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Hibernation Station

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© ladypigswagon

picspam by ladypigswagon

 

Stiles meets his future husband on a rather unspectacular Wednesday. Hump day, which is the first time he’s ever felt like embracing that name for it (outside of a well-placed camel joke and who cares if those were overused and GEICO had ruined it for everyone? What else did the camel have going for it besides Wednesdays, that’s what Stiles would like to know. Wednesdays put camels on the map).

The day’s blah-winter bleak, the subway car cold and rattling on its tracks but Stiles has somehow slouched into the best seat in the house (well, rolling transit). Completely accidental, too, and in more of a desperate trip and fall over a guitar case and a duffel.

He spends a moment eyeing the case in B-movie horror. It’s not a mariachi case; life could be worse.

Then Stiles sees him. His future husband. 

art by andavs

He’s asleep, Stiles’ future husband, cramped into a corner seat next to one of the doors and pressed as far up against the plastic and glass as possible. His nose squashed against the sneeze guard-type window.

His shoulders are bunched up like if he could get farther away from the stranger next to him, he would. Stiles thinks he’s adorable because, yeah, people are the worst and he looks like a prickly… thing. Wait. What’s a notoriously prickly animal? Hummingbirds? Those things always seem to have a chip on their shoulder about something.

Right. He’s a prickly hummingbird.

Stiles’ prickly hummingbird of a future husband is wearing a cable knit beanie that’s been dragged down over soft-looking raven black hair.

It looks handmade.

Stiles’ dirty rocker model of a future husband knits. Take that, Posh Spice.

His pretty, pretty face is frowning, bushy eyebrows (and, damn, but this dude has eyebrow game) scrunched in towards the bridge of his nose. The perfect amount of stubble dusts his angular cheeks. Not knocked over the line of beard yet and instead looking rugged and scruffed up. How does he know that’s exactly how Stiles likes it worn? He must feel their connection too, that’s the only explanation.

His mouth is slightly parted, breath steaming the glass, lower lip wet.

It’s a real effort for Stiles not to slink across the subway car, settle between his legs, and bite.

He shifts a little with the rock of the train but his position stays the same. One arm crossed over his chest, shoved in the space between the crook of his elbow and the folds of his wool jacket. The other resting on his knee, palm up, fingers loose and gentle-looking. It’s somehow emphasizing his crotch, even though it’s nowhere near it (and there’s a noticeable bulge that Stiles is not noticing despite how it’s being all… noticeable). His skin is tan even against the dark jeans he’s wearing, which have reinforced patches where holes have torn through. From rough treatment rather than meticulous design.

His legs are totally splayed and spread halfway across the car, combat boots on his feet.

Stiles is completely in love with him.

His short eyelashes flutter once, twice. A Morse code marriage proposal, probably.

Stiles accepts.

He’s really probably a model, what with the chiseled good looks, and this is likely some kind of weird New York camouflaged art installation statement piece-thing that Stiles will have to pretend to understand with his classmates in a week or so. He half-expects to turn his head and find an ad with his future husband on it.

It would probably be really gross to take a sneaky picture of him so Stiles decides that Scott will just have to take his word for it.

I’m married from here on out. No one else will ever be able to live up to the perfection of Subway Sleeper. He’s beautiful and I’m having all his babies.

Scott texts back immediately. Because he’s Scott and he’s amazing.

dude, u got even less out of our hs health class than i did

Whatever. Doubter. Stiles is going to marry the hot, sleeping man with the disposition of an asshole hummingbird and have his babies and then Scott was going to be forced to build him a monument. Or get Harrison Ford to show up at his door in a long-sleeve v-neck and vest. Stiles really doesn’t know what happens. He’s not technically… right all that often.

His phone buzzes in the cradle of his fingers and he pokes at it, glad his gloves are fingerless.

u should stop lurking on the subway, creepin on people. u know theyre crackin down on that

Stiles snorts, keeping one eye on his future husband, who shifts in his seat, slipping lower down the back of it and turning his face more into the partition.

First off, dude, no, they are not. And second, I am not lurking. I am… enjoying the view. Drooling over it. Planning a future with it. Adoring it from afar.

His sleeping future husband snorts in his slumber, half-wakes himself up, and his eyelids flutter heavily before he’s back at it, bringing up both arms to clamp down around his torso.

Stiles leans forward expectantly, thinking maybe his future husband will do the same, because this is totally one of those moments. Those perfect, movie moments where they kiss in the rain or at an airport or something, but he’s deeper into sleep than before if anything.

And, well, that’s probably just because the setting is all wrong. They’re in a subway car with a diaper in the corner and gum under all the seats.

Stiles sighs. This is New York though, those things kind of find their way into every possible backdrop.

Whatever. They would make it work. Theirs will be a modern romance. (Maybe a literally trashy one but, eh, it’s a small price to pay to spend the rest of his life married to perfection.)

Luckily, Stiles knows how to be patient(ish). He can wait until his future husband is actually awake, tell him about the spring wedding and float the idea of hydrangeas as the centerpieces, but he’s willing to be flexible on that.

Kinda.

He doesn’t want to miss any possible sentience from his future husband and that’s the excuse he’s sticking to for why he’s staring unblinkingly at the heavy heave of his chest as he breathes in and out, the shuffling movement of his shoulders, and the twitching of his fingers.  There’s not a lot of fidgeting to catch his attention—which he makes up for with a lot of his own.

It’s definitely a forever kind of love, Stiles decides, and not a first-marriage type.

He nearly misses his stop being announced in garbled fashion over the PA system. He blinks stupidly. Usually the ride home seems interminable and today it had passed far too quickly.

Stiles frowns, getting up from his seat, and looks down to see he has an unread text from Scott.

this does not bode well

Stiles grins, wholeheartedly disagreeing. He’s met his future husband; now all he has to do is snag him.

 


 

Except there’s a difficulty level of ninefafillion that Stiles in no way factored into his equation.  And, he’s just going to say it, sleeping people are super unhelpful when it comes to talking out the problem.

"This is bordering on some truly interesting psychopathy," Lydia notes, pouting up her lips and idly tapping her fingers on Stiles’ desk. She muses aloud, half-spinning in his chair, “I bet I could do a decent thesis on you.”

Stiles shushes her. Let it not ever be said that he lacks dedication, or a willingness to deface infrastructure. This is not a laughing matter; he’s closing in on something here. Maybe. No, he is. The power of positive thinking and whatnot. He glances between the metro map he’s pinned up and the one he’s drawn on the wall, huge Xs through an admittedly small percentage of the stops. He just needs a better vision board, obviously. That’s where the issue is.

“I have no idea where he gets on!” he groans in frustration, jamming the marker into his other hand. Which is when he realizes he has ink on the tips of those fingers. He licks them, rubs them together, and frowns when the marks don’t fade in the slightest. His does know that his skin tastes like plaster and chemicals now though. Gross. He shakes it off and goes back to the map, jabs the marker cap into his chin and says deductively, “There are only so many stops he can get on, right? And yet every time I see him, he’s out freaking cold. If I could just find my patient zero—”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Lydia interrupts primly, “He’s not a disease.” She pauses for a second. “Though you’re certainly acting as though you’re sick in the head,” she mutters under her breath.

“Fine,” Stiles concedes. “If I could just find the nexus point, the start of it all, where his journey begins, then! Hah, then! Then I could see what color his eyes are,” he trails off dreamily, snapping out of it at Lydia’s judgmental face. He coughs. “He has to be awake to step onto the train, right, so all I have to do is—”

“You’re purposefully ignoring the idea that maybe he lives there,” Lydia butts in with a sharp smile, like she thinks announcing that Stiles’ future husband might be homeless is going to shame him into being less obsessive about him.

As freaking if. This is his soulmate he’s talking about here.

“I wish he lived there! Do you know how appealing that would make me look in comparison? He’d have to go for me then.” Stiles flops down in the armchair he’s turned to face the wall and frowns. “As it is, he’s probably some kind of prince, or heir, or god.”

Lydia rolls her eyes. “Each as likely as the one before it, of course.” She lets out a long breath through her nose and suggests perkily, “Have you ever considered that maybe he’s faking so he doesn’t have to talk to you? You said you’ve tried waking him.”

And Stiles had. Sort of. Mostly he’d just boldly touched his future husband’s knee with the tips of his fingers. (His skin was warm even through the patch on his jeans and Stiles had felt like a total creep and gotten off at a stop that wasn’t his in an effort to flee from his own weird behavior.) He’d also made the odd loud noise that had gone completely ignored by not just his future husband, but everyone else on the metro.

“Meaning the options are: he’s a figment of your imagination—and then I’m definitely using you as the subject of my thesis—he’s a ghost, or he’s ignoring you.”

Well. That sums it up nicely.

“Wow. Can’t believe didn’t think up the scenario that would do the most damage to my self-esteem. I’m usually on top of that,” Stiles says with a laugh when really his chest just feels like it’s caving in on itself. Could his future husband be that opposed to so much as talking to him?

Jesus, that was a depressing thought.

“No way, man,” Scott defends hotly from the sofa, mouth full of artificial cheese from the macaroni he’s eating directly out of the pot he cooked it in. With the wooden spoon he cooked it with. “You’ll get him. I’m getting that tux tomorrow.” He winks.

Stiles actually considers dropping his future husband for a half-second and focusing all his love on Scott. Maybe he would’ve too if he weren’t very firmly Allison’s man. Which is probably for the best. Because then Stiles would’ve had to broach the whole subject of him sleeping exclusively with other people. Ideally, one other person. Still: “Love you, buddy.”

Scott points at him with the spoon. Gooey cheese drips onto their carpet. “Right back at ya, man.”

“I can’t believe you’re letting him do that to your wall,” Lydia says with a slight scoff.

Scott glances over at it, almost like he forgot it was there, and shrugs. “He said he’d paint over it, or pay the security deposit if it comes to that.”

“I keep my promises. Totally gonna marry this guy, get our security deposit back, and become a beekeper.”

Lydia blinks at him.

Stiles waves a hand. “I went through an apiary phase when I was fifteen, as all teenage boys do, made an unfortunate promise and, well, that’s on the list forever now.”

“I still say it might end up being your calling,” Scott says, ever the optimist, big puppy dog smile stretching his cheeks.

Stiles kind of wants to pet him. Decides there’s no reason he shouldn’t and ruffles up his hair.

Scott’s phone rings and then he’s lost in a world of Allison and cheese and Lydia asks blandly, “So, what is your grand plan? Because all I’m seeing here,” she gestures encompassingly towards the wall, “is serial killer in training.”

“Or monster hunter,” Stiles retorts weakly. “I’m following in Sam Winchester’s footsteps, hunting, er, werewolves and stuff.”

Lydia doesn’t look impressed.

Stiles can’t say he blames her.

The problem is: Stiles doesn’t really have a plan. For all his scheming and systemic stop surveillance and subpar vision boards, he still hasn’t figured out which is his future husband’s original location and therefore hasn’t been able to fake-chance-meet him at it.

Before he passes out like he doesn’t know what consciousness even is.

Luckily, Stiles has figured out that he prefers the back three cars, that their schedules overlap on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays and that he probably has narcolepsy because he has never not been out friggin’ cold when Stiles lays eyes on him.

He’s always asleep, rocking with the motion of the car, spread out – uncaring of his fellow passengers – with his face turned as far away as possible from anyone else, usually jammed up against a window or a partition, swaying into an aisle or – on one unfortunate occasion when he’d had people on either side of him – dropped down low against his own chest.

Stiles’ neck had winced in sympathy.

So.

He’s still just as much of an enigma as he was the day Stiles first laid eyes on him, and no closer to being un-enigma-ed either, but at least he’s close by and being mysterious. Even if the train’s always fairly full by the time Stiles sees him and he can never manage to sit closer to him than an aisle away.

Well.

At least Stiles still gets to look at all the perfection that is his future husband on a fairly regular basis.

Theirs will just have to be a long love story, which Stiles figures is good because that’s the only way it’s ever going to become a hit TV series.

 


 

He yawns himself into the back of the train on Wednesday, eyes barely peeled as he absentmindedly searches out the silent reassurance of his future husband’s slumbering breaths. Maybe the guy’s got this whole public transit-thing figured out; sleeping is definitely the only way to go to keep sane.

Stiles finally spots a booted foot spread out halfway across the car he’s just entered, smiling involuntarily, and then blinks rapidly to make sure what he’s seeing isn’t a mirage. Or wishful thinking.

His future husband is asleep, as he always is – Stiles’ own snorting and snuffling and frowning Sleeping Beauty, with a prim woman sitting next to him who’s occasionally glancing over at him. Mainly at his crotch. Which, rude.

He is very clearly already future-married to another person. And Stiles would bet that hussy totally knows it too.

But—but the magic thing—the incredible thing—the thing thing is that the seat next to him is empty.

It’s literally never happened. In weeks of meeting like this – or not-meeting like this, as the case may be – the seat next to Stiles’ future husband has never been empty.

Stiles gingerly sinks down into it (after forcibly not running to claim it), eyes wide and swallowing intensely, like he expects if he moves too fast he’ll jolt himself awake from this impossible dream at any moment. Maybe he really has lost it as Lydia keeps claiming. He’d been up all night worrying about the exam he’d just taken and maybe the sleep deprivation has made him start hallucinating epic things like this that could never happen in reality.

He’s pretty sure he’d hallucinate it with less wadded-up gum stuck everywhere though, so, point in favor of: ‘this is actually happening.’

He carefully cradles his messenger bag in his lap, legs oddly squeezed together in an effort not to brush against his future husband’s. Stiles knows how little he likes his space to be encroached upon and he tries to never do things his future husband dislikes.

It’s hard to gauge all his pet peeves of course, since he’s… never actually been awake in Stiles’ presence.

He’s even more gorgeous up close. Nostrils flaring like he’s smelling something good – flutter even more intent than usual. There are small cracks near the corners of his eyes that Stiles hopes are laugh lines rather than weariness – though he finds he would believe either. His forehead and bushy brows are furrowed. His scruff has gotten a little thicker and slightly more scraggly. His jeans don’t have holes today but they are splattered with paint. He’s wearing fingerless gloves and the gray cable knit beanie again. His head is pressed down into his chest, so maybe someone had been sitting next to him and gotten off as Stiles got on.

Which meant the fates were working in Stiles’ fucking favor today. He should probably sacrifice a goat or something to thank them. Or maybe just throw a hot dog down a sewer grate. That was the same thing, right?

The car lurches and the woman on his future husband’s other side uses the excuse to press up closer to him, her elbow resting on the crook of his and her hip squished tight to his thigh. Stiles throws her a disgusted look, actually indignant on his future husband’s behalf, but she purposefully doesn’t meet his gaze.

The man between them makes a huffing sound, followed by something almost like a small whine in the back of his throat and then he—then he’s—then

Stiles’ heart feels like it’s going to hammer out of his chest. He swallows past the lump in his throat just as the bridge of his future husband’s nose touches his jaw. It drops to the curve of his neck, forehead taking its place and then he’s breathing right up against Stiles’ skin, warmth and chill and dampness and the spine-tingling sensation of lips, face pressed right up to Stiles’ throat.

Stiles can feel his future husband’s eyelids fluttering there, the ticklish brush of raven hair and it’s probably profoundly disturbing how hard he is just from this. Looking down he can see nothing more than the cable knit of his future husband’s beanie, the pattern intricate and well-made. He’s seriously going to make a great partner once Stiles convinces him that’s where they’re headed.

He stretches out his leg, grabbing the knees of his jeans and tugging to hide the way he’s tented them. His hard-on is only getting more insistent though, pulsing in time with his future husband’s breaths on his neck and making Stiles shift uncomfortably on the stiff plastic seat. (Don't think 'stiff.' Fuck.) Despite telling his dick that this is five-hundred percent inappropriate, it’s clearly chosen to ignore any upper-management input today.

And Stiles knows it’s a lost cause, really. This is quite possibly the hottest thing he’s ever experienced in his entire life. Which is sad for him but also undeniably true.

His future husband has turned his face totally towards Stiles, something Stiles has never witnessed him do, and their shoulders are pressed right up against one another’s. It cocks his hip out closer to the woman on his other side and Stiles decides to be bold. 

art by nosetothewind94

He reaches around his future husband’s back, wraps tentative fingers over the curve of his hip and tugs him bodily into the scoop of the seat so he’s no longer touching the woman next to him (who shoots Stiles a dirty look that Stiles gives her right back). The movement’s jostled his head from Stiles’ neck to his shoulder and Stiles means to remove his arm, really he does, except—

Except his future husband is smiling. It’s small and soft on his mouth, a little clumsy like his lips don’t know how to hold it. It shows more around his eyes than his mouth anyway. The lines are crinkled up and they are laugh lines and Stiles wouldn’t move from this spot for anything.

Including his stop, which has just been announced over the PA system

A quick mental inventory confirms that his apartment is, in fact, highly overrated and all his material goods are probably what have been holding him back from reaching his full potential anyway, because he will absolutely go full-on nomad if it means the warm weight against his side stays heavy and soft and put

Stiles’ fingers reflexively tighten on his future husband’s hip. At least he tells himself it’s a reflex.

And it is.

Probably.

He’s not sure if it’s the muffled sound or the rock of the train that has his future husband shifting but shift he does, the tip of his nose grinding into Stiles’ skin, huff of breath warm and moist on the slope of Stiles’ neck and his hand falling from loosely resting over his own chest to flop onto Stiles’ thigh and, okay, whoa. Coming on the metro is never appropriate. Stiles knows that, having been a trapped spectator to the event more than once. It wasn’t hard to decide after that that orgasms are best when had in privacy. Really. And, on a personal note, coming in his pants is something he promised himself he would never do again after that party freshman year when Heather had positively cackled about it.

Which, you know, rude.

Stiles had maintained it was the highest compliment and left with as much dignity as he could muster.  Which was pretty much zilch.  Because he’d, you know, come in his pants, and penguin-waddling out of a room in tacky jeans really killed any possible ‘suave’ a person could have. Even James Bond couldn’t have pulled that shit off.

He sucks in a steadying breath and his future husband’s eyebrows gather over the bridge of his nose for an angry meeting as Stiles’ not-coming-in-his-pants shimmy has jostled his future husband’s precarious position. Stiles immediately settles, leaning back in the seat so his future husband can better lean against him. The last thing he wants is to accidentally undo their positions. He doesn’t think he’s creepy enough to manhandle his future husband back into this one, which means he has to protect it with his life.

Which is when his phone starts buzzing. Of course. Stiles ignores it, too busy trying to convince his skin to unprickle under the back of his future husband’s hand. He stares at it, willing it to mean nothing to him. Because. Like. Hands? What even were those things? Topped with squiddish appendages with minds of their own—his fingers independent-of-his-brain tighten up around his future husband’s side again—and that is clearly something to call the Coast Guard about, not something that every inch of his body should’ve erupted in aroused goosebumps over.

It’s useless.

His future husband might as well be rubbing Stiles’ dick through his jeans because it’s reacting as if he’s doing that no matter what. Ugh. Was it possible to die of sheer embarrassment?

Or blue balls?

Stiles’ phone immediately starts buzzing again and he glares at the pocket of his hoodie it’s hidden inside. Obviously he is doing the most important thing he will ever do in his entire lifetime and it should stop trying to interrupt this special, sacred, life-altering journey he’s currently on. He’s gonna come out of this train ride with a fiancé and his phone needs to respect the epicness of that.

The buzzing fades out again and Stiles mentally blasts a sarcastic, ‘Thank you!’ at it.

And it instantly starts vibrating again.

Stiles frowns at his pocket. Okay, no one calls him like this for anything less than an emergency and his heart instantly shoves up into his throat, mind flying to his dad and the phone call he’s been dreading ever since he realized what being a sheriff actually entailed. He fumbles out the shaking phone with shaky fingers and presses, ‘Answer,’ eyes too blurry to focus on the caller, gripping his arm tighter around his future husband.

Hopefully he’s on board with that. Considering he’s the future source of all of Stiles’ comfort though, they’re really only getting a jumpstart on that whole thing and how is that not nifty? You know, groping first, names later.

That happened. Right? Stiles loosens his grip. It didn’t and he was ew. This was so his future husband didn’t fall over into the aisle, not so he could bad-touch him.

“Stiles,” Scott says in his ear, slightly panicked.

Stiles’ frown deepens. “Bro, deep breaths.” He waits for Scott to do it and actually hears him deflate over the line, while he does the same on the other side of it. This is mood killer 101 right here and Stiles isn’t exactly ungrateful for it. “What’s up?”

“Are you anywhere near Greenpoint, man?”

Stiles glances up at the ticker above the doors, then down at the subway map near it. He’s four stops away, he thinks. “Semi. Why, what’s going on?”

Scott sighs, a harsh roar through their tinny connection. “Allison had a fight with her mom. Again. About us. Again. She’s out by the range and I don’t think she should be driving, she was—I’m not sure I’ve ever heard her like that before.”

Scott sounds shaky himself and Stiles abandons his quest on the spot, even as his future husband snuffles into his throat and his hand burns with heat against his thigh. “Of course, man, of course. Are you good? You need anything? There’s that cheese shop, Greenwich-something, out there and I could pick you up a block as big as your head provided it only costs fifteen dollars and a gently-used, heavily-saliva-ed lollipop stick.”

Scott huffs out a slight laugh. “I’m good, thanks. Stiles, really, thank you. I mean it.”

He verbally waves the gratitude away. “Not even a thing, chicken wing. How often do I get to look dashing and heroic and rescue damsels in distress?” He pauses for a half-second. “Don’t answer that, because the correct response is: ‘Always, Stiles. You spend your life in a perpetual state of awesome and manly.’ And as a postscript to that: never tell Allison I called her a damsel.”

“I’ll take it to the grave, man, honest.”

“Sweet,” Stiles says before hanging up with Scott. He sighs heavily and looks down at the dark, tousled hair beneath his eye line. “Any chance you want to wake up and introduce yourself in the next,” he glances up at the ticker announcing the next stop, “five to ten minutes?”

His future husband has no reaction to that.

Stiles sighs some more. “Yeah, I thought not.”

When the stop for Greenpoint is announced over the PA as the next in line, Stiles carefully repositions his future husband in his seat before deciding he should just take the one Stiles was occupying as it’s against a partition the way his future husband prefers.

He slips out of the bucket seat, gripping his future husband’s shoulders to keep him from toppling over, shivering at the feel of their skin leaving each other’s, lips and eyelashes and warmth brushing his neck. “How are we gonna do this, big guy?” He almost decides he definitely shouldn’t be groping his future husband like this and flees before things get weird—er, weirder—when he catches eyes with the handsy lady on his other side.

Yeah, that’s not happening.

Stiles tightens his hand around the sleeve of his future husband’s jacket and curls the fingers of his other over the outside of his thigh on the opposite side (and, fuck, but there’s something stupidly arousing about feeling muscle like that so solid and substantial under his palm after having nothing but fantasies about the heavy slope of it) and hefts him over as gently as he can. “Christ, you’re warm,” Stiles mutters under his breath, leaning close to make sure he doesn’t fall forward either. “Heavy, too.”

It works, though.

Mostly.

He’s definitely in Stiles’ seat but his head had hit the plexiglass with a dull thunk on the journey over and his mouth and eyebrows are equally and grumpily pursed. Whatever, at least he’s away from Grabby McMolesty. “You’re welcome,” Stiles tells him, patting his thigh before removing his hand from it. He doesn’t linger.

He doesn’t. He’s going to have to briefly become religious just so he can be absolved of this shit.

The doors open and he sprints out. Because that had definitely felt like a violation of personal space, but Stiles maintained it was a personal-space-violation for the greater good.

That woman had been hungry.

 


 

“I can’t believe Scott called you,” Allison says for the third time, leaning her head back against the passenger seat’s headrest.

Stiles drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “Really? You can’t? Because I’m pretty sure the only number programmed into his phone besides yours and mine is Vijay’s Discount Pizza Hut & Fries.”

Allison lets out a light huff of laughter and Stiles counts that as a win, refraining from fist pumping to himself (but really only because the light’s turned green). “Point,” she concedes, eyes still an angry red.

“Are we talking about it or are we talking about… anything else? Because I recently watched a documentary on silkworms, just fair warning.”

Allison laughs with more conviction. “It’s just.” She sighs and pulls at the splitting ends of her long hair. “The usual, you know? She has zero respect for my feelings, mostly because she doesn’t trust that I’m not ‘too hormonal’ to know what they are.” Stiles scoffs and Allison agrees with a smug sound of her own. “‘Scott and I are too young to be so serious,’” she parrots, “God forbid we start living together, the whole world might—” her eyes widen and she claps a hand over her mouth, “Oh my God, Stiles, we were going to tell you, I swear, we just wanted to—”

Stiles laughs out loud. “Jesus, tell me you didn’t think you guys were being sneaky?” He would almost feel bad for them if they did. “Scott left circled apartment listings on my bed.”

“Oh.” She looks over at him uneasily. “And you’re… are you okay with that?”

“I’m thrilled with that, Allison, duh.” He rolls his eyes and she smiles widely in relief at him. “It’s a long time coming, honestly. I will be over at all hours and I do expect to have my own key specially made and you should probably still shop for three—or, well, like, eighteen—people and, yeah, maybe it won’t be as different as you’re expecting,” he trails off leadingly.

Allison slumps down in the seat so her butt is all the way on the edge of it and her hair is puffed up behind her. “You think I could get Scott to move if any of those things weren’t true?” She glances over at him again and says, “Hey, Stiles?”

“Yessum?”

“Thanks.”

“Any and every time, my dear.”

She clears her throat, veering away from sincerity, and adds, “You didn’t have to go so far out of your way, you know.”

Stiles shrugs. “Eh, I was already well past my stop. I was on a quest. Which you and Scott conspired to interrupt, by the way. I’m hoping I get extra best friend points or a new sweater or a sleeve of Pop-Tarts or something for my troubles.” If video games have taught him anything, it’s that side-quests were to be rewarded with experience points, wardrobe upgrades or stuff. He would’ve gone for monetary recompense too but Scott was even more broke than Stiles at any given time.

“Tell me you weren’t on your way to throw a ring into a fryer again?”

Stiles’ cheeks heat. “That was symbolic,” he defends weakly.

“You got us kicked out of that Burger King. They still have your picture up.”

“I know,” Stiles says proudly. “I’m big time now, sis. You better watch who you’re running with, I make bad look good.”

Allison raises her gaze heavenward as though praying for strength.

“I was following Subway Sleeper to his stop,” Stiles admits after another beat. He grimaces. “Which I realize now sounds so, so stalkerish but, in my defense, he was sleeping on me and it would’ve felt rude to move him out of anything other than pure necessity. And it being my stop just did not qualify. I know, I ran the numbers.”

Allison immediately straightens up, expression eager. “You got that close to him? No way.”

“Oh ho, yes way, Miss Argent. Let me paint you a word picture here.”

He spends the next two hours doing just that, the story spilling over into the apartment, and parts getting repeated (now with the help of Allison) for the benefit of Scott and Lydia. He appreciates that Allison is just as romanticize-y and purple prose-y rhapsodizing about it as Stiles is.

She’s going to be a brilliant sister-in-law when the time comes.

“It’s so romantic,” she says, batting her huge eyelashes and putting her clasped hands under her chin winningly.

“Or creepy,” Lydia, for some reason, feels compelled to point out. “I’m worried-about-your-sanity levels of creepy.”

Stiles sits on the arm of the chair she’s in with his back to her. She shoves her knee into his spine and Stiles pushes back against it in silent argument.

“You have to do something, man,” Scott says.

Stiles blinks at him. “Like what?” He’s pretty sure he’s already doing everything, thank you very much. Like, staring and appreciating and not coming in his pants. It’s not nearly as easy as he’s made it look, okay?

“Write down your name and number and slip it into his pocket,” Allison suggests.

“Okay, well that’s…” Stiles starts.

“Gross,” Lydia finishes. “He doesn’t even know you. He’s unconscious.”

Stiles deflates and sinks down into the chair next to her. They’re uncomfortably squashed together but neither of them make any attempt to adjust their position. “She’s right. It’s not like he knows about any of this. As far as my future husband is concerned, our story hasn’t even started yet.”

Lydia rolls her eyes. “Pleased you’re so certain it’s going to though.”

Stiles sniffs at her. He wishes she’d stop being so… logical. She’s really starting to ruin his parade with all that rain.

“I don’t believe that,” Allison says suddenly. “I bet he does know who you are. You said he always sits as far away as possible from everyone, right? But he was all over you today. Maybe he doesn’t know you, per se, but he knows there’s someone he feels comfortable with on that train.”

Stiles points at her enthusiastically. “Yes, headcanon accepted! He loves me, he just doesn’t know he loves me.”

“Maybe just your name,” Scott pipes up, “like, as a test? If you leave your name and number, he might think you’re some skeezy guy hitting on him and bad-touching him while he’s out. But if you leave your name maybe he’ll know that you’re trying to say you’re you, the guy he was all over. If you get a response, you can assume he knows you – even unconscious, and if you don’t then no harm done, right?”

“Scott,” Stiles says, voice breathy with awe, “that was kind of brilliant.”

Scott ducks his head and Allison kisses his cheek proudly. “Yeah, well, I’m rooting for you, bro.”

Stiles beams at him.

 


 

He gets on the metro on Wednesday with the note already made up and in his hoodie pocket. It’s simple and to the point and exists more in the hopes of establishing contact than imparting information:

My name is Stiles

That’s draft number two hundred and thirty seven, by the way. He’d gone back and forth on the winky face for entirely too long. The seat next to his future husband is occupied but he’s set up in a corner one again. When Stiles’ stop is called, he stands up, grips the pole next to his future husband’s seat, and slips the folded note into his future husband’s front coat pocket. It’s not easy, his arms are crossed protectively over his chest as per usual, but Stiles manages it without even looking ridiculous.

He squeezes his eyes together and pulls in a breath of cold air. Well. The next time he steps on the train he’ll finally know if this really is all in his head or not.

If it is then at least Lydia will be able to write her thesis on him. There, silver linings all around.

 


 

Stiles’ future husband doesn’t show up on the train on Friday.

Which is fine.

Never mind that he’s been there every Friday for something like three months straight (okay, or precisely two months, two weeks and six days) and only once Stiles has attempted to establish contact with him has he absconded from the metro with a Sbarro receipt in his coat pocket that had been graffitied with Stiles’ name (and—less importantly—Stiles’ heart).

Did that count as identity theft?

Stiles certainly feels like something important has been stolen from him.

He’s not going to panic though. He’s not. It’s probably nothing… just a change in a routine that’s been so consistent he could set his watch by it.

Fuck. No harm done, Scott says. Stiles nearly laughs wildly. Right, tell that to the stabbing pain in his chest.

This is it though, huh? His entire future ruined simply because his dirty rocker model non-future husband can’t accept how perfect they are for each other. Who the fuck’s going to knit for him now, that’s what Stiles would like to know.

If he isn’t on the train today, Stiles thinks, drearily checking seats, then he’ll just have to accept that his future husband isn’t actually his future husband. Instead he’ll be a story Stiles tells to his eighteen cats every year on his birthday until he dies and they eat his face off before anyone can find him.

Stiles steps into the second-to-last car and sees a miracle. An impossibility. A great shining ray of hope. It’s as if the sky’s parted and the sun is haloed all around the sleeping, scowling, booted, asshole hummingbird that Stiles has fallen madly in love with.

It’s the conversational skills that wooed him, truly.

And! Impossibly—improbably—there is an ‘and’ and the ‘and’ is that the seat across from his future husband is vacant. It’s not as great as next to but it’s something where Stiles previously had a whole lot of nothing.

Stiles doesn’t contain himself this time. He sprints to the open seat and throws himself down into it. And—

He’s honestly not sure what he was expecting. For the guy to have it written on his forehead?

My name is Husband Material.

Then maybe on his shirt underneath:

Reserved for Stiles.

Then maybe with a subheading of:

A truly unique and strapping first name.

Was that so unreasonable?

Apparently: yes. Even a return note seems to’ve been asking for a lot as there’s no paper sticking out of his pocket or safety pinned to his shirt and, holy fucking God, Stiles made it all up.

This is all in his fucking head.

His future husband had obviously found the note and had no idea what the hell a Stiles was or why it would want him to know it and, holy shit, this is possibly the worst Stiles has ever felt in his entire life.

There’s nothing here, just a sleeping guy who happened to want to sleep on the odd random person and that person had been Stiles once and he’d run with it.

No, no, no. The epic scale of his humiliation is actually primed to slide him headlong into another as he can feel his breaths growing shorter. Not here.

He’s going to have a panic attack on the subway because a man who’s never been conscious around him doesn’t know who he is.

This is his most pathetic moment right here. He thinks with some truly dark humor that at least the model good-looking guy (who isn’t Stiles’ future anything) will know nothing about this.

He scrunches down into his seat, trying to hide his face, maybe even get his whole head between his knees in an attempt to shake this off when something taps him on the shoulder. He lifts his head slowly, trying not to give away that there’s any panic-induced anything happening on his face, and sees a dark-skinned woman he doesn’t recognize standing awkwardly in front of him.

Stiles blinks at her. Maybe none of this is actually happening to him and he’s gone completely bonkers? Lydia’s probably his doctor and this woman is the consult she’s called in since he’s got to be some kind of dysfunctional marvel at this point and she’s doing some study on him and he’s in a loony bin somewhere. God, it would make so much more sense than this. Because this is starting to get a funhouse dementia-packed quality to it.

She points behind her. “Perhaps we should switch seats?”

Stiles cranes his neck around her and instantly sees what she’s talking about. Subway Sleeper has slid down as far in his seat as possible, his back halfway off the edge of it, trying to get his foot across to touch Stiles’. He would’ve succeeded at it too, only Stiles had pulled his feet up on the seat with him to get his knees to push against his ears, hoping the pressure would calm him down.

Stiles jumps up like his seat has turned into a bed of porcupine quills, hand convulsively clutching at his messenger bag, and stutters out, “Yeah, yes, thank you. Gets separation anxiety from me, you know? The hot ones, they can’t resist the gangly charm.” He offers her a smile that smarts, head still swimming.

Subway Sleeper’s nostrils flare as soon as Stiles settles in at his side and, even though he’s in the most uncomfortable position Stiles has ever seen a human being pretzel themselves into, his only move is to turn his head (which is halfway down the back of the seat, neck cricked awfully) into Stiles’ hoodie, right above his elbow. He inhales deeply and lets out an audible sigh.

Stiles takes pity on him, even though he’s the most confusing person in the world, and struggles him back upright into a sitting position. It helps that Sub—his future husband (fuck it, they’re clearly getting married. Stiles may be more fuzzy on the details, like how or why or what the fuck, but it’s happening) goes along with Stiles’ inelegant tugging. His head ends up in the crook of Stiles’ neck again and Stiles sighs and scrubs at his hair with gentle knuckles, not covered up by the beanie today.

He smells nice, like… charcoal maybe? Which is when Stiles notices that his curled fingers are a dusky black at the pads. He can more immediately catch the scent of his hair though, which is something pine-y and woodsy, and impressively soft to the touch.

Stiles doesn’t bury his face in the dark sprawl.

But he wants to.

“You don’t want to tell me your name but this you’ll do,” Stiles says disbelievingly under his breath. “Names are oh so intimate, whereas this? Yeah, this is something I do with my plumber and accountant and barista on the regular, sure. You are so freaking weird, man.”

Stiles’ future husband huffs a warm breath into his neck, which makes every inch of Stiles’ skin erupt in goosebumps.

Stiles frowns at him. He honestly can’t tell if he’s constructed this whole thing out of loneliness and want or if it’s actually happening. He didn’t get any response from his future husband with the note but he’d nearly broken his back trying to get across the aisle to him.

What the hell did that mean?

“I’m not going to follow you around by the nose anymore,” Stiles tells him, hoping he has enough self-respect for it to be true. He’s getting off at his own stop and he’s going to stop acting like a needy stray. (Probably.) Stiles pokes his future husband in the shoulder and he frowns in his sleep. “Time for you to do some of the chasing, all right?”

Stiles’ stop is announced over the PA as a fitting punctuation to his decision and Stiles only lingers an extra few seconds this time before walking out.

 


 

Scott upturns his shot glass on the bar and summarizes all of what Stiles has been saying with the concise, erroneous statement: “So you’re giving up?”

“I am not giving up,” Stiles says slowly, since Scott has decided to lose about a million and six IQ points between when they started this conversation and now.

Scott scoffs, raises a condemnatory eyebrow. “Even after he almost M.C. Escher’d his spine for you?”

Stiles mutters more to the cuff of his sleeve than Scott, “The train was all Weebles Wobble that day, okay, it was probably just…” he waves his hand in an ambling fashion in front of him, “geometric physics on a fulcrum meinhof.”

The clamor and warbling of the bar’s patrons in the background roars into the foreground as they both fall silent, digesting Stiles’ nonsensical speech. Nothing more than an diversionary tactic on Stiles’ end.

Which doesn’t work, as Scott is not diverted.

“Now you’re just saying a bunch of science-y sounding words that neither of us understands in the hopes of derailing our conversation.” He jabs proudly into his own chest. “See, at least I’m using train terminology.”

Stiles has to give him that one.

“Besides, that argument only works if everyone else was doing the same thing.”

Crapbag. Why does alcohol turn Scott into a fucking ACME agent?

Stiles sighs, says glumly, “I’m not getting my hopes up about this, okay? That’s all.”

Scott’s eyes narrow. It’s probably supposed to look vicious or intimidating or something. Instead he looks like he has a butterfly on the end of his nose and it’s ticklish. Scott should probably just wander around with a perpetual flower crown on his head and accept that he’s an overgrown puppy already. “It’s Lydia, isn’t it? She got to you. I’ll have a talk with her.”

And there ‘talk’ could be replaced with ‘ice cream social’ without the slightest dissonance.

“First of all, Lydia would eat your heart right out of your chest. You barely have the constitution to share air with her.” Stiles feels it’s only fair to warn him of that particular landmine. “And, second, I am not giving up. I was wrong. I can accept that.”— Ish.—“If he’d—If he knew who I was then he would’ve said, done, arranged something, right?”

Stiles is sure on that point. There should’ve been a response of some sort if his future husband knew him at all. He would’ve been as desperate as Stiles to reach out.

And he hadn’t.

But then why had he nearly misaligned vertebrae just for some fleeting contact with him directly after that failure to communicate?

Flurgher and other frustrated sounds.

His future husband is such a damn conundrum! Stiles can already tell they’ll be one of those couples who fight all the time. He and his future husband aren’t even to the verbal stage yet and Stiles already kind of wants to shake him stupid.

“I can’t believe you’re giving up,” Scott says vehemently, ignoring literally everything Stiles has said. Stiles would hate him for it if it were physically possible. “Stiles, you knew with him. You know. I got that feeling with Allison; it’s not something you let go of. I don’t care what Elsa says about it. Don’t let anyone talk you out of that, not even you. Definitely not some snow queen sorceress thing.” At Stiles’ raised eyebrow, he admits, “I only half-watched that movie, man, sorry.”

“Scott,” Stiles points out carefully, “I also said you could absolutely live in a LEGO house when we were eleven.” Things not to be trusted: Stiles’ judgment.

“And I did,” Scott argues—oh right, further things not to be trusted: Scott’s judgment, “for three whole days!” They both wince. “Mom was pissed.”

Stiles lets out a gusty breath, remembering the epic punishment that had followed. “Was she ever.”

“Don’t give up,” Scott decides with finality, pointing at Stiles after ordering another round. “Or I’m going to make you wear a ‘quitter’ ribbon for a week straight.” Stiles could actually probably live with that if worst came to—“It comes with a matching leotard.”

Goddammit.

 


 

Even with ribbon and leotard on the line, Stiles legitimately contemplates staying where he is in the second car, faking a head injury, and pretending amnesia for the rest of his natural life.

Unfortunately for him, lying to Scott has proved to be like trying to tie a string around water.

And maybe Stiles wants to see him. The prickly hummingbird. The asshole who tries to take up as much space as possible, even unconscious, while still keeping his distance from everyone around him. They’re going to be married after all—maybe—and Stiles gets to want to see his husband.

Right?

If there’s nothing… If—If he doesn’t react this time, then it might be time for Stiles to ‘give up’ on this, though. He doesn’t want to be a future exhibit in some Lydia Martin-run Museum of Sad Patheticness.

(He wouldn’t even put something like that past her.)

He twines under arms, slips between bodies, steps over flopped and haphazard bags, tries not to agitate anyone in a tinfoil hat, smiles at babies so they won’t start wailing, and attempts not to attract every piece of gum in the vicinity to his shoes, shirt, or hair on his way to the back.

