Chapter 1: Chapter One
In early May, Stiles stood up at a pack meeting and cleared his throat, looking half-nervous and half-proud.
Derek swallowed—he was pretty sure he knew what was coming—and tried to sink back further into the couch.
“So,” Stiles started, running his hand through his hair. “I’ve made my college decision. I’m going to the University of Texas, in Austin.”
Derek saw his own emotions reflected on everyone else’s faces, shock and sadness being quickly and purposefully overlaid with happiness and pride. Scott was the first to manage it, unsurprisingly, and stood up, opening his arms for a hug.
“Why there? I’m totally proud of you, man,” he added quickly. “But why there?”
Stiles shrugged and moved on to hug the Sheriff, who looked about ready to burst with pride. “It’s a good school with a great honors program and they gave me a really generous scholarship. Plus, Austin is supposed to be a cool place.”
Derek plastered a smile on his face—it felt incredibly, unbelievably fake—and gave Stiles a quick pat on the shoulder when it was his turn in the receiving line.
Derek twisted around and looked up at Stiles. “Hi. Why aren’t you at Scott’s party?”
Stiles shrugged as he carefully picked his way down the little slope, then plopped down next to Derek. “Was there for a little while, just wasn’t really feeling it. Missed you,” he said, bumping their shoulders together.
“How’d you know this is where I’d be?”
“This is where we came last year. Remember, I said I found the best place to watch all the fireworks and you didn’t believe me?”
Derek nodded, of course he remembered. Last year, Stiles dragged everyone out to this little outcropping in the Preserve, where you could see the Fourth of July fireworks shows from three different towns.
Stiles drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, staying silent. It had been a couple months, but the two of them hadn’t really talked about the fact that Stiles was leaving.
It was going to be a big change for the pack. All the older members had decided to take a gap year after high school, mostly to deal with the lingering supernatural issues and help the younger kids. But now, Lydia was heading to MIT and towing Jackson with her—no surprise there—while Scott, Kira, and Isaac were staying local.
Derek was going to miss Lydia, for sure—and Jackson, perfunctorily—but if he was honest with himself, it wasn’t anything compared to how much he was going to miss Stiles. They had grown a lot closer over the past three years, from reluctant allies to contentious acquaintances to, finally, honest friends. In fact, if pressed, Derek could admit that Stiles was probably his closest friend. And now he was leaving.
“So,” he said, leaning back on his hands to look up at the sky. Still dark—the fireworks hadn’t started yet. “Austin. When are you leaving?”
“Early to mid-August. I want to take my time driving down there and have a little bit of time to settle in.”
Derek nodded. “Smart.”
It was silent for a few seconds, and Stiles’ heartbeat ratcheted up. He started fidgeting, his knee a blur of perpetual motion, and Derek recognized the signs of something important that Stiles wanted to say. But he didn’t press.
Finally, Stiles turned toward him. “Dude, you should totally come with me.”
“What? Like on the road trip?”
“No, come with me. To Austin. Get out of Beacon Hills.”
Derek paused. “What?” he asked again.
Stiles sat up, his eyes clear and serious. “I want you to move to Austin with me. Leave Beacon Hills in our rearview mirror for a while.”
“You’ve been thinking about this, haven’t you,” Derek said, not bothering to phrase it as a question. For as much as Stiles could be brash and reckless, he thought things through, and this wasn’t an exception.
And to his credit, he didn’t even pretend otherwise. “Yeah, I have,” he said, nodding. “And I think it could be really good for you.”
Derek blew out a breath and scratched at his beard. “This is pretty out of the blue. That’s—I can’t just up and leave Beacon Hills, Stiles, that’s ridiculous.”
“Which is exactly why I’ve been too chicken-shit to bring it up,” Stiles said with a wry grin.
“Is this—are you just worried about not knowing anyone?”
Stiles frowned and shook his head. “No, that’s not it at all,” he said, and Derek listened carefully. No lie. “This town…,” he trailed off, looking out over Beacon Hills. “It’s been kinda shit, Derek, to me and especially to you.”
Derek snorted—there was an understatement if he’d ever heard one—and was pleased to see Stiles smile. “But aren’t you worried about leaving the pack?”
Stiles chuckled, but there was no mirth in it. “Yeah, of course I am. But this has been my life since I was 15, and I’d like to see for a little while what life is like, to see what I’m like without supernatural monsters-of-the-week looming around every corner like we’re in some kind of fucking TV show. If that makes me selfish, then…okay. I think I’ve earned a little bit of selfishness. But things have pretty much been under control for the past several months. Scott’s a good alpha.”
“He is,” Derek agreed, pleased that there wasn’t a hint of a lie in his own voice. He and Scott had gotten over any animosity between them a while ago, even if they’d never be the closest of friends, and he never really wanted to be an alpha anyway.
A sudden clap of noise made them both jump, and Derek leaned back on his elbows to watch the colors explode in the sky. Stiles mirrored his position, and they watched in silence for a little while. “So what about you?” he asked finally.
“What about me?”
“Don’t you want to figure that out, too? See what’s beyond the death and destruction that our little Beacon Hills provides on a regular basis?”
Derek sighed. He hadn’t had a happy, normal life since he was 16—nearly 10 years. Living in New York with Laura had revolved around just surviving and trying to deal with their grief, and his life in Beacon Hills had been the aforementioned shitshow. “I don’t know.”
“When was the last time you did something just because you wanted to?”
“What makes you think I want to?”
“Because you never said that you didn’t,” Stiles said plainly, and when Derek turned to look at him, he could see the fireworks reflected in his eyes.
“You deserve that, you know, you deserve to have a normal life,” Derek said. “Well, as normal as it can be, under the circumstances.”
“And so do you.”
“I’ll think about it,” he said finally, and Stiles grinned.
For the next few days, Derek couldn’t think about anything else. He went for long runs around their territory, turning it over and over in his head. Could he just—up and leave, this land that’s been in his family for generations? But he realized one day, as he passed Scott and Liam out on their own patrol, that it wasn’t his responsibility anymore. Not wholly, anyway.
And maybe he, too, could be a little bit selfish for once. Because for the first time in a long time, there was this curl in his chest, this fissure of excitement and anticipation. The feeling, actually looking forward to something instead of just ruminating endlessly in the past, was depressingly foreign.
Without making any conscious decision to do so, he found himself in the woods closest to Stiles’ house. And before he could lose his nerve, he leapt up to the roof and rapped on Stiles’ window—at least he’d gained an ounce of self-preservation and started locking it.
Stiles slid it open with a huff and waved him inside. “I have told you about a million times that you can use the door. My dad doesn’t even dislike you anymore.”
“But this way is more fun,” Derek said, baring his teeth in a grin, and Stiles rolled his eyes.
“Could you put on a shirt, please?” Stiles said, waving a hand at him as he turned back to his laptop. “Just—yeah. That pile on the bed is clean. I think.”
Derek rifled through it until he saw something that might fit him, one of Stiles’ plaid over-shirts, and slipped it on.
Stiles blinked when he turned back around. “You’re wearing plaid,” he said, and Derek gave him a flat look.
“I’ve never seen you wear plaid before!” he protested. “It’s…weird.”
Derek sighed. “You’re weird,” he said, reaching for the buttons.
“Don’t unbutton it!” Stiles yelped, actually batting his hands away. “It’s—it’s fine.”
“It’s the only thing that fit.”
“Whatever. So to what do I owe the pleasure of this little visit? Not that I don’t welcome your charming conversations at all hours of the day.”
“Pretty harsh words for someone who you’ve asked to move cross-country with you.”
Stiles’ eyes lit up. “Ah. So you’re telling me that you’re coming.”
“That’s not what I came here to say,” Derek said, which was not a lie.
“Uh-huh. Are you sure? It doesn’t seem like this visit was, uh, planned,” Stiles said, gesturing at him.
“I’m not saying yes,” he said carefully.
Stiles crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, a hint of a smile on his face. “Okay. Then let’s just talk in hypotheticals.”
“Like what?” Derek said warily.
“Like what about the pack?”
“What about it?” he said, tilting his head. “Scott has it under control, we’ve talked about that.”
“Yeah, but what about you?” Stiles said with a broad gesture. “Would this make you, uh—”
“An omega?” he said wryly, and Stiles nodded. “No, you don’t have to maintain constant physical proximity. Kids leave for college all the time, after all, and this would be kind of the same thing. I could still be connected to this pack.”
“Well, that’s good. What about packs in Austin?”
“Territory and stuff are usually more fluid in big cities, where there are lots of people coming and going. But I could reach out to my contacts, see if they know anyone in Austin, if there’s anything we should be aware of.”
“Might be a good idea,” he said, and Derek agreed. “Where would we live?”
“Uh, I figured you’d be living in the dorms. I could find an apartment or something.”
Stiles scrunched up his nose and shook his head. “No way. I’ve been looking at apartments.”
“Really?” Derek asked, surprised. He would have thought that Stiles wanted the whole traditional college experience.
“I already feel older than everyone else—I mean, I am older than everyone else, but you know what I mean. I just…I have no real desire to live with some stranger and use a hall bathroom and deal with all that shit. It’s supposed to be all these character-building experiences, right? But I think I’ve had enough of those, thank you very much.”
Derek allowed himself a tiny smile. “I suppose.”
“And, you know,” Stiles said, looking down to pick at a thread on his jeans. “Panic attacks, insomnia, and night terrors aren’t really conducive to having a roommate.”
“Are—uh, are those still bad?” Derek tried, but Stiles just shook his head, waving his hand.
“I don’t want to talk about it. So, yeah. Apartment living for me.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Derek decided. “I’ll find a place.”
“You will?” Stiles asked, sounding way too excited for such a gesture, and Derek raised his eyebrows. “Dude, you just said will instead of could.”
Derek opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Stiles just sat there and grinned at him.
“I, uh, I want to. I do. But I just—”
“Feel guilty? Like you’re deserting everyone?”
Derek nodded, relieved that he didn’t have to put it into words. “Yeah.”
Stiles drummed his fingers against his leg. “Me too.”
“Then how do you…,” he said, trailing off, and Stiles shrugged.
“I just—I really want to, you know? I want to do something for myself, I want to see if I can do it. And hell, if I hate it, I can just come back. Plus, I’m young, this is when I’m supposed to be selfish and try new things.”
“I’m not as young as you,” he pointed out, and Stiles rolled his eyes.
“Sorry, old man, point still stands. When did you ever get the chance to do something like this? You’re our age emotionally, anyway.”
Derek frowned half-heartedly at him but didn’t press the point.
“If you like living here and you want to stay,” Stiles continued, “then you should. But if not, if this is just about some misguided guilt and sense of purpose that actually makes you miserable…then I say fuck it. Try something new, see if you can be happy somewhere else.”
Derek scratched at his beard. “Okay,” he said finally, and Stiles stared at him, his mouth open just a little bit.
“Okay, okay? Like, okay as in you’re coming, or okay as in ‘okay, I just decided which woodland creature I’m gonna chase on my run home?’”
He sighed—agreeing to this meant subjecting himself to a lot of Stiles. “Okay, as in I’ll come.”
“Okay,” Stiles repeated, his face spreading into a grin. “Wow, okay, awesome. I feel like I should pop a bottle of champagne or something.”
“You better not be bringing me along just to buy you alcohol.”
“Yep, that was it, the only reason,” he said easily. “Is this you saying no? You’re uninvited, then.”
Derek shoved Stiles’ shoulder on his way past to the window, where he easily hopped down to the ground.
“Hey,” Stiles called out after him, leaning out. “We gotta plan this, you know.”
“Come over to the loft tomorrow,” he replied, and Stiles gave a friendly wave before ducking back inside.
Derek thought about shifting for his run back, but he was still wearing Stiles’ shirt and didn’t want to risk it. So he just sighed and settled for a human pace instead.
Derek was leaning against the open door when Stiles appeared around the corner, smirking. “You’re excited, aren’t you?”
“No,” he lied, and Stiles pushed past him with a laugh.
“Whatever you say, sourwolf.”
“Don’t call me that,” he said automatically.
“Sorry, dude,” Stiles said with a wink as he sprawled on the couch, and Derek rolled his eyes.
“So,” Stiles repeated. “Any second thoughts?”
Derek hesitated. “Not exactly.”
Stiles pumped his fist and pointed at him. “Now that’s the kind of enthusiasm I’m looking for.”
“Second-guessing the amount of time I’ll have to spend with you, maybe,” Derek shot back, and Stiles grinned.
“You’re so lucky, don’t even lie. People would kill to spend that much time with me.”
“Someone’s gonna get killed, that’s for sure,” he grumbled, but Stiles’ grin just widened.
“Ah, you’re such a charmer. Anyway. Our apartment.”
“I said I’ll find a place.”
“Um,” he said, taking a pointed look around. “Not to, you know, offend your delicate sensibilities or anything, but can we please avoid places with holes in the walls?”
Derek rolled his eyes. “It’ll be nicer than the loft, I promise.”
“Fine. I’m trusting you,” he said, and even though his tone was teasing, Derek felt the reverberation of his words.
“You wanted to drive, right?” he asked, changing the subject, and Stiles nodded. “How far is it?”
“About 1800 miles. So—three days?”
“Yeah,” Derek said, doing the math in his head. “Depending on what car we’re driving.”
“But my baby,” Stiles said, with a plaintive look on his face.
“Your Jeep? What about it?”
“I want to bring her to Austin, but I’m afraid she wouldn’t survive the trip.”
Derek agreed. “I am not riding halfway across the country in that thing, no way,” he said, but Stiles just rolled his eyes, grumbling something about prissy werewolves.
“I guess we could tow it, but then what about our stuff? Or your car?”
“I’ll look into it.”
Stiles nodded and reached into his backpack for his laptop. “So here’s what I was thinking about the route…”
The next month was a whirlwind. Derek thought about selling his loft but decided to “donate” it to the pack instead, giving them an extra safe space as well as leaving a place for him to stay when he came back. He boxed up his meager belongings—it was kind of sad, really—and packed the small truck they rented. They decided to tow the Camaro and have the Jeep shipped to Austin, much to Stiles’ chagrin.
On the morning they were scheduled to leave, Derek yawned and hid in the truck for as long as possible. Even though it was so damn early in the morning, everyone had come to the Stilinski house to see them off, and he was trying to avoid socialization for as long as possible.
Derek wasn’t surprised when Melissa dragged him out and hugged him, but he had to hold back a little shocked noise when the Sheriff did, too. “I know that my son doesn’t need anyone to take care of him,” John whispered in his ear. “But you do it anyway, you hear me?”
John gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder as they pulled apart, and Derek tried to smile reassuringly at him. Kira was next, her lower lip trembling, and Derek gave her an extra squeeze as she hugged him. The two of them had gotten fairly close—they trained together a lot—and he would miss her. “You are not allowed to go off the grid, you hear me?” she said, her voice muffled against his chest. “I will just keep emailing you.”
“I have no doubt.”
Stiles and Scott hugged for a long time, rocking back and forth while speaking lowly to each other, and Stiles’ eyes were damp and red when they finally pulled apart. While Stiles launched himself at his father, Derek stuck his hand out toward Scott. But Scott just gave him one of those grins and hugged him instead, pushing his hand aside. “Proud of you, man.”
“Uh, thanks,” he said, patting Scott on the back awkwardly.
“Okay!” Stiles said, clapping his hands. “We gotta go, otherwise I’m gonna cry, and that’s going to be very embarrassing for everyone. Der, you’ve got first shift.”
Catching the keys that Stiles tossed at him, Derek rolled his eyes but didn’t protest. He swung himself up into the cab of the truck and drove off slowly while Stiles hung himself out the window and waved at everyone until they turned the corner.
“So many hugs,” Derek complained, and Stiles laughed.
“Yeah, people love you. Deal with it, dude.”
Derek wrinkled his nose, and as they drove to the outskirts of town, it was quiet between them until Stiles heaved a sigh, drumming his fingers against the door. “You want to say our final goodbyes?” he asked, and Derek nodded. Unfortunately, he knew exactly what Stiles was talking about.
He drove to the site of the old Hale house first. Last year he finally had the whole thing torn down, and the pack surprised him with a little memorial garden, complete with newly-planted trees, flowers, and a plaque with the names of everyone who had been lost—including Erica, Boyd, and Allison.
Derek wandered around for a few minutes, smelling the flowers and then crouching down next to the plaque that sat in a nest of gravel. “I’m sorry I’m leaving,” he whispered, the metal cool under his palm.
Stiles dropped down next to him and traced his finger over Allison’s name. “You know your family would just want you to be happy, right?”
“I just feel like I’m deserting them.”
Stiles shook his head. “Uh-uh. They’re proud of you.”
Derek rolled his eyes with a sigh and stood up. Before they left, he plucked several hyacinths—his mother’s favorite flower—and handed them to Stiles, who took them with a small smile. He drove to the cemetery next, without being told, and stayed several steps behind Stiles as he wove his way through the maze of headstones.
Derek shifted his weight, feeling like he was intruding on something way too private while Stiles knelt down next to a headstone and gently placed the hyacinths on top. “Hi, Mom. I’m, uh, I’m leaving Beacon Hills for a little while, for college. I got into UT. Derek’s actually going with me—but you know him, we’ve talked about him,” he said, waving his hand, and Derek stifled a smile. “Don’t worry about Dad, he’s in good hands, he and Melissa finally figured out their shit. She’s the best, and she does a great job of nagging him about his diet. Anyway, I just wanted to say goodbye for a little while. I, uh, I hope you’re proud of me.”
His voice was thick, and Derek stepped forward to gently grip the back of his neck with one hand. “She would be proud, you know that, right?”
Stiles nodded and sniffed once, wiping his face with the sleeve of his shirt. He slowly perked up while they walked back to the truck, and he was nearly back to his normal energetic self as they made their way to the highway.
“Wait,” he said suddenly, poking Derek in the shoulder. “There’s something important we have to talk about first.”
Derek froze. “What?”
He paused dramatically with one hand over his heart, eyes twinkling, and Derek relaxed a little bit. “I need to know your thoughts on Taylor Swift.”
Derek opened his mouth, closed it, then shook his head with a little laugh. “What?”
“She’s my girl, Derek, and it’s good road trip music, and I can’t have you hating on her, we won’t survive. We’ll have to scrap this whole plan and go in separate cars.”
“I can honestly tell you that I have zero thoughts about her.”
“Well,” Stiles said with a snort. “That will change by the time we get to Austin.”
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Thanks so much to all of you who are following along! ♥
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“It’s a little too on-the-nose, though.”
“But it’s a parody, Derek, get it? She’s embodying the persona that the media gives her, it’s brilliant. Did you see the video?”
Derek gave him a flat look. “Yeah,” he drawled. “Watching MTV is my favorite pastime.”
“Oh my god,” Stiles said, rolling his eyes. “You are so old, MTV doesn’t even show music videos anymore.”
“Yes, you geezer, Jesus.”
“Whatever. For the love of god, can we listen to something else?”
So far, they had listened to what Derek had to believe was every single song in Taylor Swift’s catalogue. Some more than once. Even though Derek could admit that it was fairly catchy and as much as he enjoyed Stiles waxing poetic about her songwriting genius or whatever, every man had his limits.
Stiles just smirked, continuing to scroll through music on his phone, and when Derek lunged for him, he batted his hand away easily. “Eyes on the road, Derek,” he said primly, plastering himself out-of-reach against the window, and Derek growled at him.
“Then at least put the older stuff back on.”
“Oooh,” Stiles said, completely ignoring him. “Look, there’s a Wendy’s, I’m starving.”
“We stopped at a gas station for snacks two hours ago,” Derek protested, even as he flicked the blinker on and headed for the exit.
“Youthful metabolism, dude.”
Derek sighed and pulled into the parking lot. “You got beef jerky and Snickers. Do you ever eat vegetables?”
“Yeah, but not when I’m on a road trip. I’ll go in,” he decided, hopping out before Derek had even put the truck in park. “What do you want?”
“Uh, just a burger’s fine.”
Stiles gave a jaunty little salute and headed inside. Derek got out of the cab and cracked his neck, trying to release the stubborn knot under his shoulder blade. He walked around the truck, just to stretch his legs, and took a deep breath, but all he got was fuel and the stale smell of a deep fryer. Not very smoothing.
“Think fast,” Stiles called out, and Derek threw his hand up just in time to catch the foil-wrapped burger thrown at his head.
Derek climbed back into the cab and ate his burger quickly, wanting to get back on the road. When he looked up again, Stiles was staring at him, looking particularly proud of himself. He quirked an eyebrow, but Stiles’ grin just got broader. “You really…wolfed that burger down.”
“How original. Keep that up and I’ll eat yours, too,” Derek said mildly, making Stiles mock-growl and put a protective arm around his food.
He tossed his balled-up trash at Stiles’ forehead and started the truck, maneuvering back to the highway. When he next looked over, Stiles was…dipping his fries in his milkshake? What the fuck? “What is that,” he said flatly, and Stiles’ jaw dropped.
“Are you serious? Have you never experienced the culinary delicacy that is fries dipped in a Wendy’s frosty?”
“That sounds gross,” he said, but Stiles only scoffed.
“It is delicious. Here, try it.”
Derek scowled at the hand that suddenly appeared in front of his face, but he did open his mouth to take the fry—only because Stiles was about to drip chocolate milkshake onto his jeans. But shit, that was actually really good, sweet and salty at the same time, and Derek licked his lips.
“You liked it, didn’t you?” Stiles asked, grinning. “I won’t even say I told you so, I promise.”
He sighed. “Give me another one.”
Derek suppressed his smile as Stiles crowed and held out another fry. He was fully capable of driving with one hand, which Stiles undoubtedly knew, but he took the fry with his teeth anyway. He added a thorough swipe of his tongue for good measure, to capture the stray milkshake drops trickling down Stiles’ fingers, and he tried to ignore the resulting spike in Stiles’ scent.
The two of them had stumbled through a conversation a year ago in which Stiles admitted that he thought he was bi, and after Derek confessed that he was, too, they never spoke of it again. Which was for the best. There was attraction on his part, sure—Derek didn’t really make a habit of lying to himself anymore, and Stiles had definitely grown into the breadth of his shoulders, with no more lingering traces of boy. But Stiles was his best friend, and he just…he didn’t think he couldn’t go there. There was so much in the way, practically more landmines and traps than Derek could process, and he wasn’t even sure it was a good idea, anyway. Especially not since they would be living together.
“Let’s listen to Red again,” Stiles decided, holding his phone deliberately out of Derek’s reach. “That’s the best one.”
Derek exhaled through clenched teeth but didn’t say anything.
“Ooh, room service!” Stiles said, dropping his duffel on the end of the bed and lunging for the menu. They were at a Hampton Inn in some small town near the California-Arizona border, and Derek stifled a yawn as he sat down on his own bed.
“Room service is overpriced,” he pointed out, but Stiles just rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, but you get the distinct pleasure of eating in bed while watching TV. And it didn’t really look like there was anything around here, anyway,” he said, and Derek grunted in acquiescence. “What do you want?”
“Surprise me,” he said, his voice muffled as he yanked off his shirt with one hand. “I’m gonna take a shower.”
“If you use all the hot water, you’re dead!” Stiles called out cheerfully, and Derek resisted the urge to flip him off over his shoulder.
The water was hot and the pressure was pretty good, but it wasn’t doing much for that damn knot in his shoulder. He was definitely making Stiles drive tomorrow.
The food was already there when he got out—must have been a longer shower than he thought—and Stiles was eating in bed, as promised, something that looked like pasta. Derek gave his own dinner, covered and sitting on the desk, the side-eye.
“Grilled chicken salad. Since you seem so concerned about vegetables,” Stiles said innocently, and Derek rolled his eyes.
“Thanks.” He resisted the urge to eat at the desk, just to be contrary, and climbed into bed, too. It was pretty comfy, after all.
“You’re welcome, Der-Bear.”
“Do not call me that,” he growled, but Stiles looked unbothered.
“I will find a nickname that you like.”
“Doubtful. What is this?” he asked around a mouthful of food, gesturing at the TV, and Stiles gave him a wide-eyed look.
“Have you never seen The Office? One of the best TV shows of the last decade!”
“I’ve been a little busy,” he said dryly, and Stiles heaved an exaggerated sigh.
“We have so much pop culture to catch you up on. But don’t you worry, my Padawan, you’re in good hands.”
Derek pasted a look of innocence on his face. “What?”
Stiles’ pained groan was a thing of beauty, and Derek tried to hide his smirk. “Oh my god. I can’t bel—oh, you’re such a dick,” he groused. He flung a piece of broccoli in his direction, but Derek just caught it in his mouth.
“This coffee is shit,” Derek commented idly, and Stiles snorted around the rim of his own cup.
“Sure is. But it’s freeee,” he said. “What do we have for cereal options?”
“Uh…,” Derek said, rummaging through the handful of mini cereal boxes that Stiles had snagged from the complimentary breakfast buffet. “Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran, Cheerios, Frosted Mini—”
“I call those!”
Derek opened the little bag inside the box and handed them over. “Calm down. And keep your eyes on the road.”
Even from behind Stiles’ sunglasses, Derek could feel the eye roll. “Will do, dad.”
“Speaking of, did you call him?” he asked, picking the Cheerios for himself. “He wanted to know where we stopped.”
“Sure did, texted him last night,” he said, crunching obnoxiously on the cereal. “You wanna listen to something?”
“Anything except Taylor Swift,” Derek said, and he got a vicious glare in response.
“I will throw you out of this truck, don’t even test me.”
He snorted. “I’d like to see you try.”
Stiles huffed but didn’t press the point. “I downloaded a podcast. It’s like, a fake news show about a paranormal town. It’s supposed to be really good.”
“Whatever,” Derek said, scrolling through Stiles’ phone. As long as it wasn’t pop music, he didn’t care.
“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.”
Derek reached for Stiles’ phone and groaned. “You only downloaded four episodes?”
“I didn’t know it was gonna be so good!” he protested.
“Can we get more?”
“I’m like, right up against my data for the month,” Stiles admitted. “We should wait til we find wi-fi somewhere.”
Derek sighed. “Fine.”
“I guess you’ll just have to talk to me instead,” he said, and Derek grumbled. “Unless you wanna give 1989 another listen…”
“Talking’s fine,” Derek interrupted, “what do you want to talk about?”
Stiles laughed and then fell silent for a minute, clearing his throat. “Actually,” he started, his eyes firmly straight ahead. “I haven’t told you one thing.”
“It was the condition my dad had, what I had to agree to so that he would let me come here.”
Derek waited, but Stiles didn’t continue. His heart was racing, though, and that made Derek anxious. “Yeah?” he said slowly, not sure what to expect.
“I…uh, I have to go to therapy.”
Oh, thank god, Derek thought, and he nodded, relieved. “That makes sense.”
Gnawing on his lower lip, Stiles gave him a little sideways look before looking forward again. “Really? I thought you might make fun of me or something.”
Derek blinked. “What? Why?”
“I dunno,” he said, shrugging. “You—you kinda have that whole stoic thing going on. And it’s not like we ever really talk about our feelings. So I thought you’d think it’s silly.”
He frowned. “It’s not silly. I know it’s, uh, been tough on you,” he said. Even though they didn’t talk about it very often, he knew Stiles had been having trouble ever since the Nogitsune. “I think you should try anything that could help.”
Stiles nodded, his hands twisting back and forth on the steering wheel. “I had to go—you know, back when, uh, my mom died, for the panic attacks and stuff. And those are back now, along with some other shit, so Dad said I had to go back.”
“What are you going to say? You can’t exactly tell a therapist that you were possessed by a demon.”
“I have no idea,” Stiles said, with a dry, humorless chuckle. “Guess I’ll have to figure that out.”
“So are you gonna try to rope me into that, too?” he asked, trying to lighten the mood, and Stiles laughed.
“Gotta say, man, can’t see you going to therapy.”
Derek murmured something in response and stared out the window at the dry, barren landscape, scratching his cheek.
“Absolutely not, Stiles. This is ridiculous. Stay on the highway.”
Stiles just cackled and flipped the blinker on. “I’m driving, sweet cheeks, which means I get to make the decisions. And I’m deciding that we’re stopping.”
Derek sighed. Stiles had seen billboards for an ostrich ranch, of all things, and insisted that they stop. He pulled into a spot in the lot, and Derek reluctantly stepped out of the truck. “This is ridiculous,” he repeated.
“You are no fun, Derek,” Stiles said as he tugged him forward by his sleeve. “Look! There’s ostriches, deer, birds, goats…ooh, and we can feed them!”
“I really don’t see the point.”
“Stop being a party pooper. And holy shit, it’s hot,” Stiles said, pulling his shirt away from his skin with a grimace. Derek didn’t point out the obvious—it was August and they were in the desert—and just grunted in response. “How are you going to survive?”
“What do you mean?”
“No leather jacket. How else will everyone know how tough and cool you are?” Stiles asked, grinning, and Derek shoved at his shoulder.
“Maybe I’ll just get a gun,” he said mildly. “That’s what people do here, right?”
Stiles’ jaw dropped, his eyes wide, and Derek smirked. “Just kidding.”
“Oh, thank fuck.”
“Plus, anytime I’m next to you, I automatically look cool, so…”
Stiles cracked up and slung his arm around Derek’s shoulders. “Aw, boo, I knew you were just looking for an excuse to spend more time with me.”
Derek ducked out from underneath his arm and strode over to the ticket counter, sliding a ten across for two buckets of animal feed before Stiles could protest. “I definitely don’t like boo.”
“Boo-bear? That goes well with Der-Bear.”
“No variations on boo, either.”
“Oh, wait a minute, you didn’t complain about sweet cheeks earlier!” Stiles crowed, and Derek rolled his eyes, fighting the blush that he could feel creeping up his neck and his ears.
“No sweet cheeks,” he said, thrusting one of the buckets at Stiles’ chest. “C’mon, let’s go feed some ostriches or whatever.”
Stiles jerked his chin at one of the pens as they passed. “Are you gonna be able to handle yourself around the deer?” he asked in a stage whisper, and Derek glared at him.
“I will feed you to the ostriches.”
“That doesn’t sound nearly as threatening as you think it does.”
“They’re really weird-looking,” Derek said, leaning on the fence.
“Did you know that ostriches are the largest bird? And the fastest,” Stiles said absently, and Derek hummed. “On land, that is, over 40 miles an hour.”
“And do they really stick their heads in the sand?”
“I think we have different definitions of interesting,” he said, easily dodging Stiles’ hand as he tried to smack him on the head.
They passed the deer again on their way out, and Stiles stepped closer, his eyes twinkling, and lowered his voice. “If you think you’re gonna wolf out in, like, some primal display of predatory instinct, just give me some sort of signal, and I’ll create a diversion.”
“I control myself around you all the time, I think I’ll be fine,” he shot back, and the words weren’t even fully out of his mouth before he winced. Stiles grinned, opening his mouth, but Derek cut him off before he could say anything. “That’s not what I meant! It was supposed to be an insult,” he said mulishly.
“Try to do a better job making your insults not sound like come-ons.”
Derek sighed and shoved him forward. The experience was ridiculous, he maintained, but it wasn’t all terrible. The donkeys were kinda cute, even though Stiles made way too many ass jokes. The little tropical birds were fucking annoying, though, and not only because Stiles got a picture of Derek covered in them and texted it to people before Derek could wrestle the phone out of his hands.
Derek let himself into their hotel room, this time a Holiday Inn in El Paso, and stretched. Stiles was in the exact same position Derek had left him an hour ago, stretched out on his bed with one arm over his head, except that now he was in his boxers and his hair was wet. “Feel better?” he asked, and Derek grimaced.
“Kind of.” Treadmills sucked—Derek would never be able to understand the purpose of running in place, like a hamster on a wheel—but at least he felt slightly less restless.
“Dude, you stink.”
“Nice words for someone who got you dinner,” he said, and Stiles sat up, making grabby motions. Derek sighed and tossed him one of the plastic bags in his hand. “There’s a Subway next door.”
“Ooh, Sun Chips,” he said happily, pawing through the bag. “My favorite. Thanks, buddy.”
“I’m gonna shower. Eat mine, and you’re dead.” Derek stepped into the bathroom, took a whiff, and sighed. He flipped the water on and stuck his head out the door. “Seriously?” he asked, wrinkling his nose, and Stiles huffed.
“I’m not apologizing for that!” he exclaimed, spreading his arms. “It’s a completely normal bodily function!”
“It’s called common courtesy.”
“Hey, don’t get mad at me just because you can smell it. You should be thanking me, actually, because you can do it and I won’t know.”
“Uh, no, I am perfectly capable of going three days without jerking off.”
“Wait, really?” Stiles asked, and Derek just lifted his eyebrows. “Wow, you are old.”
“Oh, fuck off,” he grumbled, flinging his sweaty shirt out the door and smirking when he heard Stiles’ agonized yelp.
He was mostly kidding about the smell, it was barely noticeable and easy to ignore as he showered. He was quick about it because he really was starving, and thankfully his sandwich was sitting untouched on his bed when he got out.
Stiles was finishing the end of his chips, and he held up his phone, wiggling it. “More Night Vale?”
Derek nodded and crawled onto the bed, stretching out on top of the covers and reaching for his sandwich. “More Night Vale,” he confirmed.
West Texas was pretty boring. Flat, dusty, barren, and Derek swore he saw tumbleweeds. Stiles was fairly fascinated by the huge windmill farms, but Derek found no such captivation by the endless flat, straight roads. At least they finally got a harsh rain shower, which helped him keep his attention on the road.
A loud popping noise suddenly cut through the rain and the truck jerked, across the road and off-balance, making Derek curse as he tried to get it under control and peer through the rain at the same time. Another car honked, swerving out of their way, and Derek clenched his jaw while attempting to navigate the unsteady truck safely to the shoulder of the road.
Finally, they were stopped, with the only noise coming from the thwack of the windshield wipers, and Derek exhaled slowly. The whole thing had probably only taken five seconds, but it felt like slow motion.
“Holy shit,” Stiles said, and when Derek looked over, his eyes were wide.
“Are you okay?” he asked, flicking on the hazard lights and undoing his seatbelt.
“Yeah. What the hell was that?”
“Probably a flat tire. But stay in the truck,” he said to Stiles, having to raise his voice a little to be heard over the rain. “I’ll be right back.”
Before Stiles could protest, Derek hopped out and was soaked pretty much instantly. He circled the truck carefully, trying to stay as far away from the road as he could, and blew out a breath at the sight of the flat right rear tire. It was what he expected, but it didn’t make it suck any less. He climbed back in the truck and nodded at Stiles’ expectant look.
“It’s gonna be miserable to change a tire in this weather,” Stiles said with a groan, but Derek shook his head.
“They don’t even provide spares in these trucks, we have to call their roadside assistance line.”
“Ugh, I don’t know if that’s better or worse,” he said, lifting his hips to fish his phone out of his pocket. “Do you have the number?”
Derek leaned over him to rummage through the glove compartment. “Yeah, it’s in here somewhere.”
“Dude, you’re dripping all over me,” he complained, and Derek shook his head vigorously before he sat up again, making Stiles groan. “You better stop or I’m starting with the dog jokes.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Just try me, Fido.”
Derek glared at him and flipped through the paperwork. “I have the number.”
“Yeah, except I have no service,” Stiles said, looking down at his phone and then reaching for Derek’s, which was resting in the cup holder. “You don’t either, fucking middle of nowhere.”
Derek swiped a hand through his wet hair and took a deep breath. “Okay. There was a gas station about a mile back; they must have a phone. I can go, you should stay here.”
“No way, man,” he said immediately. “We’ll both go.”
“You really don’t—”
“Don’t even waste your breath arguing. I’m going.”
Derek hesitated with his hand on the door handle. “Are you sure?”
Stiles just gave him a flat look in response and got out of the truck, so Derek hurried to keep up. The shoulder was thankfully pretty wide, and he nudged him over so that Stiles was on the side farthest from the road.
“Are you protecting me?” he yelled over the rain, and Derek rolled his eyes.
“Just stay on that side.”
“So this is pretty terrible,” Stiles said a few minutes later, and Derek had to agree. He was soaked to the bone, and wet boxers were the worst.
“You didn’t have to come.”
“Yeah, but in five years when we’re talking about this road trip, this is the part we’re going to remember.”
A car came screaming by then, right through a puddle, and as much as Derek tried to shield them both, it was pretty futile. “Oh, yeah?” he asked, looking down ruefully at his shirt, which was now splattered with dirt. “You want to remember this?”
Stiles just laughed, though, and bumped their shoulders together. “I wish I had a camera. You looked like a pissed off drowned cat.”
“Better than the dog jokes,” Derek muttered, and Stiles grinned.
They finally made it to the gas station, and Derek made a beeline for the counter. The roadside assistance line was surprisingly easy, and when he hung up, Stiles was approaching the counter with an armful of snacks. “Who knows how long we’ll be stranded?” he said dramatically. “We need to be prepared.”
Derek tried to bite back his smile. “They said they should have someone here in under an hour.”
“Well, better safe than sorry.”
Even though the rain had slackened off somewhat, the walk back still wasn’t exactly pleasant, and Derek had never been so happy to see a fucking truck. Stiles groaned and stripped off his shirt as soon as they got inside, draping it over the back of his seat. “How the hell can I be hot and cold at the same time? Yuck.”
Derek carefully averted his gaze and changed his own shirt, trying ineffectually to dry off with yesterday’s undershirt. There was nothing to be done about the wet boxers, unfortunately, and he shifted in his seat with a grimace.
Stiles swung his legs up onto the dash with a sigh and leaned against the window. “So. Now we wait.”
“Yep,” Derek said with a nod, snatching a Reese’s from Stiles’ stash and making him sputter.
He ripped the package open and took one, handing the other to Stiles. “So I reached out to some of my contacts about the Austin packs.”
“Yeah?” he asked, through a mouthful of peanut butter and chocolate. “Any luck?”
“There’s one big pack that’s…in charge, I guess. Rumor has it they’re nice.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. Do we have to do some kinda formal ‘we aren’t here to challenge you or take your territory’ thing?” he asked, and Derek shook his head.
