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College had changed Stiles. That’s the only way Derek could really put it. When Stiles graduated high school, he wasn’t quite the bundle self-deprecation he’d been at sixteen, but he was nowhere near as confident in himself as he was after graduating college. He stood straighter, smiled more, and was way more comfortable joking around with Derek and getting into his personal space.

It was nice. The friendship they had tentatively formed by way of saving each other’s asses had finally seemed to solidify into something made of easy banter and casual touches. To Derek, it felt like they had truly become Pack, and in a way he still hadn’t quite reached with anyone else in his new pack. Sure, Scott had become something like a brother to him, but their interactions still never held the ease and comfort that Derek found with Stiles.

A low whistle came from the doorway, and Derek glanced over his shoulder to see Stiles paused at the threshold, a tablet in his hand. His eyebrows were raised to his hairline, and his large brown eyes were clearly roaming across Derek’s ass where he was leaned over the map on the table. “Are your pants a compressed file?” Stiles asked, not even bothering to look away from Derek’s ass.

Derek made a sound that he pretended was a huff and not a soft laugh, and straightened up his stance to turn and give Stiles a playful glare. “What?”

Stiles finally met his eyes and smirked wide. “Because I’d love to unzip them.”

Scott and Isaac groaned from the other side of the table, and Derek could see the rolling motion of Lydia’s eyes in his peripheral and hear Allison choking on her scoff. Derek, however, just shook his head and snorted a short laugh. “Get your ass over here,” he chided fondly before turning back to the table.

“Derek, buddy, you can have my ass anywhere you like,” Stiles shot back, carelessly earning more groans from their companions. He ambled up beside Derek and wagged his eyebrows before setting his tablet out on the table and getting down to business.

That was probably the newest element to their friendship, this play flirting. It was fun, and they never seemed to be able to stop themselves. Everyone was beyond sick of it, but Derek didn’t fucking care. He hadn’t smiled so much in years, and neither had Stiles, for that matter. It was amazing to watch Stiles laugh and grin, looking so bright and cheerful that it was hard to believe he’d experienced so much darkness as a teenager. If that meant annoying the rest of the pack with bad pick-up line puns, then that was a sacrifice Derek was more than willing to make.

“What we’re dealing with,” explained Stiles as his long, nimble fingers danced across the screen to bring up the pictures and info he needed, “is a legit dragon.”

“Like a hoards gold and eats virgins dragon?” Scott asked in shock, leaning across the table to get a better look.

Stiles grinned, wide and sharp. “Well, not sure about the virgin thing. Luckily we’re all past the point of needing to worry about that. Though,” he paused, shooting a sly glance at Derek and bumping their shoulders together, “if Derek wants to thoroughly ensure I’m safe in that regard, he’s more than welcome to.”

“Oh my god, Stilinski,” Isaac said through the hands he’d buried his face in, “keep it in your pants for five fucking minutes and focus.” Which, really, Derek thought was rather rich coming from Isaac, of all people.

“Trust me, Isaac, when I fuck it lasts longer than five minutes.” Stiles then shifted one of his hands over to wrap around Derek’s wrist just below his watch. “Derek, you have a fancy watch with a stopwatch feature and everything. Care to time just how long we can make it last?”

“I am seriously this close to kicking you out of the meeting,” Scott teased, the corner of his mouth curling up despite his words.

Stiles lifted up his free hand--the one not still holding Derek’s arm. “I’ll behave,” he promised, though his fingertips began to subtly caress the underside of Derek’s wrist. “Unless you don’t want me to,” he added softly, leaning in enough to make sure only Derek heard, despite the room being filled with supernatural ears. Stiles’ breath brushed at Derek’s ear and made him shiver, which in turn made Stiles’ fingers spasm a clench around Derek’s arm.

When Derek turned his head enough to look at Stiles, he saw the younger man fixated on Derek’s neck, and watched as Stiles licked his lips. It was an unconscious action he’d seen Stiles do countless times over the years, but in that moment, it had Derek drawing in a shaking breath and unable to look away from the glistening mouth.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, guys!” Scott snapped, actually getting a little pissed by that point. “We have a dragon to worry about! Focus!”

