"Hi, honey, I'm home!" yells Stiles as he walks into the McCall home without knocking.
There's a yelp from Scott's bedroom, and a distinct thud, and then Scott's bounding down the stairs, launching himself at Stiles from what Stiles judges to be an unsafe distance of at least seven feet. Unsurprisingly he ends up flat on his back with a beaming Scott on top of him. "HI," says Scott.
Stiles snorts. "You can't be this short of friends."
Scott quirks an eyebrow and pushes himself up and away, rolling to Stiles' side. "You'd be surprised. Beacon Hills Community College is not exactly awash with interesting people."
Stiles brushes down his shirt as he sits up. "I'm sure they're all very interesting in their own way." He gets whapped up the head for his trouble.
"Shut up," says Scott. "God, you're a dick."
Stiles points a finger. "Hey, it's Thanksgiving. Be thankful."
"That you're a dick?"
He grins. "I missed you too."
Scott's stands and pulls Stiles up after him. "When do you go back?"
"Sunday," he offers, following Scott toward the kitchen. "I can't miss Monday's class, my professor will eviscerate me. But hey!" He claps his hands together. "Winter break's only three weeks after, and I'll be home for five long weeks. Which is, by my reckoning, just long enough to recover from the breakdown I plan to have after my Victorian lit exam." He pulls open the fridge door. "When does Allison get back?"
There's something in Scott's tone of voice that makes Stiles peer around the fridge door. "Are you blushing?"
"No! No. Why would I, no." Scott stuffs his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
"You are definitely blushing," says Stiles, setting down a gallon of milk on the counter. "What gives?"
"Wemightbegettingbacktogether," Scott mumbles.
Stiles feels both his eyebrows rise of their own accord. "You're what?"
"I said, we might be getting back together," Scott repeats.
Stiles stares at him for a second. "Okay, there's like, a chapter – maybe four – of your life I'm totally missing right now. When did you and Allison decide – how did you? How did you?"
"I called her."
Stiles spreads his hands. "How is that different from usual?"
"Well. Okay, there's that. But we . . . sort of just didn't get off the phone. She broke up with that guy."
"Stanley," Stiles nods.
"She said he felt threatened by her knife collection."
"You can't really blame the guy for that."
"I don't! It's terrifying! But he wanted her to get rid of it. So she got rid of him."
"I like her," Stiles says, finding two glasses in a cupboard and pouring milk into each.
Scott grins sheepishly. "Me too."
"So what happened? After testing the UCLA waters she decided you weren't so bad after all?"
"I guess. And it's not like I ever really . . . "
"Yeah. That." Scott scratches the back of his neck as if he's embarrassed, but he's still grinning when he looks up. "So what about you?"
Stiles gives himself credit for not flinching at the question. "Nothing. No one."
"That can't be true. What about that girl, Kelly, the one with all the scarves."
"I threw up on her shoes on the fourth date."
"Dude." Scott shakes his head. "Adam?"
"We had a good time. Big hands. Strange obsession with pepper jack cheese."
Scott tilts his head. "Are you making that up?"
"Nope." Stiles drinks from his glass of milk. "Used to buy it in blocks, carve tiny little busts of George Washington from it, and eat all the scraps."
"Berkeley," Scott sighs.
"I know it," says Stiles.
They drink milk in companionable silence for a moment, before Scott bursts out with, "So what should we do?"
"About what? Global warming? The shocking dearth of Vin Diesel movies this year?"
Scott looks at him as though he's tracked in a strange smell. And perhaps he has, thinks Stiles. Who knows how Vin Diesel's name smells to werewolves. "Right now. What should we do right now?"
"This excellent glass of cow juice notwithstanding," says Stiles, "I could use a cup of coffee the size of my head."
"So we'll head to The Grind."
"That always puts me in mind of some embarrassing dance at a club I can't get into."
Scott ignores him. "And since we're on that side of town, we can go see Derek."
"Okay." Stiles finishes his milk, rinses the glass under the faucet, sets it in the sink.
"My mother will know you're home by that alone," says Scott.
"Eh, she loves me," says Stiles. "She's missed my foibles."
"Uh-huh." Scott finishes his own glass, picks up Stiles' and puts both in the dishwasher. "Come on, I'll drive."
They go through the drive-through at The Grind, rather than run the gauntlet of moms, students from Beacon Hills High, and Scott's classmates they'd no doubt find inside.
"I don't need anyone pinching my cheeks," says Stiles as he waits for Scott to find his key to Derek's loft. "Or reminding me of lacrosse practice."
"Hey, you were good by the end."
"I got jacked up on faerie dust midway through senior year," Stiles offers by way of correction. He wishes he were using a euphemism for drugs. "That shit will make anyone a champion athlete. God, the adrenaline. Who the hell came up with the idea that faeries are gentle little creatures, anyway? Speed demons."
"Speed demons are different," Scott says, two cups of coffee jammed under his arm, holding up his key triumphantly before he fits it into the lock. "Had a bunch of those come through in late October. Smelled like pineapple."
Stiles closes one eye, as if that will make their conversation normal. No. "Well," he says, following Scott inside, waving cheerfully at Derek, who's sitting at the foot of his bed, and looks god, delicious, hot. Want says Stiles brain before his mouth says, "Damn, you look good."
Derek stares at him.
"I mean, in that sight for sore eyes, absence makes the heart grow fonder kind of way," he amends. He makes a small strangled noise just for his own benefit. "Long day."
Derek offers a slight half-smile, says, "Welcome home."
Stiles feels the back of his neck heat. "Yeah, you too," he says, then narrowly avoids rapping his own forehead with his knuckles. "Except you live here so, you know, hi, how've you been, what's up. Yo." He throws Scott a beseeching look, a look that clearly means help, crisis, sudden attraction to Derek building, help. Scott, however, is busy raiding Derek's kitchen cabinets for the chocolate chip cookies he keeps stashed behind a battered old box of teabags.
"You okay?" asks Derek, and Stiles jumps. He's suddenly three steps away.
"Goddamn stealthy werewolves," he says, taking a stab at hostility. It comes out a little more like, take me, now? He grits his teeth and offers a terrible smile. "I'm fine. Fine. Just fine. You?"