He’s about to give up when Stiles finds him in the last packed car, arms crossed over his chest, sneer on his face, and legs sprawled halfway across the aisle. Stiles insinuates himself—with a lot of thrown elbows and confident shouldering—onto the pole directly in front of him, their feet nearly shoved into one another’s simply from lack of space (and how diligently Subway Sleeper is trying to disrupt everyone else’s day).

Stiles stares.

He seems more… volatile today, lips twisted in an ugly grimace, eyebrows gripping at each other beneath a crumpled forehead. Whole body like it’s vibrating, ready—ready to something, even though he’s as still as ever, more tense maybe but still.

At least for that moment.

Then he flexes in his seat, arms tightening over his chest, boots kicking out farther.

His jeans are loose, covered in something that looks like chalk dust and with what seems to be a new rip in the calf of the right leg. He’s wearing a dark olive military jacket and a plain black t-shirt. The cable knit beanie is dragged messily and haphazardly over his unwashed hair.

He still looks like a dirty rocker model.

Stiles isn’t so sure about the future husband bit anymore.

They’re standing right in front of each other, touching (even if it’s just through thick rubber) because they’re so close they can’t not touch, and… there’s nothing.

No reaction.

Stiles sighs and it’s like it creates some kind of inverse effect in his grumpy, asshole hummingbird… guy. Stiles closes off and scruffy man’s frown deepens and he opens up, arms coming away from his chest and—

Stiles’ answering grin is a blinding, wild, roaming thing.

Because his t-shirt isn’t plain.

It’s a graphic tee. Words distressed and chipping but perfectly legible, one of those ‘Hello, my name is…’

And where there was a blank, white space beneath, he’s written in red, smeared paint the word:

Derek

 


 

There’s not a word in the entirety of the English language that can accurately encapsulate the otherworldly fucking elation Stiles is currently bubbling over with.  Like, his face is legitimately starting to hurt, like he’s been strength-training in just his cheeks. But he just can’t—stop—smiling. Grinning. Beaming. Because there’s all this new impossible happy-goodness and it’s trying to escape out of his facehole apparently.

Derek.

His future husband’s name is Derek.

That’s going to make the marriage license so much easier to fill out.

Derek. Derek. Daireck. Derick. God, it’s perfect. Even if it is threatening to become ‘dalek’ the more he mentally repeats it. You can’t put that on Derek (Derrrrick, Derekkk) though, that responsibility falls solely on the blight that is Stiles’ own nerdetry.

Derek. God. It’s just so him.

It’s unassuming, exactly like his dirty rocker knitting model hummingbird future husband is. It isn’t overtly exotic like Stiles had guessed in some of his wilder imaginings, like Angelo or Fabio or Christefanne.

Derek. It’s just Derek.

And that’s good, that’s better, that’s him. It’s simple and clean and without frills, but still strong and upstanding, and undeniably sexy as fuck. Just like the rest of him, with the stubble and the jaw line and the breadth of his shoulders and the flex of his thighs when he’s kicking out his obstacle of boots and feet and—

Stiles walks straight into a bus shelter with his whole face.

Which couldn’t be helped really, and doesn’t dim his megawatt smile in the slightest. He found out his future husband’s name today; everything is the best it’s ever been. Including the ringing in his ears and the ache in his nose. All of that is only serving to remind him that he’s alive and, holy hell, is he alive today.

It’s more than that he got a name though honestly, it’s the confirmation that he didn’t imagine this. They actually do have a connection, that they both feel. He didn’t sad-imagine this in his lonely-loserdom. Derek’s right there with him.

Derek is there with him.

His future hus—Derek knows him. They can definitely get married now, or maybe start with falafel and coffee from Vijay’s, whatever. Stiles can casually mention locations for the ceremony over powdered sugar. It’ll be subtle as fuck. He’s a master of verbal intricacies and Derek is, admittedly… not. So, Stiles can pull one over on him, easy.

He’ll have him agreeing to the Star Wars-themed wedding before the first date is up. All Stiles has to do is—

“Oh. My. God.”

Stiles freezes and is immediately jostled by the other pedestrians passing him who haven’t realized that the bottom has just dropped out of the whole world. Well, Stiles’ world. But… semantics. They could at least pretend to care that he is utterly devastated in front of this lackluster Krispy Kreme and unlikely to ever feel this impossible-joy or sunshine or smell rain again.

“Oh my God, oh my God, no, Stiles, friend, you are not this stupid. Tell me you are not this stupid? But you are, aren’t you, you dumb, dumb idiot who is dumb. Oh my God.”

He spins around, walking headlong and uncaring and determined into a wave of angry foot traffic. There’s nothing to do though. No real reason to go back.

He turns around again two blocks later in an indecisive dance. It’s not like the same metro car will just be there waiting at the station for him, the conductor giving him a sympathetic look and saying, ‘Did you realize you massively fucked up, son? Try not to cry on the platform, please, makes people nervous. Now do you want to get back on and attempt to fix your colossal disaster of a life?’

Imaginary-conductor is kind of a dick. Though a pretty scarily accurate one.

Stiles chokes on his own strangled laughter, smacking himself in the forehead. “I didn’t say anything. I—didn’t—say—anything.”

He’s talking – well, muttering – to himself on the street, chastising every life choice that has led up to this moment. Luckily, it’s New York so that doesn’t garner him so much as a second look, or even a long stare.

Derek had put himself out there. He’d answered Stiles, and Stiles hadn’t fucking said anything.

Derek will wake up and think Stiles missed it, or worse – so much fucking worse – that he didn’t care anymore.

“No, no, Stiles, what did you do?”

He’s about a second away from sitting down on the pavement and just blubbering into his hands—life over, goals forgotten, ready to accept that he’s forevermore a crazy street person who could give Shia LaBeouf a run for his zany money—when he decides to fix it. Or, well, to make someone else fix it. Because he has no idea how to go about doing that. He pulls out his phone and calls the smartest person he knows.

The line rings twice and then Stiles is croaking out, before he even gets the go ahead to start talking (see, he’s aggressive about it unlike Derek, who is a dead fish about it), “Dad, everything—everything—is garbage, forget grandkids and Billy Dee Williams officiating and handmade sweaters knitted with tough love and tougher yarn. My husband doesn’t even know we’re getting married.”

His dad does a fairly lame job of acting like he didn’t just get hit in the face with a word-shovel. Or scratched, angry plexiglass. (Which Stiles can even more accurately empathize with at the moment.) Not that Stiles can exactly blame him for that. “I—Stiles, what?”

Stiles sits down inside the bus shelter that previously tried to murder him – or at least slow him down – and tells his dad exactly ‘what.’

The immediate answer is: “God, Stiles, you have got to be less creepy with this kid.”

To which Stiles replies: “By this kid do you mean your future son-in-law? I get confused when you don’t use his proper title.”

Cue long-suffering sigh.

So that particular advice isn’t exactly heeded, even in the moment.  The next is: “There’s only one thing to do, isn’t there?  You go back and you try again.”

So. That’s all there is to it. Plead incompetence and hope Derek buys it. And, considering every single one of Stiles’ previous actions supports the claim, he should. Stiles ducks onto the train on Friday, deciding he can be the verbal one and Derek can be the smart one, he’s more than okay with that. They'll complement each other perfectly that way, each bringing something to the table. Stiles grins to himself, he’s going to have to start planning out their anniversary gifts now because they are totally getting all the way to gold.

He’s so lost in his own head, going from paper to tin to oak to gold, that it takes him a second to even realize he’s staring at Derek’s gorgeous, disruptive boots.

He doesn’t even get a chance to marvel at them.

“You’re Stiles, right?” Stiles’ head snaps up and he blinks stupidly. “Yeah, I thought so,” says the fierce woman in front of him. She’s all dark fury with pinched eyes and throbbing temple vein. In spite of all that (or maybe because of all that), she’s kind of mythical in her attractiveness. Even if she makes Stiles’ balls want to crawl back up into his abdomen while he studiously and candy-assedly avoids eye contact with her. “So. Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

And that’s when Stiles realizes who she must be in this equation and, fucking hell, Derek’s girlfriend is gorgeous.

And pissed.

Oh dear fucking Chris Hemsworth-style god, she is going to kick his ass. Handily, too. Stiles has been in one slap fight in his entire life, and he’s not sure it even counts. Considering he was six. And it was with an oscillating fan.

He gave as good as he got though, okay?

Even so, he has no doubt that in roughly five minutes he’ll be curled up on the gross subway floor in the fetal position, cradling his head. He tries not to whimper when she stands up threateningly.

And fails.

He also backs into the guy behind him without conscious thought behind it. The guy grunts, but doesn’t even manage an annoyed half-head turn.

So. The chances of him being saved by some justice-conscious do-gooder exemplar citizen (or Superman) don’t seem very likely. He obviously should’ve moved to Metropolis like his six-year-old self had planned.

(All right, so he lied. He’d gotten the beating of a lifetime from that fan and realized he would forever be in need of superheroic assistance.)

She’s not quite as tall as Stiles but about ten-thousand percent more intimidating. She crosses her arms under her breasts and scowls at him. It’s Derek’s move, even in his sleep, and, fuck, Stiles probably should’ve realized his future husband’s reaction to him wasn’t exactly an opening.

He’d always assumed that had to do with walling himself off from everyone else but maybe Stiles had been included in that?

Shit.

He can still salvage this, right? All he has to do is—“I don’t speak English,” tumbles out of his mouth in perfect English and a blank tone of voice. And his mouth definitely should not have grabbed the reins here, at least not before so much as consulting with his brain.

Her eyes narrow further and Stiles’ best and most fervent hope is for some latent invisibility power to kick in. She snarls at him. “You want to try that again?”

Yes, yes, he does. His mouth is committed to this course though. Apparently. “Uh, no hablo—”

She takes a step closer and, without missing a beat, interrupts, “¿Quires que hable mejor asi? ¿Entiendes mejor?”

Uhhhhh. She’s even more attractive up close and Stiles’ entire body is sweating. “Uh.” Those definitely sounded like questions, so it’s a yes or no, right? Meaning: “Oui?” Stiles’ eyes widen. “That’s French.” Seriously? His mouth-brain connection is not inspiring a lot of confidence today. How the fuck did you say ‘yes’ in Spanish? Everyone knew that! Oh my Kabbalah Monster God, he has nothing in his brain except how to say ‘peanut’ and that is not exactly relevant to this conversation. He thinks? He doesn’t actually know as he has no idea what she said. Also, he spoke in English again. Goddammit. “I mean, eso est français.” Oh. My. God. “No, that’s still mostly French.” He doesn’t even know French, he took four years of Spanish and can’t remember how to say yes. “Cacahuete.” Might as well go for the peanut-version of broke right now.

He’s not going to start crying on the subway in front of Derek’s girlfriend.

He might start crying on the subway in front of Derek’s girlfriend.

He grimace-smiles at her super not-smiling face. “Apparently my go-to fake language is French? Who knew?” He tries to share a laugh with her but she is so very not amused. So he just—keeps—talking. When has that ever worked for him? “I mean, I wish I had before I went with pretend-Spanish but at least I figured it out before the the Queen sent me on some mission for pride and foreign country.” He finger-guns at her and are the backs of his ears sweating? He didn’t even know those could sweat. “Matter of time on that.” His mouth goes slack as he realizes, “You probably speak French too though, huh?”

She smiles sharply at him, it slicking out into more of a sneer as her teeth get involved in biting out the word, “Oui.”

Wow, she really does not like him. Also, she’s polylingual, beautiful, confident and clearly a shit-ton smarter than him. And her hair falls perfectly around her face, but… perfectly, though. What is that? Black magic? A demonic bargain? A side-benefit of being Head Bitch in Charge of her Cult of Mean Girls? Something tickles at Stiles’ throat as he swallows heavily and it’s the tag of his t-shirt. Goddamn, he is killing it today.

His gaze darts back to Derek. But he’s still asleep, because of course he is. His girlfriend’s perfectly capable of handling herself. She doesn’t need him. Unlike Stiles, who is flailing here. Derek snuffles, turned away from the both of them, cheek pressed into the hard plastic edge at the top of the seat and Stiles wants to ease his face off of it, sink down next to him, and offer up his own shoulder. Only he doesn’t get to do that.

She does.

She takes another step forward and Stiles takes a reflexive step back, fingers tightening around the strap of his bag. “You still haven’t answered my question,” she jabs at him.

It takes Stiles a moment to even remember it. What the fuck does he think he’s doing?

“‘What am I doing?’” he confirms, eyebrows up.  She glares impatiently at him. “Well, more profane than that but that was the gist I’m pretty sure and, um.” His eyes flicker over to Derek again, but he doesn’t stand a chance here and he’s absolutely certain that – on some level – all three of them know it. “Nothing,” he decides all at once. Scott would kill him for ‘giving up’ and he’s definitely probably going to make him wear that effing leotard but, Stiles stares into the girl’s pretty brown eyes which so accentuate the baked dirt quality of his own and knows, he could legitimately never win this. Derek’s already so far out of his league it’s laughable, add in the girlfriend who’s scarily put together and competent and? Yeah. “I’m… I’m not doing anything. I didn’t—he’s not—I mean, I did think… but that’s before—” he gestures at everything that is her and it turns out it’s actually impossible for him to admit out loud that he thought he and Derek had some sort of connection. Because that just sounds so stupid now. “Obviously I’m not… heh, am I still talking?”

“And yet not saying anything,” she snaps at him.

She might have a point there.

He chews at his bottom lip and smiles weakly at her. “I told you I wasn’t that proficient with English, and you didn’t believe me. For shame. I’m as honest as Abe over here.” He winces because, seriously, not only could he not manage to stop speaking in English for three freaking seconds, he’s now referencing America’s sixteenth president like they’re old drinking buddies? Who does that? He would be the worst spy ever.

There’s another life goal he has to cross off the list today. Buh-bye ‘the world’s most effective double agent.’ Oh. And also, ‘dirty rocker model future husband who knits.’ He’ll probably only be depressed about the former for a month. And the latter? Maybe only the next forty or fifty years. That’s... doable.

“Not too bad at American history though, apparently,” he says, wincing harder, “I swear that’s probably the first historical reference I have ever made in my entire life and I chose the least opportune moment for it in existence.” He shakes his head to himself, muttering, “Well done, Stiles.” He shrugs at Derek’s girlfriend and admits, “I would’ve expected it to’ve been in hip hop format by this point, honestly, and I am genuinely a tad disappointed in myself that it wasn’t.”

As charming as Stiles is being, Derek’s girlfriend seems to be utterly resistant to it as she sums up tidily, “More coherent, still useless,” before grinding out the words, “What are you doing?”

Fuck, this girl. She’s already won everything ever. More than Stiles wants to live in Metropolis or be fluent enough in Spanish to fake it for a five-minute conversation or fall into a career as a double agent, he wants the slumber-bunny behind her and she’s got him. She has what he wants more than anything.

Does she really have to grind his face into the mud about it, too?

“Nothing,” he reiterates, narrowing his eyes at her, “really nothing.”

“That’s it? That’s your answer?”

What more does she fucking want here? Stiles’ eyes find Derek again, because he’s realizing more and more that soon he’s going to be gone. Stiles isn’t going to see him again. Derek’s girlfriend is going to make sure of that, and she doesn’t even have to look back at him because she’s so sure of where she stands with him.

And apparently she needs Stiles to be just as sure of it too. Well he effing gets it, okay? A pit is forming low in his gut and he feels genuinely sick to his stomach, mouth slimy, hands clammy. It could really not be any damn clearer that she’s excising Derek carefully and cleanly out of his life and Stiles is feeling every inch of him being ripped slowly and painfully away.

Which is just so stupid because they barely know each other, except Stiles is absolutely certain they’re the ones who are supposed to be together.

Which is, again, stupid. He is being stupid about this.

Well.

Actually.

Now he’s just being mean about this. Because fuck her.

“Should I pair it with bracing choreography or something?” shoves bitterly out of his mouth. “Make it more entertaining for you to watch? Maybe Thriller-dance it up; you can’t go wrong with the zombie arms, am I right?” He steps up into her personal space, eyes flashing over her pretty, entitled, annoying face. “I’m not sorry because I didn’t know about—I obviously should’ve guessed about—But he sort of reciprocated, okay, so

“About what?” she demands, cutting him off.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Nothing,” he spits. “That’s it. That’s my final answer, Regis.”

Her eyes rove over him, drop from his eyes all the way down to the toes of his shoes – they linger on the large splotch of yellow that covers most of his left sneaker – and she diagnoses him as: “Disappointing.”

“I’m sure this is for you,” he says sourly, adding a patronizing nod. “You probably thought you had a legitimate threat on your hands, then you show up to find me. Mustard stain on my shoe and my shirt on backwards, which I realized mid-way through this conversation after figuring out that you don’t have a single flyaway. How’d you manage that, huh? Are you friends with Satan, or Blue… from Blue’s Clues?” She stares at him and Stiles shrugs. He doesn’t care what she thinks of him. She won. By, like, a lot. And totally unsurprisingly. Derek should be with someone who looks like her. Not someone like Stiles, who’s changed his major eight times and lives off ramen. That’s all there is to it. He was utterly deluded to ever think otherwise and there’s no point in pretending anything else now. “She could get that guy Steve to solve clues just to feed her, I figure she’s got some serious sway somewhere.”

Her lips curl almost like she’s suppressing a laugh and Stiles has to ask, “You really had to look perfect to do this, you didn’t think maybe that was a little like winning the race and then handing me a lit firecracker instead of a sparkler to celebrate? You already got the victory, you really had to disable me in the process?”

He sighs and turns away just as her eyes un-squint slightly and she asks, well, demands—she doesn’t seem to have an asking voice, “What are you—”

Stiles ignores her question but can’t help himself as he spins back to her and blurts out, “There is one thing that I just... that I want… well, that I obsess ab… it’s just… does he knit?”

She actually seems taken aback, like that was legitimately the last question she would’ve expected. “What.

Stiles nods to Derek. He’s wearing the gray cable knit beanie again today, cheek still smushed into the plastic, half-turned in his seat so he’s facing the back of the car rather than Stiles and his girlfriend. His expression is soft, mouth slack rather than scowling, and Stiles tries to etch it into his memory.

This is how he wants to remember him, looking warm and peaceful and with the light scruff and the flaring nostrils and fluttering eyelashes and combat boots and in that damn stupid-beautiful knitted hat.

When he talks, he can’t keep the warmth out of his voice, “The beanie, it looks handmade and I just, yeah, does he knit too? In addition to all of his… everything else?” She’s openly staring at him now, eyes wide and, for the first time, without judgment. Stiles licks his lip. “You know what,” he decides, “it’s none of my business. I’m leaving and I’m not going to—his conversational skills are all yours to enjoy forever, okay?”

He walks away from her and doesn’t realize he’s been followed until two cars later when she shoots at his back an angry… desperate(? What sense does that make though?): “Predictable.”

Stiles rounds on her. What else does she want from him? As noted, multiple times, she got the grand prize here. “That I would flee? Yeah, you’re terrifying,” he admits without the slightest hint of shame (What? She is), “and I’m… going now.”

She actually stomps her foot and it makes Stiles realize that she’s a lot younger than Derek, possibly younger than him too. He hadn’t noticed earlier, too busy being cowed by all her rage and beauty. “I knew it, I knew you wouldn’t be—You just stay the hell away from Derek.”

Stiles half-laughs, bitter and defeated. What the hell did she think his plan was from here? “I got that message, trust me.” He turns away and is almost immediately pelted in the back of the head with something.

He hears her snarl, “Good riddance,” at him but she’s walking away back to Derek before he can even turn around.

It’s a crumpled piece of… cardstock maybe? He’s not sure what it is that compels him to pick it up. It’s probably just chewed up gum in paper because his entire life is wadded, sticky, saliva-drenched sliminess in forgotten garbage today so why the fuck not? Maybe he just wants to see the visual representation of how miserable and twist-tied his insides are? He unfolds it to find it’s nothing more than a balled up business card.

A business card with a place: Halesome Arts.

An address: in uptown New York.

And the full name: Derek Hale.

Stiles stares down at it unblinkingly, then up at the place where Derek’s girlfriend had disappeared through the crowd.

What.

The.

Fuck.

 


 

He pulls a ragged fingernail from between his teeth and bursts out impatiently, “Well?” Lydia’s been holding onto the thing for seventeen whole seconds (yes, he’s been counting) and she still hasn’t said anything. Yeah, Stiles didn’t immediately act on the address. He has some self-preservation skills, okay. (All right, or it’s that he knew Derek couldn’t possibly be at said address since Stiles was still staring at him on the subway.)

She idly flips the card over and looks up at him, eyebrows raised. “‘Well,’ what?”

Lydia,” he flings out his hand towards the wrinkled, now-soft paper she’s holding. Spit that had been clinging to his thumbnail hits Lydia in the thigh with the action and she glares at him. Stiles bravely soldiers on, hoping him ignoring it will lead to her ignoring it, “do you know what this is?”

He folds his arms over his chest, hands hidden under his biceps so Lydia will stop trying to detach his thumb from his body through nothing more than sheer willpower. If anyone were to accomplish it, it would be her.

It semi-works. At least she eases back to scrutinizing the address printed on the card that Derek’s girlfriend had flicked at Stiles’ head and sniffs. “It’s a business card that was very clearly trash at some point. And probably should be trash again.” She holds it out to him like an antiques expert who’s just told him his retirement is nothing more than a spoon from the 1990s that she could find at Kohl’s for a, rather reasonable, seventy-five cents. She checks back in with his expression and it makes her outstretched arm falter. “Yet looking at the crazy-eyes you’re currently sporting,” she says, rolling her eyes, “I’m finding myself preparing for pure romantic fantasy and somehow more delusional thinking.”

Stiles holds up a deductive finger, nodding, and says cleverly, “It only looks like a business card. What that is, is a trap. A Carrie-covered-in-pig’s-blood-humiliated-at-the-prom trap. Your future husband’s current girlfriend doesn’t just give you a little starred, ‘he is here, you are x miles away,’ map, okay? That would be way more helpful than they are known for being.”

“Stiles,” Lydia starts carefully, pausing. She sets Derek’s business card down with purpose on the edge of Stiles’ coffee table. He can admit it does look like it’s seen better days. It’s creased everywhere from the tiny ball it had been pretzeled into to make a better projectile weapon against him and has some kind of red stain on the corner. “Explain,” is what she lands on, lips pressed thin.

So Stiles does, picking it up at where he knows Lydia came in and finishing it out all the way to what just happened with Derek’s girlfriend.

Lydia purses her mouth together, eases the Cellular Chemistry book in her lap closed, and says evenly, “You’re not joking, are you?”

Stiles shakes his head wildly. “No, this just happened, like, an hour ago. Why would she give me that? What horrible Saw-esque mutilation game does she have lying in wait for me if I go there? And would it be worth it if I actually got to talk to him for once?” He flops down into the chair across from Lydia because the thing is—he’s pretty sure this is a bad idea. Actually an all-caps BAD IDEA but. Well. But he’s pretty sure he wants to meet—stand next to, talk, breathe the same air as—Derek more than he cares about the humiliation this is sure to be.

There’s something so wrong with him.

Lydia clears her throat and picks up the blank flashcards next to her on the chair. She places three of them, one by one, down on the coffee table between them. She fidgets with the edge of a card and speaks down to it. “I think it would be a really good exercise for you if you laid out this whole story from start to finish visually, so you can see what it looks like written down.”

Stiles leans forward to look over the arrangement of the cards, wondering what she’s seeing that he isn’t. “Do you think that’ll crack some code or—” his eyes snap up to hers when he finally realizes what the slow cadence of her voice and how unnaturally even she’s keeping it means, “that was your psychologist voice.” It’s more of an accusation than an observation.

She fiddles with the pen between her fingers but boldly makes eye contact with him. “Stiles, honestly, how much of what you’re saying actually sounds like it’s based in reality? A guy who sleeps through things a person couldn’t possibly sleep through, yet still somehow manages to wake up at his stop and fall asleep before you get on at yours?”

She stretches over the table and writes on the card closest to him:

PERSISTENT STAGE 3 SLEEP W/ CONVENIENT AROUSAL

“Somehow knowing you even in unconsciousness and painting his shirt to tell you his name?”

PRETERNATURAL AWARENESS IN UNCONSCIOUS REM STATE

“His girlfriend giving you a way to contact him? His girlfriend being there at all?”

DEUS EX MACHINA

She caps her pen and says in that calm but grating tone, “You have to realize how insane this sounds.”

Stiles stands up.

She’s quick to add: “I do believe that you believe this is happening, which only worries me mo—”

“Why are you even here?” he snaps at her, not sure he’s ever been this angry or felt this pathetic in his entire life. Because what she’s saying is—she’s saying he’s so lonely here, so aware of the fact that he could never find anyone who could actually want him, so tired of Scott and Allison’s perfect relationship being rubbed in his face, that he’s literally lost his fucking mind and invented one for himself and, in this moment, he really and truly hates her. He snarls down at her, “You’re in our apartment all the time and for what? What do you want, Lydia?”

She shrinks back before forcibly straightening her spine and narrowing her eyes, striking back. “You told me I was always welcome here.”

He snatches his jacket up off the back of the sofa and says viciously, “Yeah, when I thought we were friends, not patient and therapist. Because the supportive thing,” he tells her, as patronizing as she’s been, slow and mean to get across the point that she clearly has no idea what that even is, “isn’t to invalidate my feelings and replace them with yours. It is the condescending power imbalance thing to do though so well done there. You’ll make a brilliant psychologist. Maybe stick to only giving out advice to people who pay for it in the future though, otherwise it’s going to make being around you the fucking worst.” He should stop. Lydia’s barely flinched, chin jutted out proudly and defiantly but he knows what he’s doing to her. He knows because she’s let him know her. But he’s too angry, too volatile, and he has too much dirt. “Which pretty much everyone else has already figured out already, right? Seeing as the only friends you’ve made since we’ve been here are mine and there doesn’t seem to be a guy who can get away fast enough.”

He slams the door behind him, filled with righteous fury right up until he gets down to street level. Then he just feels like shit, partly because of what he just did to Lydia and partly because he’s afraid she might be right.

 


 

Allison hums across the table of the booth they’re squished into in response to Stiles’ retelling of the newest event in his maybe-possibly-probably-imagined encounter with the impossibly-asleep/improbably-attractive-almost-definite figment of his imagination on the metro. She decides without actually putting much decision towards it: “I think you should go.”

Stiles is all the way slumped down on his side, playing with the left behind salt granules on the table that are nearly at eye level. He lifts Derek’s card from where it’s lying flat between them and holds it up between the countertop and his index finger, glaring at it. “Lydia thinks I should be institutionalized,” he grumbles. He hasn’t spoken to her since their argument two days ago. He has no idea what he would say to her if he did.

Allison waves that away as though that’s neither unexpected or worthwhile information. He wishes he had her confidence in the latter. “Lydia is much more: hard evidence, one-hundred percent certainty, proof positive. This isn’t that. This is so the polar opposite of that that she can’t wrap her head around it. This is gut feeling and instinct and belief. And I think you’ve proven you can trust yours.”

Stiles offers her a weak but grateful smile. He doesn’t have the same confidence in himself though, and sighs gustily. “Maybe I should let this go.”

She stares pointedly down at the card and lifts her coffee to her lips. “I don’t think you’d still be keeping that close if you actually believed that.”

Point.

 


 

Scott pokes him in the side with a spatula while they’re vegging on the couch and watching (far more invested than they should be) America’s Next Top Model repeats. “You have to go, you can’t not go. He’s all you’ve talked about for months. He’s your Allison,” Scott says with an obvious ‘doy’ in his tone.

“But I don’t know him,” Stiles says, because he’s going to think rationally about this. If only to prove that he can. He looks around as though expecting Lydia to be giving him an approving smirk, only she hasn’t been back since he all but kicked her out. He vacillates between feeling shitty and justified about that, depending on the moment.

Scott isn’t slowed down by reality at all, just says, “Don’t you want to?”

Yes.

“I know you, Stiles, you would regret this forever if you didn’t at least try.”

Scott might be right about that.

 


 

“You know what I’m going to say, Stiles.”

Stiles sighs, because, yeah, he pretty much does. “I don’t know,” he equivocates instead.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” is his dad’s answer. Predictably. Stiles had pretty much gone to him to hear that though. “It’s a potentially dangerous situation and I’ve been trying to keep you away from potentially dangerous situations since you first wrapped your chubby little fingers around mine.”

Stiles huffs out a laugh to himself and says stoutly, “I was a very slim baby, Dad, you must be thinking of another kid.”

He snorts. “Ah, probably right, my other son, the one who stays out of trouble and would never dream of taking my cruiser out for a joy ride.”

“I was fourteen!”

“Exactly. Old enough to know better. Stiles,” he says firmly, “you’re still old enough to know better.”

“Yeah,” he agrees softly. Even though there’s nothing that can make him feel like more of a little kid than talking to his dad.

He expects that’s the end of it, they’ll hang up, he’ll go back to feeling like a loser and wallowing in self-pity for a bit, but his dad surprises him by saying, “Did I ever tell you about the first conversation I had with your mom?”

Stiles grins. “About the Twins’ chances, right?” He might’ve heard this story one or twenty times before.

“That was the lead-in,” his dad agrees fondly.

That’s definitely the only part of the story Stiles has ever heard. His mom had ripped his dad’s team apart rather cleanly and he’d decided on the spot that the most important thing he would ever do with his life was convince her of the supremacy of the Minnesota Twins.

He never did manage it.

“The last thing I said to her that first night we met was, ‘When do you think we’ll get married then?’ I moved to California a week later. Sometimes you just know.”

Stiles’ jaw drops and he shifts a little unsteadily on his feet. “Why didn’t you ever tell me that?”

“I’m telling you now,” his day says, “when you needed to hear it. Whatever you decide to do, I trust you, kid. Just be safe about it.”

Stiles swallows and stands up with his spine straight for the first time since he talked to Lydia. “I will,” he promises, adding sincerely, “Thanks, Dad.”

“Thanks for keeping me in the loop, kid. Talk on Sunday?”

“Yeah,” he agrees, still a little dazed, “call by ten.”

“Love you, kiddo.”

“Love you too, old man.” He hangs up, finally feeling like he might be making the right call. Though he quickly realizes he’s asked absolutely everyone he knows except the one person who matters in all this.

And he intends to fix that.

 


 

Derek looks fairly miserable, cramped into a corner, torso practically shoved into the metal partition, hair smushed flat against the plexiglass. The seat next to him is taken, as always, but Stiles is willing to wait for that to change today.

The train rattles along, the air inside it an insidious sort of cold, the kind that finds the weak spots in your clothing and slips past it. Stiles holds his hands up to his face and blows out warm breaths onto his frigid fingers, one elbow crooked around the pole in front of Derek.

When he’d first gotten on, Derek had looked as if he couldn’t get small enough, bundle himself closely enough, but now he’s loosened up some from the tense ball he’d been in and his head is turned slightly towards Stiles.

Stiles frowns; he’s not wearing the beanie today and he looks incongruously tired even though he’s clearly deeply asleep. His scruff’s gotten uneven and his clothes are rumpled. His dark, stretched shirt is dotted with little ragged holes and… there are woodchips or something like that clinging to it. His nostrils flare widely and some of the discomfort, the sadness, bleeds out of his expression.

Stiles watches him closely, watches him shuffle his shoulders and part his lips and relax the pinched quality around his eyes and mouth, he watches him because he can’t not watch him for the next six stops, which is how long it takes the woman next to him to get off the train. Stiles sinks down into the abandoned seat as soon as she’s up, waits for the doors to close, and says softly to Derek’s left shoulder, “I want to know you, you know? But I’m not entirely sure that option is on the table no matter what I do.” He sighs. What can he actually get out of this, if Derek is already dating someone, out of his league, and not someone he has any sort of viable connection to anyway? Stiles blinks at him. “Thoughts?”

Derek doesn’t share any, of course. But Stiles has already decided what he wants, hasn’t he? This whole time on the train, that’s what he’d been doing, watching Derek and asking himself if he could give up the opportunity to know him.

Thinking of it like that, the answer’s more than obvious.

“How ‘bout this,” Stiles says, “if you want me to come, don’t wake up.”

Derek doesn’t.

Stiles snorts to himself, mutters under his breath, “No ambiguity there, right?” He gets off at the next stop, resolved to go to Halesome Arts tomorrow and make an utter fool of himself because what’s the alternative? Never knowing?

He’s going to be braver than that.

 


 

Two panic attacks later, he has to admit that he is not really killing it in the bravery department but he's still in the right place, so, there's at least a shred he hasn’t spent yet.  And he knows he’s in the right place because Lydia’s standing on the corner of the street outside, looking fashionable, sipping a latte, and glaring at anyone who stares too long.

He’s at once absurdly grateful she’s there and overwhelmed by how guilty he feels for ever running her off. He compresses and decompresses the strap of his messenger bag as he walks over to her, bites at the corner of his mouth, says, “You didn’t have to come all this way.”

Lydia shrugs, seemingly uncaring. She’s wearing sunglasses, despite the fact that the sun had given up on New York about two months ago. It makes her expression difficult to read, which is almost definitely why she’s got them on. “I knew you wouldn’t ask for company even if you wanted it.” That was definitely true. She lifts her chin and sniffs her reddened nose. “Well. Do you?”

Her tone isn’t exactly cold but it is… removed. Stiles shakes his head and says seriously, “Lydia. Thank you, for coming.”

She turns her face away and says tightly, “That’s what friends do.”

Stiles gives her a warm half-smile, then glances the two doors down to the Halesome Arts entrance. “I can do this,” he says quietly to himself.

“You can, you know,” Lydia reassures him just as softly.

Stiles startles a bit; he had pretty much forgotten she was there.

She points across the street at the coffee shop bearing the name of the logo on her cup and says, “I need to top this off.” She doesn’t; it’s still steaming. Stiles wants to hug her. “I’d say good luck, but I know you don’t need it. I wouldn’t bother with you if you needed some external hocus pocus in order to accomplish this.”

She waves over her shoulder, already flouncing away, and Stiles takes the opportunity to steel himself.

He can do this, he can do this. The coolest girl from his high school willingly spends time with him. He and Allison are actually friends now even though he’s ninety-nine percent sure she hated him when they first met. He schmoozed an impossible ‘A’ out of his Literature professor last semester. He has got this.

He walks up to the entrance—shaking his hands out at his sides, cracking his neck—and pushes open the heavy stained-glass door of the gallery.

So far.

So good.

His eyes are naturally drawn to the center of the room, where a man in a cable knit beanie is standing in front of a canvas with his back to Stiles.

Standing. Real. Awake.

Stiles is trying very hard not to pass out over that fact. Or have a panic attack over it. Or start giggling hysterically over it.

He reflexively ducks… behind nothing.

There is legitimately nothing in the open space between the door at his back and the Derek at his front. The reality of that doesn’t stop him from doing exactly what he’s doing though.

His messenger bag swings at his side as he awkwardly crouches down in the purely empty area where anyone can see him – in fact, where everyone who can see him is staring. The pointed corner of the textbook in his bag glances off his knee as it settles, thanks to the sudden and… just totally illogical not-really-hiding. He can’t help the muttered, “Owfuh,” as it hits the bone at exactly the wrong angle.

He watches Derek’s broad, wet dream-inspiring back stiffen at the exhalation of ouch-swearing. Stiles’ eyes widen and he, naturally, somersaults over the floorboards to hide behind one of the display podiums before Derek can turn around and see him.

Where he was hiding.

Behind nothing.

Once he’s sure he made it behind an actual sight obstacle, he looks up. And grimaces at the couple standing in front of said podium who were studying the painting against the wall on the other side of it before this kid roly-polied up behind them.

He whisper-explains, “This is, uh, the newest way to… study art. You have to let it surprise you, you know, sneak up on it and see what your unbiased-self thinks. It’s called the Durden School of Artistic Consumerism, very cutting edge. I’m a student,” he adds, knocking his knuckles against the hard textbook in his bag.

He’s considering taking it out and holding it up as proof but seeing as it says, ‘The Science of Superheroes,’ in Adventure font, he doesn’t think it’s going to help make his case.

One of the women gives him a bug-eyed look, the other sniffs in disbelief.

“Yeah, no, you’re right,” he says to the sniffing one. “It’s very European, started over there and should probably stay over there, right? Much like, uh, using vinegar as a condiment. I definitely don’t think I’ll be keeping the course, not going to recommend it to… uh, you, or anyone. Don’t take the… whatever I said the class was called.” Shit.

“I believe it was a Fight Club reference,” says the woman, who is no longer bug-eyed but who also does not look amused. At all.

“Heh, it was. Good eye or, well, I guess, ear there. These college professors, what will they think of next, eh?” Okay, he’s officially dropping that story because it is not in the least bit believable and these ladies are not buying it either. He rubs the back of his neck. It’s incredibly hard to seem confident while sitting on your ass, on the floor, using art as a defensive position in a tactical war no one else around you even recognizes is happening, with two brutally unamused women towering over you. As Stiles is quickly finding out. “You’re clearly much more hip than I gave you credit for and we should decide, right here and now, not to let this best friend opportunity pass us by.”

The two women exchange a high-eyebrowed glance and Stiles shakes his head rapidly.

“No, I wasn’t—I was not hitting on you. I am not one of those skeezy guys who thinks lesbians are only lesbians because the right penis hasn’t come along. Or, well, I don’t even know that you—Oh my God, I’m here to meet my future husband so, yeah, I was not… whatever you thought I might’ve been doing there was—no. I wasn’t. I am going to stop talking now.” And, also, try to sink into the floor and die, but Stiles doesn’t mention that part out loud.

“You should consider taking that tack when you meet your…” her eyebrow raises, the sniff-y one, and there’s skepticism practically dripping from her words, “future husband.”

Okay. Well. They definitely cannot be best friends if she’s going to, totally unfounded, doubt his and Derek’s soulmate connection. Because, rude.

Stiles peeks around the edge of his barricade and doesn’t know whether to feel relief or disappointment when he sees that Derek is no longer anywhere to be found. He carefully and awkwardly finds his feet, scooting up the podium rather than pushing off the floor. It wobbles precariously but he hisses violently at it to, ‘stop that,’ and manages not to knock anything over.

“Maybe you should wait outside,” the meaner bug-eyed one—Stiles has decided she is definitely the meaner one—suggests, meanly.

“Yeah,” Stiles says back snidely, twisting his head around again. He has no idea where Derek went. He’s not in front of the main canvas anymore and Stiles takes a step to his left and right, craning his neck as far as he can to try to see as much of the gallery as possible from where he’s standing.

He doesn’t want to give away his position yet. Or possibly ever.

Derek’s probably in high demand here though. Stiles thinks he was actually right with his first assessment, and he is a model. Just not for a high-fashion magazine like he’d thought, instead he’s a live model for an artist. Or maybe a bunch of artists? This must be his gallery and all the work he’s personally inspired? (In which case, it seems kind of small, Stiles thinks, looking around the gargantuan studio.) It would certainly explain why there were so many different mediums on display: clay and charcoal and paint and stone, and that’s just what Stiles can see from this one spot.

Great. So. Derek is a model. With a beautiful, polylingual girlfriend. And some bank at least, clearly, since this was most likely his studio. Who also probably knits.

“I thought you were meeting someone?”

Stiles stops on his way to the exit and turns around to stare at the two women who are staring at him, judgmentally. And he can barely handle their scorn. How in the hell would he handle Derek’s?

He stares down at himself. His jeans haven’t been washed in a few weeks, his t-shirt is one he stole from a girl on his floor back when he’d lived in the dorms – which is faded pink and says ‘Tri for the Cure,’ his jacket and gloves wouldn’t look out of place on a homeless person and the sole of one of his sneakers is falling off, the other has the aforementioned mustard stain.

He had a week to consult all the people who mattered to him on whether or not he should do this, but that hadn’t been enough time to make himself look presentable apparently. He self-consciously scrubs at his slightly-greasy hair. It’s winter, he showers maybe three times a week, trying to let the grime act as its own protective layer against the relentless wind and—seriously, why did he even come here?

“Um, yeah, no.” He has a brilliant flash of inspiration. “He doesn’t know what I look like though—” They stare at him and he waves them off, talking more to himself anyway, “That is a very long story or… an online thing?” Probably shouldn’t have made that sound like a question because while they’re still staring at him, it’s with more of an awareness of where their exits are and how quickly they can get 911 dialed on their phones. Oops. That’s the second time he’s given off that particular vibe in recent memory, he should definitely keep a few tabs on that, make sure that doesn’t become a thing. He shakes his head. “I could get someone else to show up and pretend to be me. Hire, like, an escort or something. He could arrive all suave, in a suit, looking handsome and showered, and then—”

“Are you going to have him wear a little earpiece, too, so he knows what to say?” the bug-eyed one says with a snort.

Stiles’ eyes light up.

The other puts a hand on her wife’s arm (they seem married, okay? Married and mean) and says gravely, “Bernice, I think he’s serious.”

