries to observe to find out when Cora finally appears from upstairs, lured by the scent of popcorn. He can feel Derek’s evil eye though, so he gives up pretty fast.

“Are you excited for high school, little Hale?” Scott asks her.

She rolls her eyes, probably at the “little Hale” thing. But she still smiles just a little, not quite too cool for them yet. “Sorta.”

“You tell me about any one giving you any shit, I’ll kick their asses,” Scott promises, sounding way too cheerful about it.

She laughs then, cool teen pretense entirely dropped. “Okay, I will. I’ll kick their ass with you.”

“That’s the spirit,” Derek drawls. He scowls when Cora rounds the couch and shoves herself in between him and Lydia, pushing him closer to Stiles. Lydia pets Cora’s hair affectionately in greeting without ever taking her eyes off the movie.

**

So Laura hadn’t been joking about the storm. A loud crash of thunder immediately proceeds a sudden downpour that bathes the whole house in percussive sound. A second crash of thunder proceeds flickering lights and a sudden loss of power.

“Uh…” Scott says, nervous. Stiles makes ghostly “woooo” sounds next to him. Lydia laughs.

“Guys,” Cora says, sounding devious. She swivels to look at Derek and then looks toward Laura. “Run!”

She scrambles up from the couch and makes a beeline for the door. Laura springs up and follow her, cackling gleefully. Derek’s heart swells, his excitement forcing a grin out of him.

A summer storm. Hales love summer storms. He pops off the couch himself and pulls Stiles and Lydia up with him. Scott stands too. Clearly the three of them are lost.

“You heard the girl, run!” he says, leading them toward the open front door. From the front steps he can see Laura and Cora chasing each other out in the yard. He leaps down the stairs and joins them.

“Go, go, go!” he hears Scott commanding, joy overtaking his tone. The other three burst from the front door and take off around him.

Rain drops from the sky, heavy and thick and warm. The sound of it hammering on millions of leaves and the roof tiles and the metal rain gutters and cars and the concrete drive fills his ears. He hears laughing mixed in. Stiles, Lydia, Scott, Laura, Cora. Five of the most important people in Derek’s life. He runs, the grass slippery under his bare feet and the ground softening into mud that seeps up through his toes. He’s laughing too, he can feel it in his chest. The ease of it takes him by surprise.

They run in circles around the house. Sometimes from each other, sometimes with each other, sometimes toward each other. After awhile, he catches up to Cora and grabs her around the waist, yanking her off her feet. She wraps her arms around him for support and curses brightly. A third body slams into them from the left, knocking Derek off his feet. Laura’s long, wet hair slaps him in the face before she throws herself on top of both of them. Cora yelps and pushes her away, Derek squirms to free himself.

A strong hang grabs his wrist and tugs. He breaks free and scrambles to his feet and makes direct eye contact with Stiles. Stiles whose hair is wet and flat against his forehead, whose skin gleams with rain water, whose eyes look both bright and dark at the same time, whose wide mouth is curled into a smile that Derek hopes he’s never given anyone else. He can’t remember seeing it pointed at anyone who wasn’t him…

“Run with me!” Stiles says, his hand tightening around him as he tugs.

So he does. He runs a few paces after Stiles before he’s released. They keep up with each other, running for the tree line where Scott and Lydia both stand panting. Laura and Cora are laughing behind them, possibly still on the ground. Derek doesn’t bother to look.

His sweat is mingling with the water, his breath is hard to catch between the humidity and the laughing and the running. He feels like he’s going to burst. Like he could run just a little faster and take off flying.

Stiles makes it to Scott and throws his arms around him. Thunder rumbles overhead, the raindrops on leaves sound is so much louder here. Derek skids to a stop next to Lydia and she wraps an arm round his waist. They all watch as Cora and Laura finally stop laughing in a pile of limbs long enough to help each other up. Laura crouches just enough for Cora to hop on her back to be carried and they stagger clumsily toward them.

They’re all out of breath, the laughter is implied more than vocalized. The dark storm clouds churning and swirling over the house look anything but ominous like this but the house does look appropriately gothic and mysterious. All the greens are greener against the dark gray as if the rain has power washed them back to their intended brilliance.

Lydia’s arm slips from his waist and Derek looks in time to see her hugging Stiles back. When Stiles lets her go, he grabs Derek.

It’s so easy to hug him back. To feel his slim form in his arms, hot through two layers of soaking wet shirts. His cheek slides against Derek’s and his breath is so loud. He smells like ozone and rain water and sweat and grass and a distant memory of soap. Derek squeezes his waist. Derek feels Stiles’ ribs pressing into his and compares their bodies in a flash observation. His hips are narrower, his whole body is slighter than Derek’s, he’s so small. Derek wonders how far around Stiles’ waist his bigger hands could stretch.

And then he pulls away, twisting away while keeping one arm around Derek’s neck. Derek keeps his arm around his waist, then. It’s only fair. On the other side of him, Stiles reaches out to ruffle Cora’s hair and punch Laura’s arm.

Lightning pulses through the clouds not far away seconds before a bolt races across the sky.

“And that’s our cue!” Lydia yells over the storm, grabbing Scott’s hand to run back toward the house.

Stiles lets go of Derek, Derek lets go of him, and they all run toward the back door.

**

The power is still out when the stomp their way into the mud room. Stiles mentally recalibrates his knowledge of the Hale house layout while Laura digs towels out of a trunk. So there’s the back deck that leads to the kitchen but there’s a door that leads to a mudroom that leads up to the laundry… Rich people…

“I think I’m dying,” Scott wheezes.

“Where’s your inhaler?” Lydia asks, all business.

“I don’t need it, I’m fine.”

“I thought you were dying.”

“I have a backup in the Jeep but I don’t need it.”

They continue going back and forth like that, even while toweling off. Stiles shifts toward Derek who has just tugged his sopping wet shirt over his head.

“Would now be a good time to get a grand tour or would that prove you a liar about this place not being haunted?” Stiles asks, softly. More flirty than necessary. Oh well.

Derek tosses his shirt into a plastic hamper and grins. Stiles keeps his eyes up, definitely doesn’t look at his bare chest. Derek’s fingers come up and hook in the sagging neck of Stiles’ shirt and his heart hammers against his rib cage…

“I’ll go get some dry clothes and a flashlight first,” Derek says and steps closer for no fucking reason. Stiles can feel body heat radiating off him.

Stiles thinks about hugging him, thinks about how Derek’s fingers had dug into his sides and how their cheeks had touched and how much he just wants to slam him against a wall and kiss him senseless. He thinks about that morning he woke up to his hands on his naked skin and how much he’s fantasized about it since. He thinks about his arms around him at the concert. He thinks about that smile Derek has that feels like it belongs to Stiles and Stiles alone. He burns.

He knows there’s a flush rising in his cheeks, but thankfully the room is too dim. Thunder crashes outside, the rain continues. Stiles swallows audibly, Derek’s fingers brush against his neck when he untangles his fingers from the neck of Stiles’ shirt and pulls away.

He watches Derek wiggle out of his jeans and wrap a towel around his boxer-clad body. He flashes back to the profile of his body at the lake house, the curve of his waist giving way to hips giving way to ass… he’d only seen it for half a second, but his mind has filled in all the blanks endlessly, endlessly…

“Get me sweatpants,” Laura commands. “Lydia, do you want sweatpants?”

“Sure.”

“Get me Laura’s prom dress,” Cora calls after him, giggling.

“Derek, don’t touch my fucking prom dress.”

“I don’t even know where it is!” he calls over his shoulder, voice getting more distant as he makes his way through the house.

Stiles loves him like this. Light in his eyes, a laugh in his voice, irresistible. Stiles likes him so much it hurts sometimes.

**

August 14th, 2010
Saturday

Derek sits in the passenger seat of the Jeep with a stack of CDs in his hands and no desire to look through them. Stiles is filling up the tank, singing under his breath along with the gas station’s sound system as he taps his foot impatiently.

He’s not going to be sad today. He’s not. He’s not thinking about it. He’s thinking about Stiles and music and adventure and mind altering substances. He will not think about how mad Laura and Cora were or how silently disappointed his mom was.

Instead, he’ll focus on how softly she kissed him on the forehead and how long she lingered there before telling him to be safe and have fun. He’ll focus on how he knows she understood why he needed to do this.

Stiles yanks the door open and tosses himself up into the driver’s seat. “Okay,” he declares. “Did you pick?” he asks, gesturing to the pile of unexamined CDs in Derek’s hands.

“No, I don’t care, you pick,” he says, handing them back.

Stiles tilts his head at Derek, his eyes searching him. “Okay…”

Derek looks back at him, sorta wanting to say something. They hold each other’s gazes, silently but ineffectually communicating something. Whatever it is, it feels safe. Stiles cares about him. Derek cares about him too. Stiles might not know the exact anniversary, but Derek knows that he knows it’s close to it. He’d been so careful with him lately. Always looking to him to check in on him, standing close, texting him silly things late at night as if offering an invitation.

Stiles smiles at him. Soft and genuine. Soft, soft, soft. Stiles holds up the CD on top. It’s the mix Derek gave him most recently. It’s full of classic rock, the stuff his father used to blast through the house on Saturday mornings. Derek smiles back and nods. Stiles doesn’t even know, and yet he does the perfect thing…

**

Derek is quiet for a little. Not in the usual way, but in a purposeful way. Stiles feels nervous. What if he didn’t really want to come? This was going to be a miserable weekend for him if he had just said yes because he felt like he had to. Listen, no one had to do anything. Maisie and her friend couldn’t go, Maisie gave the tickets to Lydia, Lydia would rather die than go to a music festival, Scott was busy, Stiles could have said no, and Derek could have to. Maisie would have found someone else to take the tickets if she had to, it wouldn’t have been hard.

Stiles clears his throat. “So,” he says over Billy Joel’s crooning. “Are you excited for Kings of Leon?” Derek snorts. The tension in Stiles’ chest loosens. He grins. “Ooooh, your sex is on fiiiiyuuuh,” Stiles sings at him.

“Cannot wait.”

“I, for one, am excited for Electric Six to perform their seminal classic Gay Bar,” Stiles continues.

“You… I want to take you to a gay bar, I want to take you to a gay bar, I want to take you to a gay bar, gay bar, gay bar,” Derek recites, monotone.

Stiles laughs, surprised he actually knows it. “Fine, let’s go,” Stiles flirts.

Derek snorts. “Okay. But The Strokes. My Morning Jacket. Cat Power.”

“Social D, Tokyo Police Club, Wolfmother,” Stiles adds, nodding.

Derek shifts in his seat, turning to face Stiles more. “I’m excited,” he says, meaningful. Like he knows Stiles was worried about that. Stiles looks at him, face perhaps a little too open. “I am,” he assures him. “I’m glad we’re going.”

“Me too.” Stiles wants to say he’s glad it’s Derek who is going with him. He wants to communicate that a big part of being excited about this weekend is spending it with Derek… But he can’t. His chest aches, he smiles through it and looks back at the road.

“Anyway,” Derek says. “Have you listened to Jack’s Mannequin yet?” he asks. Stiles groans. “Funny how I’ve been suggesting you listen to one little album for months and every time you just—“ He impersonates the groan. “— When I have listened to the most ridiculous emo screamo shit on the market for you.”

“I just, I’ve been so busy, Derek. So much to do. Had to take a nap yesterday. Had to do that summer reading shit considering we have school next week.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“Right? So as you can see, terribly busy.”

“Well, how convenient for you that I have my iPod with me and we have all the time in the world right now.”

Stiles gives in after a good fifteen minutes of Derek’s solemn, constant case in favor of Jack’s Mannequin. It’s only fair, Stiles had begged for the scenic route down to San Francisco… which will take them about an hour longer than it should. Stiles had given Derek exactly half the music deciding power and promised him he wouldn’t have to drive on the way down just to get him to agree, so…

“Fine! Oh my God!” Stiles exclaims, pounding his hands on the steering wheel.

Derek smirks slowly and reaches to pause the CD and grab the auxiliary cable.

“Might as well do it in view of the ocean, it’ll go down easier,” Derek says smugly, punctuating it with the quick burst of static and the thunk made by plugging in his iPod.

“You’re not inspiring confidence, Hale.”

Derek shoots him a wicked grin and slides his sunglasses down onto his face to shutter Stiles out. The honest to God sound of seagulls and ocean surf filter out of his speakers followed by jaunty guitar and piano.

“This sucks,” Stiles declares. Derek turns the volume up to drown him out and settles against the headrest, smirk still in place.

Stiles rolls down his window to try to filter the piano rock out with the sound of the whipping wind but then… well, whatever, it’s catchy. And the sun is warm in that perfect endless summer kind of way and the air is sharp and coastal and salty. He refuses to look over at Derek because he can just feel him basking in it.

They hit a pocket of traffic and Stiles finds himself staring out and ahead at the rocky coastline. And so what if he’s feeling wistful and nostalgic for no damn reason, alright? He looks over at Derek to see if he’s being observed but he’s just staring out his own window, sunglasses still on, mouth in a straight line.

“Okay, it’s not bad,” Stiles says to get his attention.

Derek makes a smug little noise but doesn’t look at him.

“And you were right about traffic,” Stiles says again, still trying to get him to engage.

“Of course I was.”

“Asshole.”

“I’m the asshole?” Derek asks, laughing.

“Okay, I’m the asshole. But you love me,” Stiles says, shooting him what he hopes is a charming grin. He can tell Derek rolls his eyes just by the movement of his eyebrows over his sunglasses.

**

Derek has a Gatorade in one hand and a water bottle full of vodka in the other. He takes a long chug of the Gatorade and shoots back a shot worth of vodka. Repeat.

Stiles shudders next to him in the driver’s seat. He sets his water down to pinch his nose and toss back a long gulp of whatever it is in his decoy bottle.

“More water than booze, idiot,” Derek says.

“I knoooow,” he whines. “We just can’t take any of this inside. We’re gonna have to charm older people to get us drinks in there.”

Derek wiggles his Gatorade at Stiles. “Drink.”

He accepts the bottle with an eye roll and takes a long sip of that.

“You’re cute, we shouldn’t have a problem,” Derek says.

Stiles chokes and pounds his chest as he coughs. “So you think I’m cute?” he asks, going for overly seductive to make up for his coughing fit.

“You know you’re cute,” Derek says.

“Yeah, well, and you’re hot,” Stiles says, as if it’s an insult.

Derek grins. “I know.”

“So we’ll get drinks no problem.”

“Exactly.”

“Alright, let’s go in.”

**

Stiles thinks back on Derek’s first show with them. The normal jeans, the hoodie, the discomfort. He looks at him now and feels like a proud mentor. Tighter black jeans and a nicely fitted white v-neck and flannel tied around his waist. Perfectly music festival appropriate. Though, he supposes this type of music has always been more of his scene anyway.

Whatever, he looks good. Stiles notes how people look at him, eyes really taking him in as they pass. He hopes these people think they’re together.

It’s hot for San Francisco, which is to say not very hot at all. But the sun is out and beats down on them. Stiles strips his shirt off after the third or so band, the thin material of it allowing him to tie it through a belt loop.

“Are you asking for attention?” Derek asks, mouth against Stiles’ ear.

“Huh?” he yells over the music.

Derek nods in a couple directions and Stiles sees dudes looking at him with hungry eyes. He smirks. What an ego boost. But no, he isn’t. “Be my big bad boyfriend?” Stiles asks, grabbing Derek’s hand and dragging his arm around his shoulders.

And sure enough, the guys get one look at Derek and they look away.

Of course they do, they have nothing on Derek.

Derek tightens his arm around Stiles’ neck, squeezing his hand. “Sure,” he says into his ear.

**

It’s late. They’d seen as many of the bands they possibly could, watched the headliners close out the night, and walked through the crowds past other stages playing late night sets. They smoked the rest of what Stiles had smuggled in for the day the whole way back and finished the last of the drinks they’d convinced other people to buy for them. Stiles grabbed his hand for balance and to keep them from getting separated. They leaned against the side of the Jeep and talked with strangers, they turned down more drinks and drugs. Stiles turned down a threesome from a college aged couple and then Derek turned them down too.

They clumsily set up the back of the Jeep, tossing things into the front and throwing blankets and sleeping bags down to make a sleepable surface. The Jeep is nowhere near as comfortable as the Sheriff’s SUV would have been, but Derek could sleep anywhere.

Derek strips his shirt off, balls it up and tosses it into the back somewhere to Stiles’ right.

“I turned down a bisexual dream come true for you, Derek Hale,” Stiles teases from where he sits cross-legged in the Jeep. His eyes sweep over Derek’s chest and settle on his lower stomach before flicking back up to his face.

Derek crawls in after him and closes the back. He pops open the back window for some air.

“By all means, catch up with them.”

Stiles crawls the short distance between them and into Derek’s lap, playful. Derek smiles and hugs him and tickles his bare sides. Stiles’ skin is still warm from a day exposed to sun, Derek can’t wait to see new freckles there in the morning. He feels like he’s floating. Stiles squirms and laughs and takes both of them down with him as he tries to escape.

They’re drunk. They’re hot and sweaty and dirty and tired. This isn’t real.

He’d had moments throughout the day, in the gaps of sobriety that popped up after sweating enough out of his system, where he’d remember what day it was. And every time, Stiles would touch him and he’d be okay. Stiles’ smile would tell him it was okay to have fun even today. He’d wrap his arms around Stiles when he saw someone looking at them too long and he’d remember he had a shelter in the storm of this hardest thing he’d ever gone through and it was okay.

And now Stiles laughs against Derek’s throat and Derek’s arm is around him. Derek tangles his fingers in Stiles’ hair, grips his waist, pulls him tight against him. He just likes how he feels, he likes his body. With Stiles half on top of him and his laughter against him and all of it… just all of it… Well, it isn’t real. Stiles is beautiful. Stiles is amazing. Fun. Supportive. Incredible. Smart, talented, sexy, everything. But this isn’t real. This isn’t happening.

Derek loves him. Without a doubt.

And by love he means…

His body stiffens, anticipating the crash of realization. It’s suddenly harder to breathe.

He loves him.

Stiles pulls away to look at him, his hands hot on Derek’s naked chest. His hair is messy, his eyes are shining, his smile is wide and authentic and gorgeous. Derek’s whole body feels it. He feels that smile in the pit of his stomach, deep in the core of him. Derek thinks about kissing him.

He thinks about the image of it. Stiles’ gorgeous smile melting to fit against Derek’s mouth, his face smoothing out, his eyes dropping closed, his hands holding Derek’s face or maybe his neck or… his hands anywhere, honestly. Anywhere as long as they’re on him. His lips sliding against him, coaxing his mouth open… Derek stares, a laugh caught in the thick, tense air between them. His breath heaves in his chest. Stiles stares back, smile faltering, eyes dark with something.

Derek reaches out, cups Stiles’ cheek, pulls him closer, pulling him back over him. Stiles obeys. Stiles’ sweat-sticky chest settles against Derek’s, their faces so close. Derek has a hand on his lower back. He’s going to kiss him.

Stiles wants it too, he can tell.

He strokes Stiles’ face and brings his face toward him. He tilts his head.

And then Stiles giggles and buries his face against the side of Derek’s, nose pressing into his cheek. He squirms against him, some unidentified energy moving through his limbs.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

Stiles doesn’t want to kiss him.

Of course he doesn’t.

“Nothing,” Derek says. The realization stings.

“It looked like you were going to kiss me.” He brings his head back up.

“No,” Derek says, weak.

Stiles frowns. “Sometimes,” he slurs. “I want to kiss you.”

A lead weight drops in his stomach and swings back and forth, back and forth. He swallows the lump in his throat. “So kiss me.”

Stiles laughs, bright and beautiful. He grabs Derek’s chin. “I love you,” he says.

And he means it as friends, clearly. He says it like he’s always said it. But the words twist in the brambles of Derek’s messy interior and he stops breathing.

Stiles ducks forward and presses his lips against Derek’s, unmoving. A drunken peck. He lingers. Dry mouth against dry mouth, closed lips against closed lips. Off-center, imperfect, innocent. He lingers and Derek has no idea what to do.

And then Stiles slides away, chuckles, and his tense body relaxes against Derek.

“Night,” he mumbles, face pressed to Derek’s neck. Gentle, perfect, loving.

Derek’s still tense and wide-eyed, gripping Stiles’ waist like a vice when Stiles’ breathing lengthens and deepens into sleep.

Derek loves him.

Derek loves him.

And this is going to be a problem.

**

August 15th, 2010
Sunday

Stiles wakes up to bright sunlight and the silhouette of Derek’s form sitting on the edge of the open back of the Jeep. He’s wearing a clean shirt and different pants than he was last night.

Stiles groans and rolls over to bury his face in Derek’s pillow. It smells like sweat.

“Morning, sunshine,” Derek grumbles. A cold, hard water bottle hits him in the back.

“Asshole,” Stiles mutters, thrusting his arm out to find it. He gives up and sits up with a whine. He feels like shit. He downs half the bottle with his eyes squeezed shut.

The Jeep shifts, Stiles opens his eyes, Derek has moved closer to look at him intently.

“You okay?” he asks.

Stiles nods. “Hungover. What time is it?”

“Ten.”

“Bands start at two?” Stiles asks. Derek nods. Stiles finishes the rest of the water.

“Let’s go get you hydrated and fed,” Derek says.

Stiles’ ice cold sleepy hungover heart melts a little.

He feels thoroughly interrogated over their cheap diner breakfast, even though Derek hasn’t said a word. Stiles watches him right back, slowly drinking his water and slowly chewing his strip of bacon.

“What?” he finally says, feeling a little better after eating a whole pancake in a couple bites.

“How drunk were you?” Derek asks.

Stiles considers this in terms of a scale Derek would understand. “Well I didn't puke, right?” Derek shakes his head. “So about last party of the year drunk. I think I was mostly just… crossfaded.”

“Do you remember everything?”

Stiles considers that question. He remembers the walk back to the car, he remembers turning down a threesome (good choice, drunk Stiles, sober Stiles is proud of you), he remembers rolling around with Derek… his cheeks get hotter.

“I think so,” he says. He does. He remembers pressing his mouth against Derek’s, who froze and did nothing. Can’t blame him. But wow that’s embarrassing. Sober Stiles takes back the pride, drunk Stiles. “Do you? How drunk were you?”

Derek shrugs. “Not that drunk.”

Stiles considers bringing up the sorta kiss. Discrediting it as a joke. But it wasn’t even a real kiss, it was like a kiss between family members. Something a parent would to do a kid. Something a kid would do to a grandparent. Dry, closed mouth, brief, just so happened to be generally located on lips. Nothing. Stiles has literally had his tongue in Scott’s mouth. And Lydia’s, come to think of it. So this was nothing at all.

So instead of bringing it up, he doesn’t. It’d be like bringing up a hug or a shoulder pat later. Unnecessary.

“So, you still on to be boyfriends of convenience today?” Stiles asks, changing the topic poorly.

Derek loosens up, laughs, looks back at his plate and continues eating. “Yeah, sure.”

“I’d like acknowledgment for dragging you away from that lady yesterday over by the food trucks, okay? You’re welcome.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “She wasn’t even flirting.”

“She had evil intentions, I could see them in her eyes.”

**

Derek has no idea where Stiles is but he could really use him…He’d just gone to use a bathroom and Derek had just refilled their water bottles at a water station and then she appeared. Her hand was on Derek’s arm, she was doing the exaggerated giggling thing, she was at least ten years older than him.

“Uh…” Derek says, trying to break his conditioned politeness to excuse himself.

“There you are, babe,” Stiles says, hand slipping into Derek’s loose one. He kisses Derek on the cheek. “Ready to go?”

Derek can’t speak for a second. God, last night’s realization had not been a false positive at all. “Yeah, let’s go.” The woman drops her hand from Derek’s arm, she looks at them both in the mildest of shock. “Sorry,” he says to her.

Stiles drags him away by the hand. “Can’t leave you for five minutes, huh?” Stiles says. He loosens his hand as if to pull away but Derek tightens his grip and pulls him closer.

“What if she’s watching.”

“It doesn’t matter, you’re free, you’ll never see her again. You really gotta learn to brush people off, babe.”

Babe.

“Don’t call me that.”

Stiles laughs and sticks his tongue out before tugging him along behind him even faster.

Babe.

Derek thinks of the night before. Of that moment when he had pulled Stiles on top of him and almost kissed him. Of how disappointed he felt that Stiles didn’t want to be kissed. Of how whiplashed he felt when Stiles said he wanted to kiss him sometimes. He wonders if now is one of those times.

Fuck.

Stiles’ hand slides out of Derek’s and he misses the contact immediately.

If Stiles hadn’t second-guessed Derek, if he’d just let him kiss him… It wouldn’t have been a dry peck. It wouldn’t have been something either of them could deny the next morning. He wonders if he would have tried to.

What the fuck is going on?

Neither of them are drinking today. They want to be able to drive back after, which even still might not happen if both of them are too tired. And honestly, Derek wants to be careful. He wants both of them to be careful with each other.

Derek wants Stiles to kiss him on the cheek again. He wants to hold him from behind like he had at that concert. He wants figure this out. He wants to get home and shower and sleep and return to their normal lives to see if this is a thing that is permanent or if this is just a music festival weekend sort of thing.

He knows it isn’t.

Stiles reaches his hand back for Derek to take when they hit a dense pocket of crowd by the main stage. Derek reaches back and twines their fingers together.

Derek thinks of every stolen comfort he’s ever gotten from Stiles’ skin and knows it’s not just a weekend thing. He can’t even count how many times Stiles has soothed him - his voice, his texts, his mix CDs, his book recommendations, his hands, his bed, the way he smells…

Stiles drags him into the crowd, fighting to get closer to the stage. Once they make it close, Stiles drags his arm around his waist. Deja vu. Derek winds his other arm around his waist to complete the circle of his arms.

The folksy band on stage starts the song that everyone in the world knows the word to, everyone around them sings and sways. “Man, oh man, you’re my best friend, I scream it to the nothingness, there ain't nothing that I need…

Derek wants to roll his eyes at himself, at this cheesy moment. Stiles’ hands keeps his arms in place around him and the crowd shoves them together and Derek has no idea how long he’s been falling for Stiles.

Laugh until we think we'll die, barefoot on a summer night, never could be sweeter than with you…

How the fuck does everyone know this song? This is not real. None of this is real. Stiles leans his head back against Derek’s shoulder, looking straight up at the sky. He turns his nose toward Derek’s cheek and Derek’s suffering.

“This is the cheesiest shit I’ve ever seen,” Stiles says close to his ear, laughter in his voice. “I love it.”

Derek squeezes him in response. Stiles laughs and picks his head back up, wiggling in time to the music.

How does this realization feel worse and worse instead of better?

**

“I’m ready for a shower,” Stiles says, slumped over his steering wheel in the Jeep.

“Do you want me to drive?” Derek asks.

He’s been off today. Not bad, not unenjoyable, not out of character. He’s been amazing. He’s just been quiet sometimes, somehow without being distant. Stiles felt his eyes on him almost constantly. They kept touching, almost unnecessarily but never entirely without purpose. Stiles refused to think about it. He refused to relate it to the weirdness of the night before.

“Can you drive stick?” Stiles asks.

“Right… no,” he says, offering an apologetic smile.

“I’ll teach you. Not now, I mean, this would be a bad time to learn, but… sometime. If you want.”

“Okay. Do you want to nap first though? Are you good to drive?”

Stiles is so in the habit of grabbing his hand from this whole weekend that he almost does it for no reason. He stops himself halfway there to put his hand on the gear stick.

“I’m good, just keep me talking,” Stiles says.

So he does. He talks and asks questions and figures out how to get the group call thing to work on his phone so they can yell-talk over the poor reception with Scott and Lydia for a couple of minutes. They talk about the band and about the school year and about graduating.

And then Stiles is too tired. They’re only half an hour away but his eyes are crossing. He pulls over into a nearly deserted McDonald’s parking lot and they walk through the drive through, Stiles not trusting himself to pilot the Jeep through. Derek stands close to him as they lean against the side of the Jeep. Stiles chugs a coffee to try to wake up.

“I uh… I don’t want to go to college,” Stiles says, continuing the subject from before.

“Oh. Why not?”

“I just… I don’t know, I don’t think I could even get in anywhere and I don’t know what I want to study and I just… I don’t know. It doesn’t feel right. But you guys…” he trails off.

Derek turns so he’s facing Stiles directly, his left side pressed against the car.

Stiles doesn’t actually want to have this conversation, he’s refused to really have it with anyone. “I’m afraid that I’m going to be a loser for the rest of my life, Derek.”

Derek makes a soft sound in the back of his throat. Neither condemning or judging or anything. Just a sound. Active, compassionate listening.

“You guys are going to leave me behind and do amazing things and join frats or student government or whatever and make new friends and network and get really amazing jobs and… I am not. I am not going to do any of those things.” He breaks off to take a long sip of coffee, to shut himself up.

“I think you’re incredible,” Derek says, voice soft and intimate. “And I think you’re going to do great things. And none of us are going to leave you behind.”

“You should, though. You guys should run as soon as you can.”

