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Small wheels rolled over pavement, rattling over cracked sidewalks. Stiles skidded to a stop near a blooming rose bush that half covered the suburban walkway and pulled a cheap digital camera out of his back pocket, snapping a dozen pictures if he snapped one. Glancing around, he snapped off two of the largest blooms and slid them gently into the loose lower pocket of his cargo shorts. He jumped back onto his skateboard, pushing off and following the road as it curved towards downtown Beacon Hills.

It took him nearly two hours to make it to the other side of the city to his own house, memory card in the camera filled once again with the sights of the small town, pockets full of bits and pieces of it. Roses and a lost dog flyer he’d found on the ground and a ribbon that was left over from someone’s spring bouquet. He dropped everything on a table in the garage before heading into the house, swinging the camera by it’s strap with every intention of heading to his room when he noticed a small body bouncing around the living room with a shiny badge dangling between his fingers.

“Hey, Danny,” he called out, wrapping one arm around the little boy’s waist as he set his camera aside. “What’ve you got there?”

The five year old held up a sheriff's badge as he wiggled in Stiles’ grasp. “Grandpa told me I could,” the boy insisted. Stiles hmm’d at him before dropping him onto the couch, catching the badge as it slipped out of the small hand. He took it over to where his Dad had dozed off in his favorite armchair.

“Hey, old man,” Stiles said softly, knocking the man’s foot lightly with his own. John startled awake, eyes flicking around the room until they landed on where Danny was still sprawled out on the couch. Stiles patted his shoulder before dropping down in the chair next to his. “I take it physical therapy was rough today?”

“You could say that,” John muttered as he pushed himself up straighter in the chair. He gestured down at the heavy brace holding his knee out straight. “They’ve started breaking up the scar tissue.”

“That’s good though,” Stiles nodded. “That means they’re ready to start the actual rehabilitation part.”

His Dad shrugged, “I have no idea. The doctor pokes it and scribbles on the chart. Another doctor comes in and pokes it and scribbles on the chart. Another fuc...” he bit his tongue, glancing over to where Danny was now playing with cars at the coffee table.

“They told you it takes time,” Stiles reassured him before pushing himself to his feet. “You’re already ahead of where they expected you to be. Just need to be patient.”

“Just need a drink,” John murmured.

Stiles pulled a face at him. “Yea, that’d go over well with the meds.” He squeezed his Dad’s shoulder and moved towards the hall, snagging his camera on his way out of the room. Two feet from the stairs, a petite hand snagged his elbow, and he spun around to find a harassed looking redhead glaring at him.

“It’s about time you got home,” the woman said brusquely as she dug through the purse over her shoulder. Stiles opened his mouth in retort but she spoke right over him. “I got called into the office so I need you to look after Danny for me...”

“Lydia,” Stiles interrupted, “I have to work this afternoon and then give Scott a ride to...”

“Well I can’t leave him with Dad,” Lydia said, gesturing wildly enough with her keys to force Stiles back a step. “And I can’t not go in when they call. The job’s too new for that and the paycheck is too important so I’m sorry if I’m you hanging out with the stoner love of your life but...”

Stiles tossed his hands up to stop the onslaught. “Fine,” he forced out slowly. “I’ll take care of your kid.” Lydia just gives him a false little smile before calling out her farewells to Danny and disappearing out the door. The brunet stared after her for a minute before scrubbing a hand through his short hair.

“Danny,” Stiles called out as he headed up the stairs, “I’m gonna take a quick shower and then we gotta go.”

Stiles glanced up at the clock on the diner wall as he put another plate in the service window, tossing on a bit of parsley for aesthetics before turning back to the grill that sizzled behind him. “I gotta get moving,” he called out when he heard his boss grab the plates to be served.

“And I gotta have a cook. Take it up with Matt when he decides to show up.” Stiles grumbled under his breath as he plated up two more burgers. “Move it van Gogh,” the old man continued on the other side of the pass-through. “People want food, not art.”

“That’s because they suck,” Stiles muttered before passing over the last few plates. He peeked out at where Danny was busily coloring at the counter before checking the clock yet again. Sighing, he was already reaching for the phone in his pocket when a haggard looking young man dropped a large camera bag on the floor, kicking it under the prep table. “About damn time, Matt,” Stiles said as he stripped off his apron and tossed it at the other man.

“I was taking candids of the swim team,” Matt said as Stiles pushed past him.

“Firstly, ewww,” Stiles mimed gagging, “second off, I don’t actually give a crap ‘cause you’re late.” He waved off further conversation, grabbing the flannel shirt he’d tossed aside and pushing through the kitchen door to help Danny gather up his things. “C’mon, little man.” He ushered the boy out to his jeep and buckled him into the backseat before shooting Scott a quick text to let him know he was running late.

The drive out to the large house Scott had moved into when his mom had remarried took nearly a half hour, taking them from Stiles’ side of the town out to the nature reserve than bordered the Hale property. By the time he pulled up his friend was already waiting on the front steps, crooked grin firmly in face even as he flipped Stiles a rude gesture. The brunet just rolled his eyes as Scott tossed his bag into the back seat beside Danny.

“Hey, dude!” Scott’s grin was infectious and Stiles felt the day’s annoyances slip away. Stiles gave into the proffered fist bump and turned the jeep around to head towards the airport.

Scott hummed through two songs on the radio before glancing into the back seat and pulling what was obviously not a legal cigarette from his jacket pocket.

“Dude,” Stiles said, hitting Scott’s knee and glancing in the rearview mirror. “He’s five.”

“And asleep.” Scott lit the joint and inhaled deeply. He coughed out the smoke when Danny spoke up from behind Stiles.

“No I’m not!”

Stiles snickered at Scott’s pained face. “He does that.” Danny cracked up for a full five minutes before going quiet again. Scott pulled a face at the boy before taking another hit.

“So I heard you and Allison were off again,” Scott said softly, offering Stiles the joint. The other man waved him off, staring ahead at the traffic.

“Yea, well...” Stiles let out a sigh and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “We’ll be on again eventually. It’s what we do.”

“It’s what you did. Aren’t you getting, I dunno, tired of that? Every time I talk to you it’s something different with the two of you.” Stiles shrugged at his friend and tried to change the subject.

“How’s school going?” Stiles asked. Scott stared at him for a moment before allowing it with a shrug.

“Fine, I guess. One more year of general studies and then I can get into the veterinary program and then Peter is going to hook me up with Deaton so, you know, that’s cool.” Scott took another deep hit and didn’t let it out until his eyes were watering. “Get a job, get a house, get laid by all the MILFs with sick cats. Adulthood at it’s finest.” He raised the joint like a glass of champagne and Stiles laughed at him.

“You know, this new-found sense of purpose is making me very attracted to you.” He leaned over and made a kissy face at Scott who immediately backed against the door and snorted.

Scott flipped Stiles off and pushed at his face as the light turned green. “I’m the straight brother, assface.” Stiles pouted at him for a moment before turning his attention back to the road. “You know, you need to get out of this place.”

“I know,” Stiles agreed softy.

“I mean, it’s great that you took care of Danny while Lydia was doing the whole working student thing but for fuck’s sake...”

“I know,” Stiles repeated more forcefully. “I just... I have... things to do. Here, I mean.”

“No you don’t,” Scott shook his head. “Lydia’s out of school and it’s past time for her to remember she has a kid and my mom said the Sheriff is getting closer to being done with rehab which means you don’t need to stick around to take care of him.” Stiles opened his mouth to argue but his friend steamrolled over him. “Allison is never going to focus on you more than the family business and... I love you, dude. You need to get out of here.”

Stiles took a breath and ended up nodding as Scott continued. “Why don’t you just move in with me?” the other man asked. “You can get a job nearby the apartment and go to the Santa Barbara Community College. Get a business degree or something.”

Stiles hesitated as he turned into the airport parking lot. “I don’t think the whole school thing just isn’t going to happen right now, man.”

“Why? Because you didn’t get into that fucking art institute? That’s bullshit, dude.” Stiles grit his teeth together as he pulled into the parking lot of the small airport and turned in his seat to face his friend.

“That scholarship was my ticket. I just can’t,” he asserted softly. Scott nodded and fixed half a grin on his face as he reached forward to clap a hand on Stiles’ shoulder before moving to get out.

“You need to at least come visit more,” the brunet said as he climbed out of the jeep. “Get drunk. Get some pussy.” Scott barked out a laugh as he grabbed his bag and jogged towards the terminal.

“Dude!” Stiles called after him. “He’s five.”

“Go on, Danny.” Stiles assured the boy into the house and laughed as he ran off towards the bathroom. The brunet wandered into the living room and found Lydia stretched out across the couch, smartphone in hand. “Hey,” he said as he moved her feet enough to sit down. The redhead arched an eyebrow at him and didn’t say a word for several minutes as Stiles watched the end of the nightly news.

“So I think I’m gonna head out, take some pics...”

Lydia finally set her phone on her stomach. “I thought you were going to stay in? I went shopping. And I invited Erica over...”

“Lydia,” Stiles sighed and dropped his head against the back of the couch. Lydia nudged his leg with her foot.

“What? You’re an eligible bachelor now. I thought I’d do something nice...” she trailed off as Stiles pushed her feet aside and got to his feet.

“I’m heading out,” he said brusquely, grabbing his backpack and tossing the camera that was still on the table into it along with one of his sketchbooks.

“Stiles...” Lydia called after him as he pulled the door closed behind him. He took a deep breath before shouldering the pack and heading to the garage to grab his skateboard. Running a hand over the table full of odds and ends and photographs he grinned to himself before heading out.

Stiles wandered all over the town, snapping pictures as he went and snagging mementos, coffee house napkins and day old newspapers. By the time he’d managed to take a few good shots of the sunset he was nearly home again. He kicked his skateboard aside as he dropped onto the stool by his workspace, pulling his laptop and camera out of his bag and getting everything setup to work. Three kinds of glue and four cans of spray paint joined the bits and pieces he’d collected over the last week before he got to work on the computer, downloading and uploading and cropping pictures until he had a few he was happy enough with to use his precious paper printing out. He worked until his eyes felt dried out from staring at the boards he’d covered, hands cramped from holding his paintbrushes. Finally he stopped, sitting back and staring at the landscape that had grown in front of him.

It was home... and nothing at all.

“When’d you draw this one?” Danny was flipping through Stiles’ sketchbook as they sat together outside of Lydia’s office building.

“Awhile ago. My mom used to work for a lawyer in this building. I used to sit out here sometimes and wait for her to get off of work.” Stiles glanced up from the new book he’d been working in. Danny was tracing the shapes in the picture with his finger. “Here,” Stiles turned to the back of the book where there was a mostly clear page and gave Danny a spare pen. “You try.”

“Who used to wait with you?” Danny asked after a minute.

Stiles shrugged and shaded in the bush he’d been working on. “No one. Grandpa used to work a lot of overtime before my mom got sick.”