“It’s a good plan,” he defends hotly.

“It’s a terrible plan,” Bernice snaps back at him. “This is real life and not an episode of Three’s Company.”

“It could be,” he mutters back angrily, which isn’t even a defensible position because it makes no sense and also real life is nothing like Three’s Company and everybody knows that but he’s committed now. He wants to meet Derek, only Derek can’t ever meet him, not if he wants Derek to actually like him.

“So this ‘guy,’” Bernice says sarcastically, and Stiles can practically see the air quotes around the word like she’s not sure she’s ready to concede any of this, “you’re planning to marry, you’re going to start that off with a cowardly charade that belittles both him and you as human beings? You’re right, that is not a terrible plan. Terrible isn’t a strong enough word.”

Stiles frowns, huffs, throws up his hands. “Okay, Bernice, God, you’re right. Camp movie plots and sitcom scenarios probably shouldn’t ever be trotted out as real life solutions. We’ve all learned a valuable lesson and I’m going to go home and eat a whole cake in celebration of that.”

The one that isn’t Bernice steps between them and asks sharply, “You’re giving up?”

Stiles rolls his eyes, walking away from the both of them and talking normally over his shoulder, “God, you sound just like Scott. Yes, I’m ‘giving up.’” He half-turns to fix their unimpressed faces in his mind. “I’m a big, cowardly quitter and I’ll have to wear the ribbon and the leotard and I don’t ev—”

The door smacks him in the face as he turns back around and he collapses like a limp curtain, moaning in a muted sort of agony. The older woman at the door gasps and starts to ask if he’s all right when a familiar face appears, upside down, right over Stiles’ own, green-blue-yellow-teal-brown-what-even-are-those-color-eyes staring down at him.

Stiles’ eyes roll back in his head and the nonsense-colored ones widen, saying insistently in a voice that sounds nothing like Stiles expected: “Stiles?”

He cannot pass out right now. Cannot.

“Stiles?” Derek repeats, brown furrowing, less certainty this time.

Stiles twitches. He’s awake. And Derek’s awake. They both are. At the same time. In the same place. Derek’s green—no, blue—hazel?—eyes are watching him uneasily and he’s talking, saying words, saying Stiles’ name.

Stiles has imagined it, what that would sound like, the deep rumble of it that would create a shocky sensation in his chest cavity, stutter his heart, make his whole being feel like it was going to burst apart. But that’s not the reality.

The reality is—

soft.

Derek’s voice is gentle. Not because some emotion or societal convention is softening it. Its natural cadence seems to be unobtrusive. To encourage the person he’s speaking to to listen when he talks, because when he bothers—when he takes the time—it’s not for a crowd, it’s for one person only and they have to earn his words.

Which is when Stiles realizes he’s staring at Derek’s mouth, waiting for his pale lips to part and say more things. He scrambles out from under Derek’s face and the pain rushes back in as soon as he remembers why he was on the floor. His face aches, like he’s got the world’s worst sinus infection throbbing away under his cheekbones, and he tilts his head back, his nose feeling like it might be bleeding. He pinches the bridge of it, trying to look at Derek from under lowered lashes with his chin still thrust up in the air. He grimaces. “Um, yeah, yes, hi, I am. I’m him.” He stops himself from offering an awkward wave. Barely. His hand gets partway up first.

He can’t imagine the picture he makes, can’t stop himself from sniffing hard, then redirecting his hand, bringing the heel of his palm up under his nostrils, checking for blood. There isn’t any. Yet. He sniffs again, lowers his head some. “I—hi. This… was, yeah,” he points a finger at the floor between them where he’d been laying a second ago, “exactly how I expected this would go actually because dignity, right? Totally overrated.” He laughs breathily, not quite making eye contact with Derek. Who’s not quite making eye contact with him. Who also hasn’t said his name again. “And I—” Hold the fucking phone. “—wait. How’d you know I was me?” Stiles shakes his head, checking his nose again with his palm. It still feels like it’s bleeding. It still isn’t. “I mean, that it was me. Or, well, how did you know what I look like when you’ve never—”

Stiles’ eyes widen. What was it that Lydia had said? That Derek might’ve just been… ignoring him. Stiles swallows, amazed at the hurt behind that thought, and he narrows his eyes, angry so as not to give right into wallowing in pure misery. “Dude, were you awake part of the time because that is a really fucking—”

Derek’s nostrils flare. “I wasn’t,” he says quickly, sharply.

Stiles deflates, relieved beyond measure, and already feeling wrung out and they’ve only been standing here for less than a minute. “Oh, okay then. I—hi.” He stares at Derek. A familiar pastime at this point.

He’s not usually staring back. Unimpressed. Eyebrows lifting. “So you’ve said.”

He’s wearing a leather jacket that’s wool-lined—Stiles can see the heavy fabric around his collar—and he buries his hands in the pockets, like a defensive measure. His jeans are the ones with the sewn on patches again, ratty at the bottoms over his combat boots. His hair is messy, poofy where it’s spilling out from under his beanie. It looks unwashed, unstyled, softer than his voice. Stiles’ fingers itch to touch it. The contours of his cheeks are even more pronounced now that he’s actively pursing his lips. The arch of his nose is high and somehow highlights the ridiculous symmetry of his face. His stubble’s light today and his eyebrows are bushy; Stiles wants to tug on them with his teeth. He shakes it off.

Mainly because Derek already seems annoyed with Stiles’ presence here.

So. That’s not good. Damage control time, probably.

Stiles twists the bridge of his ear between his thumb and forefinger and says awkwardly, “Right. Uh. I’m not really sure why I’m here.” Which is true. He just knew he couldn’t not come.

Derek’s eyes widen slightly and then narrow just as fast as though to negate the impact of Stiles’ words and he stares at Stiles’ messenger bag, mouth tight. He jabs his elbow back at the exit behind him without taking his hand out of his pocket. “That door, swings both ways if you don’t want to be.”

It sounds like a challenge more than a command. Derek hasn’t looked at him since he was laying on the floor. His expression is uncomfortable, unwelcoming.

Fine. Stiles fails then.

Because this was clearly a mistake. On just, yeah, all the levels, this was a mistake. And Stiles would’ve thought he’d be disappointed, but no. No, he’s not. He’s pissed off. He tried, he came here even though he was absolutely certain that he was in for some fairly epic humiliation courtesy of Derek’s girlfriend, and what has Derek done to facilitate any of this?

Painted his name on a shirt and made sure to stay well-rested. Now he’s got the nerve to stand here, even more beguiling and attractive while conscious and practically dismiss Stiles as unworthy? Well fuck him. Fuck him for having zero compassion about this even though he must know the effect he has on people by now.

“Wow, thanks,” Stiles bites out sarcastically, adding in a mutter, “I know how doors work, asshole. I’ll friggin’ prove it to you.”

He stomps past Derek, hand smacking into the door angrily but his momentum is interrupted by Derek’s hand grabbing him by the bicep and yanking him back. Stiles has no idea how he got his hand out of his pocket so fast. He stares down at Derek’s fingers, knowing his cheeks are hot over his grip, which is sure and firm and fits like Derek’s hands belong on him.

Derek’s fingers squeeze slightly. “There’s a bakery on the corner, we’re going.” He tugs at Stiles to get him to follow.

Stiles tears his arm out of Derek’s grip. For the principle of the thing. “Hey!” he snarks.

Derek carefully lifts a dark eyebrow.

Stiles scowls, fidgeting angrily so his jacket gets un-rucked around his arm and his sleeve falls to the same length as his unbothered one. “Fine,” he grinds out. Because, unfortunately, he would follow Derek anywhere. And, worse, Derek seems to know it. “But maybe, you know, ask, like a normal human being?”

Derek’s eyebrow gets infinitesimally higher.

Stiles hates it. And wants to lick it.

They walk apart on the sidewalk. They could fit a whole person and a half between them. Derek doesn’t talk and Stiles tries not to. He opens his mouth a few times but forces the words back down. This already seems so tenuous and him talking is something that rarely goes in the column of, ‘things he’s definitely glad he did.’

Derek doesn’t hold the door for him, enters the bakery like he couldn’t care less if Stiles followed.

Stiles swallows, pushes the door open for himself with his head down, like he’s walking into a headwind. Derek’s already at the counter, paying for something Stiles hasn’t ordered. He turns when the bell tinkles and points at a small two-person table in the center of the bitty establishment. It’s one of five tables and only one other is occupied, by a woman in a power suit, her eyes only for her laptop.

Stiles sits down, sloughing off his bag, shedding his coat, and unwinding his scarf in the warmth of the shop, piling it all haphazardly and perilously on the back of his chair. Derek sets a coffee down in front of him and pushes a caddy full of sugars and Sweet’N Lows at him.

Derek unzips his jacket too and reveals a shirt that’s got dried paint caked on it. He sits down, picks up his hand off a napkin and leaves a charcoal smudge behind. His head lowers and he inhales deeply, almost like he was starving for air. His nostrils flare, his chest swells, and his shoulders settle.

Stiles blinks at him, trying not to stare. Then it hits him, maybe Derek is the artist. He smiles into the steam coming from off his cup. “Derek.”

Up goes the head and the eyebrow. “What?”

“Huh?” Stiles blinks again, realizes he said that out loud, and his smile turns sheepish. “Oh, nothing, just the novelty of getting to use it kind of hasn’t worn off yet.” He squints, admits, “I’d pretty much settled on Tristan as my best guess.”

Derek rolls his eyes. His eyelashes are short and stubby, dark like his hair and Stiles knows they look almost like an ink smudge when his eyes are closed. “Because, between the two of us, I definitely had the more ridiculous name.” Stiles shrinks. Derek clears his throat, takes a gulp of his coffee—Stiles watches his throat work it down, and he says in a less cutting voice, “You think I look like a Tristan?”

Stiles shakes his head, says softly to the table, “You look like a Derek.”

It’s moments like this when he wishes the ground would open up and swallow him whole. He couldn’t have sounded more smitten if he tried. Derek’s girlfriend is going to murder him. Hell, Derek is probably going to murder him. Stiles has already bombarded him by just showing up at his studio and now he’s basically vomiting those chalk hearts at Derek’s feet, all of which say, ‘Love Me,’ on them in a shaky, handwritten font. In ink that might be blood.

Stiles needs to get out of his own head. Stat. His eyes stray up to the beanie and—holy fuck—he can finally ask the question: “Um, do you knit?”

“What.” Derek looks taken aback, hands curved around his paper cup. It’s already half-gone. Stiles’ is still too hot to drink.

Stiles points with his eyes. “Your beanie.” Fuck, he’s flushing splotchy and hot again. “It looks handmade and I thought—”

“My—sister,” he stumbles over the pause, like he was going to fill it with something else. Stiles can’t guess what, “she made it.”

“Oh,” Stiles says in a small voice, tapping the sides of his cup.

Derek casts around, looking ill at ease and then abruptly holds his leg out at the side of their table and says insistently, “I, uh, sew a bit. I did these.” He gestures to the patches.

Stiles’ eyes crinkle with how widely he’s smiling. The thread is pinched and loose in different places, uneven and fraying. Clearly done with more haste than care and there are some spots where Stiles would swear he could see Derek’s annoyance in the stitching. He can’t stop grinning, asks with amusement, “With your eyes closed?”

Derek’s entire face closes off and goes tight and Stiles could kick himself for it.

He moves his hand across the table. Stops it well before it reaches Derek’s. That would’ve been a disaster. “Hey, I wasn’t—I like them. Really. They’re more—”

“More what?”

More tidbits of you, more moments where the reality of you has outpaced the fantasy, more real—“It doesn’t matter.”

“Fine,” Derek says tensely. He obviously still thinks he’s being insulted.

Stiles sighs, reaches around for a subject change, anything to keep Derek here with him, and confidently guesses, “So, um, that’s your gallery?” Halesome Arts. It’s either his or a family member’s if the name on the card could be believed: Derek Hale.

Derek grunts, jerking his chin down in half a nod, looking off to the side at a cart with stirrers, napkins, and half and half.

“What do you, uh—what’s your subject du jour? Sorry, I don’t want to assume your medium, ask what you paint or draw or anything.” He’s going with his guess that Derek’s the artist, hoping he’s right.

Derek shakes his head, saying, “I’ve been through all of them recently anyway.” Stiles sits up straighter; he picked the right thing, Derek talks so easily about this. He hadn’t even shifted uncomfortably or checked himself before opening his mouth this time. “I can’t get it right, it’s just so—” he stops, eyes darting up to meet Stiles’ and his expression shutters again, “It’s hard to explain.”

Stiles slumps back. “Right.” He takes a sip of his coffee. It’s still too hot. It scalds his mouth.

He’s too numb to notice. Takes another gulp.

They sit in silence for another few minutes. Long enough that power-suit woman glances over, as if she’s checking their table’s still occupied.

Stiles suspects it won’t be much longer.

Derek’s hand flexes on the table and he says, gruffly, almost like it’s against his better judgment, “It’s a scent but not just… the nuances of it make it bounce from every sense—sound and taste and touch. I’m trying to give it a visual representation too.”

“That sounds really cool, actually.” Stiles wouldn’t be surprised if it only sounded that way because Derek seems so passionate about it. He’d leaned forward talking about it and his eyes had gone wide, more noticeably uncategorizable. “Also fairly impossible,” Stiles admits.

Derek’s mouth tightens. “I haven’t found the right material to express it yet. I will.”

Stiles hides a smile behind his cup. “Yeah, I’d place my bets firmly on you.”

It must show in his eyes because Derek’s narrow suspiciously, like he thinks he’s being made fun of again. “Why?”

Stiles lowers his cup, says seriously, “You can’t see how determined you look.”

Derek doesn’t just look mollified by that, he looks a little shellshocked. Stiles isn’t really sure why but he’s glad they’re ending this on a high note.

Derek’s coffee is finished, Stiles has had as much of his as he’s going to. (He needs quite a bit more than that done to his coffee to make it palatable. But Derek hadn’t asked and Stiles hadn’t wanted to be rude.) And, even though it doesn’t seem like it, they’ve been sitting here in mainly awkward silence and very little speech for closing in on forty minutes.

Stiles stands up, picking up his scarf and winding it around his neck. “I’m, um,” he glances at Derek because it’s so hard not to, “I’m really glad we did this. That I got to talk to you. I—This was good,” it’s positively stupid how much he means that, “thanks.” He doesn’t want to go, but he also doesn’t want to alienate Derek, and continuing to stare at him in silence seems like all that could become.

Derek places his hand on the table like he’s going to rise too but freezes in aborted motion, looking somewhat lost as to how they got here. “You’re leaving?” he asks.

Stiles can’t read his tone. He does the eyebrow thing back at him. “Well, yeah. I can’t just live in this bakery, the owners would notice eventually.” He looks over his shoulder towards the counter. “Probably sooner rather than later as half that display case would be gone if they ever turned their backs for more than a second.”

“Are you coming back?” Derek asks before Stiles has even turned around again.

Stiles does turn then and stares unabashedly at him. He hadn’t thought—not for one second had he thought that Derek would ever want to see him again. They’d barely managed a conversation between them. He was down to just hoping Derek wasn’t going to change metro routes so Stiles could still catch glimpses of him a few times a week. His mouth yo-yos dumbly and he has no idea what to say. “What, uh, what do you—Do you want me to?”

Derek’s hand tightens on the back of his chair, the other doing the same on the table. He’s still frozen, half-up and half-down, and he says angrily, “Do whatever you want,” glaring at the wall.

“Derek,” Stiles says carefully, swallowing. He squeezes his jacket on the back of his chair but makes no move to put it on. “Don’t you think these are kind of your shots to call?”

Derek’s wall-glare gets more intense but otherwise he has no reaction to that.

He’s the one with the girlfriend. He’s the one who should be deciding how they proceed, shouldn’t he? Stiles picks up his jacket and pulls it on slowly so the rustling won’t drown out his answer. “If you wanted to, I would—I would do this again but I don’t want to force you, make you feel like you have to, y’know?”

Derek’s head whips around and he nods quickly, though Stiles isn’t totally sure Derek actually heard everything he’d said. Since Derek was nodding as soon as Stiles announced he would do this again. “Come by again tomorrow, whenever,” he says, like he’s trying not to sound as insistent about it as he is. “I’ll be at the gallery all day.”

“Okay,” Stiles agrees, somewhat dazed. He drops the strap of his bag over his head and holds out his hand as an afterthought, biting into his lower lip. “It was nice actually meeting you, by the way. Derek,” he adds, because he can.

Derek eyes his outstretched hand for a second, lip raised in distaste, before he returns, “Stiles,” and encloses Stiles’ hand in warm, sure fingers.

His hand is dry. It fits Stiles’ perfectly.

 


 

 

Stiles makes it home. Mostly. He has his hand on the knob but then kind of just sinks down to his knees and starfishes face-down over the threshold, half in his apartment and half in the hall. This feels like as good a place as any to live out the rest of his life, gets a nice draft and everything.

That’s how Scott and Lydia find him when Scott gets home twenty minutes later.

Scott crouches down next to his head and squawks out an alarmed: “Stiles, man, what happened?”

Stiles turns his head so his cheek is pressed flat to the floorboard and he can see Scott’s concerned puppy expression under his fringe. “I met him.” It sounds like a death sentence the way he’s said it, all croaky and broken. In a way, it kind of is so fair play to Stiles. “I—We talked. He asked me to come back tomorrow.” He props himself up with his hands on the floor, halfway to standing but not that invested in it yet.

Scott frowns at him. “Why do you look like the world just ended then?” Stiles flops back down unhappily and Scott points a finger in his face. Literally in his face, cheek depressed under Scott’s fingertip. He pokes a few more times, says, “Because that all sounds like really good news.”

Stiles shifts his cheek away from Scott, which puts him squashed-nose-down against their floor again. He blinks into the darkness from his own shadow. “I’m in love with him,” he mumbles to himself, groans. “This is so stupid, I know, Lydia, shut up” he points at where she was standing against the doorframe before he returned to his friend the floor and stabs at her with his finger, “—preemptively shut up—but he actually is it. He’s my person.” Stiles rolls over like a depressed seal, sits up, and digs the heels of his palms into his eyes, making starbursts and orange blobs bloom behind the lids. “I’m… finished. I just knew it. He was sitting there, being all—” Stiles lowers his hands, blinks plaintively up at Scott and Lydia, “you know, with the face and the surliness and I thought, I thought, yeah, this face, this surliness, that’s my new forever.” He drops back down, floor and spine smushed together. “Only it isn’t and I am massively, irreparably fucked because he has a girlfriend. And even if he wasn’t unobtainable, he’s still unobtainable. In an, ‘I have to invent new words because there aren’t ones that so much as touch him,’ kind of way.”

Lydia taps the toe of her high heel into his chest and tells him thoughtfully, “You’re depressing, you know that?” She carefully sips from the same latte cup she had earlier, purses her lips. “Also, did you say tomorrow? Your computer science midterm is tomorrow.”

Stiles pops upright, eyes wide. Nooooo. That can’t—it isn’t—goddamn it! “Oh shit. Shit. Fuck. Shit. I can’t meet him tomorrow.” His midterm’s not until late evening but he hasn’t even started the studying process yet. Which consists of downing a bunch of his Adderall pills, holing up in the library, jamming all related information that’ll stick into the folds of his brain where it’ll later leak out to be replaced by song lyrics and Friends quotes, sobbing - bitterly, going to the corner gas station for 5 a.m. Red Bulls, an hour or so of unscheduled, randomized, and repeated cat naps while he slaps himself in the face to try to spark consciousness, drooling, desperate crying, panicked reading and, finally, acceptance that he will not pass. Until he miraculously does (about an eighty-seven percent success rate on that).

There was no room for Derek in that. Derek eclipses everything, even the Friends quotes. Stiles can’t see him and retain anything to do with computers on the same day.

Lydia rolls her eyes, unsympathetic to a pathological degree in Stiles’ unbiased opinion. “I might already know that. Considering I told you that.”

Whatever.

“No, but—” Stiles is aware he’s whining. He does not care how undashing it is either. Derek’s not here and it’s not like Scott and Lydia are new to this, “We didn’t exchange numbers, how am I going to tell him that? He’s going to think I stood him up. He’s going—” ha ha, light bulb! “I’ll just go to the professor and tell him I need a faith exception.” He glances between Lydia’s unimpressed face to Scott’s worried one. “As in: I have faith that if I stand up Derek he’s never going to speak to me again and considering he’s the mate to my soul, the pop to my ring, the wolf to my were, I would probably not survive his surgical removal from my life.”

Lydia perks a shapely brow at him. “You are not going to a professor with that. You’re going to your midterm. Don’t be that girl, Stiles.” Stiles glares at her. She glares back. “First of all, no one feels bad for the girl who decides to be stupid for a boy.” Her cheeks flush and Stiles purposefully presses his lips together. He knows she knows he knows, or something to that effect. There is literally no need to point out Lydia’s past to her, cruelly. Stiles cements his lips even tighter. “Second of all,” she says primly, “you’re not a girl.”

Stiles lets out an explosive breath, unable to ignore the fact that Lydia actually, maybe, has some authority here since this was high school for her. “Fine,” he grinds out, unhappy but probably smarter for it.

 


 

Stiles stoops to stare into sleeping guy’s face but, once again, it is not his sleeping guy. He should’ve known really; the guy was hardly a scowly beacon of unconscious combativeness. Stiles sighs but bravely soldiers on to the next car. If he doesn’t find Derek on here, he has no idea how he’s going to let him know he isn’t coming to meet him.

Some benevolent Pro-Stalkerish-Love God must hear him—Stiles sends up an appreciative peace sign for the lack of judgment on its part—because there Derek is. On a day when Stiles doesn’t even know his metro schedule. By some miracle (or Pro-Stalkerish-Love God), he’s here, all scrunched up, asleep and angry, and Stiles’ heart thuds so hard it feels like it might’ve exploded.

Derek’s shoulder is crush-jammed into the corner, back curved to the guy next to him who couldn’t care less about the literal cold shoulder he’s receiving, newspaper spread out in front of his face and oblivious to the world around him. Stiles feels a little bad for him, and he’s a tad tempted to tell him about the fate of print news but he doesn’t want to spoil the guy’s day. Just make him move.

“Hey there, uh, news guy, do you mind if I sit next to my husband?” It’s a little worrisome how easily that rolls off Stiles’ tongue.

The guy looks up, bug-eyed, and very clearly displeased with being pulled away from the day’s news.

“You know, there are, like, ten-thousand apps where you can keep up with the news in real-time so you don’t have to—Nope! That wasn’t what I was going to say. My husband, you have the seat next to him, and I would very much like to be in it because it would make doing naughty stuff with him that much easier.” Stiles caps it off with a bright, award-winning smile.

“He’s not wearing a ring,” the guy says without even looking over at Derek.

Stiles stares at him. Okay. Well, that’s on him for assuming the dude was straight based on nothing more than stereotyping. Deep breaths. “Sir, we may be poor in pocket but we are rich in love,” he says in his most dramatic gush. Stiles snatches up Derek’s hand where it’s shoved in the corner and holds it to his heart, their fingers and palms all wrapped up in each other’s. Derek’s brow furrows and he twists in his seat but Stiles is busy screwing up his face, ready to work himself into a monster of a fake cry when the guy springs out of the seat.

Stiles slides into it while the guy’s still half-vacating it and beams at him. “Thanks, man.”

“Delinquent,” is what’s tossed back at him.

Stiles finger-guns at him with his free hand and winks. “You know it.” He turns back to Derek to find that their hand-holding has reached dangerous levels of constriction. He’s absolutely certain his last two fingers aren’t getting any blood to them anymore. “Jesus, Tentacruel, maybe stop trying to make my limbs atrophy? Also, uh,” Stiles does the Jedi mind trick wave in front of Derek’s sleeping face with the hand he isn’t currently strangling, “not sure how much you’re aware of in there but I definitely did not just make a Pokémon reference. Just… for your records: did not happen.”

Derek’s eyebrows unpinch with the flare of his nostrils. Stiles watches his shoulders loosen, legs falling slightly open as he sits in the chair like a person rather than a defensive shield-wall. Stiles strokes his thumb over the back of Derek’s hand and the grip lessens, slightly. Holy freaking Blues Clues dog, the way this is making the skin of his thighs prickle and his heart flutter though? He is every YA novel come to life right now, over hand-holding. How can this possibly feel as epic as if he’s slaying a damn dragon?

He doesn’t know. But it does.

“Hey,” Stiles says, hating the softness of his own voice, how content and warm he sounds - happy, for fuck’s sake, but unable to modulate it at all. He digs out the note from his coat pocket. “Relevant info right here, prickly pear.” Stiles unselfconsciously tucks the note that says, Can’t meet, maybe tomorrow at two if you’re free? At Caffiend? with the address to the coffee place closest to his campus written underneath and signed: Stiles, no valediction, into Derek’s breast pocket. He swallows and says quietly, “It’s kind of unhealthy how much I want to potentially tank my future prospects just to see you for half an hour.” He rubs at his forehead. “Did I say ‘kind of’ because I meant ‘certifiably.’” Stiles squeezes Derek’s hand as the train slows. “Counting on you to show up, otherwise this missed meeting will be the main topic of conversation in my therapy sessions for years to come. You wouldn’t do that to me, right?”

He swipes over the warm, soft skin of Derek’s hand one more time and then rises after the train has made its jerky stop. It’s an effort to disentangle from Derek and Derek’s eyebrows are right back to pinched, mouth tight and unhappy, as soon as Stiles has done it. Stiles touches his shoulder before he can stop himself. He snatches his hand away since that is really not his place and joins the crush of bodies getting off the metro before he can do what he really wants to do: smooth out the crease between Derek’s eyebrows with his thumb, stroke his cheek, and kiss his dumb perfect pouting mouth.

 


 

Stiles shows up at noon. Drinks six super-sweet cups of coffee. Manages not to have some sort of sugar-seizure. Pees three times. Alienates four other customers. All accomplished by the time Derek shows up, at 2:01. Stiles sees him right away, because he’s the type of guy you see right away. All looming, shadow-y bad boy vibes. He’s even got the leather jacket on again. His hair is free of the beanie today and wild and he’s wearing aviator shades inside.

Stiles is far from the only one looking, he’s also pretty sure he’s not the only one who’s melted into a puddle of aroused goo.

Derek’s lip seems to be permanently raised in a sneer, head slightly shifting like his hackles are raising more and more as he takes in the general and all-the-time craze of the shop. It’s close to campus and open twenty-four hours and very, very rarely not bursting with college students.

He inhales visibly, nostrils flaring, and his head snaps right to Stiles. He struts over—he does, he struts. It should look douchebaggy with the sunglasses and the confident striding and the leather jacket and instead Stiles has to swallow down the offer to suck his dick in the bathroom. Or maybe just at his table. “Hi,” he says stupidly when Derek reaches him. He got Stiles’ note. And he came. And he’s here.

The table Stiles is sitting at is small and tall and Derek looks like he’s not certain about it at all. (This is exactly why he’s not allowed to have the Dr. Seuss wallpaper on his phone. He’s changing it back to Nicki Minaj asap.) Derek leans an elbow onto it and Stiles can just see the convex inverted reflection of himself in the lenses of Derek’s sunglasses. “You’re a student.” Stiles thinks maybe it’s supposed to be a question, only Derek hasn’t figured out how to do those yet.

Stiles gets it. Derek’s new to all things verbal, there’s a learning curve after all.

He nods, says almost giddily, “You came.” He’s still kind of gobsmacked with disbelief over that.

“You invited me,” Derek says with indifference. Then he shifts his weight and adds, with a question mark of uncertainty and everything, “Didn’t you?” His fingers twitch on the table, half-rise like they’re going to pat his breast pocket. As though confirming that actually did happen yesterday. As though it matters what Stiles does.

“Yeah, yes, I did. I really did,” Stiles tells him eagerly, hammering that doubt to a brutal, crushing death with his enthusiasm. “And you showed up.”

Stiles can’t tell what Derek’s expression is doing beneath the sunglasses but he’s looking over his shoulder, the balls of both of them nearly up around his ears with how tense he is.

“We can go outside if you want?” Stiles offers uneasily. Maybe Derek’s just trying to get away from him, didn’t want to be an asshole and not show up so he came all the way here just to sever ties.

Derek’s hand lashes out across the tabletop, grip digging into Stiles’ forearm, thankfully blunted by Stiles’ sweatshirt. “No,” he snaps, then seems to realize what he’s done and he blanches. His grip lets up completely but he doesn’t move his hand, so it’s just resting on Stiles’ arm. “I—this is fine.”

Stiles blinks at the hand on his arm, stares. Derek’s touching him. Voluntarily. And still. “O… kay,” he says, confused by literally everything that’s happening, but pleased with it.

Derek hunkers even further down into the table and Stiles can tell, even with the reflective lenses, that his gaze keeps darting to his bold hand too, as though trying to convince himself to remove it. But, happily, there it stays.

And they’re just sitting in silence now. And have been for five minutes. Stiles casts around for something to say. “So, how’s, uh—Sorry, I didn’t catch her name. The girl from the train?”

This. This right here is why he never gets laid. Reminding the guy he’s in love with (who’s clearly suffered some recent head trauma and is willingly touching him) about his girlfriend.

Derek’s head tilts away from where they’re connected, up to Stiles’ face. “Cora. She’s fine.” Eyebrows pinch. Mouth sours. Back to patented Derek as he asks with careful condescension, as though to remind Stiles he’s not really playing in the same league as these two (like he didn’t already know that), “Are you… interested in her.”

Stiles actually laughs out loud. He’s popped a boner over Derek’s hand on his arm and the guy thinks he’s interested in his girlfriend? He knows he hasn’t outright said, ‘So do your parents approve of our imminent nuptials or what,’ but surely at least his attraction is pretty fucking obvious, right? “Her?” he chokes out through tight laughter. “No. Holy God, no, like I’m gonna fight you for her, first off? And second, just no, I—” He taps his fingertips heavily against his empty cup. It makes a hollow sound. He swallows nervously. “I kind of would’ve thought you’d have picked up on that. The lack of interest. For her,” Stiles emphasizes purposefully.

Well. There it is. It’s out there now. Fuck.

Derek’s back to staring at the table. The hand on Stiles’ arm gets dragged away from him so Derek can cross his arms underneath himself, prop himself up on his elbows.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“I didn’t want to assume,” he mutters.

“Well, yeah,” Stiles says glumly, because why the fuck not confirm it some more? It’s not like Stiles can take it back now anyway. At least his erection has the good grace to die along with his hopes and dreams. He shrugs. “You can. I do. I am.” He sighs and Derek lifts his sunglasses up on top of his head, looking adorably confused and slightly worried. Stiles’ mouth takes the opportunity to take over for his stuttered brain. “I—your eyes are bonkers.” Stiles winces. He’s just told what is very clearly a straight man that he’s into him, is in the process of being politely rejected in the kindest way possible, and he cuts the guy off to compliment his eyes. What the fuck is wrong with him? “Sorry, that just popped out.”

Derek’s expression sours and he says, “That’s because your mouth is open all the goddamn time.”

“Right,” Stiles says, stung. “Sorry, again.”

“I didn’t mean—” Derek starts, looking annoyed, though Stiles can’t tell if it’s with Stiles or himself. “What are you studying?” he asks, rather aggressively.

There’s a very whiplash-feel to this conversation right now. Wasn’t Derek just about to tell him he wasn’t interested, that Stiles’ attraction wasn’t cool, that he was into ladies?

He’d stopped just short of the rejection part though. Oh my God. Maybe because there was no rejection part? Derek seemed cautious with his acknowledgment of Stiles’ attraction but… he hadn’t rejected it.

Oh. My. God.

Derek’s eyebrows jump up impatiently and Stiles scrambles to remember the question. He leans his elbow on the table, making the space between them that much smaller. “This week? Graphic Design. Starting to get an itch to look into Pharmacological Science though. Two weeks ago it was Marine Biology. My motto is: Know a little about a lot and remain buried in student loan debt for all eternity.”

Derek smirks at him. “Maybe look into getting a new motto.”

Are they flirting? They might be flirting. If Stiles remembers how to do this. (He does not remember how to do this.)

“I know what’ll happen, I’ll go from looking for a new motto to applying to a new major and, well, it’s an endless cycle of poverty and Trivial Pursuit wins.”

Derek half-smiles at that and Stiles is going to get a laugh out of him. Or at least that was the plan, until Derek pulls out his phone, checks the screen, and frowns down at it. “I can’t stay, I—”

Stiles smiles at him; it wobbles because it’s so damn disingenuous. “I get it,” he says, and he does. Even if Derek does want to stay here and maybe-flirt, he still has a girlfriend. It’s all harmless fun for him. Stiles is still pretty impressed he’s a cool enough dude not to have some sort of freak out over a guy being into him.

Points to him. Way to make himself that much harder to get over.

Derek stands there for an extra few minutes. He never even ordered. He never even sat down. Finally, he clears his throat and asks awkwardly, “I, can I see you again?”

Stiles blinks. Beams. Derek wants to see him again. Stiles hasn’t fucked this up yet. They’re going to be the best friends of ever and Stiles will probably only have twice-weekly nuclear-level meltdowns over the fact that his soulmate is hooked up with someone else. Which is, frankly, worth it if it keeps Derek around.

He says with grotesque sincerity: “Quite literally never going to say no to that.”

 


 

“Sorry,” is the utterly unapologetic answer Stiles gets to his most recent inquiry. Making this the fourth day in a row.

Stiles squints into her indifferent face. “You know, Janet, I don’t think you are that sorry.”

She shrugs. She’s not. And she’s not even sorry about her lack of being sorry. Stiles can officially say he does not like this girl. In fact, he’s totally gonna fill out a comment card that sums up this whole conversation with a tried and true: ‘Damn it, Janet.’

“He really didn’t say anything?” He’s maybe sounding a little desperate now and he drags his hand off the counter to look slightly less unstable. “About a message to pass along for someone named, ‘Stiles?’ Nothing, huh?”

“Oh, you know what—” she starts thoughtfully, shuffling through a few papers on the desk below and Stiles lights up. Her eyes dart up, hard, and she finishes blandly, “no.”

“That was mean,” Stiles says, deflating. It’d been a week since he’d seen Derek. They’d mentioned meeting up after Caffiend, Derek had told him to drop by Halesome Arts again, whenever, he’d be there, they could talk. Everything had seemed fine, good even. Only Stiles had come by, had even looked for him on the metro. And Derek was always notably absent, in both places, and Janet was always notably unsympathetic, in one of them.

She sighs exasperatedly now, rolling her eyes. Stands, puts her elbows up on the hutch above her desk, and drops her chin into her open palm. “You know, I felt bad for you the first time you came in here, Stiles, but there’s a reason people don’t go see the same play every night of the week, you get me?”

“Right. Yeah. I—”

“It doesn’t help that the play isn’t even that compelling to begin with,” she cuts him off, unnecessarily adding that little sac-punch in there. Stiles can’t exactly deny it though. It probably just gets sadder and sadder with each new mounting of it actually.

“Yeah, okay. I’m being blown off,” he makes himself say it out loud, croaky and more broken down than he’s possibly ever been, “that’s what’s happening here.”

She straightens up and weighs her hands, altering which one is higher or lower. “You can go the route of acceptance—” she raises her left hand, “or denial,” drops it to raise the right one now. “The former leads to the possibility of a healthy relationship down the line with someone who’s actually interested in you,” that stings something awful, “the latter leads to obsession, delusion, and possibly jail-time.” She leans both elbows on the counter again, shifting forward - boobs first - to stare at him, and says excitedly, “Oh hey, maybe you’ll get on the next season of Making a Murderer.”

Stiles peers at her searchingly. “All right, Janet, against my better judgment, you seem fairly awesome so how do we get you on my side in this equation? I could use someone with your kind of moxie.”

She smiles briefly at him, sadly at him. “Hey, kid,” she says, and Stiles is almost certain she’s the same age as him, if not younger, “I am on your side.”

 


 

“This isn’t healthy. You’re spiraling.” Lydia pokes him in the knee with her pen. It clicks.

Stiles bundles up tighter in his Diana Prince blanket and sniffs, eyes glued to the very informative and very necessary Powerpuff Girls rerun.

Scott frowns and leans in close to him on the couch. “She’s right, man. You gotta snap out of this.”

Stiles scowls at him. “You know, if Allison broke up with you, I wouldn’t tell you to ‘snap out of it.’”

“But he and Allison are actually dating,” Lydia points out unapologetically. What is it with all the unapologetic women in Stiles’ life?

He buries his head under fleece and gold cuffs, a half-full box of Wheat Thins waiting in his lap for him. He angrily crunches on them, ignoring everyone, and getting crumbs all over the place.

“Stiles, maybe you should get out of the house?” That’s Allison, trying to sound soft and reassuring and touching his shoulder through his protective blanket barrier and god-powered superhero. “We could all go out, blow off some steam, do some drinking and dancing. We haven’t done that in forever.”

“Because none of us likes to do that,” Stiles says through a mouthful of jagged pieces of cracker.

Lydia yanks down the blanket from around his head and says, “None of us has ever been in need of it quite so badly.”

Well, yeah, maybe she has a point there.

 


 

Stiles leans over the bar, drunk enough to not be inclined to wait to be served. He leaves what he thinks is probably a twenty in exchange for the whole bottle of coconut rum. When he slip-falls back down onto the floor next to his stool, he knocks into the guy behind him. He takes in Stiles’ risky play and the rum bottle all in one sweeping look.

Stiles thinks he might whistle lowly but it’s too loud in the bar to hear.

His teeth are the slightest bit crooked when he smiles, a bit uncertainly. He doesn’t look like he would ever think to bare them. He looks open and soft, not like a prickly hummingbird pear douche who doesn’t even knit. “You have got this whole thing figured out, haven’t you? I think I’d better pair up with you then, you’ve got the eye of the tiger.” The smile gets a little wider, no less uncertain though.

Stiles furrows his brow but obligingly holds up his arms victoriously, like he just ran up a whole flight of monument steps. “Yeah, I’m Rocky or whatever.”

“Travis,” the guy introduces himself. There’s a tattoo on his neck that’s colorful and looks warm and the glint on his lip isn’t spit, it’s a lip ring. He’s maybe even lankier than Stiles, though that might just be the thin t-shirt he’s wearing and the dark inside of the bar, overemphasizing his skinniness. Stiles thinks hard. Did this bar have a band? He looks like he would be in a band in a bar. And his eyes are impressively blue. Who even does that anymore, eyes with only one color in them? Pffft. They should have a pinwheel of colors in them, didn’t this Travis know anything?

He sidles up to the bar, removing himself from the flow of traffic, and Stiles swigs directly from the mouth of the bottle, squinting at the faux-hawked guy like a cop. He knows how to do that look; he’d been on the other side of that look for almost his entire life. “Yeah?” he offers, unimpressed. Points around the bottle. “And how exactly are you planning to fuck me over, Travis?”

He knows how this goes now. He knows what this is. He knows what he’s for.

Travis puts his elbow on the bar. He’s not as thin as Stiles originally thought but not as muscular as Derek either. Which is a name Stiles isn’t thinking. Where’s Lydia? He’s supposed to put a dollar in a jar when he does that or something.

Travis says, pulling his attention back around, “We’ve barely been talking long enough for me to have a whole plan, per se. I don’t even know what kind of connections you’ve got yet. Any chance you’re related to British royalty? I’ve always liked the look of that crown.”

Stiles blinks at him, a smile pulled from him despite his better judgment. “You’re good at talking,” he offers. It shouldn’t be something worthy of praise but you know who wasn’t good at talking? Asshole hummingbirds, that’s who.

Travis smiles back at him, it’s lopsided and his lip ring wiggles like his tongue is playing with it nervously on the inside. “That decides it. I’m putting that on my résumé as it’s clearly been elevated to the level of ‘skill’ if strangers in bars are commenting on it.” He turns to the counter, leans over it, not meeting Stiles’ eyes. Coughs. “I’ll need your number though, for reference reasons only. Obviously.”

Stiles can feel his face pull into a grin, wants to stop it but there’s something about this guy. This guy who should be all, ‘fuck the system, light my guitar on fire,’ confidence and yet has a hard time meeting Stiles’ eyes. Like Stiles is the one with the power here. Like Stiles is worth wanting. “Oh very smooth,” Stiles says and that is his flirting voice. But, in his defense, it really was. “That was impressive.”

Travis turns back, matching Stiles’ grin. He’s got a really nice smile, even if it is all tilty. The dim glow of the bar lights reveals that his shaggy hair is about three different colors - pink and teal and purple. “Thank you.” His tongue flicks out to wet his chapped lips. “That wasn’t even pre-planned.”

“Oh yeah, that implies you had something pre-planned.” Stiles leans against the bar too. “Did you have a line?”

