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Stiles wakes in a confused, hazy state, with little to no idea where he is. It’s definitely dark for the most part and his brain is not quick enough on the update to suppress his fleeting panic. All he can think about is the quiet of the library, the grating whiny complaints and blood on his hands. After a moment or two, however, he registers the low hum of the radio playing something vaguely familiar and sort of calming, the yellow illuminating lights passing by through windows and the glowing insides of the Camaro, which is all well, because somehow this is exactly where he wants to be. Not in the Camaro, he should clarify -- though he has always thought that it suits Derek better than the monstrosity he chose to replace it with for some inexplicable reason -- but with the man himself, which is most certainly a cause of worry.

Scowling at Derek, he wonders, not for the first time, how this utter fucking asshole has managed to become the person he relies on the most. The first glaringly obvious issue would be that the man’s totally unreliable. His other faults such as the emotional constipation, the urge to solve issues physically rather than with reason, the ridiculous showing off he deems necessary despite having no one to impress and not to forget the copious amounts of guilt and unnecessary brooding, are all largely irrelevant compared to Stiles’ inclination to trust him. It’s a terrible idea too, because it’s not as though the feeling is entirely mutual. In fact, Derek’s gone out of his way in the past to let Stiles know he doesn’t trust him one bit, but these days Stiles can see through his shit. Most of the time. Probably. At least he hopes he does.

“You’re awake?” Derek asks and Stiles snaps out of his thoughts, suddenly hit with the reality that he’s just been staring for an unknown amount of time. Enough maybe for Derek to have noticed, which would be a bad idea, seeing as Derek’s prone to making assumptions and coming to all the wrong conclusions.

“No, I have a condition where I sleep with my eyes open.” Stiles replies tonelessly instead, because he’s never had much patience for rhetorical questions directed at himself and coming from Derek it seems like a complete waste of breath. For a moment it looks like Derek’s about to shoot something right back at him, but when he turns to stare at the road again in silence, Stiles feels as though he’s been deprived of something precious.

“What’s the time?” Stiles asks instead, yawning and rubbing at his face absently. Derek simply points at the dashboard and Stiles squints his eyes at the glowing numbers. It is late. He figures they’ve been driving for a while now -- at least an hour or two from where Derek picked him out just outside the town. He’d decided to walk, figuring his Jeep just wasn’t up for such a great journey. It broke his heart to leave her behind, but it wasn’t as though he was ever going to leave for real. He just needed to get out for a while. Hence Derek.

There is a long pause where Stiles focuses on the lyrics, disturbingly, finding he can relate to it and then flushing horribly, because what. “So, would this be considered late or early?” He asks in an attempt to distract himself by riling up Derek.

“Both, I’d assume.” Derek says mildly, instead of the scathing look Stiles had been expecting. Annoyed, he looks around, searching for something else to pick on.

“Why are you driving so fast?”

Derek shrugs, “I don’t like Beacon Hills.”

“Huh,” Stiles says, sort of baffled by the honesty, but it isn’t as though it was never much of a secret and these days he’s inclined to agree with Derek on the issue. “Were you scared my dad would stop you for speeding?” Stiles asks in a desperate ploy to get Derek to say normal Derek things.

“Among other things.”

And okay, that is just plain weird. Stiles cannot help but feel Derek is treating him with extreme caution. Stiles doesn’t want to be handled with kid gloves. He likes the blunt comments, the blatant rudeness and being mocked ruthlessly for god knows what reason. He’s never really thought about it in detail, but suddenly it is so obvious what he is missing. He needs Derek to push back.

“Stop that. I’m not going to snap.” Stiles says with a resigned sigh and Derek turns to stare at him. For a moment he looks mildly impressed, but the expression is gone in seconds, replaced by bland acceptance, and then Derek is turning back to the highway.

“Sorry. You looked like you needed a break.” The words are honest, sort of sweet even if Stiles thinks about it too hard, but what really startles him is the apology. Derek means well, he always has, but he screws things up left and right and never once has he offered something akin to an apology before. New York’s worked wonders on him.

“I’m taking a break, Derek,” He says softly, gazing at the harsh lines of Derek’s shoulders and lips pressed tightly together as though he’s afraid of sharing more truths with Stiles. “You don’t have to watch your step around me. In fact, I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”

Derek merely shrugs as if to say ‘maybe I will, maybe I won’t ’ and pulls the car over by a diner with a giant neon arrow pointing at it. Stiles isn’t exactly hungry, but he follows Derek inside nevertheless, because they’ve been driving for a while now and also perhaps because he is a little bit intrigued. He has never seen Derek eat anything. He’s never seen Derek do anything that’d be considered normal, so he cannot be blamed if it’s just such a strange concept to him.

As Derek orders, Stiles picks out a table in a corner with a straight view at the Camaro outside. He drops right into one of the seats, that are a little uncomfortable compared to the fancy seats in Derek’s car. The feeling the exhaustion is finally starting catch up with him. He yawns, rests his head on top of his folded arms and closes his eyes. His mind is too hazy to think too hard about what has happened, but now that he’s there, in the brightly lit diner, he thinks he doesn’t really want to in the first place. The good thing about Derek is that he knows when not to push, but refuses to take Stiles’ shit when they’re in hurry. This time, they have the entire night.

