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i have always been the storm

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“Hale!”

Derek jumps as Finstock drops a glossy, freshly printed April NatGeo down on his desk, almost knocking over his coffee in the process, and looks up at his boss.

“Sir?”

“Damn good photographs, I told you they’d come out well.”

“No, you didn’t,” Derek flips through the pages, juts his chin at the article on Manua Loa and IAVCEI team working on it. Volcanologists are a pain in the ass to work with as they’re never interested in Derek and his team; only their damn dormant rocks. Finstock had insisted Derek shoot them, though. He’s been obsessed with encouraging NatGeo to have more of their photographers focus on climate change and the people that study it. There have been endless articles on the hazards that the States, and the rest of the world face due to global warming and such; how society has been coping with their urban landscapes having to deal with wild and often unpredictable weather. And, it’s all been much to Derek’s chagrin. He was far happier photographing plants, animals, anything that meant he didn’t have to interact with people. He supposes he can actually relate to volcanologists in that sense; they find the earth much more interesting than the people inhabiting it.

“You said you didn’t trust me with people,” he continues, arches an eyebrow at Finstock.

“Well, I wasn’t lying; you’re not exactly a social butterfly, Hale, but!” Finstock jabs at one of Derek’s pictures⎼ a candid of the team sharing a joke on a break—and then points at Derek. “This is what our readers want to see.”

“People drinking tea out of tin cans?”

Finstock rolls his eyes, “Don’t get smart with me; you know what I’m talking about.”

Derek shrugs, “Fine, it’s a good spread, what’s next?”

“Well,” Finstock beams toothily at him, and suddenly Derek wishes he’d never asked. “I have a new idea for August. You’re gonna love it.”

“Which means I’m going to hate it,” Derek narrows his eyes at him, “I thought the plan for August was Virunga. I have a provisional outline for my trip; I was looking at flights just this morning.”

Behind them, Boyd snorts into his coffee, and Derek scowls at him. Finstock doesn’t need to know Derek actually spent most of the morning arguing with Erica about who should be running their photography workshops next month. Derek is, admittedly, a terrible teacher. He’s impatient (ironic considering so much of his job requires a good deal of waiting and of sitting still— that he can do—people smudging their thumbs all over his expensive camera lenses is another issue). He can’t lie about the quality of a shot, and he always seems to make their customers nervous. Erica is a much better choice to run the shops; she’s kind and patient; and puts amateurs at ease with jokes and encouragement. People always ask if the courses are going to be run by her and then visibly deflate when Derek has to tell them he’ll be in charge. Erica, however, wants the whole of April off (she claims it’s for a shoot, but Derek knows she and Boyd have plans to disappear to Peru for four weeks), and she won’t budge.

Boyd had watched their argument play out with thinly veiled amusement, and Derek would definitely remove both of them from his team if he didn’t like them so damn much.

“Shut up,” he mouths across at Boyd.

Finstock glances warily between them.

“We’re not going with Africa for the August issue,” he interrupts, flipping the magazine shut and patting Derek on the head with it. “You’re all headed out to Oklahoma in a week.”

Derek snaps his head up, stares at him in horror, “No, boss.”

Yes,” Finstock insists in a steely voice. “The NSSL have been on at us for a year about some decent exposure, and I think you’re just the team to do it.”

“I haven’t done weather since college,” Derek protests.

Boyd snorts again, presumably because he’s thinking back to the time when Derek and the weather last collided and he…. well, did the guy into the weather for a brief, wonderful, terribly foolish time. But, Boyd needs to shut up before Derek punches him on the nose.

“You’ve proven you’re more than capable, right here,” Finstock says, blithely unaware of Derek glaring daggers at his best friend.

Derek snaps his gaze up to his boss, “So, sending us up a volcano in the back end of winter was a test?”

“Mhm,” Finstock grins sharply at him, “One you passed with flying colors. Now, I don’t want to hear any more arguments about the matter; I’ve cleared it with Mariana over in Norman, and someone will meet you at the airport.”

“What about Erica?” Derek juts his chin at Boyd, “You two are supposed to be out for the next four weeks.”

“I’ll speak to Reyes,” Finstock cuts in. “She’s always up for an adventure; which I’m sure will mean young Boyd will be happy to go, too.”

Boyd waves his coffee mug at Finstock, “I’d never dream of saying no to you, sir.”

“Atta boy,” Finstock points at him, pleased, before turning to glare at Derek. “Any more complaints?”

Derek swallows back at least three, shakes his head, “No, boss.”

“Very good,” Finstock rolls up the proof copy, taps Derek on the head with it, again. Sometimes, Derek suspects Finstock treats his team like the children he’s never had. Forgets they’re all nearly in their thirties and don’t need patting on the head.

“Your flight’s booked; couple of days out there and then back again in time for classes. I’ll set you up with kit, tomorrow.” He drops the file about the NSSL team on Derek’s desk, “I take it you won’t have a problem with integration? I believe you know some of them.”

Derek looks down at the team snapshot on the front page, feels the familiar spark of excitement and dread as he spots Stiles standing at the back, arms around someone’s shoulders and beaming brightly at the camera.

Beside him, Boyd clucks his tongue, “You better not ruin the trip pouting at him.”

“I’m fine; it’ll be fine,” Derek snaps, “Shut up.”

“Great!” Finstock claps his hands together, before pausing to point at Boyd, “And, quit winding him up; if some wind boy broke Derek’s heart that’s not something for you to be teasing him about!”

“He’s not a wind boy— (god, Stiles would love that for a nickname, cackle with glee every time someone used it)—and, he didn’t break my heart! How do you even—”

“I know everything,” Finstock taps his nose, “See you in the morning, bright and early.”

Derek groans, drops his head on his desk as Finstock stalks away, shouting his compliments to Meredith and her latest shoot in the Galapagos Islands.

Boyd reaches over to squeeze Derek’s arm, “Do you want to talk about it?” he asks in the dry, flat tone of voice that means he’s teasing the shit out of Derek.

“Bite me,” Derek retorts and Boyd laughs, sits back in his chair.

“This is gonna be hilarious.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“Hey, you chose me to be your best friend, man, I didn’t offer.”

“I’m regretting all my life choices, right now.”

“I bet,” Boyd smirks, taps the photograph, finger smudging over Stiles’ face in a way that makes Derek’s hackles rise (stupidly).

“Cut it out,” Derek bats his hand away, begins typing in NSSL to his computer. “I know shit about tornadoes and I bet you don’t know much, either.”

“Hey, I’ll have you know my grandparents live south east and I’ve been at their place a couple of times when F fours have hit.”

Derek smiles darkly at him, “Then, at least you’ll know what to do if I push you out of the car when we’re running from one.”

Boyd grins back, “You’d never; Erica’d kill you.”

“Who the hell agreed to let Finstock take away all of my vacation time?” Erica bursts into the office, waving their itinerary in the air.

“You first,” Derek tells Boyd smugly.

*

Stiles and Derek met, disliked one another, fell into bed together, and ended, in a brief, six month period when Derek was in his last year of college. Stiles was perfect for his future job in all ways, a whirlwind of emotions, bright and excitable, thunderous and passionate. He was stubborn, argumentative, constantly found ways to needle at Derek, argue with him in front of the rest of their friends until Derek snapped, found himself up against a wall outside of a club, Stiles’ hands clutching his face as they kissed like they were starving for it. For six months, Derek barely left his bed, spent all of his time with Stiles, challenging him, photographing him, worshipping him. Stiles’ laugh was Derek’s favorite sound; loud and contagious. When he ate he insisted Derek try everything from his plate, too. He was generous to a fault; gave his time, his money, his knowledge to his friends without question; filled Derek’s mind with tidbits he’d never need but treasured knowing anyway. They were good together, too. They were kind to one another in private, in the intimacy of Derek’s bedroom where they holed up beneath his threadbare sheets and patchwork quilt, telling each other stories, sharing plans, making love.

And, then just as quickly as they had fallen together, they were done. Stiles’ boots were gone from by the door, his notes cleared from Derek’s desk, and there was a postcard of some remote town in Kansas on Derek’s refrigerator telling Derek to look Stiles up if he was ever in the area.

Derek had known it was coming, he and Stiles had very different ideas of what they wanted out of life, but it had still hurt. He’d fooled himself into thinking that last night before Stiles left for his project he’d change his mind, stay, let Derek keep him. But, Stiles went where the wind took him.

As annoying as that cliché was, it was just right for Stiles. He had big plans for life, and so did Derek. Derek packed up his own boots a few weeks later, and buried himself in work, stayed in Europe for nearly a year. He came home with a beard and a job working for NatGeo, and he’d loved it. For nearly five years he’d worked happily without need for a serious relationship (there’d been one, Kate, and it hadn’t ended well), he’d not looked for one, and no one tried to tie him down, or even made him want to settle. He loved travelling, loved seeing the world and the wonders that were out there, far away from their small office in DC. He’s always tried not to think much about Stiles, about how much he would have appreciated the history of the places Derek has seen, how he would have devoured the culture of those living in the Namib; the Yanomami tribe; how much he’d have wanted to know of the uncontacted, but remained respectful. There’s so much of the world Derek has been lucky to see, and he tries not to let himself muse over how Stiles would react to it, tries not to see it through his eyes.

It seems stupid considering they only knew each other for short time, met because Erica and Stiles’ friend Allison were on the same feminist literature module for one semester. Their time together was so scant, and yet it deeply affected Derek.

He’s torn between dreading seeing Stiles again and feeling desperate for it.

*

“Here,” Erica hands Derek a stick of gum as they climb off the plane. “In case he kisses you the second you lay eyes on one another.”

Derek scowls at her, but accepts the gum (he’s been on a three hour flight; he needs fresh breath is all).

“Thanks,” he murmurs, shoulders his bag as he skims the crowds at the arrivals gate.

“Seriously,” Erica adds in a quieter, gentler voice, “Are you okay?”

Derek chuffs a laugh, “Now you ask? You and Boyd have been winding me up for a week straight.”

“Honey, I can’t say I don’t enjoy watching you squirm, but…” she squints up at the departures screen. “We can still grab a flight back in an hour if this is going to make you unhappy.”

“I’m fine,” Derek shrugs, “Seriously. Stiles and I were a long time ago. We weren’t even friends, it was just…”

“Don’t say it was just sex,” Erica holds up a hand, “I’ve known you a decade, Derek, and I’ve never seen you look at anyone the way you—”

“Erica!” Derek cuts in, keen to move away from a heavy heart to heart seconds before someone from Stiles’ team picks them up. “Really, I’m fine. What about you?” he tries for a change in subject, elbows her teasingly, “Still pissed Finstock took your vacation away?”

Erica scoffs, waves her hand around Oklahoma City’s airport, “And miss all of this beauty? Peru’s got nothing on Oklahoma. I’d sooner be here than anywhere else.”

Derek gives her a flat look, and she preens, “I thought of that one on the flight.”

“You’re wasted as a photographer; you should have gone into paronomasia.”

“I don’t think there’s much money to be made writing puns these days; seeing as the internet exists.”

“Yep,” Derek says briskly, “One day we’ll be obsolete, too. Everyone will be able to take perfect pictures on their cell phones.”

“I got back just in time to catch Derek wax poetic about the olden days,” Boyd grins, claps a hand on his shoulder, “Lucky me.”

Derek grins, rolls his eyes, “You got your stuff?”

Boyd gestures to his suitcase, “All set.”

“I don’t know why you won’t just pack light, babe,” Erica waves her neat pink carry-on bag at him. “I’m never going to lose this.”

“Babe! You know my cousin’s a ramp agent; they need the work!”

“You’re too good for this world, Vernon Boyd,” she says softly, kissing his cheek.

Derek feels a mix of happiness and envy as he watches his friends, is glad when he spots Allison weaving through the crowd, waving excitedly and he can focus on something other than Erica and Boyd being sickeningly adorable.

“Guys, she’s here,” he starts moving towards her, disappointed Stiles isn’t with her, but also stupidly relieved. He’s not entirely prepared to see Stiles again. He’s not sure he’ll ever be ready.

“Hi!” Allison calls out breathlessly, sweeps Derek into a hug that surprises him. He pats her back awkwardly, pulls a face when he catches Erica snapping a shot of the reunion on her phone. She really shouldn’t be encouraging use of those things. They’re going to put him out of business one day.

“God, sorry, have you been waiting long? I couldn’t find a spot for the van; it’s so ridiculously huge!” Allison pulls back and reaches for Erica. “Your hair got longer!”

“So did yours,” Erica squeals back delightedly, “You look amazing!”

“Thank you, so do you! I love your carry-on,” Allison takes it easily, gives Boyd a kiss on the cheek that makes him blush. Erica elbows him laughingly.

“How was your flight?” Allison leads them through the airport quickly, continues to chat as she goes. “We thought maybe you’d be delayed with the early storms, but looks like you got here just in time. There’s been some primary activity in Moore, again, but nothing much, yet. You guys might end up taking a lot of shots of us making coffee!”

“Our boss is into human responses to disaster,” Derek manages, trying to keep up with her as she flies across the parking lot. “He’d enjoy pictures of you—of you making coffee—of the team, making coffee,” he trails off, feeling his face heat up.

Allison has paused by the back of the van, watching him with a fond, amused expression and Erica comes up beside him, steps on his toes.

“Smooth, Derek.”

“Shut up.”

“It’s okay,” Allison laughs, “I knew what you meant.”

Derek remembers why he liked her.

“It should only take about half an hour to get back to base,” Allison takes Derek’s bag, pops it in the back. “But, do you guys need to stop anywhere, first?”

“No,” Derek says quickly. “We’re fine.”

“Derek’s keen to get reacquainted with everyone,” Erica says brightly.

Derek steps on her toes.

*

Allison and Erica sit up front together, chatting as if a day’s not passed since they were last together. Derek puts himself right in the back of the van, looking at the huge maps pasted on the metal walls. Boyd’s messing with a camera, purposely giving Derek time to himself to prepare, and Derek is extremely grateful.

“We’re here,” Allison calls out.

Derek feels as if he might throw up. He looks out the front, takes in the vast fields to their right and left.

“Are we on a cattle ranch?”

Allison laughs, “It used to be. The NSSL have worked out of here for years, though. There’s still some horses floating around. Scott and I go and see them when we have enough time.”

“And, how is Scott?” Erica asks slyly, wiggling her eyebrows at Allison.

“He’s fine,” Allison goes a fetching pink, “It’s nice working with him again.”

Derek clears his throat, “You haven’t always?”

“No,” Allison heads up a dirt track on the right, and in the distance Derek can see a huge barn, vans and tables and what looks like chickens scattered in front of it.

“I went to France for a couple of years. I wasn’t…” she shrugs, gives them all a quick smile. “I wasn’t ready to be with someone and work with them.”

“But, you are now?” Derek can feel his palms sweating.

Allison rolls her eyes, smiling shyly, “I can’t stay away, apparently.”

She jerks the van to a stop and winces, “Sorry, I still can’t drive this thing well.”

“You got us all here safely,” Erica squeezes her hand, “All that matters.”

“Yes, thank you,” Boyd sits forward to add his thanks. Derek grunts his own, straining to see if he can spot Stiles amongst the people wandering about.

Someone slides the van door open, and then Scott’s beaming face is greeting them.

“You made it!”

“It wasn’t a particularly arduous journey,” Derek points out.

Scott laughs (it would seem all of the people Derek finds himself surrounded by are far cheerier than he will ever be), and reaches to shake Derek’s hand as he clambers out.

“Storms are getting stronger; Stiles was worried.”

Derek makes a noise of derision, and Scott rolls his eyes, holding out his hand to Boyd.

“Good to see you again, man.”

“How are you, Scott?”

“Great! How are you guys? How’s it been going? Gosh, it’s been what, five years?”

“Yeah, give or take,” Derek murmurs.

“You look great, too, the both of you!” Erica tells Scott, gives him a hug hello.

And, Scott does look good. Both he and Allison have sun warmed skin, their hands are sure as they handle baggage, reach to greet people; they’re both so much more confident than Derek remembers; so much more sure of themselves. Allison laughs freely, and Scott’s smile hasn’t left his face.