Derek nods and smiles again, and when did he get like this, all loose-limbed and friendly, like he likes Stiles. Not that Stiles expects people to not like him, except for the times when he absolutely does, but he mostly thinks of Derek as uptight, remote, a brooding presence, and here he is pulling Stiles into a hug. "Missed having you around," he says, and slaps Stiles on the back. Stiles thinks his knees might actually give way, so he steps back, blows out a breath and says, "So. How's the moon been treating you? Good? Good, I hope."
"Not bad," says Derek over his shoulder as he heads toward the kitchen. "Beer?"
"I have coffee. Biiiig mug of coffee. Scott has it. Hey, Scott."
Scott shoots him a look.
Stiles gestures ineloquently in return.
Stiles grabs onto the question like a lifesaver. "Good! I mean, I hate Longfellow, but that seems a reasonable marker of sanity, I think, and my stats class is a breeze, and I'm taking history of the Ancient World mostly so that I can write my final paper on werewolves." He follows Derek to the kitchen area, picks up the cup of coffee Scott pushes toward him. "Figure I should use my home court advantage."
"He was seeing a girl. Kelly," offers Scott. "But then he puked on her shoes."
"Vicious stomach virus," says Stiles.
"And then this guy named Adam, but he liked cheese too much."
"Yet, never touched cheddar," Stiles puts in. "Interesting quirk." His brain makes horrified noises at him.
"I loved Ancient History," says Derek, sitting on a stool at the counter. "Loved what was called myth and what was called truth. They had it all wrong."
"Right?" says Stiles, sitting down, too. "I mean, are you telling me the Iliad really happened? Because I call bullshit. Zeus, on the other hand . . ."
"Badass," says Derek solemnly.
"Bad. Ass," repeats Stiles, feeling infinitely more comfortable. This is more like it. Acknowledging the improbable with Derek Hale; it's almost like old times.
"I told him about the speed demons," Scott says around a cookie.
Derek sighs. "Thank god they only rise once every seventeen years."
"Other than that, it's been quiet," Scott tells Stiles. "One territory dispute . . . "
"Small thing. Took a night to clean up," puts in Derek.
". . . not single animal attack in five months."
Stiles nods, impressed. "What, did evil just decide to move on?"
"I think word got around that your Dad was in cahoots with Argent," Scott says.
Cahoots? Stiles mouths.
"Most law enforcement aren't trained in hunting," Derek offers. "Word gets out . . . "
"Oh, I approve," says Stiles. "Anything that means my dad is less likely to end up dead in the woods while I'm gone? Awesome."
Derek quirks a corner of his mouth. "You worry?"
Stiles tries to control his face, but he can feel the absurd expression he's pulling. "Don't get me wrong, I know you guys have things under control . . . "
"You can still worry," says Derek.
"I still worry," says Stiles.
"Hey, tell him the story about the guy Isaac found lurking in the parking lot behind the Kwik Save," says Scott, apparently deeply amused by the memory.
Derek grins, and Stiles wonders if this is what peace looks like, if it's life absent of worry that's changed Derek, or if Derek's changed at all. Maybe I've changed, thinks Stiles; maybe I'm different. Maybe college is doing something to me, maybe I've caught some disease and my body's shriveling, maybe I look gaunt from studying Longfellow, that bastard, maybe I've grown an inch, maybe it's the pizza, maybe it's Kelly, or Adam, or Anita, or Will, maybe it's me and that's why I'm noticing how tight his pants are.
"Which is why Isaac ended up at Deaton's for six stitches and a tetanus shot," says Scott, and Derek grins happily.
"I'm hungry," says Stiles, because that's better than, I'm screwed.
"Mom's cooking at your place tonight," says Scott. He nods at Derek. "You should come."
Derek shakes his head. "I'll be there on Thursday. I don't need to wear out my welcome."
"No, you should come," says Stiles, feeling suddenly certain of the fact. "I mean, my dad doesn't think you're a serial killer anymore or anything."
"Well, that's good," says Derek dryly, and Stiles grins at him.
"Hey, Derek," he says.
Scott claps a hand over his eyes.
"Hey, Stiles," says Derek, and that quirk of his lips is back.
Dinner is loud and raucous, and Stiles feels like he fits in his skin again as he smart-mouths his dad, and passes the potatoes, and sincerely proposes marriage to Scott's mom when he tastes the casserole she made, no matter that she's already wearing the ring his dad gave to her. He's so glad to be home and full of real food, and to find that his dad hasn't gone utterly grey, that he doesn't think to freak out at Derek's leg jammed right up against his. He's just happy – content with everything and everyone; volunteers to clear the table, chivvies Scott and Derek to help, even sings off-key with the radio as he scrubs at the baking dish they've efficiently emptied of food. When Scott's phone rings he makes kissy noises into the air and cheerfully accepts the finger Scott offers in return.
"Hey, Allison," Scott says, answering the call. "Stiles says he misses you and loves you and wishes you were here already." He pauses, listening. "Okay, I'm not sharing that." And he wanders out to the back deck, looking so deeply smitten that Stiles' heart squeezes a little in sympathy.
"So how are you, really?" asks Derek, pulling a baking sheet from the dish rack to dry it.
Stiles looks at him, caught off guard. "I'm good," he says at last. "And hey, I'm sorry, back at the loft, I was . . . re-entry's always hard."
Derek raises one eyebrow, looks like he might be laughing on the inside. "No worries."
Stiles hands him the baking dish. "What about you?" He congratulates himself on carrying on normal conversation. "How's Cora doing?"
Derek smiles fondly. "Great. She's top of her class. Spending a small fortune on art supplies, but I guess that's par for the course. She's happy."
Derek makes a face. "Haven't heard from him since January. And that's just fine."
"I don't know," says Stiles. "I'd want to know if he were dead in a ditch someplace, just for my own peace of mind."
Derek shrugs. "I'd smell him if he came back to town."
Stiles nods. "Handy."
"Sometimes," Derek agrees, and loops the damp dishtowel on its rail. "You, for example."
Stiles feels his heart clatter and thud, missing a beat. "Me?"
Derek nods, folding his arms. "This afternoon."
Stiles feels his cheeks heat. "This afternoon?"
"You going to repeat everything I say?"
Stiles swallows. "Quite probably."
Derek steps a little closer, and Stiles sets down the pan he's holding, worried that he'll involuntarily drop it, or throw it, or hit Derek in the head, just because his libido suddenly wants many other things to happen right now, and life is rarely that obliging. "Did you know that one of the easiest things to smell on a person is lust?" asks Derek.
