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216 + 1: Words To Say Instead of I Love You

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“Don’t flatter yourself, Bro.” Stiles sits across the room cross-legged, his head finally returning to normal after being thrown back in his outrageous laugh.

That laugh could be annoying if you weren’t the type to appreciate that sort of thing, but Derek has been around the kid long enough that it doesn't phase him anymore. It’s the best kind of irritating. And the thing Stiles does with his hands -- throwing them around every few words, raking them through his hair like he’s afraid it’ll disappear if he leaves it alone for too long -- just little things Derek notices that make his stomach twist with something he can’t place. Annoying in the most endearing way, like a best friend usually is.

Stiles adjusts his legs on the carpet, leaning on the couch of his own living room. “I highly doubt she said that. I mean, no offense -- but still.”

They’ve known each other for fourteen years now. Maybe it’s luck or situational circumstances that have kept them together, but in any case, they’re still friends. Some call them a weird combination, especially people who know them well enough, but they work. They’re polar opposites, sure -- but Derek’s never been comfortable with anyone like he is with Stiles.

“Okay, you can’t tell me not to be offended by that,” Derek shoots back, crossing his arms. “And you better believe it.”

Erica finally speaks up from the couch, tossing golden waves across her shoulder. “I believe it.”

“That doesn’t count,” Stiles protests, holding a finger up to her and finally taking his eyes off Derek. “You were drunk, everything is better when you’re drunk.”

She scoffs at him. “Actually I was high, and you know I wouldn’t say it was good if it wasn’t. The only time I’d lie for Der-Bear is if he killed someone and needed an alibi."

“Call me that again and it’ll be your murder I need an alibi for,” Derek bites back, and Erica just laughs.

“Ooh, snappy,” She says, and Derek rolls his eyes.

“I’m just saying,” Stiles breaks in again, “I think you’re hyping yourself up a little. Like that time you said you fought off a bear up in Niagara Falls! I call bullshit dude, when have you ever even been to Niagara Falls?”

Derek says, “It was northern California! Where the hell did you get Niagara Falls from?” just after Erica gets in a soft, “Oh I am so making popcorn for this,” to herself. She leaves the room and Derek distantly hears the beeping of Stiles’ ancient microwave in the kitchen in the next room over, but he’s preoccupied, instead focused on the challenging rise of Stiles’ left eyebrow.

“I call bullshit.”

Derek unfolds his arms and brings a hand up to his temple. “I’ve shown you scars, Stiles, what the hell.”

Erica’s shout of, “We’ve both seen ‘em, I vouch!” comes through from the kitchen doorway, and Stiles’ face shifts.

It’s mostly his narrowed eyes, but there’s also a hint of something at the corner of his mouth. A smile maybe? He is fucking with Derek after all -- no, it’s the hint of a smirk. “I don’t recall.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I,” Stiles punctuates, “don’t,” he says again, leaning forward, “recall.”

“Fine!” Derek shouts -- which rarely happens, but Stiles just gets him so worked up sometimes -- and he starts tugging off his shirt. It would be much easier if he were wearing a t-shirt, since the most prominent scar is down his right shoulder and he could just lift the sleeve a little, but no. He decided on a form-fitting long sleeve, requiring he remove the whole thing. Of course.

At least it’s never going to be awkward between them. Derek and Stiles have seen each other shirtless almost more times than either of them can count. Chopping firewood in the summers, the city pool when they were kids, various physical labour jobs and a multitude of sleepovers. Not to mention, they started skinny dipping together when they were incredibly young and have kept up the tradition ever since, making anything even remotely close (like, say, sleeping shirtless) more tame and manageable than it would probably have been otherwise.

To be fair, the skinny dipping started back when Claudia and Talia were first getting really close, when they brought their kids to each other’s cottages, when Stiles and Derek were only four and six; when they could become immediate friends without hesitation; when they could run into the water at 10pm, past their bedtime, ass-naked and goosebumps raised on their shoulders and thighs, moon shining, not a care in the world. And of course, even when Claudia passed it remained tradition. Something for all of them to hold onto, among their shared thanksgiving dinners and spring barbecues.

Derek jabs a finger at his shoulder once his shirt is on the floor beside him, swiveling his torso so Stiles can see better down the back of his shoulder blade, down to his ribs. It’s long but not deep, almost like the shallow but wide scar you would get from, for example, accidentally catching your knuckle while chopping vegetables. He’d gone to emerg just to get some gauze and anti-bacterial cream and that was essentially it.

He also had neglected to mention, when telling the story, that the bear was really only about half the normal size of an adult bear, and was only attacking him because he was being stupid.

“There you go, you little shit,” Derek says, jabbing his finger once again in the direction of a scar Stiles has definitely already seen (and asked about) at least thirty times in the past two years that Derek’s had it. “One shoulder scar for one Mr. Stiles Stilinski.”

Stiles’ eyes linger on the lighter lines of scar tissue on Derek’s shoulder before they meet his gaze again, something Derek notices a little too easily. Stiles’ tongue darts out to wet his lips before he speaks, and Derek thinks he probably shouldn’t notice that either. “I forgot how impressive that scar was. It looks like you survived a war,” he says, with an exasperated chuckle in his voice.

“I’m self-conscious about it. Can I put my shirt back on yet?”

Erica’s voice comes yelling once again from the kitchen just as the microwave timer goes off. “You took your shirt off? Goddamn Der, you couldn’t even wait until I got back? Jesus!”