Travis cringes a little theatrically, already sharing the joke with Stiles. “I did,” he admits, “but I’m not going to tell you now. This is going way better than it usually does and I am not going to fall back on my Harry Potter pick-up lines now.”

Stiles snorts. He stares at Travis’ face and he seems earnest, funny. But Derek had seemed earnest, interested even. Like maybe he felt a tug between them too, like maybe Stiles mattered to him. Only Stiles didn’t and he’s a shit judge of character, obviously. He says, slightly harshly, “You sure you want my number and don’t just want to fuck me?” Travis’ eyebrows try to meet up with his messy hair line. “‘Cause, see, we could do that part right now and then I wouldn’t have to be disappointed later when you didn’t call.”

Maybe fucking someone, someone nice and someone who wanted Stiles back - even if just for a night, would make all this horrible, soul-deadening, gut-wrenching, hole-through-his-middle stuff with Derek go away. Maybe this was a fix.

Travis bites his cheek, taps his fingers on the bar top weightily. “First,” he says, “wouldn’t be calling regardless right now, my potential employer would, I wouldn’t lie to you about that.” He meets Stiles’ eyes and adds, “I also do really have Harry Potter pick-up lines and expensive, royal European tastes.” Stiles smirks and Travis tugs at his own earlobe uncomfortably. “Second, you are, unfortunately, rather intoxicated so any, er, sexual congress would have to wait until you could name a member of Congress.” He licks the center of his lower lip and moves in closer so his voice isn’t raised over the bar noise anymore. “If you gave me permission to use your number for reasons that weren’t purely business-related though, I would.”

He looks like he means it and Stiles doesn’t get it. No one hits on him in bars, ever, and no one else out in the world seems interested in him either. He’s just someone who’s best skirted around and avoided. Apparently anyway. “Why?” he asks, and did his voice just break? Fuck, that’s mortifying. He takes another swig of the bottle he’s all but forgotten about in his hand.

“Honestly?” Travis asks, head tilted, and Stiles nods. He says warmly, “The way you smile. It didn’t happen a lot but it was unselfish when it did, like you were sharing it with everyone.” He shrugs, smiling himself. He still has a nice one. Had Derek ever smiled around Stiles? He honestly doesn’t think so. That sucks. Probably should’ve been a clue though, huh? “I like that, I want to be around that.”

Stiles stares down at the shiny, sticky counter top. That means Travis was watching him, maybe looking for an opening to talk to him. Maybe he’d been coming over to make a gambit. Maybe that’s all a lot of horseshit. Stiles doesn’t know anymore. He mutters loud enough for Travis to hear, “You are slick.”

“And you are remarkably cynical,” he counters, sounding unbothered by it though. Stiles looks up at him and he’s leaning with his back against the bar now. He shrugs again. “That’s fine,” he says, grinning, “I can work with that.” Stiles swallows and Travis is closer than ever when he adds, “Don’t let one asshole ruin it for all of us though.”

Stiles carefully sets the bottle down on the bar and breathes deeply, letting it out through his nose, nostrils flaring. “In the interest of full and drunken disclosure:” he locks eyes with Travis, “I am still really fucking hung-up on the asshole.” He’d thought it would be a relief to say it out loud but instead his chest feels like someone is trying to crush it under a Hercules-sized boulder and he’s on the verge of a massive damn panic attack, isn’t he?

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Travis places a finger under his chin, lifts it, and says softly, “I can work with that too.” His lips are cold against Stiles’ but they warm when he starts to move them and the pressure in Stiles’ chest morphs to something more bearable, more anticipatory, and he’s the one who threads his fingers up into Travis’ unruly hair, pulls him in, and opens his mouth.

It feels good. Like, really, really good when Travis’ hands find his waist, holding him upright as much as dragging him closer, knowing he’s so brazenly wanted. Knowing that Travis doesn’t have a fucking girlfriend, that Stiles isn’t making an ass of himself chasing after him.

He drunkenly thinks to himself, sucking on Travis’ tongue in his mouth, that he needs to remember this feeling because he’s pretty sure it’s all he needs to be able to finally let the idea of Derek fucking Hale go.

 


 

Stiles wakes up on his back.

On cold tile.

In a bathroom.

That isn’t his.

And that he doesn’t recognize.

There’s no way that Derek could’ve—? That thought makes the angry clown in his head start clanging away on everything within reach and he winces. He sits up, covered in cold sweat, his limbs rubbery, and the bathroom isn’t getting any more familiar.

Purple walls?

He’s beginning to feel a little like Grimace’s hostage. And his mouth tastes oily and strange. Did he hook up with someone last night?

Oh God.

There had been someone hadn’t there? Someone human-shaped, and tall. Or short. Maybe. Barney? No, now he’s just stuck on purple things.  Or Reuben, no, that’s a sandwich, Lysol, nope, cleaning product. He feels sure he’s circling it though, Din—

“Oh good. I was just about to call the morgue,” Lydia chirps from the doorway. She’s sipping coffee and wearing pajamas that are more expensive than a month of Stiles’ rent and looking down on him, in every sense of the phrase. She flutters her eyelashes. “So. Who’s the fancy boy we had to pull your tongue out of last night?”

“What? Derek?” is Stiles’ immediate word vomit. (He’s very much hoping it won’t be quickly followed by some show-stopping real vomit.) Then he remembers he’s never kissed Derek, and isn’t ever likely to, and his stomach lurches. He turns cautiously but directly to the toilet. His guts only continue to roil ominously. He sets his warm cheek on the cool porcelain and looks around again. “Seriously? Did you redecorate in here, again?”

“The brown was rather depressing, didn’t you think?” she asks with a frown, tapping a nail against her coffee mug.

Stiles groans, insides rioting. Which helpfully gets him out of the question because he could’ve sworn it was orange last.

“He seemed nice, your tongue-friend,” Lydia adds, almost kindly, then ruins it: “If prone to hepatitis. He insisted I text when we got you home though. Which I did. From your phone.”

Lydia,” Stiles groans, in an entirely different, but no less half-sick, way than before.

 


 

He gets a text around mid-afternoon from fancy hepatitis boy and, okay, Stiles can’t exactly remember his name, or what he looked like, or anything they talked about so he only has Lydia’s description to work from here. It says:

Really doubting that you remember giving me your number last night.

Well. Score one for FHB. Stiles is about to text back: ding ding, when another of his lights up the phone. This one tacks on:

It’s Travis.

Stiles doesn’t know if Travis is telling him that to explain the unknown number that could potentially be anyone’s or to help negate some of the total cognitive blank Stiles has been drawing on everything to do with him. Did Stiles ever tell him his name? Would it be a borderline smack in the face to text back: I’m Stiles? Maybe they had a forty minute conversation on the origins of his first name last night and that would be tantamount to saying: my drunk-self did not find it necessary to record even one minute of those wasted forty. Sorry, bucko.

His phone sends a buzz up his forearm and Stiles is grinning with the next message.

And if you can’t quite picture me, I was the strapping, charming, muscular, international man of mystery you met at the bar who did three whole pull-ups without falling to the floor. Or crying.

Then, quickly:

Okay, once.

Stiles laughs out loud and gets the late follow-up before he can reply:

Only the really dashing blokes manage only one cry, though, so it’s still respectable.

Stiles frowns. Trying to remember this guy, who is charming but who Lydia definitely would’ve mentioned having an accent. They had talked about England though, hadn’t they? Had he been wearing a crown or something? Stiles tries to tease out the hazy memory and realizes his phone hasn’t gone off in a few minutes now. It’s apparently his turn to respond. So he does:

Travis, who’s apparently intermittently British.

He really hopes the guy isn’t actually British, otherwise that’s going to make no sense. Maybe even sub-sense. The response comes basically down to the second of how long it would’ve taken Travis to read his message and compose his own.

Not British, but supportive.

Which also makes Stiles stifle a laugh, he’s not so lucky with the huge grin because strapping, charming, muscular, international man of mystery is hardcore into Stiles. And that’s a pretty heady feeling, especially after how opposite his life has been lately.

And Stiles is putting that behind him. No more head games. He hadn’t even taken his usual metro ride today, instead using a different (less convenient) line, because even though Derek hadn’t been on it in a week, Stiles hadn’t wanted to run the risk of seeing him. Asleep or not. He can’t exactly deny that he’s stupid around the guy so why even give himself the opportunity?

And if his entire body felt hollow and ripped apart on the inside? Well. That had to be temporary. Right?

Any chance you had a day of zero obligations gifted at your feet? Travis adds when Stiles doesn’t respond. My band just finished playing and we could see if you find me palatable sober? Side note: asking me to do pull-ups again is tantamount to admitting you don’t believe I did them in the first place and that makes me want to do them all the less.

Stiles smiles and taps at his phone indecisively. Just because he’s recognized (or, more like, Janet forced the reality into his head) that the Derek-thing is never going to give him what he wants doesn’t mean he’s ready to jump into something new.

After all, his future engagement to his future husband did just get blown to present smithereens. That’s not something you simply walk off.

He’s about to say something along the lines of: thanks but no thanks, but stops typing mid-message as a last from Travis comes through that changes his mind.

We could even listen to some 228.6 Millimeter Nails if you wanted.

Stiles snorts and decides he kind of has to give him that one and texts back:

I don’t see how I could say no to that, He really doesn’t, where did your gig wrap? And, yes, I did just want to use the word ‘gig.’

 


 

Travis is attractive. Not exactly hot like Derek is hot but attractive enough that Stiles has thought about licking the tattoo on his shoulder twice. His eyes are bright and incomprehensibly warm considering they’re such a cool blue, cornflower or periwinkle or some other made-up Crayola color. And he always seems to be smiling with them.

What is that? Who smiles that much?

Derek didn’t. His eyes were always crinkled at the sides like he didn’t trust the oxygen around him, his shoulders hunched, his mouth ever-ready to pull down at the corners. Like an angry little wombat that Stiles wanted to coax back open, to wrap his arms around and under, bite his lower lip, make Derek’s walls crash down into him with how close he wanted to be, their bodies practically fixed tog—

Oh my God, Stiles, stop. Stiles listens to his inner monologue and snaps back to attention.

Travis is all warm likability in front of him and Stiles finds himself with a half-smile on his face, having no idea how it got there. “So, any scouts at this thing?” he asks. It’s a coffee shop and they had done an acoustic set for the fourteen patrons who’d stayed. Travis is helping his bandmates load up their van, who had all politely grunted or waved at Stiles when he arrived, wrapping an extension cord around the V of his hand and his elbow.

He sighs with real solemnity. “Only three record deals this time. I think we’re losing our edge.”

Stiles grins. “Going to accept any?”

Travis looks almost affronted, pushes back at his colorful hair, and gazes down at Stiles from the couple inches he has on him. “Whoa now, we’re not in this for the fame or the fortune, but for the love of the game.”

“You should write that down, that’s good,” Stiles tells him with a smirk. “Might get you rich.”

Travis grins back. He’s got a really nice smile, teeth kind of crooked but in an endearing, rather than Austin Powers, way. “I definitely have enough to go to that diner over there,” he points to the other side of the street, “and buy you something with more grease than substance.”

“Sounds perfect,” Stiles admits, the low thrum of a headache from that morning still pulsing away right behind his eyes.

The side of Travis’ hand keeps brushing Stiles’ as they walk across and Stiles gets a little pool of warmth in his gut over it. But no butterflies.

With Derek, there had been fucking pterodactyls.

Halfway through inhaling a small hill of bacon and eggs and listening to Travis talk about his band and his ‘even better gig’ of waiting tables, Stiles realizes why he feels more bemused and contented by Travis than anything else:

Travis is nice.

Genuinely.

Stiles is not.

And he also doesn’t quite know how to exist around that either. Scott’s an anomaly in his history and Stiles knows a big part of why they’re still friends is that they fell completely in love with who the other person was when they were kids because they were so opposite, built their lives up together, and have a shared past to fall back on whenever their present selves clashed. And, honestly, Allison’s introduction had helped secure them even more. Because she was nice, but not as nice as Scott and needed an outlet for that every so often, preferably one that was worse than her.

Enter the cementing of her and Stiles’ lifelong friendship.

Stiles doesn’t have any of that with Travis. Who, to his credit, seems to recognize Stiles isn’t one of his people, just not how much he isn’t.

It might be nice to pretend otherwise for a little while though.

Travis does pay, then keeps his hands in the pockets of his jacket once they’re outside and now he’s rocking a safe, considerate kind of vibe. He squints at Stiles, says, “All right, I might feel comfortable enough to invite you to a gig while my band is actually still playing, if you’re up for it?” he adds, clearly not wanting to pressure him.

Stiles looks down at his forearm. Derek would’ve just grabbed it and told him they were going. Stiles would’ve preferred that.

Mainly because it’s what he would’ve done too.

Travis is so considerate that it casts Stiles as fragile almost by necessity for Travis’ side of this to make sense, like Travis thinks maybe Stiles can’t take care of himself. You know who Stiles never worries about treating him like he’s made of tissue paper?

Fucking Derek.

And he is officially being paranoid now because Travis isn’t being a dick, Stiles just keeps trying to cast him as one. Which isn’t nice.

Which is kind of the whole deal here.

He looks up at Travis, takes in the piercings and the hair and the tattoos and the clothes and the everything that screams: music is life, and says forlornly, “Still disappointed you ended up being a musician, you scream ‘realtor.’”

Travis smiles widely, but unevenly, a bit of nerves to it. “Waiting on that license to come through. I passed the exam and even have the red blazer with shoulder pads ready to go. Lay it out hopefully on my bed every morning, too.” He bounces his shoulders as though they’re missing it and says conspiratorially, “Bureaucracy, am I right?”

Stiles realizes the nervous crinkle to Travis’ brow is because he never answered the real question and he licks his lip, wondering what that answer is. He can practically hear Lydia saying, ‘being nice is not a defect, Stiles.’ Even though it kind of is and they both really, secretly thought so. And would never tell each other that because neither one of them wanted to be the kind of people who thought that.

He nods after a delayed moment and says, “I expect at least half the set will be written about me by this point so of course I kind of have to show up now, don’t I?”

Travis’ lips curl into a truly spectacular smile. “Realistic expectations, I love it.”

It’s kind of ridiculous how infectious Travis’ joy is and Stiles bites down on a matching smile of his own.

Travis frowns, forehead creasing, and he reaches his thumb out to rest on Stiles’ lower lip, gently and intimately dragging it from between his teeth so his mouth can form the grin it wants to.

Travis beams back at him, cool blue all incongruously warm, and says, “That is much better.”

 


 

Stiles walks to Caffiend, half in a daze from his still-lingering hangover and half from the idea that there’s anyone on the planet that obviously into him. His phone vibrates in his pocket and he pulls it out, already starting to smile, expecting Travis with the address of where his band is playing next, when he catches the entrance in a quick glance and does a double-take.

Derek’s standing against the wall near the door, biting punishingly at his thumbnail and glaring down at the pavement. His nostrils flare and his hand drops from his mouth, then his head does that unsettling thing and snaps up so he’s staring right at Stiles.

It knocks Stiles’ breath out and he says on the released air, “Derek?”

Derek steps away from the wall and says, “Stiles.” It comes out harsh, with relief, with—with—with need almost but that’s got to be Stiles’ imagination. He knows that now. Derek’s eyes are wild and he looks, well. He looks bad. The worst Stiles has ever seen him look, at least. His clothes are rumpled like he’s tossed and turned in them (not just slept because Stiles has seen him in the clothes he’s slept in and he’s never looked like this after), his skin is chalky and worn somehow, his hair flat and beard overgrown to slightly scraggly rather than stubbled.

Stiles takes a step forward. Then a step back. Because Derek probably isn’t even here for him. Derek’s most likely living his own glamorous, girlfriend-ed, Stiles-less life and he just likes the coffee here or something. But, regardless, this is nothing to do with Stiles, that’s certain.

He points around Derek and says uncomfortably, and maybe slightly cold, “Well, I’m just gonna—”

Derek snags the strap of Stiles’ messenger bag and tugs him unexpectedly enough that Stiles lurches forward. “Wait,” he says, breathless, desperate, and his free hand pushes up into his greasy hair while he breathes out heavily. “Fuck, do you have any idea how long it took me to—”

Stiles’ knees want to buckle being this close to him and hearing his voice from so deep and he hates everything about how Derek makes him feel. Because he hasn’t done anything to earn it, besides be pretty. And Lydia does that every day so he gets his quota, okay? He tries to yank his bag away but Derek stubbornly holds on, strong even absentmindedly, because he’s just staring at Stiles like he thought he was never going to see him again.

And like that thought didn’t make him want to dance a jig.

Stiles fights the urge to lean into him and sets his mouth, rallies his anger rather than his want. “Listen, I’m not really sure what you’re doing here and I don’t particularly care either, but if you’re going to blow me off maybe nut up and actually go through with it rather than continue jerking me around.” Fuck, could he have been more obvious about where his head is at? He doesn’t think he could’ve used more innuendos if he tried, unless he just added ‘cock’ to the end of it as a weird, but relevant, signatory to that sentence.

Derek’s eyes widen and there’s emotion so raw there that Stiles can’t look at it. And now the awful scenarios he’s spent a week dreaming up are coming up faster and more bitter. “Or is this some kind of bet or something? See how long you can keep the lovelorn loser on the hook before he grows a spine? I’ll bet your girlfriend finds this all kinds of amusing, huh?”

Derek’s mindlessly and barely shaking his head, lips parting and pressing together over and over again and he jumps in as soon as Stiles leaves an opening for it, sounding lost and pained, “What? Stiles, I, no, no, that’s not what I—” He makes himself stop, catches his breath, says calmly something that sounds a lot like bullshit, “There was an… emergency last week and I had to leave town.”

Stiles puts his fingers to his chin, pretends to be pondering, and then raises his eyebrows in feigned surprise. “Oh, is that it? That the whole story?” Derek swallows audibly while Stiles golf claps obnoxiously. “Well, it was enrapturing. Well done. But I’m afraid it’s not going to win any awards, better luck next year.” He moves to turn away from him, having forgotten Derek still has him anchored in place.

“Stiles,” Derek grinds out, and the hurt has given way to indignation so now he just sounds angry and defensive, “I sent an email asking our receptionist to tell you I was out of town.”

“Ha,” Stiles crows, “false, I must’ve asked Janet forty times—”

Derek doesn’t hear him though, plows right over him. “And according to her, she doesn’t check the company email because that’s not in her job description even though that is word for word written in her job description – I checked – and if I had really wanted her to relay information to you, I should’ve sent it to her personal account, which goes right to her—” he sounds so monumentally frustrated and violent over Janet’s entire existence that it’s hard not to believe him and then he stops, blinks up at Stiles and says, torn somewhere between wonder and guilt, “Forty times?”

Stiles had really been hoping he would just never catch that. He feels stupid and embarrassed for himself. After being rejected so many times, he just keeps leaving himself open for more. He tugs on the strap in Derek’s hand and bites out, deadly calm, “Let go of me, Derek.”

He does. “I thought she told you,” he says quietly, staring at the sidewalk. “Until I got back and—”

Stiles shrugs. “Yeah, well.” He wants to push Derek back against the wall, shove his hand up under his shirt and feel his heartbeat right there under his palm. And it makes him angrier at Derek that he does.

“Let me,” Derek’s mouth purses and he bites his lip hard, “we could sit down. We’re both here already—” And this was all Derek was, angry, aborted sentences that had this sense of import attached to them only because Stiles’ stupid, pining brain put it there. So what if everything Derek said seemed to have meaning? It probably only meant that he was toying with Stiles somehow.

And Stiles is done with playing his part in that. “No thanks,” he says viciously.

There’s a shock of anger across Derek’s face but it gets swallowed up by despair and his lips are parted, inviting, slick. “Stiles, please don’t—”

Stiles ignores his dumb, tempting mouth. “What were we really doing here anyway, Derek?”

“What do you mean.” It’s lacking the inflection again and his shoulders have hunched in, like he’s trying to make himself small and safe.

“Nothing was ever going to happen, right?” Stiles wants him to say it but Derek’s frown just gets heavier and he stares harder at the ground and Stiles gives up. “I mean, you’re—” he gestures to everything Derek is and adds uncertainly, “and there’s sort-of-someone I met anyway. Who’s nice and reliable and the one buying me things from coffee shops now, okay?” He hopes that didn’t sound as miserable out loud as it did in his head.

Derek’s eyes slice up instantly and he barks out, “You what.” He advances and now he’s not grabbing Stiles’ bag, he’s grabbing Stiles. His hands are warm, warm, warm and, fuck, welcome(?) on Stiles’ hips and despite how diligently he’d been biting at his nails, they feel sharp through Stiles’ shirt. “Who,” he growls, more rumbles honestly, still without inflection, and Stiles drops his mouth open to answer or maybe just in pure shock because did Derek’s eyes just—

Derek’s nostrils flare, head tilting, and eyes zeroing in on Stiles’ lower lip. His voice is barely recognizable when he hisses, “You even smell like—”

Stiles flinches, indignant, and his anger is still right there to grab onto so he gets right back in Derek’s face and snarls, “Like what, huh? What do I—”

Derek kisses him and Stiles’ knees really do buckle.

He only doesn’t collapse like a sack of bricks because Derek’s hands are there to catch him, hot on the small of Stiles’ back, gathering, pushing, sliding up his shirts and smoothing over goosebumped skin.

Hands are all he has, the ones arching his back, pressing his hips into Derek’s, and the ones he has wrapped around Derek’s neck, one gripping his shoulder, the other clenched in greasy hair.

The kiss isn’t as harrowing as their position by a long shot. It’s soft and warm and slow pulls of Derek’s mouth at Stiles’. Not even any tongue. A kiss that’s patient because they’ve had to be, because (it seems, at least) they’ve both been chasing after it too long. Derek hums into his mouth, making Stiles’ lips tingle and his beard brushes Stiles’ cheek when he deepens the slot of their mouths. They dive and surface from the lazy slip-stick of each other’s mouths like there’s no reason they might ever have to break apart.

Derek’s hand keeps ghosting up Stiles’ spine, easing back to the waist of his jeans, and Stiles shivers infinitesimally every time, pressing closer, wanting Derek’s warmth and weight and solidness. Both of Stiles’ hands find his hair. He threads his fingers through the strands, grabs either side of Derek’s head, and drags him closer and Derek’s tongue flicks across Stiles’ lower lip and Stiles opens his mouth and this time—this time Derek takes it as an invitation and their tongues surge against each other and—

It’s like some switch flips in Derek’s brain.

Derek’s hands aren’t idly caressing now, they’re clenching, grabbing, slamming Stiles back into the wall he’d been standing against, waiting for him, and they aren’t kissing anymore. Nuh uh. They’re devouring; Derek’s hips pumping. They are both sporting hard-ons that need immediate attention and Stiles wraps his arm over Derek’s shoulders, finds purchase while Derek’s mouth finds his neck, teeth seeming sharp as they drag over his skin.

Stiles sucks in air, breathing in pants, and then Derek takes his mouth again and Stiles can’t think, can’t do anything other than thrust back against Derek, dig his nails into Derek’s shoulders and Derek says into his mouth, brow furrowed, voice desperate, “Stiles.”

Stiles’ eyes slam open.

Oh no.

Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Stiles pushes Derek away from him roughly and with all the strength he has rather than clinging to him and Derek stumbles back, too disoriented to have more of a reaction, and Stiles’ balls ache in protest.

“No,” he says with the mouth that Derek was just fucking dominating a second ago. Stiles drags the back of his hand over it like that will make it more his. It doesn’t. It’s still numb from Derek’s. “Fuck, fuckity fuck,” he hisses, hunching over. Fuck, he’d been so damn close and they were in broad fucking daylight. He kind of wants to sink to his knees, press his forehead into the concrete, and not move until he either comes or the urge to dies an unfulfilled death. Derek is staring at him in disbelief now and Stiles tries to stand up straight (he doesn’t quite accomplish it) and gestures between them, breathless. “Derek, no, this is—this is not a happy thing we’re doing.” Derek looks directly at his crotch and Stiles’ cheeks heat. “I want—” he shakes his head, licks his lower lip. It’s still tingling, and it’s really best not to go there, “we can’t.”

Stiles can’t tell what’s going on with Derek’s face. If he’s angry or heartbroken or something worse. “Why can’t we,” he says gruffly, almost challenging.

Stiles seriously can’t stand all the way up and every ounce of him wants Derek to put his hand against Stiles’ stomach, mosey down the treasure trail of bristly hair beneath his navel, slip into Stiles’ pants, and wrap around him. He shakes his head, squints. His balls really hurt. “‘Cause infidelity is not the color of the day today. Or any day. Not any day,” he reiterates, more for his own benefit, because suddenly stopping this seems like the very worst idea he’s ever had. Derek is standing there, chest heaving and visibly wanting him and who the fuck cared who else he might be monogamously sleeping with? Stiles shrugs, keeping those thoughts to himself. “Never learned how to accessorize with it.”

Derek looks away and there’s something wrong with his face, like something’s prickling under the surface. “It’s that girl, isn’t it? The leggy redhead,” his mouth tightens, “you’re dating her?”

Stiles blinks, momentarily thrown. Redhead? He had to mean—“Lydia?”

Derek looks murderous for a half-second. “I saw you with her, that first day we met. You seemed… close.”

Stiles is already shaking his head. He breaks into a nod partway through. “We are, I mean, we’re close but we’re not—I’m not dating her. I’m not into her. There’s nothing that’s—I haven’t wanted her in years.”

Derek looks at him, his expression like an open wound.

Stiles doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like how he can read everything in it. He’s the one who looks away now and that same prickling sensation happens to him, makes his lower eyelids squinch up like someone blew into his eyes. “I’m trying really hard here,” he croaks, hands in the pockets of his hoodie, pulling the sides over his middle.

“Try harder,” Derek snarls, not looking at him either.

Stiles lets out an explosive breath. “Derek, what in the fuck do you want from me, huh?” He frees a hand and flings it out to the side. “I tried to walk away.”

Derek’s back in his space in an instant, not as close as he was, but breathing hard and glaring at him, demanding rhetorically, “Who asked you to do that?”

Stiles can’t meet his eye. “I’m beginning to think that we are just not a good idea. On any level. You know?” They can’t be friends, they can’t be anything. All Stiles wants right now is to climb Derek like a tree, to kiss him, to grind into him, to be this close to him forever.

Derek’s nose wrinkles up like he wants to sniff but he doesn’t. He looks away and his skin gets that tight look again, like he’s forcing his features into non-expression. “Fine,” he grits out, barely audible.

“Come on,” Stiles says weakly and with a shrug, wanting Derek to agree with him, “it’s not supposed to be this hard, is it?”

Derek’s head snaps back to him and he says coldly, “Actually, things that are worth having generally are, Stiles.”

And then he’s gone.

Stiles sighs, leans back against the wall and doesn’t cry about the pain in his heart or gut or balls.

But it takes everything he has in him not to.

He sits on the curb that runs parallel to the wall he and Derek had nearly fucked against, newly purchased coffee in one hand, and his phone in the other and texts the only person he ever really wants to.

Scott’s the second one down in his text-chain.

I got kissed, Princess Bride-style.

Stiles sets his phone on his knee, drinks coffee that’s too hot to be drunk, and thinks back to the kiss that blew all other kisses out of the water. His phone slips off and slides down into his lap and Stiles replaces it with his forehead, taking deep, steadying breaths to try to jam his emotions back down beneath his iron facade of sarcasm and nonchalance.

Scott texts back:

derek?

Because of course he knew.

They’re gonna write sonnets about it. People are going to get back into sonnets just to write sonnets about it.

And suddenly all Stiles really wants is to see him. To sit next to Scott somewhere and have him understand everything without Stiles having to say anything.

Where are you?

Scott texts back right away.

en route to dinner with allison’s parents. do i need to fake a flesh-eating virus?

Yes, Stiles thinks immediately. He sighs and types out:

No. Thanks though.

Because he knows if he said ‘yes,’ Scott would. Without a second thought. And he shouldn’t. Especially not if he wants any hope of convincing Allison’s parents that them moving in together is a good idea.

I do intend to lay in the bathtub and drink my problems into submission so. Prepare for that sight to greet you upon your return.

It’s a few minutes before Scott replies:

thats cool, the tub holds both of us so im fine with that. we can be proper pirates this time. rum and everything.

Stiles snorts, the memory of their first pirate night in their new apartment momentarily creeping up to crush all the terrible ones in his head right now. They had both managed to get into the tub, legs bent up crookedly and sorely so they’d both fit, and Stiles had put a tissue over one eye and Scott had fashioned a couple of toilet paper rolls into a periscope and, inevitably, his shoulder had hit the handle and turned on the tap and they’d taken on water and stayed in until it got cold anyway.

Then they’d (mostly) pretended hypothermia, built a fort in the living room, and fallen asleep watching Stardust.

Like real men.

Stiles texts back:

This time let’s keep the ship afloat.

 


 

Stiles goes to the address Travis texted three hours before he told him to be there. So he’s not terribly surprised when Travis isn’t there. The bandmates Stiles had got grunts and waves from before are though and he learns that their names are Chaz and Bruno. And their bong is named BabarPrince Babar.

Stiles addresses it formally as, ‘Your Royal Highness,’ with a little bow and Chaz and Bruno share an entirely silent discussion before presenting it to him like a sacred relic.

That’s pretty much how Travis finds them two hours later.

“Hey,” Stiles says.

“Hey,” Travis says back, welcoming half-smile creeping up one side of his face, clearly happy to see him.

Stiles frowns, points at him. “Don’t do that face at me.” He directs his finger back to his own face. “That face is making this face frownier.”

Travis looks amused. “Apologies about my face.”

“Apology grudgingly accepted,” Stiles decides. He leans back more heavily against the cushions, sighs, and says blandly, “So I kissed someone else.”

“Whoa,” Chaz says, a small, anxious smoker whose voice is stretched and not as perennially nervous as when Stiles first sat down on the couch between he and Bruno, “you just spring that on us? Serious conversation of the serious variety? We’re going to get up and go.” He reaches behind Stiles to half-miss, half-smack Bruno in the shoulder. Bruno blinks at him and Stiles sits forward so they can better plan their next move. Chaz blinks back and deciphers Bruno’s blinks as: “Or fall slo-mo, sideways-style, face down into these cushions. I think the button’s back there.” He holds out his wrinkled, button-down that is, in fact, missing a middle button. He consults with Bruno’s blank expression again. “Or smoke some more. Whatever direction though, we probably won’t be listening. Bruny is the caterpillar.”

Bruno smiles hazily and intones around smoke that forms nothing, “Who—are—you?”

Travis half-laughs and gestures towards Stiles. “Come on.”

Stiles stands, stealing a spliff off the edge of the coffee table in front of them, and follows Travis into another room.

“The asshole, right?” he says as soon as they’re both in it. “You kissed him.”

Stiles has no idea what he’s talking about. But that sounds like what he would’ve called Derek at some point. If not ‘dirty,’ ‘rocker,’ ‘model,’ or ‘hummingbird.’

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Sorry.”

Travis just shrugs. “You did tell me you were still into him.”

Stiles’ brows lift in surprise. “That was terribly considerate of drunk-me. Go, inebriated-Stiles, I’m gonna get him something nice for that.” He looks away, scrubs at his hair. “He gets liqueur tonight.”

Travis grabs his chin and hauls his face around with gentility. “You look pretty guilty about this,” he’s grinning, “but you were mine own Cassandra here and, also, you know,” he shrugs, “we never got around to sharing so much as an electron so we don’t even have a covalent bond to break.”

Stiles squint-smiles at him. Nerd. He bites his lower lip and says, “My electrons aren’t technically just mine to share anymore.” He’s thinking about Derek again. He should probably stop doing that.

“Yeah, that sucks,” Travis agrees with the unspoken emotion. “Is there someone I should beat up? I have a bass and some upper body strength.” He pauses, adds, “Okay, maybe that was a bit of an oversell.”

Stiles snorts, lighting the spliff he’d stolen, and pointing at Travis with the cherry red end. “I like you, guy.”

Travis takes it from him and takes a deep drag from it. “I know,” he says, handing it back, “I’m a catch. You’re terrible at life decisions.” He lets the smoke billow out. “I would’ve gotten you a sugar glider on our one month and let you name it Fedora Eisley.”

Stiles laughs, says, “Now you tell me.” They smoke the rest in companionable silence and Stiles doesn’t delete Travis’ number when he leaves, but he also doesn’t think about licking his tattoos anymore.

He’s still pleasantly, and heavily, fucked up when he gets on the metro. Even though he knows this is the time Derek is usually on the metro. Who cared about that though?

Well.

Stiles did.

Definitely.

That might’ve been why he decided to take the metro today. Maybe.

Derek’s in the third car from the back and Stiles can’t stop swaying with the motion of the train, messily grabbing onto poles and sometimes people as he goes.

He stares at the woman sitting next to Derek until she feels it and looks up at him and he says, “Come on, give up your seat for a pregnant guy, where’s common courtesy these days?”

She rolls her eyes, unimpressed.

Stiles adds, “I will give you ten whole dollars.” He waggles his eyebrows as her mouth purses.

Finally, she relents but not before demanding, “Proof you’ve got it.”

Stiles takes the ten out of his jeans pocket and tugs on either side of it showily.

She snatches it out of his hands as she stands up to leave and Stiles sinks down in the vacated seat, poking Derek hard in the shoulder.

Hard enough to leave a bruise probably.

And Stiles tells him, angrily, still touching Derek’s arm, which is locked over himself where he’s sitting, glowering and unwelcoming and brow furrowed so hard he’s gonna give himself a headache in his sleep, “You’re not supposed to be able to do this to me and I kind of hate you for it but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna somehow swing it and, yeah, we’re gonna get married.” Derek doesn’t react and Stiles flicks him in the forehead. “You asshole.”

Derek’s brow uncrinkles with the flare of his nostrils and then he’s loosening, opening up, turning slightly towards Stiles and Stiles puts his head in the hollow of his neck now that he can, breathes him in, rubs the tip of his nose against his warm skin.

And promptly falls asleep.

 


 

Stiles’ groan is like a living thing trying to erupt from his body. He’s John Hurt, the rumbling dissatisfaction in his chest is the alien and he knows who wins this game. He rolls over, everything leaden with a heavy, doped sleep. He smashes his head back into his pillow.

Which doesn’t fluff up around his face, because it’s as flat as a pancake.

His subconscious takes that opportunity to conjure up the smell of pancakes.

Rude.

There’s literally no way Scott figured out how to not set his hair on fire with the stove in just one month so it’s an impostor-smell for sure. It should conjure up real pancakes.

His subconscious is not being a bro today.

Stiles sniffs, deciding that’s massively disappointing on the pillow side of things. He picks it up and whips it vaguely in the direction of the foot of the bed so it will know of his burning hatred for it and pulls the comforter up around his ears, a crinkly sort of noise accompanying the movement. Because it’s not composed of threadbare cotton and jizz stains that won’t come out no matter how much Shout he pours on it. Stiles blinks. Also, it’s green.

“This is not my bed.”

There’s a soft snort from the other side of the mattress and a gruff voice says, “It’s really not.”

Stiles’ whole body stops. No blinking, no thinking, no breathing, no other -ing at all. This is how the alien wins, obviously, it has Derek Hale come in and stun its victims into a stupor.

Derek shifts and Stiles stiffly turns his head to look at him. He’s sitting on the edge of his bed—or, more accurately, at the edge of his mattress on the floor—in light jeans and a stretched white t-shirt, knees bent and feet bare on the hardwood.

Stiles stares at his toes and feels warm all over.

Derek rubs a hand over his jaw. He’s shaved, well, trimmed, since the last time Stiles saw him and he grunts out, “Someone named Scott called about eighty times.” He looks at the floor and Stiles cranes his neck to look over Derek’s broad back to see his phone plugged into a borrowed charger. “I finally answered, told him where you were. I said you’d call him when you woke up.”

Stiles swallows and Derek turns his head but not his body to look back at him, raises his eyebrows like he’s waiting for a response. Stiles doesn’t have one. He’s staring at the creases on the side of Derek’s face, the fading indentations that mean, until recently, Derek was asleep.

Presumably in the same bed.

As Stiles. With Stiles. Sleeping with Stiles. In bed. Together.

Presumably.

Maybe even, possibly, touching him.

Presumably.

He watches Derek, soft and fuzzed with sleep, hair squashed and fluffed in random places and Stiles’ traitorous brain takes that opportunity to kick into gear and think: yeah, I could wake up next to this for the rest of forever.

Fuck. He should just be left here to die now.

Derek makes a low sound as he gets to his feet and pads out of the room, apparently no longer expecting anything from Stiles.

Fuck. Again.

Stiles waits until Derek’s walked out to flop onto his back like a dying turtle and blink at the still fan attached to Derek’s stucco ceiling. How in the fuck did he get here? The probability that this is a dream, or hallucination, or full-on psychotic break seems likely.

Only no.

He’d gotten high to talk to Travis about the maybe-possibly-slightly cheating thing he’d done. If you could even really call it that. Sketchy, it was sketchy. The sketchy thing he’d done. Then. Then he got on the subway instead of walking because it was Wednesday, because even though Derek was a headache he didn’t need, Stiles had started to get the urge for someone to take a hammer to his skull anyway.

Then, fuck, had he pulled a Derek and fallen asleep?

God-fuck-shit.

He pulls the comforter—Derek’s comforter, in Derek’s bed—up over his head. He stays like that for a minute or two, sighs, rolls over, and grabs his phone off the floor, pulling it under the covers with him and texting Scott:

Awake, and at Derek’s. The comments section on that subject is closed. Alive and myself, code phrase: havering to you. Home soon.

He sets his phone down and it rattles by his feet twice in quick succession when he finally gets them on the floor.

glad youre ok

Then:

dont ever EVER disappear like that again

Stiles winces guiltily.

Had no idea you knew how to work capslock, Scottsalot. Add that to your résumé under special skills immediately.

He sighs, adds:

Sorry. Really.

He pulls at the neck of his hoodie, which had gotten bunched up under his armpits and around his back as he slept, and stands up. Derek’s room has a dresser in it, a closed closet door, a stack of laminated library books, a snake of a black, coiled cord that leads to a lamp in the corner that’s just taller than Stiles, and a pile of dirty clothes that’s heaped near the foot of his bed.

That’s it. That’s the extent.

Stiles thinks a couple of his Pitch Black posters would spruce the place up. He could get him a hamper too, a happier pillow, maybe some curtains, he thinks with a squint against the light that’s pouring in unrestricted and—Oh my God, Stiles needs to stop mentally moving himself into Derek’s bedroom.

He flees so he actually will and finds Derek sitting at a kitchen counter, toes curled over the low bar on his chair and coffee in hand.

Stiles doesn’t look around at all before telling him, “Nice place you’ve got here.” He means it though; Derek’s in it.

A scoff is the answer he gets, followed by, “Yeah, nice. Not hotel-nice though,” there’s a stupidly attractive woman in the kitchen stabbing at the air with a spatula, “unless you plan to pay us for your overnight visit. In which case, I hope you enjoyed your stay at Hotel Hale. It’s two hundred dollars per night for the minimalism room.” Her smile is wide and worrisome, strangely sharp. “Amenities not included.”

A shiver dances down Stiles’ back and he croaks out, “Overnight?” Goddamn. No wonder Scott had been so worried. He had to’ve slept for close to twenty-four hours.

Derek says with an almost embarrassed shrug, “Seemed like you could use the rest.”

Stiles catches it in his periphery, still staring at the woman in the kitchen who’s glaring back at him. Oh, she does not like him. She does not like him at all. Stiles tries to smile at her and her eyes seem to glint dangerously in the light from the overhead bulb. Awesome. She looks kind of like Cora, Stiles thinks, tilting his head, and Derek definitely has a friggin’ type:

Literally everything Stiles isn’t.

Hooray.

Maybe he and Cora aren’t dating exclusively then? Maybe he knows what he looks like (even though he seems to stubbornly resist that knowledge) and he’s got a different girl for every day of the week? Kind of ballsy of him to throw Stiles into the mix when he’s already got his sex du jour at home. Though it’s not like he chose that particular albatross around his neck, is it? No, instead Stiles had literally fallen asleep on top of him.

“You want coffee or orange juice or something, toast, fruit, we have all the usual stuff?”

Stiles blinks, tears his eyes away from the dark, hateful girl in the kitchen, and stares at Derek. Who’s fidgeting. Fidgeting like… like he wants Stiles to go? Derek’s eyes dart away, not meeting Stiles’, and no, fuck, like he wants Stiles to stay.

What? What.

The girl in the kitchen says snidely, “Who’s the ‘we’ here? I’m pretty sure you’ve never set foot in a grocery store so surely what you meant was I have all the usual stuff, right?”

Derek’s mouth tightens and he whips his head around to glare at the woman, hand tensing on the counter. And there’s something weird about it, the too prominent veins or maybe the nai—Derek clenches it into a fist and his eyes catch the light and flash as he shifts his head. He snarls, “He’s a guest.”