"Oh, really?" says Stile weakly. He leans back against the sink, wipes his wet hands on his jeans. "How about that."
Derek steps a little closer, unfolds his arms.
Stiles finds himself wetting his lips, staring at Derek's. "In my defense – I mean, I didn't – you were all – "
Derek raises an eyebrow. "I was?" He steps between Stiles' legs, rests his hands on Stiles' hips, and Stiles feels his eyes growing wide. "And what were you?"
"I . . . " But he doesn't get to finish – Derek's kissing him softly, and this is without a doubt the single greatest moment of Stiles' life. He shivers into it, the feel of Derek's mouth against his, the pressure of his tongue, the sound he makes when Stiles opens his lips and lets him in. "Oh, Jesus," Stiles mumbles when he hauls in a breath, "Jesus, do not stop, do not stop, would you stop stopping, what is wrong with you," and he takes Derek's face between his hands and kisses him back, pressing into the weight of his body, closing his eyes though he wants to see everything, god.
When they pull back, when Derek rests his forehead against Stiles', they're both breathless. "So," says Derek.
"100% awesome," says Stiles. "I mean, I would rate this turn of events as fucking awesome, to be honest. Surprising – okay, sure, didn't see this coming, had no idea, I mean, you and me, that's not exactly -- "
Derek huffs a breath of laughter. "I think you underrate my sense of self-control."
Stiles shoves at him ineffectually, trying to see his face. "Huh?"
Derek looks like someone trying for innocent and failing spectacularly. "Well."
"It's not like I haven't got eyes," Derek offers.
Stiles lets that roll around his head a while, a single marble rattling around in a void. "Wait, you think I look – I am - me?"
"If I'd only known I could make you as good as speechless, I'd have tried this before," Derek says dryly.
"Well, why the hell didn't you!" says Stiles. "We could have been engaging in this kind of face-mashing for months, and you didn't have the wherewithal to just make a move? Do you know how easy I am?"
Derek has his lips pressed together. He's definitely trying not to laugh.
"I am so easy!" says Stiles. "I may have taken a moment to let the world right itself on its axis because you and me, that is not a thing I have considered except for twice. In the shower. Which worked out well for me. As a fantasy. So yes, I might have needed a beat or two – god, I didn't mean it that way, shut up – to have figured things out, but I am confident I would have met the challenge and . . . " He lets out a long shaky breath. "We're going to do that again, right?"
"Often," says Derek, stepping back.
Stiles feels something hot work loose low in his belly, and it's all he can do not to throw Derek to the ground, except for how he'd probably put himself in traction, and his shrieks of pain would attract entirely the wrong kind of attention from everyone in an immediate radius. "My mind is blown," he says matter-of-factly. "Congratulations."
Derek grins, wide and happy.
And that's when Stiles' dad comes in to see why the coffee he was promised is taking so long to brew.
Derek makes his excuses not long after – has to call his sister, he says, which Stiles suspects is a rank lie. There is great cell phone reception on the back deck as Scott is proving. Still. No need for anyone to go back to their loft on the other side of town.
"I'll see you tomorrow," says Derek.
"Actually, we're taking a couple of days. Camping. Father-son thing," says Stiles' dad, and shit, if it isn't the absolute truth. They'd made the plans weeks before. Stiles is going to die of sexual frustration in the middle of Oregon, partway through eating a s'more. "Be back Wednesday."
Derek nods. "I'll be around."
Stiles concentrates all his energy on willing his father to leave them both alone with the open front door and the concept of goodnight, but he shows no signs of moving. "Good to see you," he says to Derek, which means he's oblivious to what his son looks like when he's been making out with a werewolf, or else patently doesn't care now that Stiles is old enough to drink beer. Either way, he's cock-blocking like a pro.
"Night," says Derek.
"Night!" says Stiles. He hopes he's injected the words with just enough meaning to make Derek think of sex and his father to think he's been raised right after all. He waves helplessly as Derek smiles and disappears down the front steps. Stiles does not sigh, but it's close.
"He turned out better than I thought he would," says Stiles' dad, closing the door and squeezing Stiles' shoulder. "Did you know he's working with Deaton now?"
"I . . . think I did, actually," says Stiles, amazed that he can both recall information and communicate that fact to others. "It's good."
Stiles' dad nods. "You should go get Scott. Give him time to gather his wits before he has to talk to Melissa. Nothing more awkward than talking to your parent when your mind's on someone else."
Stiles' narrows his eyes, the better to see his father's expression. Is he fucking with him? "Okay."
"Okay," says Stiles' dad with a smile. "Good man." He leaves him in the hallway.
"Good man," Stiles repeats, and flails his arms about to express every single thing he's feeling and cannot possibly express to anyone except Derek. With his mouth.
He wanders back through the house, pushes a stray chair back under the dining room table, closes the pantry, and opens the back door.
"No you hang up," says Scott. There's a pause. "No you."
"I just made out with Derek!" says Stiles, loudly.
Scott drops his phone and scrambles around in the dark to find it again. "Um, hey, can I call you back?" he says to Allison. "Stiles is having an episode."
"I am not!" yells Stiles. Except this is probably exactly what an episode looks like.
"Okay," says Scott. "Excellent. Love you. Bye." He slips his phone inside the pocket of his jeans and crosses the deck. "Okay, you did what?"
"Made out with Derek," says Stiles, shoving his hands into the pocket of his hoodie.
"You did not."
"I totally did."
"Oh my god, I can't leave you alone for two seconds."
"Hey! You flunked out of chemistry and left me alone, at college, for like two fucking years! And at no point during that time did I make out with any partially human individuals."
"Except maybe Adam. I'm not sure about that guy."
"And I didn't deliberately flunk out of chem, dude. I was a little busy with an entire coven of witches."
"Okay, also true."
"It's not like I like working up to being a transfer," Scott says, scuffing the deck with his toe.
"Okay, very true, and I'm sorry, that was a low blow brought on by me being an asshole." Stiles steps forward and envelops Scott in a firm hug.
Scott pats him on the back. "So, you really made out with Derek?"
Stiles sighs and steps back. "I really did."
Scott looks at him for a long moment. "Are you regretting it?"
"Shit, no, son," says Stiles. "It was awesome."
"Ugh," says Scott. "I should have known it. I should have warned you. You were spilling feelings everywhere this afternoon."
"How could I have been spilling feelings that I didn't know I had?" asks Stiles.