“No, not really. Again, it’s a big city, so they’re used to people coming and going. But as a courtesy, since I used to be an alpha and since my, uh,” Derek said, pausing to clear this throat, “since a lot of people used to know my family, I reached out. And they issued an invitation for dinner, in a couple days.”
“Like…as just a friendly thing?”
“I’m pretty sure, yeah.”
“For you, or for us?”
Derek hesitated. “You—you don’t have to be involved in this anymore if you don’t have to. You don’t have to come.”
“I know,” he said, nodding. “But do you want me to come with you?”
“Yeah,” he admitted, after a long beat, and a small smile curled across Stiles’ mouth.
He paused again, trying to find the appropriate words. “But they’re—if we just show up together, with you as a human, they’ll probably think that we’re together. It’s a…just an old pack politics thing.”
Stiles shrugged. “So what? That’s fine, I don’t care. I think it’s probably good that we know them, just in case, and I’d like to go with you. Does Scott have to like, temporarily sign away our rights or something?”
Derek shook his head with a chuckle. “It’s not that formal.”
“Okay, good,” he said, yawning. “I’d love to avoid the supernatural drama for a little while.”
“You falling asleep on me?”
“Mhmm,” Stiles murmured, his eyes falling shut as he nestled further down in his seat. “Just wake me up when we get to Austin.”
Derek shook his head with a little smile and stared out at the barren landscape, letting the noise of the steady rain and Stiles’ calming breath lull him into an almost meditative state.
“Okay,” Stiles said, looking down at the map on his phone. “So we’ve got about 100 miles to Austin. We can push through, or we’re 20 miles from a town called Fredericksburg.”
Derek stifled a yawn. “What do you want to do?”
“Honestly,” he said, drawing out the word, “I think we should stop. We’re both tired, we lost all that time with the flat tire, it’s late. We’ll be fresher in the morning and have more time to unpack and stuff.”
Derek nodded. “Yeah. About 20 miles you said?”
“Yeah, take exit 477 for 290.”
The town was small and quaint, from what Derek could tell when they got there. “Does a town this small even have hotels?”
“There’s a B&B up here…take a left at that light. We’ll try there.”
The B&B was an old clapboard house, as quaint as the town itself, and the plump older woman behind the desk grinned and waved as they came through the door. “Welcome to the peach capital of Texas!”
“Oh, uh, thank you,” Stiles said, walking toward the front desk while Derek hung back. “Do you have any rooms for tonight?”
“Y’all are in luck, we have one left.”
“Then we’ll take it,” Stiles said, sliding his credit card across the counter.
“So what brings you boys to town?” she said as she clicked away at an ancient-looking computer.
“Just passing through on our way to Austin.”
“Ah,” she said, nodding. “And coming from where?”
“Oh, wow, that’s a long drive. C’mon, let me show y’all to your room,” she said, sliding a key across the counter.
The room was…flowery, to say the least, full of overstuffed furniture and questionable artwork. Derek side-eyed a particularly creepy painting of a cat and dropped his duffel on the bench at the end of the bed.
“Be sure y’all come down for breakfast, okay?” the woman was saying. “Seven to nine. Not to brag, but I make the best homemade kolaches in town.”
What’s a kolache? Stiles mouthed behind her back, and Derek shrugged.
“My number is by the phone, feel free to call if you need anything. You boys have a good night now,” she said, backing toward the door, and Stiles whirled around to Derek as soon as she left the room.
“Did she just wink at us?” he hissed.
“She most certainly did,” Derek said absently as he flipped through one of the brochures that was on the dresser. “You hungry?”
“Yes, actually, starving. Let’s go.”
They strolled through the tiny downtown on foot, and after they passed the third straight German-themed restaurant, Derek said dryly, “So I’m guessing that this town is German.”
“Yeah, it looks like that’s our only option. This one okay?”
Derek just shrugged and followed Stiles inside, some beer garden where the only table available was on the patio. It was still hot, but with the fans spinning lazily overhead, it wasn’t too uncomfortable.
Just because he felt like it—and maybe to torture Stiles a little bit—Derek asked for a beer and took a long drag when it arrived, licking his lips. “Mmm,” he said, and Stiles kicked him under the table.
“You’re such an ass,” he hissed, but Derek smirked and slid the glass across the table. “Never mind, you’re the best.”
“Glad to know your affections are bought so easily,” he said, rolling his eyes as Stiles took an obnoxiously noisy sip and gave the glass back.
Stiles skimmed the menu and shuddered. “Chicken-fried steak. I really hope my dad doesn’t even know that exists.”
“Welcome to Texas,” Derek said mildly.
“Yeah, he’s never allowed to visit.”
When they got back to the room, Derek stared at the one king-sized bed and tilted his head. “I can sleep on the floor,” he offered, but Stiles just rolled his eyes.
“Don’t be ridiculous, we could fit like three other people in there.”
“Fun times,” he said dryly, and Stiles grinned.
He tipped over onto the bed, spread-eagle, and moaned. “Holy shit, this is the most comfortable bed I’ve ever been in.”
Derek rolled his eyes and headed into the bathroom to brush his teeth and change. When he came back out, Stiles still hadn’t budged. “Go brush your teeth,” he said, poking at Stiles’ arm, but he just mumbled into the comforter and shook his head. “Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
He pulled back the covers and climbed in, neatly shoving Stiles off the bed with his feet in the process. He hit the floor with a thump and groaned before staggering to his feet, muttering various obscenities in Derek’s direction. Derek let his eyes fall shut and listened to Stiles putter around the room, and the bed jostled when he finally got in.
“I’m pretty sure the cat in that painting over there is staring at us,” Derek whispered, and Stiles muffled his laughter into his pillow.
“Maybe this place is haunted,” he suggested, and Derek groaned, flipping over so that he wasn’t facing the damn cat.
“Just go to sleep,” he said, but Stiles’ eyes were already closed, so Derek followed suit. He had a feeling that sleep would come easy tonight—the sound of Stiles’ breath had always been soothing to him for some reason, and he didn’t exactly hate having it so close by.
Stiles yawned and rubbed a hand through his damp hair as he strolled out of the bathroom, shirtless. “Hey, do you have a shirt I can borrow? I used my spare yesterday after the rain incident, and I don’t wanna go in the truck and dig through boxes.”
“Uh, yeah,” Derek said, rummaging through his bag and tossing one over. “Here.”
“You ready to go?”
“Yeah, but we’re definitely getting breakfast first. I have no idea what the fuck a kolache is, but now I really want one.”
The breakfast spread was generous, to say the least, and Derek filled his plate with eggs, oatmeal, and fruit salad, which was unsurprisingly heavy on the peaches. Stiles was even hungrier, apparently, because he had a second plate with a piece of French toast and several pastries that Derek didn’t recognize.
The woman from the front desk came over to check on them, and Stiles pointed at the pastries. “So I’m guessing that these are the famous kolaches? What exactly are they?”
She laughed. “You must be new to Texas,” she said, her hand on his shoulder, and Stiles nodded with a little grin.
“Why yes, how could you tell?”
“Kolaches are Czech pastries, and they’re very popular here. These open-faced ones are more traditional and usually filled with fruit—apricot is common, but I make mine with peach preserves. And then these round ones, which are a more recent spinoff of the original, are savory.”
Stiles nodded and picked up the peach one, taking a giant bite. “Wow. These really are delicious,” he mumbled, peach juice dripping everywhere, and Derek sighed as he handed him a napkin.
“Ah, I see who’s the talker in this pair,” she said, grinning, and Stiles laughed.
“Yeah, my boo bear is more of the strong silent type, you know.”
Derek gritted his teeth and tried to glare at Stiles and smile at the woman at the same time. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, dears,” she said, patting Stiles’ shoulder again. “Have a safe trip, okay?”
“You’ve gotta try this,” Stiles said as he handed Derek the other half of the kolache. “I think I like Texas already.”
Derek took a bite and had to agree.
Once Stiles finally decided that he was done, he groaned and rubbed his stomach as they walked out to the truck. “Man, I ate too much. I’m definitely ready for a nap now.”
“Too bad, boo bear,” Derek said sweetly, tossing him the keys with a smirk, “because it’s your turn to drive.”
Next week: arguing at Ikea! And there's a baby...
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
"So you haven’t told me anything about our place. Please tell me it doesn’t have anything to do with trains.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “It’s nice. Not too far from the water or downtown, and it’s only a couple miles from campus.”
“Oh,” Stiles said, looking surprised that Derek had even thought of that. Obviously. “That’s awesome.”
“Take the next exit.”
Derek directed him through the neighborhood to a shady side street, lined on one side with several townhomes in a similar modern style, and pointed at 1654. “This is it?” Stiles asked.
“That’s it,” he confirmed.
“Let’s go!” he said, practically vibrating in his seat as he switched the truck off and hopped out. “Do you have the keys?”
Derek patted his pockets. “Oh, damn,” he said dryly, and Stiles rolled his eyes.
“You’re such a dick, come on,” he said, jogging toward the front door.
“The keys are in the lockbox.”
“What’s the code?” Stiles called out over his shoulder, as Derek strolled up the walkway at a much more sedate pace.
He fumbled with the lockbox for a minute and then pushed the door open, pausing in the foyer. Derek stepped over the threshold and took a whiff—there was no real trace of the people who lived here before, which meant hiring that cleaning service had definitely been a good decision. He looked around, pleased that it matched the photos.
It wasn’t obnoxiously large but it was definitely spacious. The open floor plan, especially with the big windows and light hardwoods, gave the first floor a cozy, airy feel. Only a breakfast bar separated the living room and little dining area from the big kitchen, with dark granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. There was a back door off the kitchen, which opened to a small fenced backyard with a little deck.
“You said this was nice,” Stiles said, whirling around to point at Derek accusingly, and he crooked an eyebrow.
“You don’t think it’s nice?”
“It’s amazing! Are you fucking kidding me?” he said, gesturing. “Look at this place! How did you even find it?”
Derek shrugged. “A realtor.”
Stiles laughed, a little hysterically, and ran his hand through his hair. “I just—you, Derek Hale, have a realtor.”
“Yeah, so? I said it would be nicer than the loft,” he reminded him, and Stiles nodded.
“It’s just so…so normal! It’s weird.”
“Fresh start, right?”
Stiles huffed a laugh and rubbed a hand over his mouth. “Yeah. Fresh start. I just need to get used to this version of you, who has a realtor and wears plaid.”
“I don’t actually own any plaid.”
“You wore it that one time,” he said absently as he poked around the kitchen. Derek didn’t respond, decidedly declining to mention that he definitely still had that shirt somewhere.
“Okay, just hit me,” Stiles said, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth. “What’s the rent? I was scared to ask before, and now I’m really scared.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Dude, come on, just tell me.”
Derek hesitated, leaning his elbows on the breakfast bar. “I bought it.”
Stiles blinked. “You bought it? Excuse me?”
“It’s a good investment,” he said defensively.
“Oh, so you’re investing in real estate now? What the fuck?” he asked, spreading his arms, and Derek just gave him a flat look. “Okay, well even if you bought it, I still have to pay rent.”
“I said don’t worry about it.”
“You can’t just let me live here for free!”
“And why not?”
“Because,” he sputtered, “because you’ll just think I’m some kind of freeloader!”
“Have you ever asked me for anything?”
“No,” Stiles admitted. “But still! Pride, man.”
“Fine,” Derek said, crossing his arms. “400.”
Stiles groaned. “800.”
“Do you know nothing about how negotiating works?”
“Do you? I’m trying to let you live for free here.”
Stiles sighed and rubbed at his forehead. “Fine. 600, plus I pay for all utilities and groceries and stuff.”
“400 and we split all that stuff.”
“500 and I pay all utilities. We can split groceries because you really do eat a lot.”
“Fine,” Derek said mulishly, and Stiles took a deep breath, stepping closer.
“Derek. C’mon, man. I don’t want you to think I just brought you here to pay for stuff because I didn’t.”
“I know,” he said because, well, Stiles didn’t lie.
“Okay,” Stiles said, scratching at the back of his neck. “I’ve…I’ve just always wondered. So please feel free to tell me to fuck off, but—”
“When have I ever needed permission to do that?” he interrupted, and Stiles laughed.
“Good point. So what exactly is your, uh, your money situation?” he asked, and Derek took a deep breath.
“Lots of life insurance policies,” he said flatly. “And the insurance from the fire. And all of my parents’ money.”
Stiles blinked. “Wow. So like...”
“Like a lot. Not enough to live forever without working, which I wouldn’t do, anyway, but it’s a lot.”
“Okay,” he said, using a hand to ruffle his hair. “Okay. I always kinda figured, I guess.”
“I hate it,” he said gruffly, the vehemence in his own voice surprising him. “It feels like...like blood money. Which is why I never spend it.”
“Then why’d you buy this house?”
Derek shrugged—honestly, he wasn’t even sure. “Fresh start?”
“Fresh start,” Stiles repeated. “I think I’m gonna like this fresh start if we’re living in luxury.”
“It’s not—it’s not over-the-top,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest, and Stiles shook his head.
“No, it’s not. It’s really nice, though. Thank—god, that sounds really trite and useless and dumb, but thank you. Seriously.”
Derek wasn’t sure what to say to that—you’re welcome for buying us a house?—and just nodded.
“I still can’t believe you bought it, man,” he said, laughing. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Derek shrugged again. “Thought you would have tried to talk me out of it.”
“You’re probably right. But now I’m really glad you did. Can we see the rest?” he asked, grinning, and Derek had to bite back his smile.
“Obviously,” he said dryly, gesturing to the stairs, and Stiles took them two at a time.
The second floor had a laundry room and what was basically a large master suite, with a large bedroom, an attached office, a walk-in closet, and an en suite bathroom. Stiles poked around, looking behind every door and in every drawer. “This is your room, obviously,” he said, and Derek frowned.
“No arguments,” he called out over his shoulder as he climbed the next set of stairs. The third floor had a bathroom as well as two more bedrooms, and Stiles made an appreciative noise as soon as he stepped in the one just off the stairs. “Ooh, this one’s mine.”
“Yeah?” Derek said, following him in. This bedroom was a little bigger than the other one on this floor, and it had a big window with a built-in window seat that overlooked their little backyard.
“Definitely. This is just unbelievably awesome, dude,” Stiles said, his smile big and soft, and Derek felt a strange little jolt of pleasure knowing that he made him happy.
“Good,” he said, with an awkward little cough. “I’m glad you like it.”
“Like is an understatement,” he said over his shoulder as he trotted back down to the first floor. “Okay. Time to do some unloading, then we’re going to Ikea.”
“Ikea,” Derek repeated slowly, and Stiles grinned.
“Yes! The furniture mecca of twenty-somethings everywhere.”
“You just turned 20,” Derek felt compelled to point out, but Stiles just scoffed.
“Still counts, dude. I hope those werewolf muscles are ready.”
A few hours later, Derek found himself sitting in an Ikea cafeteria, watching Stiles wolf down a startling amount of Swedish meatballs. “Wow.”
Blissfully, Stiles waited to speak until after he swallowed. “What? They’re really good, dude. You want one?”
“I’m good,” he said, poking at his own side of rubbery steamed vegetables. “You ready? I want to get this over with.”
Stiles wiped his mouth with a napkin and shoved his tray aside. “Not with that attitude, mister. It’s been proven that over 90% of couples get into fights at Ikea, and I have no desire to be a part of such a clichéd statistic.”
“We’re not a couple,” he clarified, needlessly, and Stiles rolled his eyes as he stood up.
“We’re a couple of people. And the point still stands.”
“I’m pretty sure you made that up.”
“Now, you can’t prove that. Come on.”
There were a lot of people at the front of the store, and Derek took an instinctive step toward the exit. “So how the hell does this work?” he asked.
“That is the showroom,” Stiles said, doing what looked like his best Vanna White impression. “We make note of what we like and then pick up conveniently-shaped flat boxes in the warehouse.”
“It’s very overwhelming,” he admitted, looking around, and Stiles pulled a piece of paper from his pocket with a dramatic flourish.
“Lucky for you, I have a list.”
Derek snatched it out his hand and skimmed, wincing. God, this was gonna be painful. Bedside tables, lamps, bookcases, the list went on and on. “Oh, god.”
“Just try not to growl at anyone, okay?” Stiles said, taking his elbow and tugging him forward. “It’s gonna be fine, I promise. If you need to, just go hide in the closet section or something.”
“I haven’t done that since I was in high school.”
“Look at you with the sexuality jokes!” Stiles crowed, shaking his arm where he still had a grip on it. “I’m so proud of you, dude, you don’t even know.”
“Great start. Okay, look, couches are first. This is easy, just pick a couch you like.”
“We have a couch,” he pointed out, and Stiles rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, a shitty one. And that living room is huge, we need another one.”
“Okay, how about that one?” he asked, jerking his chin toward the first couch he spotted that wasn’t patently offensive.
“Ektorp,” he said slowly, stepping closer to the sign. “I like it, sounds classy.”
Stiles flipped through the fabric swatches, and Derek winced at a truly atrocious floral pattern. “Not that one. The gray is nice.”
Stiles laughed. “You are so predictable,” he said, plucking at Derek’s shirt. Derek frowned down at himself.
“It’s a neutral color!” he protested. “It’s better than black.”
Stiles bent over, bracing his list against his thigh to scribble something down, and then patted Derek’s shoulder. “Whatever you say, boo. C’mon, we have a long list to get through.”
It could have been worse.
They’d gotten nearly everything on Stiles’ list, but they hadn’t quite managed to get out without arguing. Which, in hindsight, was a pretty high bar for the two of them to clear. They had an extended, whispered fight about rug colors in the home décor section, which was a phrase Derek never thought he’d be associated with. The lamp discussion was no less heated, though it didn’t last as long, and Derek was particularly triumphant about that one because he’d won. A necessary compromise thanks to Stiles’ questionable taste in rugs.
So yeah, it could have been worse. In truth, which wasn’t much of a secret, he liked arguing with Stiles. And he knew Stiles enjoyed it, too—even for as much as he complained about Derek’s “annoyingly minimalist taste” and “disturbing penchant for neutral colors,” he couldn’t hide the smile while he was doing it.
Now they were waiting in line with two enormous carts filled to the brim with boxes labeled with names that Derek couldn’t pronounce. “C’mon, let me get this one,” Stiles said, bumping their shoulders together, but Derek scoffed and shook his head. Ikea was budget-friendly, sure, but not when you bought the entire store, as they seemed to have done.
“I got a full scholarship, remember? Which means I have some of the money that my dad saved, and I’m gonna get a job. I mean, I’m not Mr. Moneybags like you,” Stiles said with a wink, making Derek roll his eyes, “but I’m okay for a little while.”
“We’re splitting it,” he said firmly.
“Then you should have included that as an addendum in the complex rug-lamp trade deal of 2016.”
Derek groaned and tugged his cart forward. “Oh my god, I cannot wait to accidentally spill something on that fucking rug.”
The young brunette at the register, who looked way too perky for a woman who probably dealt with grumpy shoppers all day, just grinned at them. “You two have fun?”
“You should have couples counselors here,” Stiles suggested brightly. “Just, ya know, roaming the aisles, ready to mediate arguments.”
She laughed and shook her head as she bent over to scan more of their boxes. “Brilliant. Considering how many people I see leave here in a huff without buying anything, just imagine all the revenue that would bring in.”
Derek grimaced at the total on the little register screen and reached for his wallet. They’d clearly done their job contributing to Ikea’s revenue.
Stiles leaned his elbows against the porch railing and tilted his head. “So this is why I brought you, actually.”
Derek glared at him and kicked gently at his shin as he carried three of the Ikea boxes through the front door. “A little help would be nice. I can’t actually carry all of them, you know.”
“Yeah, cause people would see,” Stiles said, following him back out to the truck. “It’d be much less conspicuous if you used your powers under the cover of darkness.”
Derek hopped up into the truck and grabbed the two boxes that he was pretty sure comprised a coffee table. “Stop making me sound like some kind of superhero.”
“I just call it like I see it,” he said with a shrug, accepting the boxes that Derek handed him.
Finally everything was inside—Derek was pretty sure that the boxes had multiplied while in the truck—and there was barely enough space to walk among the boxes and the furniture. Surveying their impossibly crowded living room, Stiles propped his hands on his hips and sighed. “Well. This is daunting.”
Derek snorted and picked his way carefully to the kitchen. “That’s cause your list was so fucking long.”
“Well, unlike someone I know,” he said, with a pointed look, “I’m used to living with actual furniture.”
Derek threw a ball of packing tape at his head.
Their doorbell rang for the first time about an hour later, startling Derek and causing him to smack his thumb against the Ikea bookcase that he was attempting to put together. “Can you get it?” Stiles yelled from upstairs, and Derek stood up with a sigh. He was grateful for the break, really—those damn instructions with just the pictures were not helpful.
On their front porch was a tall older woman in a sleeveless top and gauzy skirt, holding something wrapped in foil. “Hi,” she said, smiling broadly. “I’m Alice, I live next door. We saw the moving truck and figured that we had new neighbors, so I just wanted to come over and introduce myself.”
Derek attempted to push down the instinctive suspicion that bubbled up and tried to smile instead. “Derek,” he said, shaking her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. Are you new to the area or just the neighborhood?”
“New to Austin,” he explained. “Moved from California.”
Stiles came clattering down the stairs behind him and gently shouldered him aside to get room in the doorway. “Hi there.”
“This is Alice,” Derek said, gesturing. “She lives next door.”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Stiles,” he said with a grin, shaking her hand.
“Welcome. So what brings y’all to town?”
“UT,” Stiles said, and she smiled.
“We were hoping that our son would go there, but he flew the nest a couple weeks ago and is at school in the northeast.”
Stiles laughed. “As a fellow nest-flee-er, I understand.”
“My sympathies to your parents,” she said wryly, holding out the pan in her hand. “I tend to stress bake, so I hope you like banana bread.”
Stiles took it eagerly and peeled back the foil to take a whiff. “Oh my god, this smells amazing. You are amazing, thank you so much. I have no idea where our forks are and we’ll probably have to eat it with our hands like savages, but I can already tell it’ll be worth it.”
Alice laughed and waved as she backed off the porch. “You’re welcome. It was nice to meet y’all, I’m sure we’ll see you around. And if you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“I could get used to this Texas hospitality if it comes with delicious-smelling banana bread,” Stiles said, carefully setting the pan on the breakfast bar. “Speaking of, you hungry?”
“Yeah, actually,” Derek said. “What do you want to do for dinner?”
“I saw a Thai place when we were coming in. I’ll go and pay for it if you let me take the Camaro,” he said, his eyes wide and innocent, and Derek frowned. He didn’t like the idea of Stiles driving his car, but he really did want to finish that damn bookcase.
“Fine,” he said with a sigh, scowling at Stiles’ victorious fist pump. “But be careful. And I’ll have—”
“Pad see ew, I know,” he interrupted, waving his hand. “I won’t be long.”
Derek had finally declared victory on said bookcase and was busy admiring his handiwork when Stiles came back. “Is my car still in one piece?”
“Considering that we went for a joyride around the city and challenged a few people to a drag race, yeah, she looks pretty good,” Stiles said, grinning as he dropped two plastic bags on the floor next to Derek, who reached out and flicked his leg. “Oh, nice bookcase.”
“Thank you,” he said primly.
The couch wasn’t being delivered for a couple more days, so they settled on Derek’s mattress, which had a blanket thrown over it but hadn’t yet made it to the second floor. Stiles propped his laptop up on the coffee table that he’d assembled earlier and started a movie, some superhero one that Derek vaguely recognized.
Derek had taken about three bites when Stiles suddenly flailed, nearly choking on his pad thai. “Shit!”
“This is the first meal in the house! We have to commemorate it.”
“I have no idea,” Stiles admitted.
Derek sighed and looked around. There was a pen on the breakfast bar, so he got up to grab it and then sat back down next to Stiles, lowering himself to his back and sliding under the coffee table. On the underside, in the corner, he scrawled “Thai—first meal in the house” along with his initials and the date. He carefully extricated himself and held the pen out. “Consider it commemorated. Sign it.”
Stiles looked between Derek and the pen, then scrambled to get under the table, bumping his head on the way. “You’re such a sap,” he said delightedly, and Derek was thankful he couldn’t see the flush on his face.
“You happy now?”
“Yes, very, thank you.”
Stiles paused the movie about halfway through to gather all their trash, and he came back from the kitchen with the pan of banana bread and two forks. “The new plates are still in a bag somewhere, but I did manage to find forks, that’s pretty impressive,” he said, and Derek agreed.
“I wasn’t looking forward to eating this with my hands.”
“I would’ve,” Stiles said, his mouth already full. “It’s delicious, it’s got chocolate chips in it.”
“Then don’t hog it,” Derek muttered, knocking Stiles’ fork aside with his own. They managed to finish off about a third of it between them, and Stiles bemoaned his own food baby for the rest of the movie.
When it was over, Derek gestured to the sprawl of Ikea boxes that, somehow, didn’t seem to be getting any smaller no matter how many pieces of furniture they assembled. “So,” he said, “you wanna put your bed frame together?”
Stiles groaned and flopped to his side. “Noooo, I’m tired. Can we just sleep here?”
Derek bit back a smile and got to his feet, sticking the rest of the banana bread in the fridge and digging through the linens box—thank you, Kira, for forcing him to label his boxes—for a sheet and two pillows.
Stiles had sprawled himself all over the mattress in the meantime, and Derek nudged his ribs with his toe. “Move over.”
“Sorry, I’m asleep already,” he murmured, and Derek sighed. He wrangled the blanket out from under Stiles, slid the fitted sheet on one half of the bed, and then rolled Stiles onto the other side of the bed so he could put the sheet on the other half. He shucked his jeans off and lowered himself onto the mattress, grabbing the blanket to toss over them both.
Derek got about three hours of decently restful sleep, he would guess, before he startled awake. He was taking a deep breath, trying to figure out what had woken him up, when he registered Stiles’ heartbeat, which was racing. He flipped onto his other side, and sure enough, Stiles was wide awake, his hands clenched in the sheet.
“Sorry I woke you,” he said quietly. “Nightmare.”
Derek knew he should ask if Stiles wanted to talk about it, but…he wasn’t sure if he could handle that. “I can—” he started, bracing his hands underneath him to sit up, but Stiles pushed him back down with a shake of his head.
“No, no, go back to sleep. I’m fine, this happens all the time.”
Derek hesitated but didn’t try to get up again. “You can put another movie on if you want to, it won’t bother me.”
Stiles hummed and leaned over to reach his phone. “What about Night Vale?”
“That’s fine, too.”
Derek yawned as the episode started. Stiles was still tense—he could see it, and he could feel it, somehow—but Derek had no idea what to do to make it any better. He was still thinking about it as he drifted off.
“Did you seriously just eat the last piece of banana bread?”
Stiles froze and turned around slowly, his cheeks bulging. He shook his head slowly, and Derek raised an eyebrow.
“Stop it with that look,” he said, thankfully after he swallowed. “I saw the huge chunk you had this morning for breakfast, don’t lie.”
“It was delicious,” he admitted.
“We should bake something else in the pan and give it back to Alice that way, she seemed nice.”
“Uh…okay,” Derek said slowly. “Can you bake?”
Stiles snorted. “I have access to the Internet, which means I can find someone to teach me how to bake. Wait—do we even have measuring cups and stuff?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Okay, I’ll add it to the list,” Stiles said, heading to the fridge, where he’d used a Tardis magnet to hang a piece of paper titled “Shit We Forgot.” The list was already distressingly long.
“Are you ready to go?”
“Yes,” he said, making a shooing motion toward the door. “Let’s go, I’m starving. That banana bread barely took the edge off. The food’s gotta be good, right? I wonder what it is.”
“The invitation didn’t specify,” Derek said dryly, thrusting a sticky note toward Stiles as he brushed past him on his way out the door. “That’s the address, you’re navigating.”
“Ugh,” Stiles said once they were on the highway, holding his hand up and grimacing. “We are driving, like, straight into the fucking sun. I think my pupils are being boiled as we speak.”
“There’s an extra pair of sunglasses in the glove box.”
“Ooh, aviators,” Stiles said, sliding them on and then flipping down the visor to look in the mirror. “Do I look cool?”
“You need a leather jacket,” he said mildly, and Stiles laughed, sounding surprised.
“So—fake boyfriend time?” he asked, grinning, and Derek allowed himself a tiny smile.
“If we don’t bring it up, they’ll probably be too polite to ask,” he said. “But yeah, that’s likely what they’re assuming. And it won’t help that we’ve slept in the same bed the last two nights.”
Stiles shrugged and absently ruffled his hair. “That’s fine. I could do worse. You’re the one who’s lowering his standards here.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Just—don’t be freaked out if they say mate, okay? Some packs just like to use that word instead of…partner or whatever. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“That’s a little strange, not gonna lie. But good to know you didn’t secretly werewolf-marry me without my consent or anything.”
He sighed. “No.”
“It’s gonna be fine,” he said, poking Derek in the shoulder. “Stop worrying, I’m sure they’re nice. Are you worrying?”
“A little,” he admitted. These things so rarely worked out in his favor.
Stiles’ scent soured somewhat, and he straightened up in his seat. “Should we have a plan? Should I have brought mountain ash?”
“No, no,” Derek said, risking a look at him. “I wouldn’t…I wouldn’t bring you into something dangerous.”
“Okay, you do realize that we have been in multiple life-threatening situations together, right?”
Derek rolled his eyes. “All my contacts said they were nice, and this is just supposed to be a pleasant, welcoming thing. I’m just being paranoid, I think.”
“Okay,” Stiles said, gnawing at his lower lip. “At the very least, I think we should have a code word. Like, for all situations, not just this one.”
Derek paused. “That’s not the worst idea.”
“Oh, god, please, stop with all the compliments,” he said dramatically, and Derek glared at him. “Our word is now pineapple.”
“What? That’s so random.”
“That’s the point! You’re probably not gonna say pineapple in everyday conversation, but it’s not so obscure that—”
“Okay, fine,” he interrupted. “Pineapple it is.”
They were there, finally, and Derek parked behind a hulking blue pickup and took a deep breath. It’s gonna be great, Stiles mouthed before following him out of the car.
They were at a sprawling, low-slung house with several long picnic tables off to the side, currently full with people, and Derek was pretty sure he could see a lake shimmering behind the house. There was a tall, striking woman standing out front, with wavy red hair nearly down to her waist, about the same age as Derek’s mother would have been. Her eyes were red as they approached, and he flashed his blue in response.
“Alpha Johnston,” he said, tipping his head down and to the side. “Thank you for having us.”
“You are most welcome,” she said, taking both of his hands and kissing each of his cheeks. She stepped back and softened her eyes. “I was not lucky enough to know your mother, but I knew of her, certainly, the fierce and gracious woman that she was. I am so sorry for your family’s losses.”
With his hands still in hers, Derek swallowed hard and nodded. “Thank you.”
“And who is your lovely companion?” she asked, brightening and turning toward Stiles, who blushed.
“Stiles Stilinski, ma’am. It’s very nice to meet you,” he said, offering his hand. She took it and leaned in to kiss his cheek.
“You, as well. But enough with this alpha/ma’am stuff, y’all can call me Sarah. Now come on, let’s introduce everyone and get to eating.”
The Johnston pack was large. Derek pretty quickly got a handle on Sarah’s siblings, Paula and Rachel and Emmett and Charlie, but they all had kids, most of whom had their own kids, and soon enough he was totally lost. All in all, there were probably close to 30 people, ranging in age from diapers to 70. And as the guests of honor at the dinner, Stiles and Derek were in high demand—he didn’t remember the last time he had to make so much small talk.
While he was off to the side, getting a bottle of water and hopefully a couple seconds of silence at the same time, Sarah approached him with a broad grin and a baby on her hip. “You’re looking a little overwhelmed, dear.”
Derek flushed. “It’s a lot of people,” he admitted, and she thrust the baby into his arms.
“Take Lucy here, at least she doesn’t talk back yet. She loves the water,” Sarah said, patting him on the shoulder before rejoining the crowd.
“Hi, Lucy,” he said, hiking her up higher on his hip, and as promised, she just grinned gummily back at him. “You wanna go see the water?”
She was a damn cute baby, with pale skin and shock of dark hair, and Derek didn’t even care when she gnawed on his shirt collar as he wandered down to the lake edge. He carefully extricated his shirt from her fist and set her down carefully on her feet, crouching down behind her and holding her up with his hands on her torso. She was barefoot, and she screeched in glee at the feel of the cool water. Lucy splashed a little, splattering Derek’s jeans with water, and leaned down to smack it with her hands. She turned those light brown eyes on him as she kicked her feet, and he made a silly face at her.
“Are you trying to give someone an aneurysm?”
Derek kept Lucy where she was and twisted to see Stiles only a few feet off to the side, his arms crossed over his chest. “Huh?”
“It is sunset, and there’s a lake, and you’re holding a baby. People cannot be expected to handle this, Derek, just give me the baby.”
Derek stood up with a sigh, turning around, and Stiles plucked Lucy out of his arms. “Her name is Lucy,” he said, ignoring the rest of…whatever Stiles said.
“Hello there, Lucy,” he cooed, holding her against his chest. “Aren’t you a pretty one? Did you save Derek from all the scary people?”
“Yeah, and she was doing a good job of it,” he said under his breath, and Stiles laughed.
“Sorry to interrupt then. But I was sent to fetch you, dinner’s ready.”
A young woman, presumably Lucy’s mother, whose name Derek had definitely already forgotten, approached them, but Stiles waved her off. “I don’t mind holding her, if you’d actually like to sit down and enjoy your dinner.”
She grinned. “God, I barely even remember what that feels like. Are you sure? You don’t have to.”
“Happy to, really.”
“Okay, you’re a lifesaver. We’re probably never letting y’all leave.”
They were quickly ushered to the two empty seats next to Sarah, and Stiles propped Lucy up in his lap. Huge platters circled the table, piled high with ribs and pulled pork and brisket and various sides, and it was just about the most tender and delicious meat Derek had ever had.
Stiles had taken to the whole thing like a duck to water, obviously, and Derek selfishly liked sitting next to him because it meant he didn’t have to talk as much. “So,” Stiles asked, with an exaggerated groan, “how in the world is this meat the best I’ve ever had in my entire life?”
One of the guys across from them—Derek thought his name was Chris—laughed and nodded. “Smoked low and slow with pecan wood. It’s one of the three Texas food groups—burgers, barbecue, and Tex-Mex.”
“Four!” someone else chimed in from down the table. “You forgot Whataburger.”
Chris nodded at the woman and looked back at Stiles. “Good point. Go get yourself a honey butter chicken biscuit and thank me later.”
“We did have kolaches!” Stiles said. “Didn’t know what those were. That was on our drive—where were we?”
“Fredericksburg,” Derek supplied, and Stiles nodded.
“Yeah. Those are delicious.”
“That’s a good start. And it’s never too early to start finding your favorite breakfast tacos. I’m partial to the ones at Fresa’s, but everyone has their own opinion. They’re wrong, though, obviously.”
“Everything revolves around food here,” Stiles said slowly, nodding. “I like it.”
That set everyone off on a vigorous discussion about the best Tex-Mex in town, and Derek watched Stiles carefully balance Lucy while trying to eat with one hand. “So why am I not allowed to hold her?” Derek asked, whispering even though he knew most people at the table could hear him if they wanted to.
“Because it makes you a menace to society, that’s why,” Stiles hissed. “It’s just safer for everyone.”
Derek opened his mouth to press further, but Sarah spoke up before he could. “So, Stiles, University of Texas, right?”
Stiles nodded with a little smile, and Derek couldn’t resist piping in. “He got a full scholarship to the honors program.”
The requisite impressed and congratulatory noises came from around the table, and Stiles’ cheeks flushed. He rolled his eyes and kicked Derek under the table, but he just kicked him right back.
“Do you know what you’re going to major in?” Sarah asked.
“Not a clue,” he said cheerfully, making her laugh.
“Well, that sounds about right. And what about you Derek? Do you have any plans yet for work or school?”
“Not really,” he said honestly. “Not yet, anyway.”
Sarah tilted her head, a slow smile spreading across her face. “Do you like books?”
“I think 70% of the boxes he brought here were just books,” Stiles chimed in. “He’s always reading.”
“Thank you, Stiles,” he said dryly. “But yes. I read a lot.”
She hummed. “We own a bookstore in town, you know, the biggest independent bookstore in Texas. We should talk about getting you a job.”
Derek blinked. “I—that would be great.”
“Good,” Sarah said, her smile broadening. “We’ll be in touch, then.”
The rest of dinner commenced without incident. No one asked for details about his and Stiles’ relationship, for which he was grateful. Impossible to lie with this crowd, so they really should have come up with some half-truths beforehand.
Lucy eventually got handed off to her rightful owners, and Stiles’ attention was quickly claimed by some of the other younger kids, who pulled him over to play some weird version of tag. “Oh my god,” Stiles said, tipping over dramatically under the weight of three children. “Puny human here, don’t forget.”
“The boy who runs with wolves,” Sarah said softly, bumping shoulders with Derek.
“Yeah, heard that one before,” he said dryly, and she laughed.
“He got involved because of you, I assume?”
Derek shook his head. “His best friend was bitten by a rogue alpha about, uh, four years ago,” he said—god, had it really been that long? “And he just…has been helpful ever since.”
“Does he have any interest in taking the bite?”
Derek tensed a little bit—this was an alpha he was talking to, after all, and some packs weren’t very fond of humans—but Sarah softened her gaze and touched his arm. “I made you uncomfortable, I’m sorry. I was just making conversation, I promise.”
“He’s very happily human,” he said, and she nodded.
Someone pressed a beer into Derek’s hand, and he could tell, as a hint of relaxing warmth curled through him, that it was wolfsbane-infused. It did make the small talk easier, though, and Derek was almost comfortable, even, as he stretched his legs out and let the conversation wash over him.
There was a fire pit near the water’s edge, and although it was nearing 80 degrees, a pair of the adults gave in to the pleading of various children and built a small fire for s’mores.
Derek stayed far away, but he did grudgingly accept a s’more when Stiles handed one to him. “Thanks,” he said. “You have marshmallow all over your face.”