It was like breaking a spell, which had Stiles and Derek leaning away from each other and cracking amused grins. Then Stiles had to take it just that one step further, because he was a little shit. Derek fucking loved it. “Sorry, Scott, you’re right. I really should be focusing on the dragon threatening Beacon Hills instead of the one in Derek’s pants.”

Lydia threw a cup at Stiles’ head. It was glass, so Derek deftly reached out and caught it right before impact. The message was received, though, and they finally dropped the jokes in favor of planning.

-----

They had successfully managed to relocate the dragon. At first, they had planned to slay it, but Lydia managed to convince them that it should be treated as an endangered species, and pointed out that they were very intelligent creatures. Still, there had been a lot of fire and teeth before it calmed down enough to be reasoned with.

Derek stumbled into Scott’s house along with the rest of the wolves and Allison, all of their clothing singed and torn. Stiles had been handling remote communications along with Lydia, and they both rose from their seats to help. As Lydia rushed to make sure Allison wasn’t severely injured, Stiles made his way to Derek.

“Derek, are you still on fire?” Stiles asked with concern, prompting Derek and the others to look over his person with alarm. But then Stiles was grinning, his entire posture at ease. “Oops, no. I just got confused because you’re so naturally smoking hot.”

Isaac shoved Stiles aside as he ambled past. “Now is seriously not the fucking time,” he grumbled.

Nodding in agreement, Scott gave Stiles a friendly smack on the back of the head. “No jokes right now. You can wax poetic about Derek’s eyes later.” He was smiling at Stiles rather good-naturedly, though, and Stiles grinned back.

“None of you can really be mad at me, though,” Stiles assured, gaze sweeping across the room at everyone before settling on Derek. “I got ice cream.”

Suddenly Isaac’s energy renewed and he darted into the kitchen to see for himself. A moment later he was happily crying out, “Stiles, you could blow Derek right now in front of all of us, and I would seriously not mind.”

Stiles’ eyebrows rose and he gave Derek a significant look, eyes flicking down to Derek’s crotch then back up to his face. “Now there’s an idea.”

Huffing, Derek rolled his eyes and shook his head, even as he felt his face ache with his grin. “I’m going to go take a shower,” he said instead of responding to Stiles. “I’m covered in soot.” He shouldered past Stiles and headed towards the stairs.

“I don’t mind,” he heard Stiles yell up after him. “I’ve always liked smoked sausage.”

Once Derek was under the hot spray, washing away all the blood and the grime, he found himself still grinning. Smoked sausage. Cute. Then, for just a flash of a second, his mind provided the image of Stiles doing what Isaac said. Squeezing his eyes shut, he shook his head under the spray and tried to banish the thought.

It didn’t go away. If anything, with his eyes closed, it became all he could see. He pictured Stiles’ distracting lips stretched taut around him, Stiles’ eyes looking up at him, dark with pleasure. Derek tried to open his eyes, to think of something else, but it was too late. Wrapping a hand tightly around his dick, Derek brought himself off as quickly and efficiently as possible while thinking shamefully of his best friend and his ridiculously hot mouth.

When he came back down the stairs later, dressed in some of the spare clothes he always kept there in case of emergencies, Derek was determined not to behave differently. As soon as Stiles spotted him, he was all smiles and happy eyes, and Derek felt his heart trip and fall. When had this happened? How long had Derek felt this way? His mind raced as he reexamined every interaction with Stiles for the past decade.

His conclusion was: A fucking long time.

“Derek, I like that shirt,” Stiles complimented while Derek was still having his silent little freak-out. “It’s very becoming on you.” Before Derek could open his mouth to thank him, Stiles continued, “Of course, if I was on you, I’d be coming, too.” He followed it up with a wink and saucy grin as his body did a quick side-to-side wiggle. Derek laughed because otherwise he’d blurt out something stupid involving a word that rhymed with “dove.”