"I could smell them!" Scott shakes his head. "I had no idea you liked him like that."
"Newsflash, neither did I," says Stiles. "Perfectly innocent party here! My otherwise not-exciting life derailed by Derek Hale's sudden attractiveness."
"He looks the same as always," says Scott.
"Yes, well, okay." Stiles lets out a breath. "Except he looks hot now and before he just looked terrifying."
"You haven't been scared of him in years," says Scott.
Stiles sighs. "We can analyze this to pieces, or accept that it is fundamentally unknowable, okay? The wiles of the Stilinski libido are beyond our ken."
Stiles sits down on the stairs leading down into the yard. Scott follows, jogging his elbow, offering him a smile.
"So you made out with Derek." He looks out into the garden, apparently considering the idea. "It could be worse."
"Really? Because tomorrow I'm headed on a camping trip with my dad. I think that qualifies."
"Nah," says Scott. "It'll just give you time to figure out if this is plain, stupid lust, or something else. And whichever it is, it'll give you time to figure out what you want to do."
"Okay," says Stiles. "That's reasonable. I like that plan."
"It’s a good plan," says Scott.
It's a terrible plan.
Stiles puts his everything into hanging out with his dad. They fish, they hike, they catch each other up on ridiculous stories; they eat out of a can and don't mourn the lack of a shower. He has a great time – all except for the tiny little voice in the back of his brain chanting Derek, Derek, Derek, Derek no matter what he does. It makes him feel like a terrible son, unable to just be, his mind always half somewhere else. The guilt eats at him until, on the second night, as they sit around the campfire, he blurts out, "I think I like Derek Hale."
His dad sets his spoon back inside his can of beans and says, "Oh?"
Stiles sets his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, the better to have a mortifying conversation without exploding from shame. "I think I like him a whole lot, god, what am I saying?"
There's silence for a little while, then, "I don't see how that's a bad thing."
Stiles peers through his fingers. "You don't?"
Stiles' dad shrugs. "He's a good guy, nice manners, decent job. And I don't think he's a serial killer anymore."
Stiles makes a face that he hopes communicates well that's good.
"He's a little older than you, but it's not like you're in high school."
Stiles drops his hands completely. "What does that mean?"
Stiles' dad throws him an incredulous look. "A kid like that? You weren't going to find that attractive? I thought you two hooked up years ago."
Stiles gapes. "I had no idea he was attractive until Sunday!"
Stiles dad stares at him.
Stiles' dad looks like he's not buying it.
"Okay, I have maybe twice thought what he had a rocking set of abs, but that is it. And why am I talking to you about his abs?" He lets the sentence wind down into a low gurgle of helplessness.
"So," says Stiles' dad. "You need us to stop by Walgreens on the way home, pick you up some supplies?"
Supplies, Stiles thinks.
"Oh my god," says Stiles, covering his ears. "Never ever say those words, never . . . " He looks over at his dad who is laughing helplessly. "You are a horrible man."
"So it's been said," he grins, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "Stop worrying about it. We'll get back to town, you'll see him again, it'll work itself out the way it's meant to."
Stiles feels the heat rush to his skin from his neck right up to his hair. "Okay, thanks dad. Now we can talk about other things. Like, I don't know, all those good times we had chasing supernatural monsters around the nature preserve and almost dying. Good times."
Stiles' dad hoots with laughter, and Stiles glares into the embers of the fire.
The drive back to Beacon Hills is interminable. Stiles is moderately distracted by being in control of the radio but then makes the mistake of drinking 32oz of Coke. There's not enough space inside the truck for all his pent-up energy, and he bounces both knees in counterpoint to one another, cracks his knuckles compulsively, and only stops when his dad pulls over to the side of the road.
"Do I need to knock you out?" asks his dad.
Stiles shakes his head. "No."
"Think you can sit still the rest of the trip?"
Stiles' dad sighs and slips a CD of Johnny Cash into the dashboard player. "I am owed this."
"Yes sir." And Stiles chews on his fingernails as they drive closer to home, hums a little Man in Black and thinks loving thoughts about icebergs, barn owls, and the architecture of the Eiffel Tower, anything that will stop him obsessing about how Derek's hands might feel all over his body.
He winds down as they pull into the city limits, and by the time his dad turns onto their street he's one hundred percent chill – a state of affairs that ends the moment he sees a burgundy Cadillac parked in the driveway.
"I see it."
"Dad, you did not tell me she was coming."
"I didn't know she was coming," says Stiles' dad, parking on the street.
"I have plans," Stiles whines.
"You think I don't?" asks his dad ruefully. "I guess they're canceled."
Stiles lets his head thud back against the headrest of his seat. "I might die."
"Of being nice to your grandmother? Probably not."
"Of other things."
His dad laughs in a thoroughly unsympathetic manner. He has clearly never been Stiles' age and in lust. "Come on. We'd better face the music."
"Maybe she hasn't noticed and we can drive away again."
"Nope." His dad waves toward the house. "She's looking through the front window right now."
Stiles groans and turns his head – there's his grandmother, waving cheerfully. He half-heartedly waves back. "Life is so unfair," he mumbles bitterly.
"Truth," says his dad, opening his door. "Grab your stuff. I'm not going in there alone."
His grandmother smells the same as always – perfume that's so floral it makes his eyes water; a hint of mint from the gum she pretends she never chews – and she's just as short and energetic and lacking in any attention to boundaries as usual. "How's my baby boy?" she asks, pulling Stiles down to her height. "Oh, look at dear face." She smacks a kiss on his cheek and ruffles his hair. He has to tamp down the urge to fix it.
"How is my favorite, bad-smelling grandson?"
"Just fine," Stiles says, attempting a smile.
"Hmm?" She takes his chin between two fingers, turns his head right and left. "You're shaving now?"
"For like . . . six, seven years."
"Meeting nice girls?"
Stiles feels his left eye twitch. "Um. Sure."
"But you didn't bring anyone home for the holidays?"
"No, no I didn't," says Stiles, wondering if she's going to let go of his face anytime soon. "I uh . . . " He desperately tries to think of a platitude that isn't also a lie. "Between dates," he says, which is technically true if you count a date as doing the dishes and making out with someone up against the sink.
"Ma," says Stiles' dad. "Let the boy go shower."
His grandmother wrinkles her nose at him. "Good idea. Use that nice body wash I sent you."
"The one that smells of lavender?" asks Stiles.
