Stiles puts the vase of flowers on his father’s desk and asks in confusion, “What are you- what are you doing down there?”
“Working,” the Sheriff grumbles. “Wait, where did those come from?”
Stiles doesn't really listen to what his dad is saying about flowers because he's too busy rounding the desk, eager to see for himself. There are evidence boxes piled up on the floor, papers scattered across open file folders, and his father crouching in the middle of it.
At first, he thinks about asking if the Sheriff has pulled every old unsolved case file from the past decade in an effort to redecorate his office in the style of “crazy and obsessed,” but when he meets his eyes, they’re weary and a bit sad. The smirk slips off of Stiles face with the understanding that his dad is looking over old cases to search for links to the supernatural.
Stiles bites his lip and worries that this path will only bring his father misplaced guilt at not being able to investigate properly; it also brings back a wave of guilt about hiding all this from his father when the Peter murder-spree started happening.
The closest case file, about the missing Tate girl is interesting, though, Stiles can agree to that. The presence of all the boxes bug him. They’re labeled almost as if … “Are these being sent somewhere?”
The Sheriff sighs. “We probably need to talk about that,” John says, “but first I have something that might interest one of your friends.”
Derek is looking at the rain battling the large windows of the loft. He knows that he ought to be thinking and planning, if he wants to stay ahead of the next disaster that’s inevitably headed his way. But he just … can’t. He feels numbed by everything that's happened in the past few weeks: the Alpha Pack and the Darach just defeated, Cora staying in South America while he needed to come back to Beacon Hills … Erica and Boyd ...
He rubs his shoulder. He can still feel the ghost of a strong hand. Remembering that gentle touch every time his mind comes close to remembering the night when Boyd … Well, it feels like the only thing keeping him from falling over the edge, like a spider string attached there to guide him out of hell.
The door screeches open, but it’s not a surprise. Derek heard the Jeep approach the loft a while ago and heard Stiles' panting and rapid heartbeat as he climbed up the stairs. But then he’d hesitated in front of the door for so long that Derek thought that maybe he had decided not to come in after all.
Derek doesn't turn around immediately; can't help but be a little wary. He's already tired of the conversation that’s coming. What else could bring Stiles here other than a new threat?
Pursing his lips and breathing through his nose, he steels himself, turning to face Stiles. He doesn’t trust himself to speak without showing how beaten down he feels, so he just raises a questioning eyebrow instead.
A flash of lightning illuminates the room, making Stiles’ golden eyes shine white for a split-second.
Stiles jumps, flailing mildly, then stiffening immediately, like he doesn't want Derek to know he had been surprised.
“Wow, did you plan that?” Stiles snorts. “Did you take a class on ‘dramatic entrances’ at Heathcliff’s School for Misanthropes?” There’s the slightest tremble to his words despite the bravado, giving away his nervousness.
Derek doesn't answer, though he might not entirely prevent his eyes from rolling. After all, it’s not like he had been the one making an entrance. Stiles smirk slips from his face to reveal a more serious expression.
“I, uh...” he hesitates, throwing a hand in front of him before putting it back in his pocket and hunching his shoulders to look at the ground for a second. Maybe he's regretting coming here already. Derek wouldn't be surprised if he cut his losses and just left him without saying another word. But Stiles is persistent and brave and that’s something Derek likes about him.
Stiles looks back up, directly into Derek's eyes, and says with more confidence. “My dad is going through old case files now that he—he knows, and he gave me, uh, your sister’s.” His face twists in a grimace, but he doesn't break eye contact.
Derek doesn't react. Laura’s absence is a deep wound he never expects to disappear. But there has to be something else, for Stiles to have come here. Maybe there was a clue to whatever new horror is ready to descend on the town?
“I looked through it, because I–” he coughs, “I thought maybe … well, anyway. That made me think.” Stiles eyes dart away from him, focusing somewhere to the right of Derek. “You know, I realized how badly we treated you in the beginning. Me and Scott, I mean.” He meets Derek’s eyes again. “And it was really shitty of us.”