Stiles groaned and wiped at his mouth, which just transferred the mess to his hand. He started to lick at his fingers, and Derek rolled his eyes, turning away. That was just obscene.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
Over the next few weeks, the two of them gradually settled into something that resembled a routine. The unpacking was slow, but steady, and the house actually started to look more like a home than an Ikea warehouse. Derek wrestled an impossible number of cardboard boxes into their recycling bin every week, and Stiles moved the furniture around constantly, even in Derek’s room, until he finally settled on a configuration that pleased him. It started to feel like home, smell like home, even, in a way that Derek hadn’t experienced in a really long time.
He and Stiles slowly worked out a division of chores that mostly worked for the two of them, mostly in pursuit of the goal of having as few passive-aggressive notes on the fridge as possible. Stiles, who in a pleasant surprise was tidier than Derek expected, loved doing laundry, strangely, while Derek didn’t really mind cleaning bathrooms. They mostly split the cooking. Turned out that they both knew a little bit but not a whole lot, so Derek brought home How to Cook Everything from the bookstore—a coworker recommended it, and the title certainly seemed appropriate—and they took turns working their way through it.
Stiles started classes, coming home every day chattering about ancient Greek myths or microeconomic principles and spreading his homework all over their kitchen table. Derek was forever finding half-gnawed pens and loose leaf papers everywhere, and strangely, it didn’t bother him. Stiles even found a job, picking up a handful of hours each week at a little coffeehouse halfway between campus and their house, that made him smell like pastries and espresso more often than not. That didn’t really bother Derek, either.
He started work, too, at the bookstore. The pay wasn’t tremendous, but it wasn’t like he cared. The work was enjoyable, the discount on books wasn’t anything to sneeze at, and even his coworkers were pleasant enough. Lots of members of the Johnston pack worked there, or at least dropped by often, and a handful of UT grad students practically adopted him into their little clan. Derek suddenly found himself with a lot more numbers in his phone, people who didn’t just rely on him for his questionable expertise in supernatural matters, and a steady stream of standing invitations to lunches and happy hours. He was still getting used to that part.
“What’s a seven-letter word for slender swords?”
Derek paused, just inside the front door, and slowly resumed emptying his pockets into the little basket by the door. “Hello.”
“Hi,” Stiles said from his sprawl on the couch, where he appeared to be scrutinizing the UT student newspaper. He repeated the question, and Derek looked up, thinking.
“Rapiers,” he said finally, and Stiles made a little victorious noise. “What are you doing?”
“It’s my homework,” he said, and Derek must have made a confused face because he clarified, “for therapy.”
“You have therapy homework?” He knew Stiles had started going to therapy once a week, but they hadn’t talked about it any.
“Yeah,” he said absently, filling in another answer. “I’m supposed to identify activities that I can do when I’m, uh, spiraling. Anxiety-wise. Jane suggested crosswords.”
Derek considered the obvious—did that mean Stiles was having a bad day?—but decided not to press it. He nudged Stiles’ legs aside a little and sat down, propping his feet on the coffee table. “Give me another one.”
“Okay, we’ll stick with weapons. Infantry weapon of old, four letters, starts with a p.”
“Pike,” he said after a minute, and Stiles nodded, mumbling under his breath.
Derek leaned his head against the back of the couch and exhaled. He closed his eyes, focusing on the scratch of Stiles’ pencil and answering the random question that were thrown at him. This wasn’t the worst way to wind down after a work day.
“Ooh, vine,” Stiles murmured. “Hey, what’s for dinner?”
“Leftover lasagna that I made last night,” Derek reminded him, and he hummed.
“Oh, yeah, that was good.”
“Better than your pathetic attempt at pork chops a few days ago,” he said dryly, and Stiles kicked him in the thigh.
“Hey! We’re trying new things, don’t blame me. And we’re in a bit of a pot-kettle situation, bucko, considering that you burned bacon last week.”
Derek winced. “I was distracted,” he protested, but Stiles just gave him a flat look. “Okay, yeah.”
“Ooh, look,” Stiles said suddenly, turning the paper around so Derek could see and tapping at an ad. “There’s a minor league baseball team in the next town over.”
“Yeah?” he asked, lifting his head. “That sounds fun.”
“They’re in town this weekend, we should go. We’ll eat peanuts, you can buy me beer, it’ll be great.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to buy you beer.”
He did, though—at least, he bought himself a beer and let Stiles drink most of it while they lounged on the grass beyond the outfield and shared a bag of peanuts. It was Double A, he thought, and while the actual baseball wasn’t the best, Stiles’ constant commentary—on the players, the other fans, the dumb fucking games they played on the field between innings—more than made up for it. Derek even unfairly used his reflexes to nab a home run ball for the young girl sitting near them, and when he came back after handing it to her, Stiles’ grin could only be described as shit-eating.
“You are such a softie, oh my god.”
“Shut up,” he grumbled, bending down to shove Stiles off his perch on his elbows so that he fell flat on his back. “I’ll be right back.”
“Where you going?” Stiles asked lazily, looking up at him.
He shrugged. “Just for a walk. Restless.”
“I wouldn’t say no to another beer!” Stiles called out, and Derek rolled his eyes.
He decidedly did not get another beer, just wandered out beyond the edge of the crowds for a few minutes, until he felt calm again. Crowds would never be his favorite, and even though this one wasn’t exceptionally big, he still hated the itch that he got under his skin.
Derek passed a souvenir stand on his way back to their spot on the grass and paused, fingering one of the hats. The team’s logo was kinda dumb-looking, but souvenirs were normal, right? Before he could talk himself out of it, he grabbed two baseball caps and handed over his credit card.
He snuck up behind Stiles—which would always be one of his favorite activities, honestly—and jammed one of the caps on his head, smirking when he startled and twisted around.
“What the…,” he started, then caught sight of Derek. “Oh. Hey. What’s this?”
Derek lifted his eyebrows under the brim of his own hat and shrugged as he sat down. “Souvenirs.”
“Wow,” Stiles said, readjusting the cap on his head. “Thank you.”
The little girl from before wandered over during the next inning and thrust a scraggly bunch of flower-like weeds at him. “I picked these for you! Thank you for the ball.”
He smiled. “That was so nice of you, thank you. And you’re very welcome.”
“Someone has a cru-ush,” Stiles sang under his breath after she walked away, and Derek elbowed him.
“Hey, she’s like four, be nice.”
“Oh, I was talking about her mom,” he said, plucking one of the flowers from the bunch and tucking it behind Derek’s ear. “She practically started salivating when you bent over earlier.”
Derek rolled his eyes but didn’t dislodge the flower. “Thanks for looking after my virtue,” he said dryly.
“It’s safe with me,” he said with a wink. “Ooh, ice cream!”
Even though it was an unseasonably cool night for early September, Stiles flagged down the vendor and got ice cream, in one of those little novelty helmets. Derek forcibly stole four bites, in exchange for the beer, and held Stiles back with a hand on his chest while he complained.
The game was over before Derek knew it, and he ignored the PA announcer’s cheery reminder that the post-game fireworks were about to start. He stood up, but Stiles grabbed his wrist and tugged before he could get too far. “Not so fast, boo. Can’t miss the fireworks.”
“Hey,” Derek complained, even as he sat back down. “I thought we were over that.”
“Never,” he said absently, leaning back on his elbows as the fireworks started. It was harsh on his ears, considering that they were practically right below them, but Stiles’ look of wonder was worth it.
“Remember the last time we watched fireworks?”
Stiles grinned. “The night I asked you to move here with me,” he said. He smacked Derek’s stomach with the back of his hand. “That was a good decision.”
“I—I think so,” Derek said, hesitant. “Yeah.”
“Wow, what a rousing endorsement,” Stiles said dryly, but when Derek looked over, he was smiling.
The fireworks show wasn’t long, and afterward, they watched the wisps of smoke dissipate for a couple minutes as the crowd moved around them. Derek got to his feet, but Stiles groaned and shook his head. “Uh-uh,” he said. “‘M too tired, you’re gonna have to carry me home.”
Derek shrugged and leaned down, wrapping one arm around Stiles’ waist and slipping the other under his thigh to sling him off the ground and over his shoulder.
“Dude!” he exclaimed, laughter coloring his voice. “Put me down!”
“You asked for it.”
Stiles pounded on his back, breathless with laughter, and a uniformed officer near the gate gave them a funny look. “Everything all right here, gentlemen?”
Derek cleared his throat and quickly righted Stiles, who pasted on that charming smile and nodded as he simultaneously straightened his shirt and bent down to swipe his hat off the ground. “Yes, sir. Someone,” he said, viciously sticking his finger in Derek’s ribs, “was just being silly.”
Smiling, the guy chuckled a little. “Okay. Y’all have a good night, now.”
“You almost got me in trouble,” Stiles hissed once they were out of earshot, but it looked like he was trying hard to hold back a smile.
“You definitely don’t need me to get in trouble,” Derek said dryly, and he easily dodged Stiles’ smack.
It was a good night.
Derek came downstairs a few days later and was surprised to see Stiles already sitting at the breakfast bar, bent over a newspaper with a half-empty bowl of cereal in front of him. He snuck a peek over his shoulder as he walked by, expecting to see a crossword, but stopped. “What the hell is that?”
Stiles had a pencil in his mouth—surprise, surprise—but Derek yanked it out before he could try to mumble around it. “It’s a Sudoku puzzle,” he said, accepting the pencil when Derek handed it back.
“What’s the point?” He just saw a grid with about half the numbers pre-filled in.
“The numbers 1 through 9 are in every square, row, and column.”
Derek tilted his head and looked closer. “What happened to the crosswords?”
“I think these are better, actually. With those I usually get to a point where I don’t know anymore, right? Like, I either have to start guessing or look something up. But with these, I can just go through systematically until I get it.”
Stiles’ current puzzle was almost done, and there were several other newspapers scattered around him. “How long have you been awake?”
“Hour or so,” he said vaguely. “Couldn’t sleep.”
Derek hummed and watched for a minute, trying to follow along. “Wait, wait, wait,” he said. “How’d you know that four went there?”
“Uh, well, I know a four has to go in one of these two boxes,” he said, pointing at the lower square, “which means it can’t go anywhere else in this column, and that six can only go there or there, so it has to be a four.”
Derek blinked. He followed that, he was pretty sure, but he also knew it would have taken him about five times as long to figure it out. “How do you do that?”
“Do what?” Stiles said absently, already filling in another answer.
“Figure that out so fast.”
Stiles froze for a second, then his pencil resumed motion. “My—my brain’s always whirring, you know that. At least with this, it’s focused on something somewhat productive.”
Derek kept watching, but he was studying Stiles’ frenzied motion more than the puzzle, honestly. “I think that one’s a six,” he said, pointing at a box.
“Ooh,” he said with a nod, knocking into Derek’s arm as he moved over to scribble it in. “See, you’re good at this, too.”
He snorted. “It would take me like an hour.” He peered into Stiles’ bowl and grimaced. “Your cereal is soggy.”
Stiles took a look of his own and pushed it away. “Gross. Do we have any fruit in the fridge?”
Derek found two apples and tossed one to Stiles, who caught it with a minimum amount of fumbling. He also got out a knife and the peanut butter, since he knew Stiles was practically incapable of eating an apple without it.
“Thanks. The full moon is tonight, you know,” Stiles said conversationally, pushing the coffee pot toward Derek, and he frowned as he poured himself a cup.
“I know.” He knew, and he wasn’t looking forward to it.
“Are you going to be with the Johnstons?” he asked, and Derek shook his head.
“No. Maybe later on, if we stay friendly with them. But this soon, with my first one…it would be too weird. I’ll just stay here.”
“Are you—is everything gonna be okay? Do I need to go somewhere else?”
“No,” he said quickly. He was fully capable of handling his wolf, and in any case, he would never hurt Stiles. “Definitely not.”
“Will it be different?”
“Stiles!” he snapped, snatching the peanut butter jar away before Stiles could double-dip the chunk of apple he’d just bitten off. “That’s what the knife is for.”
“Aw, you afraid of my cooties, boo?”
Derek sighed and took the knife to spread a layer of peanut butter on his own apple. “It makes bacteria grow faster,” he grumbled.
“Okay, Mr. Werewolf, wouldn’t think you’d be so concerned about bacteria,” Stiles said, but he was grinning and obediently used the knife. “So. Back to tonight.”
Derek chewed and thought about it. “It’ll be…more difficult than usual, probably.”
“Because of the pack?”
“Mostly because we’re in a new place, a new house. Less so the pack thing, since you’ll be here.”
“Aw, what a sap,” Stiles said, poking him in the shoulder, but there was definitely a genuine smile under his teasing. “I’m pack?”
Derek just raised an eyebrow as he took another bite. “Are you fishing for compliments again?”
“Why, yes, Derek,” he said, resting his chin in his palms and batting his eyelashes. “Tell me I’m pretty.”
“You’re gonna be pretty late if you don’t leave right now.”
“Oh, shit,” Stiles yelped, craning his neck to look at the clock on the microwave. He took one last swig of his coffee and leaned over the breakfast bar to set the mug in the sink. “I have a dinner thing I have to go to tonight, but I’ll be back right after. Be nice to people today.”
“Okay,” Derek said, rolling his eyes. “See you later.”
He finished his own apple and what was left of Stiles’, then sighed. He wasn’t sure how the full moon was going to go, and he hated that.
He was a little antsier than usual throughout the day, but it actually wasn’t too bad. He added a few extra miles to his morning run, mostly so that he wouldn’t be in danger of biting anyone’s head off—metaphorically, that is—during his shift at the bookstore.
He went for another run before making himself dinner, and by the time Stiles came home, he was seated in one of their deck chairs, taking deep breaths. Without opening his eyes, he tracked Stiles’ progress as he came in the front door, dumped his backpack in the armchair, walked through the house, pushed open the back door, and plopped down into the chair next to him.
“What are you doing?”
“I didn’t know you meditated,” Stiles said, and Derek opened an eye to peek at him, lifting one shoulder in a half-shrug. “You’re not, like, sitting cross-legged on a little pillow.”
“You can meditate however you want.”
“Jane suggested I try meditating. I haven’t yet, though. She says that it—oh, shit, sorry. Me rambling is probably not helping your meditative state or whatever.”
Derek cracked a tiny smile and shook his head. “It’s fine. You can keep going.”
“Anyway, Jane’s whole thing is that just like you have to train your body to do whatever physical thing that you want it to do, you have to train your mind, too. That way when you’re anxious or whatever, you can call on it and it’s easier to calm down.”
“She sounds smart,” he murmured.
“So what exactly do you do?”
“You just try to clear your mind.”
It was silent for several seconds, and Derek bit back a smile just imagining the consternation that was surely flitting across Stiles’ face. “But…that’s impossible!”
“That’s kind of the point. Like Jane said, it’s training. It gets easier. Focus on one thing, one sense.”
It was quiet again, for maybe a minute, until Stiles whispered, “what are you focusing on?”
Derek paused. Your heartbeat probably wouldn’t go over well. “The wind,” he said finally. “In the trees.”
Stiles hummed. “Soothing,” he said, and Derek snorted.
“So who taught you to meditate?”
Stiles’ question brought him crashing out of his calm headspace, and he stood up, clenching his jaw. “No one.”
Stiles squinted a little—Derek could tell he didn’t believe that lie—but he didn’t press it. “Okay. I’m gonna make popcorn, you want some?”
He exhaled and followed him into the house. “Sure.”
Stiles found some random baseball game on TV and lounged on the couch, mindlessly flipping through a textbook and eating almost all of the huge bowl of popcorn he made. Derek paced the house, back and forth and back again, over and over. It smelled like him and Stiles now, and it was soothing as he tried to focus on it. He wasn’t having trouble controlling the shift—he hadn’t had that problem in years—but the moon buzzed under his skin far more than it usually did, making him restless.
“Okay,” Stiles said finally, stepping in front of him. “Your pacing is annoying the shit out of me. Lie down.”
Derek glared at him. “My pacing is what’s keeping me calm.”
“You’re going to wear a hole in the floor, and these are nice hardwoods. Lie down.”
He glared harder and thought about flashing his eyes, but Stiles didn’t budge. Derek didn’t really feel like fighting with him at the moment because as much as he usually enjoyed it, he was already on edge. He sat down on the edge of the couch, his arms crossed tightly as he watched Stiles switch the TV to Netflix and start The Office. They’d been watching it lately, as part of Stiles’ ongoing Pop Culture Reintegration plan. His words, obviously.
“I said lie down,” he hissed. “Don’t make me bring out the dog jokes.”
Derek growled, but he didn’t fight it when Stiles just rolled his eyes and shoved him down onto his back. Stiles clambered on top of him then, his body wedged halfway on top of Derek and halfway between him and the back of the couch.
Derek froze. “What are you doing?”
“I talked to Scott,” Stiles said, his voice muffled where his face was mashed against Derek’s chest. “He said that physical contact would help.”
He sighed. “I’m fine,” he said tightly.
“Yeah,” he said with a snort. “I could tell from all the pacing. Too bad, dude. You’re getting a steady dose of Stiles cuddles, it’s for your own good. And mine, selfishly, because I’d like to wake up tomorrow with all my limbs still attached to my body.”
“If you don’t want to lose your limbs, cuddling me was probably not the best choice,” he hissed.
“Shh,” Stiles said absently, patting him on the arm. “I like this episode.”
Derek sighed and stared up at the ceiling. Stiles was pleasantly warm and he smelled nice, like that ridiculous cinnamon soap he insisted on buying—“it smells like fall, Derek”—but he was still uncomfortable.
Stiles laughed then, jostling them both, and Derek blew out another breath, searching for a sense to focus on. The noise coming from the TV was somewhat grating, so he ignored it in favor of listening to Stiles’ heartbeat again, which was as quick and steady as ever. Stiles’ thumb was absently stroking the inside of Derek’s elbow, and he stared at it, unable to decide whether he thought Stiles was doing it on purpose or not.
“It’s helping, isn’t it,” he said, as the next episode loaded on the screen. “You feel calmer.”
“You feel heavy,” Derek said flatly, and Stiles grinned.
“I’m bigger than you would think. Which is also a dick joke, FYI.” Derek sighed, because sometimes he forgot he was living with a college-aged boy, and Stiles cracked up. “You’re thinking about my dick now, aren’t you?”
“No!” he snapped.
“But you are now?” he asked after a few beats, and Derek groaned.
“I am not currently thinking of your dick, nor have I ever,” he said, more thankful than he’d ever been that Stiles wasn’t a werewolf. “Now shut up.”
“Oh, yeah? You suddenly really interested in Dwight and Jim’s exploits?”
“Shhh,” he said prissily. “I’m watching.”
Stiles laughed but thankfully stopped talking about dicks. He didn’t stop moving his thumb, though.
“So anger’s still your anchor, huh?” Stiles asked the next morning, and Derek stared at him. He’d been fairly calm all night—much better than he thought he’d be, actually—but he didn’t resort to ruminating on his anger or his guilt even one time. He’d just been with Stiles.
“What are you doing here?”
Derek blinked, then closed the front door and gestured to encompass the room. “I live here,” he said dryly, and Stiles rolled his eyes.
“I know that, funny man. Didn’t you get my text?”
He winced and dug his phone out of his pocket. “Dead. Sorry,” he added. “What’d you say?”
“I was gonna meet you at the bookstore when you were done. But no big,” he said, swiping his keys off the end table. “We’ll just go now.”
“It’s a surprise!”
Derek sighed. He hated surprises. “Really?”
“But not a bad one!” Stiles added quickly. “It’ll be fun, I promise. We won’t be out late and you don’t even have to interact with anyone else, you curmudgeon. It’s just better as a surprise.”
“Okay,” he said hesitantly. “Fine.”
“Great. Let’s go.”
“Oh, wait,” Derek said, remembering the little bag in his hand. “I got you this.”
He tossed a book at Stiles, who caught it automatically against his chest and looked down at it. A wide grin slowly started to spread across his face. “Holy shit. Is this a book of Sudoku puzzles?”
“Easier than carrying newspapers everywhere,” he said gruffly, scratching at his beard. “And they’re all hard ones.”
Stiles flipped through it, his face soft. “Thanks, man. Seriously. This is awesome.”
“The full moon was better than I was expecting. You were…,” he paused, working his jaw. “Helpful.”
“Aw, was that supposed to be a thank you?” he asked, still grinning, and Derek frowned.
“Yes,” he gritted out, and Stiles nodded, trying and failing to keep a solemn look on his face.
“Well, you’re welcome. And as glad as I am that we’re both so thankful and so welcome,” Stiles said, setting the book carefully on the coffee table, “we should go, we need to be there by sunset.”
They left on foot, but Derek’s walking speed clearly wasn’t good enough for Stiles, who huffed and turned around from where he was two steps ahead.
Derek lifted his eyebrows and looked pointedly at his watch. “You said sunset, right? We still have at least half an hour.”
“Yeah, but you’re supposed to get there early to get a good spot.”
Stiles just grinned and grabbed his elbow, tugging him forward. “C’mon, we’re almost there. It’s really cool, I promise. Well, I guess I can’t promise, technically, because I haven’t seen it, but it’s supposed to be awesome. You’re welcome to blame me if it isn’t, but I’m sure you’d do that anyway.”
Derek didn’t argue the point, but he did walk a little faster. Soon they were downtown and approaching the Congress Bridge, which was packed. “Okay, seriously, what is going on?”
“I know, I know, you hate people,” Stiles said absently, taking hold of his elbow again as he weaved easily through the crowds. “It’ll be worth it. Look, I think there’s some space down there on the grass.”
They did find a tiny patch of grass on the bank next to the river, though they had to sit pressed shoulder-to-shoulder to avoid the people picnicking on either side of them. Boats littered the river, and people everywhere had photography and video equipment. “Tell me what this is.”
Stiles gestured dramatically at the bridge in front of them. “Bats!”
“Bats,” he repeated. “Okay, but wh—”
“Ooh, I see one!”
He was cut off by a woman sitting behind them, and Derek turned his attention from Stiles to the bridge, where what looked like a huge black cloud was arising from underneath it and soaring up into the sky. “Oh, holy shit.”
Stiles laughed delightedly and wrapped his arms around his knees. “Over a million of them, largest urban bat colony in North America. They live under the bridge, and every night during the summer, they all leave at sunset. Cool, right?”
Derek blinked. “It’s…it’s weird, that’s what it is. How did that even happen?”
Stiles shrugged. “Naturally, apparently. A lot of people were mad and wanted to get rid of them, but they actually do a really good job of keeping the insect population down. And, obviously, it’s become a tourist attraction.”
“Wow. They just keep coming,” he said, strangely riveted by the bats still streaming out from under the bridge.
“Do you feel camaraderie with them,” Stiles whispered, “you know, as creatures of the night and all?”
Derek shoved him over easily, making him crack up and hastily apologize to the couple next to them after he nearly knocked over their wine glasses.
They watched for a while, until most of the bats had dispersed and until Derek finally had enough of Stiles pestering him about whether or not vampires were real. “You want to get some dinner?” he asked, standing up and offering a hand down to Stiles.
“Yes,” he groaned, letting Derek haul him up. “I’m starving. Mike from my econ class was telling us about this Korean-Mexican food truck that’s supposed to be amazing. Let’s go find it.”
“And how exactly are we supposed to find it?” Derek asked. He knew that there were tons of food trucks in Austin, but he didn’t have a firm grasp yet on how the whole thing worked.
“Twitter probably,” Stiles mumbled, looking down at this phone. “Maybe Facebook or Instagram.”
Derek nodded, pretending to understand, and waited.
“Ooh, Fourth and Colorado. That isn’t too far from here. That okay with you?”
Derek shrugged. He couldn’t say that he’d ever had Korean-Mexican fusion, but he was intrigued. “Sure.”
They found it easily enough, and considering the long line that snaked around the corner, apparently they weren’t the only ones. The long line gave Stiles plenty of time to waffle between his choices three times and eventually badger Derek into splitting both, and when it was finally their turn, Stiles was thrusting a handful of cash through the window before Derek could even think to reach for his wallet.
“My treat,” he said, nudging Derek out of the way with his hip. “For, ya know, subjecting you to surprises and people and all.”
He opened his mouth to say thank you, but they both startled when someone behind them called out Derek’s name. He twisted around to see one of his coworkers, the woman he shared a majority of his shifts with. And honestly, probably his favorite coworker. She reminded him a lot of Laura, including her streak of purple hair—a welcome memory of Laura’s one rebellious moment as a 16-year-old.
“Hey, Derek,” she said, bouncing up to them, and he smiled.
“Tamara, hi,” he said. “How’s it going?”
“Just fine, thanks.”
“Derek has terrible manners,” Stiles said smoothly, holding a hand out to her and bumping Derek’s shoulder with his own at the same time. “I’m Stiles, we live together.”
She laughed and shook his hand. “Tamara. Derek and I work together, it’s nice to meet you. What are you boys up to this evening?”
“Oh, you know,” Stiles said, shrugging. “Bats, niche food trucks. Just living up to our reputation as Austin newbies.”
She laughed again and nodded. “Good call.”
The guy leaning out of the truck yelled Stiles’ name, and he backed away with another wave and a little bow in Tamara’s direction.
She poked Derek in the shoulder and grinned. “He is adorable, nice job snagging that one.”
He laughed, a little awkwardly, and shook his head. “Oh, he’s not my—”
There was another girl waving from across the parking lot, trying to get her attention, and Tamara sighed. “I gotta go. But it was good to see you! I’ll see you at work next week?”
Derek just nodded and waved, knowing that he was facing an awkward conversation during the next shift they had together.
“Look at you, knowing people,” Stiles said, coming up behind him with his arms full of food.
“Shut up,” he grumbled, but Stiles just laughed.
“Help me out here before I drop our dinner.”
Derek obediently took two of the containers and followed Stiles, who somehow seemed to know where he was going. They wound up in a patch of grass, sitting cross-legged with their knees touching and the food in between them, and dug in.
“What’s that again?” Stiles asked, pointing.
“Tacos, with Korean beef and kimchi,” he said. “And it’s good. Surprisingly.”
“Okay, gimme one,” he said, and they managed a delicate taco-quesadilla exchange without dripping too much sauce on anyone’s pants.
“Is that a fried egg on those fries?” Derek asked, poking it dubiously with his fork, and Stiles nodded enthusiastically.
“It’s amazing,” he mumbled, his mouth full, and Derek took one hesitantly.
“Oh my god, that is a lot of sriracha,” he said, wincing at the burn in his mouth, and Stiles laughed.
“Aw, boo, am I too hot for you to handle?”
“No,” he grumbled, though he tried to poke around for the fries farthest from the sriracha.
“A-ha! You didn’t complain about the boo.”
“My vocal cords were just burned off,” he said dryly.
“Point still stands, dude.”
They ate in relative silence for a few minutes, until Derek cleared his throat and kept his gaze fixed firmly on the taco in front of him. “So I’ve been thinking,” he started, and Stiles hummed around his straw.
“I might want to try therapy, too,” he said, his voice trailing off at the end.
Stiles looked up, his mouth open, unfortunately giving Derek a clear view of half-chewed Korean beef. “No shit?”
“I—I don’t know,” he said, waffling on his decision for about the hundredth time in the last week. The idea had gotten lodged into his mind, and it wouldn’t let go. “Maybe.”
“Dude! You totally should.”
Derek mindlessly stabbed his fork through the fries. “Isn’t it awful, though? Talking about all that stuff?”
“Oh, yeah, it can be pretty terrible,” Stiles said cheerfully, and Derek smiled. “But I do feel better afterward. Jane’s awesome. I basically ramble at her for an hour, and she somehow just gets it and helps me pick through it all and tells me I’m not crazy.”
“Do you think it helps?”
He tilted his head and took a few bites before he answered. “Yeah, I really do. She—it’s like she gives me tools, different ways to think about things. I’ve already been sleeping a little better, I feel like I have a better handle on my anxiety.”
Derek nodded. He heard Stiles during the night less frequently, and he was starting to look better, too, without the sunken eyes and exhaustion that used to line his face. “And she’s not—judgmental or anything?”
“God, no, not at all. I think that’s like, against the therapist code of conduct or something.”
“I just—” Derek shook his head and let out a helpless little laugh. “I can’t imagine talking about any of that stuff. I wouldn’t even know how, or where to start.”
“That’s why she’s there, dude,” Stiles said with an indulgent smile. “It’s not like you’re on your own, she asks questions. I mean, not everyone is an ideal patient like me who talks the whole time.”
Derek laughed. “I suppose.”
“You can always try it,” he said with a shrug. “It’s not like you have to commit to going once a week for the rest of your life.”
“Okay,” he said impulsively. “I’ll go once.”
Stiles grinned and nodded, gesturing between them with his fork and flinging kimchi around. “Look at us, two mentally-healthy dudes just goin’ to therapy.”
“Yeah,” Derek said, plucking a piece of fermented cabbage off his shirt, “let’s not go that far yet.”
“You’re probably right,” he said, conceding the point. “Works in progress, at least.”
Stiles held up his fork with an expectant look, and Derek rolled his eyes as he obediently tapped it with his own.
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
Important PSA: I have been to therapy quite a bit (thank you, anxiety) but am most definitely not a therapist. Please take all of Derek’s conversations with his therapist with a large grain of salt—I’m not trying to be prescriptive in any way or inclusive of everything I think he needs to discuss with a therapist (which would be a lot). These are just snippets.
Derek blew out a loud breath and hung his head, staring down at his hands braced on his thighs. Thankfully, no one else was in the waiting room to witness his freak-out, which was honestly, ridiculous. He’d faced a lot of terrifying things in his life, the literal stuff of nightmares, and yet here he was, scared of a therapist.
The door swung open then, revealing an older woman with a kind face and a stylish silver bob. “Hi, there. You must be Derek, I’m Jane.”
He shook her hand carefully, trying to be extra-mindful of his strength, and attempted a smile. “Hi.”
“Come on in,” she said, pulling the door open wider. “Take a seat wherever you’d like.”
Derek caught the faintest whiff of Stiles from the couch and smiled—Stiles told him that he liked to be particularly stereotypical and lie down on it—before taking a careful seat in one corner. Jane curled up in an armchair in front of him and balanced a notepad on her lap. She smiled at him, an expectant look in her eye, and Derek panicked a little bit.
“I’ve never done this before,” he confessed. “I don’t know what to do. It feels silly. Sorry—” he added, but her smile just widened.
“That’s fine. A lot of people feel that way in the beginning. And you don’t have to do anything. You can just sit there if you’d like.”
“That feels even sillier.”
Jane shrugged. “Anything is fine, I get paid either way,” she said, her eyes twinkling, and Derek smiled. “But yes, I would agree that talking is probably good. First of all, anything that you tell me stays in this room, unless I think you are a threat to yourself or to others. Is that okay?”
Derek nodded. “I’m not much of a talker,” he admitted, and she smiled again.
“Then I’ll start. Why are you here?”
Derek licked his lips, thought about it. “A lot of bad things have happened. In my life. And I don’t know if—I don’t think I deal with them very well.”
“You said you’ve never been to therapy before. Did anything in particular prompt you?”
“I just moved here a couple months ago. Fresh start,” he said, shrugging.
“Okay,” she said, making a note on her pad. “And what prompted the move?”
“My friend moved here for college. He and I were—we’ve both been through some tough things, and he decided that we both deserved a fresh start. So here we are.”
“Must be good friends, if you moved here with him.”
Derek shrugged. “My closest friend, I think,” he said, then gestured awkwardly between them. “This, uh, this whole thing was his idea, actually. Well, his father’s,” he amended, “as a condition of moving here. But he suggested I come. He’s a patient of yours, too.”
“And what’s his name? You don’t have to tell me,” she added. “Or you can make up a fake name.”
Derek bit back a smile. If Jane didn’t know Stiles, she probably would think he picked a fake name. “His name is Stiles.”
“Got it,” she said. “And what do you hope to get out of these sessions?”
“Um,” he said, trailing off. “I don’t really know. I guess…I’d like to be able to process things better. I always assumed I would forever be, uh, just be miserable, I guess, because of the things that have happened to me. But I’m starting to think that might not be the case. I have no idea how to do it, though.”
“That’s a good start,” she said, with a gentle smile. “So you said that you’ve been through some tough experiences and also that you aren’t sure that you’ve processed them very well. Would you like to tell me about them?”
“Okay,” Derek said, rubbing his palms against his jeans and trying for a weak smile. “How much time do you have?”
“Let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up, what was your childhood like?”
“I, uh, grew up in California. My childhood was good, my family was big and we were close.”
If Jane picked up on the past tense, she didn’t mention it. She just nodded, encouraging him to continue, and he swallowed. This felt…wrong, telling these things to a stranger, but he reminded himself that Stiles trusted her. And Derek was getting nothing but calm, soothing vibes from her.
“My—my first girlfriend, when I was in high school, died in a car accident,” he said, figuring that was a decent enough cover.
“I’m very sorry to hear that.”
“I…she died in my arms. And I wasn’t injured at all. And it was, uh, it was my idea to go for a drive that night,” he said, trying to convey more of his responsibility.
She nodded. “You mentioned multiple incidents,” she said softly. “Would you like to stop and talk about this in particular, or would you like to tell me about other things that happened?”
“I want to get it all out,” he said immediately, and she nodded again, her eyes warm.
“Okay. Were you able to process your girlfriend’s death?”
Derek swallowed. “No. Later that year, there was a fire. My parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins...all died. A lot of people,” he finished softly. “My older sister and my uncle and I were the only ones who survived.”
Jane inhaled a sharp breath and made an aborted motion to reach out to him before she pulled her hand back, seeming to think better of it. “I’m so sorry, Derek.”
“There were—there were circumstances, and my sister and I left for New York. Almost immediately.”
“And what did you do there?”
Derek shrugged. “Tried to survive? I don’t think we dealt with the grief very well. And then…”
“And then what?”
“We came back to California. My uncle had been—he’d been struggling since the fire, mentally, and he killed my sister.”
The rest of it wasn’t any easier. He managed to tell her about Boyd and Erica and Jennifer—all adjusted, somewhat-sanitized versions, of course—and attempted to answer her questions about his reactions and his emotions. He tried to talk about Kate, but the words just wouldn’t come out of his throat.
“I’m sorry, I—” he said, frustrated, and Jane shook her head.
“It’s fine. You don’t have to tell me anything that you don’t want to.”
“I just don’t know how to say it.”
“That’s okay, too, you can say it however you want. I will never judge anything that you say.”
Derek nodded. “Another time?” he asked, and she nodded with a smile.
“I’m just tired,” he said quietly. “I’m tired of being miserable, of always feeling guilty.”
“I don’t blame you,” she said. “But I don’t think that needs to be your default.”
Derek glanced at the clock on the end table and noticed that their session was almost up. “So—.”
“So, what?” she asked.
“Do you think I’m—uh, broken beyond repair?” he asked, trying to make it sound like more of a joke than it really was.
She smiled. “No, of course not. I think you’re a very strong, principled young man who’s been through a lot of tough things in your life. Your reactions and the struggles you’ve described are to be expected for the trauma that you’ve been through, but I can very easily see a positive trajectory for you.”
“Okay,” he said, blowing out a breath. “That’s…optimistic. What’s next, then?”
“Homework for next week.”
“There’s homework?” Derek asked, letting one corner of his mouth curl up a bit, and she laughed.
“It’s not difficult, I promise. I want you to spend a day—or even just an afternoon, whatever you can fit into your schedule—doing whatever it is that you want to do.”
Derek paused. “That’s it?”
He rolled his eyes inwardly a little but tried not to let it show on his face. “Okay.”
Derek was stretched out on the couch, half-dozing with a book covering his face, when he heard the front door open.
“Hey,” Stiles said, perching on the arm of the couch and poking his foot. “Your first session was today, right?”
“You wanna talk about it?”
“No,” he said immediately, removing the book and shaking his head. “Not at all. I don’t want to talk for like two days, actually.”
Stiles laughed. “Yeah, I get that. Are you gonna go back?”
“Yeah,” he said. He wasn’t sure why his voice was so hesitant. “I liked her.”
“Do you have homework? I do,” Stiles said with a sigh, and Derek rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, I have to spend a day doing whatever I want. Which is weird.”
“Man, yours is way more fun,” he complained. “I have to write down my nightmares, ugh.”
Derek winced—that did sound terrible—and Stiles stood up, heading for the kitchen.
“You’re lucky it’s my turn to make dinner,” he said, and Derek hummed, lifting his book back up. “Oh, and Derek?”
He leaned up on one elbow and twisted around. “Yeah?”
“I’m…I’m really proud of you. I’m sure that was hard.”
Derek licked his lips and tried to ignore the weird feeling in his chest. “Uh, thanks.”
Stiles shot him one of his dumb finger guns, and Derek turned back to his book with a snort.
Instead of getting up straight away when his alarm went off, Derek rolled onto his back and scrubbed his hands over his face. He left his hands there and sighed. Today he had to…do whatever he wanted. What the fuck did that even mean? What was he supposed to do?
With a groan, he levered himself out of bed and wandered downstairs. Stiles was already gone—he had early class on Thursdays—so Derek set the water to boil for his tea and flipped their little kitchen radio to NPR. Since Stiles constantly emanated sound of some kind, like all the time, Derek had pretty quickly grown accustomed to at least a low level of noise. The British voices faded into a pleasant background, and Derek drank his tea at the breakfast bar while he finished one of the many half-filled crosswords that littered their house.
He pushed the newspaper away when he was done, setting the pencil on top, and drummed his fingers against the countertop. He should go for a run, right? Probably. That was enjoyable enough.
He missed the woods of Beacon Hills, sort of, but there was a nice running path around the lake that was a decent substitute. And it wasn’t that far from their house, which was a bonus. People in Austin were so damn friendly, though, throwing out smiles and waves all over the place, and it was weird. Derek managed to do little head nods in response, sometimes.
There was a little workout station near the water, and he detoured to do a few sets of pushups and pullups and situps. He had pretty much lost the all-encompassing need—and the desire, frankly—for punishing, arduous workouts, which was probably a good thing, but he still enjoyed it a little bit. The mild burn in his muscles was pleasant enough, and four miles later he was back at their front door, wincing as he dripped sweat on the stairs—he still wasn’t used to the late summer heat in Austin.