"Yes! So soothing for someone with all your nervous issues."
"Oh, wow," he says and turns to face his dad. "Okay." He claps his dad on the arm. "I'll be right back."
"Take your time, dear! Wash behind your ears!" says his grandmother, dragging his father off toward the dining room.
Stiles texts Derek the moment he's in his room, gets a disappointing reply entirely devoid of lewd come-ons and full of information about how Cora's dropped by and can he bring her to dinner tomorrow? "Is this the weekend for surprise family?" Stiles mutters as he roots around in his medicine cabinet for the body wash he knew better than to throw away. "Aha!" He flips open the cap and cries a little on the inside at the sweet, sickly odor of lavender. "My life," he says to his reflection in the mirror. "How is this my life?"
The Stilinski house was made for Thanksgiving. Stiles still remembers waking up to the smell of cinnamon buns, remembers pelting downstairs and hugging his mom who was, by then, already peeling vegetables and getting started on pies. He remembers peering through the glass on the oven door at the turkey, drinking milk with a little coffee in it – which made him feel so grown up, – stacking crackers and squares of cheese on a serving dish and taking it to the living room where a host of people were already watching the game. His mom may be gone, but he thinks of her as he pushes a cup of coffee into his dad's clumsy hands, as he bastes the turkey and snaps the green beans. Stiles' dad makes the pies; Stiles' grandma watches football and monitors her betting slips, hoping to make a killing she can spend next morning at 4am.
The others start arriving at two, two-fifteen. Melissa brings appetizers, Isaac carries corn, Allison has bread rolls, Scott hauls the beer. Stiles pries the cap from a bottle, takes an appreciative drink before the doorbell rings again and every nerve-ending in his body stands to attention with the knowledge that that has to be Derek standing on the porch.
"You smell of lavender," says Cora when Stiles opens the door.
"It's a long story," says Stiles. "Meet my grandma, you'll understand."
"It's a weird smell," says Derek as Cora takes a bowl of sweet potatoes into the house.
"She's a weird grandma," offers Stiles, and he meets Derek half way for a quick, soft kiss. "I promise to scrub myself down with manly soap before I come over," he says.
"Come over?" asks Derek.
"To your loft," says Stiles. "To have my way with you and your," he waves a hand, "everything."
Derek half-smiles. "Cora'll be gone by tomorrow afternoon."
Derek smiles, and it's a dirty smile, a smile that has Stiles licking his lips and feeling weak in his everywhere. "For sure," Derek whispers, then raises his voice and calls, "Scott, hey Melissa," and he's gone, swept up in conversation, and Stiles blinks and steadies himself with a hand against the doorframe before he goes back inside.
Cora gets on famously with Stiles' grandma. She finds out she has a weakness for dirty jokes, and regales her with a dozen she's never heard before. They earnestly discuss the Cowboys and the Patriots, a shared weakness for frozen bananas that Stiles swears is made up on both their parts, and Stiles' love life, with Derek standing right there in the room.
"Your sister," Stiles hisses as he carries a tray of pigs-in-a-blanket to the football-watching crowd, "is a piece of work."
Derek looks resigned to that fact. "Yep."
"Want to help me stir the gravy?"
The corner of Derek's mouth twitches.
"I'm being serious, you animal. Come on, be useful." Stiles has a schedule, and another pair of hands would help a lot.
He just didn't expect them on his ass. "Useful enough?" asks Derek, licking a slow path from Stiles' collarbone to his ear.
Stiles wonders who or what exactly he pissed off to have his breath stuttering with wanton need at exactly the moment he has to pull the turkey from the oven. "Hold that thought," he says, grabbing for two oven mitts, "I just gotta . . . " He bends down to open the oven door, turns the roasting dish around, and lifts it up and onto the stove top. He turns to find Derek looking flushed and distracted. "What?" he asks, confused, looking over one shoulder, then the other, trying to find the source of Derek's emotional state.
"C'mere," Derek growls, and oh, Stiles thinks, that's hot, that's a new kink right there, mark that one down alongside being grabbed and manhandled, kissed as if Derek hasn't seen him in months. Derek palms his ass, and Stiles suddenly connects the dots. "Really?" he says, tearing his mouth away from Derek's. "My ass makes you this hot?"
Derek growls again and nips at Stiles' mouth. "Shut up."
Stiles is completely on board with this idea, utterly and fantastically, except for how he has to just ask one more time, "Seriously, my ass?"
Derek sighs as if deeply put upon. "Stiles."
"I can safely say no one has ever found my ass attractive before. No one. Which is a crying shame because I, personally, think it's firm, it's tight . . . "
Derek groans and pushes him back against the fridge, kisses him desperately, all tongue and teeth, and Stiles agrees that this is a way better conversation than the one they were having.
"Well, now I'm scarred for life," says Cora, deadpan.
They spring apart, and Stiles looks wildly from one sibling to the other. "Well," he says, and he's hyper-aware that his voice is unnaturally high. "This is awkward."
"Cora," says Derek, setting his jaw.
"Don't make trouble."
"Yeah," says Stiles. "I'm totally behind that sentiment. Eat food, not war. Or something."
Cora rolls her eyes. "Don't be so boring."
Boring? Stiles perks up a little. Boring tends not to bring out the claws in anyone. "Hey, I will take that as a compliment, toss it right back to you, ask you if I can get you a beer, huh?"
Cora stares at him. It's an unsettling family trait.
"More of a soda moment?"
Cora shakes her head and lets out a sigh. "Look. Break my brother's heart and I will tear out your throat. Deal?"
Stiles blinks at the notion that he could break anyone's heart, much less Derek's, then nods fervently when his brain catches up with the throat tearing component. "Deal."
"Sweet." She looks over at Derek. "I want to introduce you to Stiles' grandma. She'd like to get to know you better."
Derek closes his eyes for a moment, then rearranges his face into something like a smile. "Fine," he says.
"Great," says Cora, and she crosses the kitchen, grabs his hand. "Right now." She tugs him away, throws Stiles an evil little smile as she draws a finger across her throat.
"Yes, I GET IT," he calls after them both, and grabs a dish towel to wad it between his hands, ball it up, and snap it toward the other side of the room. He breathes in deeply and picks up the poultry thermometer. "Give me the serenity to accept that Cora is a frightening badass," he murmurs to himself, "the courage to face her over the dinner table, and the wisdom to ply her with seconds of anything she chooses."