The others were about to groan and snap at Stiles, as per usual, when Isaac breezed through with a commanding voice, declaring, “No one gets to say anything bad to Stiles for the rest of the night, or else they have to face me. The man got ice cream. He has bought himself a night free of ridicule.”

Stiles’ eyebrows went up, and his grin changed from flirtatious to genuinely pleased. “Thank you, Isaac.”

Isaac just waved him and his thanks off before darting around Derek towards the stairs. “I’m next for the shower. Derek’s in charge of protecting Stiles while I’m gone.”

“Guess that means you’ll have to sit next to me,” Stiles teased, reaching out to take Derek’s hand and lead him to the couch. “Come relax for a bit. We’re going to watch Disney movies and eat ice cream, like the grown-ups we are.”

“It was a dragon,” said Scott, eyes still a bit wide from disbelief, even though he’d been the one at the center of all the action and the one to reason with the creature. “It breathed fire, Stiles. Fire. Half my torso is still melted. The least you could do is not mock my prefered method of recovery.”

Beside Scott, Lydia cooed almost patronizingly as she patted his knee. She’d been applying salve from Deaton to his burns, and they were already starting to heal. Derek looked down at his own arm and the burns still lingering. They weren’t bad, really, and hadn’t been more than an annoyance in the shower, but he supposed he should get some of that salve, too.

Stiles beat him to it. He pushed Derek down onto the couch and quickly presented a jar of his own, as well as swabs and gauze. “How is it that you all managed to get most of your clothes burned off, but your flesh remained remarkably unscathed?” Stiles ignored Scott’s indignant squawk of “Unscathed?” and began carefully applying the salve to Derek’s minor wounds.

“Maybe the dragon was a perv,” supplied Scott, hissing as Lydia dabbed at his burns.

“Or,” growled Lydia, flashing Scott a disapproving glare, “it’s just like I told you, and the dragon had no intention of hurting anyone. They are misunderstood creatures, really.”

“It ate half of Nagle’s cows,” argued Scott.

“You also eat beef, but does that mean you are a horrible monster that needs to be killed?”

Stiles snorted as Scott and Lydia started arguing, leaning in a bit closer than was really necessary to just dress Derek’s wounds. “But seriously,” Stiles said softly, looking up at Derek from where he had his head bent over his task, “I’m glad you’re okay.” His eyes were so soft and sincere, catching the light in a way that reminded Derek of the Glenmorangie that his father used to drink. Derek felt himself leaning closer, as well.

As the shallow wounds healed rapidly from the salve, Stiles set the swab aside and ran gentle fingers along the fresh skin. It sent a tingling jolt through Derek, had his breath stuttering, and he wondered if maybe he wasn’t alone in this. For one crazy moment, he wondered if all the pick-up lines were somehow genuine and not just jests. If maybe, just maybe, he could have this.

Stiles’ eyes met his and his smile grew, pushing Derek further over the edge of No Return.

-----

It was about a week later when Derek happened upon Stiles while running errands in town. Well, he didn’t actually encounter Stiles so much as he picked up his distinctive heartbeat. Derek had been in the parking lot of the grocery store, loading his bags into the trunk of his car, when he’d heard it. Focusing his hearing on the surrounding area, Derek heard Stiles’ voice at the neighboring coffee shop.

Smiling, Derek had been about to temporarily abandon his groceries in order to head over and say hi. The idea died as soon as he had it, because he realized that Stiles was talking to someone. Since Derek had no idea who the other person was, it was hard to pick that voice out of the noisy crowd. It was evident by what Stiles was saying, though, that he was getting hit on.

“That’s a good one!” he laughed, and Derek could just imagine the wide stretch of his mouth and the gleam in his eyes. “Oh, man, that even beats a few of my lines! But, sorry, man. As great as that pick-up was, I’m going to have to decline. My heart already belongs to another.”

Derek stopped listening then. Turning his back to the cafe, he slammed his trunk shut and got into his car.