Derek frowns. That was … not what he expected. Sure, they were little shits, he agrees, but he really doesn't get where this is going. He’s stopped thinking about all that a long time ago. So much had happened in the meantime. So much more death and terror. Derek mostly remembers thinking he deserved everything he got, during those first months back in Beacon Hills. He still deserves it. He–well. He’s still working on that. Cora asked that he work on forgiving himself before they parted ways. It’s going to take some time.
Stiles continues after a short silence, “And we never apologized for it. We, uh, we never apologized for digging up her body.” He looks honestly upset, maybe even disgusted. “So that's what I wanted to say. I'm truly sorry for doing that to you. And to … Laura.”
Stiles shifts, looking away and glancing back at Derek to gauge his reaction. He keeps his eyes on Derek, relaxing slightly when he doesn't see the anger he was preparing for.
Derek opens his mouth once, twice, before letting out a controlled “It's okay.”
Stiles shoulders slump in relief even as he says, “How can it be okay, just like that?” He sighs in frustration and gets something out of his pocket that he turns between his long fingers, staring at it and frowning.
Then he tosses it to Derek, who catches it easily. It's still warm from Stiles body heat and Derek turns it over to see what it is. He freezes.
The key ring in his big hand is a little scratched, but the colors still vivid. The jump ring at the top is pulled apart, which is probably how it ended up in the file with her personal effects instead of dangling from the car ignition like the rest of her keys. She must have kept it in her pocket. It had been a gift after all.
“So, did she like lots of kids cartoons, or just Powerpuff Girls?” Stiles says with a smile in his voice that’s probably trying to relieve some of the tension from the air.
Derek's head whips up fast, face scrunched with his attempt to hide the deep sadness welling inside him. Stiles actually stumbles back a step, hands raised in a placating gesture.
“Not that there's anything wrong with liking cartoons!” he says over the sound of his heartbeat doubling up, “I love cartoons. Like, Kim Possible was my first crush. She could beat me up.”
It’s so unexpected, hell, this whole night is unexpected and Derek can't help the chuckle that escapes him, half nerves and half need to let out the onslaught of emotions threatening to drown him. Stiles looks at him like he just popped up another head, like the movie version of Zaphod Beeblebrox.
“It was a joke, actually. Cora was always ready to fight, even as a little kid, so she got nicknamed ‘Buttercup.’ And Laura was so bossy,” his voice breaks a little, “we called her ‘Blossom.’” It’s more than he’s talked about his family is years. Looking at the key chain in his hand, though, it hurts that there’s almost no one left in the world who knows these things.
Stiles seems less worried, now. He lets his hands fall down and blinks at Derek in something like shock. Then, a grin creeps across his face. “Sooooo,” he draws out, “does that mean you’re Bubbles?”
Derek can feel his ears turn red. It had been embarrassing when he was 12, and it feels the same now, a decade later.
The smile on Stiles’ face turns more genuine. “It’s cool. Your secret is safe with me.”
They stay like that for a moment, just looking at each other in the dim light.
“Thank you,” Derek says softly. The outline of the key ring dug into his palm, and he considers how much Laura would have liked Stiles.
Stiles shrugs one shoulder. “Still … I’m sorry.”
Squinting, Derek studies his serious face. He pictures the mouthy kid from last year. He thinks of what he would have wanted to hear. Still wants to hear. “You're forgiven,” he says.
Stiles nods once, running a hand down over his face and around the back of his neck. He gives Derek a little wave, then turns to leave, closing the metal door with a heavy clang behind him.
Derek is left alone to process the storm of feelings inside of him, echoing the thunder and the rain outside.
The rain that had fallen continuously over the past few days had finally stopped, allowing the Pack to spread out in the preserve and look for the coyote they believe is Malia Tate. They're paired up, leaving Derek and Stiles working together.
Stiles is walking a few steps ahead of Derek, who can’t help wondering when he stopped being a clumsy mess of a teenager, and started to gain control of his body. He almost walks like a werewolf, Derek thinks, missing only that connection to the smells and sounds that weres have.
Jumping on a fallen trunk, Stiles scans the area with hands on his hips. Derek itches to make a joke about Peter Pan, but doesn’t know how to go about it. Stiles will probably fall off his perch if Derek let on that a had a sense of humor anyway. Of course, maybe that’s all the more reason to joke; it might be funny to see Stiles recount it to the rest of the Pack, trying to convince them that it really happened.
