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Strain This Chaos, Turn It into Light

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It started two weeks after Derek and Cora were back in town. Or, wait, no that wasn't quite right. To be specific, it started before they even left town in the first place. From the moment they had loaded their few belongings into the car, Cora had kept saying things like "So you're not going to say goodbye to Stiles? Isn't that weird? You said bye to Scott, but not Stiles? Derek, the kid saved my life. Not to mention how fucking worried he was when you disappeared for a while." She hadn't shut up until she noticed they were pulling up to the Sheriff's house. Then she'd just smirked, jumped out of the car, and beat him to the door.

She had given Stiles a hug, which seemed to freak the boy out more than anything. For some reason, that had made Derek smile, and a strange ball of tension uncoil a bit in his gut.

But that had only been the beginning.

Cora and Stiles texted constantly while she and Derek were away. Nearly everyday Cora would update him on what Stiles was doing, how he was feeling, where he was going, what stupid joke he'd just made. It was weird, because for all that her actions seemed like those of a kid with a crush, her tone and mannerisms during all of it was more akin to someone finding amusement at someone else's expense.

Things got worse when they were back, though.

"What is he doing here?" Derek snapped as soon as he came home to find Stiles and Cora huddled close together at the table.

"Good to see your sunny disposition hasn't changed at all, Derek," sniped Stiles with a roll of his eyes, before dismissing Derek entirely in order to turn back to the books spread out on the table.

Cora eyed her older brother smugly. "He's helping me study for my GED. I missed so much school, I figured this was probably the best course of action."

It was. Fuck, that was actually a great idea. Derek felt torn between being proud of his little sister and pissed that she--that--that what, really? He couldn't actually pinpoint why he was pissed. He just was.

"Fine," Derek eventually spat out, refusing to feel foolish for standing there in the middle of his apartment and scowling impotently at two teenagers who were doing nothing wrong. "Just keep it down. I'm going to go read."

Stiles snorted from where he was bent over a large study guide. "We'll try to contain ourselves, but you know how wild studying can get."

---

The next time Stiles was over, he was practically sprawled across the breakfast bar while Cora clanged about in the kitchen. It was obscene how he was bent over, ass just sticking out like that, jeans doing nothing to hide the perfect, cup-able curve of it. Derek tore his eyes away and scowled at his sister. "Now what?" he nearly growled at her.

She smiled back with false sweetness. "Stiles is supervising while I try to cook. I told him how you think proper meals consist of TV dinners or take-out, and he graciously offered to help save our lives by teaching me how to cook real food." Her smile grew sharper, and the evil look in her eyes made him worry if she took after Uncle Peter a bit too much. "He'll be over a lot more, until I have a nice, varied repertoire. Say thank you, Derek, since he's taking the time to do this."

Derek looked back at Stiles, who was watching him over his shoulder (but hadn't even moved from his stupid position). "Don't you have friends?" asked Derek, instead of doing what his sister commanded.

Stiles just gave him a one-finger salute.

Later, when they were all eating the dinner Cora had prepared ("Stiles has to stay and have dinner with us, Derek. It's rude to kick him out after he helped."), Derek glared at the surprisingly delicious food as if it had betrayed him. Accurately interpreting his expression as one of affronted enjoyment instead of disgust, Stiles leaned over to offer a soft, smug, "You're welcome."

---

Soon, Stiles was over nearly every day, and each time there was a different excuse until Derek stopped asking and Cora stopped offering. Each visit grated on Derek's nerves as if he had to endure the horrific sound of nails on a chalkboard for hours on end. By the end of each visit, Derek was snappish and irritable and usually had to go for a long run to calm himself down.

He should be happy for Cora, really. Stiles was a good guy. He was smart and brave and loyal and trustworthy. He already knew their secret, so there was no worry about any negative backlash of him finding out he was dating a werewolf. Really, Derek could think of few others who would even be worthy enough of Cora. Even so, the very idea of the two of them together made him feel angry and sick, and he didn't know why. Maybe it was just the thought of losing his little sister to someone else. That had to be it.

---

One night, Derek came home to find Stiles unloading canvas grocery bags, with Cora nowhere to be found. “I can tell by your eyebrows that you’re confused,” said Stiles, arms half hidden within a deep bag as something rustled within. “Cora’s out on a date, so I’m going to teach you how to cook tonight. She won’t always be around to do it for you, especially if her dance card gets pretty full, so you’ll need to know how to fend for yourself.”

Derek frowned and cautiously entered the small kitchen space to better see what Stiles was unpacking. “I’ve done fine on my own before, you know.”