Stupid. Derek had been so stupid. Stiles joke-flirting with him was nothing new, and had been going on through most of Stiles’ college years. It never meant anything, and Stiles was always in and out of relationships with other people. It was stupid of Derek to think anything had changed, just because the frequency of the flirting had increased.

That night, he was late to the weekly pack meeting at Scott’s. When Stiles turned to him and lit up like the sun, Derek closed his eyes and clenched his jaw to keep from flinching. “Derek, did you sit in some sugar?” Stiles asked. “Because your ass is looking sweet.”

Derek silently walked over to the couch and sat at the opposite end from Stiles, wedged stiffly between Isaac and the couch arm. He could feel everyone watching him, and just knew that if he looked around the room he’d see a mixture of shock and concern. He hadn’t blatantly ignored one of Stiles’ cheesy lines in years.

After a long, awkward pause, Scott cleared his throat and jumped right into the meeting. Isaac kept shooting Derek glances throughout, eyebrows squishing together more and more when Derek did nothing other than focus his full attention on Scott. When it was Stiles’ turn to speak, providing everyone with an update on the dragon, Derek glared down at his own hands resting tensely atop his knees.

As soon as the meeting was over, Derek was up and heading quickly for the door. Usually everyone stuck around and played board games or watched movies together, but Derek was in no mood. He wanted nothing more than to go home and brood silently while he tried to figure out how to pull himself together and get over this. It felt like the floodgates had been opened, however, with no way to push back the overwhelming feelings and lock everything up again.

Stiles somehow beat him back to his place, and was waiting for him at his door. Taking a deep breath, Derek braced himself for the inevitable Talk. “Hey,” he greeted dully as he stepped up to his door and the waiting man.

“What’s wrong?” Stiles asked instead of returning the greeting. His eyes were wide and concerned, and Derek could hear his heart beating fast in fear. Not the kind of fear that Stiles used to have around him, back when they first met, but something else. Something less life-threatening but somehow more terrified.

Sighing, Derek unlocked his door and motioned for Stiles to go inside. Once they were in and the door securely shut behind them, Derek heaved another sigh and looked everywhere but at Stiles. “I was in town earlier,” he said, knowing that he was just making Stiles even more confused but unable to think of a better place to start. “I heard you. At the cafe.”

When he finally let himself look at Stiles, he saw confusion written all over his face. “What are you--oh.” The confusion was slowly replaced by understanding, which then turned to more confusion, until a look of absolute devastation and horror dawned across Stiles’ face. “And that bothered you.”

Derek grit his teeth and turned away, nodding jerkily.

“Oh,” repeated Stiles. Derek heard him shift his weight from one foot to the other. “I didn’t think you… I thought we…”

“Well, now you know,” Derek snapped back, watching with a twinge of regret as Stiles flinched back. “So, I don’t think we should continue with the jokes.”

“The jokes,” echoed Stiles. He was staring blankly downwards into space.

“I think, considering the circumstances, they aren’t appropriate.”

“Right.”

“And I’m sure you can understand how they’d make me...uncomfortable.”

Stiles jerked his head back up and he took a step closer to Derek, reaching out as if he would grab Derek by the arm but not quite finding the courage to make contact. “We’re good, though, right? This isn’t going to stop us from being friends?”

Derek’s throat felt tight at the thought of completely losing that man in all ways, and he quickly moved forward until Stiles’ hand bumped his arm. He felt the fingers hesitate before, trembling, they wrapped themselves around Derek’s bicep. “Of course. We’ve been through too much to let a bit of unrequited feelings destroy everything. We’ll be fine.”

For some reason, Stiles looked on the verge of tears, but he still managed to smile and issue forth a short laugh of relief. “Good. Good, I’m glad. Thank you.”

Derek couldn’t help himself; he reached up to place his hand over Stiles’ on his arm and give it a little squeeze. “Whoever you’re with is lucky to have you,” Derek heard himself whisper, voicing his thoughts and laying his feelings painfully exposed.

Stiles choked on another laugh and pulled his hand back. “I should go,” Stiles rasped, jerking his thumb towards the door and giving Derek a weak, watery smile. “See ya, buddy.”