“Had a lot of time to grow into this,” Scott waves at his face and Allison rolls her eyes, pats his cheek.

“You were cute at eighteen, honey.”

“Eugh, I don’t think so,” Scott pretends to grimace as Allison kisses him, winks at Derek as they pull apart. He waves a hand behind them, “Come on up to the base, I’ll show you around. You guys need to set up somewhere?”

Derek shrugs, “We’ve got a tent.”

Scott snorts, “Sorry, man, that probably won’t do you much good when we’re dealing with any major storms.”

“I’m sure Stiles will be happy to let you share his jeep,” Allison teases, points to a blue jeep just up ahead.

“Babe! Shhhh!” Scott widens his eyes at her in a warning, and Derek wonders what conversation they’re having as they silently exchange eyebrow expressions. Scott clears his throat, “So, you guys excited to check out some winds?”

“Thrilled,” Derek deadpans.

“Finstock—our boss—is on a climate kick,” Erica tells them both, rolling her eyes as she does. They follow Scott up the dirt path to where there’s the soft strains of Fleetwood Mac playing from a radio, people shouting to one another about spare parts and creases in maps, someone’s tinkering with a car and swearing profusely. Erica steps around a fresh pile of cow shit, arches an eyebrow at it. “We’re meant to be in Peru, right now.”

“Wow,” Scott’s eyes go dreamy, “I’ve never been that far south.”

“You could not have set me up for a better entrance,” Stiles’ voice comes first, and then he’s rolling out from the battered blue jeep, grinning from the ground. “Nice one, buddy.”

Derek feels as if the breath has been knocked from his lungs. Stiles looks just as at ease as Scott and Allison, comfortable in his skin, grease on his forehead and a beautiful smile on his face. He stands, squints at Derek in the sunlight.

“Hey Derek.”

“Hey,” Derek nods.

“Been a long time.”

“Mmm.”

“You look good, like the beard,” Stiles gestures to his own chin, and Derek tries not to admire his jawline.

“Thanks,” he manages shortly, “You look… fine.”

Stiles snorts, “Kind of you to say.”

Derek lifts his bag in the air, “Got somewhere we can set up?”

Stiles scratches his chin, eyes never leaving Derek’s, “We sure have. Your boss called, wanted to make sure he wasn’t gonna lose you guys to the perils of the Midwest.”

Derek scoffs, “I’m sure he was deeply concerned.”

“Oh, he was.”

They’re still staring at one another, and Derek can’t bear to be the first to look away. It’s been such a long time, and Stiles looks so damn good. He’s tossing a spanner between his hands, biting his lip every so often, and looking back at Derek like they’re in Derek’s kitchen again, arguing about the best way to make a decent tomato sauce.

“Come on,” Stiles waves the spanner over his shoulder, “We should show you guys around, let you get acclimated.”

“Nice,” Erica scoffs.

“I got plenty where that came from,” Stiles tosses her an easy wink and Derek is ridiculously jealous.

He reminds himself to get it together, clutches at his bag the more tightly, and follows Stiles towards the main house. To his credit, he tries valiantly not to check out Stiles’ ass on the way.

*

“This is our tech kid Danny Mahealani,” Stiles claps a hand down on a handsome guy’s shoulder, and he spins to nod at them before going back to typing frantically. “Kira and Isaac are outside with our newbie, Liam. Don’t take his picture, though, he’d cry.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” Scott interrupts, rolls his eyes at them, “Stiles doesn’t like him much.”

“He’s afraid of his own shadow; don’t know what he’d do if he had to deal with updrafts, let alone an F five.”

“I stand by hiring him.”

“Fine, fine,” Stiles shoots his friend a warm look, “You’re always a fan of the losers.”

“Well, I am friends with you.”

“Ouch, oh, it’s on; I’m getting you back for that one.” Stiles turns back to Derek, and Derek feels stupidly glad to have his gaze again, wants to bask in it for as long as he can.

Shit, this whole trip was a terrible idea; he’s just going to take pictures of Stiles, and Finstock will fire his ass. He’ll have to start working for some enron magazine that pays him in peanuts, all for the photographs he’ll have of Stiles from these few days, this one high point in his stupid, pathetic life.

“You were saying,” he manages, coughs into his hand and reminds himself he’s a successful photographer, not a complete waste of space.

“Of course,” Stiles winks at him—and Derek refuses to preen about it—“Thank you for reminding me; kinda get lost in my own world sometimes.”

“I remember,” Derek says softly, and then could kick himself as the entire room gives him looks.

Stiles, however, merely gives him a private smile, drags his eyes away to a pretty redhead sitting in front of a pile of papers.

“That’s Lydia, our resident genius on all things VORTEX SE related.”

Lydia smiles at them before arching an eyebrow at Stiles, “Just the South East?”

Stiles clutches his chest, “My apologies; our complete and all over genius,” he corrects himself.

Lydia nods, mollified, and stands to shake their hands, “Derek Hale; I’ve seen several of your exhibits; I enjoyed the Mumbai work best.”

“Thank you,” he says stiffly, glancing at Stiles as he wonders if Stiles went with her, or if she knew of him before. If they’re dating, or married or sleeping together or—

It’s really not his business.

“Erica Reyes!” Lydia continues, “Loved the Himalayas exhibit.”

“Thank you,” Erica nudges Derek, “We went together.”

“Oh, are you two—” Stiles stops himself, goes bright red. “I—mean, that’s cool. India. Wow. You guys see anywhere else?”

Seeming to take pity on him, Boyd clears his throat, “I was there, too. And, yeah, we went all over. Nepal was beautiful.”

Stiles is still a dark red and he nods, cuts a sheepish glance at Derek. “That’s cool.”

“Uh huh,” Derek smirks, feels as if he has the upper hand for the first time. “So, where are we setting up?”

“Actually,” Danny leans back in his chair, pushing his glasses up his nose at the same time. “I got some activity up near Tulsa, you wanna check it out?”

“Hell yes,” Stiles claps his hands together, embarrassment fading as his eyes light up. “You ready for some excitement, guys?”

“We sure are,” Erica throws her hair into a ponytail as Boyd begins to unpack their cameras.

Derek wordlessly takes a snap of them preparing, another of Lydia rolling up papers, and of Allison helping her.

He looks up to see Stiles watching him as he pulls on a jacket. He gives Derek a small smile before ducking his head, heading out of the door and yelling for everyone to pack up.

Three other people appear from the barn, and wave brightly, as if they’re not heading into a thunderstorm—and possibly worse—but going for a casual drive with some friends.

“Liam’s the only one staying behind. Scott’s gonna take Erica and Boyd in the big van. You can ride with me,” Stiles shoots him a cocky grin, wiggles his eyebrows at Derek. “If you can handle it.”

Derek holds up his camera to catch Stiles’ excited expression, and then nods, “I’m sure I’ll manage.”

Stiles yanks the passenger side door open with a creak, gestures for Derek to climb in. Derek must hesitate because he rolls his eyes, taps impatiently on the metal.

“It’s been through more storms than you’ve taken pictures, buddy.”

“That’s not reassuring; I’ve taken thousands of pictures.”

“Trust me,” Stiles says in lieu of another argument, jerks his head at the car. “I promise you’ll be safe.”

Derek narrows his eyes at him for a second and then sighs, clambers into the car.

“I’d never let anything happen to an ass as fine as yours,” Stiles adds with a cackle, rounding the car and leaping inside. Before Derek can retort, Stiles is turning on music (RZA, Stiles must still be into the Blade movies) and winding down the windows.

He grabs the radio, lowers the music volume and reverses out of his spot at the same time, narrowly missing Scott in the van. Derek clutches the dash tightly.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are on our way!” Stiles flashes a grin at him, “Please keep your arms and heads inside the cars at all times, no flash photography, but of course feel free to feed your driver. My boy Scotty loves peppermint patties.”

Derek wrinkles up his nose, “Seriously?”

“Hey, they keep his breath minty fresh all day long,” Stiles continues into the receiver as if Derek hasn’t spoken. “Although, if I recall correctly, Mr Hale had excellent breath back in the day, so I can only assume brushing also works.”

“Stiles—” Derek tries to snatch the radio, but Stiles yanks it out of the way.

“Seeing as the lovely Erica and Boyd will have spent a lot more time with him in close quarters with very little soap and or toothpaste, please feel free to correct me on the hygiene comments. He was squeaky clean and fresh for the nine months I knew him.”

“Six,” Derek interrupts. “We were together—it was six months.”

“Au contraire, my friend; we knew one another nine months.”

“How did you even notice I had fresh breath before we—why are we talking about this?”

“I was just doing a little reminiscing, seeing if I could get under your skin just as good as I used to.”

“As well as, not as good as.”

Bingo,” Stiles sing songs, and Derek pretends his heart isn’t racing, that he doesn’t feel more alive than he has in years, careering into a huge storm with a boy he loved nearly a decade ago.

“Hate to interrupt the reunion back talk,” Danny comes through on the radio, a smile evident in his voice. “But, if you look to your left you will see what we wind geeks like to call the start of a pretty damn good show.”

Derek twists his head, feels his mouth fall open in surprise as he takes in the scene through the window. The sky is terrifically bright, but there’s huge, heavy, dark clouds above, and every so often lightning strikes through the rising dust.

Wordlessly, he lifts his camera to capture the growing storm.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Stiles murmurs quietly from beside him.

“It’s phenomenal,” Derek agrees, turns to meet Stiles’ awed gaze, “You’re not used to it, yet?”

“I don’t ever get tired of the view,” he replies simply.

Derek nods, holds his eye until Stiles looks back at the road, humming along to the music softly.

“Not tired of the views,” Derek broaches, “But, of something else?”

“Eh,” Stiles shrugs, follows when Danny turns off into yet another field and they’re immersed in sky high sunflowers. He barely seems to notice the leaves whipping against his arm where it’s resting on the window sill. Derek itches to pull him back inside the car, to gain some sense of safety, no matter what they’re headed into.

“I like the work, loved it, for a while. But, it gets a bit samey,” Stiles shrugs, “You know, it can stagnate.”

“Right,” Derek says shortly. “Nothing says terrible and boring like something steady, something constant. Being a storm chaser just isn’t exciting enough?”

“I’m not a storm chaser,” Stiles retorts irritably, “I’m a scientist. Although,” he quirks a sharp grin at Derek, “I’m sure you’re thinking what? With those stylish clothes? A scientist he says?”

Derek takes in the plaid shirt wrapped around his waist like he’s in a 90s boyband video; the flat cap sitting jauntily on the top of his head; and the tee that’s got an artist’s depiction of Sharknado on the front of it.

“Stylish,” he echoes disdainfully.

“Hey, leave the clothes out of it!”

You brought them into it.”

“I seem to remember you getting me out of them pretty well, back in the day, maybe I was just looking for a chance to remind you.”

“You’re the one acting like it never happened!”

“What? Are you nuts? I’ve been talking about it nonstop since you got here!”

“In a casual, we fucked around and that was it kind of way, not a—a—” Derek folds his arms, “You know what, forget it. Let’s not talk about it, or anything else, ever.”

“Oh no, you can’t drop that sort of bombshell mid car journey, man. We’re road trip buddies!”

“No, we’re not. I’m the guy your boss talked my boss into coming here to take some snapshots of you being idiot storm chasers—”

“We’re not storm chasers!” Stiles slams his hand on the wheel, and the radio crackles, making them both jump.

“Who had twenty one minutes?” A voice Derek doesn’t know pipes up.

Stiles grabs the receiver, “Laugh it up, Isaac, just watch out for—” he slams on his breaks, and the car behind beeps loudly. Isaac swears down the radio.

“I told you to watch out, dude,” Stiles says easily, “Eyes on the road, and not on my business.”

“Whatever,” Danny cuts in, “Y’all owe me twenty bucks each; I was closest with half an hour.”

“I can’t believe I thought they’d be well behaved enough to last an hour,” Lydia adds.

Stiles has gone bright red, his cheeks looking fetching and kissable (if Derek weren’t so damn mad at him). He’s also feeling a little confused.

“What the hell are they talking about, Stiles?”

“Hell if I know, jeez, I’ve been here with you the whole time.”

“Yeah, and we all put money on how long it’d take you before you started bitching at one another,” Danny’s voice says brightly.

“We weren’t—” Stiles cuts a glance at Derek, pulls a face at the stony expression Derek gives him back. “Fine, we were arguing; quit betting on my life, dickwads!”

“Hey, we were right about the virginity thing, too.”

“And the red suit.”

“Don’t forget his first name!” Scott reminds them, “I won that one.”

“Because you’ve known him since diapers, you clearly had insider information!”

“Don’t hate.”

“I’m cutting you off now, assholes!” Stiles flips off the radio, stares determinedly out of the window.

“What virginity thing?” Derek asks after a while. “Because you weren’t— when we were—were you?”

Stiles scoffs, “Don’t you think you’d have noticed if I was just a little inexperienced when we got together? I mean, shit, we did it at least twice a day for a while there.”

“That—it wouldn’t have bothered me if you were.”

“Well, thank god I wasn’t; I had some moves; I treated you right; I kept you interested for a while at least, can we please move on?”

“Kept me—you can’t possibly think I was going to lose interest.”

“I don’t want to talk about this; you said so yourself, we’re supposed to be pretending we’re just two professionals that don’t know each other, anymore.”

“Stiles, you’re being—”

“What?” Stiles turns to widen his eyes at him, “Am I being immature?”

“Yes, a little.”

Stiles pretends to swerve the car, and a large sunflower hits Derek in the face through the window.

“Stiles!”

“Whoops, make that a lot immature.”

Derek bites down on his laugh as Stiles pretends to take his hands off the wheel. He’s so ridiculous, it makes him want to lean over and—

“Stiles watch the damn road!”

Stiles jumps when he realizes Danny has changed course again, veering off up a hill and they’re headed straight towards an embankment, leading into the river.

“Oops,” Stiles gives him an apologetic grin, “My bad.”

Derek rolls his eyes, “Just try to get us there in one piece.”

“No promises for when the storm hits,” Stiles beams as he looks up into the dark sky. “This one’s gonna be a kicker.”

As if to enforce his point, a large bolt of lightning hits closer to them, and then they’re into the rain that had been previously on the horizon.

“Holy shit!” Stiles crows, laughing wildly as the rain pelts the car, “’S’gonna be hail in a sec.”

“You’re nuts,” Derek calls back, bracing himself as the jeep struggles over potholes. “I can feel my teeth breaking, here.”

“Sorry,” Stiles pats the dash, “She’s tough, but uh, the suspension isn’t what it used to be. Could say the same about you, right, old man?”

Derek shoots him a look, “Old man?”

“Old man wild with that beard.”

“I thought you liked the beard?”

Love the beard,” Stiles wiggles his eyebrows, “But, it does give you an edgy old man of the mountain look.”

“And, your ridiculous wardrobe makes you look like a computer nerd straight out of caltec; not a professional… tornado chaser?”

Stiles sniggers, “It’s really gonna kill you not calling us storm chasers, huh?”

“What are you if you’re not?”

“Nuts!” Stiles yells over the noise of the storm, his face alight with glee.

They pull to a stop next to Danny’s van and Stiles’ team are leaping out, setting up equipment under a large tarp. Hail is thundering onto the tarp and the vehicles, and the wind is already strong enough to make Derek feel a little unsteady on his feet as he climbs out of the jeep.

Erica races over, looking as if she’s in her element in a huge raincoat and her waterproof camera in hand, “Can you believe this?”

“I’m worried it’s the last thing I’ll ever see,” Derek shouts back.

“Oh please,” Erica elbows him, juts her chin at where Stiles and Scott are high fiving over something. “Like that would be such a tragedy for you.”

Derek scowls, “Take some pictures!”

There’s a roar close by, and everyone whoops in excitement when what is clearly a tornado drops to form in the distance.

“What are you working on?” Derek asks Lydia, huddling under the tarp and snapping a shot of her face, furrowed in concentration.

“I’m part of a team updating the WDSS,” she rolls her eyes when she spots his blank expression. “The warning system for the US, Derek, to give civilians such as yourself a chance to get to safety.”

“I thought it was already pretty good?”

“Thirteen minutes,” Lydia arches an eyebrow, “How far can you get in thirteen minutes?”