Derek’s vehement reaction seems to create the exact inverse reaction in the girl and she shrugs nonchalantly, goes back to pouring pancake batter into a pan. Oh. (Stiles maybe owes his subconscious a subconscious sub-pology.) “Not my guest,” she says.

Speaking of. “Uh. Right. No. I, um—what exactly am I doing here?”

He asks Derek. The girl answers, all disbelief and snark, “You really don’t remember falling asleep on top of Derek and making him carry you all the way back here?”

Stiles’ eyes widen and he looks from the door to Derek and back again. His voice is almost a squeak when he says, “You carried me over the threshold?” His face immediately feels like it’s engulfed in flames with the intensity of his blush.

Nope, no, nüpe, he needs to get the fuck out of here. Before he says anything else like… that. Because that was horrifying. And he can tell from the other expressions around the room that it was horrifying for everyone. He points over his shoulder, babbles out, “Uh, my phone,” and practically runs back to Derek’s room.

He takes a deep breath when he gets there. It was one slip, he can survive that provided he doesn’t mention the words, ‘husband,’ ‘wedding,’ ‘marriage,’ or ‘cake,’ for the rest of his short stay. Since apparently he’s going to get charged rent by the mean girl in the kitchen if he camps out any longer. He’s got this. Wait. Would pancake count? No, probably n—well, maybe. He’s vetoing it from his vocabulary just to be safe.

“Hey, I told you amenities weren’t included,” comes the girl’s shout from the kitchen.

Stiles unplugs and pockets his phone, grumbling miserably under his breath, “How many effing girlfriends does he have?”

He had no idea Derek had followed him until he’s saying from behind him, “Laura’s my sister.”

Stiles jumps, spinning around. Derek’s leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest, t-shirt practically see-through in the light from his window and jeans low on his hips. Stiles has never been so sure of anything in his life as he is that this is the most attractive sight he’s ever seen.

Ever will see.

He swallows, trying to wet his suddenly dry mouth, and his brain catches up to Derek’s words. Sister. Girl in the kitchen equals sister equals not-girlfriend equals monogamous (if taken) Derek. Glory, hallelujah, praise Kabbalah Monster. All Stiles says, though, is: “Oh.”

Derek’s brow crinkles and he coughs. “What did you mean, how man—”

He’s interrupted by his sister calling: “Derek, a word.”

He scowls, untangles his arms from around his chest, and holds out a staying hand to Stiles, saying, “I’ll—” his expression gets darker and he orders, “Don’t go anywhere.”

“Yeah, okay,” Stiles says, feeling like he’s already made an escape attempt and Derek is none too pleased about it. He sinks down onto the mattress. He really needs to get the hell out of here though. Before he tells Derek to forget about Cora. To be with him. Just him. To fuck him in this bed until his legs turn to jelly. To approve having mozzarella sticks at their wedding. He drops his head into his hands and knuckles at his forehead with a soft, “Jesus.”

That’s how Derek finds him when he walks in not even a minute later, head tilted to the side, and brow perked. “You asked how many girlfriends I had, right? And, before, you said something about—”

Stiles looks up at him, throat dry, and waves the words away with his hand. “Yeah, sorry, I didn’t know Regina out there was your—”

Derek interrupts him with a clipped, “You know the answer is zero, right?”

Stiles stares at him stupidly, jaw slack in pure awe. Given a moment to recalibrate, he snorts wanly under his breath. “Wow, so you’re that guy.” Strangely, it’s almost reassuring to finally have Derek pegged seeing as he’s always been so hard to pin down. Gorgeous without being vain, rough-looking with a soft voice, muscular but not assuming that as his only strength.

Now Stiles knows though, doesn’t he?

He huffs, stares at his shoes, scratches at his raised eyebrow with his thumbnail, lets out a shaky breath. He looks up at the underside of Derek’s chin from lowered lashes after a beat. “That’s what you’re going with, huh?” If he sounds unimpressed, it’s because he is. “I give you model and you come up with professional dickpickle.”

Stiles pushes off the mattress on the floor, stands, rubbing at his elbow, and bites his lower lip. “And I wanted us to wear matching cufflinks at the ceremony.” He clicks his tongue, shaking his head. “For shame.” He can’t really look at Derek properly. Stiles had been so sure he was something… else. Something potentially important to him. But he’s not. He’s just a douchebag who somehow has notches in his bedpost even without a frame. “You don’t deserve to wear Luke Skywalker’s button-y likeness.”

He takes a step forward just as Derek frowns. With his entire body. He rubs punishingly at his own forehead. “I don’t—” he lets out a frustrated breath, pins Stiles with narrowed eyes, “I never have any idea what you’re talking about. What are you talking about?”

Stiles shrugs, forcing down his real feelings because he’s not going to give Derek the satisfaction of seeing how fucking devastated he is. Which is not a word he uses lightly. Unlike... all the other words. That one means something. That one means when he gets home, he’s not going to be okay.

Probably not for a while.

But, for right now, he can fake it.

He wraps himself up in nonchalance and pokes Derek in the chest. “I’m talking about you, Disappoint-y Magoo. And me, too,” he adds truthfully. “Because, see, I had this completely unfounded conviction that you weren’t terrible and, man, is there egg on my face right now.”

He moves to step around Derek, who grabs his wrist, yanks him back, and growls under his breath, grinding his teeth, “Speak English.”

God-fuck, Stiles hates himself for the way his breathing speeds up the second Derek touches him. The way his own skin warms to meet him, his heart thumping traitorously hard. He looks at Derek’s cheek rather than meeting his eyes. He’s afraid of what he might do if he does, afraid he won’t be able to keep up the charade if he looks at Derek properly. “I prefer fake-French actually,” he quips. His voice has a sharp edge to it when he tacks on, “You know what, you should ask Cora about that, she knows. We bonded over our proficiency in foreign tongues.”

And, no, they hadn’t. Because, you know, Cora still despises him. (And rightfully so, as it turns out.) But Stiles finds himself wanting to be on her side.

Anything to not be on Derek’s.

There must’ve been something in the way Stiles said her name because Derek latches onto it, expression going sharp. “What? What does Cora have to do with any of this.”

Stiles shrugs. “According to you: nothing, right? She’s a complete nonentity apparently.” He snorts and wonders aloud, “How do you explain me, I wonder. If Cora doesn’t register at all, what am I in your vocabulary?”

Derek’s expression is shuttered. His fingers slip off Stiles’ wrist and he clears his throat. His face is lowered, voice soft. “Important.”

A shiver shakes Stiles to his core, to hear that word thrown back at him. The same word he would’ve used to describe Derek. His guts still feel hollowed out when he forces out the shaky words, “No, I—You don’t get to do that, all right? Not when you’re…” he shades his eyes with his lashes, “not the guy I thought you were.”

Fuck, did his voice just tremble? He needs to get the fuck out of here.

Derek says forlornly from behind him, just as Stiles is nearly out of the room, “I don’t even know what I did.”

Stiles whirls around in disbelief. “You lied, Derek.”

He looks dumbfounded for a half-second before demanding forcefully, “About what?”

Stiles rolls his eyes violently, letting out an explosive breath. “Oh my God, Cora.”

Derek seems at least just as exasperated. “What about her?”

Stiles’ eyes widen. Is he really asking that when he just denied her entire existence because it was inconvenient? “Are you being dense on purpose? Seriously?” Derek shakes his head angrily and Stiles bursts out, “I met her, I know she’s your girlfriend!”

“No, she isn’t,” Derek says blankly. Immediately. Stiles has to admit, he’s an accomplished liar. He blinks diligently, says dumbly, “She’s my sister.”

Stiles laughs; it’s shocked out of him more than anything else, and he doesn’t even bother to halt his storm out now, throwing back over his shoulder, “That is not even trying for believable, you realize that, right? You’re seriously not going to at least change up the scenario? I mean, honestly, Derek, who am I supposed to believe is your dad? Shel Silverstein? Let me guess, you have a brother too, named ‘Smerek,’ right?”

Stiles chuckles quietly to himself so he won’t cry. How stupid does Derek think he is? What a dickbag.

Stiles.” Derek sounds like he’s chewing the name, clearly angry-following him.

Stiles doesn’t care. He can’t believe he ever thought Derek was good at make-believe. Like Stiles is only middle grade intelligent and will believe some Dr. Seuss story about The Asshole Hummingbird and His Also-Bangable Siblings. “I bet Laura isn’t even your sister either!” he realizes, smacking himself in the forehead. Jesus, he could be such a tool sometimes. “Oh my God, I am an idiot, I can’t believe I bought that. Are those even their real names? You should’ve gone more exotic with it, Rochelle and Lafonda or something.”

He spots his messenger bag slung over the back of the couch in the room across from the kitchen and he snatches it up, making for the door when ‘Laura’ stops him. “Hey, doofus.”

Stiles is sad to say, he instantly responds to that, head turning automatically to her.

She juts out her chin, unimpressed. “You really didn’t notice that I look just like him? Only with tits?” She winks. “And Cora’s the newer model.”

Stiles scoffs. “Please, like that’s at all telling! If I looked like Derek, I’d be trying to find look-alikes to fuck too.”

Laura pulls a face, genuinely cringing. “First, gross. He’s my brother. Second, gross. He’s my brother. And third, dees-gust-ing, please never put that picture in my head again. Ever.”

Okay.

Well.

She certainly sounds like Derek’s sister.

But.

Y’know.

Maybe they’ve had to practice this lie before and they’ve gotten good at it? But you would think if that were the case, they would’ve come up with something a little more believable than rhyming first names.

Right?

Or. Uh. Oh.

“You are not his sisters,” Stiles says weakly, almost hopefully, waiting for her to agree.

And she does.

Laura nods firmly. “Yes, you’re right.” She pops her mouth and adds happily, “In no ways. We’re related, like half a Brady Bunch over here.”

Stiles rounds on Derek. Who had only advanced as far as the edge of the room, where he’s still standing in the shadow of the wall, shoulders drawn in and expression trying for off-putting but really just miserable, and Stiles is drowning in guilt and wrong-footed-ness.

But.

“But you said—” Even as it’s coming out of Stiles’ mouth though, he can’t recall a time when Derek actually said the words. Surely, at some point, Derek had called Cora his girlfriend though? Stiles hadn’t just made that assumption?

And then run with it?

As dedicatedly as if the bulls of Pamplona were behind him?

No. Oh no.

Derek grunts out, “I never would’ve called Cora my girlfriend.” His nails scrape along the paint of the wall he’s standing next to, frown heavy on his face. “I wouldn’t have called anyone my girlfriend.” He huffs, almost darkly amused. “Mainly because I haven’t had one in the entire time I’ve known you.”

“You’re saying. You.” Stiles’ brain isn’t really recalibrating quickly enough though because there is no way Derek is saying what Stiles thinks he might be saying. That he’s—that there’s no real reason why they can’t—because it’s just not plausible that—“You’re single?” It’s almost a squeak.

Derek glowers in response but it’s answer enough and Stiles’ chest is suddenly heaving, heart palpitating wildly and, weirdly, the skin of his thighs prickling in anticipation. He doesn’t take his eyes off Derek, whose mouth is wet and inviting, eyes glittering, like his mind is right where Stiles’ is, and he tosses a finger in the vague direction of Laura, whose name doesn’t come to him fast enough. “Hey, uh, Derek’s sister, you’re going to want to leave.”

She might respond to that, Stiles isn’t sure. His blood is a roar in his ears as it all leaves his head to rush down to his dick.

He licks his lower lip and finishes, “Because in five seconds I’m not going to care that you’re here and I’m going to attack Derek with my mouth and hands and—”

He doesn’t get a chance to finish the thought before Derek is crushing their lips together.

Stiles slides his mouth out from under the pure subjugation of Derek’s. Lips already slick, tender, breaths coming in rocky gasps. Derek’s cheek is warm and scratchy against his own and he pants hard against it. He turns his face more into Derek’s cheek, mouth still shocky, breathes him in the way Derek’s done to him a hundred times before and he smells like skin and heat and Derek is so, so stupid.

Pretty much the stupidest. As if Stiles would’ve ever resisted this if he’d known there was no reason to? It was obviously… obvious that Stiles was interested. And Derek was stupid, with his dumb stupid sister-girlfriend. “This is all your stupid fault,” Stiles breathes against his flushed skin.

Derek’s hand finds his hip, wrenches it forward with a snarl and Stiles crashes into Derek’s torso, the space between them a thing of the past, his breaths heaving in counterpoint to Stiles’.

That’s probably agreement.

Stiles is not to be deterred from cementing his point though. He bites down on Derek’s lower lip, teeth pulling, scraping, licks achingly slowly across the reddening skin while Derek’s nostrils flare warningly. “Shoulda been wearing a Life Alert bracelet—type—thing,” it’s hard to think when Derek’s hand slips from his hip to his ass cheek, and then in between them, gripping his jeans between his legs so Stiles can feel his fingers against his crack through the denim. He shivers hard, mentally says the alphabet backwards, and reminds himself about his ‘not coming in his pants’ pledge ‘cause of the James Bond penguin thing. Or something. He noses into Derek’s cheek, finishes his thought (not without maximum effort), “Shoulda listed your current relationship status and preferred slow boning jam.” Stiles drags his lower lip against Derek’s jaw. “Woulda saved us so much time. And I would’ve known what to play on a boombox outside your window.”

Derek’s grip tightens and he shoves his hand up so his fingertips are touching Stiles’ ballsac and this is so cheating. So much cheating. How’s Stiles supposed to stick to that damn pledge when Derek’s cheating? He pulls back, kneads between Stiles’ ass cheeks, and says, amused, into his neck, “Somehow you’re the only person who’s ever thought I was sleeping with my sister.” He breathes purposefully along the line of Stiles’ throat, warmth and chill left behind.

“That’s what you think,” Stiles says back breathily. Which might make sense. Maybe. Possibly. “Also I’m voting for Black Sabbath. Or Jewel.” He lifts Derek’s chin with both his thumbs pressed against the underside and says seriously, “Choose your difficulty level wisely.”

Derek’s lips drag against Stiles’ neck again, mouth slipping open, hot breath against Stiles’ skin before Derek’s teeth sink in. Because he’s that supernatural thing. With the neck kink. William the Bloody’s best friend. Buffy was always slaying them. Or making out with them.

Stiles so gets the making out part now.

Whatever that thing is called. That’s what Derek is.

Derek’s fingers are back to teasing him through the denim, pressing forward while Stiles desperately presses back, his skin going tight all over and Derek’s hand lifting him onto his toes. He spreads his thighs instinctively and Derek presses into the space. Gets Stiles’ shoulders shoved into the wall behind him. Lifts him like he weighs negative a thousand pounds and cinches Stiles’ thighs tight over his hips and Stiles can feel him now, hard and… sizable and crushed tight to his own needy cock, hand still digging into his crack and thrusting Stiles’ ass forward. Stiles stares at him, his victorious thousand-colored eyes, painfully turned the fuck on up to eleven, quivering, head foggy, and blurts, “I am so fucking into you.”

Derek’s answering smile is sharp and still-widening when there’s a small throat clear next to Stiles’ shoulder.

“You’re blocking the door,” that… other person says blandly. “Really unfortunately you’re blocking the door.”

Stiles blinks, looks over at her. Laura. Derek’s sister. Right. Other people… exist. Derek’s hand is still kneading between his ass cheeks and he revises that thought. Other people definitely do not exist. Derek exists. He’s the best one. “I gave you five seconds to vacate.” And he didn’t really, Derek cut that down to .00005 seconds but it still seems like Laura’s fault. Probably.

She blanches, says coldly, “You know, the Bangles seem more your speed.”

Stiles frowns. Her tone one-hundred percent doesn’t match her words. Because Stiles rocks the Bangles. “If you were attempting to compliment me, you have succeeded.”

Laura rolls her eyes, focuses them on Derek, and says, “You’re sure about this?” Her eyes flick to Stiles and back again, expression souring. “Really?”

Stiles narrows his eyes at her. “Y’know, people doubted Gandhi too,” he says snidely, “they were called Godless yahoos. And he totally went on to become Ultimate Fighting Champion anyway.” Maybe some wires got crossed there, but Stiles is pretty sure the point was made. Or a point was made at least.

Derek chokes on what might be a laugh, lifts Stiles off the door and into his chest and—okay, seriously, it’s like Stiles drank all that Fizzy Lifting Drink and now Willy Wonka isn’t even gonna give him the factory because Derek doesn’t strain at all. Just pivots, drops him over the arm of the couch, and says warmly, “You schooled her.”

“Not, like, properly. But hell yeah I did,” Stiles garbles back.

Hot hands find Stiles’ stomach under his hoodie, which quivers at the first brush of large palms on prickled skin, thumbs smoothing over his sides and Derek surging up to catch his mouth again, stalking up him like a predator with cornered prey. He yanks at Stiles’ ass, dragging him into the grind of his hips, tongue-fucks his mouth, hands roaming and this is really happening. Derek’s humping the fuck out of him on his couch, unmistakably aroused and into Stiles. Stiles tightens his fingers on Derek’s shoulders because he’s going to come so—embarrassingly—fast.

He bites at Derek’s mouth, gripping tighter with his thighs when his chest starts vibrating, buzzing, and then Jonathan Groff is belting out, ‘You’re my favorite subject.’

Derek gets to Stiles’ phone before he does, rips it out of the pocket of his hoodie, which is halfway up his back and as off as it is on. Growls, “No,” under his breath, glances at the screen (it’s Lydia’s ring) and, face twisting up, hurls it across the room. Stiles would probably care about that but Derek hasn’t slowed down any, hips still pistoning Stiles’ into the cushions and he’s breathing into his chest, his nipple, something that’s low and gruff and sounds like, ‘not leaving again.’

Stiles can barely catch his breath and the skin around his eyes goes tight when Derek’s tongue flicks across his nipple and his dick throbs and he chokes out, “We should—maybe—slow down?” Because he wants to appreciate this, really he does.

Derek shakes his head frantically, pushing Stiles’ hoodie up even farther. “Can’t,” he snarls, grappling for Stiles’ hips, something sharp scraping against Stiles’ skin but he can’t see it over the bunched up fabric. “Gives you too much time to think.”

Stiles stares at him dumbly. Blinks.

Derek thinks he’s going to leave.

Derek thinks Stiles is going to leave.

What.

On what fucking planet would Stiles walk away now?

“Hey.” Stiles smooths a palm up Derek’s throat to notch under his chin, gently lifts his head until they’re gazing at each other. “The only reason I ever walked away from you was because I thought you were already taken. Stolen. Cruelly snatched out from under me. And you’re not,” he licks his lower lip, “so I’m not going to do that again. I’m here, and wild… wildebeests couldn’t drag me away. And I saw first-hand what they did to Mufasa, and it was brutal. Even still, I’d be right here,” Stiles grins, waggles his eyebrows, finishes the thought, “trying to get into your pants.”

Derek’s watching him unblinkingly, head tilted to the side like he’s listening for something. Whatever it is, he must hear it because then he’s lifting Stiles up like he’s made of helium and carrying him into what turns out to be his bedroom.

He slides to his knees at the foot of his mattress—jeans stretched over the corded muscle of his thighs—and sets Stiles down gently on the edge and kisses him slow, purposeful, with long slides of his tongue that make Stiles moan back into his mouth. He helps Derek out of his shirt, wriggles out of his hoodie, and Derek chases him up the mattress, smothering Stiles with his body, fitting their hips together, circling his own, slow but with fucking amazing pressure behind it.

Stiles grabs his ass (heaven), drags him in, bucks back against the roll of Derek’s hips and he can hear their breaths now, the staccato quality of them and Derek’s broken catches and grunts and his own heartbeat thundering in his chest. Derek presses his nose to Stiles’ cheek, catches his eyes—his own reflecting some odd light and flashing an unnatural blue, and sucks at Stiles’ lip again.

Stiles chokes on a sob when he comes to the steady, forceful thrusting of Derek’s hips, hands scrabbling up Derek’s back, down his sides, over his abdomen. He buries his face, mouth, panting breaths in Derek’s neck and Derek makes a sound Stiles would’ve sworn a human being couldn’t make. A rumbling sort of growl that seemed to form in the center of his chest; it shakes Stiles’ bones.

Derek doesn’t even pause before he shoves a hand down Stiles’ pants, palms at the head of Stiles’ spent dick, brings his hand up and—“Oh my fucking God,” Stiles groans, watching Derek lick it up, his cock giving a few more weak spurts. “That was illegal, I’m ninety-nine percent sure.”

Derek smirks at him and Stiles finds his sea legs, rolls them over and fumbles with the catch of Derek’s jeans.

“Sti—”

Stiles is lost to the length and blush of Derek’s perfect penis though and can’t bother with his dumb face and dumber words. Because that’s what it is. An anatomically perfect penis. It should be in Biology textbooks everywhere. Also just… every porn site known to mankind. It’s almost unholy that it’s been covered up to this point. Stiles slinks down the bed eagerly, nuzzles against Derek’s ballsac, breathes in the dark, rich scent of him and licks a long stripe up the underside of Derek’s ridiculously hard, pulsing, perfect penis.

Derek arches his back, balls tightening, hips in spasm, hands burying themselves in Stiles’ hair, nails weirdly sharp as he comes hard all over his own stomach.

And that really should not be so fucking hot—so perfectly arousing that Stiles feels like he almost cripples himself trying to get another hard-on. He leans in, licks up Derek’s stomach, swallowing come and sweat, and meets his mouth, Derek’s hips still mindlessly and aimlessly pumping.

Derek’s eyes snap open, electric, face… hairier? Is that a thing? And Stiles hums stupidly, Derek’s mouth looking punchier, lips protruding a little. Stiles drops a kiss to them and Derek’s lips open, hands finding his back, rolling him over, mouths sloppy and warm against each other’s. Not concerned with decorum or saliva, just dragging and panting and tangling, Derek’s leg between Stiles’, soft cock against his hip and making out. Hard.

His eyes are still glowing that eerie, otherworldly blue when he eventually pulls back and Stiles says with his mostly slack mouth, “Are you—”

Derek kisses him again.

It’s a long time before they stop, before Stiles can get out the one word that matters. “Wow. Wow.” Derek breathes against his temple and Stiles clicks his tongue, still trying to catch his breath. “That was… mind-altering. Yeah. Mind-altering,” he looks up at Derek, at his green—hazel—teal eyes and his barely scruffy face, “‘cause I’m pretty sure I hallucinated a whole bunch of crap. Is that a thing?” He wrinkles his nose. “Mind-altering sex?” He shrugs, unconcerned. “It is now.”

Derek doesn’t seem bothered by his stream of consciousness; his mouth carrying a soft smile but his eyes practically beaming with it and Stiles thinks, I’m gonna marry the fuck outta you.

He grins hugely and Derek perks a questioning eyebrow at him.

“I was right. The instant I saw you. I knew.” He can’t stop smiling.

“Right about what,” Derek says, almost indulgent.

Stiles tracks him with his eyes, says seriously, “Everything.” Because he was. He totally was. This is it for him. Derek is so clearly it for him. He’s completely and irrationally in love with him and he should mention the Pitch Black posters and the laundry hamper because Derek would probably be super into that and they could— “Oh. Oh fuck.” Stiles’ eyes bug and he scrambles out from under Derek, fumbling for his hoodie near the foot of the bed. “Crap.” His heel slips on Derek’s shirt when he’s half-pulling on his own. “Scott,” he says by way of explanation to Derek’s severely frowning face. “He’s probably already called the cops, fuck, my dad, and he also probably tried to get Roger Rabbit on the case too before remembering that he was fictional. And animated. Shit. I said I was leaving forever ago, fuck, I have to go.” He races into the next room, tearing around for his messenger bag, which is still by the door. He doesn’t even remember taking it off. He drops it over his head, puts his fingers to the doorknob, sprints back into Derek’s room.

He’s moved so he’s sitting up against the wall, sheet over his waist and Stiles sinks down on top of him, knees on either side of his hips, and Derek’s hands come up to rest on Stiles’ automatically. Stiles leans in, kisses him with a slow pull of his mouth, and says softly, “I’m coming back.”

“Stiles,” Derek starts but Stiles shakes his head.

Scott will seriously be freaking the fuck out right now and that is so not cool. “Coming back, I am. Also, Yoda.” A kiss to the tip of Derek’s nose. “Crazy about you,” Stiles mutters into his mouth before he’s off of Derek’s lap and racing out the door.

It isn’t until he gets down to the street that he realizes he’s singing under his breath, “I know this little chapel on the boulevard we can go-o-o-ooo.”

It makes for a pretty epic (and mood-capturing) soundtrack to his wandering.  He’s still humming it under his breath, trying to work his keys when the door opens and Scott blinks wide, slightly red eyes at him. He gawps, starts, blurts, “Stiles, finally.” He lunges forward and wraps clingy arms around him, gripping tight. “Jesus,” he breathes into Stiles’ shoulder and some of the bemusement shakes loose from Stiles’ old brain-box because Scott’s abuela is religious and Jesus’ name only gets tossed around their apartment by Scott when he’s talking about the one in the zombie apocalypse. “Where the hell have you been?”

Stiles drops his keys to focus all his efforts into octopusing back around Scott. Glancing down at where they fell to the floor, it’s pretty obvious why he couldn’t get the door open with them. He was trying to unlock it with the key to his bike lock.

For a bike he hasn’t had for four years.

Lydia calls from inside the apartment and Stiles waddles he and Scott in so he can close the door behind them (after kicking his keys in, naturally) since Scott is very much not done with this hug yet, “He was about forty minutes away from just wandering the city and yelling your name through tears,” Scott makes a huffy sound into Stiles’ hoodie, “Manly tears,” Lydia corrects with barely a stumble and Scott sniffs, appeased. She waves her hand, “while also probably flashing that light-thing you spent way too long and worryingly intensely collecting cereal box tops for.”

Stiles remembers those few months.

Dark times.

Friendships were tested, loyalty was in constant question, good box tops were lost.

Scott pulls back and nods grimly. “The Batman signal was integral to the plan.”

Stiles bumps him in the shoulder, nearly bursting with pride. “Um, hardcore genius, dude. I definitely would’ve seen that if Bruce Wayne could. Bats are friggin’ blind and I have 20/20 vision in these eyeballs right here.” Stiles blinks exaggeratedly to bring his point home.

Scott grins, no longer looking like he’s mentally preparing a eulogy, puppy-ish in his pure happiness and Stiles definitely needs to never pull shit like that again. The guilt alone is threatening to make a meal of his spleen. Probably. If guilt had dietary requirements, they were most likely at least spleen-adjacent. “That’s what I told Lydia,” he says, half-exasperated. He grips Stiles’ shoulders suddenly and gives him a thorough once over, worry tugging at his expression again. “It should not have taken you that long to get here. Did something—” he pauses like he’s imagining all the awful scenarios a fluff-brain like his can provide (Stiles figures the number one contender is that he fell, scraped his knee, and had to go for fro-yo to alleviate the sting to both pride and patella), “happen?”

Stiles beams, grabs Scott’s shoulders back, and rests their foreheads together meaningfully. “Everything happened,” he says, voice full of awe. “All the things. My mind expanded, my future solidified, my vows practically wrote themselves, there are painted wind color things and I hear music on it.” He shrugs. “Granted, it’s Bruno Mars, but still.”

Scott’s brow furrows. “What?”

Lydia correctly translates: “He had sex.”

“I did,” Stiles crows happily, practically overflowing with it. “If it can even be called that when it was so beyond.” He brings up his hands and mimes the Big Bang happening inside his head with appropriate jazz hands and explode-y noises. “Beyond. I mean… life-altering. Yeah,” he decides, “life-altering, earth-shattering, orgasm-giving goodness, Scotty McBody.” Stiles saunters over to the couch and collapses into it bonelessly. Lydia’s in a similar position in the armchair across from him, though hers is from research exhaustion/frustration rather than unbridled ecstasy.

Scott follows him, mouth open, and Stiles looks up at him solemnly when he gets close enough. “In all seriousness,” he sighs, adds gravely, “I don’t want a bachelor party. Unless it consists of us renting out Thunder Island and playing mini golf-slash-go karting for at least eighteen hours straight.” He pauses. “And Derek’s invited to it.” Pause. “And I can give him the pink golf balls and the pink go kart and throw up my heart at his feet.” Pause. “That’s also pinkish; it’s on theme.”

Lydia mutters under her breath, “Scintillating imagery, truly.”

“Stiles, come on,” Scott says, unamused and eye-rolling, “Obviously that’s the only plan I have.” Stiles grins at him and Scott prods, “Seriously though, all that took you three hours?”

“Well, no,” Stiles admits. “My brain kinda futzed and I got off at the wrong metro stop.” He lowers his voice, adds, “Twice. I think I swapped my sea legs for sex legs and they just kept trying to walk me right back to Derek’s apartment of orgasms and joy. In all fairness to my legs, they’ve always been attuned to the fact that I’m not cut out for high seas adventures. Also close proximity to my dick has led them to believe I would happily chop one of them off in exchange for more orgasms of that magnitude. It’s purely self-interest at this point and I’m for it.”

Once Lydia’s done actively ignoring him, she butts in with a slight edge: “He broke up with his girlfriend then?”

Ha ha, not today, Little Black Rain Cloud, Stiles thinks victoriously. This parade is going to be dry as fuck. “Ah ha! There never was a girlfriend,” he says triumphantly while Scott and Lydia stare at him almost sympathetically, clearly doubting his grip on reality. Well, suck it, he wins this round! “Cora’s his sister, and Derek wants me. Impossible that it could be even half as much as I want him but, still… he’s entered the arena. Let the gladiator love-in begin!”

Lydia points out, “I don’t think you understand how gladiators work.”

Stiles does not concede that. Instead he taps the sides of his fists together twice. Ross Geller would be proud.

Scott’s reaction is much better as his whole face is at least half smile and he enthuses, “Dude, that’s awesome!”

And yes. Yes, it is.

Scott calms down and says gravely, “I still have to flick you in the nipple, though.”

Stiles looks from his eyes to his already in-position fingers and scrunches up his face. “I accept your judgment. Do it.” He sucks in a breath afterwards, rubbing at the sting-throb in his chest.

Lydia rolls her eyes. “You two are such boys.”

He and Scott share a confirming glance before agreeing in unison, “Yes.”

He only throws himself onto his feet after his stomach starts growling continuously. Because, right, he hasn’t eaten in like a day and a half. He sends up a silent prayer that there are Frosted Flakes in the cabinet and is half-hoping there are and half-wishing they magically appear if there aren’t when Lydia catches his arm on the way past and says, “I’m glad you’re happy, Stiles.”

Stiles grins at her, kneels down by the side of her chair, and bows his head with a formal, “Thank you, ma-damn.” He knew that already though, of course. Lydia’s just all calculated odds, cautionary expression, and uneasy pessimism and Stiles accepts and appreciates that about her. Besides, she’s basically the perfect counterbalance to Scott who can basically be summed up by The Lego Movie song, ‘Everything is Awesome.’

Scott jumps up from the couch and says, “I have to call Allison and tell her, she’s gonna flip.”

Stiles says thoughtfully, “Let her know I’m thinking of a winter wedding. I want him to wear the beanie at the altar.”

“I respect that,” Scott says, at least as seriously as Stiles would have.

Stiles fist bumps him. “Love you, too, bro.”

Two bowls of cereal later leaves him contemplating whether a third bowl would be considered ‘excessive’ (and whether he cares about that judgment) when there’s a knock on their door. Lydia just makes a buzzing sort of noise with her mouth, the indicator that she is dead to all things that aren’t radical mathematics (which may or may not be a real thing; it sounds smart. All Stiles can be sure of is that it most closely resembles what he imagines gobblydegook and sadness looks like written down).

Scott’s door opens but Stiles is closest and he’s come down from his sex-high enough that he can mostly function. He yanks open the door and nearly falls over.

“Derek?” Stiles is pretty sure his eyes try to pop out of his skull along with the name.

Derek’s eyes flicker to the side uncomfortably and he shoves his hand angrily into his jacket pocket. He comes back out with—“You left your phone.” Stiles reaches for it, dumbfounded, and Derek is still talking. “It had your address in it and I thought,” he lifts his shoulders in an uneasy half-shrug, “you might want it.” Stiles flips it over and frowns. “Oh.” Derek clears his throat and if he was uncomfortable before, Stiles would need Lydia’s (possibly real) radical math to quantify it now. “Right. It’s broken. From when I…” he searches around like he’s looking for a different word before giving up and repeating, “broke it.”

And it is broken. Cracked all over the screen. It’s on and half-functioning but glaring up at him from about eight different angry glass eyes.

Stiles doesn’t need that kind of negativity. He tosses it deftly over his shoulder and hears it thud against—then scatter—across the floor in far more pieces than it started out in, unable to stop—freaking—beaming. “You get that someone is going to make a very solemn, slightly creepy after school special about you, right?” His cheeks hurt from smiling so hard. “I can see the tagline now, ‘when does banging become property damage?’ They can even recycle that cell phone suit the boyfriend wears in that commercial.”

Derek’s breath catches and it feels like the ground beneath Stiles’ feet tilts.

He grips the door to keep himself upright. “Okay, literally all you heard was boyfriend, huh?” Derek swallows, seeming caught out and Stiles keeps going, “And you liked that.” It’s at least half-disbelief but Derek doesn’t refute it and Stiles says obnoxiously, giddily, so, so dumb-happy, “Boyfriend, boyfriend, boyfriend.”

Which is when Scott appears at his shoulder.

And Stiles has a descriptor now. He’s armed and delirious. He opens the door wider and gestures to Derek, who looks exactly like the cranky asshole hummingbird Stiles had started planning this future with all those months ago. He’s leather-jacketed, combat-booted, scruffy-faced, eyebrow-glowering, perfect-matched Derek.

“Scott, this is the friend to my boy.” He frowns, well, no, that sounds… unpleasant and kinda child molester-y. “Or no. The boy to my friend?” That doesn’t even sound like Stiles is involved. Hmph. A quick consultation with Derek’s eyebrows says he’s not wowed either. “Hah, got it! The handler to my cock. That, I like,” he decides happily, properly introducing them, “Scott, this is my cockhandler. Derek, this is my Scott.”

Stiles is pretty sure Derek would object to that title if he weren’t already busy, nostril-flaring, gaze-snapping between them and then glaring at Scott like he’s trying to melt his shoes into the floor.

Stiles snorts, because really? Knowing what Derek’s socialization is, Stiles doesn’t even have it in him to be surprised by his complete and total inability to act like a regular human person. He motions for Scott to be patient then turns to face Derek, sticking out his tongue and squinting at him. “I got this, I can interpret. His conversational skills are still developing so let me just.” He pokes Derek in the cheek, lifts an eyebrow, drags down the corner of his mouth with his thumb (all while Derek glowers at him, unamused) and deduces, “He says, ‘hello, future brother-in-law.’” Stiles blinks in surprise. “Wow. Forward much, Derek? Geez, we only just got our act together over here.”

Derek snarls at him.

Stiles isn’t fazed, still going with the whole ‘smiling like a doofus’ thing. He motions over his shoulder without turning to look. “That one over there, with the permanently judgmental expression and clashing color scheme – for shame,” he stage whispers, “is Lydia.” He turns enough that he can see her glance down in surprise at her clothes, look up murderously, and flip him off.

Derek stares at her.

No.

Glares.

No.

Tries to envenomate her using only his eyes.

Lydia doesn’t notice because she barely glanced at him to begin with but Stiles is still vetoing the eye-poisoning plan, even if it does have a negative a thousand percent chance of succeeding.

He leans close to Derek’s ear and says, “So, here’s the thing… we could take five more minutes to artfully break away from this introduction and then I could pretend there’s something I need to show you in my bedroom but we’re all friends and future relatives here so,” he consults with Derek’s face, which lifts its eyebrows in response, and Stiles beams back. He turns to Scott, grabs Derek’s elbow, and announces, “I’m done with this conversation, Derek and I are going to go touch each other’s junk – a lot, Bruno Mars is a lyrical poet, and – just tossing this out there – there is factually no reason good enough to knock on my door. I have a triangle graph and charts of pies to prove it. Respect the science.”

He’s barely finished monologuing off into sex-dom by the time they get the door closed and already Derek’s pulling him back to it by his forearm (and it’s gotta be, like, almost exactly where Lydia’s hand was earlier), up against him, and he’s hard, pressed tight to Stiles’ hip and panting and back bowing and Stiles wants him so much it makes his eyes hurt. He mostly shoves their mouths together, lips sliding, brushing, moving to form the words, “I told you I’d come back.”

Derek’s mouth slips away from him and he nods into Stiles’ neck, hands on his ass, breath wet and warm, huffing out, “I know.”

Stiles tangles his fingers in Derek’s soft, messy hair, shoves his broad, stupid, perfect back harder against the door to mack on him at full force, sloppy and desperate and like they weren’t just doing this a handful of hours ago. “Didn’t believe me?” he pants into his mouth, sure his own tastes like sugar and need.

“Took too long,” Derek puffs back, hands kneading Stiles’ ass cheek, lifting him up to meet the rise of his thigh and, God-fuck, Derek feels so solid beneath him, so much man that Stiles can’t quite help the intermittent whimpers that are escaping from between his lips.

He grasps at Derek’s hips, changing it up, dragging their cocks together, pulling at the small of his back, the swell of his ass and Derek rips away from his mouth, chin in his shoulder, then his clavicle, forehead against his neck and he mumbles something that sounds like the words, ‘want you, want you, want you,’ over and over again and Stiles half-hopes Derek never looks up because he might cry tears of pure elation soon. Which is not exactly sexy. Stiles shoves him back into the door, the pressure of his whole body riding, rocking, grinding against Derek’s and his breath is coming in short, needy pants.

Derek’s hands force their way between them, tug at the catch of Stiles’ jeans, but then he’s shaking his head against Stiles’ throat, clenching his hands on Stiles’ hips, breathing into his skin, “Can’t, can’t do it, you have to.”

Then his palms are sliding up under Stiles’ hoodie, overly careful to stay outside the t-shirt underneath, nails making oddly pointed divots against the fabric. Stiles fumbles with their jeans, stares for a broken second at the perfectness of Derek’s penis, grips them both in hand and strokes sloppily a half-dozen times and good about two before they’re coming all over each other.

Derek’s fingers flex, dig in, and Stiles cries out at the brief, sharp stab of pain on his back while his cock gives a few more weak spurts. He can’t tear himself away from where he’s plastered up against Derek’s body, thinks in a sex-stupid haze, Scott’s gonna move out, and you seem unattached to your Bates motel room, also your sisters are there, also living together is a nice first step on our way to the altar. He manages to stop those words from coming out of his mouth, but not the next ones as he says muzzily, “Don’t want you to go.”

Derek wraps Stiles’ legs around his waist because Stiles is too boneless and hazy to move, walks them the few steps to Stiles’ bed, and collapses them both on top of it. He presses a rough, warm kiss to his shoulder, neck, jaw. “Then I won’t,” he says gruffly.

Stiles yawns, scrubs at his nose, notes, “I do need a new phone though.”

Two hours of dozing, uncoordinated clothes un-rumpling, a heavy petting session, more clothes un-rumpling, and two cellphone stores later and Stiles is maybe ready to concede that this isn’t an elaborate hallucination. Derek actually did show up. They did add another three spectacular orgasms to their Orrrrgasm Spectacularrr—you’ve got to roll all the ‘R’s—List and Derek is standing in a retail store only slightly looking like he’s going to combust.

Stiles smirks fondly, watching him glare around at all the gadgets, and says astutely, “Baffled, aren’t you?” Derek blinks back at him, confused, and Stiles explains slowly, “See, they’re communication devices. They work by talking into this speaker here. Oh, right, talking is accomplished when you—”

Derek snaps his jaws at him and grumbles, “I hate you.” But he loops a finger through Stiles’ belt loop as he says it, dragging him closer. Not enough to touch but enough to be in his orbit. So. Liar. He barks out shortly, “Which one do you want?”

Which one will you call? Stiles stomps the impulse to ask that down flat and finds the exact same model he had before. Derek pays for it, despite Stiles’ insistence that that Sangwich place’s punch card would probably be worth at least the cost of the included charger. It’s a mere two punches away from free sub-etry after all.

Derek doesn’t say anything as they’re leaving. About calling. About seeing each other again. About maybe fucking in the stockroom. Which is fine. Stiles knows where he lives now and he has honed his stalking skills over the course of his and Derek’s relationship. Maybe he didn’t want to use them but he’s not about to pretend like he’s above it.

Derek’s just turned the corner to go back to his own apartment when Stiles’ new phone gives an unfamiliar (and unpleasant) trill. It’s a text from an unknown number that promises:

I won’t break this one. Probably.