Danny hummed as he added ears to what appeared to be a very demented lizard. “Before he got shot?” Stiles glanced at Danny again and nodded shortly. Danny continued without pause. “Grandpa is your daddy.” The older brunet nodded again, turning slightly to face Danny more directly at the table. “And you’re my daddy.”

“Uh, no,” Stiles choked out. “I’m your uncle. Lydia is your mommy and she’s my sister so that makes me your uncle. Jackson’s your daddy.”

“But Jackson left,” Danny whispered sadly. Stiles reached out and dropped a hand on the small boy’s shoulders. “So I don’t have a daddy anymore. I have you.”

“Yea, Danny,” Stiles agreed after a moment, “You have me.” He gestured for the boy to continue drawing as he stood up and paced in front of the table. Five turns in he finally spotted Lydia hurrying out of the building carrying nothing but the phone currently held up to her ear. She hung up just before dropping down onto the seat next to where Danny was finishing his lizard.

“Hey, my shining sky,” Lydia wrapped her arms around Danny despite the boy’s protests. “Did you have a good day at preschool?”

“We learned about cheese,” Danny offered, finally pulling away enough to keep drawing.

“Cheese?” Lydia mouthed at Stiles. The brunet could only offer a confused look in return. “Well, cheese is very interesting but…”

“Did you know there was cheese made from buffalo's milk?” Danny asked. Lydia nodded and started to speak but Danny continued. “And they used to use flowers and carrots to make cheese orange? I wouldn’t want to eat flower cheese.”

“Neither would I,” Stiles said quickly to stop the rambling.

Lydia nodded before checking her watch. “Look, Danny, I need to work a little late today so, if it’s ok, Uncle Stiles is going to look after you, okay?”

“Low blow asking the kid and not Uncle Stiles,” the brunet hissed from the other side of the table. Lydia only glanced at him before looking away quickly. “Maybe Uncle Stiles had other plans.”

“Uncle Stiles knows how important Mommy’s job is to her and how horrible Mommy’s boss is,” Lydia said, running a hand through Danny’s dark hair, “so I’m sure he’d be very understanding.”

“Really fucking understanding.” Stiles stood up quickly and grabbed the book sitting at Lydia’s elbow.

“He’s five, Stiles,” Lydia snapped at him. Her brother winced slightly before nodding and sliding the sketchbook into his bag.

“C’mon, Danny,” he said, grabbing the book and pen the boy had been using. “We’ll make hotdogs.”

Danny allowed Lydia to kiss his head before grabbing Stiles’ hand and walking off with him. “With cheese?”

“Sure, buddy, why not?”

Stiles dropped down onto the couch with a groan, necking cracking and tension headache building. He’d spent the evening playing with a young boy who just wanted his mother and taking care of a father who didn’t want anything of the sort. Now both were asleep and he could finally breathe. He pulled out his phone and dialed a number by heart.


“Allison, hey, hi.” Stiles rubbed a hand through his hair as he listened to the noise in the background.

Stiles? Hey, monkey. What’s up?

“Nothing, really, just wanted to talk.”

Look, I’m kind of in the middle of something right now. Allison paused as the background noise got louder and then quieter again. If it’s not important can I call you back later?

“What? Yea, no, no, that’s…” Stiles winced at himself. “That’s fine. I might hit the sack early anyway. See ya.”

He hung up without waiting for Allison’s response and tossed the phone onto the other end of the couch, sagging back into the cushions. Sitting still lasted for all of two minutes before he found himself up and wandering out to the garage. The landscape he’d finished the other week had been pushed aside and now he was working on something new, a portrait of sort, except the person in the center of the chaos was nothing but a stick figure.

“If it isn’t the story of my life,” Stiles muttered to himself. He sat back and rubbed at some paint on the back of his hand, trying to put a face on the figure in his head and failing majestically. He was just about to give it another go when he saw the lights of a car pulling into the driveway flashing under the garage door.

Stiles headed back into the house in time to see Lydia coming through the front door, her most recent boyfriend following close behind, gesturing widely and talking far too loudly for being in a house with a sleeping five year old.

“Oh my god,” Stiles bit out in a hiss, “Danny is trying to sleep.”

Lydia ignored him, turning to face her date before he could come any farther into the house. “As nice as this evening was, time to go, bye bye.” The man was turned around and out on the porch on the other side of the closed door before he could say another word. Lydia turned towards Stiles and snapped at him. “Happy?”

“Ecstatic.” Stiles followed after Lydia as she marched her stilettos into the kitchen. “I thought you were working late.”

“I was,” Lydia said offhandedly as she began poking through the freezer. “And then I had a date.”

“Gee, thanks so much for letting me know. I could have had plans.” Stiles grabs the ice cream out of Lydia’s and jumps up on the counter, grabbing a spoon off the drying rack.

Lydia moved to stand in front of him, arms crossed her chest. “That’s mine.”

“So’s Danny,” Stiles said around a spoonful of ice cream.

“I don’t have time to have this conversation right now.” Lydia grabbed the ice cream and a clean spoon before stomping out of the kitchen and up to her room.

“Good talk.” Stiles finished off what was left on his spoon and tossed it into the sink. The clatter seemed the echo through the entire house.

Stiles glanced up at the empty Hale house for a moment before heading around to the back where Scott’s step-father had set up a lacrosse field back when they were in high school. He only hesitated a moment before opening the door to the sunroom, typing in the last alarm code he could remember and screwing up his face for a moment while he waited for it to clear. Once it did, he grabbed his old stick from the trunk against the wall along with the bucket of balls.

Playing lacrosse was mindless to him, a way to unwind that let his brain completely turn off. He swung the crosse around a few times to stretch out his shoulders before he began shooting the balls one after the other into the net. He emptied the bucket down the field and paused for a moment to catch his breath before heading towards the goal to restock. All of the tension he’d come with was slowly seeping out and he was so totally zoned out that he didn’t even realize someone was standing nearby until he straightened up again.

“Oh my god, Derek!” he shouted. The man cocked his head, crossing his arms over his bare chest.

“I thought you’d be grown out of B&Es by now.” Stiles fluttered his hand in Derek’s face and headed back towards where he’d dropped his crosse.

“If you people didn’t want me here then you’d change the code,” he countered. Derek only shrugged at him. “What are you doing here, anyways? Scott said you were busy in Los Angeles writing movies or some shit.”

Derek nodded, moving his hands to his pockets. “Some shit. I missed the fresh air.” They stood quietly for a moment until Stiles started to fidget and scratch at his sweaty hair.

“Wanna play?’ The younger man gestured at the kit at their feet. “Your step-brother was too much of a bitch to go at it while he was visiting.” Derek glanced around for a moment before shrugging. He ran into the house to grab his own crosse while Stiles moved his things to the midpoint of the field to mark off the end boundary.

“Let’s go, bitch!” Stiles called out once Derek came back, kicking one of the small balls in his direction.

Derek scooped it up and squared off. “I’ll show you who’s the bitch.”

They played fast and hard, slamming shoulders, sprinting across the field, rolling past each other to get to the goal. By the time Derek called enough they were both ready to collapse, dropping onto the cool grass near the goal sweaty and short of breath.

“That was awesome,” Stiles panted, kicking at Derek’s foot. The older man only snorted, rubbing sweat from his forehead. Stiles sat up for a moment to strip off his shirt and
dropped back down, ignoring the way Derek’s eyes seemed to track every moment. “Thanks, man,” Stiles said eventually, breaking the quiet. “I needed that.”

“You and me both,” Derek agreed. The man sat up then and Stiles watched the way the sunlight glinted off of the dark spiral that swirled between his shoulders. He forced himself to look away and ground his teeth together to clear his head.

Finally, he stood up and held his hand out to the older man. “I stink,” Stiles stated as he pulled Derek to his feet. “What do you say I steal one of Scott’s shirts and we go cool off in the quarry?”

Derek nodded, wide grin allowing the sun to catch on his teeth. “Good plan, Stinklinski.”

“Yea, that’s original,” Stiles knocked against Derek’s shoulder as they headed towards the house. “Never heard that one before. Now I know why they pay you the big bucks.”

The two continued to bicker as they headed out, piling into Stiles’ jeep and heading through the reserve to the old rock quarry at it’s center. The public beach stretched around one side and the high cliffs lead to the deep water staying cool despite the summer heat. Groups of people were scattered around and Stiles found himself guiding the pair away from the majority of the crowd towards one of the sides of the beach where the trucked-in sand gave way to grass and pebbles.

“Kills the feet but it’s better when you get it,” Stiles explained as he tossed his shirt aside and nodded towards the water. Derek only shrugged at him and followed the brunet into the water, hissing as the chill spread through overheated muscles. “Fuck,” Stiles sighed out, ducking down to sit on the shallow bottom. Another twenty feet out the bottom gave way to the proper quarry, deep and dark.

They sat together quietly for awhile, watching as kids and adults alike splashed around nearby. “So...” Derek began eventually. “What is it you do when you’re not breaking into other people’s houses? Still working on your art”?

“If by art you been that unfortunate phase with the spray paint and other people’s property, no. The Almighty Sheriff may have put me in a jail cell overnight and threatened a bit... lovingly.” Stiles added on the last bit solely for the eyeroll he knew Derek would give him. “But the rest of it, yea. When I have time.” He shrugged, shifting his attention out to the deeper water where people had lashed together tubes and floats. “Not that I have a lot of that sometimes.”

Derek shifted to sit closer, staring out as well. “How is the family? You know, I still cannot see Lydia as a mom. She’s just so...”

“Pissy?” Stiles supplied. Derek chuckled and nodded. The younger man shrugged again. “She’s doing the best she can, I think. She’s Lydia, she’s always doing the best she can.”

“But is she doing what she should?” Stiles glanced over to find Derek looking at him. “I mean, Scott’s told me how things have been for you.” Stiles turned away again and swallowed thickly. He could feel Derek’s eyes still on him. “Look...” He saw Derek move in his periphery, the older man leaning forward to catch Stiles’ eye. “You can come over whenever you want. Standing invitation, whether Scott’s around or not.”

“You just want me to kick your ass more,” Stiles grinned, forcing away the solemn mood. Derek just pulled a face like he wanted to stick his tongue out but refused on the grounds of being the older brother. He was about to say something more when a voice called out to them from the shore.

“Stiles!” The brunet turned to see a young woman waving at them, dimples visible as she smiled. He stood up quickly, splashing away from Derek.

“Hey... Allison.” Stiles stopped in front of her, brushing wet hair out of his face.

The pretty woman’s smile got even wider before her eyes flicked past Stiles to where Derek was still sitting and it faltered some. “Sorry about the other night,” Allison started slowly. “Dad had some people over and...”

Stiles cut her off. “It’s fine,” he assured her. “I’d say I’m used to it but I can’t really talk about family shit.”

“True,” Allison nodded. She glanced at Derek again before pasting her smile back in place. “Look, a bunch of us are going to have a bonfire tonight up on the cliff. You can come, if you want.”