“We’re not going to.”

“But you will, when you leave and I’m still here—“

“You’re coming with us wherever we go.”

“I’ll hold you back.”

“You’ve never held me back before, why now?” Derek says. “I don’t think you’ve held the others back either.”

Stiles finishes his coffee and crumples the cup in his fist before tossing it in through his open window.

“Sorry,” he mumbles. “I didn’t mean to get so… whatever. Senior year, woo! Exciting shit, right?” Stiles says, trying to go for a lighter tone.

Derek huffs a laugh. “You can talk to me about that stuff if you want to.”

Stiles sighs. “Okay. Noted. I think I’m good. Half an hour to go. One day of rest, school on Tuesday. Go Cyclones class of 2011! Best year of our lives! Homecoming! Grad night! Ditch day! Prom! Hell yeah!”

Derek laughs at his fake enthusiasm and rounds the Jeep to get to the passenger seat. “I’m thinking more… birthday weeks, house parties, band practice, and getting wildly popular on the internet for our music, but whatever makes you happy,” he says.

Derek watches him start the car and maneuver back to the freeway with hawk-like intensity, making sure Stiles isn’t going to crash the car and kill them. And then he sighs and rests his head against the seat, staring directly at him.

“What?” Stiles asks. “Keep talking, we’re not home safe yet.”

“Wouldn’t it be cool to play a festival like that?” Derek asks. “Meeting a bunch of other bands, hanging out all weekend, playing to that many people.”

He’s starting to sound like Lydia.

“Yeah it would be. Do you think you’d like touring? Lydia is all about it, she thinks it sounds so cool.”

“I think I’d like it. I’ve never done anything like it to compare. I like road trips and camping and shit, so maybe I would. Do you think you would?”

“I think I’d love it,” Stiles confesses. “I like the idea of tour buses, but they probably suck.”

Derek laughs. “Yeah, probably.”

“Okay, say the band takes off and we get signed and get to go on tour. Who do we open for?”

“Tokyo Police Club.”

“Dude.”

“Panic! at the Disco. Say Anything. Bon Iver.”

Stiles laughs at the last one. “Yeah, I can see it, our punk ass garage band and Bon Iver, perfect.”

Derek’s smile glints at him through the dark. “Better question. Who opens for us?”

“Paul McCartney, probably. Kanye West. That one band earlier with the sitar and the harpsichord.”

“I’d go to that tour.”

“Right?”

The Hale house is closer than Chez Stilinski, technically speaking. So Derek convinces Stiles to stay over by reaching over to unbuckle his seatbelt and tugging him out of the car by his arm. Stiles showers the grit of the weekend off of him using Derek’s soap and shampoo and falls into his clean bed wearing a pair of Derek’s boxers and an old lacrosse shirt. When Derek gets into bed after him, he imagines that Derek takes in the sight of him. He imagines that Derek shifts closer. He imagines that this is real in the few seconds between Derek’s hand landing gently on his cheek and falling the fuck to sleep.

Chapter Text

August 16th, 2010
Monday

Derek’s already blinking at the sunlight filtering into his room when a voice from the doorway says, “Aww, what’s this?”

Derek lifts his head enough to see Laura standing there with her hands on her hips.

“Mom saw the Jeep outside and wants to know if the scoundrel likes pancakes, I told her all human beings like pancakes but she insisted I ask.”

The scoundrel? The scoundrel. Derek feels an arm draped over him and turns to look at the source. Stiles has his face pressed into the pillow, his breath is even and deep.

“Yeah, he does,” Derek answers, voice pitched low not to wake him up. “Wait, mom’s home?”

It’s a Monday, she should be at work.

“You guys are helping me move to Cal today, remember?”

Right.

“You forgot,” she accuses, leaning against the door frame and crossing her arms over her chest.

Sorta.

His sister is moving away…

He frowns at her. She laughs.

“I’ll let you get back to your snuggle session,” she says, suggestive. She closes the door behind her when she leaves.

He tells himself she doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t even know anything. He shakes the thought from his head and does what he wants to do. He places a hand on Stiles’ arm to hold it there. He turns his head toward Stiles’, his nose brushing his forehead. God, they’re so close. He closes his eyes and tries to fall back asleep.

He’s halfway there when he feels Stiles wake up. He keeps his eyes closed. He listens to Stiles’ sleepy groan and he feels his arm tense and curl around his stomach.

“Fuck,” he curses under his breath, pulling his arm away slowly to keep from waking Derek up.

“Fuck,” Derek agrees, keeping his eyes closed.

“Jesus, Derek,” he bites out, jumping. He socks Derek in the shoulder.

Derek smiles, squeezing his eyes shut. Maybe if he communicates that he’s okay with staying in bed, Stiles will agree to it. The bed shifts and Stiles rolls onto his back, away from Derek. Derek opens his eyes, Stiles stretches his arms up over his head, Derek watches.

“I should go home, I guess,” Stiles murmurs. He yawns and sits. Derek looks at his lower back before his shirt slips back down to cover it.

It’s not sexual. Maybe. Derek wouldn’t know what to do if an opportunity with a guy presented itself anyway. Aside from kissing, it’s a mystery. Well… not a mystery, just something Derek can’t see himself doing. Touching another guy there or… whatever. It doesn’t speak to him.

Stiles runs his fingers through his hair to tame it, Derek wants to sit up and press against his side and help him. He’d never really touched Stiles’ hair before Saturday. He’d ruffled it or patted his head, but he’d never woven his fingers through it. He wants to again. It’s softer than it looks but it isn’t smooth. It’s nothing like Derek’s hair at all.

If he was still friends with Danny, maybe that’s something he’d ask about. Is it an attraction thing to just compare them to yourself? To note how different they are or how similar they are? Derek’s not sure how they’re similar, he hasn’t observed close enough to know. Is wanting to observe close enough to know a part of it? Is all of this sexual?

“My mom’s making pancakes, you should stay and eat,” Derek says. He sits up too, moving so he can knock Stiles’ shoulder with his. Stiles knocks him back.

“Okay, if she’s okay with that. It’s not like we asked if I could stay over—“

“I think she’ll be glad we were responsible,” Derek cuts him off.

Stiles’ sentence trails off into an “uuuh” and then he smiles. “Good point, I guess.”

Maybe it’s not sexual in the same way that kissing isn’t sexual: not inherently, not always, but possibly…

**

Scott McCall is sitting on the front porch when Stiles gets back home. He has his feet on his skateboard, rocking it back and forth thoughtlessly. His skin is dewy with sweat, his curls shoved up and away from his face.

“Scotty,” Stiles says cordially when he hops out of the Jeep.

“Old Sport,” Scott greets back, not standing as Stiles assumed he would.

“Forget your keys?” Stiles asks. The Sheriff isn’t home to let him in.

He lifts his hand and shakes his key ring to show that he hadn’t. “It’s nice out.”

Stiles turns to squint out at the bright yard and swipes his hand across his sweaty forehead. “If you say so. Let’s go in.”

Scott pats the porch next to him, indicating that Stiles should sit.

“Everything okay? Am I in trouble?” Stiles teases as he sits. He hugs his legs to him and looks at the side of Scott’s face, trying to read him. He’s perfectly neutral.

“Remember how we used to hang out here all the time and that one time your dad told us to go inside and we said we were being stoop kids and he thought we said we were being stupids?” He smiles an easy smile at Stiles, Stiles returns it.

“So we called ourselves Stupids for the rest of summer until your mom got sick of it,” Stiles supplies.

“We should call our band The Stoop Kids,” Scott says.

“That’s not bad. Has a ska vibe to it, though.”

Scott considers that. “Yeah, it does.”

They fall into an easy silence. Stiles listens to the insect-buzz-distant-lawn-mower sounds of summer for a second before clearing his throat.

“So what’s up?”

“How was Outside Lands?” Scott asks at the same time.

“It was good, how was it around here without us?”

“Chill,” he says with a shrug. “Lydia and I were looking up college stuff on Saturday. She scheduled out when all the applications are due and timelines and shit, she’s crazy. Helpful though. She talked me out of retaking the SAT, said it would be a waste of time because my score was fine and my grades are good.”

“Fascinating,” Stiles says, feeling sick.

“Yeah. But then we were wondering if you’d taken the SAT. We know Derek did. Couldn’t remember you ever mentioning it though.”

Stiles doesn’t say anything, which is worse than having actually said something. Scott knows him too well.

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. Anyway, we did some research. You can take your SAT as late as the first one in October to get it in time for the UC and CSU applications. But you should take it earlier in case you need to retake it. Lydia still has all her books and practice tests from her prep course, she said she’d be down to go over them with you.”

Stiles still doesn’t say anything.

“But if you go to community college, you don’t need it. If you want to transfer, you’d just have to make sure the school doesn’t require it… but then I guess you could take the SAT then.”

Stiles hugs his legs tighter and squeezes his eyes shut at the feeling of panic and shame fighting for dominance in him. They’ve gone ahead and thought this all out for him, he loves them for that.

“Stiles, it’s senior year, you have to think about this stuff.”

“Okay.” Saying okay is easier than dealing with the fall out of what he wanted to say, the thing he told Derek the night before.

“Do the SATs, apply to a few UCs and CSUs, keep your grades up. Boom. Done. It’s not as hard as it sounds, man.”

Stiles doesn’t want to. He doesn’t know that he could even if he wanted to.

“We could go to Davis together!” Scott continues. “We could be roommates.”

“Yeah.”

“Or you could just move with me to Davis and go to community college out there and transfer.”

“Or I could stay here and go to community college.”

“Do you really want to go to BHC and have to deal with the same people from our entire lives for even longer?” Scott asks, which would be a fair point if Stiles was seriously considering going to BHC.

He shrugs.

Scott sighs. “If Lydia goes to MIT and Derek goes to Stanford and I go to Davis and you don’t go anywhere…”

Stiles stretches his legs up and stands. “I’ll be a loser, I know. Thanks. I don’t want to talk about this, I’m going inside.”

“That’s not what I was trying to say, Stiles,” he says, kicking his skateboard down the steps in his hurry to stand up. “I was trying to say we don’t want to leave you here by your—“ Stiles shuts the door a little harder than necessary in between them. Scott yanks it open and follows him inside, unbothered. “By yourself. I either want you to fuck off to some new city too or I want you to come with me.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Fine. But Lydia looked at your transcript—“

“How does Lydia have my transcript?”

Scott looks at him like it’s a dumb question. “And she said you act like your grades are worse than they are.”

“So what! I don’t want to…” he trails off. He thinks of how Derek reacted. Softly, thoughtfully, non-judgmentally. Scott would not react the same way, not to this. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay,” Scott sighs. Stiles looks at him and can’t smooth the glare off his face. Scott looks lost in his living room, arms held out slightly at his sides as if he had been thinking of throwing them up in exasperation and thought better of it. “I guess I’ll just… See you later or tomorrow or whatever.”

Stiles’ heart sinks, the glare melts away. “You don’t have to go. It’s the last day of summer, we should do something…”

“Aren’t you tired?”

Yes, absolutely, unbelievably so. “Not too tired. Derek’s helping Laura move, but what’s Lydia up to?”

He looks sheepish before answering: “Waiting to hear how this conversation went.”

Stiles would be frustrated if he didn’t feel so…. loved, or whatever. He rolls his eyes. “Tell her it went badly and she should come hang out.”

“I mean, did it really go badly? Are you at least planning on thinking about what I said a little bit?”

“A very, very, tiny bit.”

He rolls his eyes as he pulls his phone out. “You’re the worst.”

**

Derek drives Laura’s car into the city with Cora in the passenger seat and countless mysterious items shoved into the back seat. Their mom and Laura drive ahead of them in the SUV, stuffed with even more of Laura’s shit. Derek’s not sure who thought up this arrangement, but he hates them for it. Cora refuses to so much as look at him. He’d tried to turn on music, but she’d turned it back off instantly. Punishment, it was punishment.

“Sooo…” he says about a half an hour in.

She says nothing.

“So you’re mad at me.”

And still, nothing.

She hadn’t been talking to him earlier either, but it was easier to ignore when she was being so chatty with everyone else at breakfast, especially Stiles. Maybe she does have a crush on Stiles. The possibility alone annoys him.

“You’re mad at me because I went away this weekend…”

Still nothing.

“So you’re going to give me the silent treatment all day.” He gives her a couple seconds of silence to respond and continues. “So we’re going to be moving Laura in and saying goodbye to her and not once are you going to address me at all. And then we’re going to drive back in mom’s car and you still won’t talk to me and we’ll get home and you’ll go to your room and I’ll go to mine and then tomorrow I’ll be driving you to school and you still will not talk to me—“

“We’ll get home and you’ll run off to Stiles and Scott and Lydia and it’ll just be me in my room and mom in her office and I’ll text Laura and she probably won’t answer because she’ll be meeting cool new people and I’ll be all by myself,” she says, sounding way more wounded than he would expect. “And then you’ll drive me to school tomorrow and I won’t talk to you.”

She crosses her arms and glares out the window.

“I’m not going to go hang out with them tonight,” he corrects.

“So.”

“So if you don’t feel like hanging out in your room by yourself, you can hang out with me. If you want to.”

She scoffs. Derek assumes an eye roll goes with it.

What follows is another agonizing, completely silent half hour.

“What’s your problem, anyway?” Derek asks, irritated, when the stand-off gets too tense.

“My problem,” she says slowly, clearly. She sounds too much like Laura. “Is that you don’t even care.” He detects a wobble in her voice. Oh God, he cannot do a crying sister right now— “And Laura does care and she’s leaving—“ Yep. Crying sister.

“God, Cora,” he mutters.

MIsery. Utter misery. Cora pulls her legs up and cries into her knees and Derek can’t do a single thing about it. He’s not sure if he wants to jostle her out of it with a smack to the back of her head like he used to with Laura, or if he wants to hug her to make her feel better. Mostly he wants to yell to make it stop.

So he lets her cry. He takes advantage of her situation and turns music on for at least some sort of relief. After a few songs, she tapers off into sniffling and goes back to staring miserably out the window. He spares a glance at her and sees she’s frowning pitifully instead of glaring.

He turns the music down. “I do care.”

“Whatever,” she mumbles, stuffed up.

“I do. I didn’t ditch you guys this weekend because I didn’t care.”

“Whatever,” she repeats.

An absolutely insane thought passes through his mind. What if he told her how he felt about Stiles? Because his excuse, his explanation, sort of hinges on it at least a little. He needed Stiles this weekend. He needed him because he was the only person who could understand him and cheer him up at the same time. The only person who knew how to straddle the line between remembrance and moving forward.

But that wouldn’t go over well. She’d be insulted, probably. Jealous, maybe. Surprised at her brother’s sudden attraction to guys, definitely.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there,” he says. And he is. He’s sorry, but not quite regretful. He’s sorry he wasn’t with them at the cemetery. He’s sorry he wasn’t there for them. He’s sorry Cora feels like she’ll be alone in this without Laura.

“So why’d you go then?”

She’s a tough-ass just like Laura and their mom. Of course she wants an answer.

He mulls it over for awhile.

“Did you just want to go off and have fun or what?” she asks, hateful.

“I needed to…” He needed to be with Stiles. That’s it. He just needed to be near him. He needed to touch him and talk to him and look at him and be looked at by him.

“Forget about your problems, what? What did you need to do?” she snaps.

“I needed to be sad and happy at the same time, and I wanted to do that with Stiles,” he finally answers. It’s close enough to the truth. He hopes she doesn’t ask him why it had to be Stiles.

She stares at the side of his face, but she doesn’t feel as aggressive as she had before.

“Did it work?” she asks, softer. Kinder.

“Yeah, sorta.”

She doesn't say anything to that. Derek doesn’t say anything either. Cora looks back out the window, releases her legs, and slides down in her seat a little.

“I missed you,” she says eventually.

“I’m sorry. I missed you too.”

“It’s okay.”

He looks over at her. She makes direct eye contact for the first time all day. He looks back at the road.

“Is Laura mad at me too?” Derek asks.

“She stood up for you, actually.”

“Weird,” Derek says before he can think not to.

“Right?”

He thinks back on what Cora had said about Laura caring but leaving. “You’re going to miss Laura a lot, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. Are you?”

“Yeah.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” Derek laughs. It’s a fair question. “When I started high school, she told me I couldn’t talk to her. But then she used to find me at lunch to embarrass the shit out of me in front of my friends.”

“And now you’re planning on doing that to me?” Cora sighs.

“No, see, I’m a better sibling. You can come up to me and my friends whenever you want, okay?”

And you’ll leave me alone and not embarrass me in front of my friends?”

“I never said that.”

**

August 17th, 2010
Tuesday

Stiles is early on the first day, but only because he hadn’t really slept much anyway. He’s smoking a cigarette and leaning against the Jeep when Lydia’s car pulls up in the spot next to him.

She steps out of her car and gives him that look. The one she’d given him yesterday. The one she gives him when she thinks he’s fragile. He nods at her in greeting. Scott gets out of the passenger side, looking scrubbed clean and tamed and eager to learn.

Lydia leans against the Jeep next to him, her elbow against his side. He hands her his cigarette. Scott leans back against Lydia’s car to face them.

Stiles is not excited for senior year. He is not excited for Homecoming or Winter Formal or the senior trip or ditch day or prom or any of it. He has no intention to go to any of those. Aside from ditch day, considering that’s a celebration of lack of participation. He’s not excited for college applications, because he will not be submitting any. He is not excited for acceptance season, because he will not be getting any. He is not excited for spring break or graduation or the summer beyond.

Lydia hands him his cigarette back and wraps her arm around his waist. Stiles wraps his arm around her shoulders to draw her closer, smoking with his free hand.

“If we have bio together, then my theory is confirmed,” Scott says. “Harris secretly likes us.”

“Or someone in administration hates him,” Lydia points out.

“That’s the more likely theory,” Stiles agrees.

“What if we don’t even have Harris?” Lydia asks.

“God punishes naughty little children, we’re going to have Harris,” Stiles says.

Derek rounds the back of the Jeep and waves tiredly. Cora sheepishly follows.

“Little Hale!” Scott says, smiling her way. He extends his fist toward her in greeting. A small smile quirks her lips as she bumps her fist against his.

“Welcome to Beacon Hills High School, home of the Beacon Hills Cyclones,” Stiles drawls at her.

“Gee, thanks.”

“She’s too nervous to be embarrassed to be seen with us,” Derek informs them. Cora shoots him a death glare as if he’s telling a secret she had asked him not to. He smirks back at her.

“Nothing to be nervous about,” Lydia says. She releases Stiles and pushes off from the Jeep to stand next to her. “How about a tour before we have to pick up schedules, huh?”

She gently fixes a fly-away lock of hair at Cora’s temple and wraps a friendly arm around her shoulders. Lydia leads her toward the front steps with Scott on their heels peppering Cora with encouragements and questions that make her laugh.

Derek hangs back with Stiles. Derek looks at him, silent but searching. Stiles looks back. He looks good. Tired. Elegantly disheveled hair, snuggly fitted shirt, backpack hung off one broad shoulder. Stiles takes a long, final drag of his cigarette and reaches down to snuff it out against his tire.

“How’s it going?” Derek asks.

Stiles shrugs.

Stiles and Derek had texted a lot when Derek was on his way back from moving Laura in. He had told him about fighting with Cora and making up with her and Laura’s weird roommate and how excited Laura was to finally be at Cal and how secretly sad Derek was that she wouldn’t be around as much. In return, Stiles told him about the conversation with Scott and everything it had made him feel.

Derek had called him when Stiles texted him late last night saying he couldn’t sleep. They talked for hours about nothing at all.

And now seeing him… seeing him makes things a little more bearable. The idea of jumping back into school work and classes and juggling everyone’s expectations feels more doable with the idea of Derek’s presence.

“How’s it feel to send off your baby sis into the mean halls of Beacon Hills High?” Stiles asks, falling into stride next to Derek as they head up to the school themselves.

Derek snorts. “It feels like being a taxi driver.”

Stiles can’t help the smile that tugs at his cheeks. He veers closer and knocks Derek with his elbow.

Once they all have their schedules in hand, Scott gathers them and splays them against his locker door.

“Yessss,” he hisses. “Harris loves us,” he says triumphantly.

“Someone in admin hates him,” Lydia reiterates.

**

“I have second period with him,” Paige says, adjusting her grip on her cello and tipping her chin up over Derek’s shoulder toward the table full of his friends.

Derek knows who she means without looking.

With her spare hand she digs in her pocket and pulls out her folded up class schedule. “Please tell me we have something together to cleanse my palate.”

Derek’s fingers brush hers when he takes the schedule. She smiles. Derek smiles.

They’d texted back and forth during first period to meet up at break to compare schedules. He’d missed her. The back and forth letter writing only made him miss seeing her in person even more.

“We have music theory together,” Derek tells her.

“What!” she exclaims, beaming. “Why are you taking that?”

Derek shrugs. “Getting back into music made me want to, I guess. But uh… Stiles is in it too.”

Her face falls just slightly. “Okay well is that the only class we have together?”

“English too,” he says. “More peer editing for us.”

She beams at him. “Good.” Derek beams back, not sure what to say. Paige clears her throat and carries on with, “I have a class with Lydia too, that’s kinda nice.”

“She’s a good study buddy if you need it. Stiles isn’t… he’s not a bad guy.”

She rolls her eyes but smiles anyway. “Your mentions of him in your letters were very kind.”

He wants them to get along. He wants them to like each other.

“He’s my best friend,” Derek says, smiling apologetically and shrugging.

“I know,” she says, dry. “I guess I’ll see you after lunch, I gotta go.”

Derek sighs to let her know he’s sad to see her go and hugs her before she goes. His heart feels light. He turns back to the table and sees two sets of eyes trained on him with interest and Stiles pointedly looking away.

“So?” Lydia asks, smirking at him.

“Hm?”

“I have French with her,” Lydia says. Derek hears the implied, “I can find out if she likes you” in there.

“Play nice,” Derek says.

“I have no intention not to.”

“She’s so cute, man,” Scott opines.

Derek doesn’t look at Stiles, Stiles doesn’t say anything, Derek wonders if this is heavier than mutual dislike between the two of them.

Scott continues laying out evidence to support that Harris actually likes them, prodding his finger against the fourth period slot on his fold-creased schedule.

“I mean, why else would we have him all together again?” he concludes right as the bell rings.

“Because this isn’t a huge school,” Lydia answers as they gather their things.

“I want to believe,” Scott says and whistles the X-Files theme while wiggling his fingers at her. “Anyway, how crazy is Finstock going to be, Derek?”

“Extremely, probably.”

**

“It’s Stiles,” Stiles says, a hand coming up to cover his burning face.

The classroom continues to laugh. A group full of idiots who have heard his name butchered in increasingly absurd ways throughout their entire school-going lives. A group of assholes who have done their own butchering and teasing. Stiles thinks again about getting it legally changed but instantly feels guilty for it.

Finstock’s eyes bore right through Stiles’ skull. Stiles drops his hand and swallows nervously. He’s pissed him off. Amazing.

Finstock looks down at his clipboard and squints back up at him. “What on earth is a Stiles?” he asks.

Jackson and crew laugh amongst themselves, Stiles refuses to turn.

“I’m sorry, I’m just… I don’t go by that,” he explains. Finstock had so gloriously mispronounced his name that he hadn’t even registered it as his own.

Finstock scoffs. “I’m watching you, Stilinski,” he threatens. He looks back at his clipboard, mutters in agitation, and continues taking attendance.

Stiles had been hoping to fly under the radar, but he now he’s been noticed.

“Great,” he mutters, sliding down in his seat. Derek rubs his fingers along the line of his back just above the seat. Stiles closes his eyes at the contact.

“Excuse me,” Lydia says, cutting Finstock off halfway through a name. “Do you think it’s appropriate to make someone uncomfortable about their preferred name?”

Stiles sits back up and leans across the aisle to flap his hand at her, to get her to stop.

But Finstock just looks at her. Same piercing gaze, less irritated and more curious. “I guess not,” he says thoughtfully. She continues to glare at him until he looks away sheepishly.

Scott clasps Lydia’s shoulders and gives them a quick rub as if encouraging a boxer. Lydia shoots Stiles a small smile that he returns.

He feels sapped of energy already and they haven’t even hit Harris’ class yet. He’s tired from the weekend still. He’s tired from the day before. He’s emotionally drained and over-tired and stressed. Day one of the school year and he’s already over it.

He slumps back into his chair, pressing against Derek’s fingers before they slip away.

Minutes later, his phone vibrates once in his pocket. He slips it out as discreetly as he can. The new message from Derek reads, “Sorry, Mieczyslaw. I still can’t pronounce it though :(“

Stiles feels a familiar, pleasant warmth spread through him. “I’ll teach you,” he texts him back before sliding his phone back into his pocket.

Teaching Derek how to say his decidedly unsexy name shouldn’t warrant the heat he feels pooling in his chest. But he pictures whispering each syllable against Derek’s lips and he’s gone on the thought. Derek repeating it back, lips brushing against him… the way his name would sound with Derek’s voice… The same feeling of being intimately known as when his family says his name, only it being Derek.

Civics is easy to endure when things like that are all he can think about.

**

August 20th, 2010
Friday

Derek leans against his car waiting for Cora. Stiles sits in the Jeep in the spot next to him, Scott in his passenger seat. Lydia leans against Stiles’ door and reapplies lipstick in his side mirror.

“This is getting old,” Derek says, rubbing his temples.

“She’s sporty, when are her sports starting up?” Lydia asks.

Derek shrugs. “Talk around the dinner table is that she’s trying to decide between cross country and volleyball.”

Cora and her tribe of tall, gawky, intimidating freshmen friends saunter toward the car and disperse after a scared little glance at Lydia. Cora smirks, Derek rolls his eyes. Lydia continues to carefully line her lips in bright red, Scott and Stiles share a synchronized scoff.

“You and your friends are social gold,” Cora says, leaning against the Camaro next to Derek.

“Shut up,” he tells her, no heat behind it. He’s too tired.

All week, Derek has endured Finstock’s passive aggressive lacrosse digs in Civics, the eternal Harris and Stiles feud, and the joy of sharing a class with both Paige and Stiles.

The latter is a lot like trying to keep two angry cats from fighting through a screen door. A lot of hissing and swiping and low growls. Derek is the screen door.

He’s not mad at Stiles. He just misses Summer Stiles. He misses sleepy late night Stiles and music festival Stiles and beach Stiles. School Stiles is miserable and it sucks to watch.

“Are you guys doing anything tonight?” Cora asks, fishing for an invite.

Derek and Stiles make eye contact before Lydia straightens up and moves enough to block it. “Uh, probably not anything you’d be interested in,” she says.

Cora pouts. “What is it?”

“Punk show,” Scott tells her, leaning around Stiles to peer out the window.

Cora seems to consider it.

“No,” Derek says, gruff.

She looks offended. “Why not!”

“Because I don’t feel like babysitting.”

“You just wanna do stuff you don’t want mom to know about,” she snaps.

Derek tries to detect a threat, but can’t. “You tattle, I stop waiting for you and you find your own way home.”

“Oh yeah mom would looooove that—“

Anyway,” Stiles drawls, cutting them off. The Jeep comes to life with a grumbling roar. “Can we roll out?”

“You’re not coming,” Derek says with a point of the finger, pushing off to head to the driver’s side. “And you’re not telling mom anything about it.”

“Then you won’t tell mom I’m going to a party next weekend.”

“What party?” he says, stopping dead.

“Lydia’s,” she answers, arms crossed over her chest.

“Oooh, she’s smooth,” Lydia says in awe.

“Fine,” Derek mutters.

Derek drops Cora off, tosses his backpack onto his bed, and changes his shirt before heading back out. His phone’s lock screen is full of texts from Stiles complaining. He sits in his car and reads them with a smile. Stiles detailed how irritated he felt waiting for Lydia to get ready and how tired he was of hearing Scott talk about his anatomy class and how much he doesn’t want to see the bands playing tonight and how he’s in the worst goddamn mood and can’t even help it.

He concludes with “So excuse me if I don’t say a fucking word tonight I just want to go home and sleep!! Fuck this week!! Fuck school! Our friends are great and all but fuck them too right now!! Sorry, I’m tired. Don’t tell them I said that. Are you tired? You seemed cranky today too.”

“I am so glad you don’t want to go tonight either,” Derek answers. “Ditto to everything. Fuck this week.”

“Let’s ditch out early then, Lyds and Scott are going to be busy hanging out with the bands anyway.”

“What do you have in mind?”

**

Derek’s fingers fumble with the lighter, Stiles reaches out to steady his hand. All the windows in the Camaro are open, including the sun roof, so the cool late night breeze can carry the smoke out and away from settling into his leather interior. Stiles’ crouches in the passenger seat, shins braced against the center console. Derek’s fingers are cold.

Stiles hasn’t felt this okay since last weekend, since falling asleep in Derek’s bed wearing his clothes and smelling just like him.

It’s a problem.

Not a terrible problem.

Derek lights the joint and takes a hit, the tip of it casts its glow on Derek’s face. He points his head up and blows the smoke directly out the sun roof before passing the joint to Stiles.