Glancing askance, Stiles scoffed and moved to start rinsing mushrooms. “I got a glimpse of what you tend to eat, last summer while I was helping you track down Boyd and Erica. You’re worse than my dad, I fucking swear. It’s disgusting, the junk you consume regularly. I mean, yeah, junk food’s fun sometimes, but not every damn day. Werewolf or no, man, you gotta take care of yourself.”

For a moment, Derek was taken aback, feeling like something was simultaneously wrong and right. Two things then clicked into place within his mind: 1) Stiles hadn’t been talking in his normal rambling bursts since Derek had returned to Beacon Hills, until now, and 2) Cora was on a date. He wasn’t sure what number one meant, and number two was honestly confusing him, too. “Wait,” said Derek, his brow wrinkling, and his hand coming up to signal Stiles to cease his lecture about eating right. “Back up. Cora’s on a date? With someone else?”

It was Stiles’ turn to crease his brow, hands paused in mid-rinse as the water cascaded over his fingers and the handful of pale mushrooms. “Someone else? Has she been dating more than one person? I thought it was just Jeremy.”

Derek blinked, and he could swear the floor lurched. “Who?”

“Jeremy,” Stiles enunciated slowly, as if he thought Derek was a bit slow on the uptake.

“Who the fuck is Jeremy?”

“Um.” Biting his lip, Stiles set the mushrooms aside and turned off the faucet. “Dude, not my place. If she hasn’t told you about him yet, it’s totally up to her.”

“But she’s dating you!”

Stiles’ eyes widened in something between shock and horror. “Fuck no. What? No. Seriously? Why the fuck would you even think…? Have I given the impression of being into her? Because I can assure you, sir, that my intentions towards your sister are entirely pure. And Platonic. Which is actually a really weird word choice, considering that it alludes to Plato’s Symposium, and that was a talk about eros, which is love, and ultimately decided that the best, most purest love was between two dudes. If I’m not mistaken. Which I could be, but I’m pretty sure that’s right. Then again, Wikipedia has been wrong before.”

“Oh my Christ, Stiles, shut. Up.” Maybe it was a good thing Stiles hadn’t been nearly as talkative recently. Rubbing at his eyes, Derek bemoaned the fact that painkillers did nothing to werewolves. “If you two aren’t dating, then why are you always over?”

When Derek lowered his hand and looked at the younger man, he was struck by the hollowness staring back at him from dark eyes. “You remember how it was for me last summer?” Stiles asked softly, and his voice dropped in pitch to something just as shadowy as his expression.

Derek remembered. Remembered Stiles being left alone while everyone else was caught up in their own lives. He’d come to Derek because he wanted to help Boyd and Erica, but also because he was just lonely. Stiles seemed to read in his expression that Derek understood, because he gave a tight little nod, eyes suddenly no longer able to meet Derek’s. “It’s worse, now,” Stiles explained. “After what we did, I keep feeling this sense of...desolation? It’s hard to describe. Like there’s a cavity inside of me now, and it opens into some limitless void. And, I’m always standing there on the brink, teetering, so that I could fall in at any moment. Scott and Allison have people to ground them, to keep them from falling, but I…”

“You have Scott,” whispered Derek, suddenly feeling choked and sore. It reminded him of how it felt to watch Cora dying from the mistletoe. “You have your father.”

“Yeah,” agreed Stiles with another jerky nod. “Yeah, but, sometimes I need more than that.”

A sharp pain spiked through Derek’s core, but he ignored it. “And Cora is helping you with that.”

Instead of answering him, Stiles stared at the floor between them in silence. Eventually, he lifted his head and offered a weak smile, nodding behind him towards the mushrooms. “Come on, let’s get cookin’.”

Stiles had saved Derek several times, so he thought at the very least he owed it to the young man to just let it go. “What are we making?”

You’re making a hearty stew. Now, come here and start cutting things as I clean them.”

They fell into mostly companionable silence as they worked, until Stiles let out a disapproving grunt and was suddenly standing close at Derek’s back. “That’s all wrong,” he tutted, pressing closer as he moved his arm around Derek in order to wrap his long, thin fingers around Derek’s on the knife’s handle. His other hand came around to take the mushroom from Derek, rotating it how he wanted it.

“Like this.” The words were soft, barely a whisper across Derek’s ear. He watched mutely as Stiles manipulated the knife to slice the fungus perfectly. “You slice along it like this, see? You don’t chop it into quarter pieces.”

Once Derek was making the proper slices on his own, Stiles’ hands slowly retreated. He hesitated, though, before stepping away from Derek and turning to work on another aspect of the meal. Trying to pour all his focus into cutting the mushrooms properly, Derek did his best to ignore the way his heart was pounding and his breath was coming a little too quickly. Cora’s food she’d made under Stiles’ guidance, while usually delicious, tended to have very crudely chopped vegetables. Never once had Derek seen Stiles even enter the kitchen where Cora was working, choosing instead of hang out at the bar separating the space from the open livingroom.