“Uhh,” Stiles resisted the urge to glance backwards. “Sure. Why not?”

A silence fell over the pair until a couple of the people Allison was with called her back over. “See you later,” the woman said softly before heading back over to them. Stiles watched her go, squinting in the bright sun that was shattered over the water.

“That wasn’t awkward at all.” Stiles jumped as Derek whispered over his shoulder.

He turned and punched the other man in the shoulder. “Ninja asshole. I thought you’d grow out of being a sneaky fucker by now.”

“Ha ha,” Derek sneered. “Not my fault you’re the most oblivious man on the planet... aside from Scott.” Stiles pushed at the other man, planting his hands on pecs he was ignoring the firmness of and shoving. Derek stumbled back, laughing the entire time as he grabbed Stiles arm and tried to trip him up as they headed back into the water. They splashed around together for a while, laughter drowned out by the world around them.

The cold beer in his hands and the hot fire in front of him was all Stiles could seem to pay attention to. Allison was sat almost exactly across from him, the pair failing to make eye contact for more than a few seconds at a time before one of them looked away. Derek was sat next to him, knee pressed into his thigh and it seemed to ground him everytime he thought about just running away.

“So you and Allison...?” Stiles glanced over to the man sitting on the ground beside Stiles’ rock. Beanie on, joint in hand, exactly the person he was when Allison first agreed to date him.

“What about us?” he asked gruffly. The dudebro just smirked back at him.

“You’re off again, yea?” Stiles nodded, taking another deep swig of his beer. “Does that mean I can get with her?” Stiles blinked and stuttered a bit, nodding and saying no at the same time. “Why do you keep breaking up with her?” the man continued. “She’s hot. Are you a fag or something?”

Stiles opened his mouth to retort but it snapped closed when Derek got up quickly and walked away without a word. The brunet glared at the stoner for a moment before grabbing the beer Derek had left behind and going to find the man.

“Hey,” Stiles said slowly when he reached Derek at the edge of the cliff. He held the beer out and counted it as a win when the other man nearly smiled when he took it. They stood looking over the moonlit water for awhile before the tension visible in Derek’s shoulders started to get to Stiles.

“So...” he started slowly. “Why are you actually in town? And if you say ‘fresh air’ again then I reserve the right to tell the police that you accidentally fell into the water.”

Derek hesitated, taking a long drink of his beer. “I needed a place to stay,” he finally admitted. “My old apartment’s in my partner’s name... Ex-partner... and my new lease doesn’t start for a month.”

“I know people with guns,” Stiles said after a moment. “Just sayin’.” Derek snorted, a small grin cracking his otherwise sour face. “Seriously though, you okay?” Stiles reached out and let his hand drop on Derek’s shoulder. The other man tensed up further before relaxing completely.

“Yea,” he sighed. “No hitmen required. We just grew apart.”

Stiles squeezed Derek’s shoulder once before pulling away again. “I know the feeling.” Derek turned slightly to look at Stiles more fully and the younger man felt like the air around them was slowly getting thicker like a fog rolling into the woods. “I...”

The sound of the Hulk smashing echoed through the darkness, interrupting whatever moment had been growing. Stiles fumbled with his phone before answering it.

“What, Lydia?” He grimaced at Derek and the other man pulled a face in return making Stiles have to choke on a laugh. “Yea, but... No. No, I’m at the quarry... Well why the hell did you go... No, fine, yea. Whatever.”

He hung up without another word and mimed tossing the phone over the edge before sliding into his pocket with a resigned sigh.

“You gotta go,” Derek said with a half grin. Stiles ground the heels of his hands into his eyes before nodding.

“Yea, Lydia had to run to the office for something that should have taken five minutes and now it’s going to take five hours so I need to get home and watch Danny.”

Derek reached out and squeezed Stiles’ bicep. “It’s fine,” he assured the younger man. “Go on.”

“Yea, but...” Stiles hesitated before nodding again. “Look, I promised I’d give Allison a ride because she wants to ‘talk’ but... Do you need a lift or...?”

“Stiles,” Derek interrupted, squeezing Stiles arm again before letting go. “It’s fine. Go take care of things.” The older man pushed the younger lightly and Stiles couldn’t help but grin. He waggled his fingers at Derek before turning and walking away, breathing deeply for the first time in what felt like days.

Hours later found him on the couch with Allison at his side, watching a movie he didn’t care about, eating popcorn he didn’t actually want. The talk Allison had seemed so eager to have never happened, even after they’d gotten Danny to bed. Stiles felt restless under his skin, eating out of habit and unintentionally ignoring each time Allison leaned just a little bit closer. Eventually he found her pressed against him, kissing on reflex when she pressed in. She felt soft against him and he had no idea why it felt so uncomfortable.

He pulled away.

Allison sighed.

“I’m just gonna leave,” she said, pushing herself to her feet. Stiles grabbed for her hand but she just twisted away. “I’m tired,” she said firmly before grabbing her bag and heading for the door.

“Alli...” Stiles called after her but didn’t move from his spot until he heard the door click shut. “Damn it!” he tossed the bowl to the floor and sat forward with his head in his hands. “Fuck.”

He sat there like that for the rest of the movie until the DVD menu began to repeat again and again. Finally he dropped down to the floor and began picking up his mess, piece by piece.

Eventually he found himself lying awake in bed, thoughts moving from the afternoon to the evening and back again. He was about to get up again and find some way to distract himself when he heard a faint staticy sound come from his desk. He shuffled over to it and dug an old walkietalkie from the bottom drawer.

“Hello?” he asked hesitatingly, dropping back onto his bed.

“Who is this?” Stiles smiled at the confusion in Derek’s voice.

“Old man needs hearing aids.” He dropped his voice slightly and listened to the static, imagining the look on the other man’s face.

“These things reach all the way to Stinklinksiville?”

“Very funny, asshole,” Stiles laughed. “Where did you even find that thing?”

”I was trying and failing to write. Digging through other people’s old shit seemed like a good idea.”

“God, I remember when we got these.” Stiles laid back, one hand resting on his stomach.

I remember when my stupid little step-brother brought home an even stupider little brat from school and then ran around the house with walkietalkies like they were in the jungle.”

Stiles barked out a laugh. “I know you aren’t talking about me because I only ever pretended to be a member of the Rogue Squardron on these things.”

“Yes, Stiles, that’s so much less geeky.” Stiles could hear the sarcasm in Derek’s voice despite the cheap electronics.

“I seem to remember someone happened to have a really good Darth Vader voice.”

“Stiles... what are you wearing?” Derek’s sithlord voice broke up at the end as the man laughed at himself. “Hey, why is it beeping at me?”

Stiles shrugged at his empty room. “Probably because it hasn’t been charged in years.”

They sat in silence for awhile and Stiles started to drift off. “Hey, uh... It was fun today.”

“Yea,” Stiles agreed quickly. He smiled into the darkness. “A lot of fun.”

“Yea.” Derek may have said more but it was cut off suddenly as his battery finally died. Stiles glanced over at his cellphone, considering continuing the conversation, but in the end he just tossed the old toy away and rolled over, staring out the window at the night until he finally fell asleep.

Stiles hesitated for nearly five minutes before finally knocking on the front door of the Hale house. He had his fist raised to knock again when the door opened to reveal a scruffy Derek, robe hanging open over his pajama pants with a decidedly unmasculine scarf around his neck. “Uhh...” Stiles pointed at it and cracked up.

“Shut up,” Derek snapped at him, tugging off the scarf and tossing it over his shoulder. “I was working.”

“Right, yea, of course...” Stiles covered his mouth until his snickers died down. “So, Ms. Hale, I got a text from some of the guys I went to school with and there’s a pickup game of lacrosse starting in an hour. You in?”

“I’m working,” Derek repeated. Stiles nodded slowly. “Really.”

“OK, well,” Stiles began to back up slowly, “I just thought you’d want some more of that good ol’ fashioned Beacon Hills fresh air since it’s 3 in the afternoon and you’re still in your pajamas. But, ok. See ya around.”

Derek rolled his eyes and held up his hands in defeat. ‘Fine, fine, I’ll come.” He moved to head into the house and Stiles called after him.

“You might want to change first.” Derek shot him a look over his shoulder. “Quickly!” The rude gesture was totally worth it.

The game was also worth it, sweaty and rough and full of laughter and jeers. There were a dozen guys who managed to make it to the school to play and Stiles laughed when Derek got drafted onto the opposing team. They went for a solid hour before someone finally called time and started passing out beers.

“Hey,” Stiles grinned at Derek as he tossed him a can. “Looks like the old man can keep up.”

“Funny,” Derek sneered fakely at him. Stiles just smiled wider and moved to drop down onto the ground a ways from the rest of the group. Derek joined him without hesitation, draining the cold, cheap beer before laying back on the grass. They sat for a while watching the non existent clouds while the rest of the group slowly scattered. Derek finally sat up and bumped his shoulder into Stiles’. “You still planning on applying to art school?”

“Nah,” Stiles lied, “I’m just doing that in my freetime now.”

Derek hummed next to him. “At least one of us to putting our time to use.” Stiles glanced over at him.

“It’s cool. What are you working on now?” he asked, bumping Derek back.

“Book,” Derek sighed.

“It’s been, like, three years since your last one, right?” Derek chuckled. “Is it really long or something?”

“Bite me,” Derek said, bumping Stiles again so the younger brunet tilted to the side slightly.

Stiles grabbed onto Derek’s knee to pull himself back up. “I mean, it wouldn’t be a sequel, right? You didn’t leave much out of the last one?”

Derek stared at him for a moment. “You read it?”

“Yea,” Stiles nodded. “I mean, who knew how much drama revolved around a pack of horny werewolves and the people who love them?”

“Funny.” Derek turned away again, twisting his neck back and forth.

“Seriously though,” Stiles assured him. “It was cool. I mean, everyone had these good intentions but stupid actions and no one seemed to understand what was actually going on with anyone else. I liked it.”

Derek glanced back at Stiles, the tips of his ears turning pink with the compliment. “Thanks,” he said honestly. “When did you read it?”

“When it came out. I never told Scott. He called it chicklit.”

“Yea,” Derek nodded with a grin, “He did.” They sat in comfortable silence for a while until Derek pushed himself to his feet and held a hand out to Stiles. “Do you want to come over for awhile? There’s a fridge full of beer and a hamburger place along the way.”

“I will never say no to curly fries,” Stiles said as he allowed himself to be pulled up.

After they’d gorged themselves on burgers and fries, Stiles helped Derek drag the large double sun lounger out into the yard to indulge in beer and moonlight.

“Have you ever been to New York?” Derek asked after they got settled.

Stiles shook his head. “The farthest away I’ve been was that time your parents took me along to Seattle.”

“Oh yea,” Derek nodded, “Well you should go sometime, if only for the museums.” Stiles was about to answer when his phone began ringing in the bag beside him. The ringtone belonged to Allison but Stiles found himself hesitating. “Do you need to answer that?” Derek asked softly.

