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Lost Like You

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Derek’s been working the late shift all week at the bar in Albert Town. Most evenings his clientele consists of the resort staff and the shuttle bus drivers who’ve driven the dangerous path up the mountain early that morning and back down in the afternoon. They’re good clients, not the rowdy drunks he used to serve back in New York when his sister was alive. Back before his life went to hell for the second time.

It’s dark night when he begins shutting down the bar just after midnight. He isn’t expecting any new customers now: a few more rounds for some of the groups whose nights are probably only part way through but other than that, it should be quiet. That’s why he looks up from shining the glasses when the door swings open and a cool draft rushes in. There’s a young man in the doorway with greasy hair and days old stubble. His white, V-neck shirt is covered in dirt and he can see the sweat stains under his red plaid. As he shrugs his heavy bag back up onto his shoulders and saunters forward into the bar Derek notices the trail of mud his boots leave behind and he resigns himself to having to scrub the mud off the stained wood before he goes home.

The man…no the boy, he looks younger closer up…drops down into one of the bar seats furthest from Derek and lets his backpack thud to the floor, showering it with dried flakes of dirt. He glances at Derek apologetically but receives a scowl in return. One of the Muldy’s a few tables away thumps his empty glass down on the table and waves to Derek as he heads for the door but Derek’s attention is on the new comer. He’s never seen this lad before which means he’s probably one of the, not uncommon, travellers that find their way to New Zealand. Judging by the unkempt appearance and the look of hunger in his eyes, he’s been on the road a while. Probably hasn’t eaten since the shitty meal he was given on the flight over from his last waypoint.

The lad opens his mouth to speak but croaks. He clears his throat and tries again. “Can I have some water please?” The voice is older than Derek had assumed, he’s having trouble aging the lad but he reaches under the bar and pulls a glass of tap water. Dragging a coaster over, he stands the glass on the bar and then leans over to get a better look. His sister would have flicked him on the nose and told him his manners were shitty but she’s not here and the boy isn’t complaining if the amused look he’s returning is anything to go by. He probably gets it a lot, considering how young he looks. Laura would have told him to use words and she’d have laughed at his struggle. The kid sticks his hands out in an offer of introduction. “I’m Stiles Stilinski. I’m an Aries. I’m from a small town in California, although I haven’t been home in about three years. I like grape soda and curly fries and I haven’t slept in a real bed for weeks, or showered.” Derek grimaces.

“So that’s what the smell is.” Stiles throws his head back and laughs, scrubbing his hands through his unruly brown hair, assuming it is brown and not just caked in filth.

“Sorry about that. I promise next time I come to your bar I’ll smell like soap and roses. Now, how about a name to go with those gorgeous hazel eyes?” Derek has never blushed at a compliment before. He hasn’t had one in years but he remembers the last time someone flirted with him he’d grinned and flirted right back. Now his throat feels dry and his face is burning. He doesn’t think he could speak if Laura suddenly appeared in front of him and slapped the back of his head like she used to do. That’s another thing: considering his sister had been dead for nearly five years and he hadn’t thought about her much in the last two, she was making a hell of an appearance tonight.

“Drink your water.” The twinkle dies in Stiles’ eyes and he drops his honey gaze to the half empty glass in front of him. Normally Derek likes the silence but this one is heavy and filled with the sour mix of disappointment and his own guilt. “I’m Derek. Hale. Scorpio.” He doesn’t know why he adds his star sign but it does the trick, because even though Stiles isn’t looking at him, he can see the upward tilt of his lips and the amused crinkle at the corner of his eyes. “Drink your water.”

It’s nearly one by the time the bar empties and Stiles is the last patron, sitting patiently at the bar nursing his mostly empty, second glass of water. He’s waiting for something: for the bar to close and Derek to kick him out; or for Derek to offer him a bed for the night; or for something else entirely. Derek doesn’t know what makes him do it but just before he locks the door he turns to the boy and says, “I assume you’re in need of a couch to sleep on.”

Liquid honey eyes stare back at him wide in surprise. “You offering?” Derek’s curt nod is met with a quiet gasp and a flailing of limbs that somehow seemed to fit the image he had of the youthful Stiles sitting at his bar.

“I’m not going to murder you in your sleep. I was in a similar place a few years ago. No money. No home. Flitting from place to place. Didn’t know what I was looking for. Still don’t. It’s on the table if you want it.” Derek’s never been good with words. Even when he was young and untroubled, Captain of the basketball team and popular, words never came easy to him. His family used to joke that he communicated in grunts and eyebrows. When they were in an especially teasing mood they’d wiggle their own eyebrows and grunt back mockingly. He couldn’t place why this boy brought such nostalgic memories back up but they burned in his chest in a good way and he wanted them to stay. They’d never felt like that before, always bitter and acrid on the back of his tongue.

He glances at Stiles as he moves back across the room to finish cleaning before he goes home. Stiles is staring at him like he still can’t quite figure out if Derek if being serious or not so he does what Laura always told him to do, he smiles. It’s was a little forced because he hasn’t smiled in a long time but he hopes it won’t show. Something in him is really desperate for this stranger to sleep on his couch.

Stiles looks at his smile and smiles back, a huge beaming, grateful smile. “Yeah, yeah that’d be great. I’d really appreciate that. It’s very cool of you. I’ve slept on a lot of couches in my time. I don’t have any money at the moment but as soon as I’m settled I’ll pay you back.” Derek waves it off. He still has all the insurance money from the first time he lost his pack. When he’d moved to New York with Laura after the fire they’d been unable to touch the money they’d been left. It felt wrong somehow. Laura had dropped out of college and gone form part time to full time waitress at the Pizzeria she was working at to get through college and he’d started work in a small bookstore on minimum wage. For six years they’d lived off what they’d earned themselves and then the news of Peter’s recovery had sent Laura running back home never to return, that left him with life insurance for two more family members. He never felt right not working so he still hadn’t even touched that money.

He reaches over the bar to grab his keys and jacket and then he’s leading Stiles out the back door. Stiles, who is still babbling about acts of charity and some nonsense about the Sherriff’s gratitude that makes no sense to him. Outside there’s a light rain and Stiles glances up like he can’t quite figure out where it’s coming from. In the light from the street he’s kind of beautiful and Derek can’t help but watch him for a moment. Eventually the young man drops his gaze to Derek inquisitively. “Are we going somewhere tonight or do you live in this alley? It’s a very nice alley. Very…dumpster chic.” The sarcasm startles a humoured humph out of Derek and sparks him back into motion. He turns up towards the cobbled street at the front of the bar. Just as they are about to exit the alley he stops and turns to yank a tarpaulin off of a shiny black bike. He stuffs the plastic cover down behind one of the dumpsters and hands the black helmet to Stiles who is gaping at him. In the sparse light of the flickering lamplights, the bike looks like a giant black beetle growling into motion.

Whatever he’d thought it would be like, having the younger stranger pressed firmly down his back was nothing like it. The body was warm but sharp bones poked him uncomfortably and the long limbs he’d noticed back in the bar seemed to be everywhere at once. And despite that he kind of liked it. Like he kind of liked Stiles, but he couldn’t figure out why.