He sighs as he slumps back against his door, his head dipping out the open window. Stiles perches his elbow on Derek’s knee just to touch him while he takes a hit of his own.

“This week has been so bad,” Stiles says, voice warm and gravely from the smoke.

“I know,” Derek says, apologetic.

“Not even for any real reasons I am just so…”

He doesn’t have a word for it, so he lets his statement dangle. Nothing happened really. He feels distant from his friends for the first time in his life, he’s been avoiding his dad to avoid all questions about college, he hates school…

Creative writing is okay…

Music Theory would be better if Paige wasn’t in it. Same with Art History. He’d tried to take fun classes, and she’d ended up in two of them. Cruel fate.

He takes another hit to mellow the irritation building back up in him and hands the joint back over the console to Derek.

“Why has your week sucked?” he asks.

Derek shrugs, nonchalant. “I think I’m still tired from last weekend.” The matter of fact statement rings a little untrue. Stiles tries not to feel offended that he’s not sharing every single thought in his head for once…

“Shotgun?” Stiles asks. Because he’s an idiot. Because he wants Derek’s mouth close to his, even if it’s fake.

Derek just takes another deep hit and leans forward. He presses his finger against Stiles’ jaw to line their mouths up and exhales, soft smoke tumbling from his mouth and sweeping across Stiles’ lips.

He closes his eyes and breathes in, lets himself imagine more with Derek for just one second.

“Thanks for running away with me,” Stiles says, slumping against his door.

“Brandon’s new band fucking sucks,” Derek says, reaching backwards over his head to flick ash off the joint out the car window. He extends it toward Stiles. “I honestly just wanted to stay home tonight.”

“Me too.”

Stiles watches Derek roll his neck back and forth, a thoughtful look on his face.

“Are you okay?” Derek finally asks.

Stiles takes a long hit to avoid answering. He’s fine. He’s okay. He could be better.

“Danny texted me for the first time since the incident the other day, thoughts?” Stiles says instead.

“What’d he say?”

“He said ‘hey’ and then I said ‘hey’ back and then he said ‘have a good summer?’ and I didn’t answer.”

“Did you not have a great summer?” Derek asks, voice smooth.

“I did, but I treated him like shit and now he’s texting me.”

“And you didn’t answer, so you’re still treating him like shit.”

Stiles scowls at him. Derek shrugs.

“Danny doesn’t hold grudges,” Derek says, sounding guilty. “He’s been trying to get me to talk to him since uh… well, since the incident.”

“Really?” Stiles asks, genuinely surprised. “Well now I feel less special,” Stiles jokes.

“Well, Danny and I never fucked so I think him texting you isn’t meaningless.”

“Are you jealous?” Stiles teases.

“Of course,” Derek deadpans.

“So should I text him back?”

“Do you want to?”

“Do you talk back when he talks to you?”

“Sometimes.”

“So maybe I do want to.” Stiles chews on the idea. He’s curious as to what could come of it.

Derek stays quiet.

Stiles lets his eyes slip closed. It’s chilly out, but not authentically cold. The breeze in the trees pulls him down toward sleep like a weight but he resists it, floating in the half-high/half-asleep state he’s achieved.

“Wanna stay over?” Derek asks, voice soft.

“Yeah.”

The car starts up and Stiles reluctantly shifts to sit facing forward. They drive up to a dark house and make their way quietly from the garage up to Derek’s room. Stiles wiggles out of his hoodie and kicks his shoes off and trips his way out of his jeans and falls face first onto Derek’s bed. Derek falls into bed next to him and turns to curl against him. He’s warm and he smells good and Stiles twines his arm around one of his.

“Night,” Stiles whispers, getting his fingers around Derek’s wrist.

“Night,” Derek mumbles, pressing the fingers of his other hand against Stiles’ lower back.

Chapter Text

August 27th, 2010
Friday

“Going to Lydia’s party later?” Danny asks via text. Stiles is baffled. Danny hasn’t spoken to him in person, hasn’t so much as looked at him (well, not that he’s been looking at him to actually confirm anyway).

“Dumb question, Mahealani,” Stiles answers, hiding a smirk. Derek catches it and lifts an eyebrow at him. Stiles slides his phone back into his backpack and tries not to look suspicious. Paige glares at him from beyond Derek and he turns an equally aggressive glare back at her.

He doesn’t fight with Paige in Music Theory anymore. Derek had made it pretty clear how much he hated when they argued in the first five minutes of class on Monday. Derek’s lucky Stiles likes him. But they save it all for Art History anyway.

She likes Derek, it’s obvious. Now, does Derek like her back? It seems so, but that doesn’t stop him from hoping he doesn’t.

Derek’s taking notes and Stiles is still glaring at her, willing her to look away first. She’s nothing like the girls Derek would have dated before and she’s nothing like what Derek should date now. The teacher calls on her, she looks away, it’s a cheap win for Stiles. He’s fine with cheap wins, he’ll snatch every cheap win against her he can get.

After class, Derek waves goodbye to Stiles and heads off to his next class with Paige. Stiles loafs in the direction of his own class.

She’s not worth the attention, the time, the mental energy, none of it. If Stiles had any chance at all with Derek, he’d have him. And he doesn’t. So.

Oh well.

Stiles has to walk past Danny and Co. on his way to class, buffeted close to them by the foot traffic surrounding him.

“Hey,” Danny says, casual.

“Hey,” Stiles answers.

“Check your phone.” He smirks and turns back toward his locker, Jackson glares at him from beyond.

“If you like him, just ask him out, Jackson,” Stiles sneers at him, knocking shoulders roughly.

Jackson shoves him away but otherwise doesn’t react. Another cheap win. It feels good to take aggression out on someone. On anyone. (Especially Jackson.)

He checks his phone as he slides into his seat in the back of the Creative Writing classroom.

“Can we talk at some point then?” Danny had asked.

“Sure.”

**

Cora sits in the passenger seat, three willowy freshmen girls are crammed into his backseat… giggling. Derek hears the girl behind Cora whispering to the blonde girl sitting in the direct center. The gist of it seems to be hoping that Derek is single.

Cora turns around to glare at them and all four of them burst into giggles.

“Who are you kids again?” Derek asks, keeping his voice evenly irritated.

“I told you,” Cora says exasperated. “Violet.” The dark skinned girl behind her. “Olivia.” The blonde. “Meredith.” The quiet, not irritating one directly behind him. “They’re on the volleyball team with me.”

“And your curfews are when?”

Derek’s the sober one for the night just because of this. There’s no way Cora will get any blackmail material.

“Their parents know they’re staying over at our place,” Cora says. “So whenever you go home.”

Derek stews. Derek doesn’t go home after these. Derek helps pre-clean the house and falls asleep on Lydia’s floor and wakes up to drink coffee with his friends and retell the night’s events. He does not shuttle 14 year old girls around.

“So whenever I take you home, you mean.”

“Sure,” Cora says, flippant. “Is that giiiiirl I see you with coming tonight?”

The chorus of teenage girls titters and coos about it, Olivia and Violet leaning forward and asking questions that lead Derek to believe they think Cora meant Lydia.

“What’s she like? She’s like the prettiest girl at school, are you two a thing? I wonder if Scott is single, is Scott single? Do you think Lydia will talk to us? What’s Stiles like? Is he gay? I heard he’s had girlfriends though? Oh is he bi?” the three girls chatter on, voices blending into one long question that Derek entirely ignores.

The party has just barely started when Derek and his gaggle of freshmen girls arrive. He introduces them to Scott, Stiles, and Lydia by vaguely pointing and saying names. “None of you are to hit on any of them,” he says, looking directly at Scott. Violet looks disappointed. “Now, go, get away from me, don’t drink,” Derek says, shoving Cora away.

“Soccer Dad Derek, kinda hot,” Stiles says.

Derek’s not bored, he’s just… hyper-vigilant. He tries to keep Cora in his peripheral vision as much as he can, wonders faintly if this is how Laura felt when he started crashing her friends’ parties. He can hardly even appreciate when Paige gets there. She leans against his side, he keeps his arm around her, he enjoys how she and Lydia and Scott get along, he wishes Stiles would just get over whatever it is he has against her and just… be here… but he’s gone without a trace. He watches Greenberg flirt with Cora and almost moves to go beat his ass before he catches sight of Stiles swooping in to save her. He moves her away from Greenberg, taunts him, and grabs Danny by the elbow and disappears.

Paige turns against his side, one arm curling around his waist. “It’s hot in here, can we get some air?”

Lydia and Scott both “ooooh!” at them and tease them as they go.

“Keep an eye on Cora,” Derek tries to tell them. But they’re both tipsy. They assure him they will, not taking the request seriously at all, and melt into the crowd together.

“Are you okay?” Paige asks once they’re outside.

“Yeah, it just sucks having my sister here.”

“Oh. Well, yeah, but you’ve seemed off all week.”

She drags him over to an empty pool chair and makes him sit. He smiles at her as she sits down next to him, just a little space between them. This could still be a friendly thing. It could be. Derek’s not sure sometimes, he’s not sure about any of it.

**

Stiles watches Danny roll his red Solo cup back and forth in his hands, counts the beats in the steady rhythm of it. Danny’s porch is dark and covered in perfectly tended tropical-looking plants, making it a perfect spot for spying on the people in Lydia’s front yard and for having a private heart-to-heart. Currently, neither of those things are happening.

Danny is quiet. Stiles is quiet. The party two houses over is loud. Stiles is amazed they never get noise complaints…

“What’d you want to talk about?” Stiles asks when the silence drives him nuts.

Danny hesitates before answering and picks his words carefully. “It’s weird not talking to you.”

“Oh.” Stiles chews on the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling.

“I have to admit, it’s funny when Jackson gets mad about us being friends.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“But uh…” he shrugs. “I already lost a really good friend last year, and losing you on top of that kinda sucked.”

“I’m really sorry for how that…” Stiles trails off. “It sucked, I shouldn’t have…”

“It’s not your fault you didn’t like me like that.” It sounds wise coming from him. It’s the same thing he would have angrily, guiltily argued on his own behalf, but it actually means something coming from him.

Stiles weighs his answers. He looks at the outline of his strong profile, against a field of shadowed leaves. Something in him twists.

“But I did like you,” Stiles says, his tone telling Danny that he was right.

“I know you did.” Danny looks over at him, smiling his lopsided smile.

“I’m still sorry, I was an asshole.”

Danny shrugs. “It’s okay. I’m over it.”

Stiles smiles and looks back out over the yard. “Friends?” he asks, eyes training on the house across the street.

“Yeah,” Danny says, knocking him with his shoulder. “LGBTQ pals gotta stick together.”

Stiles laughs. “Yeah, you’re telling me. I’ve been surrounded by straights all summer.”

**

“Uh, this belongs to you, Hale,” Jackson says, not quite meeting his eye. Derek looks down and sees a sloppily drunk Cora hanging off of his shoulder.

“What’d you do to her?” Derek asks, moving forward, frothing with rage. Scott’s hand falls on his shoulder and tugs him back. Lydia surges around him and drapes Cora’s other arm around her shoulder, taking her from Jackson. He looks relieved to be free of her.

“Nothing, I swear,” Jackson says, hands up. “She was puking in the bushes outside.”

“Fucking freshmen,” Lydia sighs. Cora laughs, head lolling over to Lydia’s shoulder. “C’mon, kid,” she says, leading her away toward the kitchen, staggering under her weight.

“Where are the other girls?” Derek asks. Jackson raises an eyebrow at him. “Her friends, where are they?”

Paige and Scott both tug him away from Jackson, letting him back away. “Here, let’s go find them, Lydia’s got Cora,” Paige says.

Cora’s a goddamn nightmare, Derek’s decided.

After a ten minute search, the other three are located. Meredith is sober and bored, holding Olivia’s hair back as she moans into the downstairs bathroom toilet. Violet is dancing with a football player, happily but manageably drunk. With Scott, Paige, and Meredith’s help, he herds them into this car. Stiles and Lydia usher Cora into the front seat and pass her a mixing bowl from the kitchen to clutch in her lap just in case.

“I hate…” Derek starts, unable to finish the sentence. Scott, Stiles, Paige, and Lydia stare at him uncertainly. “Never again,” Derek says.

“Are you going to tell mom?” Cora asks, miserably slurring her words together.

“Wait and see, dumbass,” Derek snaps at her.

He won’t. Laura hadn’t ratted him out, he wouldn’t rat Cora out either. But he’d let her fear the possibility anyway.

“Are you going to come back?” Lydia asks.

He almost doesn’t want to, but he looks at them. He thinks of spending time with them without looking after 14 year old girls. He thinks of them, this summer, last year… He misses them, they’ve been right here all along and he misses them anyway.

“Yeah, I’ll be back.”

“Well, I gotta head home, so I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Paige tells him, sympathetic smile. He catches Stiles’ sigh of relief but Paige doesn’t. “Good luck with those four.”

“I’m sober,” Meredith points out, sounding just as irritated as Derek feels.

“Those three then,” Paige corrects.

**

Once Derek finally gets back, the party is over. He said something about having to make sure the girls didn’t get in trouble and then having to sneak out after his mom fell asleep. He collapses onto the couch next to Stiles, the warm skin of his arm brushing against Stiles’. Stiles smiles. Lydia cranes her neck to look up at Derek from her spot in Stiles’ lap. She reaches a hand out to him and clumsily pets his cheek.

“Good brother,” she says.

Scott whistles a tune as he comes back from the kitchen with water bottles for all of them.

“Ayyy, Derek,” he greets, smiling. He sits half on Lydia just to sit on Stiles’ other side. She grumbles and rolls just enough for him to sink into the couch with his legs draped over her.

This is a good place to be.

Stiles feels something lift off his shoulders and he’s not sure what it is.

“The past two weeks have sucked,” Lydia declares. “Are you two okay?”

Derek scoffs and grumbles. Stiles murmurs that he is. He feels better now. Every day has gotten easier, he just hadn’t realized it. But now, in this moment… he realizes he’s just been needing to come back home to them. He’d been so tired and closed off and afraid that they’d start drifting apart but now they’re here.

“Okay,” she murmurs, turning to nuzzle her face against his knee.

Stiles flops an arm around Scott and tugs his head into the crook of his neck, capturing him there. Scott laughs against him and Stiles feels even lighter.

“This party sucked, no more youths, please,” Stiles says, elbowing Derek on his other side.

“Oh trust me, there will be no more of that,” Derek assures, tone dry.

Stiles almost wants to say no Paige, but he knows his limits.

She’s not really that bad.

He just doesn’t like her.

“Stiles, make us pizza rolls,” Lydia asks, voice distant with the onset of sleep.

“Tomorrow,” he whines.

“Yessss, pizza rolls for breakfast,” Scott mumbles.

Derek laughs softly. “Disgusting. That’s not a breakfast food.”

“We have the sausage and pepperoni ones,” Lydia argues. “Sausage is a breakfast food.”

“Breakfast is a social construct,” Stiles states, feeling passionately. “Food is food, you can eat it whenever you want.”

Derek shifts closer, his shoulder edging under Stiles’. His hand falls on Lydia’s head, fingers in her hair. “Fine,” he acquiesces, nose turned in toward Stiles’ ear.

Stiles leans his head against his. Allows it. Savors it. And falls asleep in a tangle of his best friends.

**

September 9th, 2010
Thursday

Derek laughs at Scott’s hundredth attempt to do a cartwheel. Lydia continues to try to show him how to do it, also breathless with laughter. Every now and then she waves toward the science classroom window and blows kisses. If Derek squints past the glare on the window, he can see a very unamused Stiles with his head propped up on his fist watching them.

His first detention of the year. With Harris, of course. (“It’s only right, Mr. Harris, I missed you this summer too,” he had said as Harris handed him his slip.)

Lydia had suggested the taunting as an extra level of punishment for Stiles being stupid enough to try to smoke a cigarette anywhere near Harris’ classroom window. (“I do it in the bathroom by the choir room all the tiiiime, at least I was outside!” Stiles had lamented. Lydia hadn’t been amused.)

Scott falls hard enough to wind himself and Lydia runs to him, tugging him up. He wheezes and laughs and Derek rolls his eyes.

“You guys are the actual worst friends in the world,” Stiles calls to them across the parking lot when he’s finally released. His smile contradicts the sentiment, wide and bright. “Scotty, did you break something on that last attempt? Hopefully nothing vital to band practice?”

“I’m all set, man, ready to go.”

Stiles’ eyes settle on Derek, taking him in, before sliding to Lydia as he accepts her side hug. “Our boy needs more training, Lydia, he’s not ready for the Olympics yet.”

Lydia murmurs and nods thoughtfully before breaking into a laugh.

Stiles reaches out to touch Derek’s chin. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen a friendly face,” he says, putting on dramatic airs. Derek swats his hand away and ruffles his hair roughly.

“Band practice, we’re wasting time,” Derek says, leading the way toward their cars.

This is more like it. This is how it was supposed to feel. They’d played for hours together on their Labor Day off from school, things sliding right into place as they should have and ever since… well, Lydia can listen to Derek just fucking around with his bass and pick out a drum line. Scott can pick harmonies out of the air. Stiles can sing stronger and bolder, like it’s second nature, like it’s just as easy as singing along to the radio. They’re figuring out how to play songs they’ve heard before, sometimes giving them a different twist. But every now and then they just slip into something nameless and wordless, organized sound that builds and grows and changes like a stutter but smooths out when everyone else catches back up.

The closest thing it feels like to Derek is a well done lacrosse play, when his teammates fell into stride with him and read his movements and got where they needed to be after having to improvise. But it’s different from that too. Better. Less tangible.

**

September 21st, 2010
Tuesday

“How about a round of True or False,” Stiles pitches. He’s nearly paralyzed with comfort, set up against a mass of Derek’s pillows and blankets. He has his laptop teetering on his knees and his creative writing assignment open and half written.

Derek’s doing something way harder but with way less focus as he lies across the foot of his bed, his calculus book totally discarded in lieu of his phone.

“Sure.”

“True or false, you like Paige.”

There, he’s breeched the topic. This awkwardness can now end.

Derek hesitates.

“I don’t know.”

“That’s not an option.”

Derek shoots him an irritated look.

“I mean, it is but not in this game, you gotta decide, that’s the point.”

They’d started out with Truth or Dare, an easy way to back into an uneasy friendship. And then into True or False when “I Dare you to tell me about your feelings” clearly stopped working. Stiles had to admit, it was easier to just confirm or deny things rather than just say them yourself. Derek always tried to cheat his way out of it with “I don’t know” or “maybe false” or “sorta true.” True or False was about deciding, not being wishy washy.

“Then false,” Derek says after some thought.

Huh?

“If I don’t know, then I don’t like her. You either like someone or you don’t, right?” Derek asks.

“Yeah I guess.”

“For the purpose of this game, at least. But the real answer is that I don’t know. Could go either way. Since when do you call her Paige and not Cello Girl?”

Since Art History last week, as a matter of fact. They’d been put into the same discussion group to talk about the significance of Greek and Roman statues having their paint stripped off of them by British historians and they totally got into it but it was… weirdly satisfying. It hadn’t been about her liking his best friend or him hating her or whatever, it had been about like… academics. Stuff related to a subject they clearly both cared about.

Listen, they’re not friends now or anything and he still can’t stand her but… she’s a good sparring partner.

Derek ignores Stiles’ lack of answer and returns a statement for Stiles to judge. “True or False, you’d be a big asshole if I did date her.”

“False,” Stiles says. He’s pretty sure, at least. It’d hurt for… reasons. But ultimately, doesn’t he just want to see Derek happy?

“Well, I’m not going to date her, so don’t worry,” Derek says after a minute of thought.

Weird.

“Hmmmm whatever. True or False, you want to be friends with Danny again.” Sneaky. Stiles smirks over his half-closed laptop at Derek as Derek puts two and two together.

Derek splutters and sits up. “That’s not fair, that’s devious. Did he ask you to ask me that? Just because I let him borrow my notes doesn’t mean— Stop laughing, asshole.”

“You so want to be friends with him again, you see me being friends with him again and you’re jealous. You know, you can just be friends with him again—“

“You’re manipulative, you’re sullying the ethics of True or False.”

“There are no ethics, this is a made up game. This is the wild, wild west of games.”

“Fine then, True or False, you and Danny are going to end up fucking again.”

“Hey!”

“No ethics, no sense of fairness whatsoever.” Derek’s grinning his mean, playful grin.

Stiles throws a pillow at him. “I have no intention of fucking him again.”

“Seems like a noncommittal answer, sounds like an “I don’t know” to me.”

Stiles’ laptop teeters dangerously and he snaps it shut to set on the nightstand. “You’re an asshole,” Stiles says in a threatening tone, surging forward to playfully shove Derek. Derek laughs and shoves back, pinning him easily.

God, not this again.

But this feels so close to normal. Two guys teasing each other about their romantic lives. Not making it about themselves. Stiles and Derek, never happening like that. This? This is how friendships go.

Stiles tickles his ribs to get him to jerk away and easily pushes him over the edge of the bed and onto the floor, sending his calculus book off behind him. Derek grabs his ankle and pulls him down with him with one hard yank.

“True or False, this game is rigged,” Stiles declares.

“You can’t rig this!” Derek argues.

“Oh the hell you can’t.”

“This is why the others don’t want to play with us,” Derek says, gesturing between them. “This chaos. How the hell is it rigged?”

“Because!” Because Stiles digs for the answers he wants and Derek does too. And it ignores nuance, like Derek’s bullshit non-answers and Stiles’ cries of indignation and refusal to answer things. Though, those things are just as telling as an honest answer.

“Honestly, I might sleep with Danny again,” Stiles says to avoid answering, face splitting into a devious grin. “If he’ll have me.”

“Ah, the on again, off again fuck buddy romance of the century,” Derek teases.

Stiles tries to escalate the rough housing again, pinching Derek’s side. Derek yelps and drags him to the ground with an arm around his neck. Stiles can tell he’s being careful not to hurt him. Stiles can’t stop laughing. Derek finally breaks free of the entanglement and onto his feet, rushes around the bed and grabs Stiles’ laptop. It’s all just play, playful aggression and play fighting and play threats. Stiles is thriving.

“True or False, you’d kill me if I read your story.”

“False. Go ahead,” Stiles says, smirking up at him with an eyebrow raised. “Give me feedback, help me, please.”

“Oh, do you really want me to?”

“Yeah, golden boy, Delaney mentions your stuff in class sometimes. You’re my hero.”

Derek preens a little. He sits in the spot Stiles had vacated and opens his laptop. Stiles crawls off the floor to sit against the headboard next to him and fidgets as he reads. He gets up to grab Derek’s calculus book off the floor and straightens up Derek’s pile of papers just to have something to do.

“Huh,” Derek says, rubbing his chin in thought. “You’re a better writer than I thought you’d be.”

“Suck a dick, Hale,” Stiles laughs.

Derek smiles that smile. That Stiles specific smile (or at least he’s pretty sure it is). “I don’t mean it like that, I mean… it’s really good. Sounds like you know what you’re doing.”

Maybe he does. Maybe he reads a lot of books. Maybe he scribbles a lot of collections of words that never go anywhere in the margins of his notebooks. Maybe has a word document on his laptop where he writes just to see how words work together.

“Eeeh,” Stiles says, shrugging sheepishly. “Get back to your math homework, you’re distracting me.” He makes grabby hands for his laptop, biting down a dopey smile.

**

September 27th, 2010
Monday

At first they’re sitting in Bio. Stiles’ sharp tongue talking circles around Harris, the whole class laughing. Derek is proud. And then they’re in Finstock’s, his eyes wide and multi-hued as Finstock talks circles around him. Derek is mad. Watching Stiles shrink and shrink and shrink until he disappears…

And then they’re in his room. The ceiling fan beats the air and all Derek can hear are blades slicing through air like a far off helicopter but slower and Stiles’ breath. Breath he can feel against his neck.

Derek’s hands are all over him. Chest and waist and back and neck and cheeks. Stiles’ breath is hot and wet and coming and going and hitching. His movements are almost impossibly slow, but he presses his mouth against him. Lips sliding against lips, Derek catching his swollen lower lip in between his teeth, tongues.

Everything feels… good. Liquid and hot, airy and cool at the same time.

And then there’s someone on the other side of the door telling him he’s making a big mistake, and it sounds like Stiles. When Derek pulls away, Stiles looks up at him, eyes like a bottle of whiskey. It doesn’t feel like a mistake. He kisses him again and—

“You’re so fucking late,” Cora snaps, stomping into his room and tearing Derek from the dream.

“Fuck,” Derek curses, sitting up and dragging a pillow over himself. What the fuck? His skin is hot, his chest is tight with… no way. Impossible.

“Oh god, disgusting,” Cora says, mortified, and turns her back to him. “I don’t want to know! We have to go c’mon!” And then she’s gone.

He is… unbelievably hard. And humiliated. He climbs out of bed and throws on clothes and tries to remember details of his dream because anything this inspiring deserves attention. All he remembers is Stiles. His stomach sinks and soars.

Fuck.

He rinses his face and brushes his teeth and arranges his hair into something that looks intentional and takes the stairs two at a time, grabbing his backpack off the bottom step and yelling Cora’s name as he heads to the car.

She looks at him weird.

“What?” he barks.

“Nothing.”

His cheeks get hot anyway. He tosses his backpack into the backseat and wills himself not to be embarrassed. He didn’t do anything intentional, okay. Biology, puberty, adolescence, totally normal. It’s not like she saw him naked or anything. God, he hates having sisters sometimes. He’d make a good only child, he thinks.

“Good dream huh?” Cora asks, snide.

“Shut up.”

She leaves it at that and is quiet the rest of the ride, leaving Derek to his own nonstop inner monologue.

Stiles’ eyes and breath and lips and Derek’s pretty sure he read somewhere that sex dreams don’t mean you want to have sex with that person exactly, okay?

It’s not a sex thing, Derek tells himself over and over again like a mantra. The doubt, the question, that’s been with him since Outside Lands continues to loom. But it’s not. It’s an emotional crush, Derek will accept that. And that might possibly be worse than a sexual one because he has no idea what to do with it. There’s no outlet.

Not that he’d know what to do if it was sexual either.

Sure, he’s thought about kissing Stiles. Usually when he’s laughing so hard tears are streaming down his cheeks. Or when he’s playing guitar. Or when he’s quiet and close by.

It’s not sexual.

Derek would know if it was. If this was one of Stiles’ True or False questions, the answer would be False simply because it’s not like… True.

They get to school no later than usual, but Derek feel 100% unprepared and bewildered. He turns off the car and sits, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

“Listen, I didn’t see anything, it was just the reaction that—“

“Cora, please,” Derek sighs.

“Fiiine, I just think it’s funny that your sex dream almost—“

“Stop.”

“—Made us late for school.”

“Cora.”

Two sets of hands start slapping at his window. He groans, knowing who they are. Cora dismisses herself and heads off, Lydia slides into her place.

“You’re late,” she says, frowning at him in concern.

Derek rolls down the window to appease the others. Stiles sticks his face in the window first, grinning like the Cheshire Cat and smelling just slightly of tobacco and chewing gum.

“Hey,” he says, and the sound of it makes Derek shiver.

“Good morning!” Scott says, his face joining Stiles’.

“Overslept,” Derek says to answer all possible questions.

“Aw, that explains this,” Stiles says sympathetically, reaching his hand in to run his fingers through Derek’s messy hair and then down over Derek’s stubbly jaw. “Que sexy!” he teases.

Stiles’ breath. Stiles’ eyes. Stiles’ lips.

Stiles.

Derek tries not to look at him for too long but… it’s the eyelashes his dream had missed. Stiles’ fingers fall from his jaw and he crooks a smile at Derek.

“Very rugged,” Scott says, a compliment. Derek only gets halfway through an eye roll before he’s smiling at all of them and shaking his head.

“Bio quiz, you ready?” Lydia asks, tone serious.

“Domain, Order, Kingdom, Phylum, Class… Order,” Stiles lists off, ticking them off on his fingers.

No,” Lydia hisses.

**

October 1st, 2010
Friday

Stiles feels like an awful friend. He’d tried and tried and tried all week to come up with something worthy of Scott’s birthday week. It’s their senior year, they’re supposed to make this set of birthday weeks the best yet. And yet…

“I’m out of ideas,” Stiles says, defeated. He caps the dry erase marker and sets it back on its ledge. The white board hanging in Lydia’s garage remains empty.

He sits heavily on the couch, arms crossed, elbow against Derek’s side, and feels sorry for himself.

Lydia twirls a drumstick, staring at the white board deep in thought. Derek offers Stiles a sympathetic smile.

“I just don’t want to chance getting him in trouble, you know?” Stiles explains even though no one asked. “If the pranks get back to him and he gets in trouble and it hurts his class ranking or graduation plan or whatever, I’ll never forgive myself.”

Lydia makes a soft sound of agreement.

“Last year was pretty epic,” she says. “It’s hard to beat that anyway…”

She feels bad too, Stiles can tell.

“Finstock’s an easy target,” Derek says.

“I’m sorry, what?” Stiles asks, sitting up straight and swiveling to look at him.