“Nope,” Stiles said. “It’s fine.” Derek just nodded and stretched out more.

“So what is the new book about?” Stiles asked after a while, sprawled out next to Derek.

“I don’t really know,” the other man admitted. “I know the beginning and the end but I’m totally lost somewhere in the middle.”

“I know how you feel,” Stiles nodded. He emptied his bottle and wiggled it at Derek. “Refill?” The other man nodded and Stiles got up to pad into the sunroom to continue their systematic emptying of the fridge there. When he came back he found Derek sat up and paging through one of his artbooks that was full of drawings and collages. “Hey now,” he said, trying to grab it.

Derek pulled it back. “No, I wanna see. It’s okay.” Stiles pulled a face and dropped back down, setting Derek’s beer aside and taking a sip of his every time Derek turned another page. “Wow,” the older man breathed out. “These are great.”

“I don’t ever let people look at that,” Stiles admitted, resolutely not watching Derek.

“It’s really good, Stiles.” Derek turned another page and found a drawing that covered both pages, a small boy alone in one corner surrounded by chaos. “Is that Danny?” The younger man nodded slowly, shifting so to look a the book on Derek’s lap. “Sad Danny.”

“You can tell?” Stiles sat up further, setting his beer on the ground.

“Yes,” Derek said, running a finger along one of the long lines on the page. “The way he’s alone in the room with everything going crazy around him.”

Stiles nodded as Derek spoke. “Yea, yea, he... It was right after Jackson had left without a word and Lydia was just... You know how sharp her words are sometimes. I know she didn’t mean to snap at him.” Stiles took a deep breath and reached for the book. “Okay, enough of that for now.”

Derek firmed up his grip but finally let it go after Stiles tugged a few more times. Stiles whacked him on the chest as he reached past him to toss it on top of his bag. He should have expected the retaliatory poke but the laugh was shocked right out of him. They wrestled for a moment, Derek exploiting every ticklish spot he’d learned as Scott’s big brother and Stiles using his long limbs to push the other man away.

“I give,” Derek said finally after taking an elbow to the throat. Stiles just laid beside him chuckling until that urge died down. The two of them were pressed thigh to thigh on the lounge and Stiles turned to look at Derek when the other man reached over to tug at the string of Stiles’ hoodie. Derek’s eyes searched his face as the man shifted onto his side, curling towards Stiles slowly enough that the brunet had every opportunity to back off.

The kiss was soft, Derek’s hand on Stiles’ jaw, their lips coming together again and again and again until the other man pressed his forehead against Stiles’ and laid back, hand trailing along Stiles’ arm to rest on his elbow. They stared at each other for a while until Stiles turned away, settling back against the pillow under his head and watching the stars go in circles around them.

Stiles groaned as he sat up, grinding his hands against his dry eyes. He glanced around for a second until he remembered the evening before and falling asleep with Derek’s hand on his. The other man was still out of it next to him and Stiles pushed himself to his feet, grabbing his things and hurrying for his jeep, cursing himself the entire time.

The drive home seemed to take hours instead of minutes, Stiles’ lips burning as he couldn’t stop thinking about the kiss. He nearly slammed the door to the house shut when he got in, stopping it at the last second when he heard Lydia calling from the other room.

“You’re late,” the redhead said as she came into the hall ready for work. “Where have you been?”

“The quarry,” Stiles lied, pushing past her towards the kitchen.

Lydia followed behind him. “All night?” Stiles only shrugged, reaching into the refrigerator to pull out the milk, chugging a half a liter before replacing the cap in time to see Lydia give him a dirty look.

“Do you want me to take Danny to preschool or not?” Stiles snapped, wincing at his own tone. “Sorry,” he said softly before Lydia could snap back. “I’m sorry.”

“What’s going on with you?” Lydia asked as she stepped closer. Stiles brushed her off, moving around her to call for Danny.

As he listened to the boy rattle down the stairs Stiles turned back towards his sister. “I, uh...” he took a deep breath. “I’m thinking of reapplying to Cal Arts.”

“What brought that up?” Lydia looked taken aback.

“I’ve been thinking about it for awhile...”

“Just don’t get your hopes up,” Lydia interrupted. “I love you, Stiles, but... Things are finally looking up around here. You were so depressed when you didn’t get in the last time and I don’t want us to have to deal with that again.”

Stiles opened his mouth to retort before letting it snap closed again. He nodded instead, turning to head out with Danny close behind.

The trip to the daycare wasn’t nearly as mentally traumatic as the trip home had been, what with Danny in the background singing the title song to his latest cartoon obsession over and over again. Stiles felt a calm sort of relief after he’d signed the boy into his class and escaped back to the silence outside. He was headed towards his car when he spotted Allison across the street.

“Hey,” he called out to here. The brunette turned for a moment, squinting in the morning sun. Stiles could see the moment when she decided to ignore him.

“Fuck it,” he growled, climbing into his jeep and giving into the urge to slam this door. He sat through one green light debating which way to turn, an urge towards mindlessness pointing him towards his usual exhaustion based activity while the rest of his brain reminded him of what happened the last time he was in the Hale’s backyard.

He turned right, heading home and locking himself in the garage.

Half the day passed with two new canvases destroyed, his bottom of his skateboard deck completly redone, and the blank form on his newest large work still staring at him blankly. He stared back, chin in his hands as the lines refused to coalesce into shapes. Every time he tried to focus he’d think of Derek’s eyes right before the kiss or the way Allison’s mouth had turned down before she turned away from him. The more he tried to forget the last twenty-four hours the more he thought about it. The more he thought about it the more his chest tightened up at the implications of his thoughts.

He was broken out of his mental blackhole by the sound of the door leading from the house opening.

“Hey,” Lydia said, walked into the garage, carefully stepping around the bits and pieces of junk Stiles had managed to spread out around him. Stiles nodded at her, spinning his chair around to face her. “So, I’m sorry about this morning,” his sister said quickly.

Stiles let out the breath he’d been holding. “I am to, Lydia.”

“Now that’s out of the way...” Lydia leaned against the wall nearest Stiles’ table. “I hear you’ve been hanging out with Derek Hale a lot lately.”

“Wha...” Stiles blinked at her. “From whom?”

Lydia looked at him like he was dull. “I know people, Stiles, and those people tell me things.”

The brunet just shrugged, fiddling with the pencil in his hand. “Derek’s a cool guy,” he said blankly. “We’ve been friends for a long time.”

“Yes,” Lydia nodded, “and he’s also gay.”

“Duh,” Stiles scoffed at her. “What part of ‘friends for a long time’ are you missing?”

The woman held up a hand to silence him. “People talk, Stiles,” she said firmly. “I don’t care, personally, but other people do and other people can make all of our lives difficult.”

Stiles pushed away from the table pacing away from it aways. “So you’re saying I can’t be friends with Derek because it will make your life difficult.”

“No,” Lydia insisted, “our lives. My boss is a raging homophobe and Dad is the Sheriff, even if he’s on medical leave. Not to mention I’m sure you don’t want to work in a cafe your whole life. Just... think about it, okay?” Stiles grit his teeth and nodded once, hands clenched in fists at his side until Lydia was at the door.

“Stiles...” The man looked up and met her eyes. “You’d tell me if you were gay, right?”

“Oh my god, Lydia! What do you think?” The redhead held her hands up and walked out, leaving Stiles to fume on his own.

It took three days for Stiles to pick up the phone and call Allison, offering a blanket apology. Three days, a sketchbook full of crumpled up pages covered with pale eyes, and a thoughtful look from Lydia each time they’re in the same room.

He’d picked Allison up with Danny in the backseat and taken them all to the park, hoping it would give them the chance to talk. Instead, Danny had dragged Allison away to the sandbox and put her to work, the brunette not even putting up any protest while Stiles stood by the jeep and watched. He was trying to get the motivation to join them when a familiar figure rounded the corner of the nearby jogging path.

“Hey,” Derek said as he got closer, smiling wide. He stopped next to Stiles, wiping sweat away from his face as he followed Stiles’ eyeline to the sandbox. “So, I tried to call you,” the older man said softly.

“Yea, I’ve been busy.” Stiles glanced sideways at Derek, not willing to meet his eye. “Stuff, ya know.”

Derek nodded, “I know. I just wondered if you wanted to...”

Really busy,” Stiles interrupted, gritting his teeth as he ignored the way Derek’s shoulders drooped.

“Right,” Derek nodded after a moment. “Busy with stuff.” Stiles just nodded and the older man sighed next to him. “Okay.” The man didn’t say another word before heading off, walking down the jogging path that took him past the sandbox.

“Derek?” Allison waved him over as he passed and Stiles nearly bit through his tongue as he listened. “You’re Scott’s brother, right?”

Derek nodded, dropping into a crouch so the woman wasn’t looking into the sun. “And you’re Allison. I remember you. You’re taller now and the braces are gone but, yea.” Stiles could see Allison smiling bigger than he remembered was possible over the last few months.

“Oh god,” Allison covered her face for a moment. “Does that mean you remember that time you bought us all wine coolers...?”

“And your Dad wanted to string me up by my toes?” Derek chuckled. “Yea.” Stiles dug his nails into his palms as he watched them together. “Hi,” Derek turned to where Danny had poked his shoulder with a small sand covered finger.

“I need help,” Danny told him plainly, pointing at the falling castle. Derek gaped at him for a moment.

“This is Danny,” Allison introduced the boy to him.

“Danny, yea, I’ve heard a lot about you.” Derek turned to kneel at the edge of the box. “What can I do for you?”

Danny pointed at where he’d been trying to dig a moat out in the damp sand. “I need help.”

“Help I can do.” Derek smiled at Danny so widely that Stiles couldn’t stand it anymore. He walked over to where the trio was working as quickly as he could manage while pretending to not hurry at all.

“We should, uh, probably hit the road,” he said casually. Allison gave him a confused look before pushing herself to her feet.

“Let’s go for a walk for a minute.” She grabbed Stiles hand and turned back to Derek before Stiles could say a word. “Can you watch Danny? We’ll just be at the jeep.” Derek shrugged and nodded, pointedly looking away when Stiles tried to catch his eye.

“We shouldn’t...” Stiles protested as Allison propelled them away from the sandbox.

“We really should.” She moved to the front of the jeep and Stiles jumped up on the hood, hands between his knees. “I know you have a lot of things to stress out over right now,” Allison said after a moment. “But I do too.”

The brunet crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the ground. “I know,” he repeated for what felt like the hundredth time. “I’m sorry.”

Allison shook her head. “I don’t want you to be sorry, Stiles. I just...” The woman took a deep breath before reaching out to grab Stiles’ hand. “I want you to help me figure out where this is going. These circles have to stop because... I’m getting dizzy. Okay?” Stiles nodded, meeting her eyes and offering up half a smile. When he didn’t say anything Allison continued. “I don’t even think this is what you want anymore, Stiles.”

