The thing is, Stiles is pretty sure he can’t afford to breathe the air in New York City, let alone rent an apartment there. But it’s also been his lifelong dream to go to NYU, same as his mom, and he’s just gotten his acceptance letter in the mail along with a hefty scholarship offer. So he has a bit of a conundrum on his hands.
Enter Derek, who has a (relatively) dirt cheap apartment in Queens.
Okay, so Derek calls it an “apartment.” Stiles calls it an “attic closet.”
It’s nothing but a narrow bed, a foot or so of walking space between that and the wall, and a lone shelf by the door to hold the microwave and all of Derek’s possessions that can’t fit under the bed. There’s not even enough room to open the door all the way; the edge of the door hits the edge of the bed, and then you have to shimmy into the room.
The sad thing is that Stiles can’t even afford that.
He can, however, afford half of it.
“So you’re going to share a bed,” Scott says, looking concerned.
“Yes,” Stiles says.
“No,” Derek says at the same time.
Scott looks more concerned.
Stiles sighs. “Okay, so it’s like this. Derek’s going to be doing the whole normal person schedule, up at the buttcrack of dawn” (Derek rolls his eyes) “and out working and studying and stuff all day and back in bed asleep by 11 pm, and I’m going to be taking all evening classes and working the night shift!”
“We won’t actually ever be in the same place at the same time,” Derek clarifies. “He gets it during the day; I get it at night.”
“Because we can’t stand each other,” Stiles adds, in case Scott is thinking of getting his hopes up that this whole roommates thing is going to be some kind of bromance.
(Scott has always doggedly hoped that someday his best friend and his brother would stop hating each other, or at least stop finding each other intolerable and annoying. If it were anyone but Scott, Stiles would laugh in their face. As it is, he tones it down to a skeptical eyebrow raise.)
“It just makes sense, economically,” Stiles goes on. “Derek’s not even using his room half the time, so now, instead of letting it sit there empty and go to waste, he can make money from it by letting me have it. It’s logic, pure and simple. We’re gonna save so much money.”
“Uh-huh,” Scott says.
Whatever. Their plan is foolproof. Stiles made charts and schedules and everything. At most, there’ll be a few minutes of overlap in their schedules. Easy. Nothing could go wrong.
Week One goes swimmingly.
Granted, there are a few hiccups, like the fact that Stiles never realized from the photos Derek sent that the ceiling was so low he physically wouldn’t be able to stand up straight in the room, but the whole occupying-the-room-at-different-times thing? That goes off without a hitch.
Every morning, Stiles gets home from work and kicks Derek out of bed. Derek makes protesting noises while Stiles pokes him (or, rather, pokes the lump of his body under the covers) with his bare foot. Eventually Derek crawls out, wearing nothing but black boxer briefs because it’s kind of hot in here and they don’t have AC. Then he squeezes past Stiles to stomp down the hall to their tiny bathroom, and Stiles determinedly looks elsewhere because getting a boner over a glimpse of Derek’s flexing thigh muscles is something he would never live down.
Stiles sets about tossing Derek’s pillow on the floor and replacing it with his own, because he’s very particular about pillows, and then he wiggles around a lot and sighs and reads ebooks on his phone until Derek leaves. Sometimes he buries his nose in the sheets for a while, too. They still smell like Derek, and Derek smells good, like pine trees and manliness. (What? He can think Derek smells good and still hate him. He has depths.)
After reading a while, he’ll have calmed his brain down enough to fall asleep.
His alarm goes off at 4 pm, which gives him plenty of time to get ready for the day, grab a coffee, and get to his first class without ever seeing Derek, who won’t get back to their room until 5 pm at the earliest.
It’s the perfect living arrangement, and Stiles is a genius for thinking of it.
Week Two starts with Stiles’ boss asking him to switch to the morning shift, and Stiles begging him to please not do this to him, and his boss utterly failing to yield to said begging.
“Beg some more,” Derek says, completely unsympathetic, when Stiles tentatively reports this news to him the next morning.
“You can’t tell me what to do,” Stiles says. It’s too late to go back now anyway. Stiles has decided the best way to switch his body clock back to normal is to not sleep at all today so that he’ll fall asleep instantly tonight. To that end, he’s just finished drinking a mug of coffee the size of his head. Now he’s so saturated with caffeine that he’s pretty sure he’s vibrating. His normal day-sleeping is definitely not happening right now.
“You’re going to have to live somewhere else, then,” Derek says.