“Finstock? He’s an easy target, the lacrosse team gets him like three times a season. A couple years ago, cross country had him thinking they found a dead body in the woods. Super easy, never bothers to get anyone in actual trouble, and has the funniest reactions. Finstock.”

Stiles considers the risks. In the second week of class, Finstock had gotten mad at Stiles and turned to the chalk board to write “Stilinski Will Join Cross Country” and one very angry tally mark below that. It was now up to two.

There is a little bit of lawlessness to him that is promising.

“And he’ll think it’s one of his players anyway,” Derek tacks on.

Stiles isn’t so sure.

“He has other classes before us though, we can’t set anything up,” Lydia points out.

Derek shakes his head. “He teaches conditioning and training for the athletes first two periods.”

Stiles looks to Lydia. She looks back, smiling triumphantly.

“The Screw Prank,” she says.

“The Screw Prank,” Stiles confirms.

Planning the rest of the week falls into place naturally. Food, smoking, hanging out, blow out party. That stuff is simple. Which is lucky, because Scott’s birthday week kicks off tomorrow. It’d been hard to get everyone together without Scott around in between school and practice and life, and the year was slipping by way faster than Stiles had anticipated.

It’s unbelievable to think this might be the last birthday week Stiles ever throws for Scott. He wants it to be memorable.

**

October 2nd, 2010
Saturday

There’s the softest tremor of… something… in Scott. He smiles just the same, laughs just the same, is just as appreciative and enthusiastic as ever… but it’s there.

And maybe Derek only recognizes it because he feels it in himself too.

The Sheriff shit talks at Stiles’ level, but with more subtlety. He banters back and forth with all of them all the while manning the grill to make what apparently is Scott’s favorite burger “in all of America.”

Stiles and his dad remind Derek of him and his own dad.

Derek feels the fracture but refuses to break.

“You know, in the real world people don’t try to destroy small town science teachers’ lives for their friend’s birthday,” the Sheriff tells them.

“Booooring,” Stiles chants. “And we’re leaving Harris alone this year.”

“So what other poor sap are you going to destroy?”

“That’s classified,” Lydia says.

“That so? Derek, what do you think of all this?” He turns to Derek, eyes sparkling with amusement. There’s something in the look that’s painfully familiar.

He thinks of his father riling them all up with endless arguments about nothing just to land his usual “and that’s how your dad keeps food on the table” joke. He thinks of the look on his face when he was trying not to show how amused he was when he was supposed to be punishing them.

“That’s also classified,” Derek says.

The Sheriff shakes his head in faux disappointment and continues prying.

Derek remember’s Stiles’ insecurities. The things he doesn’t want to tell his dad because he doesn’t want to disappoint him. He sees how much Stiles looks up to him. He remembers the feeling. He remembers worrying he wouldn’t live up to his parent’s expectations. And now that one of them was gone, it still felt so uneven. Like his mom’s expectations are reachable and like he has to work a thousand times harder to meet his dad’s.

Scott laughs, Scott grins, but Derek notices when Scott isn’t doing either of those things. The way he looks at Stiles and his father. The way he looks like he’s just trying to figure them out. Like he’s asking a laundry list of questions in his head that he can’t possibly have an answer for.

Once all the burgers are grilled up and they head back inside, the Sheriff claps Scott on the shoulder and says something directly into Scott’s ear with a serious look on his face. Scott smiles and nods, looking a little caught off guard.

Derek looks away.

“Hales don’t have Achilles’ Heels,” his father had said sometimes. It’d always meant something different. The last time Derek had heard him say it, it was when he was trying to keep up with Derek on a morning run.

“I don’t know, old man,” Derek had said, turning to run backward to show off.

“Hey, it’s only a weakness if I care enough to think of it that way,” he’d replied. He’d stuck his tongue out and laughed until he cried seconds later when Derek tripped over a tree branch and fell on his ass.

Derek misses his father’s tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, entirely accidental wisdom all the time. He misses the intentional wisdom too.

He refuses to break.

Derek throws an arm around Scott’s shoulder and squeezes, ruffles his hair. He lets himself be happy with the rest of them.

**

Stiles wakes up with a start and sits up in bed just in time to see the silhouette of a broad shouldered boy pass across his window. Stiles is hardly awake as he watches him carefully press his finger tips against the glass to slide it open in a well-known practice…

“Derek?” Stiles asks, voice thick with sleep.

“Derek?” the intruder asks back, puzzled.

“Scott,” Stiles corrects.

“Yeah. Does Derek climb in your window too?” Scott asks, grunting a little as he takes off his shoes and jeans.

“You woke me up, I’m like half asleep,” he says.

He suddenly feels guilty for keeping that a secret. Why keep it a secret? It doesn’t mean anything. Derek hasn’t said anything about it either though…

Stiles flops onto his back and wiggles over to give Scott room. He waits for him to settle next to him and burrow under the covers to see if he wants to talk.

He supposes he doesn’t. The extra body heat is comforting, but there’s a weightiness hanging in the air. Scott’s breath seems thick and labored.

“You okay?” Stiles asks, turning onto his side to face Scott’s back.

Scott’s silent. Stiles shifts closer and props himself up on his elbow to look at his face. What little light there is in the room glints off wet tracks around Scott’s eyes.

“Scotty,” Stiles says, wrapping his arm around him instinctually. He tugs him back against his chest and holds him there.

One of Scott’s hands comes up to curl around Stiles’ arm, to hold him there. He still doesn’t say anything.

“What’s wrong?” Stiles asks the back of Scott’s head.

“Nothing,” he says in a rough whisper.

So Stiles drops it. He doesn’t move, he doesn’t say anything else, he just waits. Scott falls asleep after awhile. Stiles does too.

And in the morning, Stiles is woken up by someone bouncing on his bed. His skin is hot where it’s still pressed against Scott’s back, Scott groans and burrows his head under Stiles’ pillow, Stiles squints up.

“Thanks for the invite,” Lydia says through a laugh, toppling over the both of them and thrusting her face right up against Scott’s. “Oy, I made a reservation at Hank’s, they’re pulling out the fine china for us, we gotta go. Derek’s waiting outside, this was supposed to be a smash and grab operation.”

Stiles rolls away from them and looks for his phone, bewildered and disoriented. He has missed texts and calls from Lydia and Derek asking him where he is. Fuck, he was supposed to meet them and they were supposed to abduct Scott but… this works too.

He hears Lydia yelp and a thump against the mattress and looks in time to see her disappear under the blankets. Scott has her, she’s a lost cause now.

“Sleeeeeeep!” he growls, but Lydia laughs and squirms.

Stiles looks out the window and spots the Camaro, Derek leaning against it and staring up at the house with a puzzled expression. Stiles throws the window open and gestures for him to come inside.

“He’s got her, we have a hostage situation, need back-up!” Stiles yells dramatically before slamming the window closed.

Stiles is getting dressed by the time Derek walks in. He casually crosses to the bed and crawls into Stiles’ spot like it’s nothing. 

“I’ll wait,” he says, sounding like a parent. Scott flops an arm backward and across Derek’s lap. “I’m hungry, but I’ll wait.”

“It’s like 7 in the morning,” Scott argues.

“It’s 11,” Derek corrects.

As if on cue, there’s a loud stomach growl and Scott sits up, releasing Lydia. “Let’s go.”

Stiles exchanges a look with Derek and tries to gauge if there’s jealousy there about Scott being in his spot. His spot. Stiles reminds himself that that spot is not just Derek’s, it’d been Scott’s for way longer. And Lydia’s. And most importantly, his own.

Platonic friends do not have spots in each others beds.

Not exclusively.

Whatever.

Derek’s face is Sunday Morning Soft, well-rested and easy. His lips curl into an easy, casual smile. Stiles smiles back.

**

October 5th, 2010
Tuesday

“Still think she’s evil?” Derek asks. Stiles shoots a glare at him. “I mean, do evil people help people like us break into the school to pull a prank for a birthday present?”

“Actually, that sounds exactly like something an evil person would do.”

“Well, if she’s evil and helping us, doesn’t that make us evil too?” Lydia asks. She tests Coach’s door handle and lets out a sigh of relief when it turns, left unlocked.

“Anyway,” Stiles says, carefully articulating each syllable, a change of subject. They slip into the classroom and Stiles flicks on the lights.

“We’re so going to get caught,” Lydia says, turning the lights back off. She pulls a camping lantern out of her duffle bag and sets it in the corner furthest from the windows.

“Paige said she’s leaving in an hour, is that enough time?” Derek asks, looking up from his phone.

Lydia shrugs and nods. She reaches back into her duffle and pulls out three screwdrivers. She reminds them which screws to remove and which to just loosen. Derek reminds her that she’s a super villain. Stiles explains again that they’ve thought through this prank for years now.

“Do you think he’ll be upset we did it without him?” Lydia asks, frowning.

Derek thinks it might be a possibility. Scott has seemed down all week so far. Not a lot, but enough. Just slightly dimmed.

Stiles pauses and frowns. “The point was we didn’t want him to get in trouble.”

“But Derek said Finstock won’t think it’s us anyway.”

Stiles heaves a sigh, fidgets with his hoodie’s zipper. Derek can tell he wants Scott to be there.

“Let’s come back tomorrow night with him, then,” Derek suggests.

Stiles looks at him, eyes wide and hopeful. “Should we?” he asks, looking to Lydia.

“Maybe.”

“We have to do something…?”

Derek remembers something he and Jackson had always joked about doing. He knows the exact reaction it’ll get. He figures it’s good enough to derail class the next day at least and gets to work.

“Devenford Rules?” Stiles asks, reading along as Derek sloppily scrawls the words across the chalk board. “Now this is some real meathead shit, they’d never suspect us,” he teases, clapping Derek on the shoulder. “Should we try for something a liiiiittle more destructive?”

“You’ve never seen Coach rant about Devenford Prep, trust me, this’ll be good.”

“Alright, jock, we’ll see.”

**

October 6th, 2010
Wednesday

Stiles thinks it’s the weakest prank he’s ever been associated with, honestly. It’s a real low point. He tries not to be disappointed. He tries to tell himself that this is brilliant actually, a non-prank before the best prank of their lives. But… still.

On Monday, they’d put those can of worms things in his drawers. On Tuesday, they just kept calling the classroom phone on their cell phones over and over again. And now this. Whatever.

At least Scott was elated about the screw prank. Stiles is glad they hadn’t excluded him from it after all.

“So we didn’t really do anything today, sorry, buddy,” Stiles says in conclusion.

Derek scoffs. “We did too.”

“Listen, I know you were a big dumb jock in a past life, but I promise you that no one other than you guys actually care about Devenford Prep,” Stiles says, a little irritated.

Derek shakes his head. “I don’t care about Devenford, no one cares about Devenford as much as Coach does.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. “So Derek wrote something on the chalk board and let’s just think of it as a weird calm before the storm type ploy.”

Scott isn’t disappointed anyway, so whatever.

They get to the classroom before Finstock does, so at least there’ll be the satisfaction of some reaction. Stiles hears Jackson burst into mean laughter the second he steps in the door.

“Oh shit, someone’s asking for it,” he says, jostling Danny with his elbow.

And then Finstock breezes into the room, slams his clipboard down on the desk and looks up at still-laughing Jackson with suspicion.

“What is it. What,” he demands, eyebrow raised.

“Nothing, Coach.”

He turns his head slowly. Stiles has his chin propped up on his fist, wishing he could appreciate this inside joke.

“Who… who…” Coach says, voice trembling as he takes in Derek’s message with eyes even wider than Stiles has ever seen them. “Who wrote this?”

The classroom falls silent, the jocks present suspiciously unresponsive.

“Who wrote this?” Coach repeats, turning slowly, a blind rage evident in his eyes. “Which of you was it?”

Still no response. Stiles has his eyebrows raised in shock. Derek presses a fingertip against his back as if to say, “See, told you.”

“You know, y-y-you know, the thing is… the thing is…. yeah.” He cuts himself off with a crazed little laugh. “The thing about Devenford Prep is… The THING with them is they’ve got no integrity, you hear that? You know, when I was just starting out, when I took this fledgling, underperforming, piece of garbage lacrosse team under my wing… you know, the Cyclones, you know… you know, when I started here, Devenford Prep was the top team and, you know what here…” He turns and furiously erases the words with his hand and picks up a piece of chalk. “It was 2002 and and and our school, these educators were giving the lacrosse program about two nickels and a bit of LINT, but then—“

And then he’s off on the most bizarre rant Stiles has ever had the fortune of being privy to. Coach paints a tale of espionage and financial fraud and dirty backroom deals and ultimately ends up in a frothing rage yelling about how great the Cyclones Lacrosse team is and how Devenford “isn’t a goddamn QUARTER of my team, of this school’s team and you should all be PROUD to be here, to watch these young men bring this school GLORY so whoever wrote this—

He stops only when the end of period bell rings.
“Oh my god, that was spectacular,” Scott whispers in awe as they hurry out the door. Lydia is shocked speechless next to him.

Derek smirks smugly. “Told you.”

Jackson catches up with them in the hall and claps Derek’s shoulder. “Was it you?” he asks. “Because it wasn’t any of us…”

A million emotions in one flash across Derek’s face in that second — humor, anger, confusion, doubt — and then he settles on grin. “Maybe,” he says.

Jackson’s answering smile is… weird. Nice. He nods his understanding and approval. And then nods his goodbye. Derek's smile lingers but fades into a moment of confusion. Stiles tears his eyes away. Stop looking, stop analyzing, stop worrying. Stop.

Chapter Text

October 7th, 2010
Thursday

Derek has a pocket full of screws, which almost sounds like a metaphor. Stiles approaches him and reaches his hand into his sweater pocket to give him more. He flashes Derek a smile and spins away.

Lydia and Scott are working on running fishing wire through a very tiny hole in the top of the desk and along the baseboards. Lydia had outlined the whole process like an expert engineer describing a rocket launch, but Derek tapped out of all that. He and Stiles are on screw duty.

Which also almost sounds like a metaphor, but this one is paired with Stiles repeating the phrase and smirking and wiggling his hips around suggestively.

There’s a soft tap at the door and they all look up to see Paige looking through the narrow window. Derek waves for her to come in.

“How much longer?” she asks, leaning her cello against the wall.

“Paaaaige, the real MVP!” Scott says, smiling warmly. “Not long, right?” he asks, looking to Lydia.

“Not long,” Lydia agrees. “Thank you so much, I don’t know how we could’ve done this without you.”

“No problem,” Paige murmurs.

Her responding smile is pure and friendly and it ends with her looking at Derek appreciatively. Derek catches Stiles’ eye roll, but notices that he doesn’t say anything. Progress, maybe.

“Security will probably come by to make sure everyone’s out in about twenty,” Paige says. She walks closer to Derek and bumps her elbow against him.

“So how exactly do you get away with this again?” Stiles asks, tense. Progress, definitely not.

“Orchestra teacher likes me, you’re probably not familiar with the feeling of being liked by a teacher… And she’s friends with my mom.”

Derek winces at the tone of her voice, but Stiles smirks his maddening smirk and rolls his eyes, a perfect picture of dismissal.

“Cut it the fuck out, honestly,” Lydia hisses.

They finish things up and head out. Lydia winds her arm through Paige’s and Derek hears her asking her if she’s coming Scott’s party on Friday. Scott hangs back with Stiles and Derek.

“You okay?” Stiles asks him, looking at him with a creased brow.

“I’m fine,” Scott says, light but not bright.

“You should sleep over tonight, a classic birthday celebration, how about it?” Stiles asks, slinging an arm around Scott’s shoulders. “Is Melissa working tonight, will she even know?”

“Nah, she isn’t, sorry man…”

“Then I’ll come sleep over.”

Derek’s sure Scott’s going to say no. Paige and Lydia open the door ahead of them and slip out into the cool, clear night air. Scott stays silent until they’re down the stairs and walking toward the parking lot.

“Yeah, okay. Will the Sheriff mind?”

“He’s working tonight.”

“Okay. Derek, you in?”

Derek smiles at the question. “Nah, I can’t, but have fun.”

Scott frowns at him but pats him on the shoulder anyway. “Lydia, sleep over?”

“Oh, am I invited?” she says, faux haughty.

“C’mon, Lyds!”

“I’m going to sleep in my own bed and be near all my lipsticks when I wake up, but have fun without me. You guys better not oversleep, I’m bringing breakfast.”

“I’d ask you, Paige, but I feel like it’d be a little forward,” Scott says.

She laughs. “I appreciate the sentiment, Scott.”

**

October 8th
Friday

Stiles sees the clock turn to midnight and attacks. Scott yelps and falls off the other side of the bed, pleading for mercy.

“Nah, man, 17 pinches, bitch,” Stiles says, pinning him.

Melissa yells a warning “boooys!” from down the hall and Stiles stifles his laughing as best as he can. Scott bites him but that doesn’t stop him at all.

Once finished, Stiles helps him up and collapses back on his bed. Scott rubs his hip in an exaggerated fashion, frowning comically.

“You hurt me on my birthday,” he says, flopping down next to Stiles.

“Just had to.”

Scott drops the show of being hurt and snuggles into his blankets, eyes falling closed. “Thanks for staying over,” he says, voice low.

“Dude,” Stiles says, his inflection saying “of course, I love you.”

And then that melancholy settles in again. Just barely there, just a gauzy sheet thrown over Scott’s usual light.

“Alright,” Stiles says gently, rolling onto his side to look at Scott. “What’s wrong, man? I’m worried.”

Scott’s answering silence means that he’s right, something is bothering him. Stiles holds his breath and bites his lip and waits for an answer.

“I don’t know,” Scott says, letting out a breath. Stiles isn’t convinced. “Just… a little down, I guess.”

“Anything I can do?”

Scott turns his head to look at him. “You’re already doing it.” He smiles a little. “Lydia’s going to kill us if we’re late.”

“Me, she’ll kill me. You’re immune today.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I don’t want you to get killed either though.” He sits up enough to turn off the lamp on his nightstand.

In the morning, Melissa holds Scott’s face and kisses his forehead and cheeks a million times before she lets them leave. “Happy birthday, baby, please don’t get caught doing whatever horrible thing you’re doing today, okay?”

“I’ll try!” Scott says brightly.

Melissa frowns her son’s frown and smooths his hair down over his forehead. “Alright, well… I guess that’s all I can ask. You, criminal, keep him out of trouble.”

“You know I will, Melissa!”

She rolls her eyes and runs a hand over Stiles’ hair as well, smiling softly. She turns one last look at Scott, just a second of concern flashing over her features.

“Call me if you need me,” she says, seriously.

Scott brushes it off with a: “Yeah, okay, byeeee.” And Stiles and Scott are on their way out the door.

 

**

Derek enlists Cora to help him wrestle the balloons out of the back of his car and through the front door of the school. But she’s totally judging him, Derek can tell.

“What?” Derek asks, slapping a banana shaped balloon out of his face and saving the monkey one that sings Day-O when smacked from getting smashed in the door.

“This is weird,” she says, adjusting Derek’s backpack on her shoulder.

“How?”

She shrugs. “I never saw you as the type of guy to pick up balloons for your friends’ birthdays I guess?”

A year ago, Derek wasn’t.

A whole year ago. He hadn’t thought about that before, he couldn’t remember the exact day off the top of his head but he knew it was before Scott’s birthday. But he’d officially spent a year with them. It felt like longer. It felt like no time at all.

“Maybe I just like these friends better.”

“They are way more fun,” Cora agrees. She walks with Derek to Scott’s locker and watches Derek spin the combination lock. “This is the kind of stuff girls do for each other,” she observes.

Derek pulls the locker open and looks at her. “So?”

She shrugs again. “It’s cute, that’s all I’m saying.”

Derek shoves the banana shaped balloons and the green and brown normal ones into the locker and ties the monkey’s string around a book to keep it floating directly above his locker when the door is closed.

“Hales,” Lydia greets, setting a bag of breakfast stuff at her feet. Her eyes trail up to the monkey and she grins. “Perfect, does it sing?”

“Of course,” Derek scoffs, offended. Her grin widens.

“Ayyyy!” Scott calls as he walks up the hallway with his arms spread wide. Stiles pulls his arm out of the way just in time to keep him from clothes-lining a freshman. “For little ole me?”

He slaps the monkey the second he gets close enough to and sings along with it as he unlocks his locker.

“Happy birthday, Scott,” Cora says, smiling in a way that makes Derek narrow his eyes at her.

“Thanks, baby Hale! You coming tonight?”

Cora flashes Derek a nervous look and shakes her head. “Nah, I’m good on parties for awhile.”

“I told her she only gets one party a semester without me telling mom on her,” Derek explains.

Scott gives her a sympathetic look while she rolls her eyes, a slight blush rising in her cheeks. Stiles leans against the lockers next to Cora and eyes the bag of breakfast at Lydia’s feet.

“These are coming with me,” Scott says, carefully picking out the banana shaped balloons and tying them to his backpack.

Cora spots her friends and slips away with a half-assed goodbye, Derek takes her spot against the lockers next to Stiles. Their arms brush, Stiles looks up at him and smiles gently. There are tired lines under his eyes and his hair is sticking up on one side from how he slept. Derek’s smile mirrors his as best as his face will allow.

There’s a subdued vibe all day. Maybe it’s because Scott seems less excited or maybe it’s because they didn’t start the day off with Harris’ purple-faced reaction to the Snape prank. Derek can’t quite place it. Stiles seems quieter too, but Derek catches him watching Scott carefully and Lydia catches Derek noticing so then they end up sharing looks of concern between them…

It’s weird.

Even the prank doesn’t actually change things that much.

Finstock sits, his chair wobbles dangerously, he grabs the edge of his desk and the whole thing sways to the ground and the fishing wire Lydia so carefully engineered brings surrounding things crashing to the ground. It’s a beautiful sort of chaos, Finstock’s reaction is exactly what they should have hoped for. Scott laughs, sure. They all laugh but…

“Dude, are you okay?” Stiles asks, slinging an arm around Scott’s shoulder as they walk toward Biology after class.

“Yeah, why?” he asks.

“I just felt like that was a little anticlimactic, was that just me?” Stiles asks, turning to look at Lydia and Derek.

Derek looks to her for her response. She chews her lip and shrugs. Derek looks back at Stiles and shrugs too.

Stiles sighs and looks straight ahead.

“I loved it,” Scott says, sincere.

“Okay,” Stiles says, not convinced.

**

Scott is eerily quiet during the pregame. Lydia either doesn’t notice or doesn’t want to press him. Derek looks perfectly at home amongst Lydia’s throw pillows on her bed, but Stiles sees him looking toward Scott with concern too.

“Hey buddy,” Stiles says, gently knocking a full tequila bottle against Scott’s shoulder. “We excited?”

“Yeah,” he says, distantly. He continues playing a game on his phone.

Stiles looks up and makes direct, intense eye contact with Derek.

“Yo, Lyds!” Stiles says, changing course. He heads toward her en suite bathroom and pokes his head in.

“Huh?” she asks, not ceasing in her pursuit of perfect eye liner.

“Does Scott seem off to you?” he asks, voice low.

“Uh huh,” she affirms, leaning closer to her mirror.

“What do we do?”

She pulls her pencil away from her face and looks toward him through the mirror. She shrugs. “He’ll perk up?”

“I don’t know.”

“I can hear you guys,” Scott calls from within the room.

“Well then, Scotty!” Lydia says, capping her pencil and shoving Stiles out of the way to look out at him. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Then perk the fuck up!”

He sorta scowls, sorta just shakes his head. 


“Cheer him up!” Lydia commands of Derek. Derek stammers, sitting up slightly.

“I’m fine.”

“He’s fine,” Derek says, gesturing. Stiles frowns at all of them, hands on his hips.

Once the party actually starts, Scott’s mask is firmly in place. He greets friends cheerfully, takes shots with whoever offers, the usual. Stiles ends up talking to Danny more than he strictly should, the conversation of course veering to weird and flirty places. Derek’s off flirting with Paige and this is just the distraction Stiles needs.

Things go a little sideways when Stiles finds himself getting tugged upstairs by a quietly frantic Lydia.

“What’s up?”

“Did you see Derek?”

“He’s talking to Paige in the backyard, why—“

“Just get in there and watch him, I’ll be right back.” She shoves him into her room and closes the door.

The room is dim and stuffy. Stiles jumps when a lump of someone moves on the floor at the foot of Lydia’s bed.

“Heeeeeey,” Scott says, drunk as fuck.

“Oh man, hello,” Stiles says, moving to kneel next to him. “How’s it going, birthday boy?” He puts his hands on Scott’s hot, sticky cheeks and tries to read him for warning signs…

Scott laughs like Stiles has told the best joke in the world while Stiles frantically tries to tally up how many drinks he saw Scott take before he lost him in the crowd. He got so drunk so fast…

“Why don’t you sit up for me, huh?” Stiles asks, tugging at him until he’s sitting, sweaty back pressed against Stiles’ knees.

Scott reaches out to the side and his fingers wrap around the neck of a bottle.

“Wasn’t that pretty full earlier, buddy?” Stiles asks, body going cold at seeing close to half the bottle empty.

The door swings open and Derek and Lydia appear. Lydia crouches down and pries the bottle of tequila out of his hand. “Enough,” she scolds.

“C’mon,” he slurs, reaching for it clumsily.

“What’s up, Scotty? How are we feeling?” Stiles asks, hooking his arm around his chest to hold him back from grabbing at the bottle.

“Fucking great!” he bites, unconvincing.

“You’re a mess,” Lydia tells him.

He laughs and tips back over so he’s laying down. Derek grabs Stiles by the back of his shirt and tugs him up.

“What the fuck is this?” Derek hisses in his ear.

“I have no idea, he’s drunk,” Stiles answers, his own nerves edging into his voice.

Derek screws up his mouth in a quick flash of worry.

One second, Scott is laughing hysterically on Lydia’s floor. The next, he’s sobbing uncontrollably and saying something incoherent over and over again.

“Fuck,” Stiles curses, spinning around and crouching to get to him. He pulls him up by the arm and drags him toward the bathroom. He’ll shove his fingers down his throat to get him to throw up whatever is left in his stomach if he has to. He gently helps Scott collapse onto the floor in front of the toilet and sits on the edge of the tub to rub his back.

Scott just cries and cries and cries and moans about everything hurting.

“Scotty,” Lydia says, sounding both sympathetic and long-suffering. She squeezes herself between Scott and the cabinet and puts herself in as much of his space as she can. She puts her hands on Scott’s face. Stiles can’t remember words, the worry he feels is a vacuum.

“He left, he left, he left,” Scott sobs, finally articulating it clear enough to be understood. He curls into himself, forehead hitting the toilet seat. His body heaves and he gags. Lydia drags him up, fighting against all his drunken, furious strength to get his head over the bowl. Stiles rubs the back of his neck.

“Let it go, c’mon,” Lydia soothes, pushing his hair away from his shining forehead. “You’ll feel better if you just throw it up, Scott.”

And he does. A lot. His body shakes with it, he cries through it. Lydia rests her cheek against his shoulder, face toward the door with her eyes squeezed shut. She lets herself look small and terrified. Stiles feels small and terrified too. Stiles hears her bedroom door open and footsteps leading away. Stiles’ whole body feels empty. It feels like ages sitting there, waiting, useless. He wants to ask where Derek went, he wants to know if he ran off. Stiles wouldn’t blame him if he had.

But then he’s there with huge glass of water that he carefully sets on the sink. He hovers in the doorway, arms crossed. He looks grim. Stiles looks up at him, begging for eye contact. When he gets it, Derek’s face softens.

The first wave of violent puking ends in even more desperate sobbing. Lydia pulls a wash cloth from a drawer and stretches up to run it under the faucet.

“Come here,” she says, pulling Scott toward her. Stiles watches her clean his face and wonders how she can find it in her to move at all. Stiles can hardly even breathe. He feels like he’s dying when his hand isn’t plastered to Scott.

“He left, he doesn’t love me, he’ll never love me,” Scott blubbers. Lydia looks like she’s trying not to cry.

And Stiles suddenly gets it. He doesn’t mean to but he looks up at Derek. Derek looks so goddamn neutral, but he grabs the water and nudges Lydia until she takes it from him.

“Here,” she says, pressing it to his lips.

How is Lydia even real?

Scott drinks a little and shoves it away, sloshing water all over the both of them. Lydia doesn’t even flinch. Derek takes it from her and sets it back down.

“Why doesn’t he want me?” Scott begs of Lydia. Stiles wants to hunt his piece of shit father down and shove his head through a fucking window, he visualizes kicking him down the stairs or taking a baseball bat to his car windows or punching him in the face, he wants to hurt him so badly but all he can do is desperately reach for Scott’s back. His shirt is damp with sweat and he’s trembling and Stiles doesn’t know how to help him.

“Fuck him, okay?” Lydia says. She gets it too. It’s impossible not to. The darkest part of Scott, the part that stays so deeply buried it almost seems not to exist at all, has always been his father.

Scott buries his face in Lydia’s neck and clings to her. Derek looks like he wants to step forward and save her, but Stiles knows Scott won’t hurt her. She clings to him back, her face in his hair. She’s definitely crying now.