“You’ve never seen him run from a wasp,” Stiles yells from over Derek’s shoulder.

Derek spins, surprised that Stiles is so close, and scowls at him, “It caught me by surprise.”

“As will a tornado, dude!” Stiles clutches his arm, “Come on, we’re moving on.”

“But—Lydia—”

“She and Kira are staying here, they’re working for the National Weather Service,” Stiles pulls a face.

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Nope,” Stiles smirks, “But, it makes them the suckers that have to stay behind. We’re going on into the storm.” He points over at Boyd, “You wanna stay here? Take some shots of the technical stuff?”

“Hell no,” Boyd grins widely back, “I want in on the action.”

“Alright, a man after my own heart,” Stiles waves his arm to the group at large, “All those who dare, let’s roll out!” He turns to Derek, blinks almost shyly at him. His eyelashes are spiked with rainwater, and his face is shining wet, excitable and happy. He still takes Derek’s breath away.

“You coming with me, again?”

Derek nods, finds himself smiling, “Try and stop me.”

Stiles beams at him, and for a second, it’s as though the storm stops and they’re lost in their own world, taking each other in for the very first time.

Scott shoves a pile of wires in Stiles’ hands, jerking them both from their staring contest, and yells something in Stiles’ ear. Stiles nods, claps his friend on the back and gestures for Derek to follow him.

“You ready?” he asks as they jump back in the jeep.

Derek shakes out hail from his hair, the worst of the rain from his face, “Bring it on.”

*

There are abandoned farm vehicles scattered along the side of the road, and every so often a car passes them, screaming past and flashing their lights at them.

“Bless,” Stiles says fondly, “They must think we’re crazy.”

“You are, a little,” Derek points out.

Stiles laughs, ignores Derek to point out of the window, “See that? That vortex is looking to be about two and a half kilometres wide. It’s got a travel path of about a hundred and ninety kilometres an hour. Anyone living over that hill has battered down for days. Nobody wants to be out when these things are on the warpath. What we do might seem nuts or crazy but I’m not Bill Paxton, dude. I don’t drive into these things like a psychopath, and I promise not to drive you through any houses; only to carry you over the threshold of one if you’re interested,” he shoots Derek a grin, and Derek rolls his eyes.

“Ha ha.”

“Suit yourself,” Stiles says crossly.

Derek’s eyebrows shoot up, “Wait a second, was that attempted innuendo about marriage serious? Are you offended I didn’t believe you meant it?”

“You didn’t believe me when I meant shit five years ago, why would you, now?”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, nothing, so how is the love life, Derek? Marry anyone in Paris? Have a love affair in Spain?”

“Fine, it’s fine, my love life is—”

“Non-existent,” Erica offers over the radio.

“Nobody asked you,” Derek retorts.

“Non-existent, huh,” Stiles repeats smugly. “Nobody waiting for you in DC?”

“Why do you care? It’s been five years; did you think I’d remain celibate until we, what, coincidentally ran into one another again?”

“Pretty much what Stiles did,” Scott pipes up.

“Hey! This is a private conversation!” Stiles yells, lowering the volume of the radio before glancing nervously at Derek. “Look, I know we, you know, we weren’t together very long, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t mean everyth—something to me, okay? So quit acting like I’m the one being a heartless tool, here.”

They swerve to avoid a bicycle and Stiles throws an arm out to stop Derek launching forward in his seat.

“See?” he continues, “I can’t help it—I am a carer.”

“Yeah, sure, careering off into tornadoes for a living, real careful.”

“Don’t play on my words, you know what I mean.”

“How does your dad feel about you chasing tornadoes?”

“Dude! Not cool! Trying to bring my dad into this when we’re seconds from catching up with the danger.”

“Don’t you think about him when you’re—”

“Dammit, Derek, you said it was none of your business what I did, so leave it that way! Stop acting like you care if I die the next time my car gets sucked into a vortex.”

“Your car has been sucked into one of those things? With you in it?”

“We only went a couple of feet; I got it back under control.”

“Stiles!”

“You don’t care, remember?”

“I would have cared if you’d let me! You barely let me tell you how I felt when we were—what if you had died and I wouldn’t have even known about it? Who would have told me? It could have been years!”

“My dad knows to tell you,” Stiles mutters mutinously. “Although, I’ll call him when we get to a phone and tell him not to bother in the future. If I die you can read about it in the obits; I’m probably famous enough in our circles to make it into the NatGeo one.”

“Stiles!”

“Hey, your job isn’t all sunshine and roses either, buddy! What about that raid you were caught up in in—in—where was it two years ago?”

“Tunisia,” Derek fills in for him, surprised Stiles knows about it at all. “Did you see me on the news?”

“No! Sometimes I look you up! God! It’s not like I cared, though, Jesus. I’ll stop googling you, too.”

“You google me?”

“Who the hell else d’you think took Lydia to see those exhibits of yours?”

“Lydia, your girlfriend?”

“She’s not my girlfriend!” Stiles jerks the car around what looks like half a shack in the middle of the road, hisses through his teeth. “I haven’t had a girlfriend in forever!”

“Oh, well I’m glad you were able to move on at all seeing as you’re making out like you’ve been a pagan saint since we split up.”

“We didn’t split up!”

“You vanished in the middle of the night.”

“You said you didn’t care!”

“No, I said I wanted you to be happy.”

“And, we wouldn’t have been happy waiting on each other all the damn time; I wanted to keep you, but you had places to go, I had places to go.”

“Then what’s the problem? We’ve both… had good careers, great, the sacrifice was worth it.”

“You—” Stiles turns to look at him in surprise, “You even see it as that? A sacrifice?”

“Of course! Jesus, I loved—”

“Guys!” Danny’s voice crackles over the radio, “Do this later! The twister’s turning and thanks to Stiles’ fury driving you’re way ahead of us. You’re right in the path!”

“Shit!” Stiles looks out of the window to where there is indeed, a large tornado almost parallel to them. He pulls the jeep off the road and into a muddy creek to their left.

“Are you out of your mind?” Derek shouts incredulously, “Why are you pulling over?!”

“We need to take cover!”

“Here?! Right where the god damn tornado is coming at us?”

“You must have been through worse on your travels,” Stiles replies easily, leaping from the car. “Move your butt! It’s gonna be on us in thirty seconds.”

“Jesus!” Derek scrambles out of the car and the blast of the wind has him falling back against it. “Christ!”

“Come on, come on,” Stiles moves much more expertly towards him and grabs his hand. “This way!”

Derek stumbles after him, letting go of his hand to stop and take a picture of the tornado racing towards them.

“You can do that, later!” Stiles half tackles him backwards, pushing him towards a broken down bridge further down the creek.

“I can handle myself,” Derek snaps, “I’m fine!”

“You and your god damn independence!” Stiles yells back, refusing to lose his grip on Derek’s waist. “I’m not letting the last words we say to one another be critical.”

“Oh, because before they were so filled with affection!”

Derek shoves him away the second they’re under the bridge, wipes mud from his face, trying to squint at Stiles in the dust.

“You left in the middle of the night! I’m pretty sure the last words we actually shared were make sure to get milk in the morning and you knew, you knew they were the last words, Stiles!”

“I didn’t want to make a big deal of it! It was killing me, Jesus!”

“I don’t believe you—” Derek begins to shout back, when a piece of roofing from the farm they’d passed at least a mile back swoops over their heads.

“Derek!” Stiles pushes him down into the mud as the roof clatters onto the bridge, barely missing them both.

Derek groans as mud spatters all over him, but Stiles doesn’t move, curls his arms tightly around him and squeezes tightly.

“Hold onto the bridge!”

“No kidding,” he shouts back.

“God, do you ever let anyone have the last word?!”

Before Derek can respond the tornado’s coming right over the bridge. It’s complete chaos. Derek can’t see past the top of Stiles’ head, dirt, leaves and pieces of tree whipping past them. The jeep is creaking ominously, slowly lifting a foot in the air, jamming into the bridge and then it’s gone, flying past them.

“Noooooo!” Stiles moans against Derek’s neck. “My baby!”

“I’ll buy you a new one,” Derek manages, barely hearing his own voice, but it makes Stiles laugh, and Derek hears that, feels it against his cheek.

He clings to the leg of the bridge as tightly as he can; one arm still around Stiles. Stiles reaches up, half straddling Derek and grabs hold of the wood, too. He’s sure if they were to let go they’d be swept along into the tornado, and though it’s terrifying, it’s also incredible. They’re literally in the eye of the storm.

Stiles laughs again, tilts his head up to watch the tornado as it passes them and then looks at Derek. They’re so close, and it wouldn’t take much for Derek to lean forward and kiss him; to do something as wild as the rest of their experience so far.

But, just as he’s thinking he should take the risk (they’re literally the living embodiment of you only live once, clinging together as they are, in the middle of a tornado), the storm drops.

It’s still windy, but the tornado has gone, just as quickly as came upon them.

They’re both panting, breathing heavily against one another, and were it not for the muddy clothes it would be as if they’re back in Derek’s bed, clutching one another during sex. Derek is hard, he realizes, and Stiles is too, rocking minutely against him.

“Stiles—” he starts.

There’s a car horn behind them, and Stiles squeezes his shoulders tightly, “Happens with the adrenaline,” he says easily, hopping off Derek awkwardly.

“I know,” Derek retorts, dusting himself down.

“Still,” Stiles grins roguishly at him, “I’d give you at least fifty percent of the credit.”

Derek snorts, lifting a hand to his face and wiping away some of the mud, “We need a shower.”

“Oh, well, if you’re offering—”

“Individually.”

“You’re such a killjoy.”

“Dudes!” Scott drops down into the creek next to them, splashing more mud into Derek’s face. “Sorry, Derek,” he grins sheepishly, before throwing his arms around Stiles. “You almost died!”

Stiles laughs, “It wasn’t that bad, F three at most.”

“Barely that,” Allison climbs into the creek much more gracefully, gives Stiles a sympathetic look, “But, I have some bad news about the jeep.”

“No!” Stiles launches himself up the slope, scrabbling in the mud until he reaches the road.

Derek follows with Scott and Allison, watches as Stiles runs down the road until he’s at the upturned jeep.

“She’s just a little battered!” Stiles calls out, “I’ll have her up and working in no time.”

“Do you think he’d accept the truth if it came from Derek?” Allison asks slyly, quirking an eyebrow at Derek.

Derek rolls his eyes, “Ha ha.”

“Derek!” Erica leaps out of the van closest to them, races over to give him a hug. “Oh my god! Are you okay? Did you see it?”

“Yeah,” Derek laughs, “We saw it.”

“I got it all filmed,” Boyd pats his camera, “Finstock’ll go crazy for it.”

“Priorities,” Derek says drily.

*

The road to Tulsa is mostly empty, but Derek can see there’s still people in some of the houses. Wonders what the hell they do out in the middle of nowhere when there’s storms like this happening around them.

“What happens to them?” he asks Stiles.

They’re sitting in the back of Danny’s van—though they were warned about getting mud on any of the machinery he has beeping away next to them—and Stiles is trying to get mud out of his ears.

Derek tries, and fails, not to find it endearing.

“Huh?”

“The people that still live out here; what do they do?”

“Carry on like normal, I guess,” Stiles shrugs. “Our job is to follow these things, and learn as much as we can from them; theirs is to survive them.”

“But, what if they can’t?”

“They have storm shelters, and there’s not many people this way; it’s not called Tornado Alley for nothing, dude.”

“Why settle here in the first place?”

“It’s awesome in crop season.”

“Doesn’t seem worth it,” Derek muses.

“A little risk in life is always worth it, I reckon,” Stiles says softly, looking across at him in the dark van.

Derek nods, doesn’t know what to say when he’s been thinking similar things. He’s spent so much of his life on the road, travelling to dark, sometimes dangerous places—beautiful places, too, places of culture and value and wonder—but, it can get lonely, can often feel like it’s not enough. Being with Stiles has made him feel more alive than he has in a long time, but he’s not sure it’s worth the risk of putting himself out there again, of trying, when he could get rejected, or Stiles could be gone again in the morning. He said himself things that stay the same stagnate for him, and Derek’s not stopped moving in five years. He doesn’t know how to stop and…

He’s talking himself out of situations he’s not even gotten himself into. He doesn’t even know how Stiles feels. He needs to get a grip, and to shower.

They set up outside of a small motel that’s amazingly still open, and Derek gawps at the staff going about their daily business, like a tornado hadn’t been rushing past merely an hour ago.

Stiles points between himself and Derek, “You said something about showering?”

Derek nods mutely, ignores the smirk Erica’s giving him, elbows her gently as he passes.

“Shut up.”

“Don’t worry,” she says teasingly, “You did enough talking for the both of us, back there.”

“Do some work,” he huffs, nodding over to where Allison and Kira are conferring over some of their equipment.

“We filmed a tornado; we’re set for the trip.”

“Finstock likes pictures.”

“Fine, fine, but let me remind you, he won’t appreciate pictures of Stiles naked in the shower… But, I might—”

Boyd clears his throat, pinches the bridge of his nose, “Just go shower before she says something else gross and heart-breaking; you’re starting to smell.”

Derek flips him off, walks away grinning as Erica throws an arm around Boyd’s neck, croons he’s the only one for her.

Stiles is waiting for him outside the first room, juts his chin to them both, “They’re a cute couple.”

“Yeah, pain in my ass most of the time, but,” Derek shrugs, “My best friends, too.”

“’S’nice you get to work with people you care about.”

“Sure,” Derek gestures to where Scott, Kira and Allison are now lifting a complicated looking vat onto the top of Danny’s van. “You get that, too, though.”

Stiles gives him a wistful smile, opens the door, “You can shower, first, if you want.”

Derek follows him inside, stops when Stiles does, lets him turn in Derek’s space and look up at him.

“How’s your life, really, Derek?”

“It’s okay,” Derek hedges, “Dirty, right now.”

Stiles snorts, leans closer into him, “Yeah? You wanna… maybe… make it…”

Derek claps a hand over his luscious looking mouth, arches an eyebrow, “I’m gonna stop you before you hurt yourself.”

“I missed you,” Stiles says, muffled into Derek’s hand, but the words are clear regardless. Derek felt them against his palm.

“Yeah,” Derek takes his hand away, “I missed you, too.”

Someone bashes on the door, and then Danny’s poking his head inside, “Just because we only had the budget for one room, doesn’t mean you guys get to use it to slow bone all afternoon.”

Stiles scowls back at him, “Uh, if we were slow boning don’t you think I’d have locked the door?”

“As if,” Danny scoffs, “You’d have definitely wanted us all to see you banging someone as hot as him.”

“Na uh, you know I did in the first place, so, why would I need to prove it again? Besides, I’m not the one with the exhibitionist kink, you know that’s Allison.”

“Don’t drag her into your dirty motel room of lies, Stilinski.”

“I’m right here,” Derek interrupts, “You guys know that, right? I’m… a professional photographer and you are all supposed to be scientists.”

“Hey! You used the right term!” Stiles holds his muddy hand up high, “Gimme some.”

Derek rolls his eyes, but slaps his palm, walks past him and into the bathroom.

“Five minutes!” Danny yells after him, “Seriously, you’re hot, but I am desperate for a shower, Isaac’s been smoking in the van again and I reek of weed.”

Derek pauses, turns to look at them both in shock.

“Kidding,” Danny says feebly, shooting panicked looks between Derek and Stiles. “He doesn’t—we don’t—I’ll be back in ten.”

“Don’t worry,” Stiles promises as Danny slams the door, “They never smoke and drive, they take it in turns.”

“I feel so much safer, and like my tax money is being put to such great use.”

“Pfft, like your taxes go towards missions like this,” Stiles flops down on the bed, “We mostly fund this stuff ourselves.”

Derek blinks at him, “What, you do?”

“Uh huh,” Stiles gives him a shit eating grin, “I do care about stuff, remember?”

Derek stops feeling so impressed and slams the bathroom door on his smug, beautiful face.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten we had a moment, there!” Stiles calls through to him as he’s showering.

“Stiles, can you give me at least the illusion of privacy while I’m in here?”

“I’ve seen it all before, dude, besides, I’m not in there with you, which, in my opinion is a shame.”