It's a good mantra. He likes it.
They eat, there's bickering, there's laughter, and then they eat some more. Allison sits beside Scott and Stiles can't help but keep counting their hands to make sure all four are present and correct above the dinner table. Melissa makes epic small talk with her mother-in-law to-be, and Stiles already knows why his dad loves her, but he thinks she deserves a little more love for that. Cora sits by Isaac and picks food off his plate and Isaac looks so goofy that Stiles thinks he might have a crush. Derek sits at the opposite end of the table to Stiles, and Stiles tries not to meet his gaze because it's truthfully more than he can handle.
"Good work, son," says his dad, rubbing his belly with a satisfied smile.
"Yeah, this was great," says Allison, beaming.
"Awesome," says Scott.
"You never could make good potatoes," his grandma sniffs.
Melissa makes a face in Stiles' direction. "Loved the potatoes, honey. There better be leftovers. Who wants coffee?"
Stiles says he does, thank you, and is glad to let someone else take care of pie, because it's taking all he has not to notice that Derek is disrobing him with his mind.
People linger, and chat, and someone brings out cards. Scott insists on doing the dishes, and Cora and Isaac go to help. Allison slides over to sit beside Stiles, and he's helpless before her, so when she whispers, "Derek, huh?" he says, "Yeah," and notices from the corner of his eye that Derek smiles.
Stiles is tired, overheated from cooking and eating, and he sets his head down on the table while Allison tells him about her life. He startles back to his senses when someone lays a hand on the back of his neck, and he sits up, wincing, to see that everyone has gone.
"We're leaving," says Derek. "The others are watching Lord of the Rings."
Stiles laughs softly. "Couldn't hack the Orcs?"
"Couldn't hack the Orcs," Derek repeats, and he bends to kiss Stiles below his ear. "See you tomorrow?"
Stiles smiles at him, feeling goofy, feeling happy. "So much," he says, and turns his head a little more, catches a kiss from Derek's mouth as Derek presses a key into his hand.
"So you like boys as well as girls?" says his grandma. "You could have just said."
Derek sighs and pats him on the shoulder, has the smarts to walk away, and Stiles is left to explain bisexuality to his grandma while he's mostly still asleep.
Stiles wakes next morning when his grandmother barges into his room and says, "You sure you don't want to hit the sales? That nice girl Cora's picking me up – she says she's good at the bargain hunt."
"God, what time is it?" whimpers Stiles.
"4.30 in the morning!" says his grandma. "Walmart's been open for hours. You want an iPod for 99c?"
Stiles rolls onto his back and blinks at the ceiling. "No thank you, grandma. 'Preciate the thought."
"See you at dinner!" his grandma says brightly, and shuts the door way too loudly as she takes her leave.
Stiles stares at the ceiling some more, wondering at his completely cracked family, letting sleep steal back in, when suddenly he remembers his math and sits up straight, sheets pooling in his lap.
"Cora's going bargain hunting," he whispers. "Oh my god, I need the manly soap."
It's the most confusing shower he's ever taken, torn between wanting it to be swift and wanting to eradicate any and all vestiges of lavender from his body. He decides upon thorough, and he's still through in five minutes, wrapping a towel around his waist and swiping at the steam on the mirror. Sties looks at his hair, pushes it one way, then the next, considers driving over to Derek's with it all still wet, but realizes he'd just look fluffy when it dried. He gels it, dries it haphazardly, then it's deodorant and toothpaste – so much toothpaste – and boxers without holes in them, and a t-shirt that Miguel would definitely find too tight.
He sneaks out of the house like he's a freshman, closing the door behind him and tensing for his father's yell. When nothing happens he makes a mad dash for his jeep, starts it up and backs onto the road with a squeal of tires. He makes it to Derek's in half the usual time, and realizes as he kills the engine that he's actually panting, as if he ran the whole way.
The loft is quiet when Stiles steps inside, Derek still sound asleep, sprawled on his stomach in his wide, inviting bed. Stiles swallows around the dryness in his throat, looks over his shoulder in case anyone's thinking of surprising them this time around. He hears nothing, sees nothing, and slips off his sneakers, toes off his socks, sheds his jacket and his shirt, pads across the room in his bare feet and jeans. He hovers by Derek's bed, wondering what to touch, how to go about it – is it wise to be the guy waking a werewolf from a deep sleep, even under the auspices of lust?
"Stiles," mumbles Derek. "Stop thinking."
So Stiles does. He sets one knee on the bed, feels the mattress dip beneath him, reaches to trace one finger down the curve of Derek's back. Derek hums, grinds down into the mattress, and emboldened, Stiles shuffles to kneel closer, to bring his lips to the swirl of Derek's tattoo. It shouldn't feel different, this inked skin beneath his tongue, but it does somehow, feels warmer against his lips, and he wonders if it's a ghost of the fire that burned this into Derek's skin. He chases kisses down Derek's spine, pushes the sheets aside to skim a hand over Derek's ass, murmurs, "Good morning, drowsy wolf," and lets Derek roll over to meet his eyes.
They pause for a minute, watching each other. Stiles thinks he's never seen anything quite this beautiful, the breadth of Derek's body against stark white sheets, the dark wash of his stubble, the hair that dusts his arms, his legs. He swallows again, his hands sweating traitorously. "I'm going to kiss you," he says, all bravado, and Derek's face softens, and Stiles has to chase that smile into Derek's mouth, stretch out beside him and slide a hand to cup his jaw.
The kiss is sweet, gentle, slow. After all this waiting Stiles can't believe he can move this lazily, but he's in no mood to rush, wants to soak up the feel of Derek's skin against his own, the press of Derek's fingertips against his arm. Derek pushes him onto his back and kisses his throat, and Stiles thinks of his fangs, of the power he could unleash. His hands jerk against Derek's back, and he lets out an unsteady breath, but Derek just hums again, kisses the hollow at Stiles' collarbone, drags his mouth slowly down Stiles' chest. He curls his tongue around a nipple, and Stiles forgets to breathe for a second. His whole world narrows to that touch, and then from that spark it's a wildfire, his body alive and warm and wanting, and when Derek kisses right at his hip he bites his lip, fumbles for the button of his fly, whimpers when Derek bats his hand away and does it himself.