“I’m your new dad, remember?” she mumbles. Scott sobs harder. Stiles feels the surge of pain like it’s his own.

Stiles feels too young for this. They’re all too young for this. This is heavy. Stiles has seen the fissures in Scott before, but he’s never seen him break.

“Scott, we love you,” Lydia says. She repeats the sentiment over and over again, rocking him. His body tenses and jerks and he tears away from her to get back to the toilet. She presses the wash cloth to the back of his neck and stays there. Stiles has his hand uselessly on his shoulder, thumb rubbing circles into his skin. Derek stands sentinel in the doorway, face looking less neutral and more angry.

Lydia is both the only person in the room with both her parents, and the only person who has never had parents at all. And she is the only one who can say anything at all.

Stiles hurts for all of them so badly that even if he wanted to say something, he couldn’t. Grief clamps his mouth shut.

He loses track of time. All he knows is that his back is aching from sitting on the edge of the tub and that Scott is slowly getting better. He drinks a whole glass of water and slowly moves to sit with his back against the cupboard next to Lydia. Derek refills the glass in the sink and hands it back to him.

“I’m sorry,” Scott mutters. He can hardly keep his eyes open. He looks pale and wrecked. Lydia holds his hand so tight her knuckles are white. He’s still crying, incredibly. He’s going to be the most dehydrated, hungover person alive in the morning if the morning ever fucking comes.

“Don’t be,” Derek says. He hasn’t spoken in what feels like days now.

“He’s been trying to talk to me and I fucked it up, I chased him away, I told him I didn’t want to see him and he just left, he didn’t even fight, he didn’t even call or text or anything today, he’s probably glad I—“

Derek moves so fast Stiles can hardly register it. He crouches in front of Scott and puts his hands on both his shoulders until he looks at him.

“Your father doesn’t deserve you, he’s a piece of shit,” Derek says.

“You don’t know—“

“He hit you, didn’t he?” Derek asks. Stiles wonders how he knows that, he’d never told him. It’s not even something Stiles has ever heard Scott say out loud.

Stiles doesn’t expect Scott to nod, but he does. He nods slowly, like he’s ashamed.

“So he can go fuck himself, then.”

Scott stares at him through his squinty, bloodshot eyes. Stiles holds his breath as he watches. Lydia looks at Derek with something like awe.

“Fuck. Him,” Derek says slowly. “You’re better off without him.” He takes his hands off Scott’s shoulders and sits, his back pressing against Stiles’ legs.

Scott sniffles and rubs his nose on his shoulder. Lydia presses her nose against his cheek and lets out a shuddery breath.

“Water, drink it,” Derek orders.

They sit in miserable silence for awhile. Derek’s phone rings and he looks down, seemingly surprised that there’s a world outside of this room. He mutters something about Paige leaving and how he’s just going to go say bye as he leaves. Lydia gets up and steps over Scott’s legs, mumbling something about grabbing blankets from the linen closet. Scott is seconds from falling asleep a cliché — drunk and miserable in a bathroom. On his birthday.

“I love you, Scott McCall,” Stiles says, barely above a whisper. His voice is creaky with disuse. He hasn’t said a fucking thing in eons. “More than anything.”

He almost smiles, but Stiles knows he’s too spent. “Ditto,” he whispers back.

Stiles is the first to stand. He pulls Scott to his feet and drags his arm around his own shoulders to help him walk if he needs it. Out in Lydia’s room, Stiles can hear music and people downstairs.

Lydia points to her own bed, authoritative. Stiles guides him there and Scott falls asleep almost instantly. Lydia tugs at her own hair before sweeping it up into a messy bun.

“I’ve never seen him like that,” she says, looking down at him.

“Me neither.”

“It’s only one in the morning, we were in there for like two hours,” she says to emphasize her own worry.

“I know.”

“Shit,” she curses. She tugs Stiles’ arm and leads him out into the hallway, flipping off the light before shutting the door so Scott can sleep it off. Derek’s headed back up the stairs when they get to the landing. “Is my house in shambles?” she asks, nervous.

Derek shakes his head. “Standard shit,” he says, gesturing dismissively.

“Why doesn’t anyone ever call in a noise complaint on us,” she mumbles, heading down the stairs with a strong sense of purpose that Stiles assumes will result in a prematurely ended party. Well, prematurely for some.

Stiles just sinks to sit on the top stair. Derek sits next to him, body pressed against his side. His body heat seeps deeply into Stiles, comforting and frustrating him. He dares to rest his head on Derek’s shoulder.

“That was intense,” Derek says.

“Yeah.”

“That’s never happened, has it?”

“Nope.”

Sure enough, Stiles sees a nervous herd of people shuffling toward the front door, no one even sparing them a glance.

“How’d you know about his dad?” Stiles asks, turning his face down against Derek’s shoulder to massage his forehead there.

“Observation,” Derek says slowly in his melodic voice.

Stiles doesn’t have a response to that. Derek’s shoulder shifts as he brings his arm up around Stiles’ back. His fingers dig into his ribs, Stiles inhales and takes comfort in how he smells - familiar, warm.

“Are you okay?” Derek asks.


The music cuts off and they watch a few stragglers hustle out the door, a few of them soaking wet from the pool. Stiles hears Lydia yelling about how she told them to go through the garage and cursing about chlorine on the wood floors.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “You?”

“Yeah,” he says, squeezing Stiles closer to him to punctuate.

He doesn’t want to do it, but he’s too tired and rattled not to. So he imagines a relationship with him like this. It’s too easy.

Lydia shuffles into sight and toward the door, walking along the pool-water trail with beach towels under her feet. She throws them out onto the porch, slams the door shut, and locks it.

Stiles doesn’t want to imagine it being easy, that makes it hurt. He’d be better off assuming him and Derek could never in a million years work. Well… they won’t. He’s straight, he’s straight…

Lydia climbs the stairs and stops a few steps short of them. She looks exhausted and hurt. She stands there, shoulders slumped and frowning.

“I’m going to bed,” she sighs, and climbs past them toward her room.

Stiles doesn’t move, neither does Derek.

“I’m not tired,” Stiles admits after awhile.

“Me neither.”

They sit and they sit and Stiles gets sucked more and more into the idea of this. Derek’s arm around him, his face on Derek’s shoulder.

“Should we clean up a little?” Stiles asks, needing to do something that doesn’t involve Derek’s arm around him.

“I guess,” Derek says, slowly shifting away.

**

October 9th, 2010
Saturday

Derek unearths a lacy bra from a couch cushion with his broom handle and slowly reaches for Stiles with it.

He yelps when Derek pokes him in the soft spot just below his ribs and jumps back when he sees the bra. And then he laughs, clear and bright, and grabs it.

“A trophy.”

“For a hookup neither of us even had,” Derek teases. He gets back to sweeping and watches out of the corner of his eye while Stiles pulls the straps up to his shoulders and looks down at himself. “Hot,” Derek says.

Stiles strikes a pose, laughs, and takes it back off to drop it into a pile Derek assumes is a sort of lost and found.

“Was Paige pissed?” Stiles asks, sounding slightly guilty.

Derek pauses and looks at him. It’s a weird question.

“What?” Stiles squawks, defensive.

“I’m just pretty sure you’re hoping the answer is yes.”

“No,” he says with a shake of his head. “I just… I feel bad that this party was so shitty, you know? And hey, I like getting my flirt on at these things too. So. Was she pissed?”

Derek almost wants to ask who he’d even be flirting with but… whatever. “No, she understood.”

“You didn’t deny the flirting thing,” Stiles points out.

“I…”

Stiles shrugs, sad smile and all. “Whatever.”

And that’s that.

Stiles ties up his trash bag and leaves the lost and found pile where it is. He heads into the downstairs bathroom and Derek follows.

“True or False,” Derek starts. Stiles grunts to show he’s listening. “You’re okay with me liking Paige?”

“I don’t care,” Stiles sighs.

“True or False?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not up to me, dude. Like whoever you want.”

“It matters to me, though? So True or False?”

“… It’s not really true and it’s not really false, man, I don’t know what to tell you.” He finishes wiping up the sink and turns around.

“Why isn’t it true?” Derek asks.

Stiles’ eyes catch in the light — whiskey in here, honey in Lydia’s bathroom, pitch black on the stairs — and he frowns.

“I don’t like her.”

“So then why isn’t it false?”

“Because I like you, so do whatever you want.”

“That’s not fair,” Derek laughs.

Stiles smiles, and it seems more like a reaction to Derek’s laughter than anything else. “Well this isn’t Fair or Unfair, this is True or False. True or False, you for sure like Paige now. And I know the answer is True because you wouldn’t have asked me that if it wasn’t.”

“She’s cool.”

“Uh huh,” Stiles says and rolls his eyes. “Check the toilet, I’m too afraid, I’ve seen enough puke at close range today.”

Derek uses his foot to lift the lid. “It’s fine, all clear.”

“Good, great news. Kitchen?”

“Kitchen,” Derek agrees. He follows Stiles out the door, traces his trim and swaying figure with his eyes, blushes… “Okay but not exactly true, not exactly false. Just like before,” he elaborates.

“Huh?”

“About Paige.”

“You’re honestly ridiculous,” Stiles says. He starts collecting cups without pausing or even looking at him.

“Not true because I’m still not totally sure. And not false because I guess I like her a little.”

“So the answer is yeah, Derek. Don’t be an asshole.”

Derek stammers. “What… how is that being an asshole?”

“Because you’re just toying with her. You either like her enough to date her or you don’t.”

“I guess you’re right…”

“Uh huh.”

Stiles hesitates before adding a cautious, “And if there’s a valid reason that’s keeping you from being sure, then you should maybe listen to that. I don’t know, I’m not a relationship advice expert or anything.”

Derek has a reason. It comes to him immediately. It’s standing in front of him and rinsing out a kitchen sink.

It’s weird to give shape to that ghost of a feeling. Stiles looks over at him expectantly, the beautiful line of his lips curling downward in a slight frown.

“Okay,” Derek says, uselessly.

Derek sweeps up a broken beer bottle and tries to think of something to keep the game going. He’s too distracted by… everything. The whole night.

“What, game over?” Stiles asks.

Derek shrugs. “I don’t know, True or False doesn’t work as well anymore I guess.”

“You’re just too indecisive for it.” Stiles looks around, looking for something else to clean, and yawns. “Good enough.”

He rubs a hand over his face and takes a deep breath. Derek leans his broom against the wall and steps closer.

“You okay?” Derek asks.

Stiles nods and shrugs. “I just… hope he feels better tomorrow? Today, whatever.”

Derek wants to hug him but won’t. He wants to feel his ribs under his hands again. “He’ll be okay.”

Stiles looks at him, something written on his face that Derek can’t quite read. “Yeah,” he says, looking away and scratching the back his neck.

**

Stiles wakes up in the guest bedroom and nuzzles his face against the person next to him.

“Hmm,” they murmur, curling an arm around him. “Stiles?”

“Whoa, sorry,” Stiles mutters, pulling away. Derek blinks at him, eyes tracking him as he sits up. “I’m going to check on Scott,” he says, voice scratchy. He climbs out of bed and refuses to look back. He’s seen Derek in bed enough times to know what he’s leaving, okay. He really doesn’t want Lydia or Scott to walk in on him stuck there.

He pauses in the hallway, catching his breath. God. He thinks about the night before, remembers how Derek helped them take care of Scott, how much Derek cared, how much Derek cared how Stiles felt. Stiles lays last night over the same night last year in his head and it’s like an entirely different life. Stiles had wanted to hug him and be held by him so badly, he practically needed it. Standing in the Martin kitchen, heartbroken for Scott, Derek looking at him like that…

Stiles takes a deep breath and pushes Lydia’s door open. They’re both still asleep, laying peacefully on their own sides of the bed like a long-married couple. He doesn’t care. He takes a page out of Scott’s book and straddles him over his blankets, being mindful not to jostle him too much.

“Scotty,” Stiles says in a sing song voice, tucking his chin over Scott’s shoulder to get close to his ear.

Lydia stirs before Scott does. She squints up at him, irritated.

“Scotty boy, I need a status update, bro,” Stiles says, ignoring her.

“Uuugh,” Scott grumbles, trying to bat him away.

“Where’d you guys sleep?” Lydia asks, sitting up to look around her room.

“Guest room,” Stiles answers. “Scottyyyy, baby.”

“What?” he whines.

“How’s that hangover?”

“Great.”

“Why?” Lydia asks.

Stiles looks at her and hopes he doesn’t look guilty. She looks at him with a furrowed brow as if she’s trying to figure something out. No, no, no, no. “Because you two were dead in here and we didn’t want to bug you guys.”

Scott makes an effort to cover his face with the comforter but Stiles renews his attack. “Hey baby,” he coos.

“Stop,” Scott says, miserable.

Stiles frowns and rolls off him toward the center of the bed. He stays pressed against him and lays his arm over his side.

“If you wanna talk about it…” Stiles trails off.

Lydia props his chin up on Stiles shoulder to look over him at Scott too. “We’re here, Scotty,” she says softly.

The door opens and Derek pokes his head in. Lydia gestures for him to join. He sits on the edge of the bed beside her but stays quiet.

“I know,” Scott says softly, followed by a sniff.

**

Melissa McCall sets a glass of water and a bottle of aspirin down in front of Scott with a less than enthused expression, but the gentle hand she smooths over his hair and the kiss speak volumes.

“Are you sure your delicate stomach can handle chorizo?” Melissa asks, skeptical.

“It’s the only thing in the world, mom,” Scott says, pitiful.

They’d tried to pitch Hank’s but this was all he wanted, even if it meant admitting to a terrible hangover to his mom.

“I notice your friends aren’t anywhere near as bad as you… suspicious…”

“Well,” Lydia says, looking between them. “Someone didn’t give us time to even try to get on his level.”

Lydia,” Derek hisses. His mom would absolutely kill him if he came home like this…

“What?” she asks. “It’s true!”

“And I was the designated sober one for the night,” Stiles says brightly.

“Need I remind you of your ages and what the law has to say about those ages?” she asks, disapproval shining through. She sets to pulling a frying pan out of a cabinet and clacks it down onto the burner. She mutters something about killing “much needed, obviously” brain cells. “You’re lucky it was your birthday, or I’d have no sympathy,” she says, pointing at Scott.

Scott smiles cheekily at her, squinting charmingly. “Love ya, mama.”

“Uh huh.”

Derek watches Stiles go out to the porch and can’t help but follow.

“You again?” Stiles teases, leaning against the railing and smiling at him.

“Me again, hi.”

“Hi.”

“He’s going to be fine.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees easily. “I’ll make sure of it.”

“Do you get off on fixing people?” Derek jokes. He leans against the railing next to Stiles, close enough to touch.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for a few people,” Stiles says, nudging Derek with his elbow. “Don’t like seeing life hurt you guys.”

“Who, me?” Derek teases.

“Yeah, you’re one of them,” Stiles drawls,

Derek knows enough to know that the Stiles and Scott friendship is bulletproof and ironclad. He could never even begin to hope for a relationship with Stiles like that one. He’d be jealous if it weren’t for what he had with Stiles that was all their own. Their thing had a different sort of intimacy to it. Derek thinks of Stiles almost kissing him laying in the back of the Jeep and has to force his mind to get back on track.

“You’re a good guy,” Derek tells him, and it feels like a substitute for something else with the same meaning.

Stiles turns his open, vulnerable face toward him and Derek’s heart pounds.

“You think so?” Stiles asks.

“I know so.”

“You give me too much credit. I haven’t done anything, I don’t even know what to do.”

Derek shrugs. He just can’t imagine his life without him in it anymore. He doesn’t know who he would have been without his interference. Whatever it is Stiles does, he does it well, even if he doesn’t know what it is exactly.

“Ugh.” Stiles rubs his face and continues to groan for a second. “I guess everyone needs a shitty drunken night, that’s what gives life texture or whatever.”


“Song fodder,” Derek says, nodding.

“Exactly! Are you down to help me kick Scott’s ass into shape?”

“What does it entail?”

“Mostly just me, you, and Lydia being good bros to him and stuff.”

“I’m in.”

Stiles pushes off the railing to head back inside but stops and turns to face Derek directly. As natural as breathing, Derek raises his arms as Stiles moves in and presses against him in a hug. Derek treats it as the hug he’d wanted to give him last night — firm and warm and lingering.

“Thanks,” Stiles whispers, lips close to his ear as he hugs him back just the same.

Chapter Text

October 26th, 2010
Tuesday

Stiles’ eyes sorta glitter sometimes. In certain lights, paired with certain smiles. Derek’s smile, for instance. Like now. He looks up at Derek as he walks up, he smiles, his eyes glitter, Derek’s heart beats harder and faster, he smiles back.

Derek sits between him and Lydia and shoves a mix CD into Stiles’ open backpack. Stiles raises an eyebrow, smirking.

“For you,” Derek clarifies.

“Wow, a surprise. Isn’t it my turn?”

“Yeah, but…” Derek shrugs. He’d heard a song that reminded him of Stiles and it’d turned into a whole playlist, it happens. “Now you owe me two.”

Lydia looks up from her French homework and tugs an earbud out of her ear as Scott approaches. She points at him, digs into her backpack, and pulls his Biology notebook out to hand back to him. “You’re the best, thank you. Oh, hey Derek.”

“Am I still the best if Greenberg is spreading a rumor around that we slept together?” Scott asks.

Lydia considers it. “What’s Cora’s pull with the freshmen?” Lydia asks, turning to Derek.

“I have no clue.”

“She’s a Hale, it’s probably good. I’m going to tell her to tell them all Greenberg has genital warts, he’ll never get a date again.”

Derek snorts, Stiles nods approvingly, Scott laughs and sits on the other side of Lydia.

“What are you guys up to after school?” Stiles asks, stretching his long legs out in front of him.

“Work,” Scott says, pouting even though everyone present knows Scott likes getting paid to hang out with animals.

“Studying for physics,” Lydia says, too neutral to be truly neutral.

Derek should probably be studying too, but Stiles pouts at him so prettily and he just… “Nothing, why?”

“Derek’s the only one here who truly loves me,” Stiles informs the group. “Hang out with me,” he says directly to Derek.

“Okay.”

Stiles grins at him, Derek grins back.

“Hey, what do you want to do for Halloween?” Stiles asks, ducking his head forward to address Lydia.

“We’re gonna go TP houses or whatever, the usual,” she says, bored.

“I don’t…” he glances at Derek. “I don’t know, I’m not really feeling that this year? Unless you guys are?”

Lydia grunts and rolls her eyes. “Of course, the one year I don’t want to throw a party.”

“Why don’t you want to throw a party?” Scott asks, shocked.

“Uh, the last one,” she says, staring Scott down.

“Hey, I’m literally never drinking ever again so it’ll be fine, I swear.”

“I think my parents are actually in town that weekend anyway,” Lydia mutters.

“And my dad made a not so veiled comment that they’re going to be really on top of busting parties this year, I think Melissa might have said something to him about…. you know,” Stiles says, gesturing to Scott.

Derek thinks of past Halloweens. The bonfire pit in his backyard, his sisters and parents, half the town. It’s too late to plan anything of his dad’s usual scale but…

“You guys can come hang out at my house if you want,” Derek suggests. “Bonfire, scary stories, watch movies, whatever. Tame, I know.”

“Tame is good,” Scott says, nodding enthusiastically.

**

After school, Stiles follows Derek’s Camaro back to the Hale house and doesn’t budge until Cora is securely inside the garage. Derek walks to the driver’s side of the Jeep, crosses his arms on top of the window so his hands hang inside, and peers in at him curiously.

“Let’s go smoke, get in,” Stiles says, grabbing Derek’s wrist. “I’ve got a mixtape to check out.”

Derek looks over toward the garage to check that Cora isn’t listening and nods. “Alright, yeah.”

Lately it seems like if he just ducked forward the few inches between them and pressed his lips to any part of him he could (lips, sure, but cheek and throat and shoulder too…) that Derek would let him. Maybe even return it. Maybe even let out a slow, charged breath. Who knows. Stiles settles for squeezing Derek’s wrist and grinning wickedly.

Stiles fishes the CD out of his backpack as Derek rounds the Jeep and climbs in.

“Do I have a theme to work with or…?”

“Songs you should know, that’s the theme,” Derek says.

“Who woulda thought the little boy who didn’t know who All Time Low was would teach me so much,” Stiles teases. He pushes the CD into the slot and backs out of the Hale driveway to get back on the road to a deeper part of the preserve. “Boo, weird song, next,” Stiles says in response to the sorta spoken, weird start.

Derek slaps his hand away from turning just as the song settles into something more interesting.

Lilac wine is sweet and heady, like my love. Lilac wine, I feel unsteady, like my love,” the singer sings. Stiles feels still and attentive.

“Jeff Buckley, check him out,” Derek says softly in the space between lyrics.

“Okay.”

“Reminds me of you.”

“Oh?”

Derek shrugs.

“This song, or in general?”

“I guess both.”

The next song is totally Ryan Adams, because it’s Derek. Stiles smiles through it, taps his fingers along the steering wheel to it. Derek looks smug next to him like he’s so powerful for winning Stiles over. Ryan Adams just reminds Stiles of Derek, but it’s reason enough to like him. Before the song can end Stiles takes the Jeep off road up a clear, vehicle beaten path. Stiles parks under the branches of a tree on the edge of an abandoned campsite.

They don’t say anything. Stiles grabs the supplies from his backpack and pulls out what he likes to think is an expertly rolled joint. He flicks his lighter and takes a drag. He leans his head back against the headrest as he exhales, lets the fall leaves blend together into an auburn hue outside his windows. Derek’s fingers brush his when he takes it from him.

They pass it back and forth and the music keeps coming, soft and alternative and moody and artful just like Derek. Stiles tells himself not to love him again, just another attempt at being good to himself. He immediately changes his mind.

Stiles takes a big hit and holds it, leans over the center console, lets his hands fall on Derek’s neck to pull him closer. Stupid, so stupid. But he has to touch him.

Derek’s breath hitches, his eyes zero in, he doesn’t move except to follow Stiles’ instruction. Stiles gets his lips as close as he can and lets the smoke flow out of his mouth and into Derek’s waiting, parted lips. He knows that he could chase the smoke and kiss him. But he doesn’t. He holds Derek’s neck and stays close and smiles. Derek’s eyes flutter closed, he smiles too. His hand moves to curl around Stiles’ waist and Stiles’ breath hitches this time.

And then it’s over. Stiles hands the joint to Derek and pulls away.

“Come here,” Derek says, voice sultry. Derek tugs at him until Stiles finds himself crawling over the seats and straddling Derek’s lap, his back against the dashboard and head flat against the roof. Derek laughs. Stiles laughs. Derek’s free hand stays on Stiles’ waist.

“C’mon, don’t be shy,” Derek teases, shifting his legs so Stiles slides closer. He shoots Stiles a cocky half grin and takes a long, slow hit. Stiles hovers. Derek grabs Stiles’ chin to blow into his mouth. Stiles lets out a sound he isn’t proud of. Derek’s smug.

“Tease,” Stiles says, smoke curling out of his mouth as he speaks.

“What do you want to happen?” Derek asks, hazy.

“I don’t know.”

He does know, but he’ll never say it. Not even now.

Derek hands the joint back and his hand falls casually on the side of Stiles’ thigh. Stiles rolls the window down to give himself something to do, to clear out the smoke building up in the Jeep, to get a lungful of crisp fall air to complement the weed. He should get off of Derek, he shouldn’t let himself do this. He takes a deep drag and holds the smoke in his lungs and closes his eyes as he feels it smolder through him. Derek’s hand tenses and relaxes and tenses against his leg.

Stiles blows the smoke out the window and offers the joint back to Derek. Derek’s eyes are glassy and his expression soft and exploring. He shakes his head.

Stiles climbs off him clumsily, tumbling back into the drivers seat. He snuffs it and puts it away and breathes. The music continues, guitar and piano and smooth voices. He wonders what Derek’s mouth would feel like pressed to his skin…

“How’s Paige?” Stiles asks, to hurt himself just enough to make him stop thinking like that.

Derek takes a long time to answer. “Uh. Fine, I guess. How’s Danny?”

The question stings for some reason.

“Uh, I don’t know?”

“Oh. You guys are talking again.”

“So?”

Derek’s fingers curl around Stiles’ hand. “Sorry, sorry. Do you like the CD?”

He nods. He does. It reminds him of Derek, it feels personal and thought out. It sounds like what Stiles would hope Derek felt when thinking about Stiles.

Derek smiles. “Good.”

Stiles holds onto his hand without holding it. Derek doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to move away.

“Why don’t you want to do the usual for Halloween?” Derek asks, tugging Stiles’ hand so he’s forced to turn to face him more.

Derek looks pretty and soft in this lighting. He nuzzles his temple into the seat and looks at him, eyes clear and questioning. Stiles’ hand is practically in his lap, he’s twisted and pressed against the center console.

He wants the real answer. There isn’t an interesting real answer, but it is more than just not feeling it. It’s a few things, really. It’s being tired from school and music and avoiding his dad so he can avoid thinking about the future. It’s wanting to give Lydia her Halloween party, even though she didn’t even want that. It’s not wanting to do anything to hurt his friends’ shots at college or whatever the fuck they want to do.

Stiles’ smile must be sadder than he intends because Derek frowns just a little.

It just… didn’t seem like an appropriate way to honor his mom when she’d be so disappointed in him right now.

Derek’s still waiting for an answer. His thumb strokes over Stiles’ knuckles, comforting.

“Doesn’t feel right,” Stiles says, simply. He remembers connecting with Derek about Halloween and dead parents the year before. His heart sinks. “Were you counting on a repeat of last year, or…?” he asks.

Derek shakes his head. “I just want to spend it with you guys, I don’t care what we do.”

“Okay,” Stiles says softly. “It’s a plan.”

**

October 31st, 2010
Sunday

Derek wakes up to Cora and Laura sneaking into his room.

“Aw, damn,” Laura curses, tossing the fake rubbery spider she was holding at Derek’s head anyway.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, groggy.

“Uh, hello, Casper? And I hear we have a bonfire tonight with the vagrants. Sounds like a sweet, casual HALE-oween to me.”

Derek groans. Cora tugs at his arm to get him out of bed. “C’mon, there’s Count Chocula.”

“Are you choosing this over college parties?” Derek asks, trying to tug his arm back from Cora.

“No, silly, that’s what Thursday through Saturday was for.”

The more he wakes up, the more the reality settles in. Laura’s home. He hides a smile in his pillow as he tries to refuse to get out of bed even longer. Cora tugs one last time, just hard enough to get him to half-slip out of bed.

“Okay, okay!”

The house is modestly decorated this year. Spiderwebs and skeletons and ghosts. Cora spent the last couple of weeks sneaking fake rats and scorpions and spiders and bloody eyeballs into places she knew Derek or her mother would reach. It’s good to have Laura here too. Hopefully she’ll enjoy the cardboard cut out of the grim reaper their mom keeps putting in dark corners.

They watch Casper all together this time, mom included, like they’re supposed to.

The others arrive in the midst of a day full of movies and haphazard baking and getting the fire pit ready and chasing his sisters around the yard with a gory looking zombie dummy. Dinner is loud and energetic.

Somewhere around sunset, they gather stuff and start moving outside. His mom catches him by the sleeve and pulls him closer.

“Have fun,” she says. She kisses him on the cheek, picks up a glass of wine, and pushes him toward the door. “No drinking,” she says, taking a sip. She sticks her tongue out and heads into the living room.

“Your mom seriously hates me,” Stiles says, pouting. He tugs Derek to sit next to him on one of the benches.

“No, she doesn’t,” Derek argues. There hadn’t even been anything awkward this time.

“She looks at me like she knows I’m trouble.”

“You are trouble,” Lydia says from across the way. She’s taken one of the camping chairs and makes it look like a throne.

“Naw, he’s just drawn that way, huh champ?” Scott coos at him.

“She doesn’t hate you, she lets you on the property,” Cora says.

Laura nods beside her. “Spoooooky story time,” she says, wiggling her fingers creepily. “I’ll start.”

Laura tells one of her old standards, a fan favorite that gets everyone shivering and grinning in appreciation. Cora tells one she swears is true that one of the girls on the volleyball team told her about the preserve, Scott pitches in saying he’d heard the same story and that spins off into an exchange of Beacon Hills urban legend — haunted classrooms and foggy stretches of roads and mysterious murders and all. Stiles has a few he peppers with police station know-how and supports them with “I swear to god my dad confirmed this.”

The air at their backs is cold, but within the ring is warm. Derek’s cheeks feel hot and kissed dry by flames. He watches the smoke obscure the starry sky above.

Stiles shivers against Derek’s side. Lydia grins around at them, body lost in a pile of blankets and sweaters. She gestures wildly through her story, laughing instead of throwing in the proper effects for it to be anywhere near scary. His sisters are in tears, Scott pretends to be terrified for her benefit which only makes everyone laugh harder. Stiles leans against Derek, smiling. Derek reaches over and pulls his beanie over his eyes and laughs when Stiles shoves at him in happy protest.