Stiles stares at it uncomprehendingly for a half-second before his eyes crinkle up so much that he can barely see, which has got to be what leads him to text back:

I’m gonna marry the fuck out of you, Derek Hale.

No. NO. NO.  The Sent time-stamp is a horrible mocking post-script confirming he did, in fact, just do that. He’s only half-contemplating death—okay, seventy-three percent contemplating death—as a viable solution to the mortification-tinted hellscape he’s just engineered for himself when he decides to be an adult about this and address the situation head on.

“I have to return this phone.” He stares at the cold, soulless rectangle of doom, then up at the sales associate with all the intensity he can muster. It’s not as effective as it should be; the tic above his left eye probably makes him look a lot unstable. And he’s only a little unstable, thank you very much. “It’s defective.”

The guy raises an eyebrow. Like he doubts this story. Even when it’s lying there, all obviously a ruinous master of sabotage and terribleness. “Defective?”

Stiles pokes it across the counter carefully, trying to touch it as little as possible, and shrugs. He’s willing to concede that it might also be—“Possessed, of bad ideas and schadenfreude. I could sue, probably. You can’t sell devices that ensure people’s own personal apocalypses.” He juts out his chin defiantly. “That’s in the Constitution.”

The guy squints, more like he’s worried about Stiles’ well-being rather than annoyed. “It’s really not.”

Stiles sniffs with great dignity, shoves his hands in the pocket of his hoodie, and deflates. “I would pull it up on destructo-phone and show you the indisputable, visceral proof but, as mentioned, it is possessed-slash-defective and I refuse to run the catastrophic risk of touching it again.”

The guy’s curly head leans down over the phone. He fiddles with a few of the functions, looks up, sighs deeply, and is half-defeated going by the response: “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

Stiles resists the urge to fist pump to himself—mostly; the half-motion looks kind of obscene in his hoodie pocket so he stops himself almost immediately—he’s got this in the bag now. Because wearing people down? Pfft, child’s play. Not to mention, he’s all kinds of motivated as that future-obliterating anti-bro-phone has got to go. “It is specifically the Snidely Whiplash of cell phones. It tied me to some train tracks and ran me over. Repeatedly.”

The guy scratches his ear and points down at the phone, which is pretending to be all innocent and innocuous with its dark face and evil machinations. “If this is the Snidely Whiplash of cell phones,” and he really couldn’t sound more doubtful about that – rude, “then there’s no need to return it. I mean, Dudley Do-Right always showed up and stopped him from doing literally anything. He’s basically the most ineffective villain ever drawn.” He frowns. “Also, trains don’t tend to, y’know, back up.”

“It’s obviously on a circuit!” Stiles fires back so fast the guy barely gets out the whole sentence. “I didn’t come here for a history lesson, Doctor Cell Phone.”

The guy’s brow furrows and he points out—maybe fairly, “None of that… is history.”

Okay, clearly this dude is not going to help him out of the nonexistent goodness of his shriveled, unsympathetic heart so Stiles is just going to have to put his humiliation out there in the universe. Fine. Not like it would be the first time anyway. He flips the phone around, deftly pulls up the text chain with Derek, and spins the screen back so it’s facing Snidely Whiplash’s number one apologist.

Here,” he grits out murderously. If he has to prove exactly how destructive his demonic phone is then he’s not above that. He jabs his finger at the last text and watches ‘Jeremy’—apparently (or at least according to his name tag, which is hardly ironclad)—bend over to read it. “It permitted me to send this text to a guy I’ve been banging for all of twenty-four hours.” Stiles crosses his arms over his chest, damning evidence presented. “It’s clearly been plotting my downfall since I removed it from its plastic home-world and I can’t tolerate that kind of hostility on this ship.”

Jeremy pulls a face, it’s at least half-grimace, half-cringe, then darts his eyes up to Stiles. Smirks. “You meant ‘making love to,’ didn’t you?”

Stiles’ teeth clench together more tightly. “Yes, I did, Jeremy.”

Jeremy tries to scroll but there’s no more text chain to peruse. The face goes all grimace. “He never responded, huh?”

Stiles squints at him, eyes beady and small. “Do you want me to cry right here at your sales counter, Jeremy,” he asks, pointing as he talks, “next to your phone cover kiosk in your fluorescent-lit store where just outside on your barren sidewalk all my hope for the future died, is that what you’re trying to accomplish?” Jeremy’s eyes widen, terrified. “Because I am about one ragged breath away from it, sir.”

He backs away a few steps, hands held out in front of him. “Okay, no. Don’t do that. I—I’ll get you a new phone.” He turns around quickly and, well, flees.

Stiles sniffs, satisfied, if still miserable. He twirls the shape of his destruction around on the counter by its corner. Taps it. Peers down at the illuminated screen in hopes of seeing a wayward, unread message.

It’s only been… forty-seven minutes since Stiles told Derek he was unequivocally going to marry him without a response. Which is fiiiiine. Derek probably wasn’t even packing up all his meager possessions, changing his name to Alfredo Surnamé and pretending he didn’t speak English.

Stiles would totally place a low bet on that.

He should maybe tell him to go with fake-French over fake-Spanish just as a friendly heads up, though. He should definitely, probably, maybe-not-at-all say something though. Definitely… ish. Right?

Totally replacing the disaster phone you got me. I mean preset texts about marriage proposals seems a little presumptuous to me. Samsung must have some kind of business-synergy-thing going on with wedding chapels.

There. That was perfect, ingenious really, utterly believa—

You used my full name, Stiles.

Stiles blinks. Okay. So. Derek definitely got the text. And purposefully never responded to it. That’s not going to induce any sort of hyperventilation on Stiles’ part because, hah, why would it, he’s totally capable of handling the knowledge that Derek just didn’t think he was worth—okay, and then he didn’t even have the decency to let Stiles try to wriggle out of it, I mean, what kind of asshole—right, but. He did respond. If he was simply vanishing into the night then he wouldn’t have answered at all, right?

So.

Right.

Stiles is down. Admittedly. But not out.

Technology these days; it might be too advanced. It probably GPS’d my location, foursquared your contact name, figured you were the right Derek Hale based on proximity and then added that for a personal touch. Makes sense though, you can’t just, ‘Let’s spend the rest of our lives together, [insert name here]’ half-ass that. Still. That’s some scary, Minority Report dystopia shit right there. ‘Cause I don’t even KNOW your full name. Is it Derek Rasputin Hale? Because I’m ninety-seven percent sure it should be.

That makes… sense. Ish. Fuck. There’s at least a good bit of misdirection thrown in there if it doesn’t.

“Oh good, you didn’t panic.”

Stiles’ head snaps up to find Jeremy glancing down at his unskilled backpedaling, unimpressed, and holding a new box of the same model phone as the one in Stiles’ hand. Hopefully that one doesn’t feed on ruined hopes and dreams. “You shut up.”

Jeremy clucks his tongue. “Preset text, huh?” He’s still going with that grimace look.

“I do not need your commentary, Jeremy,” Stiles tells him angrily. “Or your judgmental facial expressions.”

Excuse him, Stiles is busy fixing this.

Or making it worse.

He’s doing something. Which is more than he can say for Jeremy, who has not offered a single helpful suggestion since Stiles walked in here. (Again.) He didn’t even want to concede the point that Stiles’ phone is clearly evil. Even though it’s never even tried to hide how it lights up with menace and terror in every pixel of its boxy face.

This one doesn’t seem to have a Crazy Jewish Mom cache of readily available talking points. You’re lucky I care so much about your comfort level.  You’re welcome.

Jeremy looks like he’s about seven seconds away from snatching the phone out of Stiles’ hands to stop him from settling down with a rocking chair and a basset hound in this hole he’s dug for himself when Derek texts back:

I was never uncomfortable.

Well.

What in the fuck does that mean?

 


 

Stiles stealth-wriggles through the door of Halesome Arts with only a few furtive glances. It’s not that he thinks his face is likely to be plastered up on every available surface with the no-nonsense subheading of BANNED underneath it; it’s just that he can’t be totally certain it isn’t. So, you know, better safe than sorry.

He’s pretty sure that’s the kind of cautious approach even his dad could get behind.

Okay, so, no, that was a lie because his dad would approve of literally none of this, which is why Stiles has been cleverly dodging his calls. Even if he couldn’t resist sending a, ‘new phone, who dis,’ text first.

It’s only as he’s finger-combing his hair down over his shifty eyes that he realizes he probably looks shady as fuck. Luckily, there’s something attention-grabbing on literally every surface to excuse his lack of eye contact and general sideways shuffling motion.

Oh. Speaking of.

Oh, okay, so.

Derek’s, like, good. Stiles has never really gotten art but this is—

There’s a fluttering burst of something completely and frighteningly indefinable low in his gut as he looks up. The canvas in front of him is all widening, unrestrained brush strokes, hooking together and falling apart, twisting down fast and bursting back up. It shouldn’t make a complete picture, all disparate parts with separate destinations but somehow it encapsulates a whole idea that Stiles can’t really put words to. Which is not something he’s used to. He doesn’t always find the right words, true, but he always has words at the ready. But this. This has left him entirely speechless. Not just unable to verbalize, but even his thoughts aren’t coming together to form anything concrete. It’s as though Stiles is looking at something intangible become tangible. It’s contradictory and incredible and impossible.

A quick look around shows that everything has been made to express this same unreal-come-real concept—in clay, charcoal, stone, paper. Derek’s made it out of everything and there’s a hook in Stiles’ stomach, tugging at him, telling him he knows what Derek means even if he doesn’t know how to articulate it.

The hair on the back of his neck prickles and he says, half-breathless, “You really made all this?”

He tears his eyes away from the canvas and fixes them on Derek. He’s standing casually but for the stiff set of his shoulders. As his eyes dart over Stiles’ face though, that eases too. His mouth goes lax, thin, but his eyes are a different story. Still all multi-impossibly-colored but warm and fucking joyous and Stiles’ heart is pounding painfully in his chest.

He swallows, runs his thumb up the braided underside of the strap of his messenger bag, and licks his lip. “I happened to be in the neighborhood. ‘Cause I took the train to it. And then walked to it.” He can’t stop smiling, and it’s only getting wider the more Derek’s eyes glitter back at him. “Pure coincidence. Could’ve happened to anybody.”

Derek’s mouth quirks at the corner and he’s swaying into Stiles’ orbit like he couldn’t stop himself even if he wanted to and it’s so fucking unbelievable that he doesn’t seem to want to—

“Derek, I thought that was you.”

Derek jerks back from him in the space of a heartbeat, pivots so he’s standing in front of Stiles, back and shoulders all re-knotted, and there’s a low, dark growl to his voice that sends a shiver down Stiles’ spine. It doesn’t even really sound human and the words are almost too crushed by the vibrato to hear. “What are you doing here?”

“Visiting,” says the dude who just interrupted them from what was probably going to be them macking all over each other’s faces. Hard. That’s not an infraction Stiles would easily forgive on its own. Add in the way Derek reacted to him and that he straight-up looks like a mega-dick, in his stiff-collared suit and smug… everything and, yeah, Stiles has already decided: he fucking hates this guy. All he needs is a cane and a white cat and the supervillian motif will be complete. He waves a hand. “I’m in the market.” His eyes slice back towards Stiles, catching the light oddly, like a camera’s flashed in them and turned the irises red. “And who might this be?”

Stiles doesn’t wait for Derek to answer for him though. There’s a weird, terrible, probably-not-super-intelligent protective instinct kicking up in him that makes him want to decimate this guy. Because anyone who makes his future husband this tense deserves to be fucking leveled. “The smarm on you, dude. It’s, like, a paste it’s that thick. A goop. An oozing, festering goop. It’s so palpable it’s practically its own physical presence and I am pretty much choking on it. This might actually qualify as a medical condition; I hope you have decent insurance.”

Stiles is so busy glaring at crooked nose, goop-face that he doesn’t notice Derek’s moved closer to him until fingers are wrapped around his hip, tugging at him, and tucking him up close to Derek’s side.

Cool. Apparently they’re both doing the dumb overprotective thing.

The guy’s smile is slick, with no obvious nick to his pride in it. “Charming,” is all he says, gaze not budging from Stiles’.

“Oh, and also? It’s ‘whom.’” Now Goop looks properly pissed, face all twisted up, and Stiles opens his mouth for another verbal wallop but it dissolves into a hiss of pain as something sharp digs into his side where Derek’s hand is. Stiles instinctively yanks it off, pulling it up, but there’s nothing Derek’s holding that could’ve done that. He doesn’t even have long fingernails. What the hell?

He’s still absentmindedly rubbing the heel of his palm over his smarting hipbone when the guy smirks and says, darkly amused, “Well isn’t that interesting.”

Derek looks positively wooden now. And his expression doesn’t change no matter how much Stiles frowns at him.

The guy waves cockily. “Tell Laura I’ll be in touch.”

Stiles scowls after him and asks, “Who was that guy? Aside from the world’s skin-crawliest douchebag. I mean, hasn’t it been scientifically proven by this point that long hair on dudes only ever means ‘sinister’ or ‘stoner?’ And that guy did not look like he got down with the ganja.”

Derek doesn’t crack a smile, doesn’t even glance at Stiles as he answers tightly, hands flexing at his sides, “He’s having a dispute with my sister about some… real estate.”

Stiles watches him uneasily, because he’s pretty sure he’s being lied to. He’s just not sure if it’s a good lie or a bad one. He goes with the former, because he trusts Derek. In an unprecedentedly terrifying, completely absolute way. “New York real estate, man, I don’t envy you those kinds of contentious back and forths. This is why I rent an apartment no one in their right minds would want to live in—judging by my neighbors anyway.” He smiles a little but Derek still isn’t having it and Stiles finally sets his hand in the valley between Derek’s shoulder blades. “Hey, you okay?”

Derek shakes loose some—but not all—of the tension and says gruffly, “Fine.” Like that’s at all believable. But then he turns and looks back at Stiles and there goes the rest of it, muscles completely unwinding as he offers, “I’ll walk you home.”

Which they both know is code for, ‘turn your legs into jelly from multiple, mind-numbing, earth-shattering orgasms.’ Stiles smirks, he’ll just have to suffer through somehow.

 


 

The next afternoon (after the aforementioned orgasms, sleep, and Stiles’ depressingly Derek-free Visual Arts class), Derek uses Stiles’ phone number. On purpose. Without provocation. To text him. To invite him out to a deli near campus, like a date. In fact, pretty much exactly like a date. Stiles had been tempted to confirm that, just for clarification’s sake since he strives for accuracy in his mental diary, but he’s not that needy. Plus, you know, he has some dignity.

Okay, no, he is that needy and he has no dignity because the first question he asks as he slides into his seat is, “Hey, so is this—”

Derek cuts him off with a curt, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore.” His hands are curled into loose fists on the counter, fingers bunched up under his palms, and eyes gazing down, fixated, at the shine on the tabletop.

Oh.

Stiles swallows. He can’t help but think how this is really a benign setting for the destruction of his entire world.

Derek’s hands clench tighter. Knuckles going a painful white and Stiles blinks down at them, up at how Derek isn’t meeting his eyes, and surprises himself by saying, “I don’t want to go straight to ‘no.’ So—nein.”

Derek’s head jerks as he flinches but his gaze doesn’t raise. “What,” he forces out, but it’s mostly just grumbled noise rather than discernible word.

Stiles swallows again, strategizing. Okay. Okay, so, this isn’t happening. That’s all there is to it; that’s the reality. He’s not going to just let this happen because—because he’s relentless and smart and he can out-talk Derek sixty-thousand to one and the thing is? The thing here. Is that. Well. He thinks Derek wants to be talked out of this.

He taps his fingers on the tabletop with a leisureliness he doesn’t feel and drops his bag down by his feet, showing he means to have this the fuck out. “It’s German for ‘no.’”

“Stiles,” Derek starts.

And maybe Stiles has completely fabricated this whole epic love saga in his head. Maybe Derek was only looking for a quick, uncomplicated trip to Bone-town when he picked Stiles up and Stiles had gone and mentioned their future, but impending nuptials almost immediately because he has zero fucking chill when it comes to Derek Hale and so he’s actually destined to become a permanent, notable fixture in Lydia’s Museum of Sad Patheticness except—except Derek had shown up at his fucking door a few hours after they’d had sex with a weak excuse to be there and a desperate hope in his nonsense-eyes and this is fucking real.

It has to be.

Stiles snorts. “Maybe I have completely deluded myself on this. Kabbalah Monster knows it wouldn’t be the first time, I definitely thought J. Lo was going to hire me as her backup dancer when I was a kid—” he glances up at Derek and amends in a more truthful grumble, “okay, last year—despite the fact that I cannot dance and I’m not even sure she tours anymore. There was a whole heart-of-gold, Annie montage obviously,” he waves that away, getting off track, “and if I really do belong in Lydia’s Museum of Sad Patheticness then okay. But I don’t think I do; not this time.”

Derek still isn’t looking at him and Stiles clears his throat, drags a hand through his hair.

“I get it though, I’m not… I mean, catch-wise, yeah, I’m—” Derek’s stare finally snags on him, intense and eyes catching the light oddly, looking more blue than the color wheel of his eyes usually does, and mouth pursed like he wants to say something but Stiles steamrolls over it, “I’m more likely to win you a lifetime of being politely asked to leave movie theaters rather than a trophy and a creepy, beaming, animal-carcass-photo op and, yeah, not even twenty-four hours after we decided to genitally introduce ourselves, I might’ve mentioned marriage.” He winces. “Which was obviously the fault of the phone itself as it did not even try to stop me. It said: Good idea, do you need a spell check on the word ‘fuck,’ maybe you meant ‘duck.’ But ‘marry?’ Marry it was fine with. So I replaced that saboteur, problem solved, and I’m sure some kind soul has thrown it into Mordor by now so it won’t be able to destroy any more lives. Also, having it that close to my flagpole? That was just asking for trouble.”

Derek’s lips twitch and he’s back to not meeting Stiles’ eyes. “That’s… generous,” he says dryly.

Stiles is tempted to kick him in the shin. “My point is, I’m probably not going to do that again so if I freaked you out or—”

Derek sighs. “Stiles.”

Stiles barely even hears him. “I mean, we should maybe discuss seating arrangements just to be sure we’re on the same page there—to avoid future arguments only—because my dad can be a little difficult to place but—”

Stiles,” Derek says so forcefully that Stiles chokes on his ramble, full stop. Derek’s fingers drag against the counter and the glare from the light above almost makes it look like he’s left scratch marks behind. His nostrils flare and he growls, “I just—I can’t.”

Stiles licks his lower lip. “Okay,” he says bracingly, thinking out loud, barely giving the words time to land, “okay, so obviously I have to come up with a new identity, backstory, hair color—I really don’t think I can pull off being blond though and Russian is so hard. But I’ll just have to seduce you all over again, with mediocre Russian, unfortunately blond, and with the name Mikael Russianname. That’s a bit of a day.” He glances back up at Derek, staring, determined. “But I have comrade-phone now—because Russian—so I’ll make it work because, yeah, I’m still landing on ‘nein’ over here, or ‘nyet’ rather.”

Derek’s brow furrows, like he’s frustrated and confused at how this has gotten so far afield. Like he expected Stiles to just agree to this when he’s pretty sure that—when it seems like—

“I think you’re here too,” Stiles says hoarsely and Derek looks up again, expression hard. That’s the best way Stiles can think to put it though. He’s—he’s here, more present in his moments with Derek than he’s ever been in any of his life previously, he’s—he’s more real, more—just more when he’s with Derek. He fills all the space he possibly can, makes the most of every single atom of his being.

And he thinks Derek does too.

Derek’s hands clench again and he pulls them off the table, drops them down into his lap, and it’s clear that’s as much as he’s going to do in response.

Because he doesn’t want to fight for this. Does that mean Stiles shouldn’t be? He’d thought the right thing to do here was to dig his claws in but maybe—maybe that’s the shitty thing. Sure, he doesn’t want to lay down and die, especially not when—when his gut has been telling him from day one that Derek is it for him, but he should be respecting Derek’s wishes here too, shouldn’t he?

He gulps down everything else he wants to say and decides, saying blankly, “Comprehensive list of reasons.”

Derek narrows his eyes, head tilting. “What.”

Stiles flexes his fingers, inhaling deeply. “Convince me.” He stares straight at Derek unflinchingly. “Tell me why you want this, so I can be sure you really do.”

Derek tongues the corner of his mouth, says, “I…”

Stiles watches him, waiting, but the rest of his sentence dies a silent death. He waits an extra minute, just to be sure he’s not cutting Derek off in case he’s only gathering his thoughts. Apparently not. Stiles continues uninterrupted, “Because—and maybe it’s a gross amount of optimism on my part—I don’t think you do. And if that’s the case? Then short of apocalyptic repercussions, I’m going to win this argument. Firstly,” he holds up a finger winningly, “I’m the more loquacious of the two of us, slumber-bunny. Secondly,” two fingers and he gestures between them, “I’m almost certain we both want me to win.”

Derek lets out a harsh breath and grinds out, “I—” his brow furrows, “did you—” he shakes his head very slightly and Stiles can see his arms flexing under the sleeves of his jacket, the muscles in his forearms jumping, “that’s not—it’s not indefinite, it—It isn’t safe,” he finally forces through clenched teeth.

“What isn’t?”

Me,” Derek snarls, nostrils flaring like an untamed bull, muscles rigid. His eyes flash that electric blue again, some combination of reflected neon and angles of light probably—Stiles doesn’t exactly know science.

Stiles squints at him, asks blasély, “Are you in the mafia?”

Derek blinks, like that was possibly the last thing he expected Stiles to say, and blurts back, “What, no.”

Stiles nods studiously. “Good, ‘cause the mob’s pretty civil these days. At least according to Wikipedia.”

Derek rolls his eyes, mutters under his breath, “Well as long as your sources are impeccable.”

Stiles leans in, taps against the table with deft fingers. “Undercover government agent? Is this a sting? Do I already know too much?” He glances around covertly while Derek—impossibly—rolls his eyes harder. Stiles waits until he has them focused on him again to guess, “Or are you currently involved in an intergalactic space war, secret superhero, really into the Kardashians, over wearing beanies? I can work with whatever you’ve got.” He leans back, hoping Derek can hear the sincerity of that in his voice because he is not exaggerating. Sure, it would make Derek a little harder to love if he started spouting about Kim and Khole and the other-worldliness of Rob’s most recent sock design and the beanie is an integral piece of their perfect wedding picture in Stiles’ mind, but Stiles would rise to the occasion.

Despite Derek’s deficiencies. (Maybe even glad to know he has some.)

Because he’s just that into this uncommunicative, scruffy, asshole-hummingbird bag of dicks who won’t just let Stiles love him already.

Derek’s head tilts to the side, expression intent like he’s listening for something, eyes widening slightly like he does catch the seriousness in Stiles’ tone. He blinks, scowls, says with his voice all rumbly, “You could get hurt.”

Stiles shrugs. He doesn’t want to downplay Derek’s concerns but: “Yeah, well. That’s kind of… life, isn’t it? But that whole free will fail-safe? It means I get to make my own decisions about what’s an acceptable risk and what isn’t.”

Derek looks away. “You don’t have all the information.”

Stiles resists the urge to scoff. Loudly. Because that is a fixable damn problem. “So tell me.” He tries not to sound like he’s begging.

He’s pretty sure he fails hardcore at that.

Derek’s gaze lowers to the floor and his expression goes tight, jaw clenched, stiff to an unholy degree. He’s not going to tell Stiles what this is about. He’s not going to say anything to him.

Possibly ever again.

Stiles pretends like he doesn’t notice the way he’s clammed up, like it doesn’t make his heart feel like it’s got a demonic crab’s pincer snapped around it trying to squeeze it into bursting. He says as though he’s interrupting something Derek might’ve said if Stiles had given him the chance, “Let me make you aware of one thing first though, Derek: There’s nothing you could come up with that I wouldn’t deem ‘acceptable risk.’”

Derek’s muscles flex again, hands likely clenching under the table. “You don’t know that,” he spits out.

And, well, no, Stiles fucking doesn’t know because Derek won’t talk to him. But he can guess, he can bet, and he would bet fucking big on this because he can’t think of anything—anything—that would make him think Derek wasn’t worth it. Which is saying something because dreaming up and/or living through disaster scenarios is basically his most engaged in pastime.

So why in hell Derek thinks there’s anything he can’t say to Stiles is beyond him, but it is pissing him the fuck off. “And you don’t get to make my decisions for me, not when I’m capable of making them myself, because guess what that isn’t? It sure as fuck isn’t noble. You know what it is though? Really fucking condescending. Do you honestly have that little respect for me? Or do you just think I’m that stupid?”

Derek looks like Stiles stabbed him with a machete made of poison ivy and nightmares. “No,” he says definitively, immediately. His breathing’s harsh, expression wary, like he expects another attack but Stiles is silent while he drags himself back together. Finally he says quietly, not a question and more like a guarantee, “And if something happens to you because of me.”

Stiles watches him, waiting for Derek to look up, but he doesn’t. “Are you planning to homicide me and this is your last ditch effort at saving me from your wendigo-shadow-murder-self?”

Derek frowns severely and Stiles takes that for an answer.

He nods meaningfully. “Then nothing bad—or injurious, I guess—” Stiles is still trying to get an idea of what’s actually going on, seeing as he only has context clues and no actual facts to work with. Thanks much, Derek, world’s most unnecessary and obnoxiously uncrackable Fort Knox, “or otherwise awful, is going to happen because of you. Because you know whose actions you’re responsible for? I can count on all of one finger the answer. It’s that whole free will thing we were talking about earlier, I’m sure you’ll get it if you think about it, you look like you were a kid who aced Sesame Street and that is about the difficulty level here.” Derek doesn’t look convinced and Stiles sighs. “Basically? If you don’t hurt me then you didn’t hurt me.” He sniffs, brushes imaginary detritus out of his way and says firmly, “So. I’m vetoing your, ‘taking a break,’ plan. First of all, that gets messy, Ross and Rachel can vouch. Second-of-ly, ask Web-head how that went with MJ, because they were both miserable and still cared about each other while fooling absolutely no one into thinking the opposite.”

“I should’ve guessed you’d use fictional characters as proof,” Derek says, sounding simultaneously annoyed and… fond.

Stiles’ heartbeat picks up because he’s pretty sure he’s through this, and he’s come out the other side with Derek still firmly attached to the project. “Yes, you should’ve,” he says dryly and Derek’s mouth curls up on one side. And, yes, Stiles did come out the victor here. He won. He gets this perfect, infuriating, sexually mind-expanding, surly jackass of a future husband all to himself. Stiles kicks him, hard, under the table (in celebration, of course) and crosses his arms over his chest. “Try to break up with me again and I’ll punch you in the throat.”

Derek scowls at him, makes a show of rubbing his shin. “Fine.”

Stiles kicks him again, glaring. “I’ve got fucking plans for you, Derek Hale. You got that?”

“Starting to,” Derek says in his low growl and Stiles dips his chin, mollified, when Derek drops his voice to something softer and finishes more honestly, “count on it.”

Stiles blinks but manages to fumble out a firm, “Good.” He deflates a little bit and lets out a long breath, finally unwinding. “Now that’s over with, I have to tell you,” he points a finger in Derek’s face, “worst date in the history of all the dates. I demand a re-do where you make it up to me with Boba Fett collectibles and spray cheese.”

Derek smiles, a little with his mouth, completely with his eyes, and they do that blue-flash thing again. “I can manage that,” he says.

Stiles squints. “There is seriously something up with your eyes.” Derek doesn’t seem to care about this revelation, looking content to just stare at Stiles with his weird-broken eyes and Stiles decides, “It’s like you have a sexy robot virus and I dig it, I’m into it, I’m not gonna lie, but I’m also half-afraid it’s a tumor because I am a glass half-empty and poisoned and cracked by nature kind of dude so, maybe instead for our next date—our first date because I am not counting this here. In fact, I’m redacting all of this from my mental record because… fail, Derek. So much fail—anyway, maybe we go to a doctor’s office, okay? Betting it’s got the new Redbook and a fishtank. It’ll be cozy and intimate and you’ll love it.”

Derek’s smile pulls up more on the left side and he says (and seems to mean), “Whatever you want, Stiles.”

Stiles pauses, says, “I like the sound of that.”

 


 

Stiles watches Lydia warily. She’s currently a study in disinterest. Gaze stretching out across campus, lips pursed in judgment of the impromptu Frisbee match forming on the quad, position oriented to scarcely acknowledge that she’s standing with Stiles.

Stiles is tempted to tell her to drop the act because once obsession with someone has been coded into his DNA, there’s not so much as a micro-expression he’s likely to miss. He’s definitely already caught on to—and catalogued—the shrewdness that’s been attacking her face all day. She knows something but she doesn’t know what she knows and she’s been hawk-eyed and predatory ever since she figured out that much.

Stiles is not going to encourage any of that, thanks much. Side note: why is everyone around him comparable to some type of bird? Not that he’s thinking about hummingbirds, because he isn’t. He could be, but he’s not, because he’s in control of his brain and he’s decided: no. Crap. Firstly, he’s totally thinking about hummingbirds. Second-of-ly, what kind of bird would that make him? Oh man, probably some kind of friggin’ goose.

He hates geese.

Now he knows it’s likely because he’s subconsciously recognized a kinship to them.

“If you had to pick a feathered representation for me, it wouldn’t be a goose, right?”

Years of following his bullet-speed trains of thought has led to Lydia taking that completely in stride. She doesn’t even bother to look up at him, hand fishing in her purse for her phone to check the time. “A seabird probably,” she offers, lighting up the screen, “they’re clumsy on land.”

“Well that’s a self-esteem boost I didn’t know I needed,” Stiles says dryly. “You’re a true humanitarian, Lyds. Also, the correct answer was secret option C) some kind of dinosaur. I would’ve preferred stegosaurus, for the record.”

She brushes the hair out of her face, glances at him. “I could have said a hoatzin.”

Stiles has legitimately no idea what that is. “Th… anks?” He thinks. Probably.

“More commonly known as stinkbirds. You’re welcome,” she confirms. Her gaze is less glancing, more stripping and Stiles pretends not to notice. “Expert deflection, Stiles, truly.” She golf claps mockingly and Stiles glares back at her. “Now what are you deflecting?”

“If I tell you, they’ll revoke my ‘expert’ status,” Stiles points out smartly, “and rip up my ribbon. I can’t have that, I’ve already put it in the family newsletter.”

Lydia rolls her eyes before sobering. She points a sharp fingernail in Stiles’ face. “If I need to break someone’s spirit, I require twenty-four hours notice.”

Stiles nods once. “Understood.”

She pauses in turning away from him and adds more softly, “If it’s Derek, I’ll make an exception.”

Stiles feels a wave of relief and gratitude loosen about sixty percent of the stiffness in his body and he says genuinely, “I know.”

He checks his phone as soon as Lydia’s rounded the corner. He has fifteen minutes until his next class and five minutes before Derek said he would show.

That’s not enough time to break up with him again, right? Granted, Derek has already done it once so it might be as simple as saying: ‘Hey? That not-together thing, that’s back on.’ And that would only take roughly thirty seconds, with maybe some time out if Stiles’ sobbing got too loud for Derek to talk over.

He sighs gustily to himself.

Lydia’s maybe not the only person he’s been deflecting. Derek might’ve asked him out one or… sixteen more times since their last disaster date only to get a lame excuse and a classy top hat emoji in response. And Stiles would’ve been perfectly happy to continue on in that vein until Scott had made the annoyingly dead-on observation: ‘so in order for Derek to stay your boyfriend, he can’t ever actually be your boyfriend.’

And, okay, so perhaps Stiles’ plan is a little convoluted… and self-defeating, but he’s got dating-PTSD now and it’s all Derek’s stupid fault.

“Your abomination,” Derek says, popping up in front of him like a Hun from an avalanche and handing him a paper cup full of sugar-loaded, creamer-filled no-longer-really-coffee.

Stiles spits out the thumbnail he just tore off and takes it. He discreetly checks his phone. Derek’s three minutes early. Is thirteen minutes enough time to break up with someone? Fuck. Why’d couldn’t Derek just be punctual? People like punctuality. You know what they don’t like? Earliness. The Bible said that.

Probably.

Now Stiles is going to be tense this whole potentially break-up-loaded thirteen minutes. How did Derek not get that Stiles had this whole thing down to an unreliable, imaginary, and largely internal science?

He takes a sip of his coffee, burns the roof off his mouth, and hardly notices.

Derek’s—Derek’s fucking DerekOf course. All dark ash-colored beanie pulled low on his brow, soft, mussed hair spilling temptingly out the sides. Eyebrows bushy, communicative, and biteable. To make up for the complete opposite vibe his pursed mouth is giving off, of course. He’s in patched jeans flecked with clay today, the combat boots—also spotted with dried clay, and the leather jacket. A touchable-looking scarf is wound around his neck. He looks like Stiles’ past, present, and future all rolled into one and Stiles utterly and completely hates him for that because he tried to take it away the last time they saw each other.

Derek swallows, glances off to the side with squinted eyes. “I was thinking we could—”

Stiles reaches into his messenger bag and pulls the hollow tube out of the inside pocket. “I have a caveat,” he says roughly, wagging the Chinese finger trap under Derek’s nose. “It’s a dating prerequisite. All the trendsetters are wearing them these days.” He coughs. “Started in Milan so it definitively qualifies as très chic. I know how important that is to you.”

Derek’s eyebrows lift, unamused, and Stiles sets down his coffee on the sign for the science building and reaches for the rolled up papers in his back pocket. “Or you could sign this binding legal document, written on college-ruled paper,”—because serious—“in orange sparkle pen and stained with hot chocolate. I put stickers where you’re supposed to sign and initial.”

Derek’s eyebrows are still up but he snatches the manifesto Stiles had diligently slaved over in class that morning from his hands. He flips to the back and notes with a quirk to his lips, “Spider-man ones.”

Stiles shrugs. “It felt appropriate.” He crosses his arms over his chest and admits, “We would have to find an on-duty notary should you choose this scenario.”

‘I hereby agree that Stiles is smarter emotionally, intellectually, and Harry Potter trivially and I will defer to him in all relationship-adjacent situations,’” Derek quotes, unimpressed.

Stiles flips a few pages for him and points, “There’s also something in there about you being a fustilarian. That’s the bard card, bitch.”

Derek shakes his head but flattens the pages between them, so a side is curling up against both their chests and holds out a hand. “I need a pen. It can’t be orange. Or glittery.”

Stiles blinks at him. He hadn’t actually expected Derek to—and it’s not e-fucking-nough, is it? He snatches the pages away, rolls them back up and sticks them down the back pocket of his jeans again. “Nope, no. I’ve reversed my position on that,” he decides, gesturing between them, “You and me, we are not doing the dating.”

Derek’s face goes carefully neutral, expression bleeding out of it.

“It’s like if you were Tom Cruise and dates were normalcy; you don’t have a good connection, right? So. Veto. Much veto.”

Derek’s jaw clenches, flexes, and he drops his hands. He seems farther away even though he hasn’t moved. “You’re done then,” he says tightly.

Stiles flicks him in the forehead, pissed off at the assumption. “Hey, dinglebells, no.”

Derek bares his teeth at him but he doesn’t actually seem upset – relieved maybe.

“Did I not just Jerry Maguire myself out of you doing that to me? It was totally a whole ‘who’s coming with me’ moment and you Renée Zellwegered it like a pro. My investment in us is not in question, unlike some scruffy-jawed, jerk-off artist whose name I won’t mention because I’m discreet and kind-hearted and not a total douchebag, unlike one, Derek freaking Hale, who shall remain nameless.” His voice has gotten embarrassingly high and he forces himself to take a deep breath, mutters under it, “I seriously might have some sort of socially debilitating disease though because I swear I don’t usually make this many Tom Cruise references.”

“I can’t take you out,” Derek translates, one eyebrow all perked, mouth pinched, like he’s got some right to be bothered by that.

“For another rendition of the break-up box step?” Stiles asks rhetorically, shaking his head, “Negative, Ghostrider, I’ve survived Mission Impossible the first, gotten the ‘you can’t handle the truth’ speech and accept that trust is really, actually a four-letter word, thanks.”—Jesus.—“I’m legitimately concerned that he’s been subliminally messaging the population for decades now. The couch jumping had to be some kind of programming. You mention him once and he becomes your vocabulary.”

Derek frowns, starts, “Stiles.”

Stiles checks his phone. He’s got another four minutes, pretends he doesn’t, and says, “We’ll talk later, okay?”

He’s feeling significantly worse after his class is over. Because maybe he really can’t do this with Derek. He’s verbally gifted, sure, but he doesn’t think he can talk someone out of breaking up with him twice and the fact that that’s all he can think about when Derek’s around? That’s not a relationship.

That’s not anything except an exercise in panic attacks: the redux.

Fuck.

He’s going to have to have a real conversation with Derek about this. He yanks his bag around from behind him, going for his phone, when his gaze snags on—“Derek?”

Derek hops off the bench like Stiles has just called him in for the championship game.

He’d… stayed? Waited outside for almost two hours just for an opportunity to—to what? To see Stiles?

He digs into his jacket pocket with one hand, reaches for Stiles’ with his other, and drops something into it. “Here,” he says gruffly, “it was all I could find.”

Stiles looks down.

It’s a Boba Fett air freshener.

Derek plants his hands in his pockets and shrugs. “Pretty certain the FDA stopped classifying spray cheese as a food after multiple lawsuits. It qualifies exclusively as packing material now.”

Stiles’ fingers close over the Boba Fett helmet in his hand and he clears his throat, because it’s suddenly dry and scratchy and full of emotion rather than words. “You still can’t sign things next to Peter Parker’s face,” he says, croaky but firm, “because I still don’t want to date you.” Derek’s mouth tightens and his chin dips knowingly, like he expected to be rejected, like he knew Stiles wouldn’t forgive him, like he’s going to walk away and so Stiles hurries to finish, “But I do want you to come home with me.”

Derek’s head snaps up, expression guarded, and Stiles shoves the Boba Fett head into his hoodie pocket. He curls his fingers over the rolled up sides of Derek’s beanie and tugs him close, presses their foreheads together, and just breathes. Closes his eyes and isn’t afraid of Derek for those few seconds, of what he could do to Stiles if he decided to.

They’re still closed when lips catch against his but he falls into the kiss with tongue and teeth and whimpers and want.

Derek’s hands find his waist, his shoulder blades, arch the small of his back, skim his ass but always with the same goal in mind: closer, closer, closer.

Stiles breaks the kiss, pants against Derek’s cheek, noses into the soft skin and slightly scratchy beard. “Home,” he says breathlessly, tightening his fingers on Derek’s shoulders, before he forgets all the reasons why sex in public is a Bad Idea.

“Home,” Derek agrees.

Stiles snags Derek around, leads him in a stomp to the corner and shoves his thumb into the button for the crosswalk. Then a few more times when the red, blaring hand doesn’t immediately stop telling him not to do things. Stiles glares at it, willing it to be all… permission-y rather than restriction-y.

It stubbornly stays red. And Stiles is also pretty sure it just flickered into flicking him off.

So, naturally, in retaliation, he hits the button some more. Then again, and then to a really unfortunate beat that abruptly jams itself into his brain. Because it’s one of those, those beats that lie in wait, biding their time, looking for the first perfect opportunity to ruin your day, month, life.

Derek’s brow furrows, chin tilting like he’s trying to place the rhythm.

Stiles is oh so happy to help him there because the best pain is shared pain. “Know what I’m gonna do?” He doesn’t wait for Derek to answer, pressing the button amelodically (despite his best efforts), “Get you love drunk off my hump. That’s what I’m gonna do.”

Derek flinches, looking pained. “The Geneva Convention exists because of that song. The U.N. is right there, Stiles, don’t make me report you.”

“Firstly, I don’t think that’s historically accurate. Second-of-ly,” Stiles swallows, looking up at him, and they really have to talk about this. They have to, before this goes any farther between them. “Derek, in all seriousness,” he slides his hand into the back pocket of Derek’s jeans and squeezes, “whatchu gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside that trunk?”

Derek perks an eyebrow at him, almost as if in answer. It’s a dirty eyebrow; it thinks dirtiness.

Stiles can tell, because his eyebrows are also thinking the dirtiness.

He pull his hand away from the button and slips it into Derek’s other ass pocket. Because at least half the reason he’s trying to keep moving is because Derek has him afraid of standing still, like the longer they stand here the more time it’ll give Derek to remember he’s not actually all that interested in him. And Stiles is trying to outrun that moment.

Which isn’t him.

That’s not him. Yeah, he likes to ignore problems until they go away but he doesn’t run from them. Mostly. It’s also probably not totally fair to Derek to give him so freaking little credit, even though he is the reason this idea exists in Stiles’ head in the first place.

But happily, weirdly, as much as Stiles is terrified of Derek, he’s also—he’s the only person he even slightly wants to talk to about any of this.