He's hard when Derek pulls his jeans away and off, when Derek bends to suck the head of Stiles cock through the rough cotton of his shorts. "Oh god," says Stiles, not sure if he's coherent at last or finally losing it, "Derek . . . "and he bites back a moan as Derek does it again. He pushes at the elastic of his waistband, wants to be naked now, and Derek obliges once again, eases the fabric over Stiles' cock, strips the shorts away and shifts to nose at the crease of Stiles' thigh.
Stiles isn't sure how his body isn't flying apart. There's so much building inside him – a low, desperate ache in his belly, sweat prickling his chest, the inside of his arms. He feels dizzy with it, and that's before Derek closes his lips over his cock, sucking him into his warm, slick mouth. "Oh, Jesus," he pants, hips bucking up, and when Derek presses one arm across his body to hold him in place, he's never felt so happy to be pinned in all his life.
"Yes," he breathes as Derek pulls back, dips his head again, as he sets up a rhythm that he matches with his hand. Stiles is trembling, his hands restless until he fumbles them to the crown of Derek's head, threads his fingers into his hair. He's rapidly losing his words to mere sounds, to gasps and moans as Derek works magic with his tongue, as he pulls off completely and blows cool air across the tip of Stiles' cock. Stiles makes a strangled noise, would love to beg, but instead just sighs unevenly when Derek takes him back in. He's getting closer and closer; he needs to come.
What undoes him isn't suction and heat and the point of Derek's tongue, but the way Derek fumbles a hand to his, tangling their fingers, squeezing hard as Stiles surges into his mouth, as he pumps helplessly down Derek's throat. It's almost tender, the gesture, and Stiles bucks again at the thought that there's something more here than basic need, pants as Derek pulls off, as he nuzzles at his hip, as he strokes a hand down Stiles' arm, gentling him through the aftershocks.
"God," says Stiles at last, breathless and spent
Derek grins at him. and Stiles feels himself smiling in return, leans over to kiss Derek hard, to breathe in the scent of him, to soak up the feel of their shared body heat. He feels Derek shift against him, feels the tension in his body, pushes himself up onto one elbow and touches Derek's face.
"I'm close," Derek whispers, as if he's confessing some deep, dark secret, and Stiles kisses him, soft lips and deft tongue. He pulls away to lick his hand, feels Derek's breath stutter in his chest, wraps his fingers around Derek's cock and pulls. Derek arches his back, pushing his hips up into Stiles' touch, parting his lips as he breathes unevenly. Stiles watches his own hand, the head of Derek's cock slick between his fingers, twists his wrist and feels the rumble of Derek's groan. He speeds up his touch, thumbs the head, dips his head to whisper, "That's it, that's it. Come for me," and Derek does. It's beautiful, the shift and pull of the muscles in his abdomen, the jerk of his leg, the trembling in his arms as he empties himself over Stiles' hand. Stiles loosens his hold before it gets to be too much, reaches for the sheets and wipes Derek's belly clean.
"Stiles," Derek murmurs, his eyes heavy-lidded, and Stiles feels ridiculously proud of being the one to make him look that way. He settles at Derek's side, one hand splayed in the middle of Derek's chest, feeling his heartbeat gradually slow, listening to him calm and ease.
"That," Stiles says at last, "was awesome."
Derek laughs and turns onto his side. "Yeah."
Stiles touches Derek wherever he can – the curve of his shoulder, the jut of his hip – soft touches with no purpose behind them save to relish being this close. "You know, I thought we'd go at it like – rough and . . ."
"Surprises are good."
"Surprises are good," Stiles agrees. He rubs his cheek against his pillow, feeling a little unsure of himself. "Can I stay?"
Derek brushes a thumb across Stiles' bottom lip. "Try leaving," he offers.
"Okay," says Stiles, and stays right where he is.
When Stiles wakes he's alone in bed, and he flails his way to sitting up, panic in his throat. Did Derek leave? Worse, did Cora come back? He clutches the sheets up to his chest as if they might protect him from the worst. Which is when Derek appears from the nook where the kitchen is, carrying glasses of water and the cookies that Scott always raids. He's naked and clearly completely comfortable with it, and Stiles mouth goes dry at the sight of him. His stomach does the strangest flip and squeeze, and he stares right up until the moment Derek sets a glass of water down beside the bed. "Cold?" Derek asks.
Stiles feels himself flush. Derek knows he's not cold – he can smell out his feelings, his diminishing panic, his shaky relief. "You shouldn't ask when you already know," he says.
"Yeah," says Derek, rounding the bed, setting down the other glass and the cookies. "But my mom always said I should practice using my words."
Stiles laughs a little, lets the sheet drop, shuffles back to lean against the headboard of Derek's bed. "You weren't here and I just got a little. . . ugh." When he uses hiswords he just sounds young and amateurish.
Derek scoots up beside him, presses a kiss to his shoulder. "Don't," he says.
"Be ashamed of anything."
Which – Stiles holds up both his hands as if to ward off that advice. "I'm not ashamed of us and the – the thing we did, oh god, you don't think that I'd . . . "
Derek gentle presses Stiles' hands back down. "I wasn’t talking about that."
"Oh. Good." Stiles nods.
Derek smiles. "Stop worrying."
"Easy for you to say. You're all – " he gestures " – effortlessly cool, and I'm floundering because I couldn't see you, and – "
"I'd rather you floundered," says Derek, which honestly sounds a little cruel until he follows it with, "If this were just sex to you, you wouldn't have cared."
Stiles opens his mouth, closes it again, opens it once more. "Oh."
Derek raises an eyebrow. "Is that news?"
Stiles looks across the room, at the repeating pattern of the bricks in the wall, thinks of how his fantasies have tended to follow him out of the shower and back to bed, morphing into something ordinary – coffee the morning after, lost keys, an easy midday phone call. He shakes his head slowly. "Not exactly."
"Is that okay?"
Stiles turns toward him. "Yeah. Yeah, it's totally okay." He half-smiles, amazed.
Derek flushes, looks pleased. "Good."
Derek meets his eye. "More than okay."
Stiles feels his heart leap and twist. "Holy shit," he says, beaming. "I have a werewolf boyfriend." Derek grabs for him, wrestles him down into the pillows, messing up his hair, making Stiles shake with laughter. "Boyfriend!" he says again, and pushes his hair off his face, leans in and kisses Derek sweet and quick. "You're my boyfriend," he says, and he's positively gleeful. The pleased look on Derek's face is enough to have his stomach swoop and flip again, and he sits up, feeling suddenly invincible. "Pass the cookies?" he asks, and Derek does so, taking one as they go by. They finish them in companionable silence, and then Stiles says, "But that doesn't mean we can't have more sex, right?"