He indulged in a longer shower than he normally allowed himself, just standing under the spray and letting the room get all steamy. And then maybe he took more time than usual jerking off.
Derek sat at the breakfast bar again, with coffee this time as well a plateful of eggs and bacon—because, hell, he was supposed to do what he wanted, right? He also added a thick slice of Alice’s magical banana bread. Stiles had returned her baking dish with a loaf of pumpkin bread in it, and she retaliated with more banana bread. Stiles was fretting about what he was going to send back, but Derek didn’t really care about the budding baking war with their neighbor, as long as he got to enjoy the fruits of everyone’s labor.
He ate slowly, trying to think of something he could do with the rest of the day. There were plenty of things he should do—he should figure out why the fan switch in Stiles’ bedroom had stopped working, he should fix the flimsy fence post out back, he should do that load of laundry that had been taunting him for two days—but he grabbed his keys instead and left on foot for the bookstore.
He said hello to the people there he knew and just browsed the stacks for a while, flipping through anything that looked remotely interesting. Derek didn’t really get the chance to browse as a regular customer that often, and it really was a great bookstore. After waffling between a new nonfiction about trees, of all things, and the current thriller that was all the rage, he finally settled on a novel that one of the guys on his shift last week couldn’t stop raving about.
There was a Whole Foods just across the street from the bookstore, and he ducked in, hoping to miss the lunch crowd. No one really knew this about him, but he really liked grocery shopping. One of his “chores” for his entire childhood was accompanying his mom to the grocery store early on Saturday mornings, and as the middle child of a busy alpha, it was often the only time he got alone with her.
Since Derek wasn’t just rushing in and out like usual with his list, he indulged the luxury of time and just wandered the aisles, picking up anything that looked good for a piecemeal lunch. He remembered spotting on his run earlier a nice grassy spot by the river, and he headed in that direction.
Derek’s phone buzzed in his pocket on the way over, and he shifted the grocery bag to his other arm so he could fish it out of his pocket. Stiles, no surprise. “Hello?”
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Oh, shit,” he interrupted, “today’s your day! I forgot, sorry for bothering you.”
“No, it’s fine,” Derek said, hesitating. He knew Stiles was free after lunch on Thursdays. “Do you wanna, uh, come meet me?”
“Sure!” he said, sounding a little surprised. “Where are you?”
He looked around. “Uh, do you know where that rowing building is? I’m right on the other side of the river from there.”
“Awesome. I’ll be there in…20 minutes.”
Derek was sitting under a tree, eating strawberries, and already starting chapter two of his book by the time Stiles got there. He waved from across the lawn, trudging over and dropping his backpack with a thud. “Hey. How’s your day been so far?”
Derek shrugged. “Not that exciting. Went for a run, to the bookstore. How was class?”
“Fine. Whatcha got in here?” Stiles said, peering in the bag, and Derek gestured at it.
“Just stuff for lunch. Help yourself, I got a lot.”
Stiles held up a bar of chocolate with a disdainful look on his face. “I do not understand how you can eat this 90% chocolate. That shit is bitter, dude.”
Derek smirked and snatched it from his hand. “I like it. Plus, it guarantees that I have some food that you won’t steal.”
Stiles huffed but didn’t argue. “I still maintain that it’s gross.”
“You wanna try it again and spit it all over yourself? That was pretty fun the first time.”
Stiles idly shoved at his shoulder and continued pawing through the bag. “Fruit, sushi, bread, cheese…pretty good spread you’ve got here.”
“The perils of grocery shopping while hungry,” he said dryly, and Stiles laughed.
Stiles chattered on about his morning classes in between mouthfuls of bread and cheese, while Derek thoroughly enjoyed his dark chocolate, ignoring Stiles’ gagging noises. Their conversation trailed off, and Stiles reached over to his backpack, rifling through it and pulling out a textbook. “Do you mind if I put some music on?”
Derek shook his head and picked up his book. It was a good choice, and he had to consciously make himself read slower.
The sun was warm, even through the shade from the tree, and it was making Derek drowsy. His head kept jerking down, and Stiles laughed when he caught him doing it. “You can sleep, dude,” he said, his eyes drifting back to his textbook. “I’m on patrol, okay?”
Derek grunted and rolled over onto his stomach, pillowing his head on his crossed arms. He tugged his baseball cap down further over his eyes and slowly drifted off, unable to stop himself from focusing on Stiles’ heartbeat.
He woke up gradually, feeling decadent and sun-warm from the inside out, with each sense filtering in one by one until he was rolling onto his back and blinking up at Stiles.
“Hey, sleepyhead. You’ve got grass in your beard,” he said lowly, reaching over to brush it away. Derek yawned and stretched, rubbing his hand over his scruff.
“How long was I asleep?” he rasped, then cleared his throat.
“Uh, 90 minutes or so?”
Derek nodded, reaching for his book and smoothing out the crease in the cover that formed when he fell asleep on it. “Do you wanna go back, or…?”
Stiles hummed and flipped through his textbook, a different one now. “Another half hour?”
It was pleasant, watching the late afternoon light turn muted, and as they packed up, Stiles asked him about dinner. “You’re in charge. You want to go out? Or just tell me to fuck off if you want to go chase down squirrels or something.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Dinner at home is fine,” he said dryly. “I got some steaks for the grill—already dead and everything.”
Stiles laughed and bumped their shoulders together while they walked to the Jeep. “Look at you, trying to be funny.”
“No, this is me trying to be funny,” he said, angling his foot out a bit so that Stiles tripped over it. He yelped and reached out, but Derek was righting him with an arm around his shoulders before he could even really lose his balance.
“You’re the worst,” Stiles hissed.
He changed his tune, though, by the time Derek had produced two perfectly-grilled steaks, rare for himself and a little closer to medium for Stiles. Turned out that asparagus was also great on the grill, which was a nifty trick they’d picked up from their cookbook—worth it even though Derek would have to put up with Stiles complaining about the weird smell of his pee for the next 24 hours.
They were still working their way through Night Vale, and Stiles set up his little bluetooth speaker on their deck table so they could listen while they ate. There was a little asparagus left over, so Stiles took it inside and came back out with two beers and his Sudoku book under one arm. He also had a newspaper, which he dropped in front of Derek. “I know you’ve been finishing my crosswords, so I picked you up a fresh one.”
“And the beer?”
“I’m just preying on your good mood,” Stiles said with a grin, clinking the necks together, and Derek sighed.
He was in a good mood, though, so he didn’t say no—as if Stiles would listen to him, anyway—and they sat outside while the sun inched downward. And as Derek asked Stiles for random crossword help and patiently listened to him rant when he had to erase an entire Sudoku puzzle, his mood didn’t exactly sour.
Stiles did the dishes, as per their custom of he who cooks doesn’t clean and then handed the TV remote to Derek with a ridiculous bow. “It’s your day, which means you get to pick what we watch. Choose wisely.”
Derek had discovered that he and Stiles shared a strange affinity for random documentaries on Netflix, so he scrolled through until he found one that they hadn’t seen.
“Ooh,” Stiles said, his eyes a little heavy-lidded as he nestled into the couch. “Particle physics, this one looks great. But I will warn you—I didn’t sleep much last night, so if there is a soothing voice anywhere in this, I’m not gonna make it.”
Derek smiled and started the movie anyway. “Okay.”
Stiles gave it a valiant try, but he was yawning after 10 minutes and flat-out asleep after 20, his face mashed into the couch cushion and his feet in Derek’s lap. The movie was engrossing enough to keep Derek’s attention, at least until his left leg fell asleep. He shifted carefully, trying not to dislodge Stiles, but he stirred and flipped over to his other side, his eyes barely opening. “Physics,” he slurred. “S’ry I fell as’ep.”
“S’okay,” he murmured, patting Stiles’ foot. “Go back to sleep.”
He burrowed deeper into the cushions, somehow, and nodded. “Tell me how it ends in the m’rnin?”
Derek chuckled. “I will, I promise.”
“So let’s start with your homework,” Jane said, and Derek scratched at his cheek. “Were you able to do that?”
“It was…kind of off-putting,” he said finally, and she smiled.
“Okay. And why do you think that is?”
“I have no idea,” Derek admitted. “Can you please tell me?”
Jane laughed. “What did you end up doing? You don’t have to be specific or tell me everything.”
“I, uh, went for a run. Read my book in the park, took a nap. Hung out with Stiles.”
“That sounds nice,” she said with a smile. “Were you able to enjoy yourself?”
“Sort of?” Derek stared down at his hands. “It’s hard for me to relax. I’ll be…happy, I guess, just doing something, and then I’ll get reminded of—of something that happened. Or I’ll start worrying about what’s going to happen.”
“Does it stop you from doing things?
“No, I don’t think so. It’s such an ingrained part of my life that I barely notice it anymore. Well, I do, but I’m just so used to it—is this making any sense?”
“Yes,” she said firmly, and he relaxed a little bit. At least he wasn’t crazy. “Let’s talk about it.”
“So are you familiar with the phrase survivor’s guilt?” Jane asked, and he winced.
“No. But that sounds about right.”
“Can you tell me why you feel guilty?”
Derek sighed. He hadn’t told her about Kate yet, but… “Why me? Why was I the only one who—who survived,” he said, his voice dropping to a whisper. “I don’t understand. And it makes me…just so sad and angry that I don’t let myself think about it. Think about them.”
Jane nodded and sat back in her chair a little bit, crossing her legs. “Were you close with either of your parents?”
Derek swallowed. “Yeah. Both of them.”
“Tell me something about them.”
He took a shuddery breath and tried to access some of the memories that were shuttered up tight in his brain. “My, uh…my mom knew everyone, she could talk to anyone she met. Everyone loved her. My dad was—he was quieter, more like me. He and I, we used to hide in the study when we had people over, or when my mom threw parties. And when people asked, she pretended that she didn’t know where we were.”
Jane smiled. “It sounds like you had wonderful parents who loved you very much,” she said. Derek nodded and blinked, trying to soothe the burning behind his eyes. “Do you have any pictures?”
He hesitated, thinking of the dusty shoebox hidden at the back of his closet. “A couple. I can’t remember the last time I looked at them, though.”
“I know it can be tempting to tamp down on all the memories because it’s painful. But that really just hinders the healing process.”
Derek picked at a dangling thread on his jeans. “I’m just afraid that—that seeing a photo or talking about a memory is just going to make me think of my guilt more often.”
“And how often do you think of your guilt now?” she asked softly, and he swallowed.
“All the time.”
Jane nodded. “Well, first of all, guilt is a completely normal part of the healing process. But it’s not the only part, and right now, it seems like the only way you’re honoring your family is through your guilt.”
“It, uh,” Derek said, biting at his lip, “it feels like that’s all I deserve. I don’t deserve to think about the, uh, the happier stuff.”
Because it was my fault, he added silently in his head. That was a conversation for another day.
“I know it’s difficult,” Jane said. “But honoring your family’s memory in some way—pictures, talking about things you remember, stuff like that—and bringing it out into the open will help the guilt fade away. Right now, your guilt is immovable because it colors all your attempts to remember your family, those two are inextricably linked for you. Since your guilt is all you allow yourself to feel, you of course can’t let it go because that would mean letting go of your family. But if you find other ways to remember them, it will help your guilt detach, and then you can work through that part separately. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“That…that makes sense,” he said slowly. “I think.”
“Okay, good,” she said with a sharp nod. “Then your homework is to put one of those pictures in a frame.”
Derek attempted a smile, but it probably came out more like a grimace. “I can try.”
Derek crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the shoebox on the coffee table. He’d been trying to do his homework for the past hour and so far, was failing miserably. He’d picked up a plain black frame a couple days ago but hadn’t managed to get any further. To him, the box just smelled like death and guilt and ashes. He barely even remembered what was inside.
The front door opened, but Derek didn’t take his gaze off the box.
“Hey, dude,” Stiles said slowly, moving into his peripheral vision and sitting down next to him on the couch, close enough that their thighs brushed. “What are we doing here?”
“It’s my homework,” he admitted. “That box has all the photos I have of…of my family, and Jane suggested that I put one in a frame. But I, uh, I can’t make myself open it.”
Stiles leaned and traced his finger through the dust on the lid of the shoebox. “What if I pick one?”
“Huh?” he asked, looking at him.
“I’ll open the box and pick one,” Stiles repeated. “Put it in the frame.”
Stiles shrugged. “Then you can get used to seeing it and you’ll do the next one.”
“You’re—you’re not going to make fun of me?” he asked, clearing his throat awkwardly. “For not being able to open a box?”
He just got a flat look in response. “Seriously? I’m not that much of a dick, come on. Do you make fun of me for panic attacks and nightmares?”
Derek nodded jerkily and stood up, heading for the stairs. “Okay. I’m gonna go, uh, switch the laundry.”
“Got it,” Stiles said, reaching for the box. “I’ll yell when the coast is clear.”
Derek crept down the stairs a little while later, looking for anything out of place. The shoebox was nowhere to be found, as was Stiles, but he immediately noticed a new addition to the bookcase.
He forced himself to step closer, and his heart clenched in his chest.
The photo was…Laura’s 16th birthday, he was pretty sure. It had been a weekday, and their mom had made pancakes in the morning before school. Both Laura and Cora were sitting in his lap, and there must have been some tickling going on because all three of them were laughing and not looking at the camera.
Derek picked up the frame and tried to remember what Laura’s laugh sounded like.
When Derek got home from work, it was unusually quiet. He could tell from the backpack sprawled across the couch and the shoes piled haphazardly by the front door that Stiles was home, as he usually was at this time, but the TV wasn’t on, music wasn’t blaring, and there was no one banging around in the kitchen.
Derek changed clothes and went up the stairs to the third floor. Stiles’ bedroom door was closed, which was beyond strange, and Derek rapped his knuckles on it softly, in case he was sleeping. “Stiles? You okay?”
It took a minute, and Derek would have gone back downstairs if he hadn’t been able to hear Stiles moving around.
“Hey,” he said flatly as he opened the door. “I’m fine.”
Derek frowned. Stiles’ eyes were red-rimmed, his face splotchy, and he had obviously been crying. “You sure?” he asked.
His shoulders slumped, as if the minor effort to tell that lie was more than he could take. “No. I’m just a little—Jane and I talked about my mom. It was, uh, not the best.”
Derek froze. He knew exactly how that felt—the exhausted, wrung-out feeling after talking to Jane about something unpleasant—and it was awful. He wanted to…offer comfort in some way, he supposed, but he had no idea how. And, honestly, he would probably just make it worse. Instead, he just cleared his throat awkwardly. “I can make dinner.”
Stiles sniffed and shook his head. “You don’t have to do that, man. It’s my night.”
“No,” he insisted. “I got it. Really.”
He forced a smile and backed away, turning to go down the stairs and cursing his lack of emotional availability along the way.
He ended up throwing together an easy pasta dish, with sausage and cherry tomatoes and feta, but by the time Derek ate, cleaned up, and read three chapters of his book on the couch, Stiles still hadn’t come downstairs. He carefully packaged up the leftovers, leaving them visibly in the middle of the fridge, and went to bed.
His sessions with Jane had been going well. Surprisingly so, in fact. Even though he hadn’t yet been able to talk about Kate, he felt increasingly comfortable with her and thought that they might even be making a little progress.
“Can I ask you a question?” Derek asked, near the end of his session, and she nodded.
“It sounds silly,” he started, but she just tilted her head.
“Derek. What did I tell you about that?”
“All my feelings are valid,” he repeated, and she smiled.
“Correct. Now what happened?”
“The other night, Stiles was, uh, upset. And I didn’t know how to fix it.”
“Did you two have an argument? Was he upset with you specifically?”
Derek shook his head. “No.” He didn’t want to say that Stiles was upset because of her, so… “I think he was just having a bad day. I didn’t know what to do.”
“Why were you feeling hesitant?”
“I was afraid of doing the wrong thing. Making it worse. It’s happened before, actually,” he said, thinking back to all of the times he avoided talking to Stiles when either of them were upset. “I usually don’t do anything, I just avoid him.”
She hummed. “Did you end up doing something this time?”
“I made dinner, even though it was his turn,” Derek said, almost feeling embarrassed at the small gesture. But Jane smiled.
“That’s very nice, I’m sure he appreciated that.”
“But I didn’t, uh,” he said, frustrated with the lack of words even here. “I want to fix it, make it better, and I don’t know how.”
“Well, first of all,” she started, “there probably isn’t anything for you to fix. Stiles might very well appreciate the opportunity to talk about it, or maybe he just wants someone to sit quietly with him. But why don’t you ask him?”
“That’s your homework,” Jane said, jotting a note on her pad. “Tell Stiles what you were feeling that night, that you didn’t know what to do and didn’t want to make the situation worse, and ask him what he’d like you to do when a similar situation happens again.”
Derek swallowed. “Okay. Why is that my homework?”
“Well, I think it will do a lot to ease your worries that your actions would automatically make the situation worse. And, this is about learning to express your vulnerability. It’s not easy to tell someone about our perceived inadequacies.”
“What if he tells me that there’s nothing I can do?”
“Then you believe him and tell him that you’re there for him in case that ever changes, or if he ever wants to talk about it.”
He sighed. “Okay.”
That evening, while they were eating dinner, Derek was unusually quiet, even for him. He knew he had to talk to Stiles about this whole thing before he lost his nerve, but he was not looking forward to it.
“So. The other night,” he forced himself to say, and Stiles looked up from his plate, his eyes bright.
“When you were, uh, upset,” he said carefully, going over the words he’d rehearsed earlier. “I wanted to help. But I was afraid of making it worse, so I didn’t do anything. And so I would like to ask you what you’d like me to do in that situation, in the future.”
Stiles blinked and carefully set his fork down. “Hmm.”
“I recognize Jane homework,” he said with a little smirk, and Derek glared at him, cursing the flush he could feel on his cheeks.
“I’m just kidding,” he said immediately, patting Derek on the arm. “Seriously. That’s awesome, thanks for asking.”
Stiles didn’t say anything else, though, and Derek waved his hand impatiently. “So…”
“I’m thinking,” he said, flicking Derek’s forearm. “Okay, well first of all, you’re not going to make it worse. Unless you, like, actually hurt me or insult me, which you don’t do anymore. So there’s that.”
Derek wanted to argue—he was pretty sure that he could make it worse, just by being his normal awkward self—but he forced himself to stay quiet.
“I kinda got the impression that me being upset makes you uncomfortable?” Stiles said, scratching at the back of his neck. “So I try to keep myself away from you, I guess. Does that make sense? You have enough to deal with on your own, I don’t want to pile my shit on you, too.”
“Don’t,” he blurted out, before he could think through his words. “I—I don’t want you to do that. I’m sorry if I’m awkward about it, or if I don’t know what to say, but I don’t want you to avoid me if you’re upset. Please.”
Stiles hesitated, tapping his fingers in a staccato pattern against the table, and he finally nodded. “Okay. And there’s one other thing.”
“It’s silly,” Stiles started, but Derek shook his head.
“No sillier than me being scared of emotions,” he said, going for a little smile, and his shoulders relaxed when Stiles laughed.
“My dad and I hugged all the time, you know? And Scott was super tactile, especially after the whole wolf thing. I kinda miss it, I guess? But I don’t know if you’re as comfortable with that.”
“I, uh, I don’t mind,” Derek said, wincing at his own awkwardness. He liked physical contact, too—at least, he thought he did. He used to, at least. He could hug Stiles if that would help. Well, he could learn.
Stiles stood up, taking both their plates to the sink, and surprised Derek by bending down and wrapping both arms loosely around his shoulders. “Then get ready for a lot of stealth hugs,” he said, and Derek forced himself not to shiver at the rush of breath across his neck. He reached up and patted Stiles’ forearm—awkwardly, of course.
Stiles huffed a little laugh and tugged at Derek’s chair. “Stand up, you have to hug me, we’ll start practicing. For five whole seconds.” Derek rolled his eyes but obeyed, nudging Stiles out of the way so he could slide his chair back and stand up. “Okay, you don’t have to look quite so miserable,” he said, and Derek huffed.
“I’m not. Just—”
He gave up on words and just tugged Stiles closer, wrapping both arms around him. Stiles laughed and nearly tripped in his haste to move closer, and Derek was glad that his smile was hidden in the fabric of his shirt. “So are things going okay? Overall?”
“Oh my god, you’re hugging me and asking me about my feelings,” Stiles said, stepping back with a grin. “I can’t even handle this right now. But yes, things are good. Better than they’ve been in a long time, in fact. How about you?”
Derek dropped his gaze and shifted his weight back. Now that they weren’t hugging anymore, they were just standing unusually close to each other. “It’s good. Jane’s been, uh, helpful,” he said finally. “I’m…happy. I think.”
“I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you say that word,” Stiles said, mock-seriously, and Derek rolled his eyes, shoving him to the side gently so he could get by into the kitchen.
Derek sighed and leaned his head over the second floor landing so he could see down the staircase. Stiles still shouted whenever he came home, regardless of the fact that he could whisper nearly anywhere in the house and Derek would still be able to hear him. “Yes?”
Stiles was practically vibrating with excitement, and he took the stairs two at a time to join Derek on the landing. “Look at this.”
He took the flyer that Stiles shoved in his face and quickly skimmed it. “Oh, no.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, grinning, and Derek groaned.
“Stiles,” he said flatly, thrusting the paper back against his chest. “This is a flyer for a pet adoption event.”
“Yes! It’s at UT tomorrow.”
“So why are you telling me about it?”
Stiles pouted, fuck. “Because, how can you resist! Don’t you want to see the cute puppies? You know, bond with them on a primal canine level? C’mon, please?”
Derek took a deep breath. That pout, especially when combined with those big eyes, was his weakness, and he lived in eternal fear that Stiles would find out. “I will go with you under one condition,” he said, and Stiles pumped his fist.
“Name it, dude.”
“No dog jokes,” he said, poking Stiles firmly in the chest and causing him to fall back a step. “Not one, I mean it.”
Stiles held up his hands and grinned. “Pinky swear.”
“And we’re not coming home with a pet!” he called out as Stiles headed back down the stairs, but he just got a loud scoff in response.
Derek grimaced and returned to the laundry.
Derek didn’t go back on his word, no matter how much he wanted to, and he met Stiles on campus after his shift at the bookstore.
Stiles immediately joined the crowd of people that had surrounded a rambunctious golden retriever puppy, but Derek veered off. He stayed away from the cats—they never seemed to like him, for some reason—and instead wandered down the far row of cages. He glanced idly at an empty cage that he passed, but then he stilled and crouched down to look closer. It wasn’t empty, in fact, and there was a small dog cowering in the back corner.
“This is April,” a voice said, and Derek turned to see a young woman wearing a polo shirt with the logo of the rescue organization. “Would you like to see her?”
“Uh, sure,” he said awkwardly.
She opened the door, so Derek sat down in front of the cage and reached his arm in, leaving his hand still about six inches from the little dog’s face. It took about 90 seconds, but when she finally nudged his fingers with her cold nose, he carefully picked her up and brought her out.
She curled up immediately in his lap, pressing her little body against his hip even as she shook with nerves. Derek could admit that she was adorable, white and brown with a fuzzy face and big ears, and he stroked a careful hand down her back.
“Hey,” Stiles said softly, his hand on Derek’s shoulder, and he turned—he hadn’t even heard Stiles approach. “Who’s this?”
“April.” Stiles reached out and gently scratched her head. She wasn’t very big, maybe a little under 20 pounds or so. “Is she going to get any bigger?” Derek asked, but the woman shook her head.
“Not much. We think she’s some type of a beagle-terrier mix, just shy of a year old. She’s was abandoned by her family.”
“That’s awful,” Stiles said, and the woman nodded.
“She’s been with us for a couple months now. We’ve been worried that she’ll have a hard time being adopted because she’s so shy.”
“Do you think she was abused?”
The woman sighed. “I don’t know. We never saw the people who dropped her off—she was just in a box by our back door—and while she wasn’t visibly malnourished or injured, she sure is afraid of most people.”
“Do you two have any kids or other pets?” she asked, and Stiles just shook his head, as if that was a completely normal question he got asked all the time. The woman smiled. “Take your time, and just let me know if you have any other questions.”
“We can’t get a dog,” Derek said, but he could hear the uncertainty in his own voice.
“Of course we can,” Stiles said, coming around to sit cross-legged in front of him so that their knees touched. “We both have flexible schedules, the backyard is fenced, we can afford it.”
“What about when we have to go back to Beacon Hills?”
“There’s places we could board her. Or, she’s small enough that she could probably travel with us,” he said. He scratched behind her ears again, and April carefully padded over to his lap and circled once before laying down again. “She was abandoned, Derek. She needs us.”
“I see what you’re trying to do,” he said dryly.
“Uh, you see what I’m successfully doing. I can see it in your eyes, dude. This is our dog.”
Derek sighed. “I—are you sure?”
“If you are,” he said, his face serious. He lifted April up to his face and laughed when she licked his nose. “How can you say no to this cute face?”
Derek scratched at his beard—he already couldn’t say no to one cute face, let alone two. “Let me hold her.”
Stiles obediently handed her over, and April immediately pressed herself close to Derek again. She was clearly still nervous, so he tried to be gentle as he stroked her ears. “Okay,” he said softly, and Stiles did some kind of ridiculous-looking dance where he was seated.
“Awesome. Let’s go find that woman and do this thing.”
It was a little alarming how quickly they became dog owners.
Stiles held April in one arm and filled out paperwork with the other while Derek handed over his credit card. “She’s been spayed and she’s up-to-date on her shots,” the woman said, smiling as she handed Derek a thick folder. “I would suggest finding a veterinarian in time for her one-year check-up, though. We’ve included a list of several in the area whom we’ve worked with.”
“Thanks,” he said, a little overwhelmed, and she held up her phone.
“We like to take pictures of our new happy families. That okay?”
“Of course,” Stiles said immediately, wrapping one arm around Derek and holding April up a little higher. She nudged her cold nose against his arm, and Derek smiled down at her, not even noticing the flash going off.
Finally everything was paid for and signed, and they let them leave with a dog, their dog, just like that.
“You drive, I’m Googling,” Stiles declared, tossing the keys to Derek. He snorted and nodded, driving inexplicably carefully while Stiles mumbled to himself and scribbled things down on a post-it note that he’d unearthed from the glove compartment.
His list looked pretty long by the time they got home, and Derek winced. He swiped April from Stiles’ lap and carried her inside.
“Wow,” Stiles said, watching April trot around and sniff everything in the living room. “So we have a dog.”
Derek declined to point out the obvious and opened the back door so April could explore the backyard.
“I’m gonna run to the pet store. I made a list,” Stiles said, waving his post-it.
“You can take my credit card,” Derek offered, but Stiles shook his head.
“No, I got it. Thanks, though.”
Derek sat on the floor for a little while and watched April stick her nose into every corner. She still seemed a little shy and unsure of herself, but every once in a while she would come over and bump her snout against Derek’s shin, making him smile. She was perfectly house-trained, which Derek was very relieved to realize, and nudged her head against the back door when she wanted to go out.
Eventually he decided that he might as well start dinner, and he stood in front of the fridge, staring at the eggplant sitting innocently in the produce drawer. He’d been trying to scrounge up the courage to make eggplant parm, his family’s most special recipe, and he figured today was a big enough occasion.
“What do you think, April?” he asked, looking down at where she was sitting patiently next to his foot. “Oh, god, I’m a crazy dog person already, aren’t I? Don’t answer that.”
April wandered away, clearly bored with his ramblings, and Derek pulled out the ingredients with a sigh. It was his mom’s recipe, and even though he hadn’t made it in about 10 years, he could never forget how, even if he tried. He got into a rhythm quickly, chopping onions and garlic for the sauce and dredging eggplant slices in breadcrumbs and parmesan.
Stiles crashed through the front door a while later, dropping several large bags in the entryway, and April barked once, the first noise Derek had heard her make. “Aw, hello,” Stiles said, bending down. “I missed you, sweetie.”
“I missed you, too,” Derek said dryly, and he let his lips twitch into a smile when Stiles laughed, April already in his arms.
“Holy shit, it smells good in here. Whatcha makin’?”
Derek cleared his throat. “Eggplant parm.”
“You haven’t made that before,” Stiles said with a little hum. “Awesome. You need any help?”
“Nope,” he said, looking studiously down at the pot of sauce that he was stirring. “What’d you get?”
“Most of the store,” he said, laughing.
Derek rolled his eyes and turned the heat down. The sauce was almost ready, and he could let it sit for a minute. Stiles was busy scratching April’s belly, and Derek rifled through the bags. Two leashes, another collar, food and water bowls, a dog bed, several toys, and— “What is this?” he asked, fingering the red fabric.
“It’s a lobster costume!” Stiles said. “It’s almost Halloween, after all.”
Derek raised his eyebrows. Poor April. “You’re ridiculous.”
“She’s gonna look adorable,” he countered. “You’re just lucky I didn’t get you a matching one.”
“Dinner’s almost ready,” he said, changing the subject. Stiles took care of April’s dinner, pouring a little bit of dry food into her new bowl, and Derek finished assembling theirs. Even though his heart felt like it was about to beat out of his chest and he was pretty sure his hands were shaking, he tried to pretend all was normal. Just a meal, an ordinary meal, no big deal. It looked and smelled exactly as it should, and he carefully dished out two servings onto two of their big plates.
“Ooh, eating at the kitchen table. How fancy,” Stiles said, with a little smirk. He picked up his fork with a flourish and dug in. “Goddamn, this tastes even better than it smells.”
Smiling, Derek washed a few dishes and poured himself a glass of water—stalling, basically—before he finally joined Stiles at the table. He took one bite, finally, and barely managed to chew and swallow before he was pushing back from the table in an abrupt rush. Ignoring Stiles’ startled noise, he darted for the back door and pushed his way outside, bracing his hands on the deck railing and trying to take in a deep lungful of fresh air. This was ridiculous, fuck. One bite of his mom’s favorite meal and there he was, struggling to breathe. But it tasted so startlingly, achingly familiar, and embarrassing as it was, Derek just wanted to cry. He hadn’t eaten eggplant, let alone eggplant parm, in 10 years, and was not at all prepared for the sensory memory. Just one taste, and he was back in his parents’ kitchen, stealing handfuls of cheese with Laura while Cora played with dolls at the kitchen table and his mom and dad took turns stirring the sauce.
Quiet footsteps behind him announced Stiles’ presence, and Derek tensed, clearing his throat. “I’m fine,” he said, praying that his voice sounded normal.
Stiles snorted and stepped closer. He laid a careful hand on Derek’s shoulder. “I’m gonna hug you, can I hug you?” he asked. Derek braced himself, but Stiles didn’t move. “Derek? You gotta say yes, dude.”
Derek hesitated, then turned and leaned forward a little bit, letting Stiles pull him into a hug. Stiles was strong, and Derek slumped into his grip. He knew that Stiles wouldn’t make him talk, but he took a breath anyway and concentrated on keeping his voice steady. “It’s my mom’s recipe. Her…her favorite,” he said, his voice breaking on the last word. “Jane said it would help.”
Stiles squeezed harder, and Derek rested his nose on his shoulder—he smelled soothing, like the laundry detergent they both used. “Well, I’m really glad that you made it. And not just because it’s probably the most delicious thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.” Derek choked on a wet laugh and sniffed. Stiles pulled back a little but kept a hand on the nape of Derek’s neck, jostling him fondly. If he noticed Derek’s red eyes, he didn’t comment on it. “Aren’t you glad we’ve been doing so much practice hugging?”
Derek snorted and bent down to pick up April, who had slipped out the door in search of the commotion. “Thrilled,” he said dryly.
“Do you want to go back in and eat? Or do you want me to put it away?”
He exhaled. “Yeah. Let’s go eat.”
Derek was more than a little embarrassed about his outburst, but Stiles just sat back down at the table and acted like nothing was wrong, eating with gusto. “Actually, on second thought,” he said through a mouthful, reaching for Derek’s plate, “I might not even let you have some. More for me.”
He sighed and tugged it back. “I made it,” he grumbled. “Let me have some.”
After a week or so, Derek could barely even remember their life before April. Whoever was up first was responsible for taking her out and feeding her, and the three of them would go for long walks after dinner, learning their neighborhood. She preferred playing with Stiles and cuddling with Derek, and they learned that a peanut butter-filled toy could keep her occupied for hours. She was slowly coming out of her shell, and she didn’t cower behind their legs as much when they encountered strangers or other dogs.
One morning, Stiles was already awake by the time Derek came down for breakfast—a little unusual for a Saturday. “So,” he said, grinning around a mouthful of cereal. “Good morning.”
“Morning,” he said cautiously. He set April down, and she scampered off to her food bowl, which Stiles had already filled.
“Did you sleep well?” Stiles said, a little too innocently, and Derek narrowed his eyes.
“Why, what’s going on?”
Stiles’ phone buzzed then, on the counter near Derek’s elbow, and he gestured at it. “Could you hand that to me, please?”
The phone was lit up, and Derek did a double take as he twisted to grab it. The background photo was him, from this morning, it looked like, asleep on his back with one arm up over his head and April sprawled out over his bare chest. “You fucker.” Stiles cracked up and then coughed, pounding his chest. Derek rolled his eyes and cuffed him on the back of the head as he went by on the way to the fridge. “I hope you choke on your cereal.”
“I knew you wouldn’t last with that whole dogs have to sleep in their own beds thing,” he said, and Derek flushed. He had put up a big stink about how dog beds were very separate from human beds, but April just looked so pitiful down there on the ground. And she was a really good cuddler. “How long has she been sleeping in your bed?”
Derek paused for a second and then continued pouring his bowl of cereal. “Since the first night.”
Stiles laughed again, holding his stomach. “You are such a softie.”
“Shut up. You know I’m gonna make you delete that, right?” he said, accidentally-on-purpose elbowing Stiles as he reached across him for the milk. “I’m stronger than you, you can’t beat me.”
“Oh, it’s too late, buddy. I already texted it to everyone we know,” he said, and Derek groaned. “It’s probably all over Instagram already, I’m sure you’re going viral as we speak.”
“God, you’re the worst.”
“Sorry, sourwolf, your image is forever ruined.”
Derek glared at him and turned on his heel toward the living room. “Come on, April,” he called out over his shoulder, and she trotted after him obediently. “We don’t eat with traitors.”
“You used the last of the milk and you didn’t put it on the list!” Stiles yelled after him.
“Bite me!” he said cheerfully.
Derek forced himself to take a deep breath and unclench his fists from the couch.
Jane was sitting there patiently, as she had been for the past four minutes while Derek tried to find his words. He had decided that it was finally time to talk about Kate, he trusted Jane enough now, but he almost couldn’t make himself do it.
“I’m self-aware enough to know that’s it’s the whole, uh—”
“It was an important event,” she said, nodding. “I’m listening.”
It was halting, and Derek had to stop and catch his breath several times to stave off feelings of panic. But he told Jane about her—how they met, how excited he was that a beautiful older woman expressed interest in him. He had to fudge the details a bit, obviously, but painting Kate as a violent person with extremist views contrary to his family’s was a decent substitute. And not too far from the truth, actually.
“I’m so very sorry that you had to go through those experiences, Derek,” she said. “You didn’t deserve it.”
He swallowed—he didn’t completely agree, but he was too tired to argue. “I just—I can’t believe I let her fool me like that,” he finished, shaking his head.
“You were 16, Derek,” Jane said, her voice soft. “Teenagers at that age often feel confident and competent, but they are very immature. Your cognitive reasoning skills aren’t even fully developed. And Kate knew that. You were preyed on by a predator, who was older than you, and in a position of authority where she could influence you.”
“I understand that these are very tender topics, okay, Derek? If you don’t want to answer one of my questions or if you want to stop talking about it altogether, just tell me, that’s fine.”
“Do you identify as a victim of abuse?”
Derek startled. “What? No.”
“Do you realize that what Kate did was illegal?”
“You mean the murdering of my entire family?” he snapped, one eyebrow raised, but she didn’t take the bait.
“That goes without saying. I’m talking about the statutory rape.”
Derek swallowed. “I was consenting,” he said lowly. “She didn’t—she didn’t force me, I was stronger than her.”
“Physical power isn’t the be-all, end-all, Derek. She was older than you and in a position of power and was very coercive. Seduction can be its own form of manipulation.”
“I don’t like the idea of being a victim,” he said softly.
“Okay. Would you like to talk about that?”
“No,” he said, after a pause. There was…a lot there, and he wasn’t ready to go there yet, he didn’t think. “But now you understand the guilt.”
She tilted her head. “Why does this make you feel guilty?”
He huffed a harsh, humorless laugh. “Because it’s my fault! The whole thing. If it weren’t for me, my family would still be alive.”
“Derek,” she said softly. “This was completely, 100 percent not your fault. I could tell you that, everyone you know could tell you that. But until you believe it, nothing that anyone else says is going to matter. Why do you think you’re holding onto this belief?”
Derek bit his lip and looked down. The room was silent for a minute or so, until he started, slowly, “it’s as if it helps me imagine some kind of hypothetical scenario in which they’re still alive.”
She nodded. “I can see how that would be comforting. I also imagine that holding onto your guilt and your anger is easier than fully embracing the pain that would be associated with mourning the loss of your family.”
Derek considered his anchor. (Well, the guilt and the anger that used to be his anchor, anyway. He wasn’t ready to think about the rest of that whole thing yet.) “Yeah,” he said softly.
“I think this is what’s holding you back from fully processing this. You hang onto your guilt, thinking that you’ll eventually be able to atone for it, somehow, but you won’t—because there actually isn’t anything to atone for. Does that make sense?”
“I guess,” he said, trying to turn that idea over in his head.
“Have you ever told anyone else about this?” she asked, and he shook his head. If she was surprised, she didn’t show it. “Why not, do you think?”
“It’s embarrassing. She just—she completely fooled me. I should have known better,” he said, shaking his head, but Jane pressed her lips together.
“So why did you decide to tell me?”