Derek slides a drink towards Stiles and takes a seat opposite him. He looks comfortable, leaning back on the seat and sort of… healthy. Better than ever, really. Stiles figures being away from Beacon Hills is something doctors recommend. The real ones with pristine white coats and stethoscopes around their necks, not the steampunk Dread fuckers that have been running amok in the town. Honestly, dead tree stumps shouldn’t have this much power.

Offering a tiny grateful smile, Stiles tugs the cap off to see what exactly he’s being offered. For a moment he thinks it’s Sprite, but when he sucks on the straw experimentally, he quickly realises he’s been given sparkling lemon water. An odd choice, certainly, but it is sort of nice if he thinks about it, even though he has a horrific foreboding he’s just hit the road with someone who’d consider vegan meat a great idea.

“You look terrible,” Derek says eventually and reaches over the table to jab at Stiles’ cheek. Scowling, Stiles catches his fingers loosely in his own.

“That’s an incredibly rude thing to tell someone.” he offers, slurping obnoxiously at his drink.

“Make up your mind,” Derek smirks, eyes trailing from Stiles’ face to their fingers laced together on the badly wiped glass table. There is a faint hint of surprise which morphs into perfect fascination and Derek only draws away his hand when the waitress sets down their food.

Turns out Stiles’ worries about healthy meals have been misplaced, because the deliciously greasy fries and the burgers on the plate look almost sinful. “‘Spose I did ask for it,” Stiles muses, watching Derek dip one of the fries in ketchup. It looks as though he’s more interested in the ketchup, because there is a giant heap of it that is slowly running over his fingers and really, no one needs that much of it. Derek’s probably the kind of a weirdo who drinks ketchup straight from the bottle. Or maybe he just doesn’t like fries too much. It wouldn’t surprise Stiles one bit. “Stop hogging the ketchup.” he adds as an afterthought, reaching out to steal the tiny pot from Derek.

“Hey, I paid for it.” Derek protests, picking up another fry and looking a bit lost as to what exactly he should do with it. He considers it for a moment, reaches over to dip it in the ketchup anyway. “In any case, you wouldn’t know how to appreciate it properly.”

“I wouldn’t?” Stiles asks, baffled by this sort of reasoning.

“No,” Derek says, licking the ketchup off his fingers as though it is a decent thing to do in public, “You like the fries. You’re always going on and on about the fires. You have a... weird thing about the fries.”

“Stop saying ‘the fries,’” Stiles says, snorting softly. There’s really no way he’s getting any ketchup with this guy. He makes a mental note to always ask for extra in the future. “I like the curly ones.” he adds in a hushed tone, making it sound a lot like a confession.

Derek hums, picking apart his burger to inspect the contents for whatever reason. He rearranges the salad and the pickles and Stiles wishes he’d have known these things before he had decided to follow him inside. “What’s so special about the curly ones?” he asks, biting into his burger and Stiles drops the fry he’s holding with the most resentful expression he can pull off.

“The seasoning,” Stiles says, letting the unspoken ‘obviously ’ hang in the air.

Derek looks a little unimpressed by that statement, “So if I just added-”

“No.” Stiles interrupts before Derek can finish, because he doesn’t need to hear it to know it is a terrible idea. Derek opens his mouth again with a mildly amused look on his face but Stiles gets there first. “Absolutely not. Shut up.” He points a finger at him for emphasis, but Derek merely smirks in return and holds up his hands in silent defeat. It’s not much of a win, considering he is so clearly radiating smugness, but Stiles thinks he can deal with that.

They eat their burgers in contemplative silence. Predictably, Derek ends up eating all the ketchup and not much of the fries, but when Stiles finishes his drink, Derek simply offers the remaining half of his own. It is sort of scary how comfortable it all is.

“Ready to go?” Derek asks and Stiles drags his eyes from where he is busy absent-mindedly scraping the bottom of his cup with a straw. He stares for a moment, letting the words catch up with him, nods and heaves himself up from the seat.

There is a steady guiding hand on his back as they make their way back to the Camaro, which makes him wonder whether Derek is aware of his own protective instincts that he is so transparently displaying. Maybe he is. Maybe not. He finds he doesn’t mind either way, because this isn’t coming from some twisted concept of human fragility. It’s just Derek being nice to Stiles, which on a larger scale of things, is pretty fucking awesome.

“Hey, Derek, thanks for-” Stiles starts, opening the passenger door, but Derek merely shakes his head.

“Would have done it for anyone.” he says and Stiles thinks he’s never heard a bigger lie than that. He snorts softly and gets into the car, making sure Derek cannot miss his amusement. Or ignore it.

“Are you a cab driver now or something?” he says, buckling his seatbelt and twisting to stare at Derek, who is attempting to hide a smile. Very poorly at that.

“That depends. Are you paying me?” Derek asks in turn, turning the key in ignition.