“Huh,” Stiles starts, interrupting Derek's internal debate, “I think we're not very far from where Scott got bitten.”
He turns his head and looks at Derek. Something about his gaze seems off.
“You know it wasn’t your–” Derek begins, but is cut off when Stiles makes an excited sound. He's not sure if Stiles cut him off on purpose or not, be he files the memory away to talk about it later. Maybe Scott should know about the guilt pouring off of Stiles.
“Derek! Look!” he exclaims like nothing happened, beckoning the him over with wild hands gestures. Derek amends his earlier observations, wondering how he ever thought Stiles was graceful.
Walking over to where Stiles is crouched on the ground, he looks to where his long fingers are pointing. Derek breathes out in wonder, “A rabdotus alternatus mariae...”
Stiles turns to him with wide eyes. “Oh my god,” he whisper-shouts, “you're a total snail nerd! We have a mutual love for snails, dude, this is amazing!”
Derek quickly withdraws, trying to hide how his happiness was starting to show. “Don't call me-”
“‘Dude,’ I know,” Stiles interrupts him, rolling his eyes. He straightens up and sighs, eyes fixed on the pale white cone of the snail slowly moving on the mossy log. The mood is suddenly turning more serious.
“Derek, I-,” he clears his throat, “I thought about the files with the police again, and I...”
The hesitations gives Derek enough time to start to panic a little, but he's caught off guard by the rest of the sentence. “I wanted to say that I'm sorry for getting you arrested. I didn't mention it the other night, so … yeah. I wanted to apologize.”
Stiles looks up at Derek, who's frozen, his eyebrows lost somewhere around his hairline. That was not at all what Derek was expecting. He tries to recover, frowning.
“You don't need to apologize again, Stiles. I already said you were forgiven.”
“Yeah, but for Laura! Not for this, you know.”
Derek sighs, crossing his arms. “Okay, then I'm sorry for breaking into your bedroom when I was a fugitive.”
“Wha-” Stiles starts to say, but Derek's not finished.
“And I'm sorry for threatening you, and pushing you around.” He smiles smugly, even if he's not really sure why. He just admitted that he'd been an ass to counter an apology like it's a competition; there's nothing to be proud of here. Except, Stiles cheeks are a little red and he seems completely caught off guard, and that feels like a victory.
Also, he did manage to apologize for some of his previous bad behavior. That's something to be proud of himself for, right?
Derek moves a little on his feet, preening, and stops abruptly when he realizes he probably looking like a dog that just brought back a stick during fetch. “Let's move,” he says dryly.
Thankfully, Stiles doesn't say anything else, just follows after him silently.
Derek sits up in bed, his heart in his throat and preparing for a fight, before he realizes it's just his phone ringing. His panic is probably understandable, since most night calls are for emergencies, but he tries to calm down as he reaches for his phone.
It's Stiles' name on the screen and Derek can't help the panic rising again in his throat. He quickly picks up with a controlled, “What's wrong?”
“Der'k! Uh ... why, why are you calling me?” Stiles slurs. Derek silently swears that if he's been drunk dialed at two in the morning, Stiles is dead.
“I'm not calling you. You're calling me,” he grits out in anger. He should hang up right now. But he feels compelled to stay on the phone for an explanation. He rakes a hand through his hair and swears too low for the human to hear on the other side of the line.
The silence that follows is unnerving, especially since Derek can't even hear the quiet rasp of breathing. He has a mental image of Stiles pressing the phone against the mattress so werewolf hearing can't catch whatever he’s doing on the other side of the line.
It worries him, makes him get up, intent on dressing up to go to the Stilinski house. There's nothing wrong, he thinks, but it's doesn’t feel entirely okay either.
Just as he gets his shirt over his head, he hears Stiles calling his name with a slight tremor to his voice. He lifts the phone back to his ear, stopping half-dressed. “Yeah, I'm here, what's going on, Stiles?”
“I- I had a nightmare. Sorry, it seems so stupid now, I must have called you half asleep.”