“I’m tired,” he said, finally. “I’m tired of it always…being there. I just thought that I would have to deal with it forever, like it was my punishment.”
“I can understand the impulse,” Jane said, “but I don’t think that has to be true, and I think it’s great that you’re challenging that. What about Stiles?”
Derek paused. “What about him?”
“You say he is your closest friend. Why haven’t you told him?”
Derek clenched his eyes shut. “Because he’s my closest friend. And if he knew about it, he would hate me.”
He opened his eyes, expecting a disapproving glare, but Jane’s face was soft. “Okay.”
“Is it my homework to tell him?” Derek said, his throat closing a little at the thought, but Jane shook her head.
“No. You can tell him if you’d like to, of course, but I wouldn’t ask you to do something like that. Your homework is just to think about telling him. Really think about it, and see if your immediate self-talk about his reaction—that is, what you just told me—matches up to the person that you believe Stiles to be.”
This is how I picture April, by the way, just bigger. And in an ideal world, I would recommend putting more thought into the decision to get a dog than these two did. :)
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
In this universe, Stiles figured out the Kate thing on his own. (And she was dead for real the first time.)
Also, warning for a wee bit of mild gore—less than a typical TW episode, I’d say, and not very descriptive. See the end note for details, if you’d like. (Not really a big spoiler.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Derek took a deep breath and crossed his arms, leaning back against the deck railing. He’d been thinking about it, for the past few weeks, and he wanted to tell Stiles about Kate. Telling Jane had broken the dam, so to speak, and the thought of Stiles knowing didn’t fill him with as much dread like it did before. He still had no idea how Stiles was going to react, but he was hopeful. At the very least, he just wanted to get it off his chest.
“I want to tell you something,” he said finally, and Stiles nodded, moving his hips a little to the music playing from his phone as he flipped the burgers.
“Yep, what’s up, buddy?”
He worked his jaw and let his claws out a little bit where he was clutching the deck railing. “It’s about Kate,” he said lowly, and Stiles froze. He switched off the grill and whirled around to face Derek, his shoulders high and tense and the spatula held in front of him like some kind of unconscious shield.
“Did you hear something? Is she alive?” he asked immediately. “I can call Scott, do we need to—”
“No, no, no,” Derek interrupted. “She’s not…that’s not it.”
“Oh, thank fuck,” he said, his hand over his heart. “That’s the worst adrenaline rush I’ve had since we’ve been here.”
“Sorry. You can, uh,” Derek said, waving his hand awkwardly, “you can go back to what you’re doing.”
Stiles opened his mouth, but then his eyes shone with recognition. “Got it.”
He spun back around and bent over to flip the gas back on. Derek took another deep breath and paced a little—this would be easier without Stiles staring at him. “I—I haven’t told you…how I knew Kate. She and I, uh—fuck.” Okay, easier was an overstatement. How do you tell your best friend that you basically initiated the murder of your whole family?
“I don’t want to overstep,” Stiles said quietly, enough so that Derek had to pay attention. “But if this is about the fact that you two had a relationship, I know.”
Derek’s jaw dropped, of its own accord, and he swiped a hand over his mouth to cover it. “You—you know? How? How long have you known?”
Stiles shrugged, not making eye contact. “I kinda…guessed? A while ago. But I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to ask, obviously. And I never told anyone!” he added quickly. “I swear.”
Derek nodded dumbly. He would believe Stiles, even if he couldn’t hear the lack of a lie. “I believe you.”
“Who else knows? Or knew, I guess.”
“I’ve never told anyone. Besides Jane,” Derek added. He finally peeked up at Stiles, whose eyes were wide.
He shook his head. “Nope.”
“Well, shit,” Stiles said, and Derek thought that was a pretty accurate summation.
“Do you want to eat?” he said, gesturing to the burgers and the salad that Derek had made earlier. “Or I can just put this stuff away for later, no problem.”
Derek hesitated. “No, it’s fine,” he said. The weather was pleasant, Derek really liked their dinners together, and as minor as it was, he didn’t want Kate to ruin anything else. “Let’s eat. Just give me a sec.”
Derek bought beer every once in a while—even though it didn’t do anything for him, he liked the taste of some—and even more rarely, he shared it with Stiles. Tonight seemed like a good night for it, though, and since he had a six-pack of Shiner Ruby Redbird, which he knew was Stiles’ secret favorite, he grabbed two from the fridge.
April was sitting in his seat when he went back outside, staring longingly at the burgers, and he gently set her down next to the chair. It was quiet between them while they started eating, until Derek took a deep breath. “Do you think it’s my fault?”
Stiles froze, his eyes wide with surprise. “God, of course not! Do you—oh, of course you do, oh my god. Derek.”
More than a little embarrassed, Derek stared down at his plate, his hands clenched into fists under the table.
“Derek,” Stiles repeated, nudging his shin. “Derek, look at me. Kate was a crazy person. Like, literally a sociopath—or a psychopath, I always forget the difference. Whatever. Point is, she would have done it no matter what. Even if you weren’t in the picture.”
Derek swallowed hard and nodded. Jane tried to tell him the same thing—and honestly, he knew Laura would, too, if she had known—but it would take him a while to undo nearly a decade of misplaced guilt.
“So this is time for one of our hugs,” Stiles announced, pushing his chair back from the table and standing. He spread his arms wide and wiggled his fingers. “C’mere, sourwolf.”
Derek heaved a sigh but stifled a little smile as he stood up and reached for Stiles. “I think the beer is making you sappy,” he murmured into his neck, and Stiles laughed, loud and delighted.
The mood was lighter while they finished their dinner, at least until Stiles started rolling his empty beer bottle between his hands and looking pensive. “Do you blame me?” he said eventually, pushing the last leaves of his salad around with his fork. “For the—you know.”
“No,” Derek said quickly. “No. Did you—”
Stiles shook his head, waving his hand. “I never thought you did. There were—others, maybe, but I never thought that about you. I figured you would understand. Even though we never talked about, uh, you know, this,” he said, waving his hand in between them again. “Before today.”
“Did you really think I would blame you?” he asked, his voice soft, and Derek winced. God, he really was the worst—Stiles gave him the benefit of the doubt, and he didn’t extend the same courtesy in return.
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t about you,” he said, just as quietly. “I promise.”
“I know. And I didn’t mean to make you feel bad, really.”
Stiles kicked him under the table, and Derek kicked back, making April bark and tumble over their feet.
“Okay,” Stiles said, bracing his hands on the table to stand up. “We deserve some ice cream. In fact, no one has ever deserved ice cream more than we do right now. You wanna?”
Derek dumped the dishes in the sink while Stiles corralled April to put her leash on. Their favorite ice cream place was only about a 15-minute walk from their house, one they had made many times.
“You wait out here with April, I’ll go in. You want your usual?” Stiles asked, and Derek nodded.
He sat down on the little bench outside, watching as April sniffed eagerly around the nearby lamppost, rife with what must have been the scent of a thousand dogs. If anyone could have told him a year ago what his life would be like now—living in Austin, with Stiles and their dog, happily so—he never would have believed them. He even had a usual at their ice cream place.
The door opened with a jangle a few minutes later. “One Mexican vanilla with strawberries,” Stiles announced, handing over the cup with a flourish. “I took a bite as my tariff.”
Derek smiled and took it from him, handing off April’s leash in exchange. “Thanks. What’d you get?”
“Cappuccino cone with Reese’s and ginger snaps,” he said, and Derek hummed. He was a traditionalist and liked to stick with one flavor, but Stiles usually got a different combination each time. “You want a taste?”
Derek leaned closer and took a lick off the proffered cone. “I wouldn’t have put ginger snaps and Reese’s together,” he admitted. “But it’s pretty good.”
“Never doubt my ice cream intuition,” Stiles said, mumbling around a mouthful, and Derek quirked an eyebrow.
“Oh, yeah? What about that banana-lime monstrosity from a few weeks ago?” he asked dryly, and Stiles winced.
“Okay, so I can be trusted like 98% of the time. That’s still pretty good, dude.”
“Stiles!” Derek yelled up the stairs. “You ready? We’re supposed to be there by dinner.”
“I’m coming!” he called back, then tromped down the stairs a minute later, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. “Is April ready?”
Derek lifted her higher in his arms, and she barked at Stiles. “That means yes.”
“Bye, April,” Stiles cooed, kissing the top of her head. “Be good, okay? We’ll see you tomorrow.”
It was the day before Thanksgiving, and they’d been invited to spend the evening—a full moon—and the actual holiday tomorrow with the Johnston pack. April was in no way ready for a houseful of people, let alone rambunctious werewolves, so she was staying overnight with the neighbors. She had fallen in love with their dog, a huge German Shepard named Rex, and since Derek and Stiles had watched Rex a couple weeks ago while Alice and her husband Tom went to visit their son, they were happy to return the favor.
Derek dropped April off next door with her stuff—including the stuffed Batman toy that Stiles insisted she couldn’t sleep without—and let April lick his cheek in goodbye as he thanked Alice again.
Stiles was waiting in the Camaro already, and Derek tossed his own bag in the backseat before rummaging in the glove compartment. “Before we go,” he said, thrusting a folded piece of paper at Stiles’ chest. “Merry Christmas.”
“What’s this?” he asked, frowning. Both eyebrows went up as he skimmed it. “Holy shit, two tickets back to Beacon Hills for Christmas? No way, man, you gotta let me pay you back.”
He shook his head. “Nope. As I said, Merry Christmas.”
“How’d you get the dates right?” Stiles asked. “This is for the day after my last final.”
Derek’s cheeks were warm suddenly. “You mentioned it the other day.”
“I knew you listened when I rambled,” he crowed, and Derek huffed.
“Don’t get used to it,” he grumbled. “I know we’re coming back right after, but I could only get so many days off w—”
“Stop,” Stiles said, poking him in the shoulder. “This is perfect. Thanks, dude. Seriously, I really appreciate it.”
Derek cleared his throat and cursed his own awkwardness. “You’re welcome.”
They made it to the Johnstons’ in time for dinner, as promised, and one of Sarah’s daughters showed them to a guest room on the third floor. “It’s soundproof, don’t worry,” she said with a wink, and Stiles laughed, making an exaggerated whew gesture. Derek flushed and tried not to think about that at all.
Dinner was quick, just a big buffet of sandwiches and salads, and everyone was antsy, increasingly so the later it got. He and Stiles were squeezed together on a couch with two others, and he knocked their elbows together. “You gonna come out?” he asked, but Stiles shook his head.
“Nah. I think there’s about to be a showing of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and I can’t miss that.”
Derek chuckled. “Okay. See you later, then.”
“Have fun being all wolfy,” he said, his eyebrows waggling madly, and Derek rolled his eyes.
The anticipation was building in the air as they all got ready to go outside, and Derek wasn’t immune to it—he hadn’t run with such a big pack on a full moon since before the fire, with his family.
“We’re very happy to have you here with us tonight,” Sarah said with a smile, and Derek ducked his head.
“Thank you for having me.”
“What’s your anchor, dear?” she asked softly, sliding a hand over the back of his neck.
Derek hesitated, and his eyes must have flicked to Stiles subconsciously because Sarah looked in his direction and nodded.
The Johnston pack had a pretty nice thatch of woods, all to themselves, and after Sarah said a few words, they ran for a while, mostly in small groups. There was a little nip in the air, and it was so refreshing to really stretch his legs. Derek thoroughly enjoyed play-fighting and tussling with the others, something he hadn’t been able to do in a long time, since before they left Beacon Hills.
One of the young girls—Molly, he thought her name was—was running next to him when suddenly, in the blink of an eye, there was snarling and biting and clawing and Derek was somehow on the ground with blood pouring out of his arm.
He howled, trying to process the pain and the shock and the warring emotions inside him—even though all of his instincts were heightened because of the full moon, he was aware enough to know he couldn’t just attack in response. But before he even really had to think about it, Sarah jumped in between them and flat-out roared at Molly. She cowered, curling up in the fetal position, and Derek could smell the salt of her tears from his spot on the ground. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she cried. “He smells different, and I didn’t mean to, I just—I didn’t even know that I did it.”
Sarah ignored her and dropped to her knees beside Derek, immediately laying her hand on his bare skin until her veins turned black. “Are you okay?” she asked him, and he managed to nod. Molly got him pretty good because he wasn’t expecting it in the least, and even though it hurt like a bitch, he knew he’d be fine soon enough. “Oh, dear, it looks like she nicked an artery and got your muscle, too. Well, that explains all the blood.”
“I’m so sorry,” Molly said, sitting up now with her arms wrapped around her knees, and he tried to smile at her.
“It’s okay. I know it’s hard to control when you’re young.”
The rest of the wolves congregated around them, surely lured in by Sarah’s roar, and Derek was a little embarrassed to be on the ground, laid up at the hands—well, claws—of a 10-year-old.
“Jack,” Sarah said, snapping her fingers in the direction of one of her older nephews. “Help me get Derek back to the house. Molly, run ahead and get Stiles, having his anchor will help. Everyone else, go.”
He groaned lowly but managed to stand up with Jack’s help, holding his injured arm close to his body. With the blood loss and the pain drain, his legs were more than a little shaky, and he let Jack take some of his weight.
“Shit, that’s a lot of blood,” Jack said with a wince. “You sure you’re okay?”
He nodded. It was maybe a 10-minute walk, and by the time they got back to the house, Stiles was pacing the edge of the tree line, gnawing at his thumbnail.
“Derek!” he exclaimed when he spotted them, hurrying over. “Oh my god, what the fuck happened? Who did this?”
“I’m fine,” he said firmly, squeezing Stiles’ forearm with his good hand. “No one’s fault, it was just an accident.”
Stiles nudged Jack out of the way and took his place, curling his arm carefully around Derek’s waist. “Are you sure?” he asked lowly, and Derek nodded.
“It’s healing nicely, I think,” Sarah said, peering at his arm. “Come on, let’s get you inside.”
Stiles helped him up the stairs, and Sarah trailed behind them. “Molly has been having issues with control, obviously,” she said quietly. “We thought she was stable enough to be with an unfamiliar wolf on a full moon, but clearly we were mistaken. You have my sincere apologies, and I hope you will come back and run with us again.”
“Do you need anything?” she asked, looking mostly at Stiles.
“Some water and something to eat for him? And maybe a garbage bag for his shirt? Pretty sure that one’s unsalvageable.”
“Of course,” she said, nodding. “It looks like the bleeding has just about stopped, but come find me if it doesn’t seem to be healing, okay?”
Stiles nodded. “And my apologies in advance for any bloodstains in your bathroom.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, laughing. “We’re pretty good at getting them out.”
Sarah shut the door behind her, and Derek exhaled, leaning against the wall. He noticed idly that Stiles’ heartbeat was still hammering away. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” he said, nodding quickly as if he was trying to convince himself. “Yeah, I just—this girl comes flying into the house, yelling and crying about how you’re hurt, and you just…I mean, you look like an extra from a horror movie, Derek.”
“I’m fine,” he said firmly. “I promise. Help me with my shirt?”
Stiles nodded, looking eager to do something, and stepped forward to grab the hem of Derek’s t-shirt. He lifted it up slowly, letting Derek untangle his good arm and pulling it carefully off the other, and Derek bit his lip to stop from making a wounded noise. At least the pain was distracting him from an inappropriate reaction to what otherwise might have been an intimate situation.
“Molly told me that Sarah said I was your anchor,” Stiles said, tossing Derek’s shirt in the corner with a look of distaste. “Did…did she just assume that?”
“No,” he grunted. “I told her.”
He gritted his teeth. “I’m gonna go take a shower.”
Stiles gave him a look—the one that meant they were not done talking about a particular subject—but thankfully dropped it. “Are you sure you’re healed enough to do that? Do you want help?”
“Stiles,” he said, a little exasperated but mostly fond. “I can shower by myself, I promise. I will yell if I need you.”
He looked unconvinced but didn’t protest as Derek moved closer to the bathroom. “Fine. I’ll be right outside the door, though.”
“I have no doubt,” he said dryly.
The hot water felt heavenly, even though his arm hurt too much to lift it and wash his hair. The soap in the shower was nice and unscented, and unfortunately, he was way too familiar with the sight of blood swirling down the drain.
He patted himself dry and slipped on the shorts that were hanging on the doorknob when he got out. He exited the bathroom with a cloud of steam, and Stiles looked relieved that he was still standing.
“Someone brought you a sandwich,” he said, pointing to a plate on top of the dresser. “Pulled pork, I think. Are you hungry?”
He wasn’t, not really, but he knew he needed to eat something, to help with the healing. He inhaled it in about three bites and downed the glass of water, too. “Thanks.”
“Does it still hurt?” he asked, and Derek carefully moved his arm.
“Not really. It feels really tight and tender, though. Mostly I’m just exhausted,” he admitted, and Stiles bodily shoved him over toward the bed.
“Then you need to lie down and sleep. Right now.” Derek huffed but didn’t resist as Stiles adjusted the blankets and quite literally tucked him into bed. “You need anything else?”
He shook his head, his eyes already heavy. Stiles putzed around the room for a few minutes, changing and going in and out of the bathroom, and eventually flipped the light off. “You can—you can go back and socialize if you want,” he said as Stiles climbed in bed next to him. “I’m fine.”
“Nah,” he said, around a yawn. “I’m tired, too.”
Derek was too tired to listen for a lie, but he murmured something in acknowledgment and flipped over onto his good side, facing Stiles.
“So,” Stiles started, and Derek could hear him twisting the bedsheet in his fingers. “About earlier—”
“You’re my anchor,” Derek interrupted. He wasn’t in the mood for dithering, he really just wanted to go the fuck to sleep. “I wasn’t lying when I told Sarah that.”
Stiles’ gulp was perfectly audible, but Derek didn’t open his eyes to look at him. “For how long?”
“I don’t really know,” he admitted. “I haven’t been paying attention. Probably…probably a while.”
Stiles didn’t say anything after that, and Derek listened to his even, awake breaths until he fell asleep.
Derek woke up in a fog, blinking blearily and trying to determine where he was. It all came back to him a few seconds later, and he stretched gingerly, pleased to find out that his arm was barely sore.
The other side of the bed was cold, and he was surprised that he hadn’t woken up when Stiles left—he’d evidently slept like a rock. It was late, though, he noticed with a glance to the clock on the nightstand, and he greedily downed the glass of water that hadn’t been there before.
He let himself lounge for a couple more minutes before getting up to take a quick shower. They’d been informed that Thanksgiving with the Johnstons was a casual affair, but Derek still tried his best to look presentable.
He was hit with a wall of smells and sounds when he opened their bedroom door, and he smiled, remembering the raucousness that used to surround their big pack holidays when he was a kid. Being here was a little overwhelming, especially with the way it dredged up old memories for him, but it was also oddly comforting.
He ran into Sarah’s daughter Rose at the bottom of the staircase, and her eyes lit up. “Ah, Derek! Everyone is under strict instructions to not let you do anything today except for sit on the couch,” she said, gesturing in that direction. He opened his mouth to argue, but she tutted and shook her head. “Nope, no arguments. Go sit, I’ll have someone bring you something to eat.”
He saw Sarah on his way to the living room, and she planted a smacking kiss on his cheek. “Let me see your arm, dear.”
He obediently rolled up his shirt sleeve and showed her the unblemished skin of his bicep. “Good as new.”
“Good. Do you have your orders?”
“Yes,” he said, with a little sigh. “But please let me help.”
She harrumphed and finally nodded. “I’ll think of something. Go sit down.”
The living room was empty, even though there were two TVs showing the parade and the the early football game, and Derek settled in the recliner. If they weren’t going to let him do anything, at least he was going to be comfortable.
Sarah came back a few minutes later, with a very familiar baby on her hip. “We always need more baby wranglers,” she said, handing Lucy over. “She seemed to take a liking to you last time, and everyone knows that baby cuddles help with healing. She’ll just chew on your shirt and then fall asleep on you.”
“Hi, Lucy,” he cooed, and she babbled back, patting his cheeks with her hands. She was enthralled by the bright colors of the parade on TV, and Derek let her gnaw on his hand with her new tiny fangs.
Stiles wandered in a little while later with a plate, and he sighed, his free hand propped on his hip. “What did I say about you and babies?”
Derek shrugged, trying to look innocent. “It’s my job, official baby wrangler. The only thing they’ll let me do.”
“Hmm, a likely story,” he said, but he was smiling. “How’s the arm?”
“Good. You slept like a rock, by the way. Snored and drooled everywhere.”
Derek narrowed his eyes. “I did not.”
“You’ll never know,” Stiles said flippantly. “Brought you breakfast.”
“Thank you,” he said, taking the plate and rearranging Lucy in his lap.
“Do you need me to take her?” Stiles asked, perching on the arm of the chair, and he shook his head. There were four good-sized breakfast tacos, with eggs and sausage and avocado, and he could easily eat them one-handed.
“No, I got it. How long have you been up?”
“A while. They’ve got me peeling carrots.”
“What’s on the menu for dinner?”
Stiles went through the list—Derek was most excited about the pies—until he got interrupted.
Stiles twisted around on his perch and smiled. “Lisa, hey.”
Derek waved at her, Sarah’s youngest daughter. She was around Stiles’ age, also human and also a student at UT. Derek knew they hung out sometimes and was also pretty sure she had a little crush on Stiles. He tried not to worry about that, though.
“Sorry about my dumb cousin,” she said, and Derek stifled a smile.
“It’s okay, I’m fine.”
“Scooch, dude,” she said, shoving Stiles down into Derek’s lap so she could sit on the arm herself. He yelped a little, and Derek chuckled, rearranging Stiles’ weight so that his bony ass wasn’t digging directly into his femur.
Full from breakfast, with Lucy asleep on his chest and Stiles in his lap talking softly with Lisa about the classes they were taking next semester, it didn’t take long for Derek to doze off himself.
He woke up a while later, alone except for Lisa and two of her cousins watching the football game from the couch, and stumbled off in search of Stiles. The kitchen was a scene of controlled chaos, and a guy, whose name Derek wasn’t completely sure of, pointed to a stack of vegetables piled next to a cutting board. “Can you chop the vegetables for the salads?”
Derek nodded, eager to have something to do, and tried to stay out of the way as much as possible for the next hour. Feeding a pack of werewolves and hungry humans was no easy task, and there was a truly astonishing amount of food.
Finally, Sarah whistled—wolf-whistled, in fact, Stiles pointed out to him with a grin and a nudge to his side, as if he were the first person to make that terrible joke—and instructed everyone to take a seat at the tables outside. A late November afternoon in Austin meant that it was brisk, but with their higher body temperatures Derek knew the wolves would be comfortable. He was seated next to Stiles, thankfully, and nudged him with his elbow. “You okay? You too cold?”
“No, I’m fine,” he said, sliding closer on the bench and pressing their arms together. “Just give me a little of your body heat.”
Gladly, he thought, wrapping an arm around Stiles’ shoulders for a long second.
Sarah made everyone go around the tables and say something that they were thankful for, which was not a quick task with more than 30 people. Molly was thankful that Derek was okay, which he acknowledged with a wink, Stiles was thankful that there were four different types of pie, which made everyone laugh, and Derek managed to say that he was very thankful the Johnston pack had taken them in. When it was Lisa’s turn, she smiled and said she was thankful for new friends. She was sitting directly across from them, and as she kicked Stiles under the table, he grinned back at her and Derek sighed.
After dinner—which was as loud and chaotic and delicious as he expected—while they were packing up their stuff in the guest room, he brought it up.
Stiles snorted. “I have no interest in dating Lisa.”
“Why not?” he asked, forcing himself to keep his voice steady. “She’s pretty, and I think she likes you.”
Stiles gave him a strange little look as he zipped his bag closed. “I’m just not. And, you know, she thinks I’m with you.”
“Oh, right,” he said, feeling dumb. “Well, we could—”
“Seriously, Derek,” he interrupted, shaking his head. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s go.”
On a Saturday morning in December, when their house was buried under the heap of papers and books and coffee cups that apparently embodied Stiles’ survival of his first round of college finals, he requested a study break to go look for Christmas presents. Derek took one look at his bag-lined eyes and the slight twitch that showed up whenever he had too much caffeine and decided that it was probably in everyone’s best interest to pull Stiles away from his computer for a little while.
They wandered South Congress for a little while, ducking into random stores and enjoying the little bite in the air—“winter” in Texas was even milder than in Beacon Hills.
Scott had apparently requested “the most ridiculous Texas-themed thing you can find,” a task that Stiles was taking extremely seriously. He’d already rejected cowboy boots, a Texas-shaped coffee mug, and Texas condoms as not ridiculous enough, somehow, and was currently rummaging through a pile of rusted old Texas license plates.
Derek rifled through a set of novelty greeting cards, smiling at one that had a drawing of an elephant wearing a top hat. Cora loved elephants. Well…she used to love elephants, anyway; he had no idea if she still did. He had told Jane about Cora, about their separation and subsequent reunion as well the overwhelming inadequacy he felt around interacting with her. She had suggested writing Cora a letter, even if he never sent it, that articulated his feelings. He’d been thinking about it, and maybe this was a sign.
“My sister draws those by hand.”
Derek looked up at the young woman leaning over the counter, her blonde hair in a high ponytail, and tried to remember what Jane said about sharing. “They’re really nice. My, uh, my sister loved elephants when she was a kid.”
“You should buy it for her, then.”
“I think I will.”
“Wow, easy sale, good job me,” the woman said, with a broad grin, and Derek smiled back. “That’ll be three dollars.”
Derek slid a five across the counter and waved off the change.
“You could’ve totally asked that girl out, you know,” Stiles said, once they were outside, but Derek just rolled his eyes and cuffed him gently on the back of the head.
April was very popular on the plane. Derek won their rock-paper-scissors game for the aisle seat—after convincing Stiles that there was no possible way he could cheat with his werewolf powers—but he regretted it pretty much instantly. April was in his lap, and it seemed like every single person who needed to go down the aisle—or found a reason to—wanted to coo at her and scratch her head and talk to Derek. Stiles, who was absorbed in his Sudoku book, just laughed at him, and eventually Derek had to resort to putting in his headphones and pretending to be asleep.
Airplanes were a little rough for him anyway, with all the noise and the people crammed in like sardines, and he was very grateful to get off the plane and outside, where the air was fresh instead of stale and recycled and full of everyone else’s smells. The Sheriff was there to pick them up, and Derek smiled when Stiles quite literally jumped into his arms for a hug.
Derek accepted a firm handshake and patted John on the shoulder when he leaned in for a half-hug. “Your box is under the bed in the guest room,” John said lowly.
“Thanks,” he whispered back. He’d had some gifts shipped, which he kept a secret from Stiles. He snuck a look to see if he overheard, but he was crouched down and taking April out of her carrier.
“Meet your first grandbaby!” Stiles said cheerfully, holding her up, and John winced.
“I was really hoping I could wait a few more years before hearing that,” he said as he took April in his arms. “But I suppose this is okay, she’s real cute. April, right?”
Stiles snorted. “As if I don’t send you pictures and videos every other day. Yes, her name is April.”
John cooed at her—it was impossible not to, really, Derek had learned that the hard way—and chuckled when she licked his chin. “Well, let’s get you guys home.”
Stiles had convinced Derek to stay at the Stilinski house instead of the loft—“because it’s Christmas, Derek, god”—so he set up shop in the guest room and successfully inspected his shipped gifts. Everything looked good, thankfully.
Stiles and Derek were the last two out-of-town members of the pack to arrive back in Beacon Hills, so everyone came over for a big pizza dinner that night at the Stilinski house. As to be expected, April was a major topic of conversation.
“You really have a dog,” Scott said, slowly. “Like…the two of you. Have a dog.”
“Yes, we do,” Stiles said. He crouched to pick her up and turned on his “dog voice,” as Derek like to call it. “Her name is April, and she’s the smartest, prettiest, best dog around, isn’t she?”
“She’s so cute,” Kira squealed, reaching forward to ruffle her ears.
“Derek’s her favorite,” Stiles explained as she squirmed in his arms and strained for Derek. “She just tolerates me.”
“She likes you just as much,” Derek said, but he gave in to her pleading and scratched her belly.
Derek stepped outside after dinner, in search of a little quiet and fresh air, and Kira joined him a few minutes later. “So are you and Stiles together yet?” she said, without any preamble, and Derek’s eyes widened.
“What? Keep your voice down,” he hissed, and she winced.
“Sorry. But are you?”
“No,” he said, trying to sound indignant and probably failing. She just tilted her head at him and frowned.
“But you like him, though, don’t you?”
“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” he said lowly, if only because there were a whole bunch of werewolves were within hearing distance. Thankfully, she didn’t press.
“Fine. I’m kinda disappointed, though, because now I owe Scott 50 bucks,” she said, laughing as Derek gaped at her. “Maybe I could convince him to do double or nothing—you think you could make a move by Valentine’s Day?”
“Just to spite you, no.”
She laughed. “But you know you can talk to me about it if you want, right?”
“Yeah,” he said, reluctantly, and she nodded.
“Good. Now, come on,” she said, tugging him by the arm back toward the house. “Stiles said something about watching Die Hard.”
After the movie, Stiles exchanged hastily-whispered words with Kira and leapt off the couch to turn off the TV. Kira rushed off to the kitchen, and Stiles stood in front of Derek, gesturing for him to stand up.
“Close your eyes,” he ordered, and Derek sighed. He had an idea where this was going. He obeyed, though, and let Stiles lead him into the dining room and push him down into a chair.
“You know I can hear you, right?” he said, the sounds of plates clinking in the kitchen and everyone shuffling perfectly audible, but Stiles just scoffed at him.
“Then just pretend,” he said, and Derek sat quietly until Stiles said he could open his eyes.
Even though he was expecting it, he still smiled at the sight of the large cake on the table in front of him, with Happy Birthday! scrawled on it in frosting.
“Stiles,” Kira hissed, gesturing at the cake, “you forgot the candles! It doesn’t count if he doesn’t get to blow out the candles.”
“Blech,” he said, with an exaggerated full-body shudder. “Candles are the worst, they get wax into the cake and it’s fucking gross. No candles ever, please.”
It was a fairly convincing lie, and Derek probably would have bought it if he didn’t know any better. Stiles shot him a little wink, though, and Derek bit a lip to stifle his smile. He could deal with a few birthday candles, honestly—he didn’t have a fire phobia, not really—but he appreciated the thought regardless.
It looked like chocolate, his favorite, but Stiles grabbed his wrist when he reached for the serving knife. “Ah, ah, ah, hold your horses, mister.”
He made some kind of complicated gesture, and everyone broke out into an eager, if shaky, rendition of Happy Birthday. Stiles ended it with an flashy bow, and Derek bit back a smile.
“You are all terrible singers,” he said mildly, but Stiles just laughed and reached for the serving knife.
“You’re welcome, birthday boy.”
The cake was quite good, and later, after everyone left, Derek did thank him. John had gone to bed, and the two of them were left on the couch, half-heartedly watching an old Bond movie while April bounced between their laps. “Thanks,” he said awkwardly, keeping his gaze fixed somewhere off Stiles’ shoulder. “For the cake and everything. It was really nice.”
Derek didn’t even remember the last time he really celebrated his birthday, actually—it was probably when Laura was still alive, sadly.
“You’re welcome,” he said, poking Derek in the thigh with his foot. “I know it’s not today, but since everyone was here—”
“It was great,” he interrupted. “Really. Thanks. It’s been…a long time.”
The smile on Stiles’ face morphed into something softer, and he held Derek’s gaze for a second longer than was strictly comfortable. “Of course.”
Christmas morning at the Stilinskis’ was a low-key, happy affair. Apparently pancakes were the most cherished tradition of all, and Stiles made a giant stack with both blueberries (mostly for the Sheriff) and chocolate chips. He also made bacon, which was, as Stiles put it, his main Christmas gift to John.
After Derek was sufficiently stuffed to the gills with pancakes, next on the agenda, he learned, was coffee while exchanging gifts. It was Stiles’ job to act as “Santa, gleefully distributing the presents that were under the tree.
Derek won big with his gift to John, a package of Texas bison that he’d had specially shipped. Stiles flailed and started to protest until Derek reminded him smugly that bison was a perfectly healthy lean meat. Stiles just huffed, but John looked pleased as punch.
Derek reached to grab a package from his little pile, this one bulky and soft, and he noted Stiles’ handwriting on the label.
“Who’s it from?” Stiles said, stroking over April’s back, and Derek sighed.
“Merry Christmas, Dad. Love, April,” he read aloud, turning to Stiles. “This could be for you, you know.”
He grinned, clearly pleased that Derek was playing along, and shook his head quickly. “Nope, it’s for you. She told me.”
“Oh, did she now,” he said dryly, and John unsuccessfully stifled a snort.
He slid his thumb under the tape and carefully unwrapped the gift, ignoring Stiles’ impatient noises. The paper fell away to reveal some kind of quilted bomber jacket. “Oh, wow,” he said dumbly, holding it up. It was soft and cozy but still light, and it looked like it would fit perfectly.
“Since Austin is too hot for leather,” Stiles said softly, and Derek smiled. He leaned over in Stiles’ direction but then abruptly bent down to April’s level.
“Thank you, April. I like it very much.”
“Hey!” Stiles protested. “She had help.”
“But your name wasn’t on the card,” he said innocently, and Stiles glared at him. “What if I didn’t like it?”
“Oh, then it would have been all her.”
Derek rolled his eyes and scooped April up under his arm. “Did you hear that, April? Your dad basically just admitted that he would throw you under the bus. That’s why you love me best.”
John choked on a laugh that he unsuccessfully hid behind his coffee cup. “You two have changed.”
Derek coughed and felt his face flush. “Uh, your turn to open one, Stiles.”
He grabbed the biggest box, then glanced at the label and smacked Derek on the shoulder. “Dude! You already got me a present, the tickets.”
Derek made a motion to take it from him. “Oh, then I can just—”
“No!” Stiles exclaimed, clutching the box closer. “No take-backs.”
He ripped the paper off and tore into the box with gusto, gasping as he looked inside. Stiles alternated between a ratty backpack and an even rattier messenger bag, so Derek splurged and got him a nice burnished leather messenger bag. He might have asked Kira for helping in picking it out.
“Derek, this is so awesome. Oh, and there’s stuff inside!” he exclaimed, rifling through it, and Derek smiled. It wasn’t a lot—a couple books, a gift card to Stiles’ video game store of choice—but he was glad he liked it. “How’d you know what my favorite pens were?”
“Because you leave them all over the house,” he retorted. “Most of them half-chewed.”
He laughed and bumped their shoulders together, clutching the bag in his lap. “Seriously, thank you. I love it.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, inordinately pleased. It took him a long time to think of a good gift for Stiles.
The rest of Christmas Day was just as relaxed. The three of them—four, including April—lounged on the couch, watching a selection of Christmas movies, and oddly, a James Bond marathon. Scott and Melissa came over for a late dinner, and overall, it was miles ahead of any Christmas Derek had celebrated since his family died.
They had to go back to Austin just a couple days after Christmas, to accommodate Derek’s work schedule, but Stiles stopped him before they even got in the house.
“So,” he said, scooting around Derek and turning so that he was facing him and also blocking the front door. “I have another present for you.”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“It’s your birthday present, technically. I couldn’t bring it with us.”
“And it’s inside the house? It better not be another dog,” he said dryly, and Stiles laughed.
“No, there’s no way April would share. Come on.”
Derek stepped inside gingerly, looking around for anything new. He spotted it immediately—part of the wall by the kitchen was now covered in a whole bunch of photos, all hung together in various-sized black frames, and Derek walked over to look closer. He spotted several from his infamous shoebox, a few of a younger Stiles with John and presumably his mother, a bunch of the pack members from more recent years, and even some from the last few months. There was one that Derek hadn’t seen before of Stiles with friends at UT, a picture from Thanksgiving with the Johnstons, a selfie from the fucking ostrich ranch on their road trip that he’d vehemently protested at the time, and the one they took the day they adopted April.
“Do you like it?” Stiles asked, and Derek realized that he hadn’t said anything for several minutes. Stiles’ fingers were tangled together, and nervousness was starting to waft off him. “Is it too much? I can—”
“No,” Derek interrupted, clearing his throat. “No, it’s great.”
“Really,” he said firmly. “I love it.”
Stiles audibly exhaled, long and low, and sagged against Derek. “Oh, thank god.”
Derek runs with the Johnston pack and a young girl accidentally hurts him. She tears a muscle in his arm and nicks an artery, so it’s kinda gnarly and takes a little longer to heal.
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
Minor warning: Stiles has a panic attack. It's from Derek’s POV and not very descriptive.
Next chapter, the rating goes UP. Hallelujah.
Derek liked winter in Austin.
The weather was pleasant, far better than the oppressive heat of late summer and even fall, and it was more comfortable when Derek ran around the lake. Stiles joined him sometimes—those were the best ones—and they liked to take April out for little hikes on the weekends. Stiles even taught her to play dead, as a trick, which according to him would be handy if they ever ran into bears. Derek had to break the news that such a technique was not ideal for black bears, which were the ones in their area. Especially not when one traveled with a werewolf.
Derek sighed and flipped from his left side back to his right, shaking out his wrist as he took hold of his book with his other hand. It was nearly one in the morning, and thanks in part to the raging thunderstorm outside, he couldn’t fall asleep. Usually reading helped, but he really needed to be reading something boring for that to work. Instead, he was almost done with some dumb YA fantasy novel that Stiles had recommended, and it was definitely doing as much to keep him awake as his restless mind was.
The sound of shattering glass cut through the relative quiet, along with Stiles’ shout of surprise, and Derek found himself halfway up the stairs and nearly all wolfed-out before he even processed what was happening.
He shoved Stiles’ door open, looking around wildly for a threat. The room was otherwise empty, thank god, but there was a tree branch sticking through the skylight, which had shattered all over Stiles’ bed.
“Holy shit,” Stiles breathed, and Derek braced a hand against the wall as he tried to calm his racing heart.
“Are you okay?”
Stiles nodded. “I, uh, I think so, anyway,” he said. He was wet from the rain and the bed was covered in glass, but Stiles was almost entirely covered by the comforter and hopefully shielded from most of the glass.
