Derek doesn’t seem surprised when Stiles turns up on his doorstep in the pouring rain. His expression seems to read; what took you so long instead of shock or confusion.
No recriminations or demands for an explanation after five months of very little contact, only Derek ushering him inside, and giving his sodden sneakers a pointed glance.
“I didn’t, uh,” Stiles grimaces as he toes off the dirty, wet shoes and his holey socks are revealed, “Didn’t plan this.”
Derek snorts, opening a closet just inside the door and rummaging around for a moment before handing Stiles a towel.
“Come on upstairs,” he murmurs, “You can shower, and there’ll be clothes without holes.”
“I think that’s the most grown up thing you’ve ever said,” Stiles remarks, marveling at the neatly painted walls as he follows Derek up the stairs.
Derek shoots him a glare over his shoulder, and Stiles takes that to mean; I should have left you outside, asshole.
Stiles grins back at him, rubbing his face dry and then stills when he realizes that Derek really has just abandoned his evening to let Stiles in. “Hey, uh, does anyone else— uh, live with you, here?”
He feels uncomfortable asking— for reasons he won’t examine too closely— but, he doesn’t want to be disturbing someone else; it’s bad enough he’s shown up unannounced in the first place. He would have gone to a motel, but he wasn’t feeling up for his own company. He knew that from the handful of people in Stiles’ life, Derek would understand. They’ve always had a neat understanding like that; even when they didn’t particularly like each other, they still got one another. It was why he came, why he knew, deep down, Derek would let him in.
It’s not like he’d go as far to call it a connection, but it’s similar; a vibe, a link, a… bond…
It’s a connection.
He’s not going to say so out loud, though.
“No,” Derek says quietly, pauses on the landing to turn and just look at Stiles. “There’s no one else here; except of course the animals, outside.”
“Still can’t quite believe that,” Stiles quirks a grin at him, “You runnin’ a farm.”
“It’s not exactly up on its feet, yet.”
“That wasn’t my point.”
“I know,” Derek arches an eyebrow at him, “But, I was choosing to ignore your attempted mockery; I refuse to take abuse for my lifestyle choices.”
“Right on,” Stiles lifts a fist teasingly, and Derek bats his hand away, circles his fingers around Stiles’ wrist for a moment.
“Are you okay?”
Stiles takes a beat.
It feels as if they’re in their own small world, the noise of the storm drowned out by the thick walls of the house. The landing’s cast in darkness, with only a slither of light coming from a room ahead of them. There’s not much space where they’re stood, but it’s not uncomfortable; personal space has never been an issue for the two of them. It’s warm and oddly cozy. Stiles matches his breathing to Derek’s—slow and steady, completely unperturbed by Stiles’ sudden appearance— and his own heartbeat calms with it.
For the first time since throwing his duffle bag in the rental car and getting the hell out of town, Stiles relaxes.
“Yeah, better,” he wets his lips, “I was… you know how it is.”
Derek nods gently, “Do you want to talk about it?”
Stiles thinks about the last six months, the last two years, the last week, and shakes his head; it’s too much to even start putting into words.
“I can’t,” he says finally, attempts a shrug to keep the mood as light as possible.
As if seeing right through him Derek snorts, but doesn’t push him, doesn’t need Stiles to explain himself. Stiles is overwhelmingly grateful for it, grateful that Derek isn’t even questioning his decision to knock on his door in the middle of the night, without so much as a call first.
“Hey,” he manages a grin after they’ve stared at one another for a moment longer (he’d claim he hasn’t missed Derek’s intense staring, but he has, he’s missed Derek in so many ways), “Do you have chickens?”
“Have you named them? Please tell me you haven’t because I have a ton of good ideas. Chickpea, for one, can you imagine? You going outside and calling Chickpea in for dinner.”
“I don’t call them in for dinner, dumbass.”
“Do you have a bonnet you wear when you’re collecting their eggs?”
“I’m going to leave that to your imagination.”
“Oh, you really shouldn’t, dude.”
Derek hums as he rolls his eyes at Stiles, lets go of his wrist to open the door next to them. It leads into a small, but neat bedroom. The walls are a deep green, matched with mahogany furniture that gives the room an almost forest like feel. A huge window overlooks the dark fields that make up the farm and Stiles can just make out a couple of barns potted here and there. The bed takes up most of the room, Stiles’ knees bumping against it as he follows Derek into the room. There’s a bedside table with a photograph of Derek’s family on top; and a tome of a book that Derek has an actual bookmark in resting in between the pillows.