Derek tried not to think about how that made him feel.

---

“I think he’s fucking them both.”

It was going on three months since Stiles started hanging out specifically with Derek, and the first time that Stiles had arrived to the apartment to find a meal already prepared. Derek had taken to looking up recipes, and he’d finally felt confident enough to try one out on his own. They were sprawled out on the couch contentedly digesting the successful experiment. Though Derek thought that he’d lighten up on the butter next time, and maybe add some more pepper.

“Who’s what now?” Derek asked, rolling his head to look at Stiles over on the other end of the couch. He wondered if maybe he should put a movie on.

“Scott,” Stiles said, waving his hand around in front of him as if to motion towards the invisible boy. “With Isaac and Allison.”

Derek scrunched his brows up, confused. “He doesn’t seem like one to cheat. Wait, I thought Allison and Isaac were together?”

“They are. I’m not saying Scott’s playing them, I’m saying they’re all together. Simultaneously. Polyamorous threeway stuff, man.”

Derek gave a thoughtful hum and turned his head back so he could resume his lazy staring off into space. “I can see that.”

Stiles huffed and aggressively kicked his shoes off. “Just isn’t fucking fair. Here I am, can’t even get a date, and they get to have two hot significant others.”

Frowning, Derek glanced back over at Stiles. “I bet that’s not true. Have you even tried to get a date?” As soon as the words left his mouth, he realized something, and the food turned sour in his stomach. “Or are you still caught up on Lydia? Is that it?”

“No,” Stiles said softly, a hint of frustration still lingering in his tone. “No to both.” He frowned at his socked feet, then turned to look at Derek with a smirk. “But, hey, you think I’m at least good enough to score your sister, so that’s gotta mean something, right?”

Derek gave a little nod and picked absently at a tiny tear in the sofa cushion by his hand. “You’re probably the only one I’d think was good enough. Which is probably why she hasn’t brought Jason-”

“Jeremy.”

“-over yet.” When he looked back at Stiles again, the younger man was staring at him. His brown eyes were wide, catching the light in that infuriatingly distracting way they tended to do. “What?” Derek asked, spine stiffening under the strange gaze.

“Nothing,” Stiles nearly whispered. He barely blinked, though, just continued to stare at Derek. He smelled of nervous sweat and his heart was practically tripping over itself. “You doing anything this Saturday?”

“I don’t think so. Why?”

“Want to catch a movie?”

Derek shrugged and started to relax. “Sure. What time?” The grin that Stiles gave him at that was rather unnecessary, but a refreshing change from his more recent moods. It also lit up his eyes even more, which Derek thought was entirely unfair with how it made it all the more difficult to politely look away.

---

About ten minutes into the movie, it was obvious that Stiles had already seen it. He kept turning towards Derek and smiling right before something particularly amusing happened. He’d keep watching Derek through it, grinning wider if he caught Derek laughing. A few times, Stiles leaned in close and whispered things like “This is the best part,” or “Just watch what she does next.” There were moments when Stiles’ hand would grip Derek’s arm or even his thigh, giving an excited little squeeze as he glanced happily between Derek and the screen.

Derek had enjoyed the movie, but if pressed wouldn’t be able to relate a single detail of the plot or characters.

When they left the theater and started walking back towards Derek’s apartment, Stiles grabbed his arm and pulled him down a dim side alley. “This way’s quicker,” he explained with a careless grin thrown over his shoulder at Derek.

Derek allowed himself to be dragged for a bit before stopping short and frowning at their surroundings in disapproval. “You shouldn’t wander down alleyways like this.”

Laughing, Stiles pivoted around where he was still clinging to Derek’s arm so that he was fully facing him. “Big bad wolf afraid of some imaginary thugs?” He let out another laugh and let go, stepping backwards a few feet, holding his arms out at his side as if to say “See? No bad guys!”

“I won’t always be walking with you.” Derek took a few steps, trying to eliminate the distance that had just come between them. “Have you had any self-defense training?”

For some reason, that amused Stiles, and he shook his head, grinning so wide that his eyes were glittery slits. “Nah, but that sounds like fun. You gonna train me? Give yourself some excuses to get your hands all over me?” The grin tilted into a devious slant. “Kinda miss you pressing me against walls.”

Oh.

Oh.

Derek’s entire body froze as his brain flashed the message that Cora was never the actual reason for Stiles’ visits. Realization was a sharp, jolting experience that left him stunned and reeling and inexplicably lightheaded. He looked at the young man in front of him, really looked, and nearly choked on air when another realization struck.