“Are you panicking?” Derek asked mildly—because Stiles’ heart was racing—but he shook his head.
“No more than would be expected, I think it’s just the adrenaline. Am I really not cut up too badly?” he asked, moving his arm from under the blanket.
“Don’t move,” Derek snapped, stepping toward the bed.
“But Derek, your—”
He winced as his bare feet crunched through the glass—it definitely stung, but the small wounds were healing nearly as quickly as they were opening. “It’s fine,” he said. He was wet now, too, standing underneath a broken window in a thunderstorm, and he pushed his hair back with one hand. He carefully pulled the comforter away, trying to keep the glass as contained as possible, and leaned down to haul Stiles up and sling him over his shoulder.
“Okay, this is a little too damsel-in-distress for me to be comfortable with,” Stiles called out, but Derek just rolled his eyes.
“Better than being cut up by glass,” he said dryly, then set Stiles down carefully just outside the bedroom door. “Take off your clothes.”
Stiles grinned. “I know the rain is romantic and all, boo, but it’s a little early in our relationship, don’t you think?”
He rolled his eyes again. “So you don’t get glass everywhere,” he stressed, but Stiles was already halfway out of his shirt. He tossed it back inside the bedroom, along with his sweatpants, and Derek let his gaze glide down Stiles’ body. In a purely clinical sense. Obviously.
“You’re bleeding,” he said softly, reaching out to touch Stiles’ elbow.
He craned his neck and twisted his arm, trying to see it. “Shit.”
“Come here,” Derek said, tugging him into the bathroom where he knew Stiles had a first-aid kit under the sink. The cut was long but pretty shallow, so Derek thought it’d be okay with just a little Neosporin and a couple band-aids. “Does it hurt?”
Stiles shrugged. “Stings a little,” he said, then smirked. “But I’ve had worse.”
Derek grimaced—he didn’t really want to think about that—and carefully rubbed on some Neosporin before putting on two band-aids, smoothing down the adhesive with his thumbs. Stiles shivered, so Derek gave him a gentle shove toward the shower. “You’re cold, go take a shower. Look for any other glass and make sure you aren’t hurt anywhere else.”
“But what are we gonna do about my room?” he said, frowning.
“Don’t go back in there. I’ll go get something to cover it for the night, then tomorrow I’ll call someone to fix the window. And we’re moving your bed,” he added. “So that it’s not under the skylight.”
Stiles laughed. “I won’t even argue with you, that was pretty traumatizing.”
It didn’t take long for Derek to get a garbage bag and secure it to the window frame with several applications of duct tape. He was pretty sure it would hold, barring another encounter with a tree branch. Stiles’ room was a mess, though, glass and water everywhere, and Derek winced. That was tomorrow’s problem.
He changed clothes and got a towel, drying his hair and rubbing the blood off all of his already-healed wounds. He was already in bed, reading again, by the time Stiles showed up in his doorway, with only a towel wrapped around his waist. He had a couple other band-aids dotted across his shoulders, but he didn’t smell like he was in pain or too stressed. “So…I don’t have any clothes. Can I—”
Derek nodded and jerked his chin toward his closet. “Sure, take whatever you want.”
“Thanks,” he said, closing the closet door behind him and appearing a minute later wearing boxers and a gray t-shirt that hung on his frame, just a little bit. “I’ll be on the couch.”
Derek scooted over to make room and gestured to the open side of the bed. “C’mon, you’re too tall to sleep on the couch.”
“You—you sure?” Stiles asked, taking one step forward and then hesitating.
Derek nodded. “You’ll have to fight April for it, though,” he said, nodding at the dog curled up at the end of the bed.
Snorting, Stiles tossed his towel in the corner and tugged the blankets down on the bed before climbing in. “I think I can take her,” he said, reaching down to pick her up gently and bring her up to his chest.
A particularly loud clap of thunder shook the house, and Derek grinned at the nearly identical squeaks that Stiles and April both let out. “You two are a good pair,” he said dryly, and Stiles smacked him on the shoulder.
“Jerk,” he hissed, and Derek smirked. He carefully marked his place with his bookmark and set the book on his nightstand before flicking off the lamp. “You can keep reading,” Stiles mumbled, already sounding sleepy. “The light doesn’t bother me.”
“It’s fine,” he said, shaking his head even though Stiles couldn’t see him. “I think I can sleep now.”
Derek woke up again a couple hours later and listened carefully, but he didn’t pick up anything strange that would have woken him. He was comfortable, though, like to an extreme degree, and he barely stopped himself from flinching when he realized why.
Stiles was asleep on his stomach, sort of, with one knee hitched up so it looked more like he’d fallen asleep on his side and then slumped over. Derek was also on his stomach, about halfway on top of Stiles, and his arm was wrapped around Stiles’ chest. Stiles’ arm was curled around Derek’s, and they were even holding hands, kind of. Their legs were tangled, and even April was sacked out on top of their calves, her little body a pleasant and comforting weight.
They were full-on cuddling, and Derek was more comfortable than he’d even been in his life. Stiles smelled so good, especially wearing Derek’s clothes, and he just couldn’t stop himself from taking a couple of extra deep breaths. His nose was right there, anyway, right behind Stiles’ ear.
He knew he should move. Definitely. This was bordering on not-exactly-consensual cuddling—if that was even a thing?—and the right thing to do would be to gently untangle himself from Stiles’ body. His deliciously warm and comfortable and nice-smelling body. That Derek never wanted to move away from—ever, actually, if he really thought about it. He wanted to cuddle like this every night, preferably with fewer clothes and ideally after a little… No. No, no, no. He couldn’t go there, not right now, not when his groin was pressed against Stiles’ ass and only two pairs of thin boxers separated their skin.
Derek braced his forehead against Stiles’ shoulder and let out a tiny, soundless groan.
He was so fucked.
Turned out that in hindsight, it was pretty obvious.
Of course he liked Stiles. He was Derek’s best friend, the person he’d shared the most with, and he obviously found him very attractive. It had probably been going on for a long time, actually, and Derek felt incredibly dumb that he hadn’t quite put all the pieces together until now.
The whole anchor thing should have been a clue, he thought irritably. You idiot.
Part of him just wanted to suppress it. Just stuff it down into a little locked box, like he had done over the past decade with the majority of his feelings that weren’t related to guilt and anger.
But another part…
“Derek?” Jane asked, breaking him out of his stupor, and he winced. “I asked if there was anything that you wanted to talk about today.”
He sighed. “Maybe. Is it okay if we talk about Stiles? I mean, considering...” he said, trailing off, and she nodded.
“Sure. Of course I can’t share things that he and I talk about—”
“I’m not asking you to,” Derek added quickly. “Of course not.”
“Okay,” she said softly, making a little note on her pad. “What exactly do you want to talk about?”
He sighed again. “I—I think I like him,” he said lowly. “In a romantic way, I mean.”
Derek wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but Jane didn’t flinch in horror or grimace or even really react at all. “Okay,” she said, studying him. “You don’t look particularly pleased about that.”
“Of course I’m not!” he said, displaying a little more emotion than he really wanted to.
He snorted. “There’s a whole list of reasons.”
“All right,” she said, with a tiny smile. “Then why don’t we start with just one.”
Derek waited for a second, scraping his thumbnail down his jeans. “I…I feel like a predator,” he said softly, and she tilted her head.
“And why is that?”
“Because I’m older than him. Just like—just like Kate was to me,” he forced out.
“Hmm. I’m going to ask you some questions, okay?” she asked, and he nodded. “Is Stiles older than you were when that happened to you?”
“And are you younger than Kate was when that happened to you?”
He clenched his jaw. “Yes.”
“Do you hold a position of authority over him?”
“Do you think Stiles has the agency to make his own decisions?”
“More than anyone else that I know,” he said frankly.
“Do you have genuine feelings for him?”
“Do you think Kate had genuine feelings for you?”
Derek swallowed. “No,” he gritted out.
“And do you have a nefarious purpose?”
“Does wanting to have sex count as a nefarious purpose?” he asked, and she almost smiled.
“Do you understand what I’m doing here?”
He sighed. “I think you’re trying to show the differences between me and Kate.”
“That is exactly right. There were many problematic aspects of your interactions with Kate, and age was only one of them. You and Stiles are both adults, and your age difference is not concerning, in and of itself. Of all the things you should concern yourself with, I wouldn’t recommend this one.”
“What do you think I should be worrying about, then?” he asked, and she laughed.
“Something tells me you don’t really need to have more things added to your list.”
“No,” he muttered.
“Do you have a particular goal in mind for what you want the outcome of this session to be? Why did you bring this up with me?”
Derek paused and scratched at his beard. “I want to feel like telling him is an actual possibility.”
“And you don’t feel that way now?” she pressed, and he shook his head with a huff.
“Okay. And why not?”
“The thought of that is terrifying,” Derek admitted, and Jane nodded.
“Sharing our feelings with anyone is scary. Does your hesitation seem extreme to you?”
“Yes,” he said, after a couple seconds. “It seems...completely overwhelming.”
“Okay. One technique for dealing with anxious feelings is to play out different scenarios and see how you would handle them. Let’s imagine that you did tell Stiles about your feelings. What is the worst case scenario?”
“He leaves,” Derek said immediately, feeling his chest tighten at the mere thought. “He laughs at me, says the whole thing is ridiculous, then just ups and leaves.”
“All right,” she said, nodding. “What would happen then? What would you do?”
“What do you mean? I have no idea.”
“That’s the point of this,” she said patiently. “Think about it for a second, what would you actually do? Would you move back to California? Would you stay here?”
He sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “I would…I would stay here, I think. I like my house and my job and my friends. Unless Stiles wanted me to leave, then I would. I would, uh, reach out to him after a while. To apologize. See if he ever wanted to be friends.”
“And what if he said no? Would you survive without him?” she asked gently, and he grimaced.
Nobody really knew this. But what Derek believed more than anything, the only thought that kept him going on the worst days and the longest nights, was that he was a survivor. He was strong, and while he wasn’t usually the best or the strongest or the smartest, he was often the toughest and he knew that he could survive just about anything. “Yeah,” he said quietly, feeling like he was betraying Stiles at the mere thought. “Yeah I could. I want Stiles in my life, very much, but I don’t need him.”
“That’s great, Derek,” she said, making another note on her pad. “Good job.”
“That, that helped a little. Actually,” he said honestly, and she smiled a little.
“I’m glad. And what about the best case scenario?”
Derek opened his mouth, then paused. “He—he, uh, returns my feelings, I guess.”
“And how does that make you feel?”
“That is almost as terrifying,” he admitted, and she smiled.
“Are you afraid that you’re going to hurt him or that he’s going to hurt you?” Jane asked plainly, and Derek rubbed a hand over his mouth, buying time.
“Both,” he said finally.
“Then let’s start with the first one. Why do you think you would hurt him?”
Derek sighed. “Well, first of all, I’ve never had a relationship that didn’t end in death. What if I’m cursed?”
“You’re not cursed,” Jane said, with the finality of someone who was blissfully unaware of the supernatural. Derek could very well be cursed, who knew.
“But I don’t exactly have any healthy relationships in my past,” he countered, and she tilted her head. “I can’t imagine that I would be the ideal choice for him. Plus, he—he didn’t get much of a chance to have a normal life as a teenager because of what we went through. And I think I would hold him back from those experiences.”
“Why? Are you thinking of...returning to your previous life, let’s say?”
Derek shook his head. “No. But if he’s with me, I think he would resent me for holding him back from being a normal college kid.”
“And you may be right. But maybe you should see how he feels about that before you make all these assumptions.”
“Okay,” he said mulishly.
“And what about him hurting you?”
“That’s easy. I like him more than I’ve ever liked anyone,” he said with a little shrug. Because why the hell not admit it. “How do you know?”
She tilted her head. “Know what?”
He sighed, frustrated. “How do you know when the potential benefits of the best case scenario outweigh the worst case scenario?”
Jane laughed. “If I knew the answer to that, I’d be a very lucky woman.”
“How am I supposed to figure that out? What do you think I should do?”
“It’s not really my job to give you specific advice about these types of situations. But I can give you some guidance.”
“Yes, please,” he said immediately, and she laughed again.
“Okay. You said this was new, correct?”
Derek winced. “Sort of. I think it’s been happening for a while, but I kind of just recently realized it.”
“And do you think Stiles has feelings for you?”
“Um,” he started, trying to flip through all their interactions. He thought…well, he didn’t want to be too optimistic. He was fairly confident that Stiles was physically attracted to him, but that didn’t really mean anything. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Then I think you should let it play out a bit. Let your own feelings develop naturally, pay extra attention to your relationship, see if you can get a read on Stiles’ feelings from your interactions. Once you’ve gathered a little more data, you’ll be better prepared to make an educated guess about taking that risk.”
“I…I think I can do that,” he said slowly.
“Good. Then we’ll talk more about that next week.”
“You aren’t going to tell him, are you?” Derek said, admittedly a little irrational. Jane just tilted her head and gave him a little look.
“No, of course not, I know,” he said, nodding. This whole thing was going to drive him insane.
Derek pushed through the front door and yawned. He rarely had the late shift at the bookstore, but he did today and he was tired. Stiles was there, and Derek gave him a halfhearted wave as he went into the kitchen, looking for food. “Hey. What’re you up to?”
“Having a panic attack,” Stiles said mildly, and Derek froze. He backtracked into the living room and stared at Stiles, just sitting there on the couch.
“What? You’re…um,” he said, stuttering. He had no idea how to say but you look fine without it sounding dismissive. Stiles did, though, he wasn’t shaking or struggling for breath or doing anything else that signified the panic attacks Derek had seen.
“It’s a, uh, new kind. Doesn’t look as bad, from the outside, but it lasts longer,” Stiles said. His voice was stilted and had an unusual, halting rhythm, as if he was having trouble getting enough air.
“How long has it been happening?”
“Like, today, or in general?”
“Maybe six months? They normally happen when I wake up during the night. As for today, uh,” Stiles said, looking up at the clock on the wall, “about 20 minutes.”
“Can I sit?” Derek asked carefully, gesturing to the couch, and Stiles nodded as he scooched over. He sat and leaned down to tug at Stiles’ feet, until he was stretched out on his back with his feet in Derek’s lap.
“Your heart is racing.”
Stiles gave him a flat look. “Yeah, no shit.”
“You’re going to be fine,” Derek said automatically. “I promise. This is just temporary, it always is. You’re physically fine, and you’ll feel better in a few minutes.”
He started to rub at the arches of Stiles’ feet, ignoring the funny look he was getting in response. Yeah, maybe he’d googled “how to help someone who’s having a panic attack,” sue him.
“That, uh,” he coughed, “that feels really good.”
“I’m glad,” he said mildly. “Are you cold? You look cold.” Stiles nodded, so Derek leaned over to grab the throw blanket from the armchair.
“Thanks,” he whispered.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Everything feels…wrong,” Stiles said. “I don’t know how to explain it. And I don’t want to talk about that right now.”
“Okay. You want to talk, or you want me to talk?”
Stiles waved a hand in his direction, so Derek cleared his throat, trying to think of something he could talk about. “I had lunch with Tamara today,” he started, referring to his closest friend at work. He mentioned every detail he could remember about his day, everything from the new novels that came in to getting to see Lucy when she came in with her mom for story time. Stiles paid attention and laughed once, even, when Derek told him that he had to break up a very loud couple’s argument about Harry Potter versus Lord of the Rings, so Derek thought he was doing an okay job.
“It’s gone,” Stiles said quietly, and Derek’s gaze snapped to his face.
“Yeah,” he said, nodding and taking an exaggerated breath. “I can breathe normally again.”
Derek exhaled. He knew Stiles was fine and not in any physical danger when he was having a panic attack, but that didn’t make it any easier for Derek to watch him go through it. “Good.”
“I think that’s the most words I’ve ever heard you say at one time,” Stiles said with a wink, and Derek mock-growled at him, making him grin. He grabbed Derek’s hand then, surprising him. “Seriously, Derek. Thank you.”
Derek hesitated. His instinct was to turn away from Stiles and ignore the moment while neatly hiding his feelings, but he held his gaze instead and smiled. “You’re welcome,” he said simply. “Anytime. Not—not that I want you to go through that again, but just in case you know that I—”
Oh my god, now he was starting to ramble like Stiles. Derek forcibly shut his mouth and grimaced. Stiles just laughed, though, and squeezed his hand. “I made dinner earlier,” he said, bracing his hands to get up. “I’ll get you some.”
He stumbled, though, and Derek shot to a stand, grabbing his elbow and guiding him carefully back down to the couch.
“Sorry,” he said, exhaling. “Still a little shaky.”
“It’s fine,” Derek said firmly. “Don’t move. Can I get you anything?”
Stiles winced. “No, I’m still kinda queasy.”
“Will it bother you if I eat? I can go eat outside, or upstairs.”
Stiles shook his head fondly. “No, it’s fine. Eat away.”
Derek couldn’t resist—he really was hungry—and rummaged through the fridge until he found the dinner leftovers. Fried rice with chicken, it looked like, and Derek’s stomach rumbled as he heated it in the microwave.
Stiles had turned on the TV and was flipping channels when Derek got back. “Can I ask for one more thing?” he asked, his gaze firmly fixed on the TV, and Derek carefully set the bowl on the coffee table.
“So I know we mostly started the whole hugging thing for you, but you’re not the only one around here who nee—”
Derek bit back a smile. It was a little awkward to hug while sitting side-by-side, so instead of standing up or settling for a half-hug, Derek hooked an arm around Stiles’ neck and tugged him over and down so that they were both horizontal.
Stiles laughed in surprise, but he went eagerly, sprawling himself over Derek’s body. “A+ for effort,” he said, the words muffled against the collar of Derek’s shirt. He squirmed a little, clearly looking for a comfortable position, and settled between Derek’s legs.
Derek wasn’t sure what to do with his hands—well, he knew what he wanted to do, but stroking through Stiles’ hair was not yet an option—so he left one by his side and rested the other on Stiles’ lower back. Stiles hummed, low enough that Derek mostly felt it rather than heard it, and was still, pleasantly so. Derek was happy to note that his breathing seemed slow and even again, like usual.
Derek’s stomach made another noise then, ruining the moment, and Stiles laughed again as he pushed himself up on his hands and back to a seated position. “Can’t keep wolves from their food.”
Derek cursed his stomach as he sat up—nice timing, asshole—but Stiles settled down right next to him, their shoulders brushing, so he supposed it wasn’t all bad.
“So my spring break is coming up in a few weeks,” Stiles said one morning when he came down the stairs, and Derek hummed around his spoonful of oatmeal.
“You thinking of going back to Beacon Hills?” he asked, but he just got a frown in response.
“I—not really. I was thinking we could do something, go somewhere.”
“Yeah?” Derek said, his interest sufficiently piqued. Stiles was looking a little bashful, which he always enjoyed. “Like what?”
He shrugged. “Haven’t really thought about it. There must be some kind of cool road trip we could do or something.”
“I can ask Tamara,” Derek offered. “She might have an idea.”
“That would be awesome,” Stiles said, then he reached around Derek and grabbed his half-full coffee mug, downing the rest in one gulp.
“Hey!” he exclaimed. “What the hell?”
“Sorry, boo!” he called out over his shoulder as he scooped up his bag on his way to the door. “Gotta go, I’m late!”
Derek sighed and flipped the coffeemaker back on.
Derek came home from work that night and tossed a book onto the couch next to Stiles, who looked away from the textbook in his hands and picked it up. “Big Bend National Park?” he asked, reading the title, and Derek nodded.
“Yeah. It’s like a seven-hour drive from here, and Tamara said it’s great. What do you think?”
“I think it sounds awesome,” he said, flipping through the book. “Could we take April?”
“No,” Derek said sadly. “That was the first thing I looked up.”
“Bummer. I’m sure Alice and Tom would watch her for a few days, though. And we could do more hiking without her, anyway,” he said, then winced and glanced down at where she was dozing at his feet. “No offense, sweetie.”
“She probably won’t speak to you for a week,” Derek said dryly, and Stiles laughed.
The next morning, Stiles handed Derek the guidebook, which was now highlighted and covered in post-it notes. “Wow. Did you even sleep?” he asked, rifling through it, and Stiles scoffed.
“Of course. But this looks awesome, dude, we should definitely do it.”
“Totally. It’s one of the biggest and most remote national parks, and it has everything—desert, mountains, river valleys. Supposed to be a lot of good hiking, too. And it has the darkest skies in the continental US! Great for star-gazing, apparently.”
“Then let’s do it,” Derek said, feeling impulsive. “When?”
Stiles shrugged. “Anytime during my spring break week is fine. It is the high season, I think, so there would probably be fewer people if we went during the week instead of the weekend.”
“I’ll see when I can get off work. And I’ll talk to Alice about watching April.”
“Awesome. What do you think about, uh, sleeping arrangements? There is a lodge, apparently, or we can camp.”
Derek shrugged. “Either is fine, really. But camping might be fun,” he said, and Stiles’ eyes lit up.
“I think so, too. It’s a nice campsite, too, they have water and toilets and stuff. Plus, I think there’s a place at UT where I can rent a tent and sleeping bags.”
“Okay,” Derek said, reaching for the stack of post-its that was attached to the fridge. “What do you need me to do?”
Stiles yawned behind the rim of his travel mug and slouched in the passenger seat. “You sure you don’t want me to drive?” he asked, his head falling against the window, and Derek smiled.
“I think I’m more awake than you.”
Stiles harrumphed and took another long swig. “I’m insulted,” he mumbled.
They’d left Austin early in the morning for Big Bend so that they’d have plenty of time to set up camp after the long drive. They had decided to camp for three full days, and the Camaro was stuffed to the brim with camping equipment and food.
“You can go back to sleep,” Derek said gently. “I am perfectly capable of driving by myself.”
“Uh-uh,” he said, sitting up straighter and shaking out his arms. “I am not missing a moment of this trip. You just have to talk to keep me awake.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “How about you talk to keep yourself awake?”
“Huh,” he said, tilting his head. “Okay, I think I can do that. Did you know Big Bend is a popular bird-watching destination?”
“I don’t know anything about birds.”
“Me neither,” Stiles admitted. “But it’s still cool. What are you most excited about?”
Derek hummed. “The stargazing, probably. That should be cool. You?”
“Uh…the hiking, seeing the mountains. Oh, and the s’mores. Obviously.”
“Are s’mores over a charcoal grill as good, though?” he asked, and Stiles laughed.
“I have no idea, but we’ll find out.”
The seven-hour drive was more pleasant than Derek had anticipated. Stiles stayed awake, as promised, and kept him entertained by reading out from the guidebook. They made final decisions on the hikes they wanted to do, and Stiles made careful notes on the maps.
They stopped at the visitors’ center at the entrance to the park, mainly because Stiles had been whining about having to pee for the past 10 miles. Derek finally went inside because Stiles had been gone a while, and he found him browsing in the little bookstore.
“Derek!” he said, lighting up and thrusting a book toward him. “Look at this.”
“‘Who Pooped in the Park,’” he said dryly, reading the title, and Stiles grinned.
“It’s the Big Bend edition! I’m buying it.”
“This is a kids’ book,” he said, but Stiles just snorted.
“Yeah, and kids get to have all the fun. I’m buying it anyway. If you’re nice to me, I’ll let you look at it.”
“You are ridiculous,” he said, but he knew it came out fondly.
Stiles paid for his absurd book and regaled Derek with “fun facts” about poop for the rest of the drive to their campsite. Blissfully, he stopped when they got there and helped Derek unload. “Wow,” he said, propping his hands on his hips and looking around. “What a view.”
Derek grunted in agreement. There were big rock formations and scraggly trees everywhere, which gave it kind of a desert atmosphere, even though they were at about 5000’ elevation.
It didn’t take them long to set up their tent and heat up dinner, a batch of chili and cornbread that Derek made the night before. The temperature dropped steadily as the sun sank down below the horizon, and after they cleaned up from dinner and got ready to go to sleep, it was only about 40 degrees.
“So…,” Stiles started, pasting on his innocent face. It was similar to his pouting face, with the wide eyes, and Derek had a pretty tough time with it. “It’s really cold, like a lot colder than I thought it would be, and since you’re practically a human radiator and all—”
Derek sighed and unzipped his sleeping bag. “Get in.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, even as he grinned and scooted closer.
“You better hurry before I change my mind,” he lied, and Stiles crawled in. It was somewhat of a tight fit, but it would be cozy, especially if they cuddled. Oh god.
Stiles didn’t hesitate either, nestling up right against Derek and throwing an arm and a leg across his body. “Oh, you’re so warm,” he said with a low groan, and Derek grimaced. He was not prepared for Stiles to be making anything resembling sex noises when they were in such a confined space. “You’re a little tense, dude, are you okay?”
Yeah, no shit, he thought, but he tried to relax. He hauled Stiles a little bit more on top of him and was rewarded-slash-punished with another groan, this one against his neck and right under his ear. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said tightly. “Go to sleep.”
“Mmkay,” Stiles murmured, making some kind of snuffling noise against the collar of Derek’s shirt.
Derek lifted his eyes skyward and prayed for strength. And for a lack of embarrassment-inducing erections in the morning.
They hiked in the desert on their first day. It was much hotter than it was at their campsite up in the mountains, so they quickly shed the layers and slathered on sunscreen. Stiles had a minor incident with a cactus—easily solved with Derek’s claws and a bit of pain-leeching—but besides that, it was a successful day. (Even with Stiles gleefully identifying every pile of scat that they came across.) The views were amazing, and on the drive down to the trailhead they saw fields and fields of bluebonnets.
Late that night, after dinner, they decided to check out the stargazing. They drove a few miles down the road, away from people’s lanterns at their campsite, until Derek spotted a little pull-off. Stiles got out of the car, his head tipped back, and he gasped.
“Wow,” he breathed. “I think this is the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Yeah, I think I have to agree with you,” Derek said, looking up himself. It was like being in a planetarium—the stars were so plentiful and bright and clear that the whole scene looked fake. His hand twitched to see if he could reach out and touch them, but he took Stiles’ hand instead.
“Where are we going?” Stiles said, yelping a little as Derek tugged him away from the car. “Oh my god, it is so dark.”
“That’s kind of the point,” Derek said dryly. “There’s a picnic table right over here, we can sit.”
“Okay,” he said, huddling close and following behind Derek. “But what about the bears? And the mountain lions?”
“I’ll hear them, I promise,” he said, smiling into the darkness. “And I can see better than you.”
“Right,” Stiles said under his breath.
Derek helped him up onto the picnic table and they both stretched out on their backs. They just watched the sky for a while, quietly, until Derek cleared his throat. “My dad was really into astronomy,” he said quietly, and Stiles twisted his head toward him. “He had a big telescope and everything. He would have loved this.”
“Do you know the constellations?”
He snorted, trying to ignore the burning behind his eyes. “Only a couple. Laura was—she was always the one who was more interested. Cora and I, uh, we thought it was dumb and didn’t like to go. God, I wish I had…”
Derek cut himself off with a shake of his head, thankful that it was dark enough that Stiles couldn’t see the tears dripping down his face. Stiles inched a little closer to him and gingerly tangled their fingers together, squeezing.
“I know a few.”
“Yep,” Stiles said, pointing off to the left. “See that C-shape over there?”
“That’s lupus carnivorus.”
Derek paused and bit back a smile. “You are so full of shit,” he said, and Stiles laughed, the noise seeming especially loud in the darkness.
“But you believed me for a second, didn’t you?”
He didn’t dignify that with a response. “Keep going, astronomer Stilinski.”
Stiles kept finding ridiculous shapes in the stars and creating even more ridiculous “creation myths” to go along with them, and soon Derek was shaking with laughter.
“I think that one looks like a dick,” Stiles said frankly, pointing, and Derek swallowed a snort. He tilted his head.
“Eh. Maybe. What’s the story behind that one?”
Stiles’ grin was bright even in the dark. “Funny you should ask, that’s the best one. In fact, the—”
“Never mind,” he interrupted. “I actually don’t want to know.”
“Party pooper,” he hissed. Some animal made a noise then, sounding far away, and Stiles scooted even closer to Derek with a gasp. “Oh dear god. I forgot that there were scary things out here.”
“Am I not a scary thing?” he said dryly, and Stiles chuckled, turning into his side a little bit and hooking a leg over Derek’s.
“Nah, you’re too good a cuddler.”
“You’re ruining my image,” Derek complained, and Stiles laughed, muffling the noise into Derek’s shirt. They laid there for a few minutes, and Derek didn’t dare point out that Stiles definitely couldn’t see the stars in that position. There was another noise, and Stiles’ grip on him tightened.
“Okay, that sounded a lot closer. Can we go back to the campsite?”
Derek smiled—it sounded like something small, and it was definitely still far away—but he helped Stiles to his feet anyway. “Okay,” he said, keeping a hold of Stiles’ hand under the guise of leading him back to the car. “Let’s go.”
“Derek. Derek, Derek, come on, get up.”
Derek groaned and flipped over onto his stomach, yanking Stiles closer under his arm. “What,” he murmured, without opening his eyes. He was warm and cozy, it was dark outside, and since nothing dangerous was pinging his radar, he felt no impulse to actually wake up and move.
Stiles squirmed out of his grip, though, and wriggled out of the sleeping bag, letting in cold air that made Derek wince. “We gotta get up.”
“Because it’s our last day, and the sunrise is supposed to be great. Please,” Stiles added, and Derek pried his eyes open, blinking blearily. Damn it, he couldn’t resist that earnest face.
“Okay,” he said, coughing to clear his throat. “I’m up, I’m up.”
Stiles cheered softly and scooted out of the tent, zipping it carefully behind him. Yawning, Derek ran a hand through his hair and reached around for any clothes he could find. He found his own gloves, he thought, but he might have put on one of Stiles’ sweaters under his jacket. He ruffled his hair one more time and stumbled out of the tent.
Stiles was huddled by the grill, stomping his feet and blowing on his hands. His hair was wild and rumpled under a beanie, and he was wearing Derek’s Christmas jacket, with his plaid pajama pants tucked haphazardly into his hiking boots. He was all scruffy and sleep-warm, and Derek smiled, he couldn’t help it.
Stiles brightened at the sight of him—and wasn’t that a trip—and held out a large travel mug. “I have hot chocolate, let’s go.”
Derek snatched it from his hand and took a swig. It was scorching, and the warmth burned a pleasant, tingling path down his throat and into his chest. “Where are we going?”
“Only a few hundred yards from here,” he said, grabbing Derek’s hand and tangling their gloved fingers together. “This way.”
He didn’t point out or object to the hand-holding, and they passed the hot chocolate back and forth on the way. Stiles had found a nice spot, a large flat rock with a great view of the sky between the mountains, which was just starting to lighten with the first inkling of dawn.
“Oh my god, that rock is cold,” Stiles said, shooting back to his feet after they sat down. “These pants are thin, and my ass is delicate.”
Derek rolled his eyes with a sigh—all the better to distract himself from the delicacy that was Stiles’ ass, apparently—and unwound his scarf from his neck, folding it neatly and placing it on the rock next to him. He gestured gallantly, and Stiles’ mouth dropped open a little bit.
“I…uh, thank you,” he said, sitting back down again carefully. “Aren’t you cold now?”
“Nah, I’m fine,” he said, which was mostly the truth. It was definitely brisk, but he just scooched closer to Stiles in search of warmth. “Did you have a good trip?”
Stiles knocked their shoulders together, and his smile turned soft around the edges. “Yeah, dude, it was so awesome. You?”
“Pretty great,” Derek admitted. “And s’mores on a charcoal grill are good, who knew.”
Stiles laughed and nodded. “Definitely.”
They’d done their toughest hike yesterday, a long trek up into the mountains, and the burgers, beer, and s’mores they’d had afterward was one of the best meals Derek had ever eaten.
“We should come back,” Stiles continued, squinting into the pink and purple rays as they streaked across the sky. “You know, make it an annual thing.”
Derek ducked his head to hide a little smile and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, we should definitely do that.”
Stiles fidgeted for several seconds and then threaded his arm through Derek’s before wrapping it around his own knee, which was hitched up toward his chest. Derek looked down at it and blinked. This was officially non-platonic cuddling, right? In fact, he was pretty sure they crossed that line several hand-holds and hugs ago.
He forced himself to look up again and startled a little when he saw Stiles looking right at him. The rising sun was reflected in Stiles’ eyes, making them nearly glow—it was clichéd as fuck, actually, to even think that, but Derek didn’t care. Stiles’ gaze slipped down to Derek’s mouth, and he froze. This was…what was happening here?
Derek didn’t dare move, but he couldn’t tear his gaze away either, especially not when Stiles’ tongue darted out to lick over his lips. His heartbeat was rabbit-fast, even more so than usual, but for the first time that caused Derek to relax, not panic.
Stiles must have seen something in Derek’s face because his own features smoothed out a little bit, and he leaned forward, lifting a hand to curve around Derek’s jaw. He went with it, still not really believing that it was happening—maybe this was just a dream?—but everything jerked back into focus when their lips touched. It was fairly chaste but firm, not hesitant at all, and Derek moved on autopilot more than anything. He’d never felt so off-balance from just a kiss, and he was very happy that they were sitting down.
“Is this okay?” Stiles asked quietly when they both pulled back, and Derek nodded. They were still close enough that Stiles probably felt it rather than saw it. Because he was, he was so okay.
He was the one to lean forward this time, wrapping a hand around the nape of Stiles’ neck and tugging him in for a kiss that was a little more energetic than the last one. Stiles fell into him and clutched at his thigh as he groaned, dropping his mouth open a little bit. Derek returned the favor and just dipped his tongue inside, tasting the hot chocolate that they’d shared. Stiles nibbled on his lower lip as Derek started to pull back, so he had no choice but to surge forward again. Stiles murmured happily, clearly pleased that his little trick worked, and Derek smiled.
After finally pulling back, Derek cleared his throat and couldn’t stop himself from licking his lips, just once. “We should probably talk about this,” he said softly, even though his instincts were telling him to just push forward and take, take, take.
Stiles nodded and put another inch of space in between them. Derek pouted on the inside. “You’re right. Curse us and our emotionally-healthy ways.”
Derek laughed and hoped Stiles didn’t notice that he slid a little closer. “Jane would be so proud,” he said dryly.
Stiles laughed, a little hysterically, and ran a hand through his hair before shaking out his legs. Derek was quite pleased to see him so flustered, from a barely-PG kiss. “Would you look at that sunrise,” Stiles said, shading his eyes. “Pretty, huh? One might even say it’s romantic.”
Derek paused. “You planned this, didn’t you?” he asked, and Stiles scoffed.
“No,” he said, drawing out the word, but Derek raised an eyebrow at the very obvious skip in his heartbeat. “Fine. Maybe I did. I was hoping that with the romance and the sunrise and all, you wouldn’t be able to resist.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to resist anyway,” he said softly, and Stiles groaned, tipping closer again to rest his temple against Derek’s shoulder.
The sun was fully up now, and Derek let himself look unabashedly while Stiles tipped his head back to get the last drips of the hot chocolate. “So what now?” Stiles asked, licking his lips, and Derek stood up with a little smile. He hauled Stiles up and didn’t let go of his hand.
“Oh, so this is the extent of your master plan?” he said, and Stiles bumped their shoulders together with a little groan.
“Shut up. My abilities are limited.”
“Well,” Derek said, squeezing his hand, “now we’re going to go back and nap for a couple hours before packing up and hitting the road. How’s that sound?”
Stiles bit his lip, looking uncharacteristically shy, and swung their linked hands. “Lead the way.”
They didn’t talk on the five-minute walk back, but somehow it wasn’t awkward. They each shed a couple layers before crawling back into the sleeping bag, and this time Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek from behind. Derek cleared his throat. “Did you set an alarm?” he asked.
“Yeah, two hours,” Stiles said, murmuring the words against the nape of Derek’s neck.
Derek shivered and reminded himself that doing anything else right now was not the best course of action. As much as he wanted to flip Stiles over and do…anything and everything with him, this was too important. They needed to talk first. And probably date a little.
Stiles must have caught the shiver, though, because he levered up on one elbow and dragged his mouth up Derek’s neck, his lower lip catching on the edge of Derek’s stubble. He bit down a little bit, just underneath his ear, and Derek closed his eyes. Jesus Christ. “You’re gonna kill me,” he said softly, and he felt Stiles shaking with silent laughter.
“I still don’t like boo,” he said loftily, but Stiles just snorted and pressed a kiss to his shoulder blade.
“Yeah, we’ll see.”
Derek twisted his hands on the steering wheel. They were all packed up, about half an hour into the drive back to Austin, but he and Stiles hadn’t talked yet. It hadn’t been awkward, but there hadn’t been any more kissing, either.
“So,” he said, clearing his throat. “Do you think we should talk?”
“Yes,” Stiles said, with a little fist pump, “this is perfect. I can look at you all I want but you can’t look at me, this is how it’s supposed to be.”
Derek pulled down the corners of his mouth into an exaggerated frown and made a point of looking over at Stiles. “But I like looking at you.”
He groaned. “Derek, you can’t just say shit like that when you’re driving and I can’t kiss you. Because I can do that now,” he said, then he paused. “Wait. I can do that, right?”
Derek bit his lip. “Yes, you can do that.”
“Awesome,” he said softly. “But I have to say, I’m a little amazed that you’re even willing to talk about this.”
Derek shrugged. “Well, I’m not gonna go first,” he said, and Stiles laughed.
“Okay, okay. I’ll give you that,” he said, fidgeting in the passenger seat. He tucked one leg underneath himself and then shifted again, switching legs. “All right. Uh, well…”
“We don’t have to talk about it,” Derek interrupted. He wasn’t used to seeing Stiles so flustered. “If you really don’t want to.”
“No, I definitely want to,” he said quickly. “You’re right. As much as I want to just pull over and jump into the backseat of this car, you’re right. We should talk.”
Derek snuck a quick glance over his shoulder. “There’s really not a lot of room back there, that wouldn’t be very comfortable.”
Stiles groaned again and scrubbed both hands through his hair. “Dude. I’m already kinda on the edge here, I can’t take you being all funny and dry and shit.”