Stiles thinks about that. Smiles. “...No, I’d rather you did this out of the goodness in your heart.”

Derek snorts, pulling them back onto the road and glancing at Stiles for a brief second. “Sure, let’s go with that.”

“Good,” Stiles says, settling in comfortably and leaning his head against the headrest so he can keep staring at Derek. “It gives you a couple of redeeming qualities. Y’know, since you’re usually so… you. It’s annoying sometimes.”

Derek looks at him, expression caught between amusement and indignation. “I thought you wanted to thank me not shower me with insults.”

“Yeah,” Stiles breathes, smiling, “But it’s weird sometimes. You just get stuff and I keep wondering why no one else sees it. Not even tries to. But you do every fucking time and I don’t even have to explain. We just click somehow.”

“Stiles,” Derek says in a warning tone as though he doesn’t want to hear this. He probably doesn’t, but Stiles needs to say it. He needs it out there. Derek can pretend all like likes, but sometimes he just needs to accept the fucking truth.

“No, wait, just listen,” he says, frowning a little, “I’m baring my soul here, you don’t get to ruin it.” He fiddles with his shirt sleeves for a moment and in a surprising turn of events, Derek doesn’t interrupt. “I like you, ok? I don’t think it’s a secret for either of us, though I suppose you’re kind of used to ignoring things when they’re inconvenient. I think that’s why you never said goodbye. But I just… I missed you a lot when you left. Everything sort of… went downhill from there.”

“You’re only saying that, because you’re ‘fuckloads of grateful ’ I came to pick you up.” Derek offers, fingers tightening around the steering wheel. Stiles thinks it’s a terrible time to bring up what he’d said on the phone before. He hadn’t been in his right mind.

“Of course I am grateful,” Stiles says, waving away the words with an impatient gesture, “But that doesn’t mean I see you as this messiah figure. I’m not some lovesick teenager, blind to all your faults. In fact, you’re pretty damn ridiculous. For fuck’s sake, you walk around intentionally trying to push everyone away from you. You seem to think the world owes your kindness, because of some mistakes you may or may not have made in the past. You listen to shitty radio stations and you understand practically none of my pop culture references. You seem think your car is some sort of a temple, yet you drive it a million miles an hour. You keep your phone in the back pockets of jeans that are so utterly impractical in a fight, I’m surprised you manage to pull off those ridiculous cartwheels or whatever it is you do to show off. I know you think I cannot defend myself on my own. There’s also the leather and the pretentious sunglasses and your fucking terrible attitude. You actually think you don’t deserve to have nice things or smile and Derek, it’s a fucking travesty, because happy suits you so well.”

Derek’s not even looking at the road anymore, instead he is staring at Stiles, mouth slightly open. Stiles doesn’t bother to look away. He’s on a roll. “I’m not expecting anything from you. You’ve already given me everything I need. And yeah, sue me, I’m grateful, but it has nothing to do with my feelings for you.”

There is a heavy silence as Derek pulls up by the road and Stiles’ heart sinks. He is certain Derek is about to kick him out of the car. Stiles closes his eyes, hoping to block out the reality for the second time during the night. He doesn’t really know what he’s going to do all alone on the roadside in the middle of fucking nowhere. He just wishes Derek would, for once, stop being so defensive about his emotions.

“Of course you can defend yourself on your own.” Derek says and Stiles snaps his eyes open once more, startled. “You have a bat.”

“Uh, yeah, I do.” Stiles concedes, nodding along.

“This is a terrible idea.” Derek says suddenly, turning to face him properly and really what. He is looking at Stiles with a puzzled expression, as though he cannot quite understand how he functions.

“That just depends on how you look at things,” Stiles offers, a little uncertain, heart beating so hard in his chest, he’s starting to wonder whether it’s weird for Derek.

“Yeah,” Derek nods, reaching out to slide his fingers into Stiles’ hair, all the while looking like he doesn’t quite understand how his limbs are not operating the way he wants them to. Stiles smiles a little, twisting his fingers into one of Derek’s belt loops and seconds later he’s being kissed so fiercely, as though none of the aforementioned stuff matters. Maybe it doesn’t, Stiles muses as he deepens the kiss, relishing the soft, wet tongue against his. He leans even closer and drags his fingers along the rough stubble, further into his surprisingly soft hair and gently tugs at it. There is a tiny pleased sound that definitely didn’t come from Stiles and he cannot help but smile a little.

“Stop it,” Derek admonishes against his lips and Stiles pulls back a little, grinning.

“You just don’t know how to appreciate a good thing.” Stiles says as matter of fact, throwing Derek’s own words back at him.

“Are you comparing yourself to ketchup?” he snorts, looking a little incredulous.

“As long as you like me just as much,” Stiles decides, pressing a soft kiss on the corner of Derek’s mouth and leaning back against his own seat. Derek smiles, starting the car again. He reaches out, entwining his fingers with Stiles’ and squeezing softly. It's definitely nice. Makes him feel steady. Grounded.

“Sure. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow,” he offers and Stiles is definitely going to take him up on that in the morning. “Now, get some sleep.”