“I know,” the man said quietly. Allison sighed as she dropped his hand and took a step backwards.

“That’s it then?” Stiles hesitated before nodding again. “You know what that means, right? I’m done playing this game. I should hate you for dragging me along.”

“You probably should,” Stiles agreed, hopping off of the jeep. “But I already do that enough for both of us, so...”

Allison set her hand lightly on Stiles’ arm. “I don’t.” They stared at each other for a moment before Stiles reached up and patted her hand.

“You know,” Allison started as they headed back to the sandbox, “Derek is really good with Danny.” Stiles bit back a wince and focused on indifference instead.

“C’mon, Danny, time to go.”

Danny stood up and waved at the castle. “Can I smash it first?” Stiles started to shake his head before catching Derek’s eye.

“Best part of building a castle is demolishing it after,” the older man offered. Danny nodded his head quickly and gave Stiles puppy dog eyes until he finally nodded.

“Have at it,” he said, taking a step back. Allison snorted out a laugh beside him as Danny began jumping on top of the sandcastle, Derek reaching out a hand to steady him when the shifting underfoot knocked him off kilter.

“Thanks, Derek,” Danny said eventually, breathless from laughing. Derek nodded at him with a small smile on his face and Allison called Danny over to get his shoes back on.

“Stiles,” Derek grabbed the man’s arm as he went to follow. “Can I talk to you for a second?” Stiles glanced over to where Allison was wiping off Danny’s feet and then nodded. “I just...” Stiles turned back to Derek and found the other man rubbing sandy hands on his thighs like it was a nervous twitch. “You have a lot of talent. And I don’t think you should throw it away.”

“I haven’t,” Stiles said quietly. Derek searched his face for a moment before nodding and backing away. Stiles watched him turn and take off before leaving himself.

“I haven’t seen Allisson around in awhile.” Stiles bit his tongue as he finished getting a glass of milk before turning to where his dad was sitting at the kitchen table, leg stretched out in front of him.

“That’s because we broke up,” the young Stilinski explained. “A couple days ago.” Thankfully the Sheriff didn’t say a word, just nodded and turned his attention back to the crossword puzzle in front of him he’d started after dinner.

A few minutes went by before he spoke again. “Seeing anyone new?”

Stiles shook his head to quickly, “No.” His dad looked at him over his reading glasses. “What?”

“That didn’t sound too convincing,” the older man said calmly.

“I’m not seeing anyone,” Stiles over enunciated.

“Well,” John said, pausing to scribble in a word, “just remember that the family loves you.”

Stiles opened his mouth and then snapped it closed again, nodding instead and moving to the sink to rinse his glass. “I’m gonna...” he gestured vaguely towards the garage.

Once he was outside he stared blankly at his worktable, moving things around blindly as his mind whirred. He felt like everyone was a chapter ahead of him, knowing some big plot point that had escaped him. Dropping down onto the chair he leaned his head down against the table, rocking it back and forth. All he could think about for nearly a week was Derek and his eyes and his smile and the way he made Stiles wake up after years of being asleep. Derek liked his art and his company and he... liked Derek.

“Fuck,” he whispered quietly, sitting up again. “Fuck!” he shouted, grabbing an empty paint container and chucking it across the empty garage. He stood up again, taking several deep breaths and straightening his hoodie on his shoulders. Taking one more deep breath he nodded and head towards his jeep. “Fine.”

The drive to the Hale house seemed to go by in half a heartbeat and soon enough Stiles found himself standing at the door, arms hanging loose at his sides while he waited for Derek to answer his knock. The older man gave him a confused look in the moment before Stiles surged forward, grabbing Derek’s face and pulling him in.

This kiss was hurried where the first had been slow, hard and wet and breathtaking. Derek pulled Stiles into the house and kicked the door shut behind them before pushing Stiles up against the entryway wall and pausing long enough to catch Stiles’ eye.

Stiles stared back, nodding slowly as Derek moved back in. They bit at each other, stripping on the stairs as they tried to hurry up them. Derek stopped and pinned Stiles against the railing once he got his shirt off, running a possessive hand along Stiles naked side as his other hand forced Stiles’ had to tilt back for a deeper kiss. The younger man moaned into his mouth, hips moving against Derek’s in the same tempo as their tongues.

“Oh my god,” Stiles groaned when Derek pulled back again.

Derek nodded, huffing out a laugh and pulling Stiles away from the railing. “Please be sure,” he whispered against Stiles’ collarbone. Teeth and tongue edged along it before Derek moved up to mouth at Stiles’ neck. The younger man could only nod and clutch at Derek, reaching down between them to fumble at their belts.

“Okay, okay,” Derek pulled back again and chuckled at Stiles’ annoyed look. He grabbed onto the waistband of Stiles’ jeans and pulled him the rest of the way up the stairs, meeting for another kiss at the top as they stumbled into Derek’s room.

Stiles dropped down onto the bed, kicking his clothes and shoes away and watching avidly as Derek worked off his own jeans. He ignored the anxiety that was building in his chest and instead pulled Derek onto him as he laid down flat, focusing on the way the other man’s heat seemed to burn clear through him. They kissed again and again, moving along each other, hands never still. At one point Stiles rolled on top of Derek, grinding down on instinct and relishing the way Derek’s head dropped back with a moan. Stiles licked at the sweat building along Derek’s neck and let out his own moan when Derek’s hands ghosted over his ass.

Derek rolled back to the top and pinned Stiles with a look before kissing his way down his chest. “Oh my god,” Stiles forced out again as he felt Derek’s breath along the length of his cock. The older man didn’t tease at all, taking pity on Stiles’ plaintive sounds and swallowing him down quickly. Every sound that escaped from Stiles’ mouth tried to be a word but failed, coming out instead as grunts and moans and breathless whines. Stiles closed his eyes tight and focused on the way Derek’s mouth felt around him, digging his fingers into the pillow under his head.

The other man pulled up before Stiles could come, kissing his way back up the younger man’s chest. They kissed again frantically, Stiles swallowing down Derek’s moans as they moved together, saliva and precome slicking the way between them. Stiles rolled them over and moved against Derek with purpose, lining their cocks up and grinding down as they bit and licked and sucked at each other’s mouths. His hips stuttered for a moment before he came, heat spreading between their bodies.

“Fuck, Stiles,” Derek groaned beneath him, bucking up and forcing them to roll back over. He thrust quickly against Stiles’ hip, mouthing at his neck until he too had added to the mess.

Stiles dropped back down onto the mattress while Derek grabbed a t-shirt from the floor and cleaned them both up before tossing it aside and dropping down next to the younger man.

Sleep came easy that night.

Morning broke bright the next day and Stiles shifted under the covers, waking up enough to know who the arm tossed over his hip belonged to. He pressed back against Derek and turned his head enough to see the other man’s sleepy smile.

“Good morning,” Derek said in a rough voice.

Stiles nodded and rubbed his eyes, shifting again enough to look at Derek fully. “What time is it?” he wondered aloud.

Derek looked pointedly at his empty wrist and back up again. “Time for you to go?”

“Yea,” Stiles nodded. He started to sit up only to have Derek pull him down again. “I have to go,” he explained slowly. Derek looked like he was contemplating pouting before dropping a kiss on Stiles’ forehead and pushing him away. Stiles got up quickly, glancing back as he pulled his jeans on and biting his lip at the sight of Derek sprawled out on the bed, obviously back to sleep.

He let himself out of the house quietly and headed home, unable to stop the smile that kept creeping onto his face. Stopping on the way to grab some gas, he saw the old man who ran the convenience store rolling white paint onto the broad side of the building.

“God, the things I could do with that,” he muttered, walking over to look at the blank space. The old man looked at him with confusion. “I... paint,” Stiles tried to explain.

The old man nodded and gestured towards the wall. “No dirty pictures.”

Stiles tilted his head slightly at the non sequitur before cluing in to what the old man was saying. “You mean I can...” Stiles fluttered his hands at the wall and clapped them together when the old man nodded. “Awesome!” The brunet headed back to his truck, practically skipping. “I’ll be back,” he called out as he drove away, a dozen ideas floating around his head.

When he got home he tossed his sweatshirt aside and headed to the kitchen to rummage. Lydia came in as he was putting the finishing touches on his sandwich. “Hey,” he called to her as she sat down.

“Hey.” She watched him for a moment before brushing her hair out of her face. “Where were you last night? I tried to call you, like, three times.”

Stiles shrugged, “Did you need something?”

“Yea,” Lydia snapped out. “I need to know I can depend on you. That you’ll be there.”

“I’m always there... for Danny.” Stiles bit into his sandwich and turned his back on the conversation.

“Well you weren’t there last night,” Lydia pointed out.

Stiles took a deep breath and set the sandwich aside, turning back around with his arms crossed over his chest. “What do you need, Lydia?”

The redhead hesitated, obviously steeling herself. “Actually... I need to go out of town for a few days.” Stiles started to protest but Lydia continued right over him. “There’s a conference for work and I’ve been invited to go.”

“Is it mandatory?” Stiles asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No,” Lydia admitted. “But it is a good opportunity and when it’s time for a raise in a few months it will go a long way.”

Stiles shook his head. “No way.”

“Stiles, please,” Lydia stood up and clutched her hands together.

Stiles rolled his eyes and turned back to his sandwich. “You know, I was really hoping to have this weekend to myself for once.”

“Why?” Stiles only shrugged, taking a large bite. “Do you have something to do? Someone?”

“Wha...” Stiles choked on the food in his mouth. “What are you talking about?”

Lydia smirked at him. “I saw you gazing out the window. Plus the hickey.” Stiles slapped a hand over his neck and turned bright red as Lydia began laughing at him. “Your face... is priceless.”

“I hate you,” Stiles bit out. Lydia only shrugged in response.

“So if you have nothing and no one to do then you can watch Danny this weekend, right? C’mon, Stiles, you’re all I have.”

Stiles took a deep breath to argue but blew it out again, nodding instead. “I know. Fine.” Lydia moved forward to lock him into a quick hug before disappearing.

The brunet waited a moment before moving to the downstairs bathroom and tugging aside the collar of his shirt to reveal perfectly unmarked skin.

“Loathe,” he growled at the mirror, imaging Lydia’s face instead of his. He headed back to the kitchen and was about to inhale his sandwich when his phone rang in his pocket.

“Hey,” Derek said after Stiles answered. “I wondered if you wanted to come over for dinner? I have steaks?

Stiles chuckled, glancing around to make sure no one was around. “I can’t,” he sighed. “I have to watch Danny after work. Lydia’s going out of town.”

“So bring him.”

Stiles raised his eyebrows. “Seriously?”

“He seems like a good kid,” Derek explained, “And I really want you to come over.”

“Uhh...” Stiles could feel himself blushing and had to fight to resist the urge to smother himself with his food. “Okay, sure, fine.”