“You’re shameless,” Derek yells back, towelling off and avoiding looking directly in the mirror (he’s sure there’s a giant grin on his face, it feels so good to be arguing with Stiles about anything again).

“You appreciate my candidness,” Stiles says loftily, swooping through the door as Derek opens it and whipping his shirt off.

Derek looks away quickly, but not before catching sight of Stiles’ naked back, his finely muscled arms and—Stiles kicks his pants off, and Derek makes a noise of alarm, turns to face the motel door.

“Shameless,” he says again, and Stiles cackles, slams the bathroom door shut.

*

“Is it like that all the time?” Erica asks later as they settle down to eat on the benches outside the motel.

Allison shakes her head, dolling out burgers and fries she and Scott went to collect from a diner around the back of the motel.

Derek blinks incredulously as he looks at the wrappers, seriously, he cannot understand how people live and function in a place such as this.

“Sometimes,” she settles in next to Scott, takes his hand under the table easily. “Sometimes we follow storms for hours without them turning into anything bigger than an F1.”

“And, those are like baby twisters?”

“Nah, an F1 can take your car off the road,” Stiles glances sheepishly up and down the table, “I’ve been known to get stuck in a couple of those.”

“We have a chart,” Danny tells them.

Erica grins at Stiles, “You must be made of pretty strong stuff.”

“Well, I did put up with Derek for six mo—” Stiles stops himself, meets Derek’s eye, “Doesn’t feel like I should make a joke about that, right now.”

“Not if you wanna get laid this week,” Isaac mutters.

Stiles cuffs him over the back of the head, “Remind me why I let you eat with us, weather geek?”

“I resent the geek comment,” Kira interrupts, “Not all of us use the cushy weather job to pay for our—” she pretends like she’s taking a drag on a cigarette, winks at the table, “—habit. Some of us pay for school.”

“What are you doing at school?” Derek asks, digging into his fries like it’s the first meal he’s had in days. Stiles looks delighted when he sees Derek eating, and Derek rolls his eyes, knows Stiles is making a mental note to tease him about eating fast food considering he used to refuse to go near the stuff.

Kira dimples at him, “I’m getting my PhD in maritime meteorology; I’m hoping to work at the Honolulu office.”

“And we’re all gonna go visit,” Stiles crows. “To see Kira, obviously, not because Hawaii seems like one of the best places in the world and I haven’t had a vacation in five years.”

“I knew there was a secret motive to you hiring me,” Kira pretends to simper, clutching her chest. It’s clear they’ve had the same teasing argument a hundred times, and Derek is happy Stiles has such a great group of friends to work with. He looks down the table at Erica and Boyd, feels a swell of affection for them both.

Erica flicks a fry at him, mouths nerd across the table. Derek bats it away, knocks it onto Stiles’ plate and Stiles picks it up, eats it without hesitation.

“You’re gross,” Derek tells him. “That was on the table.”

“Snooze you lose, dude. Or, in our case if you snooze for too long, you get blown away, but, you know, semantics. Free food, getting blown, not such a bad life.” He crooks a grin at Derek, and Derek finds himself grinning back.

There’s the tell-tale click of a polaroid camera, and Boyd smirks over the top of it when Derek twizzles to glare at him.

“What? That’s some nice comradery, there, we gotta keep that one for the office pin board.”

Allison aws, claps her hands together, “So, you guys use the professional cameras for work, and the polaroid for fun?”

“Mhm, we meet so many people, sometimes faces blur,” Boyd shrugs, lifts up the camera, “This one is for the significant moments.”

Everyone around the table coos, and Stiles nudges Derek in the side.

“That mean Boyd thinks I’m significant, huh?” he asks in a quiet voice.

Derek turns to him, voice dropped low, “Boyd knows you’re significant, Stiles.”

Stiles sits back, an expression on his face Derek hasn’t seen in a long time, has tried not to think about, tried not to miss; it’s affectionate, happy and pleased with Derek, all at the same time, and it makes his insides lurch excitedly.

“So, do you guys always make Liam stay behind?” Boyd asks.

The table cracks up and Stiles breaks his and Derek’s staring match to turn back to the conversation. Derek feels bereft, foolishly so considering he’s spent five years not looking at Stiles.

“He’s better sticking to the base, at the moment.”

“Why’s that?”

Scott rolls his eyes, “Stiles doesn’t think he’s ready.”

“Dude! He jumps at a loud door slam.”

“We have to show him we trust him.”

Stiles scoffs, “When he’s a little less scared of his own shadow, then he can come along.”

“You let us ride along first time,” Boyd points out mildly.

“You guys have got stones.”

“You didn’t know that.”

“You’re friends with Derek,” Stiles winks at him, “That takes guts.”

Derek accidentally stabs a fork in Stiles’ hand (gently) and Stiles yelps in surprise. “Dude! Not cool.”

“You’re not being cool insulting me.”

“Pfft, you like it when I insult you; it makes you feel warm inside.”

“It makes me feel something,” Derek retorts.

“Get a room,” Kira interrupts them teasingly, and Derek feels his face flush, focuses on his plate instead of on the group. Beside him, Stiles nudges his side, and when Derek looks up he’s grinning.

“Busted.”

Derek rolls his eyes, “You’re enjoying yourself way too much.”

“I am,” Stiles shrugs, “What can I say? I like it when you’re around, feels better or something, you know?”

Derek’s breath catches and he nods shortly, “Yeah, I get that.”

Stiles’ eyes go wide in surprise and then he recovers, elbows him again, “Admitting you miss me, huh?”

“Something like that,” Derek manages, wiping his hands on his jeans to hide the fact his palms are sweating.

Thunder cracks overhead, and Stiles whistles lowly, “Looks like we’re gonna have a night viewing.” He grabs Derek’s hand—doesn’t even seem to notice it’s still damp—and jumps up, “You wanna come watch the sky with me?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Nope, you can get some pretty star shots; do a whole twilight twister theme.”

Derek arches an eyebrow, “Impressive title; I’ll mention it to Finstock.”

“I told you,” Stiles waves his free hand out wide, “Wit for days, my friend.”

*

It’s raining when Derek wakes at dawn. He clambers out from between Boyd and Erica, opens the tent to a windy, cloudy morning.

He’d taken pictures of the sky until late, Stiles murmuring quietly beside him about which stars they were able to see, what the clouds forming meant, and what they’d be doing in the morning. There’d be a silent, mutual agreement between them that any more discussion of their past relationship and their present… whatever it is, could wait another day. Derek’s torn between relief and despair at himself for not being brave enough to bring it up. He’s enjoying Stiles’ company too much to want to ruin it.

Erica sat with Kira and Allison, picking their brains about information they could use for the captions of the photographs; Boyd followed Danny as he inspected their equipment. He claimed it was because Danny was the most photogenic (the whole group had booed at him as Danny preened), but Derek knows it’s because Danny was clearly the least likely to make small talk. Boyd hates small talk; it’s one of the reasons he and Derek get along so well. It had taken them a month of classes together to even exchange first names.

“Morning!” Lydia calls chirpily, waves at the battered picnic table holding a dozen coffee cups. “Take your pick before everyone else gets there first.”

“’s’there something black in there somewhere?”

“Yes, several of them,” she smirks over the top of her own cup, “Stiles put in a special request for you, last night.”

Derek nods his head in thanks, pretends he’s not blushing a little at the knowing look she’s giving him.

“You were up late,” she says after a moment.

“I had a lot of pictures to take; got a whole profile to fill.”

“Mhm.”

Derek inhales his coffee happily, looks up to meet her eye, “Nothing sordid, don’t look at me like that.”

“I’m not giving you any particular look, Derek. We don’t know each other well enough for me to think anything.”

“I’m sure you know plenty,” Derek huffs, settling on the bench and pinching the bridge of his nose.

There’s a silence, and when he opens his eyes, Lydia’s looking at him thoughtfully.

“I know that when I met Stiles he threw himself into flirting with me so thoroughly I thought he’d break something.”

The coffee cup in Derek’s hand squishes a little, and he jumps when hot liquid spills over his hand.

“Okay,” he shrugs nonchalantly, “Good for you.”

“And,” Lydia continues briskly, “I know he tried to talk me into going on a date for nearly a month.”

Derek scowls, rubs his forehead, “Are you—are you really doing this?”

“I know he didn’t really mean it because the second I actually shot him down and demanded to know what on earth he thought he was doing being so damn pushy, he told me he was trying to distract himself from someone important. Someone he’d never meant to fall for, but was struggling to get over still, and it was tearing him up inside.”

Derek’s lungs feel too big for his body, his throat is dry and his palms sweating. He’s always been able to keep his face blank of emotion when he wants, always been a stone wall (to the annoyance of his family and friends), but he’s never managed to overrule his body from reacting to the way he’s feeling inside.

“Okay,” he says quietly.

“I met Stiles about a year after he left college,” Lydia clucks her tongue. “So, after yesterday’s performance I feel it is my duty as one of his closest friends, to tell you to stop acting like he’s a heartless jerk.”

“Just because you knew him in the aftermath doesn’t mean you get to comment on the fallout of our relationship,” Derek snaps, before reigning himself back in. “It was a long time ago, we’ve both moved on.”

Lydia snorts in a most unbecoming fashion, sits forward to look over the map in front of her, “Now there’s a lie if I ever heard one.”

Derek drinks his coffee mutinously, watches as she draws circles and lines on the map.

“What’s on the agenda for today?” he asks after a moment.

Lydia takes the olive branch (all he will give; and he knows she knows that, from one clearly stubborn person to another) and sits back to show him.

“We’ll be roaming with the mobile radars; trying to collect data from any supercells we come across.”

Derek pretends to nod knowingly, “And, uh what will you do, then?”

“Our dual-polarization radars detect debris from a tornado that’s already passed, or building up. They help us pinpoint a tornado’s location at night and even in the rain; the storm you were in yesterday was nothing to some of the weather we’ve had to brave following these things. We’ve been using the radars to capture developing tornadoes and I am hoping to collect more high-resolution data. The more we can garner here—with each tornado—the more we learn, the more we can help with predictions and preparations.”

Derek jots the information down, taps his pen against his battered notebook, “No offense, but this doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you’d be into.”

Lydia gives him a bright smile, smooths down her picture perfect shift dress and crosses her legs (she’s wearing two hundred dollar UGG boots Laura would love; as well as the dress he recognises from her net-a-porter Christmas wish list, set up already).

“And, why is that?”

“You’re wearing Chloé in the backend of nowhere; you said you’d been to my exhibitions; you’re clearly interested in more than trekking through the dirt here.”

“You’re making plenty of stereotypical assumptions, there, but I see your point,” Lydia shrugs neatly, glances at her nails before looking up at him. “There are very few people on earth who know anything about tornadoes, Derek. They don’t know how they work, where they come from, what they can do, and they never will. I do. I like working on something that makes most minds boggle. I plan on being a pioneer in this field; I have the mathematical skill required to analyse and use this data; and I don’t mind getting my hands dirty along the way. This might not be the neat and tidy lecture halls of an economics department, but it is challenging.” She quirks an eyebrow at him, “And, I love a challenge. Why do you take photographs?”

Derek shrugs, amused at her turning the question on him, “I like trying to show people something more to the world than tourist spots and what we’re supposed to consider beautiful.”

Lydia nods, as if she approves of his answer.

“You care about your work.”

“I wouldn’t be in Oklahoma during tornado season if I didn’t.”

“Oh,” she smirks, “I think given the right incentive you would have been, at some point.”

He knows what she’s getting at, and he has to admit, it’s true. Eventually, he’d like to think, he and Stiles would have found their way back to one another. Although, he’s still not sure it’s going to have the happy ending he’s cautiously hoping for.

“Morning!” Stiles (as if his ears were burning) stumbles out of Scott’s van, eyes flitting between them curiously. He’s almost nervously tugging at his relatively clean looking red sweater—there’s a bright red and yellow YIKES patch sewn across the front and the hem’s unravelling on one sleeve— it makes him look bizarrely attractive.

“What’s—er—going on here? You guys getting to know one another?”

“Yes, that’s right, we’re sharing secrets,” Lydia smiles sweetly up at him. “Your coffee made up of sugar and cream is the one with the pink dot.”

“Awesome,” Stiles dives for it, grins at her and Derek before stopping, frowning again. “Uh, so, have you been up long?”

Derek shakes his head, “Half an hour?” he gestures to his notebook, “Lydia was helping me with some info.”

“Cool, great, that’s awesome!” Stiles rubs the back of his head, fluffing up his hair in an adorable fashion.

“Yeah,” Derek lifts his eyebrows at him, “Is it giving you an aneurism?”

“Shut up,” Stiles warns him with a pointed finger, sitting down opposite Derek on the bench. “So… how’d you sleep… in your cute little tent?”

“That tent’s kept me warm on mountain tops.”

“Is that because you always share with your friends?”

Derek grins around his coffee cup, “Yep.”

“Must be pretty cozy.”

“I wouldn’t imagine you’d complain being sandwiched between a beautiful woman and…” he stops as he remembers Erica’s snoring, and Boyd’s habit of chewing the air in his sleep.

Stiles kinks an eyebrow at him, smiling brightly, “I’d never complain about close proximity with you.”

“Oh god,” Lydia pretends to barf.

“I thought that was pretty smooth,” Stiles shrugs, waves his coffee cup at Derek, “What did you think?”

Derek laughs, “I’m gonna take the fifth on that one.”

“The fifth?”

“Uh huh.”

Stiles presses his knees up against Derek’s underneath the table, his eyes warm and delighted as he grins across at Derek.

Kira and Allison come out of the motel room they were sharing with Lydia (Isaac declared it most unfair the girls always get the room, and Allison had told him sweetly that if he wanted to deal with a menstrual cycle on the road she could always begin narrations for him; Isaac shut up). Soon after, Isaac and Danny wander over—both reeking of weed—and Scott’s the last to resurface after having gone back to grab a nap between helping Lydia and the day beginning.

Stiles ropes his friend into helping him get the jeep working again, and Derek goes to find Erica and Boyd.

They’re both damp from the shower and comparing light around the back of the motel. 

“It’s crazy how beautiful it looks,” Erica murmurs, nodding to Derek as he comes up to stand beside them.

“Beautiful and dangerous as hell,” Boyd agrees.

The sky’s a pale blue, with dark violet clouds whipped across it, lightning already in the distance. Every so often they can hear the gentle roll of thunder, and it gives Derek goosebumps.

“You guys hanging in there okay?” he asks.

“Are you kidding? It’s amazing,” Erica takes another shot, and then turns the camera on Derek, “Smile, lover boy.”

“Cut it out,” he huffs, no heat to his words or the way he tries to bat the camera away from his face.

“Come on, give us details!”

Boyd grimaces, “Please don’t.”

“I don’t have any to give,” Derek protests, “Nothing happened. You saw; we went to look at the sky; they’re all obsessed with it here.”

“Yeah, and you,” Erica snorts, “They all know who you are.”

Derek sighs, scrubs a hand across his face, “It’s as though we have completely opposing memories of the whole… he keeps acting like we’re going to fall into… like it’s going to happen. Like I’m an inevitability.”

“Like you’re easy,” Erica guesses shrewdly, “You’re worried that what? It was all a casual fling back then, too? That you wound up with a broken heart and he wound up with a notch in his bed post.”

Derek clenches his jaw, “Well, when you put it like that.”

“I don’t think it’s like that,” Boyd muses easily, holding up his camera once more. “He talked too much back then—”

Derek laughs despite himself, and Boyd grins back at him.

“—but, I think it’s because he’s nervous. He gets flustered around you.”

“So? That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Sure it does,” Boyd cuts in. “I couldn’t hold a camera steady the first time I went shooting with Erica.”

“Aw honey!”

“Yeah yeah,” Boyd pretends to roll his eyes as Erica squeezes his arm. “I think it’s the same thing,” he presses on. “He gets all wound up trynna impress you.”

“He’s not—”

“He literally tried to drive you guys into a tornado yesterday; he was showing off.”

Derek digests this, rethinking the events from the day before; the way Stiles hadn’t stopped chattering; had been winding him up; trying to needle at him; just as he had before when they were together.

“That doesn’t mean he feels anything, now. It just means he’s rattled I’m here.”