Buddy.

Long after Stiles’ Jeep had gone beyond Derek’s range of hearing, Derek continued to stare at the door and frown.

-----

Things weren’t as easy as that, though. Weeks went by, the awkwardness growing and digging a gaping trench between them. Scott had tried to talk with Derek, angrily accusing him of hurting Stiles, until he’d noticed that Derek was hurting just as much.

“You’ve got it backwards,” Derek had said. “I didn’t reject him, he’s in love with someone else. I’m the one with unrequited feelings in this.”

Scott had tilted his head, looking so much younger and reminding Derek of back when they first met and his alpha was nothing more than a bumbling omega. “That doesn’t make sense,” said Scott. “Stiles has been crazy about you since we were teens.”

That felt like a twist of the knife Derek was feeling in his gut since that moment in the parking lot. “Maybe he used to have a crush on me, but I guess he’s moved on.”

“No, but--Derek, he’s been a wreck since you guys talked. He came over that night and drank himself stupid on my couch while complaining about you. But, like, the sort of complaining that’s not really complaining. Like, ‘Why does he have to have such stupid, pretty eyes, the motherfucker.’ Stuff like that.”

Derek hadn’t really known what to say to that, so he just shrugged and looked away. “All I know is it was confirmed my feelings were not returned. The term ‘unrequited’ was even used.” He looked back at Scott, face serious as he added, “He called me ‘buddy’ when he left.”

Scott’s face had dropped at that, his eyes looking sad with understanding and empathized grief. “Well, damn.”

“Yeah.”

Scott had then ended their conversation by squeezing Derek’s shoulder and bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t get drunk.

As awkward as that entire conversation had been, however, it was nothing compared to how the others acted. But, even them and their mix of glares and sympathetic looks were mere background static to Stiles’ hollow glances and pointed silence. Each pack meeting was an exercise in torture, which Derek did not use lightly as a metaphor, considering his past.

It took Derek nearly dying from a rogue hunter’s bullet to get Stiles to speak to him again.

“Fuck,” Stiles hissed, shoving everyone else out of his way to get close enough to see the wound. “Allison, get me my wolfsbane and lighter! Derek, man, it’s okay. I’m here. Stay with me.”

It was really close to his heart. Maybe too close. The world was a bit dark around the edges, and Derek’s hand was shaking horribly as he lifted it to touch Stiles’ cheek. “You real?” he asked, voice weak. His tongue felt swollen and heavy in his mouth.

Stiles was staring at him with determination, even as moisture gathered in his eyes. He was moving too fast for Derek’s sluggish brain to keep up, hands rushing over Derek’s chest and doing things that hurt. “Course I’m real, buddy. Now just hold on. Don’t you fucking die on me, you sonuvabitch.”

Derek shook his head, but then immediately stopped when the motion made him dizzy. “I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable,” he slurred. “But I’m not sorry I love you.”

He felt Stiles’ hands still, thought he saw those amazing eyes snap to his in shock, but then Stiles was a blur of motion again. There was the acrid smell of burnt wolfsbane, then a sharp, searing pain shot through his chest worse than the bullet had. Everything blacked out, but the last thing he was aware of was Stiles calling out his name.

-----

Derek woke up slowly, the world coming back to him in pieces. First it was scent, which let him know he was at his place, and helped to calm him. Then, it was sound, which allowed him to hear the traffic and birds outside, his own heartbeat, and the familiar heartbeat of one other. Opening his eyes, sight slowly bled back to him, and he turned his head to see Stiles sitting on a chair beside his bed.

“Hey,” greeted Stiles, looking paler than normal and rather haggard.

When Derek opened his mouth to respond, he could only cough through the tacky dryness he felt. Stiles quickly leaned forward to help prop him up and pass him a glass of cold water. Once Derek had guzzled down half the glass, he pulled his head away with a murmured thanks. The hand propping him up was slow to release him back to the pillows, and Stiles barely glanced away from him as he carefully set the water down.