They were both silent for awhile before Stiles heard Derek huff out a silent laugh. “Thrilling conversation...” Stiles bit off an embarrassed groan. I’ll do better tonight. What time is Lydia leaving?”

“I get off at five so probably as soon as I get home.”

“Good. Steaks will be ready by six. Don’t be late, Stiles.” Stiles nodded dumbly as Derek hung up, staring at his phone for a second before a wide smile split his face.

Stiles felt like his heart was going to explode out of his chest as he knocked on Derek’s door with Danny at his side. The five year old was looking around with a sort of bored intrigue that only children could manage.

“Hello, boys.” Derek opened the door suddenly, causing both of the people on the porch to jump. The older man chuckled darkly and Stiles resisted the urge to smack him only because Danny was already following Derek into the house. They headed into the kitchen where Derek turned and leaned against the counter, giving Danny a calculating look.

“So,” he said slowly, drawing the word out. “What do you want for dinner, smallest Stilinski?”

“He’ll eat anything,” Stiles interjected. Derek favored him with a very sarcastic looking eyebrow before turning back to Danny and gracing him with a nicer look.

“Umm... Pizza and mac’n’cheese and cookies.” Danny was about to continue when Derek held up his hands.

“Sounds... delicious,” the older man nodded, glancing up at Stiles before turning his attention back to the little boy. “Why don’t you got see if the fireflies are out while I work on that?” Danny nodded enthusiastically before running out the backdoor.

“You really don’t have to,” Stiles said, stepping closer. Derek only shrugged as he moved into Stiles personal space.

“Pizza’s only a phone call away and I happen to know where Melissa hides her stash of Oreos.” Stiles backed up when Derek took another step forward, glancing out the window to where Danny was running around the yard. Derek followed his gaze and nodded to himself, reaching out to squeeze Stiles’ arm and then backing away again.

Stiles left out a breath and gave Derek a small smile. “You promised him mac’n’cheese as well.”

Derek pulled a face before shrugging. “They deliver that now too. I’ll be right back.” Stiles watched him disappear before smacking himself in the head, cursing under his breath.

He was tense up until the point Derek cracked up at Danny’s face when he saw the large pizza and mac’n’cheese that Derek had dubbed ‘all his’. The shock and awe on the boy’s face was worth any stress Stiles was swallowing down each time he looked at Derek and felt a flutter in his chest.

It took over an hour for Danny to work off his junk food buzz chasing bugs in the backyard. He finally passed out on the floor of the sunroom with Stiles’ hoodie under his head and one of Derek’s jackets for a blanket.

Derek tugged Stiles down on the lounger that was still sitting out in the yard once they were sure he was asleep, shushing all of Stiles’ objections as he wrapped an arm around his waist.

“He’s out of it,” the older man said calmly, shaking his head when Stiles tried to protest. “He’s out. It’s okay.”

“I..” Stiles dropped his head onto Derek’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

“Been there, done that.” Derek ran a hand along Stiles’ back. “It’s fine, Stiles. I get it.” They sat quietly for a while, Derek’s hand never stopping it’s trek up and down Stiles’ spine while the younger man relaxed further against him.

Eventually Derek broke the silence. “It’s good what you do for him,” he said, gesturing towards where Danny was asleep. “Scott’s told me about how you stepped in when Jackson left.”

“Someone had to,” Stiles replied in his usual self deprecating manner. “Lydia was already working full-time while going to school. Dad was dealing with all of Mom’s medical bills. Someone had to step up.”

Derek dropped a kiss onto the top of Stiles’ head. “You’re a lot like your mom,” he said softly. “I remember... when I was younger, when Peter first married Melissa and we were constantly fighting. Anytime I’d stop in the cafe after a big blowup she’d always know, somehow, and a burger and fries would suddenly come with a free cookie.”

“She was good at taking care of people.” Stiles sat back enough to smile up at Derek. The other man leaned in to kiss Stiles softly, cupping his jaw lightly.

“You are too,” Derek whispered as he straightened up. Stiles stared up at Derek for a moment before reaching up a hand to run along the line of his jaw. He kissed the older man softly before pulling away and standing up with a yawn.

“Danny doesn’t like waking up in strange places,” he explained. Derek nodded, using Stiles’ offered hand to pull himself up and following the other man as he went in to pick up Danny and carried the sleeping boy to the front door.

“I have something for you.” Derek held up an envelope out to Stiles, shaking it a bit until the brunet took it. “It’s a Cal Arts application. No...” Derek shook his head when Stiles tried to argue. “Just think about it, Stiles. Just for you. Not for anyone else.”

Stiles nodded, staring down at the envelope in his hand. “I will," he said when he looked back up at Derek. “I promise.” The older man smiled at him before kissing him lightly and pushing him gently the rest of the way out the door.

Three weeks passed before things started to go downhill. Three weeks full of days at work, afternoons spent painting a massive mural on the wall of the convenience store, and nights spent with Derek. The older man eased every fear Stiles had built up within himself. He was slow and kind when necessary, quick and firm when necessary, and always welcoming when Stiles had to bring Danny along if they went to the park or the quarry. Derek even presented Danny with a child's lacrosse stick and the little boy nearly tackled the man with a hug.

One morning, as Stiles lay in Derek's bed, the other man ran his hand along Stiles' shoulder. "You're beautiful," he said softly.

"Hah!" Stiles laughed but his smile softened at the look on Derek's face. "No, I'm not. Lydia got the looks in the family."

"She's not my type," Derek said blithely before going serious again. "You are though. Learn to take a compliment."

Stiles glanced down, linking his fingers on Derek's back before tugging the man closer. "Thanks." He passed a kiss on the other man's lips, pressing up against him as Derek deepened it.

"Come to LA with me," Derek said after pulling back for a breath. Stiles gave him a confused look. "My new place isn't far from CalArts and I just..." Derek trailed off with a shrug, ears going red with a shy embarrassment that Stiles was always amused by on the man.

The younger man was trying to figure out a response when they both heard the front door slam.

"Derek?" Stiles and Derek stared at each other for a moment in shock before scrambling off the bed in opposite directions.

"It's Scott," Stiles hissed, throwing Derek's boxers at him.

"No shit," Derek snapped back, fumbling on the boxers as Stiles tugged in his jeans.

Scott knocked at the door, "Derek?"

"One second." The older man waved Stiles towards his closet and the brunet had to snicker at the irony. "I will hurt you," Derek whispered at him before Stiles ducked into the shadows. Derek ensured he was hidden before tugging the door open.

Scott walked in quickly, looking around suspicious. "What are you doing in here?"

"Sleeping," Derek exaggerated a yawn.

"Uh huh," Scott nodded. "I'll pretend to believe you but only because you're making me pancakes."

Stiles could see the eldest Hale fighting the urge to roll his eyes as he quickly agreed. He waited until both men had disappeared downstairs to sneak out, snagging one off Derek's shirts as he went since his was MIA. Pausing at the bottom of the stairs, he overheard the other men in the kitchen.

“I figured you’d be moved into your new place by now,” Scott was saying.

Derek took a long moment to respond. “The thought of moving into an empty place just... not appealing. I’m happy here.”

Stiles made it out of the house and to work without incident, managing to avoid a chat with Matt about photography before he took over the grill. His midday shift was nearly over when Scott showed up, ducking into kitchen with a grin on his face.

"Hey dude," Stiles nodded at him.

Scott snagged a fry off if the plate does was finishing up. "Hey man. Got plans after work?"

"Uh," Stiles hesitated, "yea, I do actually."

"Got a date?" Scott landed against the counter. Stiles shook his head quickly, calling out to the waitress that the order was ready. "Seeing someone?"

"No," Stiles said firmly, ignoring the way his hands went sweaty under Scott's curious look.

"Then you're free," his friend said after Stiles has turned away again. "I'll be at the quarry when you get off." Stiles just nodded and focused on the burgers in front of him. "Nice shirt by the way."

Stiles held his breath as Scott left before letting it out in a profane whisper.

The quarry wound Stiles up tighter. Derek had joined them and Stiles felt himself shying away anytime the older man got close, constantly aware of everyone else around them He finally made an excuse and got out of the water, moving to sit at a large rock nearby the beach.

“Stiles, man, what’s the news around here?” Scott asked as he dropped down beside where Stiles was sitting. “I heard about you and Allison.”

“Then you’ve heard all the news.” Stiles stared at the bottle of water in his hand, slowly peeling off the label.

Scott nodded next to him. “Maybe... but I also heard that no one sees you around anymore.”

“I’ve been busy,” Stiles said defensively. He finished peeling off the label and began shredding it into the wind.

“Not getting laid, obviously.” Scott knocked his shoulder into Stiles’. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be so tense.” When Stiles didn’t respond Scott continued on. “I know I’m not around much anymore but I do have a phone, ya know? You can call me whenever.” Stiles nodded and turned to give his friend half a smile. Scott accepted it at face value and pushed himself up. “I’m gonna grab a water. Need anything?”

“I’ll take one.” Derek walked up to the rock, pushing wet hair away from his face. Scott punched the older man in the arm as he walked by and when they wrestled for a moment Stiles couldn’t help but huff out a laugh. His amusement died when Scott walked off and Derek moved to crouch near Stiles.

“What’s wrong?” the older man asked softly, reaching for his knee.

Stiles jerked away and hissed, “Oh my god.” He glanced up quickly to spot Scott and looked back at Derek. “Just... chill. Okay?” Derek looked like he was going to argue for a moment before his face went stony and he straightened up. He nodded at Stiles and walked away without another word. The younger man had to bite down the urge to call after him and the words felt like they were choking him from the inside.

“Please tell me Danny’s just confused.” Stiles closed the door behind him softly and turned to find Lydia sitting on the stairs. “Please.”

“About what?” Stiles hemmed, moving to stand on the landing.

The redhead gestured vaguely. “Stiles, why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Stiles said slowly. His sister gave him a withering look.

“You...” Lydia paused and flipped her hair out of her face. “You’re confusion is one thing but bring Danny into it is just...”

“I didn’t bring him into anything!” Stiles insisted.

“You took him to Derek’s.”

“He likes Derek,” Stiles snapped back. “Derek’s a good guy and...”

Lydia interrupted him. “This isn’t about Derek. This is about us, our family. This is about Danny needing a positive male role model in his life...”

“Well I’m sorry I’m no Jackson.” Stiles slid down the wall behind him, staring up at his sister.

“Low blow,” she said evenly. “What Danny doesn’t need is to hear everyone talking about his Uncle Stiles like that. He’s a little kid, he’s not going to understand that...”

“Are you mother of the year all the sudden?” Stiles cut in. “You’re working all the damn time...”

Lydia reached up as if she could slap her brother despite the difference. “Judge me all you want,” she said firmly. “But you’ve reduced yourself to nothing but a summer fling. He’s going to move away and you’re going to be nothing but fodder for the gossip mill.”