Now, Derek can hear the elevated heartbeat and a slow panting. “I'm coming over,” he states, bending to pick up his jeans from where he discarded them on the floor when he went to sleep.
“Oh god,” Stiles mutters, “No, no need to come over!” he says louder, “I'll be fine, I'm just a little shaken up, it's all!” He sounds sincere, but still rattled. “Just … can you just stay on the phone? Please?”
Derek sighs and sits down on the bed, jeans still in his hand. “Okay, sure.”
The quiet stretches between them.
“Is there … something you need?” Derek finally asks.
There's a small silence again, but this time it sounds more like Stiles is hesitating, probably thinking about it. “Tell me something to distract me?” It comes out more like a question than a request.
Flopping down on the bed, Derek wracks his brain for something to say. He's got hundred of books to pull from, fun facts that he gathered from history volumes, but his head is desperately empty. Moving his toes a little, he raises one foot in the air and weighs the pros and cons of using this as a distraction.
“I'm … wearing fluffy bunny slippers right now.”
Stiles snorts, “Yeah, right.”
“No, I'm serious!” Derek replies, a little offended. But, yeah, he might not believe it either, if their places were reversed.
“Okay,” Stiles drawls, “How did you get them?”
It's Derek's turn to be silent for a while. “Erica gave them to me. It was half a joke, but it was for my birthday and … um, I should've wore them when...”
“I'm sure she knows you're wearing them and it's making her very happy,” Stiles whispers when Derek doesn’t continue. His throat is too tight and finds he can't say anything else, so he coughs a little to fill the quiet.
“I called you because I dreamed you were dead,” Stiles continues.
A chill rolls over Derek and down his back. How many different ways had he dreamed the same thing?
Stiles keeps going, “It was like that time with the Alpha Pack. I remember when you just barged into our lives and I kept saying I wanted you to die. I'm sorry about that. You didn't deserve that, no matter how much of an asshole you could be.” There’s a hint of a smile in his words by the end. “I know I'm an asshole too, most of the time.”
Derek snorts, because it’s true. They’re both assholes. He raises both his feet to look at the white, plush bunnies for a few seconds, making their snout move with his toes. Eventually he says, “You saved my life though. And I never thanked you for that. So, thank you for keeping me from drowning for those two hours.”
Stiles’ breathing is as even and slow as his heartbeat. He must be slowly falling back asleep, but he huffs a little in the phone. Derek swears he can hear him smile. “You're very welcome,” he quietly says, before there's only silence.
Derek falls back asleep like that, legs dangling off the edge of the bed, feet in his slippers, the sound of Stiles breathing in his ear.
It's too early to choose what kind of cereal to buy. Derek is stuck between a box of cheerios and something that looks more healthy, containing five different kinds of nuts and grains.
“I would definitely take the cheerios if I were you,” calls a familiar voice to his right. He slowly turns to see Stiles smiling at him brightly from behind a cart filled with boring stuff, like wholegrain rice and vegetables. Not the kind of foods Derek would have guessed a teenager would get.
“Why?” he can't help but ask, even if he already regrets it. He probably doesn't want to hear the logic behind this. He’s only here because he gave into the sudden craving for cereal after his morning run today. His mind is still blissfully empty, thanks to the exertion.
He's also very aware that his shirt is soaked with sweat and he feels a bit disgusting. Stiles smiles at him and Derek wonders if he’s being judged. His eyes glance briefly down across Derek's torso. He coughs suddenly, like he choked on his own spit, and points at the cereals.
“There's a bright blue camaro in the cheerios!” Stiles offers like he's a TV show host presenting his new guest.
Derek looks down at the picture of a small blue car and attempts to resist the childish voice in his head excitedly yelling that he needs that toy. Then he sighs and gives up, putting back the other box on the shelf.
“Good choice!” Stiles exclaims, leaning over his cart to snatch it quickly. The empty spot on the shelf is obvious now, and Derek realizes it was the last one.
“Did you just convinced me to–hey!” he calls after Stiles, who is trying to discreetly escape the aisle.
“Come on, you know you wanted the Cheerios!” There’s a whine in his voice. “My dad needs the healthy one!”