“We all get rattled around you, kid,” Erica teases.

Derek nudges her so that she falls forward, catches an awkward shot of half Boyd’s face.

“Asshole!”

He laughs again as she lunges for him, dodges out of her way and trips over a water trough behind them.

“Tight moves, Hale,” Stiles calls as he approaches them.

Derek flips him off, says easily, “You’ve said that before.”

Stiles goes bright red, almost stops in his tracks, “Uh—I’m—we’re headed out.”

“Okay,” Derek dusts off his hands, “The jeep up for it?”

“Oh, you know it,” Stiles crows. “You coming with me again?”

“If you and the jeep can handle it.”

Stiles trips over a tuft of grass and Derek feels pleased at having finally gained the upper footing. He’s decided there’s nothing wrong with flirting with Stiles, with pushing back, enjoying the time they have, the banter they can share.

After all, the worst that will happen in the next two days is that he gets sucked into a tornado, and he’d really rather face that than the prospect of another five years without Stiles in his life in some form.

*

They travel in formation, Stiles reading out his data to Lydia and occasionally getting Derek to hand him papers. He’s quieter than the day before, and it’s making Derek itch to get him talking again.

“So, who do you normally share the jeep with?”

“Huh? Oh, no one,” Stiles scratches at his jaw—and that’s another thing making Derek itch, the way Stiles is constantly touching his own face, drawing Derek’s attention to it—and shrugs. “I don’t.”

“You don’t ride with anyone else?”

“Nah, I’m not always the best company up here. I can get annoying.”

“Says who?” Derek bristles on Stiles’ behalf, wondering who the hell’s ever told him he’s annoying. He’s… sure he can be a challenge but that’s the whole point. That’s what makes him so... Stiles like. It’s what drew Derek to him in the first place, kept him wanting more, wanting to put his mouth on Stiles’ just to see if he’d keep talking.

“You were always—you’re okay to me.”

“A shining compliment, Derek,” Stiles turns to crack a grin at him, “But, you’re used to it.”

“Used to what?”

“I fidget, you know, shoot the breeze, don’t stop talking, it can get annoying.”

“It’s not—” Derek stops himself, looks across at Stiles again to see him looking back at him curiously, his expression earnest. “You’re not annoying,” he tries again, “It’s… comforting.”

“Comforting?” Stiles barks out a laugh, “Come on, we’ve seen each other naked, we don’t have secrets, Derek.”

Derek rolls his eyes, hackles rising, “Why can’t you just take my word that it’s the truth?”

“Because we—because you…” Stiles trails off, glances at Derek awkwardly.

What.”

“Well, you never came after me, so I guess I just thought… you were kinda relieved to see the back of me.”

Derek stares at him incredulously.

“You… you wanted me to come after you.”

“Duh,” Stiles sighs, scrunches his eyes shut for a moment, and Derek resists the urge to grab the wheel, just in case.

“But, you didn’t even leave an address, Stiles. You left a postcard with Kansas written on the front.”

“I figured if it was meant to be it would… be.”

“That’s… that’s ridiculous. And stupid. And selfish!”

“Selfish? Woah, hey, what!?”

“You thought we’d have some big romantic reunion because I’d drop everything and come find you. I’d just… follow you around the big empty fields of Kansas taking pictures of hay bales just to prove I loved you?”

“No, hey! Don’t put words in my mouth.”

“Then explain it to me. Because you were the one that made it seem like a good idea we had to part ways. You were the one that acted like it wasn’t a big deal, like we weren’t something… bigger than ourselves.”

Stiles does a double take at him and then scowls, “We were.”

“But, that doesn’t mean I come and interrupt your life.”

“You were a part of my life, you weren’t an interruption.”

“Then why did you leave? You put that distance between us.”

“Because I knew if I didn’t go on that project I’d stay forever, and I wasn’t—I wasn’t ready for that!”

“Neither was I. I was barely ready for a career.”

“Well, you made it anyway so congrats!”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“You’re being an asshole.”

“Right back at you, buddy.”

“Why did it have to be me, Stiles? Why didn’t you come to find me? Strap a damn radio to your car and turn up outside my office? You knew where I was; you said yourself. Your dad has my number.”

“Because I thought I’d have time! I thought I’d come back all ready and… I liked my job, instead! I didn’t plan that.

“I’m not mad at you for that, I get that.”

“But, you are mad.”

“Not anymore.”

“Why were you mad in the first place? You let me go.”

“Dammit, that’s not fair. I was hurt and….” Derek swallows, feels ridiculously on show, raw, at having to talk about this, having to admit the fact that Stiles leaving had cut him deep. Even though he knew, he knew it had to happen.

“I just wish you hadn’t up and gone in the middle of the night.”

“I’m sorry for that, really, I am. I was—”

“A chicken shit.”

“Fine, yes!” Stiles squeezes the steering wheel tightly, throws his head back. “I’m not an idiot, okay? I get that big ass romantic gestures are for movies and dumb sixteen year olds that think if they buy someone enough giant televisions they’ll magically see the error of their disinterest and fall madly in love with them. But, I loved you and I was sort of hoping you’d figure that out, and that you loved me, too, and that you’d think I was enough and—”

“I did,” Derek interrupts crossly.

“Then why did you let me go?”

“Because we had lives to go figure out.”

“That’s stupid and logical!” Stiles is grinning now, and Derek can’t help but want to laugh, too. The argument’s ridiculous, and they both know it. Even though it made sense to end things, it had still torn him up, and even though they’re arguing, it’s about the same thing. Stiles loved him, too. Stiles loved him.

Just the fact he felt the way Derek felt and they’re talking about it (it’s embarrassing, Jesus, but he’ll deal with that later) is making his heart race.

“I can’t help being logical,” he says finally, “And, I really couldn’t have stuck Kansas out for more than… a year, at most.”

Stiles squints at him, “My sweet ass would’ve been worth at least a year, huh?

“You would have been worth everything,” Derek admits quietly. “But, that doesn’t mean I regret my life since.”

“Well, same.”

“Then…” Derek sits back, turns his head to watch him driving, “Is that—what does that mean, Stiles?”

“I don’t—”

The radio crackles into life, and Danny’s voice comes through.

“Guys, check out the left of the bridge!”

Stiles drags his eyes from Derek to look out through the windscreen, swearing softly as they both take in the twister skating across the water.

“Uh oh.”

“Uh oh,” Derek repeats, “Uh oh? You’re not supposed to say that! I’m supposed to say that. I’m the civilian.”

“I’m sure you dealt with yetis in the Himalayas, Derek. This will be just like that.”

“As in… we’re going to deal with that?”

“We need data from all forms of tornado, dude. Waterspouts are way less severe; this one’ll probably tether out before we get much.”

“Then stop driving forward! Pull over and get data from here.”

“I can’t; the radar needs to be as close as possible.”

“This is close enough!”

“Derek,” Stiles grabs his hand, squeezes it tightly. “You’re being a chicken shit.”

Derek looks down at their hands, and then back up at Stiles, glaring at him, “I am not a chicken shit. That is completely unfair considering the circumstances. Most people drive away from any sort of tornado, no matter how—baby like they are.”

Stiles wiggles his eyebrows at him, flips on his damn music (Bon Jovi, because of course Stiles thinks he’s a damn cowboy, too) and slams down hard on the gas.

“If you want out, say now!”

“Dammit, you know I don’t want out,” Derek scoffs, taking pictures as fast as he can on their approach.

“Try and keep an eye on the thermodynamics,” Danny shouts down the radio. “We’re right behind you, but be careful.”

You be careful, brother!” Stiles calls back, the wind whipping through the window and making him look wild and beautiful.

“You’re nuts,” Derek says—for what feels like the hundredth time—and his voice is alarmingly fond. It feels like they do this all the time, like they’ve been doing it together for years, and not like he’s only witness to this for one week, another brief earth shattering Stiles filled moment in his life.

“Hell yeah! Tell me about the craziest thing you’ve ever done, dude.” Stiles continues driving, but he eases off the gas, messing with a computer behind them at the same as cruising.

“Zipline in the UK, to get some different style pictures of Snowdon,” Derek grimaces, “Or the skywalk in China.”

“Nice!” Stiles crows, “Gotta do that myself—I’m good with heights, just not with blood.”

“I remember, we did that weekend at Joshua Tree.”

Stiles’ eyes crinkle as he looks at Derek, “I don’t remember the heights, just sharing that tent with you.”

Derek rolls his own eyes back, “You would bring that up.”

“I brought a lot up that weekend, if I recall correctly.”

“Do you ever not make something into an innuendo?”

“Part of my charm. Besides, I can’t help it; you bring it out in me, dude. I just like flirting with you,” he clutches his chest and then pats Derek’s, “It’s what we do.”

“Next time we’re doing something less death defying,” Derek insists as a tractor flies over the top of the bridge, narrowly missing the car.

“Next time, huh?” Stiles looks at him again with a grin, and Derek nods, mutely. Knows he’s done for.

There’s a thud, and then the jeep begins to stall. Stiles swears again, hissing through his teeth when he glances out of the window at the approaching twister.

“Stiles.”

“Hold on, dude, hold on. Sideways rain and all; making things look more dramatic than they are, don’t panic.”

Something moos and they both look up to see a cow flying by.

“That is a cow!”

“Yeah, I see it, Derek,” Stiles replies, annoyingly calm as he tries reversing across the slippery bridge.

“That—that twister is getting a whole lot closer than I thought it would, Stiles.”

“It’s just a waterspout, dude, chill.”

“It’s right next to us!”

“Take some pictures; the cow’ll make a cool front cover.”

“Stiles! That’s some poor helpless cow.”

“Yeah, and it’ll probably land on its feet—unlike us if you don’t chill and shut up!”

“I’m sorry if I haven’t been through as many tornadoes as you so as to still panic when we’re stuck in one.”

“Jesus, would you just—” Stiles slams his foot on the reverse and the jeep swerves across the muddy bridge. “Just a sec—just a sec—come on, come you fucker!”

“I thought you loved your car,” Derek snarks.

“Yeah, you can love someone and still think they’re an asshole.”

“No kidding.”

Stiles bodily rolls his eyes at him, swings the car around and heads back the way they came. Derek blanches as the twister, now on his right, splits into two.

“There are two of them, Stiles,” he manages, snapping pictures wildly but feeling his heart begin to pound painfully.

“Yeah, yeah, sisters, happens all the time, keep your cool, cupcake.”

“Cupcake?”

“In the middle of something right now, Derek, pick on my endearments later.”

“If there is a later.”

“You’re such a secret drama queen, seriously, it’s endearing,” Stiles propels them forward, barking out a laugh as they pick up friction along the road. “I mean, it’s not my favorite secret about you, but it’s up there with the secret love of candy floss and those stupid spot the difference games and—”

“Stiles!”

The twister grinds directly through the water next to them and right across their path. The jeep spins with the vortex and Derek doesn’t think, mindlessly grabs the top of the car and Stiles. They’re clinging to one another as the jeep lifts off the ground, slamming back down a few seconds later, but continuing to rotate.

Stiles is yelling, but Derek can see the stupid, excited smile on his face and he can’t help but roll his eyes.

“Stop enjoying this!”

“This is why I do the job, dude!”

Derek shuts his eyes, grits his teeth against the pressure as they spin around. One of the jeep’s side windows smashes and water cascades in, soaking Stiles and making him shriek, lean into Derek harder.

He’s still trying to press down on the gas, and eventually the car hits the ground long enough for them to shoot forward. They’re propelled halfway down the road, and Stiles lets go of Derek’s hand to grab the wheel, race them over to the grassy hill on the other side.

Derek half falls out of the car as Stiles leaps out, whooping and shouting. He punches the air, and then comes around to Derek’s side.

“You’re nuts,” Derek wheezes.

Stiles laughs, helping him stand and then presses him up against the car and kisses him.

They’ve been building up to it since the moment they laid eyes on one another, and Derek doesn’t resist, falls into it, as he fists his hands in Stiles’ sweater and kisses him back. Their mouths are slippery with rain water, and Stiles is cold against him but it’s perfect. He feels alive, alight in a way he hasn’t been since… since the last time he and Stiles kissed.

It’s fleeting, though, over all too quickly like the storm they’ve just driven through. They pull away slowly, breathless and grinning. Stiles winks at Derek, smooths his hands down Derek’s soaked jacket. “I uh,” he clears his throat, “I don’t know what this means, Derek. But, I needed to do that; just in case we die next time.”

Derek opens his mouth to reply, but they’re once again interrupted by the rest of the team catching up with them.

“Derek!” Boyd jumps from the car, a surprising amount of concern on his face as he moves around Stiles to get to him. “That was a little close, man. I was worried.”

Derek grins brightly, runs a hand through his soaking hair, “Nice to know you care.”

Boyd huffs out a laugh, “You’re starting to act like one of these daredevil kids.”

“No way,” Derek promises, “Couple more days and we’ll be back at home with our only danger being Finstock getting a print late. That’s enough for me.”

“Glad to hear it,” Boyd claps him on the back, “Very glad.”

Derek catches Stiles’ eye as his friends surround him, cheering about data collected and something to do with the VORTEX operation they keep talking about. Stiles gives him a private smile, but it’s tinged with sadness, and Derek feels his gut twist. They’re only here for another two days, and then it really is back to reality, back to coffee at his desk and his short trips to anywhere but Tornado Alley. He’d thought he’d be glad, but now he’s dreading leaving.

*

Derek doesn’t have a chance to talk to Stiles for the rest of the afternoon; the day filled with taking readings, and following smaller storms. Eventually, they stop in a small town, with only a corner store, an old library, and a lot of closed up houses.

“Catch this,” Stiles calls as he tosses an apple across the hood of the jeep as he comes out of the store.

“What’s this for?” Derek eyes it suspiciously.

“To measure the velocity of your throw as we enter the tornado—” Stiles rolls his eyes, “It’s to eat!”

“Oh,” Derek crunches down on it, “Thanks.”

Stiles shrugs, “’S’no biggie.”

Kira comes over with a file of papers, rests them on the car as she engages Stiles in a discussion about something.

Derek wanders away from them, looking over the empty main road, watching the dust whip around the few remaining parked cars. He sits on a dilapidated bench, smiles when Erica and Boyd join him. Erica’s halfway through a muffin, picks off a chocolate chip and offers it to Boyd wordlessly. Derek takes a sip of the water Boyd proffers—they’ve always shared what they had on their travels—and they watch an actual tumbleweed drift past.

“It’s kinda eerie, huh?” Boyd says quietly.

“Yeah,” Derek takes a couple of shots of the sandy road, uses Stiles and Kira to frame the shot, barely making out their silhouettes in the dust.

“Hey, so, I have good news,” Erica nudges him, looks as though she’s positively bursting with glee as her leg begins to bounce against his.

“What?” Derek arches an eyebrow, “You steal some weed off Isaac?”

“No,” she rolls her eyes, “I wish.”

Boyd makes a noise of derision and she reaches around Derek to pinch his arm. Boyd doesn’t even flinch, squeezes her fingers before letting go, sitting back and smiling at nothing.

Derek looks between them, “What? Seriously, you two are starting to creep me out. You’re glowing.”

I might be,” Erica tells him airily. “Maybe Boyd’s picking up second hand glow. Sympathy glow… if you will.”

Derek blinks at her, “Wait, are you saying—are you—” he looks up at Boyd and Boyd nods, beaming back at him.

“You’re pregnant?”

“Hell yes,” Erica crows excitedly, “There’s gonna be one hell of a gorgeous kid bouncing around in seven months time because I am most definitely knocked up.”

“That’s amazing!” Derek sweeps her up off the bench and spins her around happily, “Congratulations!”

“Hey, woah, easy on the precious cargo,” Boyd remonstrates teasingly, but he’s up and laughing with them, throwing his arms around them both.

Derek pulls back to rub at his face, laughs breathlessly, “How did you—”

“Allison got me thinking about time of the month, and how I was super glad it wasn’t mine and then I thought… shit! When even was the last time I had a period—”

“Probably when you were eating all our damn twinkies in Manua Loa.”

Erica shrugs, “Yep, I’m about two months along I guess, just bought a test. Peed on a stick and boom; no red wine for me for a while.”