Suddenly he was pinning Stiles against the wall, just as he’d wanted. Derek watched transfixed as Stiles threw his head back against the bricks and laughed with delight. How long had it been since he’d seen Stiles smiling like this? When did it start back up?

As Derek lifted a hand to Stiles’ face, he watched the grin melt into something softer, heard Stiles’ heart rabbit and his breath stutter. “That’s a good look for you,” Stiles said quietly, raising one of his hands to mirror Derek’s touch. “You hardly ever smile, and never like this.”

“I’m smiling?” asked Derek, pressing closer, eyes unable to choose between looking into Stiles’ or tracing along his upturned lips. “No, you’re the one who’s smiling.”

A chuckle bubbled out of Stiles and his thumb ran along Derek’s bottom lip. “We should stop talking, because I predict that things will get incredibly sappy otherwise.”

It would be easy, Derek realized, to lean in the rest of the way and kiss Stiles. Just the thought was making his breath catch as something deep down purred “Yes. Want.” But, there was still uncertainty lingering on the edges of Derek’s consciousness like the threatening shadows of unknown foes.

“Why?” he felt compelled to ask, sliding his hand back to brush his fingertips against Stiles’ short hair.

“Because,” snickered Stiles, grinning again, “if I talk about my feelings for you, it’s bound to be sappier than an entire forest of maple trees.”

“No, I mean...why me?”

“Well,” said Stiles, drawing out the word in a way that unconsciously drew Derek’s attention to his tongue and lips. “We have a lot in common, you and I. I’m an asshole, you’re an asshole. I like protecting people, you like protecting people. I think Scott’s awesome, you think Scott’s awesome. I hate Peter, you hate Peter. I make stupid mistakes sometimes, you make stupid mistakes lots of times. I like Batman, you like Batman. How can we go wrong?”

Derek felt a laugh fight its way free, and he leaned forward to press their foreheads together. “When you put it like that, I don’t know why it took us this long to get together.” He heard Stiles’ heart skip a beat at “get together,” and it made Derek chuckle a little with surprised happiness.

“I think that’s because of all the aforementioned stupid decisions,” Stiles replied softly, his breath ghosting across Derek’s lips. “And also because I wasn’t sure you’d be interested. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of freaking out a little that you’re being this receptive. Part of me expects to wake up and discover this was just some cruelly awesome dream.”

“Not a dream,” Derek assured, pressing a little closer so that his lips were almost making contact with Stiles’. “At least I hope not.”

“Okay, wow, way to be a hero from a romance nov-mmmph!”

Different people kiss in different ways. Some kiss softly, some hard, some with too much spit, some dry, some without knowing what to do with their tongues. But, the reason why kissing Stiles felt so utterly different to Derek than any of the people he’d kissed in the past--male or female--had nothing to do with technique. It was in no way the most skilled kiss he’d experienced, but that was something they would work on over time. It was, however, the only one that he felt to his core.

“I missed you,” Stiles whispered against Derek’s ear when he moved to kiss at Stiles’ jaw and down his neck. Blunt fingernails scratched at Derek’s scalp and Stiles’ body rocked to rub against him. “Cora kept me updated about you, but it wasn’t...”

Something slotted into place inside Derek, and it hurt yet also felt bright and amazing. It made him nip at the soft skin beneath his lips, and press his body along Stiles’ just to hear him groan. Derek couldn’t say the words that bounced around in his head, but he expressed them through his hands and mouth and hips.

When things started to get a little too heated, however, Derek slowly started backing off. Surprisingly, Stiles didn’t complain. As soon as Derek shifted his body away and tamed his kisses, Stiles’ hands went from roaming to remaining on his hips, strictly above the belt. “Slowly,” Derek whispered in something more a request than a command.

“Not a problem,” assured Stiles with a small, warm smile. “I get it. Whatever you need.”

It wasn’t that he thought Stiles would be like the ones who’d come before him, whispering pretty lies and using his body and emotions. Derek knew Stiles, trusted him with his life. Even the fact that Stiles was willing to wait and not press the matter was indicative that he was different from the others. It was just that recent wounds were still healing, and intimacy was something that Derek simultaneously wanted and was repulsed by the mere thought of.

Unable to adequately express in words just how much Stiles’ acceptance meant to him, Derek kissed him again, slow and sweet. “Glad kissing is still okay,” Stiles murmured happily into his mouth, “because this is pretty fucking great.”

“Add that to the list,” Derek teased between kisses. “We both like kissing each other.”

“See? Totally meant to be.” Laughter tinted Stiles’ words, and their kisses were trickier through all their smiling.

They were the clumsiest, most ridiculous kisses Derek had ever experienced, and they were also his favorite.