It’s okay. This is okay. This is good and warm and bright. Scott builds a disgustingly messy s’more and eats it standing over the fire while Lydia yells at him to back up before he goes up in flames. Stiles tells a story that makes everyone jump and yell when a owl screeches overhead and takes them ages to recover. Derek gets Laura to scream by tickling her ankle with a twig in the hysteria.

Derek turns his nose against the side of Stiles’ head to laugh. Stiles’ hand brushes the side of his thigh. When Derek pulls his head back, he can’t help but watch Stiles’ face — the deep shadows, the wet trails from tears shed while laughing streaking the corners of his eyes, his flushed cheeks, his eyes…

Laura nudges Derek hard and jars him out of a trance of watching the firelight in Stiles’ eyes and shoots him a questioning look.

Is he being too obvious?

He looks around but no one else seems to have noticed, not even Stiles himself.

“What?” he asks her.

“Nothing…”

She knows.

They run out of wood eventually, the fire dies down and it gets colder. Cora babbles on about getting hot chocolate and watching a scary movie inside, Derek agrees to put the fire out and clean up while the rest of them go get it ready. Laura, of course, hangs back.

“You like him,” she says.

“Huh?”

“You like… have a crush on him, don’t you?”

Derek is quiet long enough to confirm it.

“You do! Wow.”

“It’s nothing,” Derek says. “I actually like this girl Paige, I think I’m going to ask her out.” He feels his cheeks blazing and is thankful it’s too dark for Laura to see that.

“Okay,” Laura says slowly.

Derek doesn’t answer.

Fuck.

“Der,” she says softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay if you do, you know?”

“It’s nothing,” he repeats.

But his heart races, he feels exposed.

“I mean, he’s cute and fun, so you have good taste.”

“Laura, please,” he says, sounding desperate.

“Alright, well. If you want to talk about it, I’m here, you know?”

“There’s nothing to talk about. Grab that chair? Thanks…”

She’s weirdly quiet as she folds the chair and slings the strap over her shoulder. Derek thinks back on her taunting him endlessly about his first girlfriend. He thinks about all the times growing up she never let embarrassing things rest. This doesn’t add up.

“Don’t say anything, it really isn’t anything, I don’t want it to turn into a thing, it’s just…”

“Yeah, yeah. I won’t say anything,” she says. “I get it. He’s good looking, you’re close friends. Friend crush.”

“Exactly.”

“Gotcha, brother.”

Relief. Even though he’s pretty sure she’s just humoring him.

Inside, Derek sits between Lydia and Scott, far away from Stiles.

When Laura has to head back to the city, she asks Derek to help her take her laundry out to her car. The secret she has hanging over his head makes him quick to say yes.

With all her stuff packed away, she leans against the driver’s side door and looks at him.

“What?”

“It was good to see you today, I miss you guys,” she says. “Feels like a lot has changed.”

“Good or bad?” Derek asks.

“Good,” she says, decisive. She pauses and shifts, the windbreaker material of her jacket rustling. “Take care, okay? Call me if you need anything.”

He waits for her to say something else about the Stiles thing, but she just hugs him and stretches up to ruffle his hair.

**

November 13th, 2010
Saturday

“This is wrooong,” Stiles says, looking around Jackson’s shining, modern, industrial house. It’s crawling with jocks and meatheads and undesirables.

“We’re only staying for a minute,” Lydia says. She’s on the warpath tonight.

Scott and Derek are back at Scott’s place, still playing video games. Lydia had marched in through the front door and grabbed Stiles by the arm with a determined and scary, “Come with me.” And here they are.

“Why are we here?” Stiles asks, blinking around. He’s not in party mode, he’s in video game and energy drink mode. Lydia had supposedly been busy all day and was now supposed to be spending the night in with Maisie.

“I’m going to kill Jackson Whittemore.”

“Uuuh,” Stiles says uncertainly. She tugs him forward into the party. So he’s the muscle? In a house full of jocks. Great. Sure. This’ll be fine.

Lydia promptly lets go of Stiles’ arm and shoves someone from behind so fast and hard Stiles doesn’t even register who they are until the person cusses and whips around to see who it was.

“Lydia?” Jackson asks, blinking.

“How many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone?” she snarls.

Jackson looks confused, scared almost, as he takes her in. He looks cautiously up at Stiles as if looking for more information but Stiles truly knows less than he does. He keeps his face neutrally menacing.

“What’s going on here?” Danny asks, sidling up to Jackson cautiously.

“Tell your fucking pervert of a best friend to stay the fuck away from me, I’m not fucking kidding.”

“Okay, what the fuck are you even talking about?” Jackson asks, confusion clearing away to anger.

“I saw you,” she says, punctuating it with a hard jab into his chest. “I saw you at BHC when I was leaving my SAT IIs. I saw you when I was leaving drum lessons. I saw you run into the performing arts center when I was leaving the nail salon. Unless you’re starring in the community theater production of Pirate of Penzance, which I sincerely doubt, you were following me.”

Jackson’s whole face goes red faster than Stiles has ever seen. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I’m sure you don’t. Message me one more time on Facebook, I dare you.”

She gives him a couple of seconds to respond, his face stays just as red as he breaks eye contact and looks way. Stiles looks to Danny who is looking to him. Stiles shrugs.

“Got it?” Lydia asks, crowding into his space like a much taller person would.

“Yeah, whatever, you’re crazy,” he mumbles.

“I’m what?” she asks. Stiles swallows nervously. It sets her off all over again. “I’m so crazy I just so happen to be seeing you all over town like a goddamn hallucination? You wish, asshole.”

“Alright, let’s break this up,” Danny says, having pity on his humiliated best friend.

“Watch your little pet better, Danny,” she snaps. She turns around and grabs Stiles by the wrist and tugs him along after her.

“Call me!” Stiles calls over his shoulder to Danny. Danny smirks and calls out that he will.

“What the fuck was that?” Stiles asks, climbing back into Lydia’s car.

She doesn’t even start it at first, just stews. “I saw him everywhere i went today. I try to let it slide. And then he messages me and says I should come to this stupid party he’s throwing because he really wants to see me or whatever the fuck. Listen, this is what I get for being nice to him in physics I can’t fucking stand him.”


She starts the car with a furious twist of the key and peels away from the curb.

“So why’d you need me, you had that handled pretty well.”

He watches her grind her teeth for a few seconds before she sighs a quick puff of air and slides her eyes toward him shyly. “I needed you for backup.”

“Gotcha.”

“And… I don’t know, I can’t always be brave like that, you know.”

“Aw, best friend, are you saying I make you brave?”

She scoffs but doesn’t deny it.

“You are! That’s so sweet. I’m honestly honored, I’m available any time to go watch you tear someone a new asshole.”

She laughs. “Thanks, that’s all I need from you.”

She pulls up to Scott’s house and Stiles waits for her to turn off the car.

“Are you coming inside?” he asks when she doesn’t.

“Nah, it smells like Monster in there,” she says with a crinkled up nose. “Monster and testosterone.”

“Too much of an aphrodisiac for you?” Stiles teases, undoing his seatbelt.

“Gross.” She fake shudders. “Maisie’s waiting for me. Give the boys my love.”

“Will do, queen.” Stiles leans over the console to kiss her on the cheek and slips out of the car. “Hey,” he says through the open window. “I’ll talk to Danny and see if he can make Jackson back off for good.”

“Thanks.” She smiles and waves and pulls away from the curb.

“Where’d you go?” Derek asks when Stiles gets back inside.

“Lydia just gave me the gift of letting me watch her verbally kick Jackson’s ass, it was gorgeous.”

Stiles flops onto the couch Derek and Scott are leaning against. They’re locked in an intense two man battle so Stiles digs his phone out of his back pocket.

“Lydia is rough,” reads a text from Danny.

“That’s my girl,” Stiles defends.

“I know, I respect the hell out of her is all I’m saying.”

“Did Jackson say anything when we left?”

“Nah, he just acted like it didn’t happen.”

“Can you convince him to just leave her alone, I’ve been telling him to fuck off for years.”

“Yeah, I’ll talk to him. She seemed serious.”

Stiles sends him a thanks and a smiley face and sets his phone facedown on his chest. Scott dips his head back to ask if he wants to play the next round. Stiles declines. Now that he’s been shook from the zone, he’s out of it for good. But he does find comfort in listening to Scott and Derek trash talk each other.

His phone buzzes again.

“You looked good though, sorta wish you’d stayed.”

Nice.

Stiles grins at his phone, tapping the edges while he considers his answer. “Now that’s not how newly repaired friends talk.”

“Sometimes I miss the benefits. :P”

Nailed it.

**

November 18th, 2010
Thursday

Lydia slides her hand into Derek’s’ and squeezes as they walk. “Act natural,” she says.

“How is this acting natural?” Derek asks, holding their joined hands up.

Stiles slips around Derek, crosses in front of him, and walks backwards to face him. Scott comes up on the other side of Lydia.

“You look the oldest, you make the most sense as her boyfriend, you wouldn’t date an underage girl now would you? And she’s hot, so if the bouncer is checking her out, we’ll basically be able to slip in unnoticed. Did you bring your fake ID like I told you to?” Stiles flashes a shining grin at him and falls back into rank beside him.

Derek has a bad feeling about all of this. “Yeah.”

“And you’re all stubbly and handsome,” Stiles says, elbowing him in the side.

Stiles looks handsome too. Stiles has knock-off Ray Bans perched on his nose, despite that it’s night. They look good on him. And paired with his usual black jeans and a well-fitted denim jacket, he looks like he could be older.

“What if we run into someone?” Derek asks.

“Like who?” Stiles scoffs. “If we do, it’ll just be someone else sneaking in so we’re safe. I can’t imagine any of our parents or their friends being here.”

They walk to the back of the line outside of the club, Derek keeping his gaze low but checking out of the corner of his eye for familiar faces. This is the first time Derek’s actually snuck in here. They usually stick to all ages nights and the shitty open mics that come with them.

“If this works, I will swear my undying allegiance to all of you guys, you have no idea,” Scott says, the excitement palpable in his whole demeanor.

“I thought you’d already done that,” Stiles drawls at him.

“What’s this band even?” Derek asks.

“This is Scott’s favorite band of the moment,” Lydia says. She slips her hand out of Derek’s and wraps her arm around his instead. Derek wipes his sweaty hand against his jeans. “They’re some throwback punk band from like Modesto or somewhere.”

“Stockton,” Scott corrects.

“Whatever. Anyway, Scotty loves them and we love Scotty.”

“I like them too,” Stiles defends.

Derek watches Stiles dig a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. He drops the first one he pulls out and curses as he swoops to pick it up. Nerves, Derek recognizes. Just the smallest evidence of them. It makes Stiles seem more human just for a second. Derek takes the lighter from him and holds his hand up to block the wind as he lights it for him. Stiles smirks around his cigarette and eyes him.

“Thanks, stud.” He sticks the lighter back in the cigarette box and slips the box into Derek’s jacket. “Hold them for me?”

“Sure.”

Stiles slides his hand up the front of Derek’s jacket just a couple of inches before he pulls away. “Nice jacket, by the way. Very James Dean.”

And it fits like a glove, but Derek doesn’t say that. He mutters a thanks and thinks of how the satin liner still smells like his dad’s cologne.

Amazingly enough, they get in with no problem. Scott makes a beeline for the front of the stage, cutting through a group of people already gathered there and waiting. Stiles follows him, but Lydia hangs back with Derek. He catches her eyeing the drum set on stage with a dreamy look.

“I love shows, do you love shows?” she asks Derek, dragging him along with her to a table off to the side of the stage. They can see Scott and Stiles from there.

“I do, yeah.” Even when he doesn’t know the band, even when he doesn’t like the music, even when he doesn’t want to be in the thick of a crowd, he does. The last show they’d gone to had been a night of shitty hardcore bands and even then he still loved it.

Lydia disappears to order them drinks and comes back holding a beer and a cocktail looking like she’d been spooked.

“Don’t look now, but Mr. Harris is here.”

Derek feels cold spread through him. “Mr. Harris is… here?”

“I saw him at the bar.”

“But you still got drinks? Did he see you?” Derek asks in a raised whisper.

“I didn’t see him until after! And no, I don’t think so.”

“Should we go?”

“No! Scott will be heartbroken.”

“Yeah but Scott wants to graduate from high school, right?” Derek counters.

Lydia bites her lip. “He’s not going to be in the pit let’s be real. He won’t even see them.”

“Where is he now?” Derek asks, turning toward the bar to look. Lydia grabs his face and pulls it back to her, pressing her face against his.

“I said don’t look, oh my god,” she hisses in his ear. Her whole body is tense against him until she releases him and peeks over his shoulder. “He just walked by, he’s in a booth over there.” She nods with her chin to the back corner, near the door that leads out to the smoking patio.

Derek chances a quick look. Mr. Harris, glasses and all, is laughing and smiling with some girl pressed against his side and some weirdly hip looking friends across from him.

“What the fuck,” Derek cusses.

The club is dark and crawling with people, there’s no way they’ll cross paths, right?

“I’m going to go warn them,” Lydia says, taking a confidence inspiring sip of her drink.

But then the lights go down and the band steps out and there’s no possible way Lydia is getting into that crowd and to the guys.

“They’ll be fine,” she assures. “What are the chances, right?”

The band kicks into a loud, enthusiastic set and the crowd matches it. Derek keeps checking over his shoulder to keep tabs on Harris the entire time, but he still enjoys it. Mostly.

Stiles appears out of nowhere halfway through, sweaty and smiling. He shrugs out of his jacket and tosses it at Lydia and disappears again. She crinkles her nose as she pulls the jacket off of her and sets it on the table. A flash of an image of Stiles sweating and pressed against him and breathing hard comes to mind and he’s not even sure if it’s a memory or a dream. He can picture himself with him in the crowd, burying his nose into his damp hair and breathing in his scent.

A stone drops in his stomach, his heart beats harder, his cheeks get warm.

Stiles’ lips against his neck, his long fingers unbuttoning his shirt and pressing against skin.

That one is a dream.

He should be dreaming about Paige. He should be sneaking Paige into clubs and dancing with her. He should be thinking of her lips against his neck and her deft fingers against his chest.

Someone knocks Lydia into him and he catches her around the waist and holds her when she seems like she’s tempted to lunge at the guy. “Keep cool, Martin,” he says over the music. She elbows him gently to get him off her.

He should be thinking of Lydia, even. Her bouncy red curls, dark purple lipstick, tight black dress… but it’s not possible to think of her like that at all.

Fuck.

At the end of the set, Stiles and Scott fight their way through the crowd to get to them. They’re damp and shining and grinning.

“Amazing,” Scott sighs in wonder, sitting heavily across from Lydia.

“Worth the danger?” Lydia asks.

“What danger, bro?”

“Harris is here.”

“Fuck. Totally worth it.”

“Where?” Stiles asks, looking around.

Derek grabs him and pulls him closer to keep him from being so obvious.

“Back corner, look over my shoulder,” Derek says.

Stiles looks and pulls back. “I don’t see him.”

“He was there, trust me.”

“He probably left, I can’t see him liking this.”

“He looked like he was having fun to me,” Lydia says. She scans the crowd too, looking nervous. “Do you wanna chance it and stay for the other bands or just go?”

“Let’s just stay, I’m telling you, he's gone,” Stiles says. Scott nods his agreement. Lydia and Derek exchange a look. “You two are tooooo skittish, it’s fine.” He steps closer to Derek and snakes his hand into Derek’s pocket, Derek sits up straighter in shock. “Come hang out with me on the smoker’s patio?” he asks, smiling demurely at him.

Derek follows Stiles toward the back corner of the club. He watches Stiles’ hips sway, the line of his shoulders. He sees other people look too. Actual adults, people with real life experience. They’re drawn to him too.

Stiles pulls his second cigarette of the night out the pack and leans against the railing. “You okay?” he asks Derek, looking him over.

Derek’s fine. Derek spent half a set thinking about biting the skin behind Stiles’ ear when he shouldn’t have been, but he’s fine. He lets Stiles know that with a nod.

Stiles narrows his eyes for a second but then just shrugs it off. He takes a couple long drags and let’s his long limbs unravel. He leans so elegantly and casually and beautifully…

“Oh fuck,” Stiles says suddenly, tugging Derek closer to him and hiding his face in the crook of Derek’s neck. “He’s over there,” he hisses. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Stiles drops his cigarette and rubs it into the concrete with the toe of his shoe. “Fuck, don’t move.”

“It looks like we’re making out,” Derek says, nervous.

“Whatever, they can’t see our faces. Fuck, I’m pretty sure he’s with another teacher too.”

Fuck.

“What do we do?” Derek asks.

“Just stand still, he’s finishing up I think.” Stiles nuzzles his face into Derek’s neck a little and pulls back to get a better look. “Fuck, he’s lighting another cigarette? Honestly what a fucking hypocrite, okay,” Stiles says, gearing up for a rant but backing down with a curse. “I think he looked over here. Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“We gotta get back inside.”

“Dude, if we move, he’ll definitely see us. He had a look on his face, man, he knows.”

The reality of being caught really sinks in now. They not only snuck into a 21 and over night at a club, he’s also had a drink and now he’s standing with Stiles Stilinski pressed against him out on the smoker’s patio. If any of this got back to the school, and by extension his mother, he’d be so fucked.

He’s fucked either way. His whole body is tense, resisting the urge to let himself mold to the form of Stiles with everything he has in him. He smells his sweat and soap and smoke on his breath, which shouldn’t equal good but it does. They stand just like that for a few minutes, faces close together but avoiding each others eyes to watch the people around them.

“C’mon, at least look convincing, we might get out of this,” Stiles says, pulling Derek’s hands onto his hips. Derek drops his head down onto Stiles’ shoulder, exasperated more than anything else. Stiles brings his hand up to rest on the back of his head, his other arm snakes around him. “Imagine if he caught us like this,” Stiles muses.

He thinks of Stiles shirtless and drunk and high and pressing his dry lips against his mouth. He thinks of the feeling of falling out of an airplane with no parachute.

That one is a memory.

“He better not catch us at all, Stiles,’ Derek reminds him.

“Yeah, yeah, but it’d be kiiiinda funny. This is a compromising position. Holy shit, he’s lighting another cigarette. This dude has some fucking nerve.”

“Is he looking this way?” Derek asks.

“No.”

“Good.” Derek pulls away from Stiles, grabs his arm and tugs him back inside as quick as he can.

He stupidly turns to look one last time and makes direct eye contact with Harris. “Fuck.”

“Fuck is right, fucking move it,” Stiles barks, taking the lead and dragging him back to the table. “He saw us, we gotta go.”

“Fuck,” Lydia cusses, grabbing Stiles’ jacket and slamming the last sip of her drink. “C’mon, c’mon!”

Derek loses them in the thronging mass of people, but makes a direct line for the doors anyway. He gets out into the biting cold air and spots Stiles first.

“I hope he thinks we’re dating,” Stiles says, smirking as if he isn’t just steps away from being expelled should Harris decide to tattle.

“I hope he didn’t actually see us,” Derek says.

“But imagine how fun, we’ll have to see in class tomorrow.”

Derek smiles. He can’t help it.

Lydia and Scott jog up to them and right past to get to Lydia’s car. Scott lets out a celebratory yell as he slams into the driver’s side door, Lydia’s keys clutched in his hand. “We ride!” he calls out.

**

November 19th, 2010
Friday

Danny slides his hands over Stiles’ hips. He catches Stiles’ bottom lip in between his teeth before diving in, tongue and all.

Stiles clings to his shoulders and kisses back. Stiles shivers when Danny edges his fingers up under Stiles shirt.

“You sure?” Danny asks.

“No strings,” Stiles reiterates.

“Uh huh.”

Stiles’ dad keeps asking him to come on ride alongs with him. Keeps saying they haven’t talked in ages. Obviously wants to ask him about college and the future and all the other questions Stiles has no answers to. Next week is Thanksgiving break, he wouldn’t be able to avoid him then but he needs to avoid him now. But Lydia had to work on her MIT application, the application. Scott had work. Derek had a family dinner he couldn’t skip.

When Stiles called, Danny picked up.

Danny takes Stiles’ shirt off and kisses his shoulder and neck and barely bites his collarbone. His fingers trail down his chest and catch on his waistband. He unbuttons and unzips and pushes his jeans down his thighs.

When Stiles called, Danny picked up, and he didn’t say no when Stiles asked if he could come over.

Stiles lifts his hips and kicks his pants off and drops them back down. He tugs Danny’s shirt off and whimpers against his mouth.

When Danny had suggested this, Stiles said yes.

Yes, but it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just sex.

Danny had agreed.

This is exactly what Stiles needed.

Danny and Derek are nothing alike, not really.

Derek is his best friend. Straight, into a girl, only barely comfortable enough to press against him to avoid getting caught by Harris. Stiles had hoped Harris would at least give them a funny look. But after all the panic, all he’d done was stare directly into Stiles’ eyes as he talked about invasive species “showing up places they ought not be,” and moved on.

Danny isn’t someone Stiles can project anything onto. They have history. His first guy, a good friend, someone he could have loved. Gay, out and proud, willing to have casual sex.

Derek… that’s not Derek.

He needs someone who isn’t Derek.

“What are you thinking about?” Danny asks and suddenly his hand is wrapped around Stiles.

“You,” Stiles says. It’s not a total lie, but it’s suddenly more true than it was before. He remembers sex with Danny, how could he forget.

His teeth sink into Stiles’ neck, his hand tightens and slides up and down. Stiles needs this. He needs to forget for awhile what it’s like to be Stiles Stilinski. He needs to just be a body, a collection of nerve endings interacting with another body.

He turns off one part of him — the thinking, emoting part — and lets the other part of him have free reign. He moans and pants and humps and cries out and bites and kisses and feels. He’s missed this. He’s missed sex. He’s been so busy wanting the hand holding and kissing and intimate talks that he’d forgotten about how much a fuck can do for a person.

When it’s over, Danny kisses him and grins. He drapes his arm over Stiles and holds him. Stiles kisses him over his shoulder and hugs his arm against him to keep him there.

“What are you thinking about?” Danny asks again.

Stiles opens his mouth to answer with something witty or something to reinforce that this meant nothing but he ends up saying, “I’m in love with Derek.”

Danny doesn’t even flinch. He doesn’t blink in hurt or confusion. Stiles had expected shock. Instead, he nuzzles his nose against Stiles’ cheek and murmurs sympathetically.

“I’m in love with Jackson.”

“Fuck,” Stiles whispers.

“Yeah.”

“It hurts so bad,” Stiles admits.

“Yeah it does.”

Chapter Text

November 23rd, 2010
Tuesday

Stiles is sucked into the couch watching some garbage movie on TV when he hears a car pull up to the house and heavy boot falls on the porch. The door swings open and his dad peers in at him, fully uniformed and looking serious.

“You’re coming with me,” the Sheriff says, using a voice reserved for criminals and his absentee teenage son.

“I want to talk to my lawyer,” Stiles quips.

HIs dad snorts. “Come on, we’re going on a ride along.”

Stiles takes a deep breath and stands. This is it. He’s going to die today.

He follows his dad to the cruiser and sits in the passenger seat and reaches for the police scanner to fiddle with the dials. His dad smacks his hand away from it, fixes it, and starts the car.

“So, you’ve been avoiding me.”

“Naah, pops, been busy. I’m an important man, you know I’m in a band now?”

“The band with no name, that one?”

“Yeah, we’re going somewhere, we’re gonna be huge.”

“Uh huh. Play any shows yet?”

Stiles scowls at him. “No, we’re polishing our sound.”

“Ah, I see. Anyway, you’ve been avoiding me.”

There’s no avoiding it, then. Stiles has been avoiding his dad. He’s been conveniently busy studying or off at band practice or out with friends or something every time his dad has been home in the evening for weeks now.

“Called it,” his dad says in response to his silence. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Stiles says, losing his chiding tone.

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Your buddies all okay?”

“Yeah.”

A stiff, uncharacteristic silence hangs between them. Truth is, Stiles has missed ride alongs. He’s missed his dad. He can’t admit that.

His dad lets out a gruff, drawn out, “Ahh man” and laughs, shaking his head. “Guess my kid’s growing up.”

“Huh?”

“You’re too big to talk to me, is that it?”

“No, dad.”

“Do you have a secret boyfriend or something? Are you doing drugs?” He shoots a look at Stiles. “At least, harder drugs?”

“What, I don’t… Dad, I can’t believe… you would insinuate such a thing?”

He rolls his eyes. “When I was your age, I was in military school and I deserved it, so don’t be coy.” He pauses. “You don’t have to hide a boyfriend from me, Stiles.”

“Why do you think it’s a boyfriend, huh?” Stiles asks, affronted.

“C’mon, you’ve been all lovesick all year, I know the signs, I’ve been there,” he teases, pointing emphatically at himself.

“Maybe it’s a girl.”

“It’s not a girl, I’d know if it was a girl.”

“How?”

“You wouldn’t be squirrely about a girl, I remember that Maria girl from summer.”

“Well, it’s not a boy or girlfriend. It’s no one.”

“So there is something wrong?” his dad asks, voice soft and serious.

Damn, he’s good. Stiles chews on his thumb nail and stares out the window. His whole body feels cold and tense.

“What’s up? I’m worried.”

He thinks of Lydia first. Her big, sympathetic eyes. His most academically focused, brilliant friend, the girl who reluctantly loosened her own standards of success to support him. He thinks of Scott who wants to take Stiles with him wherever he goes so he’s not alone. He thinks of Derek who instantly understood him. If this goes south, he’ll have them.

“I’m not applying for college.”

His dad is quiet for awhile. They drive on, stop at a red light, and take off again before he speaks. Stiles has his eyes squeezed shut the whole time, waiting for the yelling or the staggering disappointment.

“Okay,” his dad finally says. “So what’s the plan?”

“I honestly don’t know yet.”

“You’ll figure it out,” he says, gentle but confident.

“You’re not mad?” Stiles asks, twisting to look at him.

“No.”

“You and mom always wanted me to…” His voice cracks on “mom” and gets softer and softer until he can’t speak.

“Is that what you’ve been so worried about?” he asks. “You’re young, kid, you can always change your mind and go to college later or find a career that doesn’t need a degree.”

Stiles shrugs. “I just… I can’t imagine a future,” he confesses.

His dad looks over at him, eyebrow crinkled in concern. “You’re not a fortune teller.”

“But I’ve always been able to imagine what was going to happen next and now I can’t.”

“Well yeah, it’s a whole new ballgame. You have no idea what to even imagine.”

He has a point. Stiles slumps in his seat and stares moodily out the windshield.

“You have a roof over your head, I’ll keep feeding you as long as I have to, you have the time and freedom you need to figure it out, alright? No one is mad at you, no one is or theoretically would be disappointed in you. Enjoy your senior year and your friends and figure it out as you go along like the rest of us.”

Stiles takes a deep breath. “Okay.”

“No boyfriend, really?”

“Why do you want me to have a boyfriend so bad, huh?”

“I just really thought I had you figured out!”

**

December 8th, 2010
Wednesday

Paige tucks a long, sleek strand of hair behind her ear and grins up at Derek. Her eyes glitter a little, Derek is charmed.

“You’re too nice to me,” she says, taking her essay back from him.

“I swear, it’s really good.”

“Whatever, I wrote it last night.”

“Rebel, rebel,” he taunts.

“Would you still think I was a rebel if I was procrastinating by practicing for college auditions?”

“Nope,” Derek says. “It’s not even due until Friday anyway, nerd.” He holds his arm out to her and she takes it. “Hey, see you after school?” Derek calls to Stiles, who is still slowly putting his things away at his desk.

“Uh,” Stiles says. “I don’t know, I’m kinda busy. Maybe.”

Derek knows that’s not true. Derek frowns. Stiles refuses to look at him.

“C’mon, we’ll be late,” Paige says, tugging at his arm. “Bye, Stiles.”

“Bye,” he mutters.

They’re at least pretending to be friendly.

“Are you usually super busy over winter break?” she asks, sorta out of the blue.

“No, not really, why?”

She blushes. Derek blushes too, even though he’s not sure why.

“I don’t know, maybe we can hang out sometime.”

Derek smiles. “Yeah, that’d be cool.”

They get to English and take their usual spots near some of Paige’s orchestra friends. They eyeball him in just the way they had recently stopped. Derek keeps his eyes down at his desk.

“What are you doing after school?” Derek asks, leaning over the distance between their desks.

“More practicing,” she says, frowning.

“At home or here?”

“Here, in a practice room.”

“Can I hang out for a bit? I have to wait for my sister anyway.”

“Sure! As long as you promise not to be distracting.”

He smiles. “I’ll try not to be.”

She rolls her eyes. “Uh huh.”

An hour and some change later, he’s sitting on the floor in the corner of a tiny practice room watching Paige set up her music stand with her cello leaning against her.

“Stop staring,” she teases.

“What, it’s cool.”

“What’s cool?” she asks, looking at him curiously.

“Cello.”

“Sure it is,” she says wryly.

“Hey, you love it.”

“Yeah, I do. Can’t join a rock band with it though so, how cool can Derek Hale really find it?”

He straightens his bent knee to lightly kick her chair. “It’s cool, I swear.”