The light across from them finally changes and they both ignore it. Stiles, because he’s trying to parse out what he wants to say in his head so it will actually make sense to anyone who isn’t him, and Derek because he seems perfectly content to let Stiles stand there and grope him.

Team player, this guy.

Stiles opens his mouth and the planned thing doesn’t come out. Of course. “My latent ability is not timidity,” is what he says instead.

“What.”

Stiles sighs, pulls his hands out of Derek’s pockets, and scrubs them through his hair. “I am not Timid Man, okay. Because, one, that sounds lame as hell and, two, there’s no marketability to that and I’m in this game to stack Benjamins on top of Benjamins, baby.” He turns away from Derek, huffs, and stretches out his arms. “I am fucking omnikinetic and people don’t even have a name for me because they’re afraid saying it might conjure me up.”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “That sounds supervillainous.”

“Common misconception,” Stiles says absentmindedly, waving the words away. “Closer to a mercenary than a superhero, though, I’ll admit that. Black and white are for coloring books that are still on the shelf.” He’s getting off target and he jabs a finger in the direction of Derek’s chest. “The point is: You scare the shit out of me.”

For a second, Derek looks like the earth just slid out from under his feet. He lowers his head, hands forming loose fists at his sides and he breathes in once. When he breathes out, it drops his shoulders so heavily it doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be able to pick them back up again. His voice is sharp and cold when he spits out, “You figured it out.”

He won’t look at Stiles and all Stiles knows is, whatever the fuck Derek’s talking about, this moment, right here, this is his worst one imaginable. The same way Stiles’ is them breaking up again; Derek’s is whatever he thinks Stiles just figured out. “Apparently not because I don’t know what that means.” It comes out slightly bitter but mostly Stiles just wants that look the fuck off Derek’s face.

Derek’s chin jerks up, eyes with a crazy shine to them like they’re pulling all the light in the street to them, head cocked.

Stiles crosses his arms over his chest and decides not to force it. Not yet, at least. He’ll deal with his own issues first and then they’ll turn to Derek’s. “I can do the ‘no dates’ thing because, honestly, I think dating would just highlight how much friction there is between me and normal behavior.” There’s a fond look in Derek’s eyes at that, a look that Stiles does his best to ignore because that makes him want to stop, to sink into Derek’s approval so he doesn’t have to keep going and worry about losing it. “But I don’t want to do the ‘no dates’ thing because I’m afraid to be alone with you.”

Derek’s trying to school his face but there’s nothing neutral about his expression when he gets out gruffly, “You’re afraid to be alone with me?” It’s even a real question, proper inflection and everything, because this one he needs an answer to in order to be okay.

“You broke up with me the last time!” Stiles bursts out, arms flinging out from where they’re crossed. “And I’m invested in this like whoa.” He regrets the phrasing just so much, because that was a preteen girl at a Bieber concert and he is at least a young adult at a Josh Groban event about this, dammit. “I’ve moved in, put handprints on the mailbox, my Riddick poster is on the wall, I’m checking out the local ring bearer talent and I’ve permanent markered ‘no backsies’ on your forehead.” Stiles is pacing, can’t seem to stop, and he’s sure he looks and sounds in-fucking-sane but it’s better Derek know all this now rather than have any more stupid misconceptions or miscommunications rear their ugly heads between them. Stiles is going to marry this idiot basically just as soon as he’s on board with it and he should know so he can get on board with it. “I’m all in and you, you—you buttmunch, you can ruin all of that if you want to and you’ve already tried to once, it’s not like I can trust you not to do it again.” He’s breathing hard, nostrils flaring, and worked up to a Rocky Balboa-intensity so he spins around and plops down on the curb before he can kickbox a lamppost or something just to get his adrenaline out.

He knows from experience that the lamppost would almost definitely win.

Derek sits down next to him after a second, thigh pressed up against Stiles’, combat boots in the street. He leans back slightly. All that devastation from before is completely absent from his face; instead he looks totally at ease with Stiles, with the universe, with that all-too-informative tirade Stiles just went on.

“You’ve already proven you have ultimate veto power,” Derek says, like he knows Stiles will like that phrasing.

He does.

He lifts his brows and adds, “If anyone should be scared, it’s me of you.”

Stiles stares at him. He—Derek actually means that. Stiles has been walking around knowing Derek has all the power here and Derek has been walking around knowing the exact opposite. He’s a totally deluded loser and Stiles wants to sex him right here on the sidewalk. He props his elbow up on his knee, grins into his palm. Pulls his hand away when he feels like he has the joy on his face somewhat under control. “You’re dumb and I hate you and the fact that you actually believe that makes me want to kiss your stupid face.”

Derek turns towards him in an instant, tugs him close by his elbow and brings their mouths together. It’s too lazy to really be a kiss, more like a rub of their mouths that drags their lips together because Derek does that. He just is all Mars Rover-ing over Stiles’ skin like everything’s new, everything’s worth exploring, and he wants to touch all of it, with his mouth and his hands and his skin.

“The skin is the largest organ, y’know. And you just want to be able to map mine from memory ‘cause then you get to say that you were first,” because he is. Stiles may not be a virgin but no one else has ever touched him the way Derek does, “you get to be Neil Armstrong and that means everybody else can only be Buzz Aldrin or worse because no one cares about the second guy to walk on the moon, and you’re probably also a secret biology nerd. It’s ‘cause of your penis, I know, it belongs to science,” Stiles adds forlornly, frowning slightly.

Derek had been at his jaw, under his chin, reacquainting Stiles’ neck with his teeth when he pulls back to stare at him. Wide-eyed. Because, oh holy fucking—that was all out loud. “Oh my God. Oh my God, this is why you kiss me when I tell you to kiss me, my mouth needs to be engaged and not just allowed to say all the weird things my brain thinks that don’t even make sense and are probably gonna scare you off comple—”

Derek kisses him. Slams their mouths together, finds Stiles’ hip and drags him up, over, so Stiles is straddling him and the cement is hard on his knees and Derek is hard on his mouth and his dick is hard against Stiles’ stomach. And Stiles pushes that beautiful beanie off his head so he can stroke through his hair with grabby fingers and Derek’s hand is on his ass, the other on his chest, and Stiles is maybe shivering like a Victorian maiden while he sucks on Derek’s tongue (not at all like a Victorian maiden, so. Boo-yah!) but he’s blaming that on Derek too, since he’s the one pulling on the zipper of Stiles’ hoodie, which is being totally uncooperative, even though Derek is dragging, tugging… breaking it off entirely and pulling away to hold it confusedly in his hand.

Stiles picks up the piece of jagged metal from Derek’s palm and—fucking hell. It’s twisted into contortions Stiles wouldn’t have even thought were possible.

He shoves it up under Derek’s nose. “How did you do this? Answer me honestly,” he takes a deep breath and it shifts him on Derek’s lap and he has to pause a second to let his eyelids flutter at the good, good, good sensation that shoots up his spine, especially since it reflexively makes Derek’s hands settle on his hips and he wa-hah-ahnts to thrust. Instead he looks Derek steadfastly in the eye and asks, “Are you the Hulk?”

Derek stares back at him blankly. “Yes,” he says, deadpan.

Stiles glances down at his unfastened hoodie and then scowls at his beyond busted zipper. He really fucking liked this hoodie. It has a giraffe on it. “Really, your life was so hard, friggin’ defective little metal-mouth. I’ve got news for you, friendo, this was a nothing job. You’ve been coddled your entire existence and you don’t even have the broadened mental horizons to know it. Let’s see what kind of work you can get now, with that laze-about work ethic and condescending attitude. I’m loaning you to the costume for Zed’s gimp, see how you like that.”

Derek plucks the metal out of Stiles’ hand, tosses it fluidly over his shoulder without a backwards glance. “You told it,” he says gamely, his other hand falling from Stiles’ waist.

And yeahhhh.

They probably should stop almost having sex in public places.

Stiles stands up with a defeated, beleaguered, wistful groan and offers a hand down to Derek so he can do the same, which he does after he’s grabbed the beanie from behind him. Thank Aphrodite. (Yeah, Stiles loved it, more than most people so that felt like the appropriate entity to reach out to.) And then Derek’s right up in Stiles’ space, breathing against his cheek, and Stiles licks his lower lip, leaning away from him so they don’t end up right back where they were.

His fingers automatically drift down to try to zip his hoodie.

He looks back up at Derek with narrowed eyes, gesturing between the two things. “Oh, oh I see, there’s no way that’s a coincidence, is it? This is what you were trying to warn me about, huh, the whole ‘not safe’ thing? I mean, this timing? Hah! I can spell suspicious and it’s spelled: D-E-R-E-K. You come into my life and suddenly my zipper’s broken? I call foul, sir.” He points a shaking finger into Derek’s face and juts out his chin defiantly. “We clearly have no choice but to break up again,” he jokes, because he can, because he’s not afraid of it near as much as he was.

Derek rolls his eyes, grabs his wrist, and tugs him close again. “Shut up,” he says without heat, drawing Stiles back into him, pressing their mouths together, walking them both across the street.

“We’re broken up,” Stiles tells him, kissing him harder, threading his fingers into his stupid hair. It’s not even soft, it’s greasy like he was wearing the beanie ‘cause he hasn’t showered and Stiles shoves his nose into the side of his head and breathes deep and he hates Derek because there’s nothing about him that he hates, “this is us being broken up.”

Derek bites Stiles’ lower lip around a half-smile. “I somehow wouldn’t have expected you to still talk so much.”

Stiles hums against his mouth. “That’s because you know nothing about breaking up. See how I had to do it for you?” He pulls away with maximum effort and, yeah, no, they’re definitely ducking down into the subway station on the corner because if Derek is just going to stand there, all blatantly existing, then Stiles has no chance of getting his dick to chill out long enough to walk places.

Derek waits until they’re down on the platform to say seriously, “Stiles.”

Stiles turns around, hands in the pockets of his hoodie that won’t zip, and Derek’s staring at him, searching his eyes, and Stiles sobers a bit.

He steps into Stiles’ personal space, not close enough to touch but closer than he usually gets. “I’m not looking for an out,” he heaves out finally, like it cost him something to say it. He reaches for Stiles’ hand and Stiles frees it from his pocket so he can take it. He doesn’t lace their fingers, slotting their hands together instead in a way that makes Stiles feel like he’ll never stop trembling. Fuck. Maybe he is a Victorian maiden. Well. If he is then he’s fucking owning it. “I don’t want any part of my life to hurt yours,” Derek says. He closes his eyes and sighs before opening them again. “You remember the guy from the gallery?”

Stiles nods carefully, not wanting to do anything that might make Derek stop talking.

“He’s not a good… person and I wouldn’t put it past him to try to get to me through you.” He squeezes Stiles’ hand. “I need you to be careful.”

Stiles swallows, promises, “I will. Girl scout’s honor.”

Derek looks at him askance, mouth tight like he wants to smile but also like he wants Stiles to know he’s not joking the fuck around.

Stiles gets it. He does. He hadn’t thought Derek would ever tell him anything. This—this is trust, and Stiles freaking earned it. He shrugs and says in explanation to the curious look he’s still getting, “I cried when Lydia got to go on a camping trip, with river rafting,” he adds so Derek really gets what he was potentially missing out on, “and I didn’t. I had an honorary sash and everything.”

Derek’s mouth softens, eyes carrying the smile though, the way they always do.

Stiles spots the beanie in his jacket pocket, slides his hand out of Derek’s, snags it, and yanks it over his own hair. It’s warm and soft and muffles the sounds around him slightly and smells like Derek’s stupid hair.

Derek’s only lucky that Stiles likes it even better on him otherwise he would never get it back.

He leans into Derek so their chests are brushing and says seriously, “Luckily for us, it’s only a matter of time before my latent omnikinetic powers kick in.” He turns his bare wrist around, taps it. “They’re already lagging a little behind schedule so it’s got to be any day now really.”

Derek shakes his head with a soft, fond huff and they both glance up now that they can finally hear the train coming.

Which is when the moment really lands with Stiles. “Holy shit,” he blurts.

Derek lifts a questioning eyebrow.

Stiles points around them. “Do you realize how romantic that just was?” he demands. They could’ve just got, like, an Oscar for that performance. That was sincere and intimate and—“We are the most romantic. Romance-mecca, right here. Step the fuck aside, Scarlett. Someone’s gonna make a biopic of this one day. There’ll be swelling music and I’ll get to do the foot-pop thing while you kiss the ever-loving fuck out of me.”

Derek doesn’t make him wait for the biopic, dragging him in and tilting Stiles’ face up and shoving their mouths together forcefully and tonguefully and arousefully and it’s at least half because he wants to and half because he wants Stiles to stop moment-ruining.

Which, yeah, he was totally doing. Like, dancing on the ruined remnants of all that was once golden and splendid. Whoops.

He still forgets to do the foot-pop thing because his brain doesn’t really function when Derek’s mouth is on him and both his knees are too weak to support standing on one foot anyway, at least in conjunction with Derek. Plus, the doors nearly decided to close on them anyway. Super inconsiderately.

Stiles drags them both through before they can and Derek backs them into a pole because he’s way better at still person-ing when they’re making out.

It isn’t until they sway meaningfully around a curve that Derek rips his mouth away and blinks.

He looks… shocked at their surroundings. Like, completely amazed. He glances around at the other passengers, the windows of the train, the doors, then at Stiles. He blinks again. “I didn’t even notice,” he says blankly, like he can’t process it.

Stiles doesn’t really get it. “I can give you a tour,” he offers, shrugging, “but I’m pretty sure it’s that guy down there,” he nods his head towards a guy who’s spread across three seats with a blanket over his shoulders and one shoe on in the back of their car, “who lives here and really, if anyone is stuck with hosting duties, it should be him.”

Derek doesn’t even look like he hears him. He touches Stiles’ jaw softly, thumb brushing back and forth, and looks at him. Looks at him in a way Stiles is absolutely certain he has never been looked at before. “You don’t even—” he starts, almost like he doesn’t have enough breath in him to accomplish getting out the whole, huge thought in his head, “you reshape everything you touch.”

Stiles doesn’t really know how to take that. Is that—that’s probably a good thing, right? Stiles looks back at Derek. That’s a good thing. The way Derek is looking at him, that can’t be anything but good. He tries uncertainly, “Uh. You’re welcome?”

Derek presses his nose into the beanie Stiles is still wearing, nuzzles the side of his head and breathes deeply. He nods slightly and says with warmth and… and relief maybe, “Thank you.”

It’s soft and tender and so Stiles is not at all expecting the soft scrape of nails on the small of his back, over his spine, raking left to right with agonizing slowness. The nails that seem to Houdini into existence whenever Derek’s looking to make him swoon. (At least one of Stiles’ past lives had to be a Victorian-era lady, prone to trembling and lustful sighing, because no way had Stiles just perfected that overnight.)

Which is totally unfair.

Retractable body parts that are designed to make Stiles harder than concrete go firmly in the unfair column. It’s been decided, by the law of James Howlett and hard-ons.

“You cheat, you know that?” Stiles hisses into Derek’s unattractive, unkempt hair that Stiles only a little bit wants to keep forever.

Derek’s lower lip drags over his neck with a huff of air that sounds amused, resting for a moment on Stiles’ thundering pulse, the slickness of it slowly drying so it becomes nothing more than a soft caress against Stiles’ skin. Derek’s head tilts and then his nose is bumping up against the patch of skin behind Stiles’ earlobe, another piece of Stiles he’s looking to stake claim to simply because he knows it’s basically untouched.

He can have it.

Stiles is pretty sure there’s not a place on the Monopoly board that is his body that Stiles wouldn’t let him set up six hotels and a handful of houses on; he’d probably slip him all the winning beauty contest cards too, just because he frickin’ deserves them.

Derek’s all warm and slow and heavy and, damn it, shiver-inducing breaths as he breathes Stiles in, unhurried and unbothered by how freaking weird he is all the time, and Stiles is forced to let out a shaky breath of his own.

He swallows when the pads of Derek’s fingers find his hip, his abdomen, just barely brushing his skin, making his insides tighten and squirm and the goddamn pterodactyls are back with a motherfucking vengeance. Derek presses slightly and even that much pressure has Stiles stepping back, pole between his legs and—Jesus fuck—does Derek have any idea what the fuck he’s doing to Stiles here?

The lights above them flicker as the subway rattles through a tunnel but Derek’s eyes in his periphery somehow don’t dim any, unnaturally bright, befuddlingly blue and infuriatingly smirky.

The answer to that is a massive fucking, ‘yes,’ then.

He brings up a hand to Stiles’ hair, fingers slipping under the stolen beanie that Stiles might, someday, possibly, and quite probably maybe, give back to him, rubbing circles against Stiles’ temple, flitting through messy strands to the crown of his head and massaging. They’re hardly touching really. Fingerpads still soft—and making Stiles dry-mouthed—on his hip and combing through his hair, Derek’s mouth near his neck, occasionally glancing against his skin, but bodies spaced apart. Derek’s not touching him anywhere else and yet every inch of Stiles’ skin is goosebumped and tight and anticipatory, his thighs jolty and quivering with repressed need and he knows his hard-on is beyond obvious, like, the, ‘as seen from space,’ kind of obvious and he can’t really reconcile that with how little stimulation is actually happening to him.

Derek’s nostrils flare over and over, each breath deep and long and bull-imitate-y like he’s trying to filter all the air around them through Stiles’ skin first. His bristly scruff brushes Stiles’ jaw and the low, rumbling hum that Stiles had thought was coming from the train is actually coming from Derek, a darkly content sound. It’s not a very hummingbird-esque, or even hummingbird-adjacent, noise but Stiles is willing to let that go for the moment because hearing it makes his toes curl in his sneakers.

And he can also feel the reverberations of it through his palm when he molds it to Derek’s chest, which makes his whole arm tingly. Derek’s thumb slips off his hip, twists around, slides up his spine and Stiles shudders into him but Derek doesn’t pull him in. In fact, he drops his hands completely, lowers his head, drags his nose across the hollow of Stiles’ neck and just breathes, lips parted, breath close enough and trapped to Stiles’ skin enough that it’s damp and hot and hair-raising. He doesn’t move from that position once he’s found it, stands perfectly still, expression like he can taste Stiles just on the air he’s drawing in.

It’s really fucking weird.

Or, well.

It should be really fucking weird.

No, scratch that, it definitely is really fucking weird. There’s just also the fact that—that Stiles has never been so turned on in his entire fucking life. His jeans are literally starting to hurt and his hips keep half-thrusting independent of his brain. He can’t help the little whimper that catches in his throat as his dick meets nothing but air. Again. Derek doesn’t seem near as uncomfortable in his own skin. Actually, he’s doing a pretty good imitation of… exactly the opposite. Eyes closed, lips resting tight but soft to Stiles’ skin, teeth almost pressing, almost sharp but not quite, nose butted up against his neck and breathing so evenly that he could almost be asleep.

Which makes Stiles jolt, because—shit—it’s not exactly impossible that Derek is asleep, is it?

But he shifts with the movement of Stiles’ surprise, mouth twitching at one corner, and eyes crinkling up tighter. He’s not asleep and this is the first time Stiles has seen him reach that same point of relaxation as when he is.

Stiles’ throat works down a swallow. This would be a really sweet moment probably, Stiles can admit that, if nearly all his currently severely inhibited brainpower wasn’t focused on trying to time the rock of the train with making Derek’s hand, now hanging loose at his side, naturally fall onto his crotch. “The fact that teleportation or a Randall-like chameleon gene doesn’t already exist makes me want to boycott the whole world,” Stiles mutters. Because at the very least, he would really like to give himself a handjob and, like, maintenant too.

Okay, seriously, what was with the whole French thing?

Derek’s too deep into his meditative, Mr. Miyagi-type breathing to respond but Stiles is pretty sure he would agree if he were paying any attention at all.

And that’s worth something.

Not a lot, granted, but not nothing either.

Stiles had originally planned to take Derek back to his place but Derek’s is a shit-ton closer and right now Stiles would take as much as three steps closer because he’s going to have trouble walking, soon. He barely manages to get through Derek’s bedroom door before he’s palming his dick, involuntarily bending over. “That was the weirdest, most intense foreplay in all the history of history, or something,” he groans, “and if I don’t come soon my balls might explode. It’s a medical thing now, you have to take pity on me.”

He doesn’t even see Derek move before he’s smacking Stiles’ hand aside, pushing him back against the door, and mouthing him through his jeans.

Stiles almost cries. Only almost. He saves it by turning it into a snorky, unattractive whine of: “Oh thank fuck.” His fingers drift down to tangle in Derek’s hair, clenching tightly, and Derek’s big, warm palm splays across his lower abdomen, his other hand dragging down his zipper and flicking open the button of his jeans and then Derek’s sucking, mouth wet and hot through Stiles’ boxer-briefs, wrapped around the head of his cock and some kind of cotton-blend. He suctions once, twice, tears his mouth away and—before Stiles can protest, which he fucking would’ve—his teeth scrape gently over one of Stiles’ balls, his lips part and then, fuck, then his sac’s in Derek’s mouth and his palm has drifted down, thumb pressed under the crown and holding Stiles’ dick up against his stomach so it’s pointing at his bellybutton. He holds it there for just a second, then he’s stroking down, tracing the vein on the underside of Stiles’ cock, up with a slow drag, down, pressing hard against the slit where Stiles is leaking, wet, wetter than he’s ever fucking been and Derek lets go of his balls, gently tugging the skin of his sac between his teeth before pulling Stiles’ boxers down just enough that he can fasten his mouth over the head of Stiles’ cock without cloth in the way.

Stiles twists his fingers in Derek’s hair in a way that’s probably painful, babbles broken-voiced and mindless, “I can’t, Derek—You can’t—” before his toes curl and he comes hard in Derek’s mouth.

Derek shifts back on his knees, makes sure Stiles is watching through heavy-lidded eyes when he swallows and then both their gazes drift down together to where he’s jerking himself off. Stiles hadn’t even seen him do that but his pants are open, boxers pushed down, and Stiles sinks to the floor, knees no longer willing to help him out. He mouths against Derek’s neck the way Derek loves to do him, breathes, bites, growls and scrapes his nails down Derek’s back and feels Derek’s orgasm clench and then loosen all the muscles under his hands.

It feels like they’ve been catching their breath for hours before Stiles says harshly, “Fuck. Fuckity-fuck.” He shakes his head, voice full of woe. “I am never gonna be James Bond.”

Derek leans back and Stiles lifts his head up from the hollow of his neck. Derek gives him an assessing stare and says, slowly, like he’s potentially breaking the news to him, “You’re not British.”

A huge smile breaks out over Stiles’ face. “That’s definitely the only preclusion,” he agrees, half-tuts, almost challenging.

Derek shrugs like, yeah, that is the only reason and that’s a perfectly rational conclusion that Stiles has drawn there.

Derek totally thinks Stiles could be James Bond if not for geography; he feels stupidly giddy about that. Derek tugs Stiles’ messenger bag off his shoulder, wraps his arms around Stiles’ ass, and shifts like he’s somehow going to get them both to the mattress.

The bag flops off to the side and Derek stops what he’s doing to pick up what’s rolled out of it.

Stiles snorts, feeling fuzzy and dumb, orgasm-drunk for want of a better term.

Derek holds it up like he’s actually considering putting it on and Stiles snatches it out of his hand, shaking it in his face. “You are the worst person in the whole world. And, side note, agreeing to the Chinese finger trap,”—which Derek pretty much just did, let’s be real—“means you basically agreed to one day wear a ring that I intend to put there. So resist while you fucking can, my temperamental trochilidae.”

Derek huffs, mouth twitching, and shakes his head. “You make so little sense so often.”

“Mm, maybe,” Stiles agrees with a yawn, leaning into Derek. “Want me to sing you some John Legend to make up for it?” How in the fuck did that song go? “My worst distraction, my hummingbird snooze.” Yeah, that was it.

Derek laughs softly, as much breath as sound, and Stiles feels momentarily weightless but no way could Derek lift all his not-insignificant and totally dead weight. He feels the beanie fall from his hair and frowns until it’s replaced by Derek’s hand and someone’s saying, “Sleep, Stiles.”

And he trusts that voice, so he does.

 


 

 

Derek’s still asleep when Stiles wakes up. He’s taken his shirt off at some point and his skin is tan, smooth, inviting. Stiles drags his fingertips slowly down Derek’s front, wanting to know every dip and swell of him, his own skin pebbling as he touches Derek’s, which is warm and soft with sleep. He shifts closer to him across the mattress, kisses his lower lip gently so he won’t wake him.

Then he just watches him breathe. For hours. He watches the sun slip across Derek’s shoulder, glitter in his hair and over his scruff, watches the waning and waxing of his chest, the contraction of his muscles when Stiles brushes the backs of his fingers down his abdomen.

“Hey,” Stiles says softly because he’s already surpassed his record for, ‘awake and not speaking,’ by literal hours and holding the tidal wave of words back is starting to give him stomach cramps. But now that his mouth is open, he finds there’s really very little he wants to say, though it’s still imperative that he says it, he thinks. “I knew you were it from the moment I saw you,” he scrubs his knuckles down Derek’s jaw, watches his eyelashes flutter like he’s caught in some ridiculously pleasant dream, “but this is better. Knowing you, it’s so much better than just wanting you.” Because Stiles has never done this before, not even with Derek, just laid next to someone and not wanted for anything. He’s content to just be here with him, to be able to look and be this close and be completely and utterly satisfied by that and it is fucking terrifying in the best way.

Stiles watches him another few minutes before pulling his jeans and sneakers back on. He still has his hoodie, shirt, and boxers on from the night before, Derek divesting him of just enough to make it comfortable for him to sleep but not enough to assume anything.

He could’ve.

Stiles snatches up his messenger bag, twists on the mattress, and presses his mouth to Derek’s hairline. He pulls the beanie back down over his hair as soon as he spots it, getting it snug over the tops of his ears, and practically skips into the next room.

He tries to zip up his hoodie at the bottom of the steps outside Derek’s building but—fucking right—the zipper’s broken because Derek’s the Hulk and Stiles is grinning to himself like an idiot, trying to remember which corner he saw that coffee shop on so he can surprise Derek with bakery-bought breakfast in bed, when a silky, supervillain voice says, “Hello, Stiles.”

Stiles whirls around and remembers the guy instantly, the dude from Derek’s gallery, the dude Derek had told him to be wary of, the dude who screams not good people, a.k.a. Mr. Goop.

Stiles takes a subtle but calculated step back and is about to distractingly reiterate the necessity for a white cat slinking around the guy’s ankles, maybe even a sinister-looking cape, at least a couple of those little yellow minion things for good measure when Goop adds, with what looks like an almost crimson flash of his eyes, mouth curving too deeply, like his teeth have changed shape behind it, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Stiles swallows, trying to think EXIT STRATEGY, but the blow comes quick and hard from behind; he really never stood a chance.

 


 

Stiles comes to with a sharp slap to the face. It makes his head knock against the glass.

He blinks. Glass?

It takes a few seconds to reorient to his new surroundings and he doesn’t even get a chance to finish the process before he’s being shoved out of them. A burly mountain of a man, who’s awkwardly squashed down just to fit in the backseat of this car, reaches behind him and opens the door Stiles is pressed up against. And—whoosh—there goes literally all his support and he tilts, topples, and bangs into the ground with half his face, completely unable to catch himself.

Because his hands are, of course, tied behind his back.

Awesome.

He manages to flop over onto his side, then his back, and nothing feels like it’s broken or bleeding.

Yay.

He blinks again and almost thinks he’s seeing things but. Nope. He is absolutely splayed, hands crushed behind his back, thighs spread, feet planted on pavement, looking up at a garish yellow VW Bug.

What?

Burly dude gets out on his side and comes around to heft him up impatiently, and painfully, knocking Stiles’ elbow into the open door. “Okay, Everest, seriously? I am completely rethinking our friendship bracelets.” The mountain guy doesn’t even glance at him and Stiles lifts his shoulder so he can rub his itchy nose against it. “At the very least, you’re getting a reject one with a messed up pattern or ugly colors or something.”

Goop comes around from the driver’s side, grinning. And there is seriously something up with his teeth, like they’re too long for his mouth or something.

Braces, he should spring for ‘em.

Stiles glances at the Bug, then back to Goop. “I don’t want to do it but… points for original villain transport.”

There’s a pink and orange flower decal on the back, and an Alpha Phi Delta sticker on the rear windshield.

Goop frowns, brow furrowed in confusion, then the penny drops and he looks back to the Bug and scowls. “This is not my car,” he says hotly. “Jen took my SUV to the lake for the weekend and left me her fucki—you know what? That is not important. Roommates are inconsiderate, that’s the moral.”

Stiles snorts, lowers his voice and says discreetly, “You gonna kidnap her next?”

Goop bares his teeth and, yeah, there’s definitely something unsettling about them. He leans forward into Stiles’ space, reaches into his front jeans’ pocket and before Stiles can even squawk about bad touching and all the dinners he’s owed, he’s withdrawing Stiles’ phone from it.

Then—

Well.

It’s impossible—Stiles recognizes that it’s impossible—but he swears this is what happens. Goop just. One second he’s holding the phone in the cradle of his palm and the next he’s closing his fist around a nasty-sounding crunch and Stiles’ phone is falling from his hand in tiny grain-sized pieces.

Stiles stares at the small hill that is his broken phone, then up at Goop’s victorious eyes and sharp teeth. “Sleight of hand magic and a Volkswagen Bug? You are missing your calling as a children’s entertainer, man, I swear.”

Goop’s expression doesn’t change but his eyes dim a little, like he’s disappointed Stiles didn’t have more of a reaction to that.

He should have no fear about that. Stiles is far from done reacting to that because seriously: “That phone had done nothing to anyone.” He glances back over his shoulder to look at the desolate and sad little pile of phone.

He has to look back since Everest has pulled Stiles against his chest to hide his bound hands and is walking him out of the alley they’d parked the Bug in. It puts Stiles’ hands dangerously close to his crotch, which is not making him smiles times.

He frowns more heavily. “It was innocent. And pure. It hadn’t even prematurely mentioned marriage yet.” Goop doesn’t seem to be listening and Stiles glares at the back of his head. “You could’ve just taken the SIM card and battery out. That was excessive and, let’s be real, a little melodramatic. It might get you into a Liam Neeson movie but you just lost all your yellow, flowered Volkswagen points I gave you earlier.”

Goop’s still ignoring him and Everest’s grip is painfully tight on Stiles’ shoulder, and—sharp? Seriously, dude has nails. That is not normal.

Goop walks them up two blocks and Stiles thinks about screaming for help, but Everest looks like he could deal some serious damage to everyone they pass. And, really, just because Stiles’ life is currently shit, it doesn’t mean he should share the wealth with unsuspecting would be do-gooders.

That wouldn’t be very Desmond Tutu of him.

Goop waits for the crosswalk to change, walks them down three more buildings, and stops, turns, looks up.

Stiles follows his gaze and blinks. Okay. So. “This is a Chuck E. Cheese. Are we taking a break from the kidnapping in order to play Whack-a-Mole or maybe that ‘children’s entertainer’ comment resonated with you on a deeper level? Or is this part of it? Like some kind of emotional torture? Putting me next to arcade games I can’t play because my hands are tied. I’m going to need a little elaboration here. A lot. A lot of elaboration here.”

“Keep quiet,” Everest snarls and, whoa, his voice is seriously low. Like legit thunder.

It shakes Stiles’ insides with the rumble of it.

He brushes it off. Because of course he does. “You can have my silence in exchange for one—no, three games of skee ball.”

Goop turns around, and his eyes are catching—Stiles doesn’t know, the neon from the Chuck E. Cheese sign, he’d guess? Only now he’s facing away from it so. The red dances in his irises and he says smoothly, “I appreciate your fearlessness, Stiles. There’s dignity in that. Though, I’ve noticed, not much longevity.”

Stiles perks an eyebrow at him. “Is someone scoring you on vocab or something?” He glances around as though expecting to find a lady scribbling on a clipboard or someone holding up a scorecard with a ‘4’ on it. Goop’s brow furrows and Stiles explains, “Your threats are a little pedantic, my man.” He looks between Goop and Everest. “Where did we land on the skee ball thing?”

Goop rolls his eyes, pushing open the door, and Everest shoves Stiles through, making him walk. Goop looks around the whole of the place cursorily, sniffs, and makes sure Stiles is watching as he nods toward a little girl in a flower dress, the petals of which are made to look like watercolor. She’s half-on top of a pinball machine so she can hit the button at the far end with her knee and still reach the levers on both sides.

She’s industrial and Stiles is adopting her. There’s no way her parents love her as much as he does now.

He should probably get out of this whole ‘kidnapping thing’ before he starts the paperwork though.

“See that child there?” Goop asks.

As if Stiles could pay attention to another one now? He’s already picturing walking her down the aisle. At her wedding. To Pac-man. While the Skyrim theme plays. (Derek would be there too, in his beanie – Stiles might’ve given it back by then, holding a bouquet of Fire Flowers. Of course.) “Is that your kid?” If it is, he is totally pushing the adoption thing. “Are you making people come to her birthday party by coercion? You’re committed to excess, huh, Liam? You should’ve just mentioned free pizza. Kids five years above her in school would’ve shown up, whether you wanted them to or not.”

Goop bares his teeth at him, his smile all threat. “Make a sound and I shoot her.”

Stiles swallows and keeps his mouth shut. He’s not sure if Goop has a gun or not but, either way, he’s not risking his future daughter’s well-being on it. He lets Everest lead him behind the counter of the ticket exchange—and the guy there clearly knows him, does some kind of complex high sign—and into the room off the side of it. It’s dim and full of boxes and poorly organized heaps of cheap prizes.

Everest shoves him inside and Stiles flounders into a pile of brightly colored Flounders, which aren’t actually flounders.

His head hurts.

He struggles into a more dignified position and glares at Goop and Everest standing by the door. “You get that this isn’t going to work out well for you, right? Your secret base of operations is a Chuck E. Cheese prize room and your mode of transportation is a sorority girl’s Volkswagen Beetle. This kind of planning does not lead to success.” It can’t.

Goop smirks at him, like he knows something Stiles doesn’t. “You act like I need some grand plan here, Stiles.” He laughs, smiles, like he can’t imagine anything better than this: “Right now, Derek is beyond reason and halfway to feral looking for you. Laura will find him, or he’ll call for her if he has the sense left for it, and she’ll come. And she’ll agree to my proposal and whatever else I ask of her. See, Stiles, you are useless beyond leverage, but perfect for that. You’re leverage against Derek, which is leverage against Laura, which is what I’ve been looking for.”

Stiles feels a shiver trip down his back, palms going sweaty. His wrists aren’t tied with rope, he’s sure of it now. They really hadn’t planned this well. Maybe hadn’t planned it at all. They might’ve been waiting for Derek outside his apartment complex and settled for Stiles when the opportunity presented itself, practically gift-wrapped.

He thrusts his chin forward defiantly. “If you’re going to keep monologuing about your Impressively Malicious Plan—let’s trademark that, right?—then I’d like that Dora the Explorer notebook over there and free use of my hands because I’m already starting to forget pieces of it. Maybe if it hung together better? It’s got a snazzy name though, so kudos there, I’m seeing: The IMPotence Endeavor.”

Goop smiles, almost fondly, like Stiles is an amusing moron who just isn’t getting it. “Why do you think we’re here, Stiles? Derek will be trying to track your scent, your heartbeat, and we’ve ensured he won’t be able to find it. Not surrounded by this much chaos.”

Okay. So. Goop is actually fucking bonkers-ville then.

Right,” Stiles draws out slowly, and a lot sarcastically. “Because GPS and private investigators and my dad’s police contacts—oh, right, county sheriff, did I mention that?—are just passé these days.”

Goop’s face creases into distaste. “The clueless teenager bit was entertaining at first but now it’s getting in my way.”

Stiles takes offense to that. “Um, I’m twenty-tw—” he scrambles as far back as he can in the pile of Flounders, ramming his shoulder into the concrete wall, screeching, “what in the flying fuckity-fuck?” Because Goop’s face didn’t stop creasing, crumpling, twisting, shifting, punching out around elongating teeth, nose squashing back so it almost looks like a snout, jaws dropping open and he’s got a mouth full of fucking fangs and there’s hair except, no, that’s not it at all—fur—sprouting down the sides of his face like the world’s most disturbing sideburns. He’s hunching over as his spine seems to be gaining a few extra vertebrae, hands flexing at his sides and sporting motherfucking claws and his eyes aren’t maybe-catching-some-odd-light-red, they are RED and Stiles is staring and staring and staring at something that is so much not human and his brain feels sore with trying to understand what it is. He tries to back away further but can’t and croaks out, “What are you? What just—Your face just went all CGI vampire except—” except vampire isn’t right at all and he knows as soon as he says it because the claws and all the teeth being fang-y and the fur and, really, with his ten-year-old self’s obsession with Oz it’s all too obvious that: “You’re a werewolf.”

The surrealness of the moment is rolling away and, seriously, how fucking oblivious could he be? Goop and Everest are practically wearing signs that say:

Ask me about my supernatural abilities!

Stiles laughs at his own stupidity, repeating blankly, “You’re a werewolf.” He blinks because, “Fuck,” that means, “Derek’s a werewolf,” he says breathily.

Every memory of Derek starts rearranging itself into this new context—this new painfully obvious context—and Stiles knocks his head back against the wall in disbelief. If Goop and Everest are wearing signs then Derek’s wearing a fucking sandwich board and banging a gong.

HolyFuck. Stiles knocks his head against the wall a second time with a self-effacing little snort. ‘Sexy robot virus?’

He’s a fucking idiot.

And Derek’s a werewolf.

Stiles earns himself some alone time after the mind expansion of werewolves 2k18, bro. Either that or Goop had just gotten tired of his relentless questions. Because if werewolves, then also mermaids, Demogorgons, and Snorlaxes, right?

Stiles wouldn’t know.

Goop had not only locked the curiosity door in regards to all that, he’d also rigged it to explode if Stiles so much as breathed on it too hard.

Fine.

Whatever.

Stiles will just have to focus his efforts on escaping then. As a distant second best to how he could be employing his time.

He pretty quickly decides that full use of his hands is definitely a step in the right direction. And he’s even, totally, got a plan. Ish. He drags in a deep, preparatory breath and cracks his neck. He rolls his shoulders, twisting them in their sockets, elongating his arms, easing them down and—

Nada.

Except—

Ow.”

He flexes his hands, noting studiously, “Skills I have not acquired mid-kidnapping: being double-jointed. That’s distressing. A lot of the plan hinged on that. Like one-hundred percent of it.” He plops down on the floor, toppling a little thanks to his still-bound wrists. He rights himself with a push of his fingertips, lifting his shoulders up around his ears, essentially trying to undo his attempt at stretching them.

His arms still ache.

He huffs quietly, grumpily to himself. “So much for Silent Hill doubling as a biography of my ass-kickery.” Stiles drops his head back. “Scott was right about that then. Probably shouldn’t have kicked him in the shin and called him a heathen for saying as much.” He makes a mental note to bake some apology cookies once he’s freed.

Well, to bribe Allison into baking her apology cookies since Stiles’ usually ended up only being healthy in carbon and setting off the smoke detector for an hour.

So.

Plan C.

His palms are still pretty damp from being in constant close contact with each other and, really, if that’s not going to be useful then it’s just rude. He’s still trying to figure out how to twist them in order to put his ‘sweat it out’ scheme into motion when the contortions of his wrists strain the tie one time too many and it simply… falls off.

For a second, he doesn’t even react.

Then there’s a brief flicker of… disappointment that he didn’t have to MacGyver this situation even a little, before he reminds himself that getting free is definitely more important than having a cool story to tell about getting free.

Probably.

He holds his hands up above his head victoriously, Shawshank Redemption-style. The bandana that’d been keeping his hands bound is still looped halfheartedly around one wrist and it flutters down to rest limply, innocuously, in his lap.

And.

Really.

Seriously.

bandana?

That’s friggin’ embarrassing.

“The fact that you were effective for any length of time as a restraint is not going to make it into the retelling of this, just so you know. You’ll be recast as manacles in the studio version.” It’s barely even big enough to fit around both of his wrists, let alone hold them. Everest and Goop are officially the World’s Worst Kidnappers, and he’s not winning any awards for Best Victim today either. Crap. Stiles picks up the bandana and ties it around his head instead, over the brim of the beanie. Because less is more has never even sounded true to him. More is more, that’s why they called it more. “That’s just how Hollywood works, kiddo,” he tells it solemnly.

At least now he looks like a chilly Rambo. Hopefully that’ll regain him some much-needed hostage-points.

“All right, time to get the fudge out of this room of cheaply-made, unfairly ticket-priced nightmares.” Stiles winces to himself, standing. “And also to stop talking out loud so the werewolves don’t hear everything you’re doing, idiot.”