“Sure, it was the red wine you were thinking about,” Boyd huffs, but he leans in close to her, kissing the top of her head.

“All I did was eat an apple today,” Derek muses, “This is… this is amazing; I’m so happy for you guys.”

“We’re happy, too,” Erica dimples, “And, I’ll be even happier if you promise to be godfather, or,” she pulls a face, “The atheist equivalent of that.”

“Guardian?”

“You saying you’d take the kid if we left it to you?”

Derek grimaces, “Don’t say that! Nothing’s going to happen to you.”

“Thank god,” Boyd scrunches up his nose and juts his chin to where Stiles is kicking the tumbleweed along the street, laughing manically. “Can you imagine that guy with a kid?”

“Hey, I’m not having kids with him,” Derek protests, eyes huge as he just imagines how terribly (wonderfully) that would go.

“Okay,” Erica snorts.

“Shut up! I’m not—we’re not—we haven’t even—this is your day!”

Erica preens, “Ooh yeah, I like the sound of that. Do I get round the clock foot rubs and deep fried shrimp?”

“The deep fried shrimp I can’t help you with,” Derek quirks an eyebrow at the town around them. “But, I’m sure Boyd’ll be up for the foot rubs.”

“It does mean we’re out for chasing these things for the next two days,” Erica continues briskly, pulls a faux apologetic face, “However will you cope with Stiles all on your lonesome.”

Derek scowls—tries in vain not to grin again just thinking about the kid his friends are going to be having together— and rolls his shoulders back.

“I’ll stay with you, too. In fact, we could get an earlier flight—”

“Hell no, I’m enjoying the show,” Erica clucks her tongue, “I’ve always loved storms, you know that. This is cool. I just can’t go on any fun road trips,” she pretends to pout at Boyd, “Somebody thinks it’s dangerous.”

“It is,” Boyd and Derek say together.

Fine, I’ll sit all the good stuff out. But,” Erica smirks, “You’re definitely teaching those classes next week.”

Derek winces, “Maybe a tornado will take me out, first.”

From where he’s now sitting on top of the jeep with Scott, Stiles waves over at them. Derek waves back awkwardly, shoving his hands in his pockets as soon as he’s finished, staring wistfully across at Stiles. Stiles stares back for a moment, before ducking his head to listen to something Scott’s saying.

“Or, the UST will kill you,” Erica murmurs.

Derek pinches her arm (gently).

*

He knows he’s smiling at nothing as they set off driving again; refuses to answer when Stiles pesters him for a reason as to his smile. He knows it’s killing Stiles to not be in the know about something. He can see him twitching next to him, tapping at the wheel, messing with the dash, turning up—and then turning down—the music (Joe Satriani).

Derek laughs quietly to himself, biting on the tip of his finger, and Stiles hits the wheel, “Okay, that’s it, what the hell, dude? Did you get laid in the short time we were stopped? You better not have made out with Kira—she has a girlfriend—and it’s not cool to kiss one person, and then kiss another like two minutes later.”

“I didn’t make out with your friend—and colleague—hours after you kissed me, Stiles,” Derek rolls his eyes. “And, you call me a drama queen.”

“I—fine, okay, I kissed you. And, I stand by it.”

“Okay,” Derek looks at his hands, grins again.

“Seriously,” Stiles pokes at his cheek, “Is that—you smiling because of me?”

Derek gives him a withering glance, “Sure, you put the moves on me and I can’t help but sit here grinning like a goober.”

“A goober?” Stiles chokes on a laugh, “You’re such an old man, already.”

You use phrases like that all the time.”

“Yeah, but when I use them they’re retro.”

“Sure, okay, you’re special.”

“Hells yeah,” Stiles pats Derek’s leg, “But, don’t worry, you are, too.”

“Shucks.”

Stiles squints at him, still smiling, “So, you gonna tell me what you’re grinning about?”

“I don’t think I can, yet.”

“Is Erica pregnant?”

Derek startles, “How would you even—”

Stiles shrugs, “Well, you’re not an overly effusive person,” he begins ticking points off with his fingers. “But, suddenly you’re hugging your best friends in a shitty little town in the middle of nowhere, beaming at nothing ever since, and now she and Boyd are riding straight up to the farm with Lydia like they’re being careful. Plus she ate about twice as much as me last night, and that’s a feat.” He shrugs again, “Doesn’t take a genius to add two and two together.”

Derek stares at him, “That was—uh— pretty smart. Maybe.”

“So, I’m right?”

“I’m not confirming anything until she does.”

Stiles chuckles, “Well, sure, okay you can say that, but now I know,” he taps the side of his nose. “Don’t worry; I won’t tell anyone. Secret’s safe with me, and all that.” Derek huffs a laugh, feels so fond of him as he watches him cross his fingers over his heart. “She gonna quit the field for a bit, then?”

“I guess,” Derek muses. But, after the elation of the afternoon he’s suddenly hitting earth again as he realizes everything will change. Erica and Boyd are going to be parents. They won’t be able to drop everything and travel to Africa with him, or go for drinks on a boring Friday night. He’s never minded the occasional trip alone, but he loves travelling with his friends. And, he really doesn’t have much of a social circle… He’s going to be lonely without them. He’s happy for them—incredibly so—but also a little blue, and a little envious. He hasn’t managed to figure out how to do the job he loves and be with the person he loves. He sighs, glancing across at Stiles just to torture himself. This person; this person he would figure out a way to do both with.

“I don’t think you two’ll have much of a say,” Stiles says idly; giving him a look like he knows Derek is thinking about his future lonesome travels. “If she wants to work, I bet she will.”

“Some people don’t mind slowing down sometimes,” Derek points out. “Especially if it’s for the right reason.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” Derek rests his head against the seat, looks across at him steadily, “Of course.”

Stiles nods back slowly, and then swears when one of the machines behind them starts beeping.

“Oh, dude, you are not gonna like this.”

“What?”

“Major vortex forming just to the north,” Stiles squints through the window, into the gathering darkness, and points to Derek’s left.

“Up there.”

Derek turns to see huge, angry clouds heading towards them, lightning flashing across the sky.

“Why can’t we spend a normal day together?” he huffs quietly, and Stiles laughs, turning on the radio.

“Kids, you see what I see?”

“Yeah,” Scott responds, “We’re ready for it. We’re gonna use the quarry as a base, if you can—” he stops when something in the air changes, the wind drops and there’s a sudden quiet outside.

Derek sees the cars behind stop as Stiles does; twists to look around.

“What’s going on? What’s happening?”

“It’s dropped,” Stiles murmurs, grabbing a sheet of paper from the pile on the dash and beginning to circle something. “Interesting, interesting. You think we’re in the eye, Scotty?”

“Yeah, got about thirty seconds before it’s back.”

“Make a note of its exact parameters; I bet it’ll be a mile wide, at least.”

“Dude, this is awesome!”

“No kidding.”

“Stiles!”

Chill, cupcake.”

“Stop calling me that! I’m not a frosted cake!”

“You’re just as sweet,” Stiles mutters absently, patting Derek’s leg again with his free hand.

“Stiles,” Derek grabs his hand, squeezes it until he looks up again, sees the twister reforming just ahead of them.

“Shit!” Stiles slams on the gas, pulls them off the road and through a muddy field.

“Where are we going?” Derek asks, gritting his teeth as they bounce through the mud.

“It’s landing right on top of us,” Stiles grabs the radio, “Head for the water tower, Scotty.”

There’s a roar above them, and then suddenly the tornado is right behind them, and it’s bigger than one Derek’s ever seen before.

“Damn, damn!”

A huge tanker flies over them, narrowly missing Danny’s van and slamming into the road they’d just left behind, exploding violently.

“Jesus!”

“Hope nobody wanted to go home that way,” Stiles mutters; his voice calm, but Derek can see he’s sweating and reaches for his hand.

“Don’t lose your head, now,” he warns.

Stiles barks out a laugh, thundering them down towards the electric fence lining the quarry. Scott and the others draw level with them, all of them swerving at the fence and jumping out.

“Let’s go!” Stiles yells, beginning to pull equipment out of the jeep. Derek follows him around the car and grabs his arm.

“You do not have time for this, now!”

“Yes, I do, two minutes at least!”

“No, Stiles!”

Derek tries to pull him to where Scott’s made a gap in the fence, is ushering everyone else through, waving desperately at the two of them.

“We have to go.”

“I’m—”

The twister picks up the water tower just on the other side of the quarry, and with a huge creak it comes crashing down, thudding against the ground and then flinging itself towards them.

Derek throws himself at Stiles, knocking them both under the jeep as the tower smashes down next to them, breaking into thousands of pieces that the twister immediately sucks back up.

“Now,” Derek snaps furiously, “Come with me, please or I swear to god I’ll carry you, Stiles.”

Stiles’ response is lost in the wind, but he takes Derek’s hand when it’s offered, struggles out from under the car. Together they race over to the gap in the fence and Derek grabs Stiles around the middle, jumps over the edge of the quarry with him.

They splash down into the icy water, and Derek spots Scott waving from a small landing spot curved into the side of the quarry.

“Idiot,” Scott tells Stiles as they help them up, “You never have to put the work before your life, dude!”

“Sorry,” Stiles gives him a baleful look and then Scott’s pulling him into a bone crushing hug. Stiles lets out an oomf, but hugs his friend back tightly.

Derek looks away, watches the tornado blow around the quarry. It’s breath-taking; so powerful and terrifying, but still almost magical to witness.

Stiles nudges him as the tornado fades away, “Thanks,” he says quietly.

“What would you do without me?” Derek deadpans, eyes still on the black sky.

“I dunno, now,” Stiles rubs a hand across his face, surprising Derek with his honesty in response to such a flippant comment. “I was used to it, you know? BWorking with just me. And now…”

Derek swallows, drops his head to look at him, “Now…”

Now I keep forgetting we don’t do this together all the time,” Stiles says simply, gives him a strained smile. “Isn’t that weird?”

“No,” Derek rubs a hand through his hair, trying not to shiver under the weight of Stiles’ gaze—and the fact they’re soaked through. “No, it’s not that weird.”

Stiles nods shortly, wets his lips, “Okay, good.”

Scott throws an arm over both of them, grins between them, “You guys nearly gave me a heart attack.”

Stiles laughs into his friend’s shoulder, squints across at Derek. Derek tries to pretend his heart’s pounding because of the tornado they were just caught up in, not the way Stiles is making him feel.

“I wonder where the cars ended up,” Danny muses beside them, and Stiles and Scott burst into somewhat hysterical laughter.

*

They’re not far from the farmhouse the NSSL uses, and it’s a huge relief when Derek spots it on the horizon. None of the vehicles had sustained major damage (according to the team, shattered windows and one upturned van is apparently minor) and they’ve managed to drive the jeep back in relative safely.

Stiles is thrumming with energy beside him, and the car feels too small for them both, for whatever’s happening between them. It’s electric, and every time they catch one another’s eye something sparks inside of Derek. He’s ready to cast abandon to the wind and have this, even for just one day.

“You two can share,” Danny thumbs at the stairs as they trope inside. “There’s en suites in every room this time,” he rolls his eyes as they hurry past. “Thank god.”

Stiles grins, flips him off, even as he’s crowding Derek up the stairs and into the bedroom. It’s dark in the room, and neither of them bother turning on the lights, caught up in staring at one another across the gloom. Derek feels breathless as Stiles closes the door, looks up at him slowly.

“So—”

Derek drops his bag by the door, taking in the small, but pretty bedroom.

“So,” he echoes.

“We uh… that got a little intense, huh?”

Derek smirks, “Which part; when you drove me into a tornado, or when you kissed me?”

Stiles laughs into his hand, rubs the back of his head, “Both? Though, one of them had a much more significant impact on me than the other.”

“Oh yeah?” Derek arches an eyebrow, “Which one?”

“Twisters are the norm, here,” Stiles shrugs, touches his chest as he squints at Derek. “But, uh, kissing you still makes my heart jump. Guess I never got used to it. How’d’you like that for cheesy, huh?”

“It was pretty cheesy,” Derek agrees, “But, I get it.”

“Yeah?”

This time Derek is the one to press into Stiles’ space and Stiles lets him, falls against the door as Derek leans in close.

“You’re really—you want—” he wets his lips, looks across at Derek with big eyes. “You want this?”

“I want you,” Derek admits, “I always want you.”

Stiles groans and then his hands are on Derek’s face, pulling him in to kiss him hard. It’s different to before—though just as desperate, just as frantic—but, Stiles is sturdier, stronger as he pushes back against Derek. His hands are calloused, rubbing against Derek’s cheeks as gently as he can before sliding into his hair, tugging him closer.

“You don’t think we should talk?”

Derek huffs a laugh against his mouth, “You should definitely talk, but not about that.”

Stiles laughs, “You miss me talkin’, huh? Miss me saying your name? Telling you what you do to me?”

“I miss everything.”

Derek pulls away to strip off his soaked jacket, lets it drop to the floor with a wet sound.

Stiles grins, “Heathen. You’d have never have stood for that on your beautiful hardwood floors.”

“That apartment wasn’t cheap.”

“I was,” Stiles goes to take his sweater off, gets it caught on his wet hair. “Didn’t even make you take me out first,” he pants through the fabric.

“We went out before that night.”

“As friends.”

“We were never friends,” Derek helps him get the sweater over his head, smiles when Stiles’ face comes back into view, lips swollen and skin flushed.

“Oh yeah?” Stiles leans in to brush their mouths together. “Enemies to lovers, quick as that, huh?”

“You’re making us sound morbidly like Romeo and Juliet.”

Stiles pushes him towards the bed, and Derek lets him, falls when his knees hit the side and stretches out, lets Stiles straddle his legs as easy as anything.

“Nah, I think we’re probably luckier than them,” Stiles grins as he runs his hands up Derek’s stomach, pushing his t-shirt out of the way as he goes. “Those two didn’t even get to the good stuff.”

Derek spreads his hands against Stiles’ thighs, squeezes tightly, “Yeah, that’s true. You should really hmmm take these off. I can’t feel you when you’re… wearing them.”

“Succinct,” Stiles laughs again, rolls his body down against Derek’s to kiss him again.

They kiss for a long time, Stiles’ fingers trailing up and down Derek’s sides, and Derek’s exploring the planes of Stiles’ back. Stiles kisses him like he’s giving in to something, as if he feels the same way as Derek; like something inside of him is cracking open, has been waiting only for Derek, the way Derek has been for Stiles.

He can’t get enough of it, wants to bask in Stiles’ kisses forever.

“You’re a good kisser,” Stiles mutters, and it makes Derek laugh, curl his arms around Stiles and roll him over. He presses kisses to Stiles’ jaw, buries his nose in Stiles’ neck.

“You’re wet.”

“Hey, I mean I’m all for dirty talk but I’m not sure I’m quite—”

Derek pulls back, kisses Stiles until he stops talking, “I mean you’re wet through. You should take this off,” he plucks at Stiles’ shirt.

“Oooh, try and stop me.”

“Come on, before you catch a cold,” Derek hops up and Stiles whines.

“Dude!”

“I’m getting a towel,” Derek calls, dipping into the neat bathroom and pulling off his socks as he goes.

“But, now I’m cold! Super turned on and cold, dude, my nipples could cut glass.”

“I hope not.”

Derek grabs a towel from the pile, stops to catch sight of himself in the mirror. There’s a smile on his face, he looks younger, stupidly happy. He takes a breath, runs a hand through his hair.

“Derek! I’m gonna start proceedings myself, here,” Stiles warns. Derek peeks around the door, sees Stiles trying to shuck off his jeans and getting stuck. “Oh my god, wet denim.”

“You need some help?” Derek steps back into the room, stops at the foot of the bed to laugh at the way Stiles is struggling. It’s as if they’re back in Derek’s apartment, young and in love and in a hurry to get naked after a night out. Stiles drunk and wonderfully ridiculous in the way he always tried to kick out of his clothes, like he was their prisoner. But, now they’re older. Derek is wiser (he hopes) and they’ve had time to figure out who they are. Stiles might look the same, but he’s changed, too. He’s still beautiful, still everything Derek fell for, but he’s confident in a way he never was before, sure of himself and of his place running his team. He’s thrived in the years they’ve been apart.