“You know,” Stiles cuts a glance at him, “Didn’t picture the bat cave to be like this at all.”
“My bat cave’s downstairs, idiot,” Derek rolls his eyes, strides across the room to push open another door, revealing a brightly lit bathroom.
“Nice,” Stiles murmurs.
“It should get warm pretty quick,” Derek promises as he steps into the shower and turns it on. “Do you need anything else?”
“Uh,” Stiles is momentarily speechless as he watches Derek’s maroon henley start to stain a darker red under the water. Derek is looking at him expectantly, his eyes kind and accepting. He’s let Stiles into his home—his farmhouse— and now he’s explaining where the towels are, apologizing that he only has his own preferred shower gel in (mint).
“Did you become a pod person while you were gone?” Stiles blurts out, “I mean, in five months I lost my Jeep, my pack, my best friend and my mind and you— you got towels and a freaking farm! How did you do this?! How did you—what’s the secret, huh? Is there something I can take? I don’t care if it messes with the meds I’m already on to try and forget I was possessed by a freaking evil spirit, I’ll take them!”
Derek blinks at him, takes a step towards him, “Stiles—”
“No, seriously! Because I’ve been trying, Derek, and you’ve— you don’t even know! You don’t know the half of it! My dad doesn’t care and Scott won’t talk to me, he told me I wasn’t a part of the pack because I—I did something that I had to, and… I killed someone, okay? And, you have towels! You got out! I… I’m stuck and I’m freaking out and I have no one, okay, I have nothing! I might as well not be here and I don’t know why I came, I just—”
He doesn’t realize he’s crying until he runs a shaky hand across his face and it comes back wet. He’s mortified and exhausted and he can’t stop talking.
“All of this, everything that’s happened, it’s my fault! I dragged Scott into the woods and… is this it?” He looks up at Derek beseechingly, “Is this my punishment? Is it ever gonna be over? I can’t take much more, Derek! So, come on, tell me, how are you—how d’you do it?”
“They should have left me in Eichen House, okay, everyone would have been safer—”
“Stiles, stop!” Derek’s right in front of him, and when he goes to touch Stiles, Stiles can’t help but lash out, shove him away.
Derek catches his arms, doesn’t even wince when Stiles tries to push at him again. He maneuverers them both to the floor, has Stiles wrapped in a towel and curled in his arms before he realizes what’s happening.
“Stiles, listen to me,” Derek’s voice comes low in his ear; Stiles can barely hear it over the blood rushing in his ears, the panic clamming up his throat. “This isn’t your fault.”
“You can’t believe that, dude, you know, you know it was me,” he gasps out, hides his face in his hands, “It was my idea.”
“That doesn’t mean everything is your fault.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“You’re such an asshole!”
To Stiles’ surprise, Derek laughs, and he tugs Stiles in closer, “Yes, but that’s why you like me.”
“I don’t like you,” Stiles huffs, “I tolerate you.”
“Liar,” Derek murmurs, and he slides his hand to rest over Stiles’ heart, “I can always tell, remember?”
“You werewolves and your cheating,” Stiles sighs, drops his head back to Derek’s shoulder, “Why aren’t you off making a killing in Vegas?”
“I didn’t want to be too far away; in case I was needed. But, I couldn’t live any closer.” Stiles feels Derek bow his head, and his breath is warm against the exposed skin of his shoulder. “I couldn’t go back to Beacon Hills, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten everything that happened there, Stiles. I don’t have it all together.”
Stiles swallows, shakes his head, “That was shit of me, man. I shouldn’t have—”
“You came here because you knew I could take it.”
“That’s not fair,” Stiles twists to try and meet Derek’s eye, pulls an apologetic face when Derek looks up, “Seriously, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come.”
Derek looks at him for a moment, and then shakes his head, “No, you were right; I do know what it’s like. I… being away helped. It gave me breathing room, a chance to try and move forward—”
“And, get some,” Stiles interjects with a wiggle of his eyebrows.
“What are you, eight?” Derek rolls his eyes and pushes up off the floor, reaches down a hand to Stiles. “It wasn’t really like that; but it did help, having someone that wasn’t entirely… involved.”
Stiles straightens up, blows out a breath, “It is kinda like living in a bottle.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Derek asks again, “About losing Scott?” He frowns, “I can’t imagine—”
“I can’t, I mean,” Stiles shrugs, runs a hand through his hair, “I don’t know how to, yet. It…” he can’t say it hurts, but he hopes Derek gets it.
Derek seems to get most things, as he nods and jerks his head at the shower.