“It's like that time you made me strip down in front of your friend,” Derek scoffs under his breath. Stiles must hear it though, because there's an unmistakable raise in his heartbeat.
Stiles clears his throat, “Yeah, uh, sorry about that by the way,” he says, his voice a little hoarse and eyes glancing down again. He wonders if he’s looking at the way Derek's shirt clinging to his body.
Derek shrugs. It's not like it was that big of a deal, and if he really didn't want to he wouldn't have played along. “Yeah, well, I'm sorry I bashed your head against the steering wheel. You could've been concussed.”
Stiles' seems surprised by the admission even more than the first time Derek apologized. Derek feels compelled to add more, before he can think better of it, “And sorry for making you miss you first lacrosse game.” He can remember very clearly how Stiles reeked of disappointment that night. How guilty he seemed when on the phone with Scott to tell his dad he would be late. He still can’t quite believe Stiles would skip out on something so important to him, so easily. Even if it seemed like Derek wasn't giving him much of a choice at the time.
It becomes clear, how many normal "teenager" things Stiles and the others have missed out on since they got caught up in the supernatural. In a startling moment, he sees how much normalcy he missed out on in his life as well. He flashbacks to all the times Stiles stayed to help when he could've just left them all to deal with everything alone. He's just human. But then, no. He's so much more than that.
He must have been staring a bit, because Stiles seems embarrassed when Derek comes back to the present. “I- I'm gonna go. I have to run back to the loft,” he says quickly.
Just as he passes Stiles, he reaches out a hand to gently touch his arm. “I can give you a lift, if you want.”
Derek wakes up in the morning, walks into his kitchen and jumps a good six inches in the air. There's someone standing by the sink and for once in his life he didn't expect the invasion to his space.
Stiles is leaning against the counter, crunching on the cereal in the bowl he’s holding, like it's totally normal. The jug of milk is sitting on the counter next to him. For some reason it's the only thing Derek can focus on.
“The milk is still out,” he says.
Stiles snorts but puts his bowl down. “Good morning to you, too. Nice slippers, by the way” he replies, taking the bottle to put it back in the fridge.
“Thanks,” Derek finds himself saying, raking a hand through his hair. He's decides to ignore the questions of what exactly Stiles is doing here, shamelessly stealing his cheerios, for now.
Picking up his bowl again, Stiles puts another spoonful in his mouth. Derek blinks, and just barely has the mental capacity to wonder why exactly he's not bothered more by the presence of another human being in his kitchen. Breakfast is probably the worst time to invade Derek's space, but he can't find it in himself to be angry at Stiles for it.
He sighs and gives in. He opens the fridge, getting the milk out and on the counter, raising a hand to get out a bowl for himself. Stiles snorts.
“You're adorable,” he says, and Derek is offended. It's just too damn early to show it properly, “with your sleepy face and you're hair all–”, Stiles moves his fingers over his head and points them up, “sticking up like that. You look like a were-porcupine.”
Derek grunts. “I'm not adorable,” is all he says before going to sit down at the table.
Stiles chuckles, “Yes, you very much are, Bubbles! I now regret ever calling you ‘Sourwolf.’”
Derek tries to glare through his embarrassed flush. It doesn’t even makes Stiles stutter.
“But, hey,” he keeps going with a grin, “I am sorry about calling you ‘Sourwolf.’ You were just looking out for us.”
Derek continues to glare. “Well, I did ask you to chop my arm off. And I was angry with you a lot,” he defends. “And I’m not adorable,” he finishes, with a sinking feeling that he might actually be incriminating himself.
His grin becomes an earnest smile. “I seriously never thought I'd see you like this, ever. All sleepy, and soft and...” he stops, drops the hand that he was waving in Derek's direction. The smile is gone and Stiles is avoiding looking at him now, his scent has something like sadness in it.
Derek wonders what brought the change of mood.
“Stiles?” Derek asks with a little worry. He couldn’t say why it bothers him so much, why he hates that look on Stiles' face so much. He's not even sure why his guard is so low right now and why he wasn't immediately alert when he noticed someone in his kitchen. He should have picked up Stiles' heartbeat from upstairs. Heard him come in, even.