“Okay, then I’ll be serious,” Derek said. He was pretty sure in Stiles’ feelings for him now, which infused him with a bit of confidence. “I like you. I like you a lot, actually, and would like to be in a relationship with you. I think we should start dating.”
Stiles let out some kind of anguished noise and buried his face in his hands. “Oh my god, serious you is so much worse. I mean better! Shit. Fuck, I am not doing a good job at this.”
“We’re not in a hurry,” Derek said, gesturing to the long, flat road in front of them. “I’ll wait. And you’re doing fine.”
Stiles took a few exaggerated deep breaths and wrung out his hands while staring out the window. “Okay. Ooooo-kay. I can do this. Talking about my feelings. I’m great at this shit. It’s just—it’s you and it’s me, and…”
Derek knew he probably shouldn’t say anything, lest Stiles yell at him anymore, but after a few minutes, he couldn’t resist. “Your heart’s beating pretty fast,” he said mildly, and he bit back a smile when Stiles smacked him on the shoulder.
“Can you—can you just pull over please? I can’t take this anymore.”
Derek panicked, eyes wide as he flipped on his turn signal. Shit, had he completely screwed this up already? Stiles’ arms were crossed over his chest, and he looked fairly uncomfortable. Derek swallowed hard and coasted to a stop in the far corner of a gas station parking lot. He had clearly misjudged this entire situation.
He opened his mouth to apologize, but Stiles cut him off by launching himself across the center console and sealing their lips together. Derek gasped in surprise, which Stiles took advantage of to deepen the kiss. The Camaro wasn’t the best for in-car makeouts, but Stiles made a valiant effort, shoving his seatbelt aside to fit more of his upper body into Derek’s space. Derek slid a hand into his hair and tugged a little, very pleased with the delightfully soft, hungry noise that Stiles let out in response. Stiles nibbled on his lip again—Derek could tell that was gonna be a thing—and then pulled back, though he kept their faces close together.
“This is really overwhelming for me. Because I like you, dude, I like you a lot. And have for a long time. It probably tilts embarrassingly close toward love, actually, and I should definitely not have said that, shit. Strike that part from the record, please,” he said, pausing to suck in a breath. “So…yeah. I would absolutely, most definitely like to date you. And that’s it in a nutshell. Is that good enough for you?”
Derek smiled and couldn’t stop the little laugh from coming out. “Anything you do is good enough for me.”
Stiles groaned and kissed him again, several little pecks in quick succession. “You being nice really does it for me, turns out.”
“Stop looking at the backseat,” he chided. “We cannot have sex in a car in the middle of the day.”
Stiles huffed and flopped back into his seat. “Your loss, man. Now I’m not putting out until we go on a date.”
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
Note that sweet, sweet rating change! ♥
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Derek crept up the stairs to Stiles’ room and gently pushed open the door, padding over to the bed. The precautions probably weren’t necessary, though—Stiles was a pretty heavy sleeper. His breaths were deep and even as he slept, sprawled out on his back with one arm flung up over his head, and Derek let himself look for a few seconds, until even he felt like too much of a creeper.
He braced one hip on the edge of the bed and gently shook Stiles’ shoulder. “Stiles. Stiles, wake up.”
He just grumbled a little and rolled over onto his side, closer to Derek, without opening his eyes. Derek tried in vain to ignore how cute it was and shook his shoulder a little harder. He really didn’t want to have to resort to tickling. Stiles was a lot stronger than he looked, and even though Derek knew he would heal and all, he didn’t want to start the day with a punch to the face. “Stiles.”
“Yeah. C’mon, Stiles, wake up.”
Stiles suddenly sat all the way up with a jolt, narrowly avoiding a painful collision with Derek’s shoulder. “Holy shit, what? Are you okay? Is the house on fire?”
“No, it’s time for our date.”
Stiles blinked several times and stared at him. “Our date.”
“Yeah, remember? We decided to go on a date, and you said, and I quote, ‘your furry ass has to plan it.’”
“You didn’t mention anything about said date being in the middle of the night. I might have reconsidered.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “It’s not the middle of the night.”
Stiles made a point of twisting around to look at the clock on his nightstand. “Derek,” he said calmly. “It’s six in the morning. On a Saturday. It’s dark outside.”
“Is this your version of payback for me getting you up at sunrise last week?”
“Maybe,” he said solemnly, and Stiles groaned, flopping back down.
“This is a big deal!” he said, his voice muffled by the pillow that he’d pressed over his face. “It’s our first date! I can’t be all suave and charming at six in the morning.”
“No change from normal, then,” Derek said, standing up and neatly dodging the pillow that Stiles threw at him.
“I am regretting all of my life choices. You’re an asshole.”
“Brush your teeth and get dressed,” Derek said, then added with a smirk, “casual is fine.”
Stiles scoffed, though he was clearly trying to hide a smile. “Well, I would fucking hope so.”
He stumbled down the stairs ten minutes later, yawning behind his hand, and Derek gestured to the door. “Let’s go.”
“Yeah, we wouldn’t want to be late,” Stiles said, rolling his eyes, and Derek pushed him out the door.
Stiles yawned hugely when they got in the car and propped his feet up on the Camaro’s dash, ignoring Derek’s death glare. “I guess the silver lining is that I didn’t have to spend half an hour deciding what to wear.”
Derek snuck a look at Stiles’ usual jeans and plaid. “I can see that.”
“Hey,” he complained, poking him in the shoulder. “Not everyone can just look effortlessly gorgeous all the time, okay? Some of us have to put a little effort in.”
Derek swallowed. He and Stiles hadn’t done really anything regarding their new relationship status since they got back from their trip last week, and he was still getting used to the fact that Stiles liked him and that this was actually happening. “You always look nice,” he said finally, and when Stiles laughed, he frowned. “Shut up. I know I’m not great with the compliments.”
“No, no, it’s not that. I’m still getting used to nice things coming out of your mouth.”
“I say nice things!”
“Yeah, but not to me. Not that often, anyway.”
Derek didn’t really know what to say to that, but thankfully they were just about there. “Here we are,” he said, pulling off into a little parking lot. Stiles fell out of the car and stretched, looking around.
“And where exactly is here?”
“Mount Bonnell,” he said as he gestured to the trail off the parking lot. Stiles’ eyes widened.
“You expect me to climb a mountain at six in the morning? Are you insane?”
Derek grabbed a bag out of the trunk and rolled his eyes. “It’s really more of a hill.”
“My point still stands. Carry me?” he asked, with a truly pathetic pout.
Derek sighed, pretending to be put-upon, and turned around to crouch down a little in front of him. “Hop on. You’re lucky no one’s around right now.”
“Yesss,” Stiles cheered as he neatly hopped on Derek’s back, wrapping his legs around Derek’s waist.
It wasn’t a long trip up to the top, even with the unexpected extra cargo, and he carefully dropped Stiles back down right before they got there. Derek looked like a fit guy, but it would probably still give people pause to see him bounding up the steps so easily with someone of Stiles’ size on his back.
“Wow,” Stiles said, running a hand through his hair as he craned his neck to take in the view. “This is cool.”
Derek looked around himself, pleased that the spot was as nice as he’d heard about. The top of the hill was large and flat, with a few picnic tables, and there was a clear view of the Colorado River and the hills surrounding Austin. There were a few other people around, but they were far enough away that Derek felt they could speak freely, as long as they kept their voices down.
The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon, and Stiles spun around toward him. “So is sunrise our thing now?”
“It would appear so.”
Stiles hummed. “That seems like a poor life choice,” he said thoughtfully. “Maybe we should switch to sunset?”
“I thought you would appreciate the symmetry.”
“Oh, believe me, I do.”
Stiles’ stomach grumbled audibly, even to human ears, and Derek tilted his head, staring at him.
“Hey,” he said, curling his arms over his torso and looking a little embarrassed. “Perfectly normal bodily function, don’t blame me. My body expects food within a half hour of waking up, no matter what.”
“What a perfect segue,” he said dryly, gesturing toward the nearest picnic table. They both slid onto the bench facing the sunrise, and Derek started unloading plastic containers from his bag.
Stiles surveyed the spread in front of them, his mouth falling open slightly as he popped the boxes open. “Breakfast tacos from Fresa’s, bacon and home fries from Magnolia Cafe,” he said slowly, his eyes widening even more as Derek pulled out one more container and a large coffee tumbler.
“Plus coffee from Bennu and gingerbread pancakes from Kerbey Lane.”
“Holy shit,” he breathed, then smacked Derek on the shoulder with a grin. “Oh my god—dude, you got all my favorite breakfast foods.”
He shrugged. “It was easier this way.”
“Jesus, what time did you wake up to get all this?” Stiles asked, and Derek shrugged again. He’d never been more grateful for Austin’s propensity for 24-hour restaurants. And that they handily overlapped with Stiles’ favorite places. “You—you are just the mushiest, most secret romantic ever.”
Derek flushed—he was just trying to do something nice. “I thought you would like it.”
“And you would be right. I love it, actually, and you know that the way to my heart is through greasy breakfast food. I just can’t believe—it’s hard for me to reconcile this guy with the one who slammed my head into a steering wheel.” Derek grimaced at the memory, and Stiles must have spotted it because his face softened. “No, I—”
“It’s fine,” Derek interrupted, then cleared his throat. “I am, uh, really sorry for that, by the way. All of it. It was a lot to deal with, and I didn’t handle it very well. At all.”
“Yeah, maybe some of your decisions were a little misguided,” Stiles said, nudging him with an elbow. “But you were trying your hardest, and you were trying to help people. That’s all that matters.”
Derek snorted. “Yeah, not when those people end up dying.”
“You know as well as I do that sometimes there’s nothing we can do,” Stiles said softly, and Derek tried to blink back the sudden tightness behind his eyes.
“Yeah,” he whispered.
“Okay, this took a turn for the dark,” Stiles said, clapping his hands. “Great first date conversation, Stiles, good job. Sorry about that, my fault. This food looks amazing. But what are you gonna eat?”
Derek growled a little and reached for a breakfast taco, pretending to groan in pain when Stiles smacked his hand. “Refusing to share is poor first date etiquette,” he said primly, and Stiles laughed.
“Yeah, and how would you know?” he asked, then froze, dropping his head into his hands with a groan. “Oh my god, I am totally ruining this. You’re being so nice, and I keep being a jerk. Why in the world do you want to date me? Can we just start over?”
Derek just rolled his eyes and leaned over to kiss him. He was really glad that he had this technique at his disposal now because it really did wonders at shutting Stiles up. He pulled back after just a second but kept their foreheads resting together. “Stop,” he said firmly. “You’re fine.”
“I don’t really get it, though,” Stiles said quietly, pouring maple syrup over his pancakes with more concentration that the task really deserved, and Derek frowned.
“Why you want to date me.”
Derek opened his mouth, ready to spout off a whole list of reasons, but then he paused and decided to switch tactics. “I feel the same way.”
“What?” he yelped, almost knocking over the coffee tumbler. “Are you serious? Tell me that you’re not being serious right now. You’re so—”
“I’m not fishing for compliments,” he interrupted, and Stiles rolled his eyes.
“How do you feel when I say that? That I don’t understand why you’d want to date me.”
Stiles chewed for a minute. “It’s just…completely inconceivable. Does not match up at all with the reality that I live in.”
“I feel the exact same way. When you say it,” Derek clarified, and Stiles stared at him, realization dawning in his eyes as he tilted his head.
“Oh my god, you sound like Jane!” Stiles said accusingly, pointing at him, and Derek couldn’t stop his shoulders from shaking with laugher. “That sounds like exactly like a trick she would use, seriously. Has she said that to you?”
“Yeah,” he said dryly. “We confessed our feelings for each other but decided that it could never work between us.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “That is not at all inconceivable. Literally anyone could fall for you.”
“Please stop,” he said, wrinkling his nose, and Stiles laughed.
“But seriously, come on. How could you think that I wouldn’t want to date you?”
Derek shrugged. “I don’t exactly have a history of good relationships.”
“Yeah, but none of that’s your fault,” Stiles reminded him, and Derek winced. “I’m gonna need a better reason than that,” he said, licking a dribble of salsa off his thumb.
Derek shrugged. “I’m just kind of a screwed-up mess.”
“You…,” Stiles started, then he paused and shook his head. He took a long swig of coffee and cleared his throat, settling his hand on Derek’s knee. “You have a villain’s backstory, okay, Derek? Like, you could have turned into some murdering monster, and people would have been like, okay, yeah, well, that makes sense, just look at his life story. You could have become fixated on hurting other people, just like you’ve been hurt. But you’re not and you haven’t. You decided to make the hard choice and actually turn into a good person who tries hard and cares about other people, even though the universe has mostly given you complete and utter shit. I cannot imagine how hard that is, and you have no idea how much I admire you for that.”
Derek fully realized that he was just sitting there like an idiot with his mouth open, probably showcasing his fucking bunny teeth and everything. But he was in no way capable of moving, not after Stiles just spewed out what were probably the nicest words anyone had ever said to him. “You…”
“Did I make you speechless? Der—”
The kiss was sticky from the maple syrup and tasted like bacon and garlic, but Derek would never forget it. Stiles smiled against his lips as he kissed back, slipping his fingers into Derek’s hair and tugging lightly on the ends. When Derek finally pulled back, Stiles still had that small, soft smile playing on his lips.
“Thank you,” Derek said softly, even though the words felt embarrassingly inadequate.
“It’s all true, so you see why I think you’re too good for me. Because I am just some spastic annoying kid who talks too much.”
“You are none of those things,” he said firmly, and Stiles gave him a flat look.
Derek sighed, a little exasperated. “I wish you could hear that I’m not lying.”
“You’ve told me that you think I’m annoying.”
“You are annoying in a wonderful way,” he conceded, and Stiles snorted.
“Wow, we each just listed several reasons why people shouldn’t like us. We are so good at this first date shit.”
“The food’s good, though,” Derek said around a mouthful of bacon, and Stiles laughed.
“Yeah, there’s that, at least. And the view’s not bad.”
Derek was about to agree with him, but when he looked up, Stiles was leaning an elbow on the table and staring at him instead of the sunset. “Yeah, you’re plenty charming,” he mumbled, hoping that his flush wasn’t too obvious, and Stiles smirked at him.
“So how are things with Jane?” he asked. “I mean, I’m assuming that since you’re sitting here next to me and voluntarily talking about your feelings, it must be going pretty well.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “It’s…it’s good, actually. Except I’m pretty sure she thinks we were in a gang or something.”
“Oh, for sure,” Stiles said immediately, nodding. “It’s kinda hard making up all these believable stories.”
“So you’re saying werewolves would be more plausible?” he said, smirking, and Stiles laughed.
“Yeah, exactly. We should have cross-checked our alibis.”
“She’s probably dying of curiosity, but she can’t exactly ask,” Derek said, and Stiles nodded. “What about you, how are things going?”
“They’re good,” he said, looking down at his food with a little smile. “I mean, it’s not always fun, but it’s good. And I only go twice a month now.”
“I’m glad,” Derek said softly. He bumped their elbows together, and when Stiles leaned his temple on Derek’s shoulder, he gave into the temptation to press a kiss to Stiles’ hair.
“Thanks for a pretty great date. This was awesome.”
“You’re welcome. Your turn next time.”
“That’s a pretty high bar. But I can promise it won’t involve sunrise.”
Stiles yawned hugely several times on the drive home, and he tugged Derek toward the couch as soon as they walked through the front door. “I will always get up to watch the sunrise with you if you nap with me afterward.”
“Deal,” he said instantly, and Stiles laughed.
“Come on, then. I think our couch is even more comfortable than that tent.”
Derek settled on his side, tugging Stiles back against his chest after he laid down. They had recently moved on from The Office to Parks & Rec, so Stiles turned on Netflix and they both dozed off to the familiar theme song.
It was a couple hours later, Derek would guess, when he woke up to the delightful sensation of blunt nails scratching through his hair. He groaned, twisting his head into the scratches, and he vaguely registered Stiles’ laugh.
“Forget the werewolf thing, I’m pretty sure you’re a cat.”
Derek snapped his teeth, his eyes still closed, and Stiles laughed.
“Yeah, you look real ferocious right now, dude.”
Derek growled and used his grip on Stiles to rearrange them, hauling him up so that he was on top. Stiles laughed and ducked down to kiss him, keeping his fingers tight in Derek’s hair. Derek pushed up into it, half-convinced that he was still dreaming. It was hard to believe that Stiles was here, a heavy, solid weight on top of him, and Derek hooked a leg over his, just in case Stiles had any notions of moving.
Stiles broke the kiss, though, with an anguished groan and leaned his forehead against Derek’s shoulder. “Man, it sucks that we live together.”
Suddenly off-balance, Derek tensed. “Uh—”
“Oh, no, fuck, that’s not what I meant,” he said hurriedly, punctuating his words with another kiss. Derek steadied him with a hand on the back of his neck and kept him there, nudging his mouth open. Stiles fell into it eagerly, sliding his hand into Derek’s hair.
Eventually Stiles pulled back and took a deep breath, pushing up on his arms until there was a little space between their bodies. “I just—I really wanna do this right, I want to take it slow. And that’s a lot harder when you’re just one floor away.”
Derek smiled and reeled him back in. “We can still take it slow. Even though we live together.”
“Speak for yourself, buddy,” Stiles said, still a little breathless, and Derek couldn’t take it any longer, he reached up and kissed him, kissed the words right out of that lush mouth. They made out for several long minutes, until Stiles disentangled himself with a groan and stood up, running both hands through his hair. It was completely wild, mostly because Derek had been running his hands through it, and he couldn’t stop staring at it.
“Where are you going?” Derek asked, unabashedly adjusting himself in his jeans and preening a little under Stiles’ open gaze.
“Oh, just up to my room. You should probably, uh, turn off any wolfy senses for the next ten minutes or so.”
Derek swallowed, hard, and Stiles smirked as he slowly backed up the stairs. He tripped, though, and faux-seductive look on his face morphed into slightly-embarrassed surprise. Derek choked on a laugh. “That didn’t happen,” Stiles said hurriedly.
“What?” Derek asked innocently. “I didn’t see anything.”
“You are a god among men, Derek Hale,” he called out, traipsing safely up the stairs, the correct way this time. “And now I’m gonna go think about you while I jerk off.”
Derek groaned and rolled over onto his stomach with a grunt.
“Is there a dress code for this date?” Derek yelled up the stairs, and he smiled when Stiles’ head popped over the landing on his floor.
“I would recommend nudity, actually,” he said, smirking, “but since I don’t have an in with the law enforcement here, I probably couldn’t stop you from getting arrested.”
He stared at Stiles for a second and then took the stairs two at a time, peering at the raw redness on Stiles’ face. “Is that—”
Stiles patted his cheeks with a little smirk. “Oh, you mean my battle scars? Yeah, that’s from you.”
“Shit,” he said softly, brushing Stiles’ chin with his thumb. “Does it hurt?”
“It’s not that bad, mostly just tingly. And according to what I read—”
“You did research on beard burn?” Derek interrupted, and Stiles have him a flat look.
“Does that really surprise you?”
Derek opened his mouth to respond—because no, not really—but Stiles continued. “Anyway, my skin should get used to it, as long as we keep mackin’ on each other. What a hardship, let me tell you.”
“I can shave,” he offered, but Stiles’ face fell as he reached out for Derek’s face.
“Noooo. I mean, it’s your face, so you do whatever you want,” he added quickly, scrubbing his thumb across Derek’s cheek. “But please don’t shave on my account.”
“Okay,” he said, and Stiles grinned.
“Go get dressed, we need to leave in a few minutes,” Stiles said, shooing him away after one quick kiss, and Derek grinned as he walked back downstairs. So far, he’d been surprised at how much things hadn’t changed in the past week. Sure, there was more cuddling on the couch in the evenings, and kisses had been added to their usual greetings and good-byes, but all in all, most of their life together had stayed pretty much the same. Which, honestly, probably should have been some sort of sign.
Stiles steered him toward the Jeep, which was a little unusual. He drove for a little while, out of their neighborhood, but Derek couldn’t immediately place their destination. “So you still haven’t told me where we’re going.”
“I kinda wanted to do a traditional date activity,” Stiles explained, merging carefully onto the highway, “but I couldn’t really imagine you wanting to go bowling or play mini-golf. So we’re going to see a movie.”
“Okay,” Derek said with a shrug. “That’s fine.”
“Yeah. But in the future, I don’t mind doing any of those things, if you want to,” he said. Stiles hummed a little in response and tilted his head. “What?”
“Oh, I’m just imagining you with a little hot-pink golf club, trying to get the ball in the princess’s mouth.”
Derek sniffed. “I’m sure I’d be really good at mini-golf.”
“I have no doubt,” Stiles agreed. “Just not as good as me.”
Stiles gave him a little sideways smirk. “As tempted as I am to change the plan so we can test that assumption, we’re here,” he said as he pulled into a lot.
Derek looked around, taking in the large screen and the rows of cars parked on the grass. “Is this a drive-in?” he asked slowly, and Stiles grinned.
“That it is, dude, that it is. I thought it would appeal to your old soul.”
Derek laughed. He knew Stiles wouldn’t pick something as normal as a regular movie for the first date that he got to plan. “This is pretty neat.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Stiles said, his smile small and soft as he carefully backed into a spot off to the side.
“Double feature! Indiana Jones and The Princess Bride.”
“Strange combo,” Derek said, nodding slowly. “But I won’t complain.”
“I’m gonna go, uh, search for sustenance,” Stiles said, hopping out of the driver’s seat in a flail of limbs. “Get comfy in the back.”
Derek opened the back door and smiled—he hadn’t noticed that Stiles had towed along several pillows and blankets. He crawled in and arranged some pillows up against the back of the backseat, laying down the blankets to create some semblance of a comfy surface.
Stiles came back brandishing a tub of popcorn and a box, which he handed off to Derek before he climbed in to join him. “They didn’t have regular Reese’s—for shame, seriously—but they did have Reese’s Pieces, which is a decent substitute.”
Derek hummed in agreement. “Better for popcorn, anyway,” he said, but Stiles just gave him a confused look. “Have you never put Reese’s Pieces in your popcorn?”
Stiles stared at him and blinked a few times. “No,” he said, drawing out the word. “I have not. But that sounds genius, and I don’t think I’ve ever liked you more than I do right now.”
Derek smirked and ripped open the box, tipping about half of it into the popcorn. “My sisters and I used to do this all the time when we were kids. M&M’s are pretty good, too, but the Reese’s are better.”
Stiles jammed a large handful into his mouth, and Derek rolled his eyes—he didn’t have to find everything about Stiles attractive, after all. The obscene moan drew his attention back, though, and at least Stiles waited to speak until after he swallowed. “Wow, that is like, amazingly delicious. Good call.”
“Don’t hog it,” Derek grumbled, tugging the tub into his lap, and Stiles nestled up against his shoulder with a laugh.
Once they were done with the popcorn, Stiles nestled down into the blankets and rested his head on Derek’s chest, hooking his top leg over Derek’s thighs. Derek unearthed his arm and curved it around Stiles’ shoulders.
“Harrison Ford is such a babe,” Stiles mumbled.
“I think you were unduly influenced by Star Wars.”
“You don’t think he’s cute?”
Derek shrugged. “He’s okay. I prefer brown eyes.”
Stiles laughed and gently bit at Derek’s shoulder through his shirt. “Well, I prefer weird-colored eyes.”
“Weird?” he said, pretending to be offended.
“Yep, weird. Your eyes are practically a different color every time I look at them. I’m still not convinced that it isn’t some magical werewolf thing.”
“Oh, yeah? What color are they right now?”
“Blue,” Stiles said easily. “Because you’re wearing a blue shirt.”
He didn’t even move to look, which for some reason gave Derek a strange fluttery feeling in the pit of his stomach. He jostled Stiles and tugged at his elbow until he twisted his face up, his eyes wide and questioning. He must have seen the answer in Derek’s face because he grinned and hooked a hand around his neck to pull him down for a kiss. It was eager, bordering on sloppy as Derek swiped the salty taste of popcorn off Stiles’ lips. And just as it got a little bit too heated, Stiles’ hand clutching at Derek’s side as he slowly moved to straddle him, Derek pulled away with a smirk. Stiles frowned at him, flicking gently at his ear, but he settled back down in his earlier position.
Stiles behaved himself for a couple more scenes, and just when his steady breathing made Derek think he might be asleep, he slipped his hand under Derek’s shirt. It was still at first, a heavy, pleasant weight against his stomach, but then he started moving, tracing light patterns up and down and across Derek’s torso, up to his chest and down to his hips.
Derek didn’t say anything right away, but after several minutes, it didn’t seem like Stiles had any intention of stopping. “Stop that,” he hissed, and he could have sworn he felt Stiles smile.
“No one can see.”
Derek huffed. “What is it with you and wanting to have sex in the back of cars?”
Stiles hummed, even as he drew his finger just under the waistband of Derek’s briefs, from hip to hip. “Who said anything about sex?”
Derek rolled his eyes, even though he knew Stiles couldn’t see. “We are adults with beds.”
“Yeah, well we’re not in a bed right now, and you’re right here.”
He scratched a little harder, and Derek manfully resisted the urge to groan and/or arch up into his touch. “Do you have any self-control?”
“Around you? No,” he said frankly. “And you have no sense of adventure. In fact, I’m starting to doubt that you even want to have sex with me at all.”
Derek huffed and tugged Stiles up so that he was in between his legs, with his back resting against Derek’s front. “That is very much untrue. But out here, someone could hear or see,” he said, punctuating the words with little biting kisses on Stiles’ neck, “and I don’t want to share any part of this, any part of you, with anyone.”
Stiles drew in a shuddering breath and tipped his head to the side, tightening his grip on Derek’s thighs. “Okay,” he exhaled. “I believe you.”
“You sure?” he said, yanking Stiles back, up against him even closer so that he could surely feel where Derek was hard in his jeans. “I can tell you more about it if you want.”
He tipped his head to the side even further, and goddamn, that long stretch of pale neck right in front of Derek’s face was just obscene. And Stiles probably knew it, too. “What would you tell me?” he asked, wiggling in a way that didn’t seem completely unintentional.
He hummed against the thin skin of Stiles’ neck and scraped his stubble against it. “I would tell you that I’ve thought about it. A lot. In a lot of different places, a lot of different positions.”
Derek kept up his attentions on Stiles’ neck, trailing his mouth back and forth from Stiles’ shoulder up to his ear. He tried to be mindful of the strength of his sucks and bites, but he knew he was probably leaving hickies regardless—he tried to keep it underneath Stiles’ shirts, at least. Stiles was full-on panting before long, and his fingers on Derek’s thighs would be leaving bruises if Derek were human. “Holy shit.”
“Payback is a bitch,” he whispered, but Stiles just let out a little strangled laugh.
“Payback is the best,” he said, sounding almost drunk. “This is not discouraging me at all.”
Derek snuck his hand up under Stiles’ shirt, lazily dragging his fingers around. He scratched down his sides and even thumbed across his nipples, switching between firm pressure and teasing touches. Stiles was squirming, his feet sliding on the blankets, and Derek could clearly see the bulge in his pants.
“Do you think you could come just like this?”
Stiles groaned, a little too loudly, and Derek made a shushing noise into his neck. Thankfully, they were at a loud scene in The Princess Bride, and he doubted that anyone heard him.
“I have no idea,” he said, his voice hoarse like he’d been screaming. It made Derek shiver, and he was sure Stiles felt it. “I’m a little afraid the answer would be yes. But let’s not test it. I don’t think our first time would count if I came in my pants.”
Derek disagreed, but he stilled his hands. The movie was almost over, anyway, and when it was, finally, Stiles twisted around and sat up on his knees to practically attack Derek’s mouth with his own. Derek tipped his head back and let Stiles take control, even though he kept a tight grip on those hips to keep plenty of space between them. People were definitely moving about now, getting ready to leave, and he and Stiles were surely visible to anyone walking by.
Stiles pulled back after a minute and blinked lazily, his eyes completely glazed over with lust. “Can you drive?” he asked, and Derek nodded, inwardly preening that he’d managed to reduce Stiles to a state in which he couldn’t drive.
The drive back to their house seemed much longer than it had before, and Derek had to keep slapping Stiles’ hand away from his inner thigh. The interminable trip finally ended, and Stiles practically skipped up the front walk, dragging Derek by the hand behind him. “Are you gonna kiss me at my front door?” Derek asked, and Stiles laughed, tipping his head forward to rest his forehead on Derek’s shoulder.
“I’m sure as hell gonna kiss you on the other side, if you could open the damn door.”
He obeyed, and sure enough, as soon as they were through, Stiles slammed the door shut and flipped the deadbolt as he pressed Derek up against it. “Thank you for the date,” Derek said.
Stiles laughed and pulled him flush, sliding his hand into Derek’s back pocket with a firm squeeze. “You know, funnily enough, I planned a second part, too.”
“Oh, really?” he asked dryly.
Stiles nodded slowly and sucked at Derek’s lower lip. “Yeah. I’ve put a lot of thought into it, you have no idea.”
“I have some idea,” he said solemnly, and Stiles crashed their mouths together with a groan.
“Your room,” Stiles said a minute later, pulling back barely an inch. “It’s closer.”
“As you wish,” he murmured, and Stiles pulled back with a gasp.
“You’re such a sap,” he said delightedly. Derek rolled his eyes and nudged Stiles backward toward the stairs. They somehow made it safely to the second floor, thanks mostly to Derek’s superior reflexes, and Stiles pushed him back onto the bed. He went easily, bouncing a little as he landed, and tugged Stiles down on top of him.
“Have you really been thinking about this?” Stiles pulled back to ask, and sure, if pressed, Derek could have guessed that sex with Stiles would involve a lot of talking. Though he would never admit that he fantasized about that part, too.
“Yeah,” he responded, slightly distracted by Stiles’ long fingers carefully undoing the buttons of his shirt. “Of course I have. Did you not believe me earlier?”
“Well, sure,” he said, becoming a little more careless as he got to the bottom buttons. “But you were, you know, doing a sexy thing.”
“And this isn’t a sexy thing?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, I’m doing a sexy thing,” Stiles said, grinning triumphantly as he spread Derek’s shirt open.
“You are terrible,” he said dryly, but Stiles ignored him, spreading his hands over Derek’s torso and staring down.
“I haven’t had a good view of you shirtless in a really long time,” he said, and Derek tensed a little under the intense scrutiny. Fewer soul-crushing workouts meant that he was slightly softer than he was before, but it wasn’t like he had even lost the six-pack—thank you, werewolf metabolism. Stiles must have picked up on his distress because his eyes widened and his fingers dug in, as if he could keep Derek there with the strength of his passion alone. “Oh my god, stop it with that face! Are you serious? It’s good, it’s so good. Especially with this,” he said, raking his fingers through Derek’s chest hair with a little smirk.
His heartbeat was as steady as ever, and Derek relaxed.
“Dude, you are fucking perfect,” Stiles continued. “You are not allowed to be the insecure one in this relationship.”
Derek rolled his eyes—because that was preposterous—but he levered himself up into a sitting position and quickly discarded Stiles’ plaid overshirt before stripping off the tight t-shirt underneath. “You have nothing to be insecure about. Believe me.”
“You’re such a sweet talker.”
He huffed against Stiles’ mouth and kissed him, letting Stiles deepen it and push Derek back down flat. They managed to get rid of their pants with a minimal amount of fumbling, and Derek locked his forearm around Stiles’ low back, holding him down while he rocked his hips up. Stiles dropped his head to Derek’s shoulder with a groan and pushed back against him, shifting his hips a little bit so that their dicks were better aligned.
The drag and the friction was mind-melting, even though the fabric of their underwear, and Derek wasn’t sure if he was going to make it through this unscathed, if a little clothed frottage already made him feel like his spine was liquefying. Stiles’ ass was firm and round in his hands, and he stuttered in Derek’s grip, seemingly unsure whether he wanted to push up against Derek’s hands or down against his dick.
The kiss was barely a kiss by now, really just lips and breath and occasionally tongues mingling as they desperately rutted against each other. Stiles pushed up on his arms with a pained whimper—thankfully it drowned out Derek’s far more embarrassing whine—and planted several wet, open-mouthed kisses on Derek’s torso as he crawled back between his legs.
“You don’t ha—”
Stiles smirked while hooking his fingers under the waistband of Derek’s briefs. “Oh, believe me, this isn’t entirely selfless. Can I?”
Derek nodded dumbly as he lifted his hips and let Stiles pull his underwear down his legs—he was pretty sure he couldn’t have said anything if he’d wanted to. Stiles just stared for a second, curling one arm under Derek’s thigh and resting that big hand flat on Derek’s stomach.
He started low, mouthing gently at Derek’s balls, and it was surprising enough that Derek cried out a little. Stiles lifted his head just enough to smirk and bite at Derek’s thigh, making him exhale a little burst of laughter. He certainly had never laughed during sex before, which was a revelation. That laughter got caught in his throat, though, when Stiles lifted up suddenly and took in half of Derek’s dick in one fell swoop.
He would be lying if he said that he fantasized about anything more often than this, but it was somehow even more intense than he’d even imagined. Surely because it was real, because Stiles was here in the flesh, bent over Derek’s body, looking and sounding like there was nothing he’d rather be doing with that hot mouth. He was deft and confident, his hand sliding along in tandem with his mouth and his swirling tongue, and the view was almost better than the feel of it. So much so that Derek knew he should close his eyes, lest this be over way too soon, but he couldn’t make himself do it.
One of Stiles’ hands disappeared from Derek’s thigh, and from the bunching in his shoulder, he was fairly confident that Stiles was jerking himself off. Derek dropped his head back down onto the pillow with a groan—the mere thought that this was enough to get Stiles off sent him right up to the edge. He tried to warn Stiles, but he was pretty sure that the words came out as more of a garbled whine. Derek’s tug on his hair didn’t work, either, because that just made Stiles moan around him. He had to desperately fend off the shift as well as the urge to thrust up against Stiles, and all the tension rushed out of him as his orgasm crested.
He made a mess, on Stiles’ cheek and on his lips and on his own stomach, but Stiles was laughing and certainly didn’t seem to care. His arm was still moving, his abs clenching with the effort as he stroked himself, and Derek was not missing this. “Come here,” he rasped, licking his lips quickly. He reached for Stiles’ shoulders and hauled him up, but before he could get his own hand involved or even kiss him, Stiles’ eyes clenched shut and he curled over Derek, whining lowly as heavy spurts landed on Derek’s dick and stomach.
Stiles stared down at Derek’s torso for several seconds before lifting his gaze to his eyes. His lips were parted, his mouth red and wet, and Derek swallowed, ignoring the way his dick twitched.
“Okay, I think that might be my new thing.”
Derek laughed, he couldn’t help it, and pulled Stiles down on top of him. The kiss was sloppy and wet, with both of them still out of breath, and Derek cupped his hand possessively around the back of Stiles’ head.
“Perfect,” Derek said, cutting him off with another kiss. “Completely perfect, you’re perfect, everything’s perfect.”
“Mmm, good. Okay, now I just need like 10-15 minutes,” Stiles mumbled, sounding halfway to sleep already as he nestled under Derek’s chin and patted him clumsily on the cheek. “Then round two.”
Stiles' little speech about Derek having a villain's backstory: I got the idea for that here.
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
Wow, I can't believe it's done! So much ♥ to everyone who has been following along, I really appreciate it, and I hope you enjoy this last chapter! And there will be an epilogue, actually, within the next couple months. :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Stiles blew out a breath and propped his hands on his hips, staring at the bed. He looked a little silly, actually, just standing there like that, completely naked with his dick soft. But Derek didn’t dare say anything. “So.”
“Yep,” Derek said, from his stance on the other side of the bed. He still had his underwear on, at least, and his arms were crossed over his chest.
“I’ve never done this before.”
“I know. Me neither,” Derek reminded him. They’d talked about this, at length, over the past month, and the fact that neither of them had any direct experience was a major topic of conversation.
“Right, right,” Stiles said, nodding as he rubbed at his face, and Derek did not like the anxiety wafting off him.
“We don’t have to do this, you know. Today, or ever,” he said, completely truthfully. “Or we can do it the other way around.”
Stiles’ eyes glazed over a little bit, which was flattering, and then he shook his head, blinking a few times. “Um, yes to that, definitely. But not today. I am mentally prepared for this. Your dick, my ass,” he said, pointing to the dick in question. “That is a thing that is happening, tonight. That is, if you—”
“Yes,” Derek interrupted. “Still yes.”
“Do you wanna—”
“Nope,” Stiles said cheerfully, clambering onto the bed in a tangle of limbs. “Let’s get right to it. Take those boxers off, bucko. Do it nice and slow.”
Derek rolled his eyes and shucked them off quickly, just to make a point, but Stiles wolf-whistled anyway before flopping down onto his stomach. He rummaged in the nightstand for the lube and flung it in the vague direction of Derek’s chest. He caught it with a little laugh and snapped open the cap as he straddled Stiles’ thighs.
“We don’t have to hurry,” he said softly, leaning down to press a kiss to Stiles’ shoulder blade, and he nodded, his face mostly buried in the pillow.
“I know. I’m just excited, really.”
“Well, in that case,” Derek said dryly. He wasted no time in squeezing a cold line of lube right over Stiles’ ass and didn’t bother hiding his grin when Stiles squirmed under him and laughed.
Derek murmured something in response and continued rubbing at Stiles’ ass, just massaging with his thumbs until he felt Stiles relax a little under his hands. “You good?”
“Mhmm,” he said, his voice muffled. “Keep going.”
Derek kept waiting, though, tracing his fingers around while Stiles wiggled his hips, his impatient groan barely audible to Derek. They’d done this before at least, several times, so Stiles laid there, relaxed as anything as Derek slid one finger in slowly. He was fully hard now, just from the anticipation and the view, and he let himself rub a little against the soft skin of Stiles’ ass cheek.
Stiles let out these little whimpers and squirmed around as Derek kept going. He kept it slow, switching between one finger and two and rubbing at Stiles’ back with his free hand. They usually didn’t go beyond two fingers, so Derek was extra careful with the third, pausing to add more lube.