It thrills Derek all the more that Stiles still wants Derek, despite of their time apart, despite the distance and hurt and the fact he’s definitely changed, too.

“Dude,” Stiles interrupts his thoughts, snaps his fingers. “I thought you were helping, here? Not admiring the view.”

“Can’t I do both?” Derek snarks and then yanks Stiles’ jeans off in one quick tug.

“Hey! Woah, easy cowboy,” Stiles kicks his legs up, laughing as he pulls his socks off. “You know they never cover this part in the movies; it’s all just sexy shots of easily removable pants and no socks in sight.”

“The movies are missing out,” Derek tells him, eyes following the bend and flex of Stiles’ knees, the shake of his calves, the curve of his butt when he shuffles around. He’s hypnotized by all the skin, the realness and beauty of who Stiles is, what makes him up.

Stiles throws a sock at his face.

“Come join the party,” he sing songs, wiggling his toes as Derek pulls away the sock.

“You’re lucky you’re pretty,” he says flatly.

“So they tell me,” Stiles arches up as Derek bends down to him, leaning in to kiss him and Derek shoves the towel in his face.

“Oof, touché!”

Stiles bites at where Derek’s hand is holding the material, pushes it away to lurch forward and kiss him, instead.

“You—need—to get dry,” Derek manages between kisses, using the towel to wipe loosely at Stiles’ neck.

“Hmmm, you do it,” Stiles demands, holding up his arms and grinning at Derek.

Derek rolls his eyes, but does as Stiles requests, rubbing at his skin until he’s pink and warm and dry. When he’s done he bends to kiss at Stiles’ collarbone, follows the marks the towel’s left on his skin with his tongue.

Stiles gasps, arching into him as Derek lowers his head, swirls his tongue around one of his nipples.

“Oh god, I always forget how good that felt.”

“Happy to remind you,” Derek murmurs, grazing his teeth against Stiles’ pectoral and making him hiss., clutch at Derek’s hair. Derek mouths at the skin just above the left of his ribcage until he’s left a mark of his own, too.

“Come up, here,” Stiles tells him, “I’m still not used to kissing you.”

Derek obliges, melts into kissing Stiles once more. Stiles’ hands are pushing at his jeans, and Derek gets the hint, leans up over him to shove them off as quickly as he can.

“I remember this,” Stiles preens, running an appreciative hand down Derek’s stomach. “And this,” he adds, sliding his hand into Derek’s briefs.

Derek moans against Stiles’ jaw as Stiles curls his hand around his dick, squeezing it gently.

“Yeah,” Stiles says faintly, eyes on where his hand is dipping into the underwear. “God, you feel good. No one’s ever—” Derek cuts him off with a bruising kiss, doesn’t want to think about anyone else Stiles has ever been with.

Stiles smiles against his lips as though he knows what Derek was thinking, speeds his hand up and uses his foot to try and push Derek’s briefs off.

“You’re not that flexible,” Derek laughs, sitting up to take them off himself.

“We’ll see,” Stiles wiggles his eyebrows, taking his own briefs off as he watches Derek strip. “Yeah, that’s a nice look you got there.”

Derek agrees, although his eyes are trained on Stiles, finally able to admire him stripped bare and for Derek. It’s the best thing he’s ever looked upon, and he’s seen four of the wonders of the world.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” he says finally, coming back down to lie over Stiles.

Stiles’ legs fall open to welcome Derek between them, and Derek feels a rush of heat as their cocks finally brush against one another. Stiles is hard, leaking against Derek’s thigh and as he ruts against him slowly.

“You’re heavier,” he murmurs.

Derek forgets himself for a second and cracks into laughter, “Was that supposed to sound sexy?”

“No, I just…” Stiles pinches his shoulder, “Dude! It’s a compliment.”

“It is.”

“Yes! It’s nice. Like you’re a big, broad—”

“You’re not making this sound any better.”

“I’m sorry!” Stiles throws his head back, lets Derek bend to kiss behind his ear—he’s too amused and turned on to be angry—he just wants to always be touching Stiles. “Stop, hey, you’re distracting me!”

“Okay,” Derek gives him a pointed look, “You were calling me fat.”

“No, I wasn’t! God, I’m trying not to compare you to when we were—”

“But you are.”

“It’s just… Dude, let me just explain.” Stiles pushes at Derek until he sighs, props himself up over him.

What.”

“Wow, so you still get just as cranky when sex is waylaid as you ever did; it’s still cute.”

“Stiles.”

“Sorry! I can’t help it. I keep comparing it.”

Derek flinches, suddenly a lot less aroused, “Um, okay.”

“It’s not bad.”

“You’re making it sound terrible.”

“What I meant was,” Stiles groans as Derek moves to pull away, throws his arms around Derek’s shoulders and holds him tightly. “Derek, hey.”

“Maybe I should find my shirt.”

Hell no! Look, stop, hey,” Stiles kisses him, quick and easy. “I don’t want you to think I’m doing this because we have before.”

Derek blinks at him, “But, we have had sex before. And… when I came… your friends… I just assumed you’d…. assumed.”

“I know you did. I saw that look when Isaac made that comment, and I heard Erica, yesterday.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, so, just so you know,” Stiles puts his hand on Derek’s chest, looks up at him earnestly. “Dude, what we had before was so important to me, truly. But, I’m different, now, and I know you are, too. I just want you to know that whatever this is, it’s not nostalgia sex. I say something like you’re heavier now, and it sounds stupid but I meant it like wow, you’re a whole… you’re grown up Derek. I loved, you know, baby Derek,” he pulls a face just as Derek does. “That came out wrong, okay okay, look, we were kids! In college. I was still figuring out blow jobs.”

“I didn’t have any complaints,” Derek says gruffly.

“Believe me, I know,” Stiles smirks, and then his face goes serious again. “But, I want this because of you, today. You’re brave and clever and just as sharp as ever. You still make me feel better than anyone else does, even when we’re arguing in my battered up car together.”

“Oh,” Derek nods, gets what Stiles is trying to say because he’s had the same conversation in his own head a dozen times since arriving in Oklahoma.

“Do you understand what I’m trying and fucking failing terribly at saying?”

“Yes,” Derek says quickly. “I get it. This isn’t a weird rebound thing.”

Right, this is a new… this is a you and me, thing.”

“It always is,” Derek says simply.

Stiles kisses him in answer, winds his arms around Derek and pushes up into him.

“Can we have sex now?”

Derek snorts, “Succinct.”

“Hey, you gotta be quick around here. That whole heart to heart took a good ten minutes, and who knows how long we’ve got before another tornado hits.”

“Well, I certainly don’t want this interrupted,” Derek mutters, running his hand up Stiles’ thigh, enjoying the way Stiles shivers, ruts into him.

He wraps his arms around Stiles’ waist and flips them, pulls Stiles on top of him, slides his hands down to cup his ass.

“What do you want?”

“Um, everything?”

“Narrow it down for me,” Derek prompts, slipping his thumb down lower between Stiles’ cheeks.

“Hmm, that,” Stiles jerks into him, “You should hmmmm, do me.”

Derek laughs again, but reaches to the side, fumbling for his bag.

“Lemme just—”

“I got it,” Stiles launches over the bed to bring up Derek’s bag. “You came prepared?”

“Not because I thought we’d—I just always—” Derek throws an arm over his face as Stiles begins to laugh, rocking up and down on top of him.

“That’s so cute; you’re a boy scout.”

“Shut up.”

Stiles finds the lube Derek always has on him (he gets time alone in hotels and in his own tent every so once in a while) and crows.

“Awesome,” he opens it up, slicks his fingers, “It’s been a while, so give me a sec…”

Derek takes the lube from him, pours some on his own fingers, “We can—together—” he suggests, taking Stiles’ hand and moving it back.

“That’s good,” Stiles nods, gasps when Derek’s finger probes at his hole. “Go slow.”

“Of course,” Derek says softly, leans up to kiss Stiles’ neck, bite at the hollow of his throat.

He remembers Stiles likes to focus on more than one thing, likes every spark of pleasure to come as a surprise, something that crept up on him while he wasn’t paying attention. He keeps Stiles guessing where he’s going to kiss next, across his shoulder, his jaw, his mouth. Stiles is making tiny panting noises against his lips as they move their fingers together. He’s hot and tight inside, making Derek’s dick twitch every time he presses in. They’re rolling up into one another, their chests sweat slick and every inch of them touching where they can. It feels enough, already, Stiles so close to him, so sweet and responsive, kissing Derek fiercely whenever he has the breath to.

“You feel so fucking good,” he moans, sucking a bruise against the side of Stiles’ neck, just under his ear.

Stiles groans in response, pressing back against his fingers. “Keep going, I’m nearly—god I can’t wait for you to get inside me.”

Derek rolls them to the side once more, their legs tangling before he catches hold of Stiles’, his hands sweaty as they roam along Stiles’ skin. He watches as he trails his fingers up the inside of Stiles’ thigh, pressing into his hole easily, stretched and ready for Derek.

“Like this?”

Stiles nods, winds his free leg around Derek’s waist and pulls him in, “Yeah, this is good.”

Derek rolls on a condom, hissing at how sensitive his dick already feels, without even having had much attention at all, and leans down, lines himself up.

“You—sure— I can wait—”

“Jesus,” Stiles huffs, takes hold of Derek’s dick and slides just the tip in. They both groan together, Derek’s hands scrabbling to grab Stiles’, pushing them up against the headboard.

“Stay,” he tells him.

Stiles grins cockily, “You were taking too long.”

“You’re too impatient,” Derek retorts, sliding in slow and deep, bottoming out with a soft sigh. “God, you’re so good, you feel so good, Stiles—”

“Yeah,” Stiles rocks against him gently, getting used to Derek inside of him. His eyes roll back for a moment and then he whines, brings both his legs around Derek’s waist. “Oh god, yeah, okay, god, fuck me, Derek.”

Derek lets out a choked noise, still awed by the way Stiles is taking him, by how good it feels to be with him again, to be kissing him and holding him, to have this once more. He squeezes Stiles’ fingers, kissing his cheek as he pulls out only to slam back in, breathing hard against the side of Stiles’ face. He tries setting a slow, deep pace, but Stiles knocks his heels against his back, urging him on.

“Come on, you can do it hard, I won’t break.”

“You haven’t—you said you hadn’t in a while.”

“Yeah, and I want to feel you for a week, Derek, come on. Fucking wreck me.”

“Jesus, you make it sound like I’m going to do bodily harm.”

“With your cock you probably could.”

“Stiles!”

“Hey, I’m in the moment, I can’t be held accountable.”

“You’re making me sound dangerous!”

“Only you would think a good hard fucking would be a bad thing, Derek, seriously,” Stiles unwinds one of their hands to cup his face, kisses him softly. “You’re so cute, I swear, but I need it. I want you to. Fucking fuck me.”

Derek leans into his touch, brushing their noses together as he nods, props himself up on his elbows.

“Hold onto something, then,” he says with a wicked grin.

Stiles wiggles his eyebrows, shimmying his body against Derek’s, “Alright, alright, alright.”

“Don’t!” Derek calls out, “Don’t do Matthew McConaughey impressions if you want to keep me in the room.”

Stiles laughs, pretends to zip his mouth shut, and then it falls open on a cry as Derek thrusts into him harder.

“God!” Stiles cries out, fingers clawing at the headboard. “Oh god.”

Their hips are snapping together and Derek knows it’ll probably leave bruises on them both. It makes something wild shake loose in him. He needs this, he needs to remember this for as long as he can, wants to press against the bruises and keep them there, keep Stiles close to him.

“Never—felt—this—good,” he pants out, “Ever,” he clarifies quickly, and Stiles’ eyes fly open to look at him, hand coming up to touch his face again. Derek feels himself break into a million pieces at the softness of the touch, knows no matter what happens, he’ll never have anything like this again.

He’ll never love anyone the way he does Stiles.

“Touch yourself,” he grits out instead of saying something stupid like I love you, and Stiles barks out a laugh.

“Yessir.”

“Stiles!”

“Bossy,” Stiles snarks, but slides a hand between their bodies, scratching at Derek’s stomach as he goes and making him hiss. “Oh jeez, I’m not gonna—this is too much—god, Derek—” Stiles strips his cock furiously, trying to match his pace with Derek’s thrusts. Derek frees one of his hands from where it was clutching Stiles’ shoulder and wraps it around Stiles’ fingers. It feels as though they’re racing one another, both trying to get their first and make it last at the same time.

Stiles scrunches up his face, suddenly, body going taut beneath Derek’s and then he’s coming all over his stomach. He clenches around Derek, and he’s so keyed up, so tight with the pleasure he only needs another deep thrust inside of Stiles to come himself.

They come down together, Derek breathing heavily against Stiles’ shoulder. Stiles grins where his mouth is resting on Derek’s cheek.

Derek pulls back to look at him, “What?”

“Nothing, I just realized I’m definitely gonna be annoying in the jeep now; not gonna be able to sit properly for a week.”

Laughing, Derek tries to hit him with the pillow, ends up kissing him again before collapsing to the side, severely, painfully in love and happy for a split second.

*

Derek wakes before Stiles. It’s bright outside, the storm crackling in the distance, but the thunder sounding like it’s coming closer. He turns his gaze to Stiles, curled into his side and breathing softly against Derek’s shoulder. There’s a cowlick of hair sticking to his forehead, and Derek sweeps it away, runs a finger along his cheek.

It must seem crazy, he supposes, to think he’s falling in love with Stiles again. He supposes the feelings he’s always harboured for Stiles have never really gone anywhere far. He’s never really let go, no matter how much he tried to tell himself he had. 

Stiles lets out a long breath, squishes closer to Derek and rubs his nose against Derek’s skin.

“What’re you thinkin’?”

Derek hums, rolls over to rummage in his bag, tug out the camera inside.

“Want to take a picture of you.”

“Ugh, no. I still have come on my stomach, dude.”

“Just the back of your head, then,” Derek says drily.

“I bet you say that to all the girls,” Stiles croons.

Derek swats him on the arm, shuffles around until Stiles—playing dead—rolls into him, head in the dip of Derek’s armpit.

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“I’m always ridiculous.”

“Fine,” Derek snaps a picture of what he can see of Stiles’ face— he’s smiling, despite trying to hide himself— and Derek’s heart skips as he looks between the screen of the camera and Stiles.

“Almost handsome,” he says, putting the camera away.

“Ha ha,” Stiles dances his fingers down Derek’s back, runs them over the curve of his ass, “I think I really want to rim you, right now.”

Derek shudders, “Christ, okay, yes, yes, now—”

A low, eerie alarm begins to whine around the farm, and Stiles sits up and then winces sharply.

“Ah haaaaa!”

Derek preens, and Stiles thumps him in the chest, “Do that later, shit, that’s a five minute warning, dude!”

“I thought your machines had thirteen minute guarantees?” Derek rolls off the bed as Stiles gets up, begins hopping around looking for his clothes.

“They’re not perfect!”

Stiles bounces around as he yanks on his socks, wincing at the fact they’re still damp.

Derek glances at his watch, sees they’ve only been asleep a couple of hours. He hopes the whole house didn’t hear them, but they were pretty loud.

“How much money d’you think the rest of them have riding on this?”

Stiles chuckles, “Hundreds, probably. And, specifics, too; ten bucks says Lydia got the position right.”

Derek baulks, “I’m not telling her that.”

“Mmm,” Stiles swoops down to kiss him quickly, “It’s cute you think she won’t just know.”

“That’s weird, and creepy,” Derek huffs, tugging on his own shirt. “Besides, it might have been the other way around, she doesn’t know.”

“Yeah, we’re the super versatile bisexual ass kings, can I get a high five?” Stiles holds his hand up accordingly.

Derek blinks at him, “Are you serious? The super versatile bisexual ass kings?”

“’S’got a good ring to it, especially when you say it all dry and boring like that; like it’s no big deal.”

“It is a big deal,” Derek points between them, ignoring Stiles’ pout when he won’t high five him. “This is a big deal. I’m not going out there and telling them which of us was—was— there’s a tornado coming!”