“You now officially smell terrible, shower, and I’ll go get some food heated up.”
Stiles leans against the sink for a moment, staring down at his feet, “Thanks,” he looks up to Derek again, “I mean, for everything, tonight.”
Derek hunches up a shoulder, his face unreadable in the artificial light, “I probably owe you.”
Stiles snorts, “That you do.”
The punch Derek lands on his shoulder is barely hard enough to move him, let alone hurt.
The water feels good, and when he gets out there’s clean sweats on the bed. Stiles can’t help but smile when he recognizes the dark t-shirt Derek’s left out as his own from so long ago.
“That feels like a lifetime ago,” he says to no one in particular. He wonders how thick the walls are, if Derek can hear him from downstairs. “Hey, make some noise if you can hear me,” he calls out.
There’s a thump from somewhere, and he laughs, yanks on the shirt and heads out onto the landing.
“Where are you?”
“Right behind you, obviously,” Derek drawls from somewhere down below.
Stiles flips him off, despite the fact Derek can’t see him, and thunders down the stairs. There’s a living room to his left and a television’s playing a black and white movie at a low volume; further back in the room is a dining table, a laptop and papers strewn across it.
“Now that feels more like home.”
“Boo,” Derek says in his ear, and Stiles jumps.
Derek smirks, tilts his head back out towards the hallway, “Come on, food’s getting cold.”
“Such a dick,” Stiles grumbles, following him nonetheless.
The kitchen’s main lights are off, and again, Stiles feels almost like they’re in their own world as he settles at the table, swathed in the dark that doesn’t feel frightening for once. Derek pops a plate of eggs and ham in front of him, and Stiles beams. The food’s arranged in a smiley face.
“Seriously,” he points his fork at Derek, “Pod person.”
Derek scowls, “I don’t know why I bothered.”
“I’m kidding!” Stiles clutches his chest with his free hand, “Dude, this is… this is awesome,” he swallows around a piece of egg, nodding to himself. “I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d been by myself.”
Derek fixes him with a serious look, and Stiles rolls his eyes back, “Nothing that dramatic, god, you had to go there.”
“You’re the one that mentioned Eichen house, Stiles,” Derek curls his hands around a mug of something steaming, gives Stiles a sincere look. “That place does more harm than good. You shouldn’t believe anything they told you.”
“I know, but it’s sort of… hard not to take it to heart.”
“You never took anything I said to heart; even when it was advice on how to stay alive.”
Stiles smirks at him, “That’s because I knew better, remember? The whole, saving your ass a bunch of times thing?”
Derek takes a pointed sip of his drink as he looks at Stiles’ food, and Stiles narrows his eyes at him wordlessly, starts eating again.
It’s sort of nice and domestic, if he’s honest; sitting at Derek’s kitchen table, eating breakfast food late at night as Derek clutches his coffee and looks all comfy and appealing in a new, dry sweater.
Stiles shovels more food in his mouth before he starts thinking anything else ridiculous.
“You can stay in my room,” Derek says after a moment.
“Aw, no, dude, I can’t kick you out of your own room.”
“I haven’t had any guests, yet, so I don’t have a spare,” Derek grimaces. “Cora refuses to visit while there’s no internet.”
Stiles balks, “There’s no—”
Derek lifts his eyebrows, and Stiles pulls a bashful face, “Never mind, way low down on the list of priorities. Did you start with the chicken coops?”
Derek sighs, “What is your obsession with me having chickens?”
“It’s just fascinating, dude, I literally can’t imagine it.”
“You can see it in action first thing in the morning,” Derek raises his mug at him, “When you help out. Earn your keep.”
“Wow, so firm and yet, so fair,” Stiles pretends to swoon, “Be still my heart.”
Derek flicks a napkin at him.
Stiles laughs again, can’t believe how much lighter he feels in comparison to trudging up the long drive when he couldn’t get the rental any further through the mud. He suspects he’d get up at the crack of dawn just to show Derek how grateful he is.
“How is Cora?”
“Fine, good,” Derek nods into his mug, “Yeah, enjoying Europe.”
“And, you didn’t want to go with her, spread your wings a little?”
Derek rubs a hand over his beard—he looks suddenly professor like and extremely sexy—Stiles finishes the last of his toast in massive bites.
“Like I said,” Derek says finally, “I wanted to be close in case Scott needed me.”
Stiles swallows around the sudden lump in his throat, “Right, yeah.”
“Turns out I was right to stick around,” Derek muses gently, and Stiles looks up to meet his gaze.