Stiles choked back a laugh and rubbed a hand over his face. “That’s what you’re afraid of,” he said quietly. “This isn’t about me and Derek or me and Danny. This is about you and your reputation. Fuck the family because Lydia might get whispered about behind her back. Oh wait!” he raised his voice. “You already are. Jackson was reduced to nothing but the occasional postcard and now you’re pulling the family card like it matters to you at all. I’m the reason Danny even knows what family really means.”

“And you think keeping secrets is your next lesson for him? What does it say when you can’t tell anyone about your relationship? You’ve been lying to everyone in your life.” Lydia brushed away a tear. “Do you think that’s a good life for Danny?”

“No.” Stiles dropped his head back and stared at the ceiling. “I just want what’s best for him,” he said after a moment.

“Well so do I,” Lydia insisted. They both sat in silence as the clock in the hall ticked on. The redhead stood up eventually. “I’m sorry,” she said over her shoulder before disappearing upstairs, leaving Stiles on the floor tugging at his short hair.

Later that evening Stiles sat in a wicker chair in the Hales’ backyard, intently not listening as Scott regaled the group of people around them with stories of his college exploits. He sat next to Scott and stared into the fire, not participating in the conversation no matter how many times his friend tried to pull him into it. All Stiles could think about was Lydia’s words as the echoed between his ears.

His thoughts flit from Derek, who he knew was in the house dutifully ignoring Stiles just as Stiles had tried to ignore him, to Lydia and her harshly true words to Allison and Scott and what they would say if they found out. He thought of every horrible word that had ever slipped out of another person’s mouth and imagined them aimed at him with Danny caught in the crossfire. Eventually he felt like his head was going to explode if he didn’t get away and he got up in a hurry, tossing his half drank beer aside and heading towards his jeep.

Derek caught him just as he was about to open the door. “Hey,” the older man reached out for him but drew back at the last second.

“I need some time,” Stiles said softly, staring over Derek’s shoulder at nothing. “Some space.” When Derek didn’t say anything or move away Stiles continued, words slipping free without thought. “I don’t know if I want to do this.”

“It seems like you do,” Derek said eventually, leaning against the jeep with his arms crossed over his chest.

Stiles shook his head, swallowing down a lump in his throat and thinking about Lydia again. “I don’t know if I can do this.” Derek started to gesture towards the house but Stiles kept going. “It’s not as easy for me as it is for you.”

Derek sighed. “If this is about Scott...”

“It’s not about Scott,” Stiles lied firmly, meeting Derek’s eye. “Or anyone else. I just... I can’t.”


“No.” Stiles drew back as Derek reached for him. “I can’t just do whatever I want. Can’t take what I want. It doesn’t work like that.”

“You’ll never get what you want unless you take it.” Derek stepped forward despite Stiles’ obvious apprehension. “You’re allowed to.”

“Maybe you’re allowed to but it doesn’t work like that for the rest of us.” Stiles took another step back. “You and Scott... you’ve always been able to take whatever you feel like. Do whatever. You can move away and never give two shits about the people left behind and you don’t even realize that not everyone can do that. It’s fucking ignorant.”

“Right...” Derek nodded and stepped back. “And you let everyone walk all over you for years and then blame the world when you realize you’ve been stomped into the ground. What do you call that?” Stiles felt his breath hitch in his chest and looked away again. “Stiles...” Derek took a deep breath. “Why are you even doing this?”

The younger man wiped at his face, hand coming away damp with tears that had slipped free. “Don’t get all emotional and gay on me,” he said softly, knowing very well how the other man would take it.

“What?” Derek asked sharply.

Stiles looked back at him and grit his teeth for a moment. “I’m tired of being your childhood wet dream, Derek. Find another fantasy to live out.” The brunet fished his keys out of his pocket, the weight of Derek’s eyes on him like the world on Atlas’ shoulders.

“You’re a coward,” the other man said eventually, backing away.

“I’m done.” Stiles unlocked the jeep and forced Derek to take another step back when he swung the door open. He climbed in and ignored the other man as he shifted the vehicle into gear and pulled away, tears finally streaming down his face.

Stiles was scrubbing at the counter in the dinner the next morning when he heard a knock at the door. “We’re closed,” he called over his shoulder, not bothering to turn around. More pounding had him ready to snap at someone when he turned around to find Scott grinning at him sheepishly.

“God,” the other man said as Stiles let him in. “I’m so hungover.” Scott dropped into a chair at the counter and dropped his head onto the recently cleaned surface.

“Kitchen’s closed.” Stiles made his way around the counter and picked up the coffee pot, shaking it in Scott’s direction when his friend glanced up.

Scott nodded loosely. “Please.” Stiles poured a cup and set it in front of the other man before going back to prepping for the day. “So...,” Scott said after taking a long drink. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?” Stiles asked, ignoring the sharpness in his chest. He glanced up at his friend to find the other man watching him intently.

“You could have, ya know,” Scott continued. “I don’t care. At all. Of course I don’t care.” Stiles didn’t say anything as he finished drying glasses. “Have you always known?”

Stiles hesitated as he set down the last glass. “Obviously not,” he said eventually.

“Okay...” Scott drew out. “The fact that it’s my brother is pretty weird.”

“I know.” The brunet dropped his towel on the counter and moved to set up the cash register, still refusing to look at his friend.

“No, like... really fucking weird.”

Stiles slammed the register closed harder than intended. “I know,” he repeated. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Scott was adamant and Stiles finally turned to face him. “You’re my best friend,” Scott explained. “I love you like a brother. I. Don’t. Care.”

The men stared at each other for a moment until Stiles nodded, clearing his throat. “Don’t tell anyone, okay?” Scott just shrugged.

“Why didn’t you crash at my house last night?” he asked eventually once Stiles had turned around again.

“I just wasn’t feeling it,” Stiles responded as he refilled sugar containers.

Scott huffed out a laugh. “This doesn’t change anything,” he said firmly. “I mean... you could have talked to me. Like we used to before Derek and everything. I mean, I’m not...” Scott paused and ran a hand through his hair. “This isn’t easy on me, ya know.”

“Isn’t easy on you?” Stiles set down the last container and turned back to his friend. “Well, it’s over now so you don’t have to worry about it.” The other man looked like he wanted to say something further so Stiles cut him off. “I need to finish setting up,” he said firmly, “And you need to leave.”

He walked Scott to the door. “You’re still my best friend,” Scott said as he tugged Stiles into a hug. They stood that way for a moment before Stiles took a deep breath and pulled away. Scott smiled at him before walking off and leaving Stiles alone with his thoughts.

The funny thing about your life falling apart, Stiles thought to himself, is that everything crumbles and people passing on the street don’t even notice. Everyday something else cracked away and Stiles was left in the middle of the rubble.

Stiles headed to Allison’s apartment after work one evening out of habit and grimaced at the look on the woman’s face when she opened the door. “Can I please just come in and crash?” he asked plaintively. “I just... can’t go home right now.” Allison shook her head slowly, glancing back over her shoulder. Stiles could see a pair of men’s shoes next to Allison’s in the entryway and backed up, nodding to himself. “Right...” He didn’t bother turning around when the brunette called after him.

A few days later he found himself digging through the pile of papers on what used to be a functional dining room table. “Damnit,” he hissed.

“What’s wrong?” The brunet glanced up to find his sister leaning in the doorway. She looked slightly apprehensive but they’d both been ignoring the elephant that was their prior argument in the days since it’d happened.

Stiles tossed aside another stack of papers. “Have you seen my portfolio?” he asked as he rummaged. “The one I’d put together for CalArts.”

Lydia shook her head when Stiles glanced up at her. “Why are you even bothering?” she asked. “They already turned you down once. Anyways, CalArts is just full of rich kids who want to be painters and are going to end up working in arts stores.”

“I know... I just thought I’d give it another shot.” Stiles picked up another paper and found it was the cover letter to the application Derek had given to him. “What’s today’s date?” he asked, finding the deadline glaring at him.

“The 30th.” Stiles cursed and crumpled the paper in his fist. “Stiles... They’re hiring data entry guys at work. Want me to put in a good word?” Stiles looked up and favored his sister with a withering look. “It’s a good job,” she insisted. Stiles just rolled his eyes and went back to digging through the mess on the table.

As the days went on Stiles found himself hiding away more and more, retreating to the cliffs at the quarry or hiding away staring at his unfinished painting in the garage. He had been ignoring every call that came in that wasn’t from Lydia or his dad and each time Derek’s named popped up on Caller ID it was like another knife in his back.

“Why don’t you never see Derek anymore?” Danny asked him as they colored at the bench outside of Lydia’s work one afternoon.

Stiles finished the area he was working on before answering. “Sometimes people leave.”

“Why’d he leave?” Danny pressed, circling the sun he’d drawn. “Is it like my daddy leaving?”

“No... Yes,” Stiles nodded eventually. “It’s complicated.” He got up as soon as he saw Lydia and took off on his skateboard, leaving behind questions he couldn’t manage to lie to answer. Stiles made his way to the old man’s convenience store, hoping to lose himself in finishing touches. Instead he found a For Sale sign in the window and a stranger putting a fresh coat of beige paint on the wall. He stood and watched as every stroke erased what he’d done.

That night he lay in bed with Derek’s purloined t-shirt on and allowed himself to wallow. He thought about the first kiss and then the second and then the final kiss-off. Every time he closed his eyes he could see the hurt on Derek’s face when Stiles had snapped at him and so he lay awake staring at the ceiling.

He was about to finally pass out from exhaustion when he noticed his phone flashing at him. Dialing into his voicemail he listened to a strange voice greet him.

Stiles, it’s Brookes from CalArts. I was surprised to see you’d applied again but I’m really glad you did. So, I returned to portfolio to the Reservation Drive address you mailed it from and I have a few other things to discuss with you so please give me a call. I hope to hear from you soon.

Tossing the phone aside he climbed out of bed and paced his room for several minutes before heading downstairs to find a distraction. What he found was Lydia, staring into space in the kitchen.

“What are you doing up?” he asked, hopping up onto the kitchen counter.

Lydia finished off her glass of wine before turning to face him. “I’ve been offered a new job. In Portland.”

“What?” Stiles sputtered.

“When I went up for that conference I had an interview. There’s a new office starting up and they’ve offered me a position.” Stiles just stared at his sister in shock. “I can make three times what I make down here,” she continued. “I just... can’t take Danny with me.”

That broke Stiles’ silence. “What do you mean?”

Lydia shrugged and turned her attention back to her empty glass. “The company is going to put me up at a long-stay hotel for now but I’ll need to find a place. And I’ll be working a lot of overtime getting the new projects off the ground.”

“He’s your son,” Stiles said firmly.

“I’m perfectly aware of that, thank you.” Lydia tossed her hair as she turned back. “And I’m also aware that he’ll be better off staying down here with you and Dad while I get settled.”

Stiles slid off the counter and started pacing the kitchen. “Dad can’t watch him. The doctor finally released him to active duty.”