Stiles makes a show of checking his empty pockets. “Oh sure, let me just go get all my huge piles of cash that I keep lying around and I’ll get right on that. And in the meantime, I just won’t sleep at all—”
Derek makes a face and tugs the covers up to his chin. “Fine, I won’t kick you out. But you’re not sleeping with me tonight.”
“Look, it’s not like I wanted this to happen, but… I pay half the rent, so I get half the bed. Them’s the rules.”
Derek makes another face.
Stiles pulls out the big guns. “If you don’t let me in that bed tonight, I’m calling Scott, and he’s going to give you the sad puppy eyes over skype, and you’re going to feel like a terrible human being and then you’re going to give me half the bed like you owe me.”
“Fine,” Derek growls. He throws his pillow at Stiles’ face. “But don’t touch me. You stay on your half of the bed.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “With pleasure.”
It starts out as disastrously as one might expect.
Derek throws off heat like a furnace, but he complains when Stiles hogs the covers. Then he complains when Stiles gets too hot and kicks off the covers so they pile up on Derek. Stiles can’t win.
Also, it takes Stiles a while to find the perfect sleeping position, and Derek complains every single time Stiles moves because it always means he accidentally brushes Derek’s arm or leg or torso. It’s not like Stiles is trying to touch him—because even if he does think Derek is objectively pretty okay-looking, he’s still Derek—but it’s physically impossible to get any farther away from Derek without falling off the bed. Stiles is already balanced on the very edge, and Derek has already wedged himself up against the wall, and there’s still no space between them.
It takes them both ages to fall asleep like that, and in the morning Stiles wakes up to find that in his sleep he’s rolled over onto the floor, twisted up into a cocoon in all the blankets. He has a sneaking suspicion from the bruise throbbing on his lower back that someone kicked him off the bed in his sleep. Derek, meanwhile, is starfished out on his stomach, comfortably taking up the entire mattress.
The second night goes slightly better, but only because they’re both so exhausted from last night that they both fall asleep practically instantly. The good news is that Stiles doesn’t fall off (or get kicked off) the bed again. The bad news is that he wakes up to pins and needles in his left arm because Derek is crushing it between his chest and the mattress in his sleep. It takes all Stiles’ strength to wiggle free, and then he does fall on the floor.
The third night, Stiles has one of those fueled-by-sleep-deprivation ideas. “Look, we’re both vaguely triangle-shaped, yeah? Because we’re both broad-shouldered dudes. So it’s stupid to try to fit two triangles facing the same way into a rectangular area. How about I stay up here and you move so your head is at the foot of the bed and then we’ll both fit and you won’t fall asleep on my arm again?”
Derek says he’s not going to spend the whole night with Stiles’ stinky feet in his face.
Stiles says his feet are not stinky, thank you very much. He has amazing hygiene.
Just to drive the point home, he rubs the sole of his bare foot on the back of Derek’s calf. Derek hits him with his pillow. Stiles hits him back with his pillow. Things devolve from there.
Stiles is pretty sure the only reason they fall asleep after that is that they’ve worn themselves out from arguing about feet, and that’s not exactly a sustainable plan for successful bed-sharing.
“Have you tried building a pillow wall?” Scott suggests when they skype next.
“I don’t think there’s room for that,” Stiles says, stifling a yawn in his sleeve. A good night’s sleep is but a distant memory at this point. “Also, we don’t have enough pillows.”
It does give him an idea, though. Maybe a crazy idea, but… it could work. It’s worth a try, anyway.
When Stiles was little, he always slept with this one pillow his mom gave him. It was bright green and shaped like a dinosaur. He couldn’t go to sleep unless he was hugging it. He didn’t outgrow the habit until he was in middle school and lost Dino on an overnight class trip to Disneyland.
Maybe what he really needs now for a good night’s sleep is to hug Derek.
No… cuddle Derek. Spoon him.
They obviously can’t keep trying to share a single bed that’s barely big enough for one grown man, let alone two, and keep to a no-touching rule at the same time. It’s just not working. So maybe the solution is to un-taboo the touching thing. Embrace the touching.
He thinks Derek would be a good cuddler, what with all the body heat he throws off, and all the muscles. Stiles wonders if well-muscled people are nice to lie on. He thinks the answer is probably yes.
And maybe Derek needs it, too. He’s always been a tactile kind of guy, from what Stiles has seen. He still remembers when they were little kids, really little, and Derek’s mom used to call Derek “the hug monster.” He was always going around hugging everybody, and at nap time he always wanted to hold Stiles’ hand.