He pushes all this at the back of his mind when Stiles puts down his bowl and moves to head out with a fake smile and a poor excuse.
“You didn't finish your breakfast,” Derek says, and then adds, “and don't think I'm going to clean up after you.”
Stiles turns to him slowly, and a smile is growing again on his face until it brightens the room. Derek's heart feels warm.
“Okay, no, I'm not sorry anymore for calling you Sourwolf. You actually are a grouchy dude!” he chuckles, and looks at Derek before shaking his head. “I saw you have eggs in your fridge, I'm gonna make you a proper breakfast.”
“I have a proper breakfast,” Derek counters, but Stiles is already getting everything out. He wants to say that he can cook for himself, thank you very much, it's just that he never has the energy for it.
But he doesn't say anything. He lets Stiles move around his kitchen, listens to Stiles as he talks to himself, a watches while Stiles cracks eggs into the hot pan. He smiles a little.
They're standing in front of the burnt-out shell of his family’s old house. Derek couldn’t say exactly what compelled him to ask Stiles to come with him out here, but here they are.
Derek feels more settled than any other time he’s been here, including when he was living in it after Laura's death. It might be down to everything that's happened in the meantime; the way his priorities have shifted, the way he’s grown, the way he’s starting to believe these ashes are not solely his fault, or if it's due to the human standing next to him. Like most things in life, it’s probably a mix of them all.
He tries to look at the facade almost clinically, separating himself from the emotions and the memories that come with it. It was a lovely house. It’s a shame that it’s languished so long.
“I'm thinking … that we could renovate it,” he says softly. A part of him wants to keep foolish ideas like this to himself, but another, larger part, needs to be heard.
“We?” Stiles asks in a similar tone, not looking at Derek.
“The Pack. Maybe it would bring us more together.” He doesn't want to be so afraid of saying this, because Derek Hale should never appear to be afraid. He's strong and ruthless and cold. But he's also, possibly, adorable on occasion. And frightened.
He waits nervously for a reaction, preparing himself for rejection and mockery.
“Yeah. It would make a wonderful Pack house. We could … we could start drawing up plans all together?” the teen timidly offers.
Abruptly, he needs to close his eyes, breathe deeply, and maybe let his claws dig into his palms just a little bit. There are too much emotions to deal with; hope, happiness, want, and a little bit of sadness and nostalgia too.
“I'm sorry! I'm sorry, did I say something wrong?” Stiles asks, hands hovering above Derek’s shoulders like he's afraid any touch is going to break him into million pieces. He might be right, but not in the way he thinks.
“No, you didn't, I just–” Derek manages to say when he's more controlled. “I just really want that.”
Stiles freezes for a heart-stopping moment before his face breaks into a small smile.
“Okay, so we'll do that! I bet I could find the original blueprints, and we could bring everyone here, and we could do a pizza night, and we’ll start talking about it!”
“Stiles, I ...” but Derek can't make the words come out. He looks at Stiles, grinning and beautiful in this light, and he loses every thought in his head. He can't focus on anything other than the warmth emanating from the man in front of him, the way he breathes, moves, and smells.
The smile drops from Stiles’ face as he stares back at Derek. There’s something in his gaze that Derek can’t decipher.
“I'm sorry,” Stiles says, his mouth turned down.
Derek's heart stops. It feels like a shard of ice is piercing it.
“I'm sorry,” Stiles repeats, “but I think I’m in love with you.” He looks terrified.
In Derek’s chest, his heart unfreezes, beating double time. He can feel his eyes flash for a second as they widen. His breath catches in his throat.
“Don't be sorry for that,” he manages to get out.
Shock and confusion flit across Stiles’ brow until Derek reaches out to pull him closer.
“Don’t ever be sorry for that,” he laughs. There might be tears in Stiles’ eyes, too, but Derek can’t see through his own happiness. There’s joy in his chest that’s making it hard to take a breath.
They lean closer until their foreheads touch. It’s somehow easier to breathe when they’re sharing share the same air.
Or, well, it is until they press their lips together and forget all about breathing for a little while.