She laughs as she brings her bow up into position. “Don’t distract me, remember?”

Derek gives her a thumbs up and looks down at his phone. No texts from Stiles. A few from Scott and Lydia cheering him on with Paige. That’s it.

He looks back up when Paige flicks through her sheet music and settles on something that looks like more black ink than white paper. She presses her bow to the strings and the whole thing starts singing.

He can’t look away from her as she plays. The music is complex and textured, he can feel the wooden echoes in his own lungs. Her hair escapes from her messy bun in loose tendrils around her pretty face and Derek is stuck in amber. She’s so talented. Derek doesn’t have to know anything about cello to know that.

He watches her until Cora texts him asking where he is. He gathers his things while she finishes up and stands.

“You’re going to get into whatever schools you audition for,” Derek tells her.

“Ah, I hope so,” she says. She sets her cello aside and stretches her fingers out as she stands up to walk Derek out.

“You will.”

She smiles up at him and gives him a goodbye hug. “Thanks for being an attentive audience,” she says against his chest.

“Anytime,” he says against the top of her head.

When they pull apart, Paige gives him a cute little wave and heads back to her practice room. Derek practically floats his way to the parking lot.

She likes him. A real, talented, smart, pretty, nice girl likes him. And he likes her back. He thinks of her big brown eyes and shining dark hair and contagious smile and lets himself grin about it.

Cora is leaning agains the Camaro looking sweaty and tired when he gets to it. “Chop, chop, let’s go,” she demands. “You’re smiling too much, it’s weird.”

“Shut up.”

**

“What’s wrong with you?” Lydia asks, nudging Stiles with her foot.

He’s stretched across the foot of her bed, facedown in the duvet, not making a sound. She has no reason to think there’s anything wrong.

“Nothing,” he mumbles.

“Are you mad at Derek?”

“No.”

“He said you blew your after school plans off.”

“We didn’t have plans,” Stiles clarifies. They had a lack of plans, but they were supposed to be together for that lack.

Lydia had taken pity on him when he frowned up at her and Scott while they told him they were busy after school and let him come study with her. Scott had offered to let him come pet the new litter of kittens at the vet but Stiles regretfully declined.

Lydia sets her book down and crawls toward him. She lays her head on his back and stares up at the ceiling.

“Talk to me,” she says.

“I’m okay.”

“Liar.”

He groans.

She’s quiet for a bit. And then she turns onto her side so her nose is point up toward Stiles’ shoulder. “My parents are cheating on each other,” she says in a near whisper.

“Whoa, what?”

“Yeah.”

“How do you know?”

“I heard them fighting about it. They’re sleeping with people from work, I guess.”

“Shit… How do you feel about it?”

“I don’t care. I actually don’t care. Every time they tell me something or I find out something new, I just don’t care even more.”

It rings true when she says it this time. It never had before. She sounds tired.

Stiles twists around, Lydia sits up a little. He settles onto his back and pulls Lydia back down so she’s laying against his chest.

“I hate that I don’t care, this is something I should care about,” she says softly. “Maisie is so angry she’s not even coming home for Christmas. And they’re probably not going to be around much either so…” Her eyes well up with tears.

“Christmas at Chez Stilinski, then,” Stiles says, resting his hand on her cheek. “We’ll go into the city to see big sis.”

“I just want to be on my own, actually on my own. I just want it to be September, I want to be going away to school and forgetting all about them.”

“I know,” he says softly.

“If I get into MIT, you should come to Boston with me.”

Stiles’ heart aches. She’s definitely going to get into MIT. And he definitely can’t go to Boston with her.

“What about Scotty boy and Derek, huh?” Stiles asks.

“They’ll both have each other here in California, so it’s not fair to make me go off out of state on my own, come with me.”

The thought of Lydia being more than a few minutes away from him makes him feel sick. The thought of leaving the others behind hurts. But he can tell by her tone that she just wants to be comforted.

“I’ll follow you anywhere,” he says. Even if he doesn’t mean it literally, he does mean it. “You’re the girl of my dreams, you know that.”

She smiles at him and snuggles closer. “Now why are you sad?” she asks.

“Not fair, Martini. I’m not sad.”

“Yeah you are.”

It’s kinda funny, actually, once Stiles thinks about it. He’s refusing to tell the girl who helped him come out as bi about a crush he has on a boy. On paper, she’s the exact person he should be confessing to. In reality, he just can’t do it. Danny knowing is already too much, in a way.

“I’m thinking about how cold it is in Boston,” he jokes.

She lightly smacks his chest and sits up with a scoff. “Right.”

Lydia crawls back to the headboard and picks her Latin book back up. “Talk to me, okay?” she says, not looking up from the page. “I’m here.”

“I will when I need to, I promise.”

“Okay…”

**

December 23rd, 2010
Thursday

Winter break means they have time to get really serious about the band with a renewed sense of energy and excitement. Scott had recorded them playing their first original song on his phone and called it a demo, but it actually ends up doing some good. He’d rushed into the Martin garage ahead of Stiles one morning gushing about how he sent it to the dude in charge of booking bands at the club and the guy had said they should do an open mic night so he can check them out.

“So we’re playing half an hour at the January 3rd one, so we gotta be ready for that,” Scott had concluded.

Derek, Lydia, and Stiles had all gone pale and wide eyed with terror.

Scott just continued grinning as he set up his guitar.

And now Lydia has been cracking the whip at all of them to get more original songs than covers ready. Derek has lost a lot of sleep over it.

Stiles has been spinning in his desk chair for half an hour reciting lyrics Derek sheepishly brought to him and it’s driving him slowly insane with embarrassment. The words sound so soft and pretty and intimate in Stiles’ mouth and he hadn’t thought of that when he wrote them. He hadn’t had a single specific person in mind when he wrote them, he had treated it like a creative writing assignment, it’s totally fiction. But god… He finds the natural rhythm in the words and draws some of the syllables out longer to match. Derek tries to play guitar along to it to see if he can get anywhere, but guitar isn’t really his instrument anyway.

“We can definitely work with this,” Stiles says, planting his foot on the floor to stop his spinning. “Play what you were just playing, but do it sweeter?”

Derek obeys, Stiles mumble-sings along with it, tapping his pen against the spiral edge of the notebook Derek had written the song in.

He gets stuck on a lyric and holds his hand up for Derek to stop and repeats it and repeats it. He goes back to spinning in his chair and Derek is getting sea sick. Derek closes his eyes and thinks of what he’s going to wear for his date with Paige. An actual, clearly defined date. That she’d asked him on to one-up him asking her to hang out last week. He takes a deep breath and opens his eyes to Stiles still spinning and reciting the lyric.

“We can scrap it,” Derek says softly.

“No, sir.”

“No really, it’s not great.” It isn’t. Lyric writing sucks so much and Derek is so bad at it and he knows it.

Stiles frowns up at him. “It’s good, I don’t want to scrap it.”

Derek sighs, curses, and roughly strums on the guitar before setting it down. “Just scrap it, I officially hate it.”

“You’re so difficult, you know that?”

“I’m going home.”

Stiles springs up from his chair and quickly crowds up against Derek chanting, “No, no, no.” He looks genuinely worried. “No leaving until this is done. Lydia already thinks we just waste her time and she’s totally right, okay? So just calm your jets.”

“Fuck Lydia, if her time is so precious she can quit. Hey, maybe I’ll quit. Maybe we should all quit—“

Stiles shoves him back against the door and presses his hands to his chest. The proximity and heat knocks the breath right out of him. “Hale, the only thing you’re going to quit is whining,” Stiles says, voice distinctly flirty. Derek’s mouth goes dry. “You think I’d let you leave this band? We have our first gig coming up. I need you.”

“It’s an open mic night,” Derek reminds him. He wants to grab Stiles by the hips so badly he almost can’t think straight.

“A gig is a gig, babe.” Babe.

Derek remembers Outside Lands and Stiles pretending to be his boyfriend and pulling him into the crowd around a stage and holding him through a whole set and how the night before that they’d almost kissed and— he looks at Stiles’ lips so fast without meaning to and…

“Don’t call me babe,” he warns.

“I’ll call you what I want,” Stiles teases, voice low and sexy.

God. “Oh will you?”

“I will. I own you, don’t you know that?” Stiles’ eyes are alive with contagious amusement. He places a hand agains the spot of door above Derek’s shoulder like he’s a greaser in an old school teen drama. His face is so close to Derek’s he feels like he’s about to be kissed. He wouldn’t mind. “I’m very territorial.”

“Hm, I’ve noticed.” He wants to kiss him. Stupidly enough, he really does. But he remembers Paige. Their first date. He feels the thrill of butterflies in his stomach and his heart thumps and he wishes things weren’t so confusing right now but… “But I really do have to go. Family in town. And I’m uh… meeting Paige for coffee.”

Stiles drops his hand from the door and backs away a little. “Paige?” he asks, pretending he doesn’t know who that is. “Oh you mean Cello Girl.”

That’s a step backward in terms of Stiles and Paige Relations. Derek puts his hand square on Stiles’ chest and holds him there.

“Yeah, Cello Girl and I have a date,” he says, looking closely for a reaction.

“Well, have the most fun ever,” Stiles says, artificially neutral.

Derek rolls his eyes and uses his hand to push Stiles away.

“I will.”

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t a little nervous on the drive to the coffee shop where he’s meeting her. He has nothing to worry about. She likes him. He likes her. He works on blocking the rest of the day out of his head, shoving another brown-eyed brunette out of his mind while he focuses on Paige.

It works.


When he sees her, his cheeks go hot and he can’t stop smiling and neither can she. She looks cozy and soft in a thick sweater and a scarf and her fingers are cold when she accepts the cup of coffee from Derek.

It goes well. It goes so well. He shouldn’t be surprised at all, he knows her. He feels close to her in a way he hasn’t with other girls he’s dated.

At the end, he walks her to her car and gives her a long hug while he works up the courage to kiss her. He’s reading all the signs to see if she even wants that. She surprises him by grabbing his face and pulling him down to her for a sweet, warm peck that leaves his lips tingling.

**

December 24th, 2010
Friday

Derek shows up at Stiles’ house late on Christmas Eve, looking cold and flustered.

“My family is driving me nuts,” he says, rushing into the warmth of the Stilinski house. “There’s like 47 people in that house.”

“Exaggeration?” Stiles asks, not sure.

“Barely.”

Stiles laughs. “Well it’s just me here, so.”

“You’re alone?” Derek asks, following Stiles into the kitchen.

“My dad’s working tonight, but the grandparents will be here tomorrow,” he says with a shrug. “Want snacks? All the little old ladies in this town always give the Sheriff hella cookies this time of year.”

Derek sits at the kitchen table across from Stiles and helps himself.

“How was the date?” Stiles asks after the lull in conversation skews awkward.

“I don’t want you hating me or her for how I answer that.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “True or False.”

Derek nods to agree to the game.

“True or False, you had a great time with Paige.”

“True.”

“True or False, you guys kissed.” There’s a note of bitterness in the words that he just can’t help.

Derek refuses to answer, staring at him uncomfortably.

“So… true,” Stiles says softly, picking bits of raisin out of an oatmeal cookie.

“That’s… it’s not fair for you to ask me like that.”

“Again, this isn’t Fair or Unfair, it’s True or False, it doesn’t matter if it’s fair.”

“Well, then let’s play Fair or Unfair.”

“That’s not a thing.”

“We’re making it a thing.”

Stiles raises his eyebrow at him and stares. “I don’t get how that can even be a game.”

“It’s true or false, but if you say something shitty I can say it’s unfair.”

“Why is it just me saying something shitty? You’re the one who gets all wishy washy about True or False anyway,” he says, breaking the cookie in half and setting it down.

“Okay, then how should we play this.”

“If the statement makes you say Fair, then it’s Fair. If it makes you think it’s not fair, then you say Unfair. For any reason. Me being shitty, the statement not fitting right, whatever.”

“Fine. Fair or Unfair, you hate the idea of me kissing Paige.”

“Unfair,” Stiles says. Relief floods over him. That’s so… safe. Because that statement is actually true, but he shouldn’t have to even answer it… “You don’t want to tell me whether or not you kissed her.”

“Fair.”

And that kind of stings, but Derek looks relieved too.

“Fine,” Stiles says.

“Fair/Unfair,” Derek says. “You want to stop talking about Paige.”

“Fair. So do you.”

“Fair.”

Stiles laughs a little, picking up half the broken cookie and taking a bite out of it.

“What?” Derek asks.

“You look so at peace with this game, you’re such a fucking legal kid.”

“So are you,” Derek reminds him, smiling at him.

“Yeah.”

“The law is very gray, Stiles,” Derek says very seriously, like he’s quoting his lawyer dad.

“I mean, sometimes it isn’t, like murder is pretty clear cut,” Stiles says.

“Motives differ.”

“Barf, lawyers,” Stiles says dismissively.

With the Paige awkwardness behind them, they drop the game and just talk. Stiles gets a text from Lydia that says she’s coming over and she’s bringing Scott sometime around 10. They all end up crowded around the table picking through the mass of cookies in front of them and laughing about next to nothing.

Lydia seems brighter and happier the longer she’s there. Scott’s strained smile becomes more natural.

Stiles naively wonders if its possible for another group of people to love each other as much as they do. He naively decides it isn’t.

When the Sheriff gets back from his shift, he finds four kids cry laughing at the kitchen table.

“Santa’s Elves slacking off?” he asks, peering in at them curiously, a twinkly smile just under the surface of his tired features.

“Scott likes gingerbread, dad,” Stiles tells him.

“I’m glad someone does, eat all of it for us, alright? It’s late, shouldn’t you kids be home?”


It’s well past midnight. Stiles rubs his eyes, suddenly tired.

“Yeah, we should go,” Scott says through a yawn.

“You need a ride?” the Sheriff asks.

“I’ll take him,” Lydia says, frowning.

“Hey,” Scott says, looking at Derek suddenly. “Happy birthday, dude.”

Derek grins. “Oh, yeah. Thanks.”

“Heey!” Stiles chants at him. “Birthday!”

“Birthday!” Lydia echoes.

The Sheriff scoffs from the doorway and adds his own Happy Birthday in there too. “Oh, and let all your parents know you’re more than welcome to drop in tomorrow. I’m looking at you, Red,” he says, pointing at her. “But you boys too. Merry Christmas, get out of my house.”

“You’re 18,” Stiles tells Derek as he walks them all out to their cars.

“Yeah, guess so.”

“Go buy us some tattoos,” Stiles teases him.

“Yeah, that’s how that works.”

**

December 25th, 2010
Saturday

Christmas is loud and overwhelming just as it should be. Derek lets out a sigh of relief when the last carful of tiny cousins disappears down the long driveway.

“Jesus,” his mom swears, laughing a little. “They’re at the worst age,” she says, referring to Peter’s kids.

Yeah they are. They only listened to Cora or their parents all day. Cora looks especially tired.

“I’m going to go sleep in a pile of Christmas presents now,” she says brightly, turning around and heading up the steps into the house.

“Like a dragon,” their mom says, raising her eyebrows in amusement at Laura and Derek before following her inside.

“Nerd,” Laura says, turning to follow right on her heels. “Hey,” she calls to Derek before he heads into the kitchen. “I have something for you upstairs, bring me some of whatever you’re going to snack on,” she says, pointing.

“Yeah, yeah,” Derek says, waving her off.

He grabs enough leftover dessert for the both of them and drags his feet up the stairs. He kinda just wants to hide away on his own, but Laura will be headed back to the city before New Years and he might as well humor her while he can.

She’s puzzling over the huge canvas of their father when Derek walks in. It’s still arresting to see it outside of its sheet, but Derek is more comforted by it than jarred. His dad’s serene smile, kind eyes, the painstakingly accurate smile lines etched into his face… Derek feels watched and loved under the painting’s gaze.

“It’s done,” he tells her. She crinkles his nose. “It’s literally perfect, there’s probably 80 pounds of paint on that thing.”

“I wanted to give it to her for Christmas this year, but not in front of the whole family and… I don’t know, is it really done?”

“Just give it to her,” Derek says softly. He sets a plate down next to Laura on the floor and sits too.

“I’ll show her later, that way if she thinks I should fix something…”

“She won’t,” Derek says, nudging her with his shoulder. “What’d you have for me?”

“Right!” she says, getting up to walk on her knees over to her desk. She picks up a small package wrapped in a “Happy Birthday!” wrapping paper. “Happy birthday, brother,” she says, handing it to him.

“You already got me something,” he says, turning it over in his hands. It feels like a book.

“That was for Christmas,” she clarifies. “I would have given it to you with everything else but I don’t know, you might think this is lame…”

She turns back to face the canvas and takes a bite out of a cookie while Derek unwraps what ends up being a heavy, expensive looking leather journal.

“Whoa,” Derek says, turning it over in his hands.

“For your writing,” she says, stealing a glance toward him. “Lyrics, whatever. All the cool kids at Cal have those things.”

Derek places his thumb against the silvered edge of the pages and relishes in their soft fluttering.

“Thanks, Laura,” he says, genuine.

“I drew on the inside of the cover, hope you don’t mind,” she says flippantly.

Derek opens the journal up to check. Along the bottom of the cover is a delicate, specific drawing of their house. In a pretty hand-written script, Laura’s written the words, “If it was empty, it wouldn’t mean anything at all.”

“Flip to the back,” she says softly, watching him take it in.

Along the bottom, she’s drawn the line of trees they see from the back porch. Above that, she’s written the words, “But it’s full, it’s always been full.”

“Wow, that’s…” Derek says. “That’s from my story. And very witty to put in a journal, huh?”


“Uh huh,” Laura says, glad he caught the double meaning. “I just thought that was such a pretty closing line to a really good piece of writing.” She shrugs. “You’re a talented guy.”

“Thanks, you’re a talented girl.”

“I know,” she says, smiling. “Anyway!” she says, breaking the soft moment. “I’m going to show this to mom,” she says, gesturing to the canvas.

“Do it, she’ll love it.”

“Think she’ll cry?”

“Oh yeah,” Derek says, nodding.

She groans. “Wanna be here?”

“Sure.”

She takes a deep breath to steel herself, stands and throws the sheet back over it (“For the reveal.”) and sticks her head out her door to yell for their mom and Cora to come over.

Derek’s watches as the “Oh, Laura,” that is punched from their mom when she pulls the sheet away sinks into Laura. The way Laura's eyes go wide and scared as she waits.

“Oh, it’s perfect, oh…” mom says, hand over her heart, tears welling in her eyes.

“It’s okay?” Laura asks, small.

Cora sniffs and laughs and launches into hugging Laura. Derek beams at her as mom takes her face in her hands and kisses her forehead.

**

January 3rd, 2011
Monday

Stiles is going to be so fucking sick, this is not funny. Scott and Lydia are nervous too, sure. But Stiles. Stiles is the most nervous person in the whole world.

“There’s not even thaaaat many people here, this is so chill,” Scott tells him, gesturing around the club. “It’s a Monday all-ages night, the least pressure ever.”

Stiles looks to Derek, begging him to validate his terror. Derek just shrugs.

“We’re playing 6 songs,” he says.

“Yeah, well previous to this we’ve played 0 songs for an audience, so that’s a 600% increase.”

Derek rolls his eyes and smiles. “Stage fright?”

“Uh yeah.”

Derek claps his hands on Stiles’ shoulders and looks in his eyes. “You’re playing for a bunch of freshman and sophomore girls who think you’re the hottest person on earth, you could sing the alphabet off-key and they’d still want to date you.”

That is weirdly comforting. Which makes Stiles a narcissist, he knows that.

And then it’s their turn to go. Stiles puts on a brave face, plays the part of someone who isn’t terrified of this, and walks on stage with the rest of his band.

“Uh, we don’t have a name yet but we hope you like the songs,” he says into the mic in what he hopes is a charming way. Half the audience doesn’t even quiet down, the other half stares at him. “Alright, here we go.”

By the end of the set, Stiles feels like he had an out of body experience. It wasn’t perfect of anything, but they seem to have gotten everyone’s attention. People even danced. Wow.

“Uuuh, thanks,” Stiles says into the mic, waving to the crowd and doing his best not to sprint off stage.

“Dude,” Scott exclaims at Scott, beaming. “You nailed it, I told you it’d be fine!”

“Did I nail it?” Stiles asks honestly, looking at all of their faces.

Lydia and Derek both smile and nod. Stiles lets out a breath.

“You guys did great, though, I mean I’m pretty sure I repressed the whole experience as it was happening but I know you guys did great. So we didn’t bomb, I noticed that…”

“People were dancing, dude,” Scott says, slapping Stiles on the back in a friendly gesture. “We did fine!”

“I didn’t throw up? Because I thought I might…”

“No, no vomiting,” Lydia says.

“Your fan club was really into it,” Derek says, pointing toward where a bunch of underclassman are trying to look like they’re not staring.

“Awesome,” Stiles chirps. “Now, can we never do this again?”

“We’re doing it again, bro.” Scott hops from one foot to the other, adrenaline coursing through him. “I’m like almost horny from that, I think.”

Lydia crinkles her nose. Derek laughs. Stiles stares at him like he’s insane.

**

January 19th, 2011
Wednesday

Stiles traces his finger down Derek’s arm and snatches his pencil out of his unsuspecting hand.

Derek looks at him, unamused. “C’mon, focus,” he says, snatching his pencil back.

“Derek, I’m bored,” he whines, pressing his forehead against his shoulder.

“ADHD acting up?” Derek asks, gently shrugging him off.

“Remember when Harris saw us at that club and it looked like we were making out?” Stiles asks. The answer to Derek’s question is clearly yes, even though that’s not how it works really. Stiles lets that slide.

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Any way we can use that moment to black mail him and get out of this project?”

Derek laughs. “Uh, no. He wasn’t the one doing anything illegal.”

“Yeah but he’s evil and he was at a cool show.”

“Still not illegal,” Derek says, smiling fondly at him.

Stiles smiles back and rocks closer, pressing his chest against Derek’s arm.

Derek and Paige are solidly dating now. Stiles is trying his best to play nice with her. She’s not that bad. But it doesn’t change how much Stiles wants her boyfriend.

“What would you have done if I had kissed you?” Stiles asks, going for broke. There’s nothing to lose at all, he’s been getting more and more reckless about this stuff lately.

Derek looks at him, bouncing his pencil against the edge of the desk. “That would have been surprising, I guess.”

“Hm,” Stiles murmurs. He pulls away from Derek and tries to focus on the work at hand before Derek gets mad. Derek goes back to working on his part of the lab report and Stiles watches him.

“Focus,” Derek says again.

Stiles puts his head down on his textbook and looks up at Derek with a frown. “Can I focus on you instead?”

Derek rests his head on his fist and looks down at Stiles, pencil loose in his other hand. “Now, why would you want to do that?” he asks, flirty.

Stiles looks up at him and remembers seeing him kissing Paige against the Camaro. Gross. Well, not gross. Kinda hot, actually. “You’re prettier than biology homework,” Stiles says, smirking.

Derek rolls his eyes. “Am I?”

Stiles sits up and moves back into Derek’s space. “Way prettier.” He moves his face closer to Derek’s, testing the waters for some sort of gay chicken. Pushing his boundaries makes him feel like an annoying brat, but it’s so fun…

Derek lets him get so close their noses are pressed together. When Stiles tilts his head as if to go in for it, Derek springs up and away, cursing and blushing furiously. He sets to pacing right away.

Derek seems to fight his blush away and plants his feet. “You can’t keep doing this,” Derek says.

“Doing what?” Stiles asks, definitely a little embarrassed but trying not to show it.

“Flirting with me.”

“Straight boy scared?” Stiles asks even though he knows it’s not exactly fair of him…

Derek makes a frustrated sound and closes his eyes as if to center himself. “Let’s play Fair/Unfair.”

“Fine, you start.”

“You like flirting with me.”

“Fair. You like being flirted with.”

Derek looks like he’s fighting a battle in his head, but he still says, “Fair.” A flare of heat goes through every part of Stiles’ body. “You like to flirt with me to make me mad.”

“Unfair. You get mad because you don’t like that you like when I hit on you,” Stiles counters.

“Unfair. You hate Paige.”

“Unfair. You want to stop playing Fair/Unfair.”

“Unfair,” Derek says, shaking his head.. “You have a crush on me.”

“Unfair on the grounds that you’re breaking the rules of this game,” Stiles argues, his heart stopping altogether he’s pretty sure. This is not where he wanted this to go, but he should have predicted it.

“Unfair. We made up the rules, we can break them. You have a crush on me.”

“Which statement am I responding to?” Stiles asks.

“You have a crush on me.”

Stiles stands up and walks closer. He needs to have the upper hand again, he needs to play this off, he needs to control himself. “Fair,” he says as seductively as he can. “You like that I have a crush on you.”

Derek is quiet forever. Stiles has pushed too far. But then he steels his expression and takes a breath to answer. “Fair. You want to stop playing Fair/Unfair.”

“Unfair. You’re confused.”

“Fair,” Derek says through a tight jaw. “You’re enjoying this.”

“Fair,” he says brightly and walks into Derek’s space. Derek backs up with each step Stiles takes and he knows he should stop this and walk away and leave him alone, but he crowds him against the corner and bites his lip as he looks at him. “You like flirting with me.”

“F-f-false,” Derek stutters.

Stiles laughs, Derek laughs too. Stiles feels emboldened by the sound. He presses his forehead against Derek’s.

“Not an answer, I’m afraid,” Stiles says. “You like flirting with me.”

“Fair,” Derek says, breathless. Stiles’ heart soars. “I have to go meet Paige.”

“Unfair,” Stiles says with a frown. He steps away from him and hid his shaking hands against his thighs. “Well, to close it all out as gentlemen do: You want to stop playing Fair/Unfair.” Stiles grabs his backpack so he can escape without having to face this for too much longer.

“Unfair,” Derek says, voice steady and sure.

“Plot twist…” Stiles says, turning to face him.

“If you thought I’d let you, you’d kiss me.” Derek says, sounding way more confident than he looks.

“Oh absolutely fair.” There’s no use in lying about it, Derek knows. He feels a thrill of panic at that… Derek knows. Fuck.

“Well then…”

“You’re a tease,” Stiles says, crossing across the room back to him. “Come here, big guy.” He grabs Derek by the chin, gently shakes his face to show he’s not taking this seriously, and presses a dry kiss to his lips.

Derek grabs his wrist and holds him there, looking at him intently. Stiles can tell he wants more, he’s asking for more. Stiles’ mouth goes dry. Derek wants it. Derek wants him. Holy shit. He bring this hand up to the back of Derek’s head and pulls him closer as if he’s going to kiss him again, deeper.

“You’ll have to earn it,” he says. He can’t kiss him, not now. He lets go of Derek and moves away again, for the last time.

Just before Derek’s door can click shut behind him, he hears Derek call out, “Unfair.”

**

January 25th, 2011
Tuesday

“Are you two fighting?” Paige asks, pulling away from a kiss to watch Stiles past them toward the other end of the cafeteria.

“Don’t ask me about Stiles when I’m kissing you,” Derek says, laughing.

She laughs too. “Sorry, I just thought I’d have to compete with him for you but you guys seem to be avoiding each other…”

Derek shakes his head.

They haven’t been avoiding each other, exactly. They still go to band practice together, they still hang out with the other two. They’re just not really… talking?

Derek had gone on a date with Paige after almost kissing Stiles, after practically begging him to kiss him actually, and then he went home and took a shower and all he could think of was Stiles’ mouth on his and his hands on his naked skin and… well.

That’s become a sort of habit, really.

Makes it hard to look Stiles in the eye.

Stiles has been spending a lot of time slipping away from the group to walk around campus with Danny, which is exactly where he just left to. Lydia and Scott look like they’re deep in discussion about it.

“Are you two done making out or what?” Lydia teases when she sees Derek looking over.

Paige hides her face against Derek and laughs. Derek smirks. “For now,” he says.

“Aw, young love,” Scott says.

“I should go, my friends think I’m neglecting them,” Paige says, pulling away to pick up her backpack. “See you in class.”

Derek kisses her on the cheek and watches her walk away before sitting back down with the others.

“So where’d Stiles go?” he asks, feigning ignorance.

“Why, do you want to argue about something stupid again?” Lydia asks.

“No!”

“He’s off with the love of his life,” Scott says, wiggling his eyebrows.

That stings. Derek covers it up with a scoff.

“Really though, what’s with the arguing?” Lydia asks. “It’s weird.”

It is weird, Derek agrees. It doesn’t feel right to argue like they have been. Stiles had asked Derek if he wanted the rest of his soda yesterday and Derek had picked a fight about soda being unhealthy, as if he gives a fuck. Derek had messed up a part of a song a few days ago and Stiles stopped everything to rail on him.

Stiles likes him. Stiles knows Derek knows that. Stiles has to know that Derek likes him back too.

Stiles had texted Derek during Music Theory a couple days after the Fair/Unfair thing to snidely ask him to stop being “so aggressively heterosexual” and they’d fought about that after school on the way to Lydia’s house.

It’s exhausting fighting with him.