That was before Derek grew up and became such a grump, obviously.
Maybe, Stiles thinks, Derek would be a little less of a grump if he got to cuddle someone every once in a while.
That night, Stiles waits until Derek has climbed under the covers and then scoots close. Derek’s on his side, so Stiles is left facing what little he can see of Derek’s bare back in the dim light: his muscular shoulders, held stiff with tension, and a hint of the dark, thick lines that form the triskelion tattoo between his shoulder blades. It’s an appealing, if distinctly unfriendly, view.
“Hey, Derek,” he tries in his friendliest tone, the kind he normally never uses around Derek, not after a lifetime of mutual antagonism.
Derek grunts and tenses up even more but otherwise doesn’t respond.
Stiles isn’t entirely sure how to put his idea into words, at least not without getting his head bitten off for it. He’s tempted to just throw an arm around Derek’s waist and see what happens. On the other hand, he doesn’t have a death wish.
He also kind of has to wonder about the ethics of initiating cuddling with someone without getting their consent first. Spooning isn’t kissing or sex, nothing that invasive, but… Stiles could see it probably falling into that same general category of ask-before-touching. He doesn’t want to be creepy. He thinks it’s something Derek will like, if he can just get over the fact that it’s Stiles, but… but that’s a big if.
So instead, he taps Derek on the shoulder and says, “I think we should spoon.”
“Not funny,” Derek says. He sounds bone-tired. “Go to sleep, Stiles.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Stiles persists. “Seriously. We should spoon so we can go to sleep.”
“Remember when I said that thing about you staying over there and me staying over here? Because I do.”
“If you don’t like the way things are now, you can go sleep on the floor.”
Stiles lets out a groan of frustration. “Listen, I really think it could work, okay? It’d probably be relaxing for both of us, and we wouldn’t be fighting over the same tiny bit of space on the bed anymore, and, I dunno, you could even imagine I’m a hot girl if you want, I don’t care—”
“No,” Derek growls. “Not happening.”
So that’s that. Stiles lies on his back and chews on the inside of his cheek, annoyed.
The night that follows is the worst yet. Stiles sleeps fitfully. He keeps waking up to find he’s too cold because Derek’s stolen the covers, or his neck’s at a weird angle because his pillow has gotten wedged up under Derek’s shoulder, or he’s half on the bed and half on the floor because Derek’s decided in his sleep that he’s going to lie diagonally across the bed now.
When morning comes, Derek looks like he’s fared no better than Stiles. There’s something quietly haggard about him, something defeated in the weary slump of his shoulders as he trudges off to the bathroom. It’s so close to mirroring how Stiles feels that he can’t even work up the I-told-you-so smugness he’s expecting.
That night, Derek sighs and puts a hand on Stiles’ arm as they’re climbing into bed. Stiles raises his eyebrows, because voluntary touching, that’s new. Especially voluntary gentle touching.
“We can try it,” Derek says grudgingly. “The spooning thing.”
Stiles grins. “You’re gonna love it, man.”
His good mood lasts until about two seconds later, when they actually get in the bed and there’s an awkward shuffle as Derek goes to put his arm around Stiles at the same time that Stiles goes to put his arm around Derek.
“What are you doing?” Stiles demands, wiggling away.
Derek furrows his eyebrows. “Uh, spooning you?”
“But I’m the big spoon,” Stiles says, crossing his arms over his chest. “That was the deal.”
“You never said that.” Derek crosses his arms, too, apparently settling in for a long debate. “Who says you get to be the big spoon?”
“I do, because it was my idea.”
“But I’m clearly… I mean, you’re so…”
Stiles rolls his eyes. It’s kind of sad that he’s known Derek long enough that he can usually guess what he means just from a few sentence fragments and glary eyebrows. “Wow, okay. Way to stereotype here. Let’s get one thing clear: just because I’m a little skinnier than you are doesn’t mean I can’t be the big spoon. I can totally big-spoon the shit out of you if I want to.”
“I’m not going to be the little spoon,” Derek insists, stubbornly, flexing his arm muscles a little.
“What’s wrong with being the little spoon? You get to feel all hugged and snuggly and cared-for.”
“If you like it so much, why don’t you be the little spoon?”
“Because I want to be the big spoon!”
“Well, so do I,” Derek says, final, like that settles everything.
Stiles thinks about this for a minute. He really wants this spooning thing to work. Maybe a little compromise is in order. “How about we switch it around? Tonight I’ll be the big spoon and then tomorrow night it’ll be your turn.”