There’s silence but for the rain as they gaze at one another, and though Stiles wants to run from the intensity of the moment, he can’t help but surrender to it, instead. He feels more at home in Derek’s new kitchen than he has in his own in a long time. His toes are warm and his belly full, his heart calmer and his brain less clouded, and it’s all because of Derek.
“Thanks,” he says quietly.
Derek nods, understanding what Stiles is putting into that without more words, “Sure.”
“Are you happy?” Stiles asks, waves his hand around, “Here, in the middle of nowhere with your chickens.”
Derek laughs, flits his eyes to the window, up at the moon, and Stiles feels a little breathless at how much he likes thoughtful Derek, how much he likes the way Derek laughs, the way he sits, drinks his freaking coffee.
“Yes,” Derek answers quietly, “Yes. I wasn’t, for a long time, and I’m still…” he lets out a shaky breath, “I won’t ever forgive myself, either, Stiles, not completely. But, in order to live, to do more than that, at some point, I hope” he shrugs minutely, “I had to… let some of it go.”
Stiles runs his fingers along the grain in the wood, bites his lip, “And, you did? It worked?”
“Sometimes,” Derek sits back, gives him a crooked, but honest smile, “I’m a work in progress.”
“Yeah,” Stiles grins, taps his hand in agreement, “Yeah, same. You seem like you’re doin’ pretty good to me, though, dude.”
Derek ducks his head, looks back at him intently, “You’re doing okay, too, Stiles.”
Stiles gives a disbelieving laugh, “Maybe on the outside.”
“No,” Derek smirks, “You look like crap.”
Stiles goes to say something else, but before he can, cracks a huge yawn, “Thanks, asshole.”
“Come on,” Derek tugs at the back of his t-shirt, “Sleep; you have an early start.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing the chickens,” he murmurs sleepily, “And, you know, us bonding over our shared troubles.”
“You’re an idiot,” Derek helps him up the stairs, leads him into his bedroom.
“I… Maybe I am,” Stiles mumbles, dives headfirst into the pillow before rolling over to face Derek. “Hey, dude, just a heads up, I have, uh, nightmares… They can get kinda loud.”
Derek pauses in the doorway, and then comes into the room, “That’s fine; I have a lot of my book left.” He picks it up from underneath Stiles’ shoulder, waves it at him, “Book club is next week.”
“Seriously,” Stiles rubs at his eyes, “Pod Derek is so evolved! And hospitable.”
“Thanks,” Derek settles into the armchair in the corner, puts his sock clad feet up on the corner of the bed. “That’s the sort of compliment I’m looking for in life.”
“I got your back,” Stiles cocks gun fingers at him, “Hey,” he goes still as he looks over at Derek, “Are you staying?”
“Yes,” Derek shrugs, opens his book up, “You sleep, and I’ll read.”
“I’m not…” Stiles stares at him aghast, “I’m not sleeping while you’re watching me!”
“Stiles,” Derek makes an aggrieved noise, lowers his book, “Don’t be difficult about this. If you have nightmares it makes sense for me to be close, then I can wake you immediately.”
Stiles blinks at him incredulously, “Yeah, but… you’re going to be right there.”
“I figured hanging outside the window would be too cliché,” Derek retorts, flips his book back open, “Go to sleep.”
Stiles flops back against the pillows, breathes in the faint scent of Derek and… something flowery. It’s nice, odd, but also comforting to be able to close his eyes and hear Derek breathing, the rustle of his book, to know that if there were a danger Derek would be there, that Derek is willing to help him.
He sighs, feels bone tired as he considers his life, what he’s going to do without Scott, with his brain going nuts on him and nobody to anchor him.
“Stiles,” Derek says quietly, and it makes him start, look at Derek quickly.
“For what it’s worth,” Derek looks over his book at him, “You’re in my pack, and I have your back.”
Stiles stares at him for a moment, and then nods, feels his eyes go watery and tries to blink it away, “Yeah.”
Derek gives him another gentle smile, and then it goes a little mischievous, “Regardless of my chicken responsibilities.”
“Of course,” Stiles grins, “I’d come first, right?”
“Right,” Derek arches his eyebrows significantly until Stiles nods, knows his heart is racing and Derek will hear it, will know he knows, the way they both always just do.
Derek goes back to his book, Stiles watches Derek read until he drifts off, sleeps until the sun is rising and Derek’s kicking at the foot of the bed and waving an actual egg collecting basket in his face. Stiles groans and calls him an asshole, feels better than he has in a long time.