“C’mon, dude,” Stiles said, pushing his hips up. “Let’s move this along.”
“Someone told me there’s no such thing as too much lube,” he responded, parroting what Stiles had told him in one of their many conversations about this. Stiles just groaned and thrust his hips again.
“Well, that guy sounds like a dumb jerk. Don’t listen to him.”
“I dunno, I’m kinda fond of him,” he said, punctuating his words with a twist of his fingers. Stiles shuddered.
“Can you please stop being sappy and just fuck me?” he said, his voice a little shaky, and Derek grinned.
“Nope. That wasn’t the deal.”
“Oh, I wasn’t aware that we had a deal,” he snapped, as snarky as ever even with three fingers in his ass. So basically, exactly what Derek had hoped for.
“Yep. You never said anything about me not being sappy.”
Stiles let out a strangled little laugh. “C’mon, please,” he said, his voice soft. “I’m dyin’ here.”
Derek gulped and tried to take a deep breath. He had no trouble keeping the shift at bay, but he let his eyes glow blue just to release some of the tension. “You wanna stay like this?”
“Yeah,” he said, wrapping the word around a moan when Derek spread his fingers a little bit. “That okay with you?”
Derek nodded, forgetting that Stiles couldn’t see him. He’d love to see Stiles’ face, as always, but his only real preference was that Stiles was comfortable.
“Condom?” he asked, and Stiles nodded jerkily.
“I think it’ll make it, uh, easier,” he said, so Derek reached over to the nightstand. They never used condoms otherwise, but hopefully it would dull the sensations a bit and help Derek last more than 90 seconds. He withdrew his fingers carefully, in order to deal with the condom, but Stiles groaned. Derek bit his lip, thinking that Stiles might be in pain, but then he squirmed, and Derek had to look away from the very tempting sight of Stiles thrusting his ass in the air.
“Feels weird,” he gasped, arching his back again. “C’mon, c’mon, please don’t. Come back.”
Derek slid his fingers back in, just on a hunch, and Stiles relaxed almost instantly. “It’s okay,” Derek said lowly. “I got you.”
He managed to rip the packet open with his teeth and put the condom on one-handed, with only a minor amount of fumbling. He added another squirt of lube, not really caring about the stray streaks that landed on the comforter and on Stiles’ thigh. “You sure?” he asked again, and Stiles nodded.
“Yeah,” he said, twisting his left arm back and fumbling for Derek’s hand. “Come on.”
Derek tangled their fingers together and squeezed as he withdrew the fingers of his other hand, replacing them with the head of his dick, inside Stiles just about an inch. Stiles gasped, and Derek echoed him.
Dulling sensations, my ass, he thought, clenching his eyes shut. Jesus Christ. “Fuck. You—you okay?”
Stiles nodded, jerkily, and swallowed. Derek could hear it, as well as his little pants and the thundering of his heartbeat. “Yeah. I’m good.”
“Don’t lie to me,” he said tightly.
“I swear. I’m…it’s a lot, but I’m good.”
Derek grimaced before sliding forward another inch, and Stiles’ low groan was drowned out by his own. “Oh, holy shit,” he panted, forcing himself to loosen his crushing grip on Stiles’ hand.
“Oh my god, oh my god,” Stiles chanted, his whole body tense, and Derek winced.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, kissing the back of Stiles’ neck. “I would take the pain, but I don’t want to risk—”
“I know, I know,” Stiles interrupted. “We talked about that. I’m fine. C’mon, a little more.”
Derek obeyed, about halfway in now. “You don’t seem fine,” he said, stroking his free hand firmly down Stiles’ side. “Can you take a deep breath for me?”
Stiles did, several times, and Derek blinked rapidly, trying to remember…anything.
“Talk to me, babe,” Derek said, breaking out the rare pet name before giving into the temptation to suck a little mark at the back of Stiles’ neck. “Do you want me to stop?”
Stiles shook his head with a grunt. He took another deep breath, exhaling harshly, and then used his other hand—where the hell did that come from?—to yank clumsily at Derek’s hip, causing him to bottom out in one surprised motion.
Stiles groaned, fisting the sheets, and Derek sucked in breaths, suddenly sweating from the effort. It was so, so tight, more than anything he’d ever felt, and holy shit this was gonna be the end of him. “Why the hell did you do that?” he gasped.
“Because you were going too slow,” Stiles said weakly. Those broad shoulders were still tense and strained, so Derek tried everything he could think of to help him relax, nibbling at his ear and scratching through his hair. He seemed to be breathing a little easier, at least, and he wiggled ineffectually under Derek’s weight. “Move.”
“You sure?” he asked, but Stiles just groaned in response, that frustrated and impatient groan that Derek was all too familiar with.
It took Derek a minute to rearrange his weight and figure out the best way to put his limbs and brace himself, but he got there eventually. He gingerly slid out and back in again, only a couple inches, probably. Stiles whimpered, and Derek froze, interpreting the sound as pained.
“Oh my god, no, don’t stop!” Stiles said, his arms scrabbling at the sheets. “Moving is better, c’mon.”
“How is moving better?” he gasped, and Stiles groaned.
“I don’t know, do we really need to have an entire discussion about this right now? It just is, so move your ass,” he gritted out.
“So bossy,” he said fondly, and Stiles’ fingers clutched the pillow in clear frustration.
“I swear to god, if you don’t move in the next three seconds, I am going to flip you over and do it myself.”
Derek looked down at their current position, with nearly his entire body weight covering Stiles. “I’d like to see you try.”
“You know those stories about how parents can like, lift cars off their children from the adrenaline? It would be like that.”
Derek cocked his head. “So you’re…comparing my dick to your child? I’m confused.”
Stiles groaned and reached one hand back to slap at Derek’s thigh. “Come on. Stop talking, and fuck me.”
“If I move I’m gonna come,” he said, whispering in Stiles’ ear, “so you need to give me a sec.”
Stiles burst out laughing, and yeah, the resulting wiggling wasn’t really helping things, either. “Okay, boo, take your time. But just so you know, I’m gonna bring this up every time you take even the smallest dig at my stamina.”
“Hey,” he complained. “I don’t do that.”
“Well, in my head you do,” Stiles retorted, and Derek rolled his eyes. He tried another thrust, and Stiles groaned again, but this time it was his happy-pleased-aroused one, which Derek liked much better. He moved his hips again, longer this time, and started up an easy rhythm, even though he kept the pace gentle.
Stiles was panting again, for good reasons now, and he tangled their fingers again. “Fuck, Der, god.”
He closed his eyes—he could barely handle the sensory overload, and he had to shut some of it out. “Is it—is it good?”
Stiles moaned, all long and low and drawn-out, and Derek’s rhythm stuttered before he managed to start it up again. Jesus. “So good, holy shit. Please don’t stop.”
As if there was any chance of that. He kept going, letting Stiles’ stuttering gasps and grunts guide him. Derek opened his eyes again after another minute—there was no way he was gonna last much longer, so what the hell—and inhaled sharply. It was obscene, that’s what it was, the way Stiles was practically writhing against the sheets, moving his body as much as he could under Derek’s weight. The back of his neck and his shoulders were flushed red, dotted with dark marks from Derek’s mouth, and the muscles in his arms were bunching as he moved.
Derek came almost instantly, with little warning, and barely managed to bury himself to the hilt before he cried out, right into Stiles’ ear. His ears were ringing, everything fuzzy and cotton-y, and it took several long seconds for all his senses to come back online. He was mindlessly mouthing at Stiles’ shoulders when he regained full consciousness, and one of Stiles’ hands was clumsily patting at his hair.
Derek pulled out as carefully as he could manage and flipped Stiles over onto his back. He was mostly hard and looked completely fucked-out, his eyes heavy-lidded and his hair a mess. Derek couldn’t resist those bitten-red lips, and when he leaned down to kiss him, Stiles lunged up into it, kissing him sloppily and wrapping both arms around his neck. Derek let him take control, since he was still feeling foggy and off-balance from his orgasm. Stiles thrust up against him shamelessly, but Derek wanted him to have a better orgasm than just rubbing off on him.
So he pulled back, ignoring Stiles’ plaintive groan, and dropped down his body, mapping his chest and torso with his hands before settling between Stiles’ legs. He was fully hard now, and Derek palmed his balls carefully before licking at the head of his dick.
“Derek,” he gasped, “Derek, please, c’mon.” Stiles was squirming like he had been earlier, so Derek took an educated guess and carefully slid two fingers back inside him. He relaxed again and tangled his fingers in Derek’s hair, thrusting up against him just a little. Derek worked out a rhythm between his mouth and his fingers, crooking them up carefully, and it only took a couple minutes before Stiles was arching up on the bed and coming with a cry. Derek swallowed it all down and only pulled off when Stiles whined and kneed him gently.
He climbed up Stiles’ body on shaky limbs and kissed him again, trying to pour everything he was feeling into it. Stiles was still panting, as was Derek, and the kiss was eager and slack until Stiles shoved him away. “Oh, holy shit,” he said, flopping back onto his stomach with a groan. “Wow, we are good at that.”
Derek rolled onto his side next to him and stroked a gentle hand down his back. “Was it really okay?”
“I mean, it hurt, definitely, at first, but it got really good. Totally worth it. Was it good for you?”
Derek gave him a flat look. “No,” he said dryly. “I usually only come in like three minutes when it’s bad.”
Stiles’ grin was completely shit-eating, and he looked impossibly cute as he burrowed into the pillow. “Aw, boo, you’re so sweet.”
“Are you okay now?”
Stiles nodded and scraped his palm against Derek’s stubble. “I can definitely feel it, but it’s okay. I’m not gonna move for at least 12 hours, though. And you gotta bring me breakfast in bed.”
“Gladly,” Derek whispered, slinging his arm over Stiles’ back and closing his eyes. He would get up and take care of everything—namely, the mess of lube between Stiles’ thighs and the condom hanging off his own dick—as soon as he could move his legs again.
Derek got home one night, a couple weeks later, to the familiar sight of Stiles stretched out on the couch. “Cora’s thinking about coming to visit,” he said as he dropped his keys in the little basket by the door.
“Yeah, she told me,” Stiles said, not looking up from the book he was reading, and Derek paused.
“You guys talk?”
“Every once in a while,” he said, lifting his head and puckering his lips for a kiss. Derek rolled his eyes but smiled as he leaned down to oblige. “Mostly on Instagram.”
“Does she, uh, does she know? About us?”
Stiles hummed. “I dunno. I don’t think so.”
“Does anyone know?”
“I haven’t told anyone,” he said, yanking at Derek’s belt loops until he fell on top of him. “I wasn’t sure how you felt about that.”
“About what?” he asked, distracted by Stiles’ lips on his neck.
“About people knowing.”
“Oh,” he said, a little startled. He hadn’t even thought about that, to be honest. “Everyone should know.”
Derek nodded and busied himself with the line of Stiles’ stubble under his jaw. He heard the ridiculous camera shutter sound from Stiles’ phone and couldn’t even bring himself to care about whatever dumb picture he had just been a part of.
“There,” Stiles said, a minute later. “Now it’s on Instagram, and everyone will know.”
“Okay,” Derek said, still not really caring as he took Stiles’ phone from his hand and tossed it down onto the rug. “Now take off your shirt.”
About half an hour and a pair of orgasms later, Derek could not handle the incessant buzzing of Stiles’ phone. Without opening his eyes from his pleasant post-sex haze, he reached for it on the floor and pressed it into Stiles’ hand with a groan. “Make it stop,” he murmured, and Stiles laughed.
“Okay, okay,” he said, petting Derek’s hair. “Let’s see. Cora’s pissed because she, and I quote, just talked to that asshole and he didn’t say anything. And Kira says she’s mad at you about some bet?”
Derek grinned against Stiles’ shoulder.
The next few months were most definitely the best of Derek’s life. He felt completely settled into their life in Austin, and he’d never been happier than he was with Stiles.
Not that everything was all sunshine and roses, all the time. They’d always argued, ever since they’d known each other, and that didn’t stop just because they started having sex. In fact, it might have even gotten worse since now they had more latitude in what they could talk about, as well as more knowledge on what would really hurt. Stiles had a tendency to press and press and press, and Derek would just stonewall him while shutting down more and more. It was like a reflex—the more Stiles pried, the less Derek wanted to talk. He knew the intentions were good, but it was hard for him to change the old patterns.
They were really good at the whole sex part, though—like really good—so sometimes they’d just have sex instead of arguing. And as enjoyable as that was, Derek knew it wasn’t always the best solution.
They were spooning on the couch, watching TV, and Stiles kept sliding his hand under the hem of Derek’s shirt, gently tracing against the lines of his abs. Derek idly batted it away each time, but Stiles was treating it like some kind of game. “Stop,” he said finally, much sharper than he’d meant to, and Stiles jerked, removing his hand slowly.
“Whoa. What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing,” Derek insisted, shaking his head as he sat up. “I’m fine.”
“C’mon, that’s obviously not nothing,” Stiles said, sitting up also. “Tell me.”
Stiles scoffed and rubbed a hand over his mouth. “I don’t need your little wolfy lie detector to know that’s bullshit. Why won’t you tell me?”
“Because there’s nothing to tell!” he said, a little louder than he planned, and Stiles clenched his jaw.
“You know, this whole thing isn’t gonna work if you don’t actually tell me what’s going on.”
Derek inhaled a sharp breath and tightened his jaw. “So it’s just not gonna work out, huh? Great, good to know.”
Stiles rolled his eyes and leaned forward. “Stop it with that shit,” he mumbled against Derek’s lips. He leaned into it for a minute—kissing Stiles was as natural as breathing, now, and this was how they solved many of their arguments—but forced himself to pull back.
“No, what?” Stiles murmured, moving his kisses to Derek’s neck as he slid a hand up his shirt.
“Stop,” he said, shaking Stiles off as he stood up. “I’m going upstairs, I want to be alone.”
“Derek!” Stiles called after him, jogging over to the stairs. “C’mon, let’s talk.”
“I don’t want to talk!” he called back. He knew it was childish even as he was doing it, but he slammed his door anyway. He paced the length of his room and ran a hand through his hair, as frustrated with himself as he was with Stiles. He hated fighting with Stiles, but he had no idea how to stop, or even how to fight with him productively. That was a thing, right?
Derek sighed and fell back onto his bed. He loved Stiles, even though they hadn’t said that yet, and he knew they were good together. So he really didn’t want to ruin this before it even got a chance to really be something.
The rest of his night was slightly more pathetic that he’d like to admit. Stiles’ room had pretty much been turned into an extra guest room at this point, and Derek wasn’t used to sleeping alone anymore. He had April, at least, who was a pretty good cuddler, but it still took him a long time to fall asleep.
Derek rolled over groggily the next morning, and it took him a few minutes to realize what had woken him up. He sniffed, taking in the cinnamon-scented air, and buried his smile in his pillow.
Stiles was making banana pancakes, Derek’s favorite, and he knew it was a gesture of goodwill. Slightly energized, he rolled out of bed and crept downstairs, watching Stiles at the stove before he turned around and saw him, waving with a little smile.
“Hey, sit down,” he said, gesturing to the table.
Derek obeyed. “Hi.”
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, covering Derek’s hand with his own for just a second as he set both plates down on the table. “I shouldn’t have kept pressing, I should have just let it go.”
Derek shook his head and reached for his hand again, tangling their fingers together and tugging him closer. “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…stormed off like that. I should have just talked to you.”
He kept tugging until Stiles fell into his lap. He laughed and kissed Derek, running his fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, just like he knew Derek liked. The thought of it, that Stiles knew all those things about him, made Derek squeeze him a little tighter. “So this is how we’re eating breakfast?” he asked, wiggling in Derek’s lap until he found a more comfortable position.
“Mhmm,” Derek said easily, using only his left hand to cut a pancake with his fork. “These are great. Thanks for making them.”
“Always,” Stiles said, leaning forward from his perch on Derek’s lap to reach for his own plate.
They ate mostly in silence, interrupted by a little meaningless conversation. It was fairly relaxed, at least until Stiles cleared his throat and rubbed at his face, which Derek recognized as the tics he used when he wasn’t sure how to say what he wanted to. “What about, uh…what do you think about us going to see Jane, together?”
Derek immediately opened his mouth to argue—they didn’t need that—but then paused to think about it. He didn’t get a chance to say anything before Stiles spoke up again.
“I just—I really want this to work out, okay?” he said lowly, pressing a slow kiss to Derek’s temple. “I really hate fighting with you.”
“Me, too,” he confessed, tilting his chin up for a real kiss. “So, yeah, let’s do it.”
“Really?” he asked, his eyes wide, and Derek frowned.
“I just, uh, thought it would take a little more convincing,” Stiles said, waggling his eyebrows. “I had this whole bribery plan worked out and everything.”
Derek laughed and tightened his grip on Stiles. “Hmm. Why don’t you tell me more about this plan?”
“Oh, no way, buddy,” Stiles said, tugging playfully at Derek’s hair. “You already agreed. No going back now.”
“Okay,” he said, giving in easily. “I’ll set it up.”
“You know,” Stiles said, his voice dropping lower as he traced one finger along Derek’s shoulder. “You talking about your emotional health gets me really horny.”
“Oh, yeah?” he said through a mouthful of pancakes, and Stiles laughed.
“Yeah, and the talking with your mouth full just really seals it.”
“I’m glad I can be half as irresistible to you as you are to me,” he said with a smirk, and Stiles’ groan was long and low, his head thrown back. He was smiling, though, and he kissed Derek’s cheek.
“Sappy Derek’s back, my favorite.”
“Hello, boys,” Jane said, with a wide smile.
“Hello,” they said in unison as she ushered them inside. It was weird for Derek to be here, in this familiar room, with Stiles. He made himself comfortable on the couch, and Derek gave him a little look.
“I told you I like to lie down!” Stiles said, and Derek just rolled his eyes as he picked up Stiles’ feet, sat down in his customary corner, and pulled them back into his lap.
“So,” Jane started, writing something down on her pad. “Why are you two here today? Stiles, you first.”
Stiles took a deep breath. “I—I like Derek a lot. Like, til death do us part a lot,” he said. Derek snapped his head over to stare at him—because what—but Stiles was looking determinedly at Jane. “And I really don’t want to screw it up.”
“Okay,” she said, nodding. “And what about you, Derek?”
He swallowed. “It was Stiles’ idea,” he admitted. “And since I’m not really…I don’t really have a lot of experience with functional relationships, I thought it would be a good idea.”
“And what would you say is your goal here? What would you like to get out of these sessions?”
The two of them looked at each other, and to no surprise, Stiles spoke first. “We—we argue a lot. Or, I guess it’s a lot? And I don’t think we’re very good at it.”
“We really like each other,” Derek added because he knew that was true, at least. “But we—or I, at least, I’m afraid we’re gonna sabotage it somehow.”
“Yeah, I feel that way, too,” Stiles said, giving him a small smile. “And since we’ve been friends for so long and we’ve been living together for a while…it’s like we feel like we’re more, uh, advanced in our relationship than we actually are? Does that make sense?”
Jane nodded. “Well, first of all, I think it’s great that you two are even here. I knew you were both a little resistant to therapy at first, so I’m glad that you think it has helped enough that you’re willing to bring this into your relationship. Let’s start by going over a couple rules, okay?” she asked, and they both nodded. “One, try to use I statements instead of you statements. Focus on how you feel. Two, don’t use the word always. Nobody always does anything, and it’s not helpful. Lastly, be sure not to conflate actions with characteristics.”
“What does that mean?” Stiles interrupted.
“There’s a big difference between ‘you’re such a jerk’ and ‘you acted like a jerk.’ Does that make sense?”
“Yeah,” Derek said, and Stiles nodded.
“Good. Now what about the arguing? Would you like to talk about that?”
Stiles cleared his throat. “So we’ve always argued a lot, like ever since we met. But it’s never been a big deal, it’s more like bantering. And turns out,” he said, grinning, “it’s actually really foreplay, who knew?”
“Stiles,” Derek groaned, feeling his face flush. “Don’t tell her that.”
But Jane just laughed and motioned for him to go on.
“But now…it seems like our arguments are more serious?”
“That makes sense,” she said. “You know each other better now, which unfortunately means that you know how to hurt each other, as well. Do you feel like your arguments have common themes?”
Stiles nodded immediately. “Sometimes he doesn’t tell me things. I mean, it’s way better than before—like, giant leaps, good job, doc,” he said, and Derek rolled his eyes. “But I can tell when something’s wrong, and I ask and ask, and then he just shuts down more and more and he—”
“Use an I statement, Stiles,” Jane interrupted, and Stiles took a deep breath, running a hand through his hair.
“Okay, okay. I, uh—I feel like a complete failure as a, as a partner,” he said quietly. “Like I haven’t created enough of a, uh, a trusting environment, I guess. I start to think that Derek doesn’t feel comfortable telling me anything, and then I panic. And when I panic, I just talk more and more, and it becomes this cycle.”
Derek exhaled and gently squeezed Stiles’ ankle. “I didn’t know that,” he said softly, and Stiles smiled at him. “I’m sorry.”
“What about you, Derek? Can you describe how you feel during one of these arguments?”
He sighed again and looked down at the loose thread on Stiles’ right sock. “I…I do trust Stiles, very much, and I feel more comfortable talking to him than anyone. Just—”
“Just what?” Stiles asked.
“Just not in that specific instance,” he said finally. “When you press, it makes me feel pressured. Like I’m the failure for not being able to talk about it. And honestly, I feel screwed up enough already, all the time, without giving Stiles more reasons to think so.”
Stiles levered himself up into a seating position and moved to sit next to Derek, linking their arms. “You are not screwed up,” he whispered, his brow furrowed. “I think you’re perfect.”
“Okay, this is very good,” Jane said. She gestured to Stiles. “What are you getting from what Derek is telling you?”
He gnawed on his lower lip and sagged a little against Derek. “That he…sometimes needs space. And instead of being selfish and pressuring him to talk just so I feel better, I need to back off.”
“And you?” she asked, nodding at Derek.
“That I can do a better job making Stiles feel, uh, feel reassured, I guess,” he said slowly. “And that me talking about things is comforting to him.”
“You two are doing a really great job,” Jane said, scribbling something on her notepad. Stiles nudged him with an elbow, giving him a little eyebrow waggle, and Derek bit back a smile. “Would you like to give an example of something specific that’s come up recently? Something we can talk about now?”
“The—the other night on the couch,” Stiles started, sneaking a little look at Derek. “We ended up fighting about it.”
Derek took a deep breath. “Yeah. Stiles, uh, was touching my stomach. I didn’t—I didn’t tell him to stop, exactly, but he kept doing it even though I didn’t want him to.”
Stiles looked completely ashamed, but Derek kept talking. “It’s just, uh,” he said, waving his hand as he tried to think of the right words, “a thing. A Kate thing.”
“A trigger?” Jane supplied helpfully, and he nodded in her direction.
“Yeah. That. It doesn’t happen all the time, but sometimes. Anyway, he was asking about it, but I wouldn’t talk about it and I stormed off.”
“I’m so sorry,” Stiles said. “I won’t, I didn’t know.”
Derek winced. “I just don’t want you to think I’m made of glass!” he said, a lot more loudly than he meant to, and Stiles held his hands up.
“I don’t, dude, not at all. You’re the strongest person I know.”
Derek sighed, frustrated, and Jane must have picked up on it because she opened her mouth. “Are you going to ask how that makes me feel?” Derek asked, before she got the chance, and she smiled.
“See, it’s like you don’t even need me.”
They all laughed, and Stiles tangled their fingers together. Derek squeezed back.
“Okay, let’s imagine that you were in that scenario again,” Jane said. “What would both of you do differently?”
“I would stop the first time,” Stiles said immediately. “I would be paying better attention and would notice that Derek was serious and not just being playful. And I wouldn’t press Derek to talk about it if he didn’t want to.”
“I would, uh, try to talk about it,” Derek said, scratching at his jaw. “Instead of just getting mad and leaving. That’s not fair to Stiles.”
Jane nodded. “This is wonderful progress already. Do you think you two can keep those principles in mind next time you have an argument?”
“Yeah,” Derek said, looking over at Stiles, who nodded.
“Could—uh, could we talk about sex now?” Stiles asked carefully. Derek startled a little and gave him a funny look. What in the world was he gonna bring up?
“Certainly,” Jane said. “I will tell you, though, that I’m not a sex therapist, that’s not my specialty. So I would focus the discussion on how sex affects your relationship, not specific issues that you’re having with sex. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, nodding. “And that’s what I mean, actually. We have no problem with the actual sex part. That’s the, uh, that’s is the problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sometimes I think we have sex to avoid talking about our problems,” Stiles blurted out, and Derek couldn’t help it, he laughed.
“You noticed that, too?” he asked—because they had never really talked about it in that context—and Stiles nodded with a little smile.
“Yeah. I wasn’t sure if you did.”
“I definitely don’t want our relationship to be just about sex,” Derek said softly.
“And tips for us, doc?” Stiles asked, and Jane smiled.
“Well, a healthy sex life is an important part of most relationships, so kudos to the both of you for that,” she said, and Derek chuckled at Stiles’ blush. “It’s up to you two, of course, but I don’t think it would be a bad idea to stop having sex while you work on your relationship for a little bit.”
Stiles nodded slowly. “For how long?”
Jane hummed. “You two would be the best judges. I would suggest at least a couple weeks, perhaps a month. Until you get to a place where you feel more comfortable with your arguments and that you aren’t using sex as a crutch.”
“Do you think we could last a month?” Stiles asked him, the corner of his mouth twitching, and Derek smiled.
“I would do anything for you,” he said honestly—a month without sex was nothing. Stiles smiled, the little one that was Derek’s favorite, and bumped their shoulders together.
“Then we have a plan. What do you think we should focus on?”
“It’s about creating trust,” Jane explained. “Trust in each other as well as trust in the relationship. That way, one of you can bring up a problem or an issue or a discussion point, and the other person doesn’t automatically head to the worst-case scenario. That type of thinking can very quickly derail the lines of communication, where one partner is afraid to bring up things because the climate is so hostile.”
“I think I’m guilty of that,” Derek said quietly, and she nodded.
“It’s very common, we all do it. Would you like to give an example?”
“I just immediately think that this is it, it’s over, he doesn’t want to be with me anymore, and it reinforces all the insecurities I have about that.”
Jane nodded again. “Your relationship is not going to be perfect. You’re going to fight, and frankly, sometimes you’re going to annoy the shit out of each other. That’s completely normal. What keeps these incidents small is the ability to talk about them before they become big issues.”
Derek took a deep breath, and Stiles squeezed his hand. “Okay. Then let’s learn how to talk about it.”
“Today, right?” Stiles murmured against his lips, barely keeping balance as they stumbled through the front door.
“Mhmm,” Derek responded, a little distracted as he tried to keep them both upright and usher them up the stairs at the same time. It had been a full month, and their self-imposed sex ban was over. About to be, anyway.
It had been a good month. They fought less, and when they did fight, they were better at getting through it with a minimal amount of casualties. They’d gone on a bunch of dates and tried to slow their relationship down a bit—as much as they could while still living together, that is. Withholding from sex for a month hadn’t been the easiest thing they’d ever done, but Derek thought it had been a good decision, and he knew Stiles did, too. And not just because right now it felt like the top of his head was about to blow off.
“Oh my god,” Stiles said, gasping and barely separating from Derek’s mouth as he shoved them through the bedroom door. “This is amazing. I can’t even decide what I wanna do, I’ve been composing a list in my head all month.”
“Oh, yeah?” Derek asked as he stripped Stiles’ t-shirt off.
Stiles laughed and tried, very ineffectually, to get rid of Derek’s shirt and pants at the same time. Derek rolled his eyes and shoved Stiles down onto the bed, making him laugh when he landed with a bounce. “Yeah,” he said, waggling his eyebrows as he shimmied out of his pants. He watched shamelessly as Derek undressed, and he tried to slow down a little bit as he did so, even though he felt a little ridiculous. “Why, you have any input?”
As a matter of fact, he did. It actually wasn’t that often that they even did anal—or “sex sex,” as Stiles called it, just to annoy Derek—but Derek knew what he wanted to do tonight.
He threw one leg over Stiles’ and leaned down to nibble at his earlobe. “I want you to fuck me,” he whispered, and Stiles froze.
“Holy shit,” he said, pushing at Derek’s chest until they were face-to-face. “Are you serious?”
“Of course I’m serious,” he said, putting a little more bravado into his voice than he was really feeling. “You can’t be that surprised, we talked about it.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, nodding. “But that was a while ago, and you haven’t mentioned it since, so I thought you didn’t want to. Which would be fine, of course.”
Derek sighed and tried to think of Jane’s advice. And then promptly shoved her out of his mind because she certainly didn’t have this in mind when they were talking about how to communicate his feelings. “It makes me, uh, feel vulnerable. And I haven’t done it before, obviously. But I want to.”
“Are you sure?” Stiles asked, one of his big hands resting on Derek’s chest, right above his heart. “I don’t want you to do this just because you think I want it.”
“I’m not, I promise. I want to try,” he said. Stiles still didn’t look completely convinced, so Derek shrugged, feeling more than a little insecure. “But if you don’t wa—”
Stiles surged up to press their lips together, hanging off Derek’s neck. “Oh, god,” he mumbled into the kiss, licking eagerly into Derek’s mouth. “No, don’t say that, of course I want to. So badly.”
Derek kissed him for a minute and eased him back down onto the bed. Stiles was shaking a little, though, and his heartbeat was through the roof. “You seem anxious.”
“I just want this to be perfect,” he said, low enough that Derek needed his good ears to catch it.
“It will be,” he said, dipping down to press a kiss to the hollow of Stiles’ collarbones. “Stop worrying.”
“You know that’s like the worst thing to say to someone who’s worr—holy shit.”
Derek smirked, as best as he could around Stiles’ dick, and went to town for just a minute, until he felt Stiles go completely lax under his hands.
“Okay,” Stiles gasped, with a forceful yank at Derek’s hair. “If you wanna do this, we gotta stop.”
Derek pulled off, reluctantly, and licked his lips as Stiles tugged him back up. They made out for a while, just alternating soft kisses with forceful ones as they rolled around on the bed, hands wandering. This had been the extent of their sexual contact over the past month, and they both clearly still took comfort from it.
Stiles gently cradled the back of Derek’s head with one hand and slowly dragged the other one down his body to wrap around his dick. “Fuck, your fucking hands,” Derek groaned, arching up into his grip, and Stiles laughed, delighted.
“Yeah? My hands?”
“Shut up,” he muttered, tucking his smile against the curve of Stiles’ shoulder.
“Oh, no, please continue,” Stiles said gleefully, his grin evident in his voice as he kept stroking Derek, torturously slow. “Talk some more about my hands.”
Derek heaved a sigh, unsuccessfully hiding a smile, and wiggled his ass against Stiles’ other hand, which had drifted down his back. “Can we get to the fucking now?”
Stiles laughed, a little manic, and squeezed Derek’s ass, hard, before kissing him again. “Well, I suppose, if we have to.”
“How do you want me?” he asked, and Stiles’ eyes glazed over.
“Holy shit, I am not prepared for this,” he muttered, then rearranged them until he was behind Derek on his side. “I know you like being little spoon,” Stiles said, punctuating his words with a little tug to Derek’s earlobe. “Don’t lie.”
It was true—Stiles’ shoulders were just as broad as his, anyway—so Derek did nothing more than arch back into him.
“Promise me that you’ll talk if I do something you don’t like, okay?” Stiles whispered into his ear, and Derek nodded.
“Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat when his voice came out rougher than he was expecting. “Yeah, I promise.”
He wasn’t lying, but he couldn’t really imagine Stiles doing anything that he wouldn’t like. It was all a bit of a blur, actually, as Stiles found the lube and slowly started stretching him. It didn’t take long for the sensation to go from strange, after a month without it, to familiar and then to pleasurable. Stiles was narrating the whole time, random babble interspersed with biting kisses to Derek’s shoulders, but Derek was barely listening, having to put all his concentration on not touching his own dick yet, lest he come too soon. He really was obsessed with Stiles’ hands, and this was…it was a little overwhelming, to say the least.
“C’mon,” he said, impatiently rocking his hips against Stiles’ hand. “Another one.”
“Be patient,” Stiles said prissily, and Derek rolled his eyes.
“I’ll heal,” he reminded him, but Stiles just groaned and pinched Derek’s ass with his free hand.
“Are you fucking serious right now? I don’t care if you’ll heal, I’m not hurting you.”
That was…a decent point, actually, and Derek tried to relax as Stiles finally slid in a third finger. Stiles’ dick kept bumping up against the back of his thigh, leaving little drops of pre-come, so Derek focused on that instead of the uncomfortable stretch. It morphed into a pleasant one, finally, and a few minutes later, Derek reached back to squeeze Stiles’ hip. “Please,” he said lowly. “C’mon, I’m ready. Promise.”
“Condom?” Stiles asked, his voice a little shaky, and Derek shook his head—he really didn’t like the smell of latex.
“Is that okay?”
Derek heard another squirt of lube when Stiles slipped his fingers out, and he suddenly understood all the squirming—he felt empty and uncomfortable, like something was wrong and missing. It really was a disquieting sensation, and his tension must have been visible because Stiles slid up right behind him, his bottom arm hooked over Derek’s chest.
“It’s okay,” he said lowly, as the head of his dick brushed against Derek, making him shiver. “I’m right here. You good?”
Derek nodded and then barely kept the claws and the fangs at bay when the head of Stiles’ dick breached him. He panted instead, twisting the sheets between his fingers while he tried to stay still. It hurt some, and while he was all-too-used to pain, unfortunately, he was not accustomed to pain in the context of Stiles, when they were like this, and it was taking him a minute to wrap his head around it.
“Talk to me,” Stiles whispered, and Derek wet his lips.
“I—it’s overwhelming,” he admitted. “But it’s okay.”
“Press down against me a little bit,” Stiles said softly, and Derek did, exhaling. That made it a little better, as did the way Stiles mouthed at his jaw, down to his throat. He tilted his head back, concentrating on that sensation instead. Stiles’ lips rasped against his stubble, and the teasing pinch of his teeth was familiar. “Moving really helps, I promise. Can I move? Just a little?”
Derek nodded, and Stiles released a shaky breath as he started to move back and forth a bit. He was right, it turned out, and the stretch and the burn turned into something pleasant rather than tender and flaring. Derek exhaled, grateful, and fumbled for any part of Stiles’ skin, landing on his thigh. “Yeah, it’s better. Keep going.”
“Oh, fuck, Derek,” Stiles said, the words spilling from him now as if a dam had been released. “You feel so good, you have no idea. Well, I assume you have some idea because I doubt that I feel terrible, but there is no way in hell that it’s as good as this. Like, no way because this is seriously…”
Derek smiled—irrationally pleased that Stiles was always himself, no matter what he was doing—and even huffed a little laugh. He really loved this idiot, and the sex was clearly making him sappy and stupid.
Stiles had a pretty decent rhythm going now, his arm still locked around Derek’s chest, and Derek held on to it for leverage as he started to thrust back. Stiles whimpered and went a little faster, until they built up a steady pace. The pain and discomfort was just a distant memory now, and the feel of Stiles, of them being connected in this way, was completely electric.
A familiar buzzing and blurring was building at the base of Derek’s spine, and he gasped. “Stiles,” he groaned, not caring one little bit about the desperate whine in his voice, “I’m gonna come.”
“Holy shit,” Stiles breathed, thrusting a little harder for a second. “Oh my god, that’s so hot. Seriously?”
“Are you gonna make me do it myself?” he asked, scrounging for any grumpiness that he could put into his tone. It must have worked because Stiles laughed, a little strangled, and curled his lubed hand around Derek’s dick. He stroked effortlessly, sliding easy as anything, and Derek had to force himself to keep his eyes open. The dual sensations were just about enough to send him into some kind of weird sex haze.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Stiles chanted, for once abandoning any notions of teasing and just launching into a fast, hard pace with his hand. His strokes weren’t really in any kind of rhythm with the movement of his hips, but Derek couldn’t care less. “Derek, oh my god, you gotta come, man, I don’t know how much longer I can last. This is already a miracle, really, that I’ve made it this long, especially when you’re…holy fuck, you’re squirming, Jesus Christ. I don’t—we’re talking, like, Olympic levels of restraint here, but I really can’t hold off any longer. Please come, boo, I can’t—”
Derek held his breath as the pressure built and peaked, and he finally came with a hoarse cry, twitching in Stiles’ grip as he spilled messy ropes all over his hand. The release was even better than he was expecting, and it seemed like Stiles’ dick in his ass was the only thing stopping him from collapsing into a puddle of post-orgasm goo. He heaved for breath and could feel the way he clenched involuntarily around Stiles. Just a couple seconds later, Stiles gave one particularly hard thrust and stilled, clutching Derek’s hip while he let out a little sob.
“Oh my god,” he gasped, pressing messy kisses all along Derek’s neck. “Best orgasm ever, holy shit.”
Derek grunted in agreement, completely incapable of anything more, and tried to suppress his whine when Stiles pulled out. He might have even dozed a little, mostly out of it and still shivering lightly while Stiles wiped them both off and massaged at his ass for a while. They got under the covers, Derek with a lot of help from Stiles, and drifted in their own sex-stupid haze for a little while.
“Hey, do you miss home?” Stiles asked finally, and Derek responded before he could even think about it.
“I am home.”
Stiles flopped to his side, a small, lazy grin spreading across his face, and Derek fought the urge to blush. “Yeah?” he asked, trailing his fingers up Derek’s side, just light enough to make him shiver. “This feels like home already?”
“You’re my home. No matter where we are.”
Stiles’ grin got broader, and he slid closer to rest his forehead against the curve of Derek’s neck. “I’m gonna take that as an I love you.”
“Good,” Derek said. He was aiming for haughty but probably ended up closer to love-sick and reverent. “It was meant as one.”
“I love you, too.”
Stiles laughed and rearranged his limbs so that his weight was nearly all on top of Derek. “Oh my god, stop being so perfect, you jerk.”
Thanks again to everyone who read this, and especially to everyone who left such sweet comments!