“Why do you get to go first?”
“God,” Stiles says, “I didn’t realize I was dealing with a literal child here.”
“That’s not what ‘literal’ means,” Derek says, probably just to be petty.
“I’m a pre-law major, stupid. I know what ‘literal’ means.”
Derek ignores that. “We should flip for it. Heads, I get to be big spoon tonight. Tails, you get it.”
“Finally, a reasonable proposition,” Stiles says, and rolls out of bed to go find a coin.
It’s tails. Stiles grins smugly. Derek huffs and shifts over onto his side so Stiles can spoon him.
At first Derek is a stiff line all along Stiles’ front. Stiles mutters, “C’mon, work with me here, dude,” reproachful, and Derek just stiffens up further. It’s like trying to cuddle a mannequin or a wooden board, and Stiles thinks with a swell of disappointment that this isn’t going to work after all and they’re doomed to spend the rest of the semester in a mutual sleep-deprived daze.
Then. Then Stiles starts rubbing his thumb over Derek’s breastbone in slow repetitive circles, soothing, and the mood between them thaws. Derek relaxes into Stiles’ hold. The air goes out of his lungs in one long, quietly pleased sigh, and he presses back minutely into the curve of Stiles’ body. Win.
Stiles doesn’t remember what happens after that. The next thing he knows, there’s morning sun on his face, making the insides of his eyelids glow a dull red, and he’s waking up still nestled lazily around the pliant, supple warmth of Derek’s body.
Stiles takes stock of things. Derek is fast asleep, face burrowed contentedly into his pillow. No one has kicked anyone else off the bed in their sleep or stolen any covers or pinned anyone else’s arm under their body in an uncomfortable position. In fact, Stiles is completely comfortable, and well-rested, and fairly sure they’ve just solved their bed-sharing problem.
So the spooning is… not terrible.
Secretly, Stiles even starts looking forward to it.
Derek is still kind of an ass to him outside of bed, or at least he’s just as willing as ever to call Stiles a slob for leaving a little toothpaste in the sink or forgetting to fold his socks, but once they’re under the covers, it’s like a truce has been called.
Stiles likes the moment when he first gets in bed and he presses his feet against Derek’s warm calves, and Derek hisses, “Jesus, your feet are like ice,” but doesn’t pull away. He likes the way they usually talk a little as they fall asleep, Derek’s voice low and soft in his ear, and he likes that they can let their guard down a little, finally, their snark and sarcasm mellowing to something almost affectionate in the dark, when they aren’t looking at each other.
He loves it when Derek spoons him, when Derek clasps their hands together against Stiles’ stomach, their legs tangling under the covers, Derek blanketing him protectively with his body. He loves how grounded he feels, how anchored. And Stiles loves spooning Derek in return. He loves resting his forehead against the nape of Derek’s neck; he loves the clean smell of Derek’s hair; he loves the way Derek starts relaxing as soon as Stiles is touching him.
He loves having someone to hold, and it’s not even that terrible, really, that that someone is Derek.
One afternoon Stiles mentions his friend Lydia from Philosophy of Law. She was saying today that she might know of a place nearer to campus he could rent, if he wanted. It wouldn’t be quite as cheap as this, but he’d have his own room, his own bed at least… He’s watching Derek’s face as he talks, weirdly dreading that Derek’s going to look relieved and trying to think how he could possibly admit he likes having Derek as a roommate more than he likes having his own bed in a way that won’t scare Derek off.
Derek doesn’t look relieved. He looks wary, and then irritated, and then outright pissed, and then he’s snapping at Stiles out of nowhere about something minor and stupid that Stiles never thought bothered him before, and it just keeps escalating, and it’s not like their usual arguments, which are almost fun, playful. Stiles doesn’t want to admit it, but this time it actually hurts when Derek calls him an annoying pain in the ass. He can feel tears stinging at the corners of his eyes, and it’s mortifying.
He’d started to think, with the whole spooning thing, that they were finally getting somewhere, but no. Apparently Derek hates him just as much as ever.
That very same evening, Stiles buys a plane ticket and calls in a couple vacation days at work. It’s been months since he’s seen his dad, anyway. He could stand to take a long weekend and go home. So he does.
It feels like a good idea, all of it—getting to hug his dad and Scott all he wants and drive his Jeep around town again and eat food other than ramen and sprawl out in his nice, large, unoccupied bed while pretending Derek doesn’t exist. It’s a vacation he didn’t know he needed.