“I know,” Lydia replied softly. Stiles opened his mouth to reply and then closed it again, throwing his hands up and walking out. He grabbed his hoodie on the way out and jumped in his jeep, driving into the night with no destination in mind.

The morning found him at the cliffs again, watching the sky lighten over the water. Allison found him as well.

“Hey, Stiles.” She sat down next to him slowly.

“I got in,” he said once she was settled, tossing a rock into the water below them. “CalArts took me back.”

“Of course they did,” Allison said with a smile.

Stiles sighed. “I don’t know how I’ll do it though.”

The brunette turned to face him. “You’ll find a way. You have to. Otherwise you’ll be stuck here.”

“I don’t feel...”

Allison cut him off. “Yes, you do.”

Stiles took a deep breath and nodded. “Yea...” They sat looking at the water for several minutes as the sky lightened more. “Lydia wants to go to Oregon,” he said eventually. “Without Danny.”

“He’s her responsibility, Stiles.” Stiles just shook his head. “You’ll figure it out,” the woman said softly. “One way or another. So cheer up.” Her smile lit up her face and Stiles couldn’t help but smile in return. “Can’t we just celebrate for a while before facing reality?”

That comment felt like cold water down Stiles back. He turned to face Allison more fully, fisting his hands in his lap. “Speaking of reality...”

“I know,” Allison cut him off. “I’ve known for awhile.”

Stiles huffed out a pained laugh. “You’re the only reason I wish I wasn’t... you know. I mean...” He took in a deep breath and let it out in a rush. “Since that first day I wanted to be perfect for you. The only thing that mattered was the fact that you picked me and... Maybe I should have let Scott lend you a pen that day instead.”

“Stiles...” Allison reached out and rested a hand on Stiles knee. She waited until the brunet looked up to ask him, “Do you love him?” When Stiles scoffed she pressed on. “Seriously. He’s a good guy, Stiles, and you can’t belong to one person forever.”

Stiles chewed on his lip. “Then why bother?”

“Wasn’t it worth it?”

“Yea,” Stiles sighed. Allison leaned forward and kissed Stiles lightly on the forehead.

She rubbed a thumb over his cheek as she pulled back. “Then that’s all that matters.”

Stiles stared down at the walkie-talkie in his hand, trying not to throw-up as he waited for it to make a sound. The mate he’d sat on Derek’s bags on the front porch before heading into the backyard to wait for the other man to find it.

“Say something…”

“I messed up,” Stiles admitted, leaning his head back against the outer wall of the back porch. “Made a horrible judgment call.”

He held his breath as he waited for Derek to respond. “Where are you?”

Stiles smiled as he spotted Derek come out the door, his back to the younger man. “Getting warmer… colder… turn around.”

Derek spun to face him and the openness of his face was enough to make Stiles’ chest clench. “I fucked up,” he ground out. “I’m so sorry.”

“You’d better be,” Derek nodded as he stepped closer, stopping just out of range. “Why are you here?” the older man asked. “What changed?”

“I did.” Stiles took a step closer. “Still working on it, actually.” Derek smiled hesitatingly at him. “You sent in my application,” Stiles continued. He waited for Derek to confirm before letting a large smile split his face. “I got in. Full ride. And I want to go this time.”

Derek reached out and pulled Stiles into a firm hug. “I never doubted you.”

“Then you’re smarter than me,” Stiles admitted when he pulled back. “I already turned a scholarship down once. With Mom dying and Jackson leaving and Dad… I couldn’t do it then. I wasn’t strong enough.”

“You are now.” Derek was looking at Stiles in such a way that there was no doubt in his eyes.

“I really want to go this time,” Stiles repeated, “and you did say you live close…” He took a deep breath as Derek considered his words. The other man moved forward again, pulling Stiles against him.

“Yes,” Derek said firmly. “Anything and always, yes.” He reached up to rest one hand on Stiles’ jaw and tiled the younger man’s head slightly to kiss him. Stiles deepened it with a relieved groan, pressing against Derek and fisting his hands in the other man’s shirt. Derek’s hand had moved from his jaw to his hair and a brief tug was enough for Stiles to forget any inhibitions he might have left. He licked at Derek’s mouth, seeking out the warmth and flavor that he’d missed and Derek allowed it, moaning against Stiles’ lips.

A buzz in Stiles’ pocket forced them apart. He pulled the phone out of his pocket and glanced at it before turning back to Derek with a hesitant grin. “Now when you say anything...”

Stiles took a deep breath before climbing out of the jeep with Derek at his side. Lydia glared at him as she tossed another bag into her trunk. “What’s he doing here?” she snapped. Derek hesitated next to him and Stiles grabbed his hand, twining their fingers together as they moved closer. “I thought you weren’t going to bail on me.”

“You’re the one bailing, Lydia,” Stiles shot back as he stopped in front of her. “I’ve always been here for you and I still am but if you don’t like this option then just stay. I mean... I was the one who stuck beside you when you had a newborn in college. I was the one who watched him grow up while you were got your degree.”

“I... Fuck, Stiles!” Lydia slammed the trunk closed.

Derek let go of Stiles’ hand and moved towards the front door. “I’m gonna go check on Danny,” he said softly, focusing on Stiles.

“He’s a great guy,” Stiles said eventually, dropping down onto the front steps. Lydia took a deep breath and moved to sit next to him. “He cares about me... and Danny. Every kid should be so lucky. And if you can’t see that then...”

“I do see it...” Lydia sighed.

Stiles stared down at his hands as he continued. “I got into CalArts. I’m going this time”

“I know,” Lydia admitted. “You should. Go, that is.” Stiles looked up at her and sighed. “This... is the best for Danny,” Lydia said softly. “I can’t take the chance of having this job fall apart and moving him all over the country at this age. It isn't fair to him.”

Stiles shifted to put his arm around his sister, allowing her to rest her head on his shoulder.

“I don’t know what I’ll do without both of you there though,” the redhead said quietly. Stiles kissed the top of her head and gave her a squeeze. Derek and Danny came out on the porch eventually and the three watched Lydia drive away, Danny sniffling away tears, Derek with one arm around each of them.

Eventually, he leaned into Stiles and whispered into his ear. “Ready to go home?”



“I think spending the day at the beach wore Danny out enough he might actually sleep until after daybreak.” Stiles glanced up from the painting he was working on to find Derek leaning in the doorway of the tiny room that had become his art space. “He is totally passed out.”

“That’s good,” Stiles nodded as he turned back to the canvas. He could hear Derek moving closer.

“As in, sound asleep,” Derek said in a low voice, moving to lean over Stiles’ chair. “As in, tucked away until morning without any real chance of waking up for at least the next... two hours or so.”

Stiles snorted as he dabbed on some more color. “Two hours? You feeling confident, old man.”

“Ha ha,” Derek said sarcastically. He spun Stiles’ chair around and plucked the brush from the younger man’s hand, tossing it aside. “So...” Derek leaned in and pressed a light kiss against Stiles’ lips. “Funny.” He kissed Stiles again before straightening up. “You’ve been locked away in here every evening for two weeks. The painting is perfect. You are perfect. Take a break.”

Stiles hesitated for a moment before he pushed himself up and into Derek’s personal space, wrapping his arms around the other man’s neck and forcing him into another kiss, biting at his mouth until Derek opened it and allowed Stiles entry. The wet, slick sounds echoed in the small room as they moved against each other, teeth and tongues aiding their competition for dominance. Derek pushed at Stiles until the other man’s back hit the wall.

“Fuck,” Stiles gasped, arching up against Derek’s body. The older man’s hands moved to his shoulders, holding Stiles still as he began to move the kiss along his jaw and down his neck. “Oh my god,” Stiles ground out as Derek moved against him. “Why are we not naked and in bed?”

Derek took a step back and arched an eyebrow at Stiles. “How about naked and right here?”

“Buh…” Stiles shook his head to clear it. “Bed means lube and…” He paused when Derek pulled a small bottle out of his pocket. “And condoms?” A foil wrapper followed. Stiles grinned as Derek set them aside and pulled off his shirt, smirking as Stiles’ eyes trailed over his chest.

“Naked?” the older man prodded. Stiles rushed to pull off his clothes, tossing them aside before moving to help Derek out of his own.

He allowed Derek to back him up against the wall again and muffled his moan against Derek’s shoulder. Derek’s hand slid down his back and just as it brushed the top of Stiles’ ass the younger man pulled his head back. “Wait… What if Danny does wake up?”

“Why do you think I locked the door when I came in?” Derek leaned in and whispered directly into Stiles’ ear, grinning against his neck at the way he shivered. Stiles glanced over at the door which had been closed at some point between Derek showing up and coaxing Stiles away from his work.

“Older and wiser,” Stiles smirked at the other man when he looked up.

Derek’s smile turned hotter right before he spun Stiles around to force him to bend over the desk next to him. “And stronger,” he whispered, leaning against Stiles’ back. Stiles only moaned as Derek straightened up and ran a possessive hand down Stiles’ back.

“Two weeks,” Derek said softly as his fingers slid down lower to tease along Stiles’ ass. “Two. Weeks.”

“Two more minutes and I going back to painting.” Stiles pushed back against Derek’s hand until he felt the tip of the finger slip in, dry and rough.

That was all it took to encourage Derek to act, lube slicked fingers quickly moving in practice motions to prep Stiles as efficiently as either could manage. It had taken weeks to get Stiles prepared for the first time and it had been worth every aching moment.

Stiles moaned when Derek’s cock finally slipped in, shifting forward slightly so that he was resting more comfortably on his elbows with Derek’s hands firm on his hips.

“God, I love you,” Derek muttered behind him as he started to move. Stiles didn’t respond with anything more than a nod, focusing on the familiar heat that was building between them. The rhythm was familiar as well, quick enough to get both of them on equal footing with little effort but slow enough for the burn of endorphins to last. It was everything Stiles could want and nothing he knew could be his until Derek had come along.

“I’m not gonna last,” he warned when Derek wrapped his hand around his cock.

Derek tugged in counterpoint to his thrusts. “I don’t want you to,” he admitted, resting his forehead on Stiles’ shoulder as he sped up.

“What... fuck...” Stiles moaned, hips moving to Derek’s beat. “What happened to two hours?”

“This is the warmup.” Derek’s hand squeezed tighter as his teeth sank into the place when Stiles’ neck and shoulder joined. A few more strokes and the low rumble of Derek’s moans in his ear was enough to push Stiles over the edge as soon as he felt Derek stiffen inside him.

Derek pulled away after a moment and tossed the condom in the trash as Stiles caught his breath. The younger man turned to find Derek holding his boxers out to him.

“Round two?” Stiles asked, wiggling his eyebrows a little.

“Food,” Derek responded, tossing the brunet’s boxers at him. “And then round two.” Stiles pasted on a pout as they got redressed until Derek pulled him close. “I made that noodles and cheese thing you like. All carbs and no substance.”

Stiles smiled at the older man, leaning in to kiss him softly. “You spoil me.”

“Anything," Derek whispered against his lips, "and always.”