But every time he’s near Stiles, he feels uncomfortably raw and exposed. Chafed to bleeding and shivering to death. It hurts so unbearably bad to have Stiles’ eyes on him when he knows what he knows.

In any other situation… if Derek was actually gay or bisexual like Stiles… if he wasn’t dating such a great girl… if this was college or later, even… Derek would have taken Stiles’ admission differently. But he can’t. He won’t do anything with it, he absolutely can’t. Too much has happened in the last year and a half and Derek can’t take another identity crushing event.

He’s not gay. His crush on Stiles is an exception to the rule, soft and innocent and mostly meaningless.

At least that’s what he keeps repeating to himself over and over again.

It doesn’t always feel so soft and innocent. It hardly ever feels meaningless.

“They’re cute, but this could get annoying so fast just like last time,” Lydia says, breaking Derek out of his concentration.

“Huh?”

“Stiles and Danny,” she clarifies, nodding her chin up toward a direction behind Derek.

He turns around and looks just in time to see Danny pull Stiles into a hug that makes Derek jealous.

“Aw,” Scott says in reaction. “Maybe they’ll actually date this time.”

“Maybe,” Lydia muses.

“Doubt it,” Derek mutters darkly. Lydia raises an eyebrow at him. “Stiles isn’t a relationship guy, remember?”

She blinks at him. “You two need to iron out whatever the hell is up between you because this is tiring,” she says frankly.

**

January 27th, 2011
Thursday

Stiles has had a really shitty couple of weeks, okay. He lets himself succumb to it on the first day they haven’t had band practice in ages, thank fuck. He lays in bed and blasts music and feels miserable.

If he has to watch Derek and Paige make out at lunch every day, then he should be allowed to blast angry music and be sad by himself.

At least he has Danny. Danny gets it. He’d had a great moment of weakness crying on Danny’s shoulder in a bathroom stall one day, but now they talk about it. Talking about it helps.

It still sucks though.

A knock on his window startles him out of his misery and he looks over to see none else but Derek Hale crouching in his window, dark and gorgeous and a total asshole.

Stiles scrambles out of bed and slides the window open, his heart in his throat.

“Are we talking again?” he asks, bitter as he feels.

He’s missed him, that’s what’s hurt the most.

“I don’t know, are we?”

He’s still a fucking asshole.

“You’re the one climbing in my window!”

What ensues is an awkward mess. Derek re-asserting his heterosexuality, forgiving Stiles for having a crush, Stiles playing the crush down, Derek getting upset that Stiles plays the crush down…

Derek backs him against the door Stiles is trying to shove Derek out of and Stiles is so near tears he wants to lash out and shove him, but he can’t.

And then Derek’s touching his chin, gentle and sweet, and moving his face closer. Stiles knocks him away, laughing nervously.

“Get out of my house,” he says, trying to break out of that ugly place they got to. Fighting and almost crying, Derek acting like he’s going to kiss him… If Derek kissed him, it’d break him. It’d absolutely kill him. It’s not fair that he’s even pretending…

But then Derek’s clear, light eyes burn a hole in him. His lips look soft and ready and wanting. The air around them buzzes. Stiles needs him to either go or to do something to make the buzzing stop.

He raises both hands to Stiles’ cheeks, he looks at Stiles with an intensity Stiles has never been the subject of before, and he tilts his head.

Stiles tries to ask him what he’s doing, but he only gets half a syllable out before Derek’s lips are pressed to his.

Stiles goes numb.

He waits for Derek to pull away, he prays it’ll just be like the times Stiles has kissed Derek — quick and dry and teasing but easily written off — but this is real. Derek gently moves his lips against him, coaxing Stiles to kiss him back. Stiles almost doesn’t.

And then he does. He hugs Derek around his waist and pulls him closer and kisses him back. It builds, and it builds, and it builds, but they don’t move. The kiss doesn’t get any deeper, but it feels like it wants to be. Stiles nips at Derek’s lip, maybe a warning or maybe a suggestion or maybe both at the same time, he’s not sure.

Derek slides his mouth away and he rests against Stiles’ cheek. Stiles’ heart is pounding, his skin is hot, his mind is racing. Holy fucking shit.

Stiles hurts and hurts and hurts, but Derek doesn’t move away. Derek presses his forehead against Stiles’ as he catches his breath.

“What are you doing?” Stiles asks, voice cracking. He wraps his hand around Derek’s wrist just to have something to hold onto.

“I’m sorry,” Derek whispers.

“No,” Stiles says. God, please don’t be sorry. “What was that?”

“I’m sorry,” he repeats.

“It’s okay, but seriously Derek, I am freaking out here?” Stiles says. And he is, he is, he is. His heart rate hasn’t slowed at all, he feels panic rising in him.

“Me too,” Derek answers evenly.

“So answer me.”

“I kissed you,” Derek says, firm.

“Uh, yeah.”

“Because I wanted to. Been wanting to.”

Stiles’ chest is sorta starting to hurt, that’s not a great thing. Stiles takes a deep breath and lets out his breath with an, “Oh.”

They’re quiet for a second. Stiles just breathes, Derek keeps holding his face. In another universe, Stiles can kiss him again without being afraid. In another universe, Derek wants to be kissed.

“And…?” Stiles asks, needing this moment to end and transition into something else, he needs something to work with.

“Did I earn it?” Derek asks, a shy smirk spreading across his pretty face. He pulls his forehead away just enough and opens his eyes to get Stiles’ response.

Stiles’ lips are still tingling, his breath is still a little out of rhythm, his mind is still racing… But he can breathe. And laugh. So he does. He shoves past Derek and heads toward his bed and laughs. He feels a burden being lifted from his shoulders. He has the picture of Derek smirking seconds ago burned into his memory and he… he wants to turn around to see it again but he’s still laughing. He feels like he could just… levitate. Off the floor and out the window and across town. Laughing.

“Stiles?” Derek asks, uncertain.

Stiles feels like he could just float away, but he doesn’t want to. He wants to stay right here. He wipes his eyes and takes a deep, steadying breath and turns back around. Derek’s eyes are wide with an uncertainty that hadn’t been there the last time he looked.

“Yeah, you earned it,” Stiles says, striding back toward him.

He grabs him by the sweater and drags him in for another kiss, open mouthed and hot. Derek kisses back instantly, his hands falling on Stiles’ hips and moving them toward the bed.

Stiles is going to make out with Derek. Derek is going to make out with Stiles.

Holy shit.

Stiles’ legs hit the edge of his bed and he’s falling. Derek lands on top of him and they keep kissing. And Derek’s so, so good at it. Better than Stiles had imagined. Stiles grabs the back of his head and slides his tongue against Derek’s and moans. Derek’s hands slip up Stiles’ shirt to grip his waist. This is real. This is the realest thing Stiles has ever felt. Derek is solid and heavy on top of him, settling beautifully between his legs. His stubble is sharp but grounding against Stiles’ face. He’s real.

All the smooth edges of dreams, all the fantasies that bloomed during jerk off sessions, all of that fades away, replaced by this. Derek’s bony hips, his smooth hair, the very real smell of body-heated cologne, the way his mouth tastes… the reality of him, of kissing him, is more than Stiles could have ever expected.

Derek breaks to pant against Stiles’ neck for a second. “I have to get home,” he says, sounding regretful.

“No,” Stiles tries to argue.

“I gotta go.” He pulls himself up slowly, careful not to knee or elbow Stiles. “I don’t want to.” He steps away from the bed and runs his hands through his hair. He laughs a little. “I always knew you’d be a good kisser,” he says with a nervous laugh.

“You’d thought about it?” Stiles asks, sitting up to watch him. His chest is heaving, he can’t quite catch his breath.

“Yeah,” Derek says, looking at him directly and boldly.

Stiles walks Derek down the stairs to the front door, because that’s what you do after you make out with someone, right?

“I missed you,” Derek says softly, his hand falling on Stiles’ neck. Stiles’ face goes red, he knows it.

“I missed you too. Quit fighting with me over everything,” Stiles says, taunting him with a smile.

“Only if you stop fighting me,” Derek says, smirking like the asshole he is. He ducks forward and kisses Stiles on the corner of his lips. Sweet, suggestive, not enough to start them back up but enough for Stiles to want more. “Bye.”

“Text me later.”

“I will.”

When the door closes between them, Stiles brings his hand up to his mouth and holds it there as he lets the shock wash over him.

Chapter Text

January 28th, 2011
Friday

Derek thinks about it all night. He eats dinner with his mom and sister and doesn’t say much because he feels like he’ll just spew out a confession or something. Or they’ll read it on his face.

He feels jittery and excited and happy. The same way he felt when he kissed a girl for the first time. The same way he felt rounding the bases with her.

Which is terrifying, isn’t it?

His crush on Stiles was never supposed to be serious, he was supposed to kiss him and get it out of his system, right? Theoretically?

But if he’s honest with himself, as he can be when laying in his bed trying to fall asleep, he’d never even considered “getting it out of his system.” He’d considered never acting on his feelings and letting them fade, sure. But he’d probably spent more time considering just… acting on impulse. He just never knew what that would look like or mean.

He can’t sleep. He just keeps thinking.

“What is this?” Stiles texts.

Derek stares at the screen, blazing white hurting his eyes in the dark of his bedroom. He smiles at the question, weirdly… it implies that there’s something.

“Not sure,” Derek answers, honestly.

“Lol okay,” Stiles answers, quick like he was staring at his phone waiting for Derek’s answer.

Derek half sits up, propping himself up with his arm. He frowns at his screen, reading between the pixels for how Stiles feels. He finds nothing but potential sarcasm, potential hurt feelings, nothing good…

He wants to hear his voice.

So he calls.

Stiles answers in a sleepy, casual tone. “Well, hi.”

“Hey.”

Silence. Derek listens to his breath, soft and staticky over the phone.

“What’s up?” Stiles asks after awhile.

“I just wanted to hear you.”

“Now when you say things like that after a day like today…” Stiles says.

“I like you,” Derek admits. Stiles is dead quiet on his end. “I think you like me too,” Derek continues, emboldened by the safe distance and the dark.

“I do,” Stiles admits, neutral. “You know that.”

It’s Derek’s turn to be quiet.

“Why’d you kiss me?” Stiles asks.

“I told you why,” Derek says. Because he’d wanted to.

“You just said because you wanted to, but I want to do stuff all the time that I don’t do so… why’d you do it?”

This conversation feels circular… “Because I like you?”

“You have a girlfriend,” Stiles says, stern.

Derek sighs. He likes his girlfriend too. He’d refused to think about it all afternoon, he was still trying not to think about it. He really, really likes Paige. He’d meant what he said about her being a good thing for him. He means everything he says to her about how he feels about her.

But he also means what he says to Stiles.

They’re quiet for ages. Derek pulls his phone away from his face to check the time. It’s so late, they’re going to be so tired at school but… He puts the phone back to his ear in time to hear a soft, small, “Derek?” on the other end.

“Yeah,” Derek says in the same tone.

“I thought you’d fallen asleep,” Stiles says.

“No.”

“So… no thoughts on having a girlfriend?”

“No, I do but…” He thinks of the possibilities of Stiles. He thinks of kissing him again and touching more of him and laying in bed with him but following his impulses to reach out and hold him… He thinks of Paige too. He has to. He feels guilty and bad and regretful but only when he’s not feeling elated and giddy and enamored.

“But what?”

“Since when do you care about her anyway?” Derek asks. It’s a defense mechanism.

Stiles scoffs. “I just think cheating is wrong and I don’t want to be the other woman.”

“Man,” Derek corrects, not wanting to allow Stiles to be witty and cute. But the word hits him like a freight train. Man. A man he has kissed. He’d never kissed a guy before today. Yesterday, now. But just barely. But he’d thought of it…

“Derek.” Stiles’ voice is beautiful at all volumes and intensities.

Derek loves to hear him say his name. His heart twists.

“Stiles,” Derek responds. He likes saying his name.

“Please just… I need to know how to act tomorrow.”

“I’m still with Paige,” Derek says, thinking out loud more than anything.

“I know.”

“They can’t know,” Derek says.

“I know,” Stiles says again, voice so low it breaks a little.

“I like you, Stiles.”

“Do you know how shitty this is?” Stiles asks rather than parrot the sentiment back.

“Yeah.” He does, he really does. He thinks of Paige and her soft, shiny hair and her big eyes and her wide smile and her laugh and her writing and her cello… He thinks of waking up next to Stiles and how he’s always wanted to stay in those moments forever. How they always end up touching and holding each other without meaning to. He thinks about the kiss and how it felt to finally give into that want.

“I don’t know that you do,” Stiles whispers. He’s hurt, Derek knows he is.

“I’m sorry.” He means it. He doesn’t want to hurt him. He doesn’t want to hurt Paige. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone at all. But there’s a part of him that feels anchored in the security that Paige represents while the other part of him wants to take flight with Stiles. Caught between the ground and the sky, Derek says, “I care about you.”

“I know you do.”

And then they’re quiet. He imagines Stiles listening to the ticking of his Star Wars clock, imagines his fingers tracing a meaningless path over the silky edge of his blanket, imagines the way his hair sticks up at the back of his head when he lays on his back…

“Stiles,” Derek says after while, soft enough not to wake him if he’s fallen asleep.

“Yeah?” Stiles says.

“I thought you’d fallen asleep.”

“Just thinking.”

“About us?”

He listens to the deep breath Stiles takes and releases. “I can’t do this, Derek.”

It hurts. “Okay.”

“I can handle being your experiment, I can’t handle helping you cheat.”

Derek squeezes his eyes shut, bracing against the swell of pain in his chest. “Okay.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I get it.” He does. He does get it. It hurts but he’s thankful that someone out of the two of them can make the right choice. Derek sure can’t. He’s too selfish. He’s too happy to think of anything but staying happy or getting happier. And today, kissing Stiles… he was happier than he’d been in ages.

But his happiness shouldn’t come at the expense of others. He shouldn’t be allowed to hurt the two people he likes so much with one selfish action, so this is good.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says.

Stiles huffs a sorta sad laugh before saying, “Hey, it was a good make-out. Don’t be.”

“I… yeah. Well,” Derek says, flustered and smiling. “I care about you,” he reminds him.

“I care about you too.”

**

Stiles is okay, he really is. He wakes up exhausted, chugs black coffee in the kitchen while his father watches in horror, and heads off to school like any other day. He greets Lydia and Scott cheerfully and has to ask himself if he really does feel cheerful.

He does.

And he doesn’t.

On one hand, Derek likes him. That’s a good thing. That’s what Stiles had wanted so badly. Derek likes him and had kissed him a lot the day before and he’d called him and said sweet things and ultimately, no matter what, Stiles loves him. Even if that only means in the friend way in the long run.

But then on the other hand, what he wouldn’t give for Derek to have chosen him over Paige.

He’d made the right call though. They can’t do this. Stiles doesn’t hate Paige enough for that, not at all. In fact, he doesn’t even really hate her that much anyway.

When Derek and Cora approach them, running later than usual, Derek has bags under his eyes and looks just as tired as Stiles feels. But he doesn’t avoid Stiles’ gaze. He meets it and smiles. Stiles smiles back.

Cora grumbles about Derek almost making her late because he’d overslept and stalks off to find her friends in the few precious minutes before the first period bell rings. Derek and Scott talk about their calculus quiz, Lydia scrolls through her phone.

It’ll be fine.

Stiles has sucked Danny off at a party and ran into him and his family while out to breakfast with his dad on the very next day without it being awkward at all.

And that was before Stiles was out.

He tells the part of him that tries to say, “Yeah but kissing Derek was different” to shut the fuck up.

Stiles is totally fine all day, too. Civics is fine. Bio is fine.

Paige hangs out with them at lunch and he doesn’t even rolls his eyes at her or snap at her or say snide things under his breath about her. He owes her some decency for kissing her boyfriend. In turn, she’s not so bad to him either.

Derek plays it so cool it’s almost too cool, but no one but Stiles seems to notice.

At least they’re not making out like the usually do. Maybe that’s Derek being decent to Stiles. Maybe it’s Derek feeling too guilty to kiss her in front of him. Either way, it’s a welcome change.

Someone comes up behind him and claps him on the shoulders. Stiles tilts his head up to look at Danny’s upside down face.

“Hey, come walk with me?”

A welcome change.

“Sure,” Stiles says and gathers his things. “See you two in class,” he says to Derek and Paige. “And see the rest of you later.”

They get out of earshot from the table before Danny says, “You looked like you could use a rescue.”

“Did I?” Stiles asks. He’d really thought he'd been normal…

“Yeah, you looked like you were repeating the tranquility prayer in your head or something.”

“I kinda was,” Stiles admits, laughing.

“What’s going on? They weren’t even making out today.”

Stiles should tell Danny. He needs to tell someone, he needs to talk about it. “Well,” Stiles says, drawing the word out while he casts a look around to see if anyone is near enough to hear them. “We made out yesterday.”

Danny stops dead in his tracks. “What? Who?”

“Me and Derek,” Stiles says in a low voice.

“Whoa, what the hell happened?” he asks. “No wait, hold that…” he says quickly, grabbing him by the elbow and dragging him off down a hallway toward the auditorium.

They walk one door past it and end up in a room Stiles had never known about before. Danny releases Stiles and sits in a busted old office chair and points him toward a matching one, but Stiles is too busy gazing around at the heavy loops of cables and the dusty things piled all over the place.

“What is this shit?” Stiles asks, looking around.

“It’s a storage room,” Danny says.

“Obviously. What the hell is that?” Stiles asks, pointing at a big piece of complicated looking equipment.

“A broken followspot,” he says, dismissive. “You guys made out?”

Stiles tears his eyes off the stuff and sits finally. “Yeah.”

So he tells him what happened, including as much of the conversation that he can remember. He ends the story with his head in his hands while he allows himself a self-indulgent groan. He doesn’t feel fine anymore.

Danny is quiet and thoughtful.

“Wow. Well.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s good that you aren’t letting him like… cheat on Paige… You really said you’d be okay with being his experiment?”

Stiles groans louder. “Yeah, I’m a fucking idiot, but I really would be okay with that.”

“Dude, I don’t know about that…”

“Why not?”

“You love him? Imagine him just like using you and then waking up one day like yeah no, i’m straight. That would be the worst…”

Stiles sighs. “Yeah. But at least I’d have him for awhile, right?”

He shakes his head.

He’s totally right.

“But isn’t that what we did?”

“I was 90% sure you weren’t straight. Also, no offense, but I wasn’t in love with you. I liked you. There’s a difference.”

“True.” Stiles straightens up just to sprawl backward in the rickety chair. “Doesn’t matter, it’s not going to happen unless he breaks up with Paige and he made it pretty clear that’s not going to happen, so.”

Danny makes a sympathetic sound that gets drowned out by the fifth period bell.

“Now I get to go sit in a class with the lovebirds, aren’t I lucky?” Stiles says, standing up slowly. “Thanks for letting me be a sad sack of shit.”

“Anytime. Hang in there.”

**

January 31st, 2011
Monday

They don’t avoid each other, that helps a lot. They’d spent the weekend dicking around in Lydia’s garage with the others, practicing and writing new songs and sort of recording things. They’re all still encouraged by the open mic night not crashing and burning. A few people at school have started asking them when they’ll be playing again.

And when Derek wasn’t there, he was with Paige. Her parents were gone until late on Saturday, so he’d gone over and they’d made out in her bed and it was good. Her sheets smelled floral and soft and crisp, the skin on her thighs was soft and inviting but they kept it fairly chaste. Just suggestive. He worked at the pace she set. It was nice and real and authentic and right and good.

And on Sunday, they walked around the preserve and talked and laughed. Derek felt so secure and glad that Stiles ended things before they could start, he didn’t want to lose out on this.

But on Monday morning, when Stiles parks next to him in the parking lot and music pours from his open windows and he hops out of his car wearing tight jeans and a tight shirt and his well-worn Converses, Derek’s stomach flips. Scott slides out of the passenger seat and rounds the Jeep already talking, but Derek can’t focus on what he’s saying.

There’s a hickey on Stiles’ neck that he can’t stop zeroing in on. Stiles raises an eyebrow at him and covers it with his hand, sheepish.

“Helloooo,” Scott says, waving his arms to get their attention. “Did you hear what I just said?”

“Huh?” Derek asks.

“What’s all the yelling about?” Lydia asks, appearing from the other side of the Jeep. Derek hadn’t even seen her drive up.

“The guy from the club emailed me and said he wants to book us!”

Stiles looks a little green about the idea but says nothing. They’d probably already talked about it in the car.

“He said we were pretty good and he wanted to see what we could do with more time and more exposure, so he’s giving us a spot at the next few all-ages nights. He wants to know what we’re called though so uhhh maybe we should name ourselves?”

Lydia hops up and down in excitement, grinning. “Band meeting, after school, we’re going to name the band, I can’t believe this, this is so cool, when are we playing?” she asks, tugging on Scott’s sleeve. He joins her in hopping and talking nonstop and Stiles ends up getting pulled into the excitement too, the sickly look disappearing.

“Derek, c’mon, be excited,” Lydia orders, grabbing his hand.

“I am, I am,” he promises, laughing.

It’s all they can talk about all day. They text band names to the group text all day long. None of them feel right, but it’s fun to dream about.

They’re still talking about it at lunch, Paige joining in and offering equally silly suggestions that make them all laugh. Even Stiles, Derek notices.

“Okay, is that a hickey or not?” Lydia asks, cutting through the laugher. Derek watches Stiles tug his shirt collar up over it and hold it there, blushing. “It is!”

“Yeah, and?”

“Is it from Danny?” Scott teases in a sing-song voice.

“Yeah…” Stiles says, avoiding everyone’s eyes.

Paige studies him. “So you and Danny are dating? That’s really cool.” An olive branch.

Stiles looks at her as if he recognizes that. His face softens a little, he smiles just a small smile. “We’re not dating, no, but…” he shrugs.

“So you’re hooking up regularly again?” Lydia asks. “But you guys never did the cute wandering around school during lunch together thing before.”

Stiles shrugs.

“I just want to know if this is going to the epic romance of your life. How many episodes of will-they-won’t-they lie ahead?” Lydia asks, smirking at him.

He rolls his eyes and blushes. “I don’t know, the sooner we commit to each other the sooner you’re going to have to deal with Jackson more, so…”

Lydia’s face goes sour. “In that case, don’t date him.”

“He’s not that bad,” Paige says, almost meekly.

“Who, Jackson?” Stiles asks, incredulous. Paige nods and shifts barely closer to Derek as if for protection. “Jackson Whittemore?” Stiles clarifies. “In what world is he not that bad?”

Paige looks to Derek as if asking for some sanity, but Derek knows he can’t make a good argument in Jackson’s favor. He doesn’t exactly want to, ether.

“He’s different outside of school, obviously,” she says, combative.

Derek tilts his head toward her, questioning. Stiles, Lydia, and Scott stare her down from across the table.

“And how would you know how he is outside of school?” Stiles asks. “Because last I checked, you’re not a cheerleader—“ He starts counting things off on his fingers. “—A lacrosse groupie. A Porsche owner. A country club member. As a matter of fact, the only thing you two have in common is that you’re both—“

“Stiles, stop,” Lydia says, elbowing him hard enough to make him yelp. “Asshole,” she hisses when he looks at her like he’s been betrayed.

“Play nice,” Scott adds, leaning to look around Lydia.

“But… how do you know him outside of school?” Derek asks, turning toward her after sending Stiles a very serious glare.

Paige has her arms crossed as she looks at Stiles, brows furrowed. He sees a muscle in her jaw moving like she’s literally biting her tongue. Her eyes dart to Derek’s.

“He does stuff at the performing arts center,” she says, frustrated. As if that’s common knowledge.

“What?” Derek asks, Lydia echoing him. Scott lets out a thoughtful “huh…”

“Like what kind of stuff?” Stiles asks.

“He runs sound for like… everything.”

“He… what?” Derek asks. “Since when?”

“Uh, for a couple years, I don’t know. I just see him around when I play in the pit. He’s always been nice to me.”

“Wait, so… Jackson Whittemore… I’m sorry, am I getting this right… Jackson runs sound like… sound board? Mics? Speakers? For… local theater productions? Like, kids doing Oklahoma! and shit?” Scott asks.

Paige looks at him and nods and then looks back at Derek. “You really didn’t know?”

Derek shakes his head. He feels Stiles’ eyes on him.

Derek’s trying to look for signs of this in his memories of Jackson. He vaguely remembers Jackson fiddling with the levels on the Camaro’s sound system the first time he rode in it. He hadn’t thought anything of it. That’s the only thing that sticks out at all.

“Actually, when we did The Little Mermaid, he was really cute with the kids. It was weird.” She laughs a little, trying to lighten the mood. She has no idea why this is so tense and that’s almost disorienting. “Uh, but yeah… so, he’s okay when you get to know him.”

Derek remembers Jackson. Both Jacksons. The specially hand crafted cocky, self-centered, lacrosse champ Jackson. The fiercely loyal, dark-humored Jackson reserved for Danny, Derek, and Greenberg. And even still, this Jackson doesn’t sound right.

“Oh, that piece of shit is fixing the amp,” Stiles says, breaking the thick silence that had settled over the table.

“I told you he knew something,” Scott says.

**

February 5th, 2011
Saturday

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Stiles had been so good.

Lydia throws an impromptu party the night after their their first real set for the all-ages night as a celebration and a thank you to the people who had shown up to support them. Which, as it turned out, had been a lot of people. More than just the freshmen and sophomore girls like the last time.

Paige was there with Derek before the party started, and ordinarily Stiles would have thought she was infringing on their sacred rites but…

It had been…

Okay.

She’d been there when the party started and Stiles didn’t make a point to run away from them and he played it cool when her and Derek were kissing instead of contributing to the conversation. But she’d left early.

And that was the problem, really. She should have stayed. Stiles wishes she’d stayed so bad when Derek follows him out into the garage where Stiles knows there’s a secret stash of beer waiting for them. He’s not sober enough to be a good person if Derek asks him to do anything…

“Hey,” Derek says, his hand falling on his waist.

“Hey,” Stiles says back, letting himself be drawn closer.

“You look good tonight,” he says.

You were just kissing your girlfriend, Stiles should say.

“You look good tonight too,” is what he actually says.

Derek’s hand travels from his hip to his lower back and he pulls him even closer so their bodies are flush against each other.

“I still think about our kiss,” he admits.

It feels good to have Derek wrapped around him like this - his big hand taking up so much of his lower back, his arms, his broad chest… wow.

“So do I,” Stiles says, voice a little weak.

Derek’s lips land on his cheek first. It’s not a kiss, it’s just close. “Every time you sing, I can barely breathe,” he mumbles. “You were so hot last night.”

Jesus Christ. Stiles wraps his arms around Derek’s neck to hold him there. His knees feel weak, his stomach is doing that floaty horny thing. His breathing is already shallower. “Yeah?”

“Mhm,” Derek says, dragging his lips from his cheek to his mouth to kiss him softly. Stiles still has an out here, Derek isn’t pushing it that much, he’s just suggesting it and Stiles can walk away no problem.

But instead, he kisses him for real. The initial guilt sears through him like white hot fire, but the second Derek’s tongue is in his mouth he ignores it until it goes away. He sucks his tongue and bites his lip and moans against him. Derek’s hand drifts from his lower back to grab his ass, which… wow.

Stiles pushes him, his hands spread wide to touch as much of his sculpted chest as possible. He shoves until Derek hits a wall and he moves until he’s pressed against him. He slides his hands down to his hips and smirks at him and stares at his lips.

“Fuck,” Derek breathes, hands gripping his waist with the kind of strength that would be used to move, to shove away or to pull closer or pick up.

They’re lined up almost perfectly. Hip to hip and chest to chest. Stiles thrusts a thigh in between Derek’s legs. This is all just playful. This is drunk rough housing. But Derek’s breath is heaving in him, his powerful body is responding. Stiles rests his forehead against his. Derek tilts his head so their lips are closer and then…

And then Stiles sucks Derek’s bottom lip between his - he hadn’t meant to. He’d meant to make him make a move. He lightly nips at his lip and Derek’s grip tightens, his breath shudders. He surges forward and deepens it - tongue sliding thick and hot against Stiles. He kisses like it’s vital, like he’s desperately enamored.

Stiles is totally lost in it, hardly even aware that Derek’s moving him, pinning him against the wall until his hands are under Stiles’ shirt and pushing the fabric up and away.

Stiles is hard so fast he doesn’t even have time to tilt his hips away to spare Derek before Derek is pressing up against him, exhaling a groan. God. God dammit. Stiles digs his nails into Derek’s sides. With Derek, he feels like kissing is a full body sensation. Like every muscle and inch of skin is in on it. Stiles feels immersed. Derek’s hand moves to Stiles’ crotch and he presses against it. Stiles whimpers and grinds against him and kisses him even harder. Derek rubs his own dick on Stiles’ hip. God.

This is so.. not happening, this is a dream. Derek feels so thick against him, Stiles wants to touch him.

“Car?” Stiles suggests. Because he can’t go through the house and up the stairs like this, and neither can Derek. Their best bet is slipping out the side door of the garage and getting in the Camaro.

Derek’s breath shudders from him, ho