Stiles stared at him for a moment, before leaning closer again and holding out his arm as if showing Derek his shirt. “Hey, feel this sweater,” he said softly, eyes staring intently at Derek’s face as if he was bracing himself for something.

Tentatively, Derek lifted his hand to rub the material between his thumb and fingers. It was nice. Soft. But, he didn’t see why that was suddenly so important. When he gave Stiles an inquisitive look, Stiles swallowed hard and said, “You know what that is? Boyfriend material.”

Derek was too fucking worn out for that shit, so he closed his eyes on a pleading groan and turned his head away. “I don’t want to hear about that,” he rasped. “Not right now.” Not ever, really.

Instead of leaving him alone, though, Stiles gripped the blanket over Derek’s chest and leaned in closer still. “Scott and I had an interesting conversation while we were hauling your unconscious ass over here,” said Stiles, and there was an edge to his voice that had Derek slowly rolling his head back towards him. “He said that you told him you were the one who got rejected. He said you were a fucking mess over it. He said you claimed I was in love with someone else.”

His head was throbbing a little, even though he could tell his body was healing, his strength quickly returning. “That’s what happened.”

Stiles nearly snarled at him before standing up with a frustrated growl and rubbing his face vigorously with his hands while he paced. “Fucking…idiot! Why would I ever reject you? I’ve been hopelessly gone on you since I was in high school! Shit, man, you gave me wet dreams when I was sixteen and thought you were a goddamn serial killer! Then you had to turn out to be an actually decent guy with a heart and shit, and it was all downhill from there. ‘Abandon all hope, ye who look into Derek Hale’s eyes.’ For fuck’s sake, all of my exes dumped me because I kept hitting on you, even when they were around!”

Derek stared at Stiles, shocked into absolute silence, and wondered if he was still knocked out and this was all a dream. As Stiles’ little tirade wound down, he turned to face Derek again and waited expectantly for some sort of response. His chest was heaving, his hair was all in disarray, and his eyes spoke of someone teetering between a breakdown and murder. Slowly, Derek sat up fully in the bed and turned so that his legs were hanging off the edge. He met Stiles’ gaze, swallowed thickly, and said, “Your legs must be tired.” When Stiles’ brows came together in confusion, Derek continued, “Because you’ve been running through my thoughts all day.”

Stiles blinked at him for a moment, then snorted and burst out laughing. He laughed so hard that he doubled over as he stumbled back to the bed. “Buddy, that was weak. We need to work on that.”

“Stop calling me that.” Derek frowned at his knees, only looking back at Stiles when he felt the other man’s long, thin fingers press gently at his chin.

“Stop calling you what?”

“Buddy. I don’t want to be your buddy.” He spat the word as if it was the most offensive sound in the English language.

Stiles was smiling at him, eyebrows raised in playful surprise. “Oh yeah? What do you want to be?”

In answer, Derek reached up to wrap his hand behind Stiles’ head and pull him down for a kiss. His mouth probably tasted foul, but Stiles didn’t seem to mind, judging by the delighted sound he made as he crawled onto Derek’s lap. As things started to get heated, both of them grunting and groaning as they rocked against each other, Stiles suddenly pulled away with a gasp. “You’re injured! We shouldn’t be doing this. Lay back down and rest.”

Derek growled and leaned forward to nip at Stiles’ neck. “I’m fine. Get back here.”

“No no no no. You just had a wolfsbane bullet in your chest. You are laying down and resting until morning. Then we can fool around.”

“Stiles.” Exasperated, Derek took Stiles by the wrist and moved his hand over Derek’s bare chest. “I’m healed. It’s fine.”

“Derek, you are always fine, but that’s not the point. The point is your health matters to me.” When Stiles smiled at him, Derek melted and felt his resistance drain away. “You matter to me, you big idiot. So, please, for me? Rest?”

“If you’ll stay with me.”

That made Stiles smile even wider, and Derek honestly couldn’t remember a time in recent years when he’d felt so happy and light. “Of course.”