“Yeah, which means I have to go do some work and you should go… do sexy things elsewhere so I don’t get distracted?” Stiles grabs a beanie from the top of the dresser, pulls it over his hair. “Left it here last time,” he explains as he opens the door for Derek.

“Were you here with—” Derek stops himself; it’s not his place to ask who Stiles might have been here with before.

Stiles rolls his eyes, guessing Derek’s question, “I told you we should have had the talk, first.”

“Then,” Derek clenches his fists, “This was…”

“I was here alone, have been for quite some time, dude. Never really got over you,” Stiles pats his chest and then Derek’s. “Doesn’t mean it was healthy, doesn’t mean I approve of my own lack of sexy times but I promise it was sporadic and never as… mind blowingly good as that.”

Derek tries not to stupidly puff out his chest and clearly fails when Stiles’ smile widens.

“You dork.”

“Shut up.”

“Guys!” Danny bursts out of the room opposite theirs, sleep addled and glasses askew. “Let’s go!”

Derek clatters down the stairs with them, nodding when Stiles gestures to where his friends are already lined up outside with their equipment.

“I’m gonna go help out, stick to the walls of the farm!”

“Sure,” Derek takes a picture of him as he backs away, and he grins at Derek, waves brightly.

Erica’s taking shots of Scott and Allison setting up a satellite dish; Boyd behind her nodding at something Lydia’s explaining.

It’s oddly relaxing watching everyone work, the tornado seemingly just far enough to get good readings without anyone hurling into the action again.

Later in the day, Derek and Stiles go for a drive, and Stiles blows Derek against the back of the car, the cornfields stretched out in front of him as he clutches at Stiles’ shoulders, moans his name as he comes.

“We’re gonna do an evening chase, later,” Stiles tells him, biting his lip as Derek jerks him off, still half clothed himself.

“Mhm.”

“Some would say it’s romantic.”

Derek laughs, ducks to mouth at Stiles’ shoulder, pushing his shirt out of the way to find a bruise he’d left the night before and worry at the mark.

“Yeah?”

“Like nggg, like a mini date!”

“Sure,” Derek continues to work his hand around Stiles, grinding up against him slowly.

“Are you even listening to me? I’m trying to be romantic!”

“And I’m trying to make you come.”

Stiles’ fingers dig into Derek’s sides, and he rakes them down his skin in a way that makes him hiss, wish he had the same refractory period he’d had when he was sixteen.

“Keep—going—just—” Stiles kisses him clumsily, half just panting against his mouth before he snaps his eyes shut, comes all over Derek’s hand.

Derek preens at the sated look on his face when he opens his eyes a few moments later.

“You look way too happy with yourself,” Stiles chides him.

“I just like being able to do this with you again.”

Stiles hums, face going sombre, “You gonna miss it? Miss me? When you go?”

“You know I will,” Derek mumbles, tugging up his jeans.

“I haven’t had a vacation in a while,” Stiles wiggles his eyebrows, “We could take a trip?”

“Sure.”

“You don’t sound particularly enthusiastic.”

“I just,” Derek scrubs his clean hand across his face, “We’re gonna end up right back where we started, Stiles.”

“I knew it,” Stiles huffs, straightening up off the car and redressing, quick as a flash. “I knew you’d find some dumb shit way to make this seem like it was a terrible idea. I can literally hear you saying we shouldn’t have done this.”

“I wasn’t going to say that.”

“Yes, you were!”

“What do you want from me?” Derek throws his arms out wide. “Any trip we take ends, Stiles. If we were to be together, properly, I would want it to be full time not—not—whenever it’s not tornado season!”

“So,” Stiles narrows his eyes at him calculatingly. “You think what? We have to be together all the time to work? People have long distance relationships all the time, dude.”

“My best friends are having a baby. They’ve been together for years, they live together, go to work together—”

“You would hate living in each other’s pockets.”

“—We don’t have to be like that, but I would like to see you every once in a while. I’d want a life with you; not half a year at best.”

“It’s not just me, you know; you’d have to give stuff up, too.”

“That’s just it,” Derek shrugs, “It wouldn’t feel like giving something up for me, Stiles, it’d be like gaining something more.”

Stiles blinks at him, looks devastated for a moment, “And, you think I don’t believe that? You think you wouldn’t be enough?”

“Well, I wasn’t before, so… who’s to say you won’t leave me—won’t leave again?” Derek shakes his head, swallows hard. “All this time I’d convinced myself I wasn’t waiting for you, wasn’t hoping you’d show up again, but I was. And, that was selfish of me, too. I buried myself in my job and pretended like it was enough, but it’s not. I want to argue in cars and share a bed and—be with someone, properly. So, we are, Stiles, we are right back where we started. Because I’m ready, and you’re not.”

“You can’t jump an ultimatum on me like this, dude, you just can’t.”

“Why not? What am I waiting for anymore? If you’re not…” Derek sighs, “I’d try, you know, to make this my life. I’m not… it’s not perfect, but I’d do it, if you’d ask. But, you won’t so,” he shrugs again. “I’m gonna walk back to the farm.”

“Derek—”

“Don’t bother,” Derek turns to start walking, gives him a small smile as he passes. “For what it’s worth, I don’t regret this, and I’m glad I came. If nothing else it made me realize I need to stop keeping people at arm’s length. You’re—you make me happy, Stiles. And, that was enough.”

It starts raining on the way back, and although Derek’s a little afraid a tornado will pick up, it doesn’t, and he can’t help feeling stupidly disappointed Stiles doesn’t pick him up, either.

*

The team seem to be a little confused about the dark mood between them on their last morning. Derek had bunked with Boyd and Erica, used to sleeping on the floor, but not able to catch a wink of sleep as he thought about Stiles in the next room. He'd declined going on their last chase, citing needing an early night before their flight. He knows they didn't buy it, but Danny had stayed behind with them, anyway, sat and talked them through what he was working on, didn't mention Stiles once. 

He knew he liked Danny.

Allison drives them to the airport, awkwardly rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet as Scott gets out their bags. 

"Whatever he said," Scott claps a hand on Derek's shoulder, "He didn't mean it."

Derek manages a curt laugh, "Don't worry about it, Scott, I was just a blast from the past for him."

"No," Scott's frown deepens, "You never went anywhere for him. We all knew it. He knew it. I think he's just... used to being by himself, you know?"

"He's not by himself," Derek manages, puts his own hand on Scott's shoulder, "He has you, remember?"

Scott's face brightens, and he squeezes Derek's shoulder, "You're a good guy, man. Have a safe trip, and I'll see you real soon."

"No, you won't, but, thanks!"

"Nah," Scott nods, backing away from him to hug Erica, "I will, I have faith," he clutches at his chest in such a familiar, Stiles like fashion that Derek feels it like a physical blow, turns to give Allison a hug.

"Thanks for having us."

"You were welcome, thanks for getting my good side all the time," she says lightly. "Sorry, uh, Stiles wasn't around this morning."

Derek rolls his eyes, "Stiles has always been shit at goodbyes."

"He said to give you this," Allison brandishes a bag of candyfloss at him, and Derek takes it so as not to wipe the earnest look from her face. Stiles might think it's a cute, meaningful sentiment to pass on through a friend, but Derek is done with even slightly mixed signals. He was fine before the trip, and he'll be fine long after, without Stiles.

"I don't know how he got hold of it," she laughs.

"He's... good at that kind of thing," Derek manages, "Easy gestures that don't mean shit," he adds to himself, and Boyd elbows him, murmurs not to be mean to Allison just because he's cross at Stiles. Derek feels chastened, puts a smile on his face and thanks Allison again. 

He tosses the candyfloss as soon as Allison and Scott are out of sight. Erica clucks her tongue beside him but says nothing. She'd threatened to go and find Stiles, hiding out somewhere on the farm no doubt, but Derek had insisted they'd miss their flight, wasn't sure he could bear another showdown. It's all been so much. 

Stiles makes him feel so much. 

He hates it.

Erica distracts him on the flight home, barfing periodically in the paper bags they hand out, and at one point, all over Derek’s lap. He heads home, miserable and stinking to high heaven.

Once he’s showered he sets out his cameras, begins sorting through the shots from the trip. His heart seizes up when he comes across the one of Stiles half curled up in his arms. He stares at it for a long time, tracing his thumb over the curve of Stiles’ shoulder, and then moves it to a long disused folder, his Stiles folder.

He tries to convince himself to delete the whole thing, thinking it would be better to start afresh. But, something stops him. He might not have come home with Stiles, but he did learn a whole lot about himself, and about them. He can admit to himself that he loves Stiles, that he probably always has, and that he definitely needs to move on.

There’s a wide enough selection to present to Finstock, and he types up his notes about which cameras he used, which lenses, and the stories behind the shots, stoically ignoring anything personal about how the team leader broke his damn heart.

Nobody said he wasn’t fantastic at brooding.

*

"Hale!" Finstock strides into the office at the beginning of the new week, drops a proof of their tornado shots down on his desk. "Good work; I've put some of these forward for photographer of the year; all three of you'll be up. Natural disasters and how we work to fight them," he grins toothily. "You've all done grade A work."

"Thanks," Derek ducks his head, glances through the pictures Finstock's chosen. There's one of Kira frowning down at a map, Stiles leaning over her shoulder as they talk about something; Lydia in her pretty dress looking magnificent beside a satellite dish; Isaac and Danny pulling tarp over a table, a tornado looming over them; Danny laughing in his van, surrounded by machines; Stiles looking wild and beautiful as he drove them into the water twister; the dusty town where they'd had that wonderful, happy afternoon; one of Allison and Scott beaming at one another, the high winds blowing their hair across their faces but their happiness clear; a couple of the tornadoes, beautiful, clear shots making them look monstrous and incredible; and the damn polaroid Boyd had taken of Stiles and Derek, smiling at one another on that first night. Derek swallows, keeps nodding in the hopes his boss doesn't notice he's not breathing as he looks at it. 

"NSSL are pleased, apparently a Miss Lydia Martin called to thank you all personally for your work; that's high praise, they said."

Derek snorts, "I'm sure it is."

Finstock looks down at him thoughtfully for a moment, and Derek feels himself begin to sweat under the scrutiny. 

"Uh, boss?"

"I don't say it much but you're my favorite team."

"We are?"

"Yes, and if you don't want to work a project in the future you just say, and I'll listen."

Derek feels his face heat up, "Boss—"

"The beard's getting a little..." Finstock uses a rolled up magazine to wave at Derek's chin, "It's clearly something you have to go through, and I understand heartbreak, believe me."

"Oh, no, I just haven't shaved—" (because he's been too busy wallowing). 

"I know, and I just wanted you to know that I... have your back. All of you. Even if Reyes is going to be leaving me for at least nine months. She better take some damn good baby pictures, I tell you."

"I'm sure she will."

"Mhm, and you'll be fine," Finstock nods then, pats Derek on the shoulder with the magazine (and, even if it's always been amusing to them that he treats them like kids, Derek suddenly appreciates the gesture, feels just a little bit better).

"Now, make sure you shave before you teach that class, later, I don't want all our customers scared off because they think you're rolled in from the street."

Derek scowls, things back to normal as Finstock strides on, yelling out his praise to Meredith and her work in New York.

*

“Good evening,” Derek greets the class—pretends he doesn’t hear the sigh from one of their regular students, Suzie, about the fact that it’s him, and not Erica—and looks up to smile at them all. He stops in place when he glances to the back of the room, and sees Stiles.

Stiles is stretched out over two desks, leaning on a goddamn radio that's sitting on the desk, and grinning at him.

“Uh,” Derek clears his throat, “This is just a beginners class—” he cracks his neck, swallows awkwardly as Stiles covers his laugh with his hand.

“So—ah you all have your cameras I hope.”

“I’m sorry,” Suzie holds up her hand, “Do you need some water, Mr Hale?”

“Mr Hale,” Stiles snickers, and Derek scowls at him, even as his face is heating up.

“No, thank you, I uh,” Derek feels confused, nonplussed, taken completely off guard. He has no words.

Slowly, the rest of the class turn to look at whatever’s caught his attention, staring right at Stiles.

“Sorry,” Stiles makes an apologetic noise, holds his hands up, “He once told me a boom box outside the window was his dream romantic moment—”

“I most certainly did not—”

“—And, I knew I’d get drowned out by all the traffic here in DC—there’s a lot more traffic than what I’m used to in the Midwest, I swear—gonna have to get used to it, I guess. If I’m going to be sticking around here, for a while,” he lifts his eyes to Derek. “Thought I should take a proper risk for once.”

“As opposed to running after tornadoes for a living,” Derek blurts out before he can stop himself. “Uh, sorry,” he directs to the rest of the class.

“Let him finish,” Suzie hisses at him. “He’s clearly doing something nice, here.”

“Why are you on his side?” Derek snaps back, and then bites the inside of his cheek. He’s torn between the desire to dive out of the window in embarrassment, or to throw himself at Stiles.

“Fine,” he sighs out when Suzie only shrugs unapologetically, before turning back to look at Stiles. Derek widens his eyes at Stiles in warning, “Can we do this outside?”

“I can’t put the music on?” Stiles pouts, “It’s your favorite song! Every Rose Has Its Thorn! I was gonna do a whole slow mo walk up to you.”

“That is not my favorite song and you know that—” Derek hisses and then stops himself, opening the door for Stiles, “Out here?”

“Fine, fine,” Stiles points at the class, “Just so you guys know, I have a really romantic speech prepared.”

Suzie coos at him, and Derek scowls; it’s as if she likes everyone more than him.

The door closes, and then it’s just Stiles and Derek, standing in one of the school’s corridors, a mural about pandas behind them.

“So,” Derek clears his throat, “You’re here.”

“Yeah, landed a couple of hours ago and your boss said you’d be here.”

Derek arches an eyebrow, “You went to my office?”

“With sunflowers and everything,” Stiles smirks, “Your boss is a character; lots of thinly veiled warnings about putting me through a wood chipper if I ever hurt you.”

Derek claps a hand to his face, “Of course; he thinks we’re his kids.”

“’S’nice you’ve got people looking out for you,” Stiles rubs the back of his neck, “Look, I uh, I’m here because… when I left the first time it nearly killed me. I loved you, but I needed to know I could do it alone, you know? I needed to put myself out there and see if I could do something good with my life. And, I did, and it was great, but then… suddenly you were back and god, Derek, I loved every second of it. I didn’t want it to end. And, I’m not gonna be a chicken shit this time, so, I’m putting it out there. I asked the NSSL for a transfer up here, gonna do some writing or schmooze some parties, something a bit more… permanent? Because I want to be here with you. I want to have a life with you. I’m glad I know how to do shit by myself, but I don’t want to, now. I want to take a risk, you know? So,” he wets his lips, claps his hands together, “What d’you think? D’you wanna maybe… go on a couple of dates with me and see… if we uh, if we can make it work?”

Derek feels his face break into a huge (stupid, no doubt) grin.

“I think you’re still nuts, but I’m in.”

“What? Really?” Stiles blinks at him incredulously. “I thought you’d at least make me sweat it for a bit.”

“Stiles,” Derek rolls his eyes, takes a step towards him. “I tried moving on, and I think last week proved more than anything I never really have. I don’t want to keep pretending like I’m not waiting for you. And, I certainly don’t want to waste any more time not being with you. I love you.”

Stiles clutches at his chest, “Dude, I love you—” Derek cuts him off with a kiss, pressing him up against the lockers. Stiles sweeps his arms up around his back, clutching at his hair tightly as he kisses him back.

Derek’s never felt happier in his life, even as Suzie leans out the door and takes a picture of them with her cell phone. He might just ask her for a printout.

*

Sometimes, Stiles travels with Derek, and it's wonderful showing him the world, finally. Derek loves nothing more than to see the light in Stiles' eyes as he breathes in knowledge from the cultures around them. Every so often, they go over to the mid west together, chase tornadoes, sit and eat chilli with Stiles' team (Liam has finally been allowed to step up now Stiles has moved on; much to Stiles' chagrin). Stiles picks up a lecture tour, talks to colleges across the country about the mystery that can be tornadoes, and Derek takes pictures of the college towns, of Stiles in his element as he teaches, later when they're in bed. 

Wherever they go, though, they fight, and they bicker, and they kiss, and most importantly, they pack up their boots together.