Stiles replies in his regular voice, as though Erica hadn’t said anything at all. “I don’t believe you yet, keep it off for a little. And seriously, my ass you’re self-conscious about anything, dude.”

“I can hear you, Stilinski!” Erica shouts again, but Derek chooses to follow suit in ignoring her.

“I could be self-conscious,” Derek says, crossing his arms over his bare chest. He tracks Stiles’ gaze across his own torso without meaning to, once again. “I mean, my shoulder is pretty mauled, that’s a reasonable thing to be insecure about.” 

Stiles meets his eyes again, dropping his challenging attitude in favour of looking more hopeful. “Could I -- can I touch it?”

Derek can only shrug. The scars are just marginally more sensitive than the skin surrounding them, and the only other person who’s ever touched them is his mom. Not that he hasn’t let anyone -- it’s just that Stiles is now the first person to ever have asked. He figures it essentially can’t get weird between him and Stiles, so when the younger kid scoots closer, he doesn’t shy away.

With Stiles in such sudden close proximity, Derek can’t help the small breath of air he sucks in when Stiles’ fingertips first brush along the skin of his shoulder blade, tracing the lines of memory that bring Derek back to one of the scariest moments he’s ever experienced -- and yet, he doesn’t feel anything less than completely safe.

Of course that’s when Erica walks in, popcorn in hand, laughing as soon as she sees them. “Oh man, give me a second. I need to text the boys about this. I can’t -- God, I need to find my phone. I’ll be right back.”

Stiles and Derek agree non-verbally to ignore Erica’s commentary to continue their debate. “Shit, dude, these are sick.” Stiles’ eyes finally tear away from the scars to look at Derek once more, who immediately looks away.

Shrugging again, Derek picks up his shirt and balls it in his hands. Stiles is close now, and he chuckles softly at Derek’s reddening ears, flicking one lightly and murmuring something about how Derek gets when he’s embarrassed. “Yeah, well. At least you can’t say I’m not badass anymore.”

“I still don’t believe she said that, dude.”

Derek rolls his eyes, stretching out his shirt. “She said, and I quote, ‘no one is as good as Derek Hale when it comes to kissing.’”

“Not a chance. I’m not buying it,” Stiles reiterates for what must be the hundredth time, pushing Derek’s shoulder.

“Why not?” Derek asks, and he only has to focus a little bit on keeping the hurt out of his voice. Just a little.

Stiles laughs, pushing a hand through his hair again. “I just think that the statistics are unrealistic. No way you can look like that,” Stiles motions to all of him, “and also be a naturally incredible kisser. No one can win the genetic lottery like that, it’s just unfair. I refuse to believe it’s true. You’d have to be God-like for Lydia to compliment you at all, and I simply refuse to believe you’re allowed to have more than just your looks going for you.”

Derek feel his eyebrow rise. “There’s only one way to find out,” He says, struggling not to laugh.

“Is that a challenge, Hale?”

“Damn right,” Derek shoots, and Stiles leans away, taken aback, perhaps faux-surprised.

It takes a moment before Stiles is laughing. “Yeah right. Nice try, buck-o.”

He’s not exactly sure why, but once again, Derek is forced to try and keep the hint of hurt out of voice when he replies. He decides the best way for him to do that is to taunt, like they usually do. “Scared?”

“Hell no,” Stiles chuckles, louder this time. “If one of us is scared, it’s you.”

Derek’s eyebrows knit together, corner of his mouth going up in a sort of disbelieving expression. “That’s not true, what the hell?”

There’s a rustle that sounds from upstairs, but neither Derek nor Stiles pay it any attention, never tearing their eyes away from their challenging glare. “It is and you know it!”

“I’m not scared, Stilinski,” Derek laughs, feeling the tension in the air.

“I dare you.”

There’s a pause while Derek sputters. “What?” is all he can say. 

“I dare you to kiss me, Hale. You’d never do it.”

Honestly, Derek’s a little shocked that this is what this conversation turned into, shocked at how serious they’ve gotten.

There’s a brief moment where Stiles is glaring, with fire in his eyes -- the way he used to when he challenged Derek to any contest whatsoever -- and then Derek is cupping his jaw and pressing his lips solidly to Stiles’, breath hot and warm. Stiles’ lips are soft against his own and Derek doesn’t think about whether it’s weird, all too focused instead on the taste on his mouth when they part.

“No homo though, right?” Stiles asks after a couple breaths, even as his cheeks are flushed and his lips are starting to swell.

For some reason it feels like a punch to the gut. “Yeah,” Derek shrugs, “no homo.”

“Cool,” Stiles says, nodding. “Because I’m not sure I believe you yet.” And then he’s smirking again and pulling Derek in for another go.

But because timing is a thing that doesn’t particularly like Derek as a person, Erica chooses that moment to walk in, phone in hand -- which Derek actually only realizes because of the sound her phone makes when it takes a picture. Then Erica’s cackling witch-laugh echoes down the hallway as she runs away clutching the picture on her phone to her chest.

He doesn’t look back at the laughing Stiles before running after Erica, fists at the ready but smile on his face.

 

 

Later that night, when Derek is alone in his bed at 3a.m. unable to sleep for the excited uneasiness in his stomach, he thinks for a second that maybe something has changed.

Then, of course, he shakes his head at his ridiculous sleep-deprived mind and rolls over.