There's a pause before they crash together, conjuring a wholly different kind of kiss – raw and needy and powerful. It's intoxicating, the slide of their bodies, the glide of their hands, the fervent, focused way they use their mouths to drive each other wild. When Stiles comes he feels like he's losing his mind, sets about making sure Derek loses his. And when they sleep it's the sleep of the happily exhausted, Stiles' head resting on Derek's outstretched arm.
"Don't tell me the details!" says Scott the moment he sees Stiles at his bedroom door. "Please, please don't."
Stiles lets him have his moment. "Who says I have anything to tell you?"
Scott tilts his head – it's a deeply sarcastic gesture, and Stiles has to admit he's impressed. "First, you're sort of glowing."
Stiles chews on his lip to hide a smile.
"And second, I can smell the two of you."
"Hey – I showered. He showered. We do not stink."
"It's not that." Scott says, leaning back in his desk chair. "It's something different. It's contentment, your scents all muddled up together."
Stiles thinks about it. "Do we smell bad?"
"Nah." Scott shakes his head. "I'm just never going to get used to smelling out what my friends have been up to." He wrinkles his nose.
Stiles sits down on the bed, studies the mess on Scott's desk. "So Allison headed out?"
"Yeah." Scott lets out a long sigh.
"Three weeks to winter break."
"Yeah." Scott ambles over and falls back on the bed.
"Come on, you'll make it," says Stiles, falling back beside him.
"Yeah?" says Scott. "How do you feel about three weeks without seeing Derek?"
"Well, that's different," says Stiles.
"Well, you two have been together and apart and together again for what, five years? Derek and me, we've . . . "
"Known each other five years," says Scott.
"But we weren't dating," says Stiles. "He just showed up places and creepily stared at all of us, that's not dating."
Scott turns his head, eyeing Stiles sympathetically. "To a guy who's lost his whole family and hasn't had meaningful contact with anyone else in years?"
Stiles feels his expression morph into something incredulous and confused. "That was his idea of dating?"
"Of expressing interest," Scott says. "I'd bet money on it."
"Money you don't have."
"Yep," says Scott. "All of it."
Stiles stares at the ceiling, drumming his fingers on his belly. "But you'd have smelled if he was interested in me."
Scott chews on his lip.
"You smelled that he was interested in me?"
"You were sixteen when we met him, and he was a scary, creepy badass, and he was a werewolf," says Scott, "and besides, I didn't get good at the smelling thing for a while."
"When. When did get good at the smelling thing?"
"Seventeen," mumbles Scott. "Look! It's all good now, you've mutually decided you're smell compatible – "
"I decided nothing involving smells," says Stiles obstinately.
" – and I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, but I didn't think you were interested that way. You always just smelled confused. Until Sunday."
Stiles smiles at the ceiling. "Sunday was a good day."
"Hopeless," says Scott, smacking Stiles in the shoulder.
Stiles sighs, which he guess confirms the diagnosis.
"So hey," says Scott, "you're still planning to look at my transfer stuff, right? My personal statement needs some work."
"Hard to lie about the most significant event in your life so far."
"Right? Dear Director of Admissions, I was bitten by a werewolf when I was sixteen. I spent several years keeping the town of Beacon Hills out of supernatural trouble. Now I would like to major in Anthropology. Sincerely, Scott McCall."
"So what did you go with?"
Scott looks uncomfortable.
"I talked about when your mom died."
Stiles feels his throat close, blinks rapidly to keep his vision clear. "You did?"
"You're not mad, right?"
"No. No, I just – that's the most significant thing?"
"I loved your mom, man. And you. I remember wanting to be a better person because of the way you faced up to everything that went down."
"We were kids," Stiles whispers.
"And we felt like we were grown-ups," says Scott. "Like we had to shoulder the whole world."
"Good practice," Stiles says, trying to laugh, still choked up.
"I mean it."
"That I wanted to be better because of you. I wanted to be the someone you needed right then."
"Jesus," Stiles whispers.
"Never regretted it," Scott says. "I still want to be like you, dude."
Stiles rolls over and mashes Scott into a damp hug. "Shut up, now."
"Okay." Scott pats him on the back. "But I still need help."
Stiles sits up and wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand. "All right. Show me the damage you did to the English language. I can handle it."
Scott sits up and blows out a breath. "You sure you're ready?"
"Your split infinitives do not frighten me," says Stiles. "Your random use of "I' and "we" maybe terrifies me just a little."
Scott elbows him, smiling. "Thanks."
Stiles elbows him back. "Love you, bro."
The three weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break are exactly as long as Stiles expected – roughly 4.7 years, with short breaks for phone calls and texts that are now, satisfyingly, 53% lewd. He regularly feels like he's going to climb out of his skin, that no one has ever suffered pining this momentous, that Victorian lit is never, ever going to end. But then it does, and he's stuffing clothes of various degrees of cleanliness into his duffel, and he's on the road back to Beacon Hills, and he's – wisely, he thinks – driving straight to Derek's, having lied to his dad about what time he'll be getting into town.
Derek's standing outside the loft when Stiles pulls up, hands in the pockets of his black leather jacket, expression impassive, a one-man revival of his earlier years. But then Stiles gets out of the jeep, and Derek's face breaks into a wide open smile, and Stiles grabs hold of the car door handle, because his stomach is tied up in knots and his heart is clattering and oh god, he put that expression there just by showing up.
Derek ambles over, as if they last saw each other yesterday, as if he isn't anxious to take Stiles inside and wipe the trauma of Longfellow clean out of his mind. But he's still grinning helplessly, and Stiles feels the answering grin on his own damn face, and Derek gets close enough to reach out and haul him closer, to take Stiles' face between his hands and kiss him right. Stiles sinks into the kiss with every bit of his body, bunching the leather of Derek's jacket in his hands, swaying just a little when Derek pulls back.
"Hey," says Derek.
"Hey yourself," says Stiles.
"I made coffee," says Derek.
And Stiles bets the loft is clean and there are fresh sheets on the bed and a new box of cookies has made its way into the kitchen cupboards. "You did?"
"Well then," says Stiles, "I guess I better come inside."
And Derek grins again and kisses his temple, whispers "welcome home," into the shell of his ear.