At least, until it’s the middle of the night and Stiles has been trying and failing to fall asleep for hours.
Everything is all wrong. First he’s too chilly, and then he’s too hot under the extra covers he hauls down from the closet. Then he doesn’t have enough pillows, but when he gets more, his head is angled too high and he has to throw some back on the floor. And through it all, his mattress is too squishy and there’s this restless feeling buzzing under his skin and he keeps getting the urge to check his phone even though he knows Derek hasn’t texted him at all.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Stiles comes to a terrible, inexplicable realization:
Derek’s shitty bed has ruined him for all other beds.
Then there comes an even worse thought, a few minutes later: that maybe it’s not the bed that’s the problem at all.
What the fuck is Stiles even supposed to do with a thought like that?
He only manages to fall into a light doze by hugging a pillow to his chest and wrapping himself tight in the blankets. That way he has something to hold and the bed doesn’t feel quite so big. Still, it’s not the same at all.
When he gets back to New York late Monday night, Derek is waiting for him in the room, sitting on the bed in a t-shirt and pj pants with his knees hugged to his chest. He has dark circles under his eyes.
He doesn’t say anything, but they both groan a little in relief the instant Stiles curls up around him under the covers.
“Sorry,” Derek murmurs, gently stroking the back of Stiles’ hand with his thumb, right before they fall asleep.
Stiles holds him a little closer. “Me too.”
That night Stiles sleeps like the dead. It’s awesome.
“Why don’t we like each other?” Stiles asks the next morning.
“Habit, I guess,” Derek says, voice muffled where his face is pressed between Stiles’ shoulder blades. They’d switched positions sometime last night in their sleep. Stiles has no complaints.
Derek nuzzles in a little at Stiles’ spine and adds, “You used to be such a little shit.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, grinning at the memories, and at the fondness in Derek’s tone. “And you always acted so stuck-up and superior, even though you’re only two years older than me and Scott.”
“But mentally at least five years older,” Derek says wryly.
Stiles makes a face, even though Derek can’t see him. “Debatable.”
He shifts around a little, ignoring Derek’s cute little growl of protest at the jostling, until they’re facing each other under the covers. Derek’s hair is messy and soft-looking and Stiles just wants to run his fingers through it, so he does, snorting to himself when he can’t get it to behave even a little bit. He loves how happy and relaxed Derek looks like this, his skin almost glowing with the sunlight filtering through the sheets.
Stiles takes a risk and whispers, “I missed you this weekend.”
“Oh yeah?” Derek slides his hand around from Stiles’ waist to his hip, fingertips ghosting over the skin where his shirt is riding up, and Stiles shivers a little. “I thought you were mad at me this weekend.”
“Oh, I was,” Stiles nods. “But I missed you, too.” He gestures vaguely between them. “I missed this.”
Derek looks at him for a long, quiet moment. In this light, his irises are an impossible luminous green flecked with amber and gold and grey. Stiles feels kind of weird for staring so long, but it’s not like Derek isn’t staring back. His eyes trail down Stiles’ face, lingering on his mouth, and then he leans forward and nuzzles in at Stiles’ throat, tentative. When Stiles doesn’t do anything except keep petting his hair, Derek nudges in a little closer, his thigh slotting in between Stiles’, and continues up along his neck to his jaw, stubble scraping Stiles’ skin. He presses a kiss there at the hinge of Stiles’ jaw, feather-light, and then another, closer to his mouth.
“Fuck, can you please just kiss me,” Stiles blurts, and Derek huffs out a laugh and does.
Stiles can admit he’s had thoughts, mostly in the shower, about what it might be like to kiss Derek, because how could he not. He’d always imagined it would be biting and angry, Stiles hitting a nerve and Derek shoving him up against something and just taking. The kind of kiss that would leave bruises.
This, though, this is so much better, because Stiles never imagined Derek could be sweet, could take his time taking Stiles apart, long luxurious minutes of melting everything in him to warm honey and leaving him aching with it in the best way.
“Nng,” is about all Stiles can say when Derek finally pulls back.
Derek looks smug.
“Oh, shut up,” Stiles groans, trying and failing to fight back a smile. He defies anyone not to look at least a little goofy after a kiss like that.
“I missed you, too,” Derek admits.
“I kind of figured.”
“I was scared you were going to move out.”
“Nope.” Stiles pulls him a little closer. “I’m staying right here. You can’t get rid of me.”
“Good,” Derek says, satisfied, and leans back in to kiss him again.
They don’t get out of bed for a long, long time.