Okay, so that was his bad.

Luckily, he’s fairly certain he’s annoyed both Everest and Goop too much for them to be willingly listening for more of the Stiles-show right now.

The werewolves thing though.

Probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea to keep that in mind.

It takes another twenty minutes (based on how many times he’s run through the song Bitch Better Have My Money at least), him falling over six boxes, and stubbing his toe twice before he’s ready but, by the end of it, he has a not totally un-solid plan to put into action.

He pounds his shoulder into the door - only remembering at the last second that he shouldn’t use his hand, which for all Goop and Everest know is still tied behind his back - and shouts, “Hey, are we a go for bathroom breaks here or what? Just saying, if I’m in a ‘choose your own corner’ adventure then a heads up would be nice.”

The door opens and Stiles just barely glimpses Everest’s shiny mountain of a head before he’s whapping the hand clapper down as hard as he can, right next to his ear. The disorientation is obvious but Everest is still in possession of enough of his faculties to lunge rather than collapse.

Stiles jabs his finger into the button on the back of the rainbow ring and shoves it into Everest’s face. The overly bright light coming out of it is multi-colored, strobing, and obnoxious even without supernatural eyes.

Stiles kind of can’t (and doesn’t want to) imagine how it looks to a freaking werewolf.

Everest covers his eyes with his hand instinctively and Stiles slaps the hand clapper next to his other ear even harder than he’d managed the first time. He drops it next to his foot, snatches up the bottle from the box near his shoulder, ring light still blasting and snarls, “Yeah, I can make your hands clap, bitch.”

He backs away towards the door, keeping his eyes trained on where Everest is crouched on the floor trying to get his bearings again when the door’s hinges make a slight squeak and he turns and whips the contents of the bottle into Goop’s open, surprised eyes.

“Get your bubble blown, asshole,” Stiles intones in an artificially deep voice while Goop snaps his jaws, eyes red but not in the least bit intimidating. Because it mainly looks like he has really bad pink eye rather than murderous machinations. His nostrils keep flaring before he gags on the pungent scent of the bubble-blowing chemicals and mouth breathes instead.

They aren’t going be tracking him by scent for the foreseeable future, that’s for damn sure.

Stiles waits until he’s darted through the door and slammed it closed behind him to pull a face.

Get your bubble blown?

And Buffy had always made those victory quips seem so easy too.

He scrambles around the counter, knowing none of that is going to keep his captors incapacitated for long (he’s kind of amazed it worked at all actually), and he finds a set of keys dangling from a hook underneath the register. There are only two on the ring and the first one he tries locks the prize room. “Hah,” Stiles crows triumphantly, jabbing his finger at the door before remembering: werewolves.

Depending on how much of a scene they’re willing to make, that’s basically like breaking out of a… well, a bandana for them.

Time to get the eff out of sewer rat city.

Stiles runs and leaps and side-step-slides at full speed until he gets out to the sidewalk, then he turns and salutes the smiling, buck-toothed rodent face. “Your hospitality leaves a lot to be desired, Chuck.” He reaches for his phone before remembering that Goop turned it into a way less effective phone puddle an hour or so ago. “Fuck.”

Where to go, where to go? Why had they, as a civilization, done away with pay phones again? That seemed awfully cocksure of them, societally.

Didn’t they know that, like, a decade later, Stiles was going to be really inept-ly kidnapped and need to use one of those things?

Apparently not. And that’s the problem these days, no one thinks about him and his needs.

Millennials, amirite?

Plan… 1 then. (He’s switching away from lettered plans; those haven’t been working out so well for him. Numbers are the new letters anyway, computers can vouch.) What was it that’d Goop said? Werewolves can’t track among chaos, right?

The freaking subway.

Suddenly Derek’s Dorothy-act is starting to crystallize into an actual sense-making phenomenon. Stiles could get to the platform and then charm (read: bribe) someone into letting him use their cell phone so he could call Derek.

Who, hopefully, isn’t currently freaking the fuck out the way Goop had suggested because that could be seriously bad. Since he’s almost definitely out looking for Stiles right now. And if Derek’s all wolfed-out the way Goop had wolfed-out earlier? Well. Someone was definitely going to shoot him before he and Stiles could get their touching reunion scene.

And Stiles is invested in that now, okay.

Goop had been wrong about basically everything else though, so it’s definitely possible that this is just another tally mark in a long line of tally marks on the score sheet of: United States vs. Goop.

It’s only a few blocks to the nearest station and Stiles is ninety-three percent sure he isn’t being followed by anyone, supernatural or otherwise. (There was a tabby cat that followed him for a few blocks and who knew what the fuck was up with that? Were-puma? He wasn’t counting it out.) He still hauls ass, in a run Phoebe Buffay would be proud of, all the way down the steps.

When he finally skids to a stop near the edge of the platform, sweat is dripping into his eyes due not in small part to the double head covering, his breathing sounds like a precursor to some serious and disastrous medical event, and his cheeks are on fire. He glances up and finds the girl next to him giving him a wide berth, actually taking a careful step sideways before perking a wary eyebrow at him.

Stiles rights himself.

She has her phone out.

Stiles eyes it like it’s a mint condition issue of Deadpool & Cable #25, the Robert Liefeld variant.

She takes another subtle step away from him.

“I need to borrow your phone,” he puffs out, breath still not exactly caught, “it’s a matter of national security.”

The eyebrow raises higher.

Stiles’ straight-backed posture collapses a little. “Okay, fine, personal security but that still counts for something in this country.” He shakes a point-making finger at her but she just stares at him like she’s planning to take yet another stealthy step away. Stiles sighs, reaches into his back pocket. “What if I set you up with, say, the sixteenth president? He’s well-spoken and, extra special bonus, comes with his own snazzy top hat. What d’ya say?”

Her eyes narrow, death grip on her phone, but at least she doesn’t look like she’s waiting for an opportunity to flee any longer.

Stiles opens his Spongebob wallet and—

Wow.

He doesn’t even have so much as, like, a crumpled up one in there. Why would he think he had cash? He never had cash. Also, he knew he’d used his last bill to bribe someone else in the subway underworld. Fuck. “Or, how about this, even better than five whole dollars,” he holds out the card between them, “an expired California library card. That’s an antique right there.”

The girl scoffs and her attention drifts back to her phone.

Stiles decompresses with a huffy breath and says, “All right, yes, I totally look like a sketchy-slash-crazy person because I’m trying to barter with an out-of-state library card, my wallet is an underwater pineapple, you’ve seen with your own two eyeballs that I have precisely no money, and I think you might’ve also caught a glimpse of the picture on my driver’s license where I am clearly mid-blink. I don’t look ‘together,’” he actually finger-quotes that and then immediately wants to kick himself in the kidney for it, “But, how about this, I will give you my shoe.”

The girl’s forehead furrows, looking totally thrown by the non-sequitur. She glances down at his feet. Up at his face. “I so don’t want your shoe.”

Stiles shakes his head to himself. “First: I know a blatant lie when I hear one, miss, thanks. And second: yeah, I wasn’t going to let you have it. I need it for, like… life, in general. But we can use it as collateral, for the phone. You have my shoe, making any getaway I might have planned five-thousand percent more difficult because New York is gross and there’s glass and cigarette butts and discarded flyers, which is a webbing-between-your-toes paper-cut waiting to happen, not to mention, I’d look roughly a million percent less debonair running away with only one shoe on. And all crime is at least half about looking cool while performing it. Like jazz.”

She glances down again. “Your… shoe?”

Stiles takes that as agreement. He hops around uncoordinatedly on one foot for longer than he’d care to admit before he manages to yank it off. He hands it to her and says seriously, like it’s secret government access codes he’s letting change hands, “My shoe.”

She wrinkles her nose, holds it up by its shoelace and, still semi-reluctantly, holds out her phone to him.

Thank you,” Stiles says adoringly. “I’m voting you through to the semi-finals. I’ll call Ryan Seacrest myself after this, scout’s honor.” She’s clearly already regretting this. Luckily though, Stiles has obsessed over absolutely everything even somewhat Derek-adjacent and knows his phone number by heart.

Also drunk. And backwards.

Meaning he can dial faster than she can ask for her phone back.

The line doesn’t even get through a full ring before it connects to street noise and huffy breathing and then a furious voice is saying, “If you’ve hurt him in any way, you’d better pray—”

Stiles’ eyes pop wide. “Jesus, Laura, I haven’t even heard the end of that and my balls are already retracting.”

Laura stops mid-threat, breathing hard, cars honking and braking in the sudden silence, and barks, “Stiles? How—Are you—Where are you?”

Before Stiles can answer, there’s a clatter in the background and the breathing changes and then there’s Derek’s voice, broken and harsh and rumbling out through snapping, overworking jaws, less human than Stiles has ever heard it, “Stiles?”

Yeah. That’s not great. 

Stiles takes a deep breath himself before he suggests, “Should we lamaze-breathe together?” Derek makes a snapping sound on the other end and Stiles decides the only way to make him feel normal is to be normal. And talking is definitely Stiles’ normal, which means he has to swallow down his own fear that Goop and Everest might catch up to him before the train comes. It’s surprisingly easy when the pay-off is keeping Derek safe, and hidden. “While it’s true that I have never been to a lamaze class, I have seen probably a record number of sitcoms. Fair warning: it’s very hammy.” He smirks to himself. “You’re going to hate it.”

Derek lets out a slow, even breath. He’s almost chuckling when he finally says, relieved, “You’re okay.”

Stiles can’t help his own smile. “I’d almost go as far as peachy.”

Derek clears his throat, says seriously, “Tell me where you are.”

Stiles points at the map to let the girl know where he’s wandering with her cell phone and studies it for a second. “At a subway stop near Jackson Heights.” He follows the orange F with his finger and adds, “I can get to your place from this line.”

Derek snarls, next words barely qualifying for the description. “No, stay there.” He takes a breath to get himself back under control and adds, “I don’t want you to—”

Stiles shakes his head, for really no one’s benefit. “Not exactly certain I’m unpursued yet, big guy. So, the plan is: train and then you, okay?”

“If anything—” Derek starts, growl building.

“Don’t worry,” Stiles cuts him off, “I have access to a phone and a new best friend, whose name is almost definitely…” he takes a step back, squints, opens one eye, holds up his thumb, gauging, and guesses with way more confidence than he should, “Murgrid?”

She gives him a sarcastic thumbs up.

Stiles happily ignores the sarcasm and announces, “Nailed that.” He finger guns back at her.

“Stop alienating your help,” Derek says, exasperated but fond.

Stiles guiltily lowers his hand. “I guessed her name,” he points out, “I think she’s impressed.”

Derek snorts. “That was supposed to be a female name?”

He sounds calm now and Stiles totally, ingenuitively, ass-kicked Derek’s wolfy-panic attack much like he ass-kicked Goop and Everest. “Hey,” he says softly, turning his back on Murgrid to give the illusion of privacy. “Nothing could’ve stopped me getting back to you, you know that, right?”

Derek’s silent for a moment, then a breath, then a quiet, “I know. Me too.”

Stiles presses the, ‘End,’ button and hands the phone back to the girl, with a sincere, “Thanks.”

She takes it back, wipes the screen off on the thigh of her jeans, and crosses her arms, hiding it under her bicep. She waits a full minute and then says, “It’s Burgrid, by the way. You’re terrible at nomenclature divination.”

Stiles blinks at her, beyond shocked. She definitely didn’t seem like the type of person to—he takes in the almost calculating look in her eyes and realizes: she’s doing for him exactly what he just did for Derek. He probably looks rattled as hell and she’s trying to chill him out again by taking his mind off whatever has him so jumbled up.

It’s working too.

“Well there goes that whole section of my résumé,” he says forlornly. He adds, brightening up, “Can I at least get points for coming in close?”

“No.”

“I was one letter off, come on. Seventeen points?”

She perks an eyebrow challengingly. “You had that silent ‘x’ in there then? Also it ends with an equally unheard, ‘saurus.’”

He grins. “Obviously.”

She waves her hand and says nonchalantly, “Two points, take it or leave it.”

“Definitely taking it, I’m nobody’s fool. That’s going to get me a Super Bowl championship one day.”

She raises both brows, purses her lips, and says mordantly, “I’ll be able to say: I knew you when.”

 


 

Derek’s waiting downstairs for him on his building’s stoop, hands clenching and unclenching together in front of his chest, and the muscles in his thighs straining like it’s all he can do to keep himself still. His nostrils flare and then his head snaps up and Stiles knows what that means now. He has Stiles’ smell.

He really hopes it’s not… pungent.

He catches Stiles’ arm as soon as he gets close enough, seemingly without thought behind it, and pulls him close, between the spread of his thighs. “Are you hurt?”

Stiles shakes his head. “Nuh uh, I’m badass.” He squints, scrubbing his nails proudly against his hoodie. “I planned an escape that a six-year-old would envy. I might genuinely be too cool for you now.” Derek huffs and Stiles admits, “Also, I maybe accidentally started mentally adopting a pinball prodigy mid-kidnapping.”

Derek just snorts, knowing better than to ask. He stands up, turning around and leading Stiles up the steps without letting go of him.

He stops just outside the door, turns back, narrows his eyes at Stiles’ head and yanks the bandana free, tossing it over the side of the stoop.

Stiles cranes his neck to frown down at it, then glances back up at Derek, then snatches at the top of his head and lets out a sigh of relief, dragging the beanie down further over his ears. “Thank Aphrodite. I would’ve had to go all Beatrix Kiddo in my mission to get it back, and I don’t have that kind of samurai-training time.”

Derek rolls his eyes at him and Stiles realizes as soon as they step into the elevator: “Shit. Goop still has all my stuff. Mother-crap.” He faux-glares over at Derek. “This is what I get for associating with you, you know, Hulk-like property damage,” he holds out the sides of his broken hoodie as just one example of that, “and a hostaged messenger bag.” He clicks his tongue, shaking his head in condemning fashion.

Derek swallows hard, shoulders slumping, and okay, no, that’s not cool.

Stiles steps in front of him, sliding his arms around his neck and pressing their bodies together, tight, from chest to thigh. Derek’s warm and solid and Stiles buries his face in his shoulder, breathes him in. He turns his head, says into his clavicle, “Hey. I’d pay that price pretty much infinifillion times over.”

Derek’s hands finally come up to settle, one higher than the other, on the small of his back, holding him loosely but with feeling.

Stiles sighs and lets his lips drag against Derek’s neck, doesn’t move away to say softly, “In all seriousness though, Derek, you know that I,” he looks up, squeezes Derek’s neck meaningfully, “need another new phone now.”

Derek snorts, rubbing his face into Stiles’ shoulder, grumbling, “I’m getting you a flip phone this time.” The doors open and he lets his hands fall. “It won’t even have a camera. Seems monetarily prudent, at least until you’ve proven you can handle the responsibility.”

Stiles smirks, lets Derek walk him up to his apartment door, and then tugs on his loose hair, brushing their lower lips together. “I’ll have an iPhone 7 before the night’s out,” he says in a low, possibly sultry voice.

Derek shuts him up with his mouth, kicking them both through the door, hands wrapped up in Stiles’ hoodie and shirt, sliding them up his back. He’s quivering slightly, like he can barely restrain all he’s feeling, though the relief is definitely coming through loud and clear.

Stiles groans and Derek’s big, warm fingers spread out in the valley between his shoulder blades, nails scraping lightly against his spine and Stiles gasps, shuddering, knowing what that means too.

He leans back against Derek’s arms—which support his weight completely, of course—and smiles, eyes scrunched up. “It’s pretty amazing how right I am all the time.” Derek tilts his head curiously. “I might’ve even made it happen by saying it; I might have that power now. Tremble, ye mighty.”

Derek actively scoffs (and tries to stop trembling, likely just so Stiles won’t think he has anything to do with it. He fails.

And not only because Stiles has everything to do with it).

He can doubt all he wants. Stiles is psychic, or something. “Right after I met you, I said it: Sam Winchester, saving people, hunting werewolves. Supernatural is turning into my biography. I always lowkey suspected it. Especially after Silent Hill turned out to be such a bust. Next up: angels.”

He hadn’t noticed Derek stiffening but he can feel it now as he disentangles himself, not meeting Stiles’ eyes. He backs up, puts an ocean of space between them that consists of three steps and too many emotions to name. He says, eyes hooded, voice hard and almost accusatory, “You know.”

Stiles swallows, not sure where he’s misstepped here. “Yeah,” he tries uneasily. “Derek—” He takes a step forward.

Derek takes two back. “I can—” he clears his throat. He still hasn’t met Stiles’ eyes. Finally, he says, “Someone should walk you home. You’re not leaving here by yourself.”

Stiles’ brow furrows. When did he say he was leaving? He doesn’t want to leave. “I don’t—” Derek’s entire body is radiating discomfort, every muscle tensed and nearly shaking. Stiles cuts himself off as soon as he realizes he can’t fix this. For whatever reason, he’s the problem and he definitely doesn’t want to keep doing whatever he’s doing to Derek. “I’ll call Scott,” he offers hoarsely.

Derek hands him his phone and Scott answers on the second ring. Stiles gives him Derek’s address and Scott doesn’t even question it, just tells him he’ll be there in ten, which is a small mercy because Stiles would have no idea how to explain this.

He still doesn’t even understand what this is. All he knows is Derek is barely managing to contain himself and it’s because of Stiles somehow.

They stand in silence for the next seven minutes, Stiles not wanting to do anything to make things worse and Derek barely holding himself together. Finally he can’t stand it any longer and blurts, “Derek, you know that I—”

“I’m glad you’re okay,” Derek interrupts, staring into some middle distance that’s nowhere near Stiles’ face.

He sees the glint of fangs as Derek gets out the words and, abruptly, it slams home exactly what’s going on and Stiles is amazed his knees still support him through the realization. “Oh,” he says to himself, then with more power as it really settles, “Oh.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck. Scott needs to get here now because Stiles is about to have a serious, intense meltdown in the middle of Derek’s apartment if he has to stand here, suffocating in this, for even another few minutes.

Scott shows up in the next two, and even that’s cutting it close. Stiles yanks the door open as soon as he knocks and Derek says softly to his back, something fragile snaking through the words, “Take care of yourself.”

Stiles flinches but manages to croak back, “Yeah.”

Scott beams at him happily. “Hey, man, so I got—” he stops at the sight of Stiles’ face, reflexively casts his gaze back over his shoulder and starts to narrow his eyes at where Stiles knows Derek’s still standing.

Stiles grabs his arm and tugs him away before he can open his mouth.

Scott waits until they’re in the elevator to try again but Stiles just shakes his head at him. Unwilling to talk. Really only breathing because he’s forcing the therapeutic breaths through—four, seven, eight—in an effort to stall his panic attack. Scott manages to hold his tongue until just outside their apartment door and then prods gently, “Stiles?”

Stiles’ throat feels like it’s trying to close around the words, anything to keep them from being spoken out loud, given weight and meaning, but he manages to choke them out after a strangled moment: “I think Derek and I just broke up.”

Scott opens and closes the door behind them with a stiffness to his movements.

Stiles looks up.

Lydia wrinkles her nose, says bluntly from her armchair, “What’s wrong with your face?”

At least some things can be counted on to stay exactly the same. The skin around his eyes feels tight and rubbery but that almost makes him smile. “Nothing. It is perfection itself, Philip.” It doesn’t sound quippy or Roy-esque though, it sounds like bark scraping together, and he gives up all pretense that he feels anywhere even orbiting okay.

He already misses Derek and his stomach clenches down painfully on itself every time he remembers the way Derek couldn’t even look at him.

He sees Lydia’s surprise in his periphery but, a second later, it’s as absent as if it was never there in the first place. She shoves her book onto the coffee table, some tome as big as a cement block for her Russian Lit class, and stands up, brushing down the folds of her plaid skirt. She lifts her chin and says primly, ignoring the emotional elephant in the room, “I need a latte with a potentially unsafe amount of espresso shots if I’m expected to stay awake through the entirety of this.” She sniffs at the book haughtily. Looks at Scott. “I’m pretty sure it comes with a medic alert bracelet and syringe now. Think I can regift them?”

If Stiles didn’t know any better, he might’ve thought she just didn’t notice (or didn’t care about) his desolation. It did have absolutely nothing to do with her so why wouldn’t it be beneath the great Lydia Martin’s notice?

But he does know her better. He knows her. She’s not addressing it because Stiles hasn’t invited her to. Because she knows him. She knows that when he wants her help, he asks for it. And then she gives it; that she tells him what a dumbass he is the whole time for waiting so long when she could’ve solved it in seconds goes without saying.

He snorts and keeps his head turned away from her. “Yeah, that definitely sounds like something your dad would like.”

She screws up her face thoughtfully. “I might reinstate exchanging gifts with him just for this occasion.” She turns to Scott again, perks a demanding eyebrow. “Anyone else?”

Scott glances at Stiles, back at her. “Those vanilla, macadamia nut-things with the chocolate chips and crumbly stuff?”

She nods once, flicks her braid off her shoulder, understanding what she’s really just been told—go to the out of the way, terrible service, across town place to give them time to talk. Alone. “I’ll expect something more expensive than ten dollars in return for this favor, redeemable at my discretion. That means whenever I want, McCall.”

“Totally doable. I have thirteen in the bank”—Scott definitely says that with way too much pride—“I’m ready whenever you are, Martin.”

He waits until she’s been gone for a few minutes to say, gently prodding, “Stiles.”

Stiles looks down at his shoe. He never re-tied it after using that girl’s phone. He kicks at it to keep it from tripping over it while he shuffles over to the couch. He sinks down into the cushions and feels like his spine loses a few inches in the depression of it.

Scott settles nonchalantly next to him, does a pretty good job of pretending like Stiles isn’t playing fast and loose with a panic attack on the other side of him, too.

Stiles swallows. Once. Twice. Says, strained, “I need to tell you something. Something that’s genuinely unbelievable. In fact, I’m almost certain the word ‘unbelievable’ was written into the English language for this exact thing. But I need you to believe me anyway.” Stiles barely registers Scott opening his mouth, because he knows how this is going to sound and he’s not even sure he should be saying it—it’s not exactly his secret to tell, but this is Scott and Scott is an extension of Stiles, and what Stiles knows Scott has to know, and Stiles has no idea what he’ll do if Scott doesn’t buy this so he has to make a good case here. Only, he realizes, he doesn’t have one. He needs blind faith basically. “I need you to believe me even though I have zero-percent proof of what I’m saying and I’m going to sound certifiable, I realize that, I kn—”

“I believe you,” Scott says, cutting off at least a good ten minutes of future unconvincing ramble.

Stiles shakes his head. Scott may think that, but: “You don’t even know what it is yet.”

Scott shrugs like he can’t see how one has anything to do with the other, eyebrows diverging down towards his nose to form the point of a ‘v.’

Stiles studies his face. Swallows again. This time not because he’s anxious, but because he’s overwhelmed. There’s not an ounce of uncertainty in Scott’s face. Not any, though. Stiles pulls in a breath and says on the release: “Derek’s a werewolf.”

No reason to beat around the bush apparently. He’s definitely not qualifying for any kind of diplomatic position based off this performance of Blunty McBluntness Theater.

Scott, bless him, doesn’t have much of a reaction to that, except to say, “Okay.” Then to frown, confused, and add, “Before we get into—that’s not, like… slang, right? Like how some guys are bears, and it really means he’s hairy and into biting or something?”

That might be the last thing Stiles expected to hear and he lets out a surprised chortle. “I mean, he definitely is but no. Not slang. Lon Chaney-style werewolfetry,” he confirms. “Though that question did just reaffirm our entire friendship, so, thank you.” He genuinely means that.

Scott dips his head. “You’re welcome.”

Stiles brings a hand up to scrub at his hair and realizes how much he’s relaxed into the couch, when he was starting to think he never would again. Scott, incredibly, already has him feeling more like himself. “We definitely need a vow renewal ceremony after all this,” he decides, “recommit ourselves to our former Wonder Twins-level of codependency. I’ll throw together some flower crowns, you can get to work on the braided rings and, yes, I will be judging you harshly on color palettes.”

“We have the Dumb and Dumber tuxes,” Scott says, pouncing on that, like he’s been dying to bring them up again ever since prom. They had brought them along to New York while their parents shook their heads in the driveway, wondering where they went wrong, so… “How many times have I said that we don’t crash enough fancy stuff? We have the Wedding Crashers documentary as a guide and practical formal outfits that we’ve already proven are appropriate for every occasion. You should have told me it’s because you wanted to do our own fancy event. I would’ve been on board, you know how I feel about ice sculptures.”

Oh holy hell, Stiles does know how Scott feels about ice sculptures. They’d snuck into a hotel opening once just so Scott could lick the frozen replica they had on display.

“So,” Scott says after a beat, “werewolf?” He looks at Stiles curiously. “Like Shaggy in Werewolf Island?”

Stiles stares at him, awed. “There is actually, scientifically no better example of werewolfetry. Just pure genius with that comparison, man. I’m going to write Stephen Hawking an email today and inform him of this because, for five seconds, you definitely outsmarted everyone in the history of forever.”

Scott puffs out his chest proudly.

Stiles leans his head back on the curve of the sofa and says, remembering Goop in that claustrophobic little room, “I only saw it happen part way but even that was almost enough to make me pee my pants.” He considers that for a second. “I would’ve fit right in at that Chuck E. Cheese then though.”

He hasn’t explained any of that to Scott yet but it doesn’t matter because the part Scott gets caught on is: “You mean you were afraid of him?” He looks baffled by the very possibility.

“Of Derek? Of course not,” Stiles says simply.

Scott’s shoulders slump a little, relieved that the world makes sense again, and he looks over at Stiles guardedly. “But it’s… a problem for you?”

Stiles rounds on him, amazed. “For real? A problem? It’s a cause for friggin’ celebration. I am one step closer to dating an Oz archetype; he has that same dry sense of humor even.”

Scott grins, and it’s clear that, again, Stiles has given the answer he would’ve expected.

Stiles sighs, rubbing at his closed eyes. “Honestly, he’s always been unreal. I probably should’ve expected it, with all the other ways he’s impossible and new and Derek.”

“Right,” Scott says, becoming more and more unfazed as things are starting to shake out the way he would’ve thought if Stiles were ever head over heels for a supernatural creature. And it doesn’t surprise Stiles at all that Scott knows how he would react too. “So how are you broken up then?” he asks, hitting Stiles in the shoulder like this is all of minor consequence now, because Stiles probably just misunderstood or Derek did, and they’ll have this sorted out with a single phone call.

If only.

“Neither one of you look like you’d survive the separation anymore honestly.” Scott brightens suddenly and adds, “You’re living your own Cable and Deadpool story line.” His face screws up. “Or Hannibal and Will.”

Stiles snorts, hollow. “Yeah, let’s not go there. I don’t like the potential Wendigo/Werewolf comparisons.”

“Agreed.”

Stiles opens his eyes, lets out a loud breath, and says, “He didn’t tell me.”

Scott sits with that a second, rolling it around in his brain, and then starts, “I can see how that might—”

Stiles shakes his head, cutting him off. “No, you—” he lets out another harsh breath, “He wasn’t going to tell me.”

Scott looks stern now, but like he’s trying to temper it with sympathy. “Stiles, come on, you don’t know that.”

Stiles laughs, unamused. He works his jaw, still unable to believe he missed it before now. “He thought I had it figured out, a while before this and more than once, he thought I knew.”

“Okay…” Scott starts.

“This whole day I’ve been running around, living out some kind of Memento simulacrum, y’know? Got to the end and it all came together, except there was no cool fit to the pieces this time. This time the big picture just fucking sucked.” His eyes are starting to feel thick in their sockets. “You should’ve seen his face the first time, when he thought…” Stiles wipes his sleeve under his nose absentmindedly, “he was crushed, Scott. Just broken down by the idea that I might know, and not because he wanted to be the one to tell me or because he wasn’t ready but because I wasn’t supposed to know. He wanted to undo it. He looked at me and he wanted to take it back.”

“Stiles—”

His vision’s blurring and he’s wiping at his face as fast as his eyes are spilling over, because if he doesn’t acknowledge it then he can still pretend it’s not happening. “And there’s only one way that works, right?” he asks with a strangled laugh. “Since that whole werewolf thing? Pretty damned permanent, I’m thinking, which means—”

Scott’s eyes widen and he figures it out too. Just like Stiles did, standing there in front of Derek’s door, the universe collapsing in on itself as the realization centered that Derek had never intended them to get that far. That now that the decision was taken out of his hands, he had no idea what to do with Stiles anymore, because he’d never planned that far into the future with him, purposefully. Scott clears his throat and finishes the sentence for him, “You weren’t permanent.”

Stiles touches his nose with his index finger and points at Scott with the other. He tries to smile but it falters and capsizes into a pained twist of his lips. “Better that I figure it out now though, right? I mean, I’ve dug in, I’ve got substitute rings and mental drafts of marriage proposals, in addition to a few accidental real ones, plus cave wall paintings that I’m pretty sure will one day outlast fucking Chauvet,” he gestures to the wall across from them with the subway map of the stops between him and Derek still heavily and permanently markered into the paint, “and he’s not… that.”

“Maybe you’re wrong,” Scott says quietly.

Stiles shrugs. “I want to be.” He glances towards their blue and white X-box—a purchase that was four years in the making—and says, nodding to it, “Would bet R2 I’m not though.”

“Maybe he’ll come around?” Scott tries again, but even his ever-present optimism can’t make that sound hopeful.

Stiles sniffs hard and rolls his head back towards Scott. “Can we just go live in a tub filled with my own despair now?”

Scott’s up in an instant. “I’ll get the rum.”

Stiles drags himself into the bathroom and is staring blindly up at the ceiling above the shower when Scott climbs into the other end of the tub, smooshing himself up after dropping something onto Stiles’ face.

Stiles reaches for it, holds it out in front of him.

It’s a quality eyepatch. He blinks at Scott.

Who shrugs. “I wanted us to be ready for the next time.”

Stiles puts it on and says, “I really love you.” It’s a perfect fit.

Scott nods, passing Stiles the bottle of Captain Morgan. “I know.” Stiles drinks and drinks and drinks some more and passes the bottle back to Scott very rarely. After they’ve passed the halfway point, Scott nudges Stiles’ foot with his own and says tightly, “Hey.” Stiles looks unsteadily back at him. “I get that it’s not a lot, or what you want right now, but you’ve got me.”

Stiles laughs. Nudges Scott back. “Yeah, I locked that down early, back when I could still sneak in those Terms & Conditions between the pages of an X-men coloring book.”

His head falls back against the shower wall with a dull thud. Fuck. He hasn’t thought about that in years. One of the last gifts Scott’s dad ever gave him and Scott had shared it anyway. Stiles and his dad were poor, Scott and his mom were poorer, and they’d shared everything, regardless of how special, with more gusto because it was special. They’d passed that book back and forth all through elementary school, each of them coloring a page and then handing it back, then coloring the blank pages of the inside covers, then writing notes in all the available white space around the drawings. Stiles thought he might still have it in a box somewhere in his closet at home.

He points at Scott, winks behind the eyepatch without meaning to. “Those things are still binding even when they’re signed in crayon, just so you know.”

Scott shakes his head like Stiles has missed his point. He sits up, watches Stiles meaningfully. “You’re the love of my life, Stiles. You know that, right?” Stiles blinks. Scott stares down into the tub, their legs bent at odd angles to fit them both. “I love Allison but I still get scared, that all this stuff with her parents—that it’ll get too hard, that she won’t want to have the same fight every time she goes home, that she’ll decide I’m not worth it.” Stiles sits up too. He’d had no idea that Scott ever had doubts about him and Allison. They were the most solid couple Stiles had ever met, bar none. “The only constant I’ve ever been sure of is that wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, whoever I’m with, you’ll be there. I just want you to know that—that you’re permanent with me.”

Stiles looks away, stares at the tile of the floor, because nothing that anyone has ever said to him has meant as much and he has no idea how to react to it. He takes a long drink from the mouth of the bottle. He looks back at Scott and admits, “I tried to soul-bond us at thirteen, bro.” He had. In his treehouse, using trick birthday candles, with blood left over from the pork he and his dad had had for dinner the night before. It’d seemed prudent back then; he’d been sure he was only hanging on to Scott by the skin of his teeth because he couldn’t seem to stop fucking it up with his whole… everything. “You’re not alone there,” he adds, so Scott will know he understood what he was trying to say. And that Stiles is in the same boat. Tub, whatever, “and I know I’m not either.”

Scott sinks back, satisfied, and offers, “I can kick Derek’s ass if you want?”

Stiles grins around the twinge of pain. “You really can’t, he’s mythical.”

Scott shrugs, willing to make that small concession. “So I’ll hire Kate Beckinsale to do it.”

Stiles snorts. “Like you have Kate Beckinsale’s number.”

Scott’s smile sobers after a minute and he says seriously, “Tell me what you want to do and we’ll do it. Water balloon bomb retaliation? A Parent Trap set-up to get you guys back together? Weird werewolf mating rituals? Whatever it is, I’ll do it.”

Stiles sighs, because the answer is, of course: none of the above.

Because the thing is—the thing is that Derek hasn’t done anything wrong. And nothing has changed that might make things work out differently.

Stiles may’ve been all in with him but Derek wasn’t with Stiles and that wasn’t anything he had to apologize for. He’d never promised anything to the contrary and he’d never done anything to purposefully hurt Stiles in the entire time they’d known each other. He got to have his own feelings just like Stiles did. And he saw an end date for them.

It wasn’t his fault that Stiles didn’t.

Stiles heaves out a huge breath, eyes prickling again, and says carefully, “I want to sit here. In our tub. Donning this eyepatch, which is fucking mood appropriate, man.” Scott offers him a weak smile and Stiles pats the bottle. “Drowning my sorrows with the Captain. With you next to me, as the universe’s most exemplar First Mate.”

Scott eyes him for a pregnant moment and then says as brightly as he can manage, “Then that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

Lydia returns with a pie’s worth of pity. Which is not so much an expression as much as it is the baked equivalent of, ‘he’s just not that into you, so you might as well get fat and enjoy life, eh?’

Stiles blinks at her. Well, winks. Because eyepatch.

“The quid pro quo here?” She arches a thin eyebrow. “You have to get out of the tub to eat it.”

Stiles twists his head back around to confer with Scott. Not a lot has changed since the last check-in. Scott had hostaged the Captain at some point, sans a few more fingers, and was bogarting his wisdom/warm, liquid-y insides until his list of demands was met. Which was mainly that Stiles not throw up.

So. List of demand really. And Stiles is still working on that. In the meantime, as a show of good faith, he’d upheld his promise on the flower crowns.

Ish.

Mostly he’d twisted two streamers’-worth of toilet paper into crumple-y circlets for them, leaving a tail down the back of his like a veil. For the recommitment ceremony, obviously. Scott was still working on the rings, braiding threads of minty-green and white dental floss together.

Stiles scratches under his eyepatch. “Arr. I don’t think we can just abandon ship like that. Arr, again.”

Scott squints at Lydia, holds up a staying hand to Stiles, and says, “Hang on, whoa, we would like some answers, and then we’ll decide the course of action that most benefits… befits… goodlies us, and our needs.”

Lydia rolls her eyes but makes a ‘bring it’ gesture.

“What,” Scott pauses dramatically, “kind of pie is it?”

Lydia’s eyebrow perks again. “Praline.”

Stiles and Scott scramble out of the tub, nearly tripping over each other’s legs in their haste to get them under themselves, and Stiles inhales deeply. “I can smell the future dental work from here.” He flops overboard onto the floor and Scott gets caught on his elbow as he’s trying to get back up and he slip-slide-falls between the bath mat and the tile.

Lydia opens her mouth, visibly decides not to engage, and struts out, her mission accomplished. Scott catches Stiles by the shoulder before he can untangle from the heap that is their bodies to follow her, brow furrowed in confusion. “But I still don’t understand how you got out of the manacles.”

 


 

Despite feeling like all life is meaningless, that the world is a cruel and unforgiving place, and that love is dead – even if apple praline pie does still exist – Stiles goes to class on Tuesday.

Well.

He intends to go to class on Tuesday. Instead he opens his door and that plan immediately goes to hell. He blinks down at what he nearly stepped on and says, rather blankly, “Oh.”

Scott’s head pops up over his shoulder curiously and Stiles feels him take a step back. “Are you—”

Stiles nods before Scott can finish asking the question. It’s a lie but he doesn’t figure it matters much really. There’s nothing Scott could do anyway.

Scott’s quiet a second, then asks carefully, “Should I stay?”

This time, Stiles shakes his head. He bends down to scoop up the pile consisting of his messenger bag and—what turns out to be—a shrink-wrapped iPhone 7. He repeats the lie: “No. I’m okay.”

He finds a plastic flip phone full of candy in the inside pocket of his bag, which is exactly as it was pre-kidnapping but for that detail, and doesn’t know whether to start laughing or crying.

He settles for eating all the candy in under thirty minutes and then laying his head in Allison’s lap when that doesn’t make him feel any better.

“I could take you for target practice?” she offers, fingers rubbing soothing circles at his temple.

Stiles makes a sound of negation low in his throat. “Could you make those chocolate chip cookies?”

Scott’s only been home for an hour or so when Allison pulls them out of the oven with a weak smile at him. Stiles thumbs over at Scott. “They’re for Scott, I can’t bake and I owed him apology cookies.”

Scott looks at him with a curious frown.

Stiles shrugs. “Silent Hill,” he offers in explanation, and dawning comprehension replaces the confusion.

“I told you, man. That one does not accurately represent you and your ass-kicking skills; it doesn’t even have Vin Diesel in it.”

“A valid point,” Stiles concedes, dragging himself off to bed.

He does go to class on Wednesday but it’s about as productive as Tuesday was, education-wise. Because he spends the whole time staring at his new phone wondering what the fuck it means. Derek restored his means of communication, again, but he’d left it at Stiles’ door instead of handing it to him face to face. Meaning he hadn’t wanted to communicate about the new line of communication. So he wanted Stiles to be able to reach out? But not to him?

Well. He was in for a rude awakening, wasn’t he?

Because there’s a whole one person that Stiles wants to talk to these days.

Didn’t look right without your number in it. Naturally, I added it to rectify that.

He tries to wait five minutes to give Derek the opportunity to respond. He doesn’t make it one.

Then your number was just there, all sparse. Lonely, isolated, unloved. With not one bananas comment under it. Is there anything more bizarro world than that? I submit that there is not. So…

Hi.

He locks his phone, picks up his pen and prepares to write down anything pertinent when the screen lights up with a response. His eyes dart to it eagerly, breath bated, hand stretched out for it.

Only to deflate into disappointment.

It hadn’t lit up. It was just the glint of the fluorescent lights on the corner of the phone’s casing.

That happens three more times before Stiles angrily stuffs it into the front pocket of his jeans, where he will definitely feel it vibrate as soon as Derek texts back.

Which he imagines happening every time he shifts in his seat and the bunched up fabric rubs against the phone. He yanks it back out with a pronounced scowl, so it will know exactly how much he appreciates its hallucinatory games, and lays it face down on his desk.

Where it stays for twenty-three seconds before he picks it up again.

Also thank you for the phone, I don’t think my Pokémon Go account could’ve handled being idle even a day longer. And it would’ve gotten weird super quick accosting strangers to play for an hour here and there.

He locks the screen. Unlocks the screen.

I probably just saved us from some alternate timeline where people obsessively wear corduroy overalls and eat bees. As a future apiarist, I couldn’t support that. Also, as a fashion icon, it was already borderline.

Locks.

Unlocks.

You’re lucky that I care so much about the fragile balance of our whole universal ecosystem and headed that off by getting back on schedule.

He doesn’t bother to lock it this time and adds almost instantly:

You’re welcome.

He spends the rest of class trying to find the ‘undo’ button. Because what’s the point of all these fancy new upgrades, iPhone, if you can’t do something so friggin’ basic?

Goddammit.

 


 

Only once Stiles is back in class on Tuesday does he allow for the reality that maybe Derek isn’t going to text back.

Not that that stops him from texting Derek. The first time – well, the second first time - it’s not even a conscious thought. He’s walking to meet Allison at a diner and gets caught by a huge wall of graffiti, staring stupidly up at this colossus of color and words and art. He crosses the street, waits until it’s mostly clear, and snaps a picture. He doesn’t even hesitate to attach it to a text to Derek along with the message:

Pretty cool, right?

 


 

The next time, it’s an actual, legitimately functional text. Er. Series of texts.

I still have your beanie.

I only just remembered.

I wasn’t strategically not mentioning it.

Which is maybe what gets Derek to reply, at one seventeen a.m. and terse even non-verbally.

Keep it.

 


 

Stiles loops the warm brim of the beanie over the door handle to Derek’s apartment, scrubbing absentmindedly at his unfettered hair. It feels remarkably strange, exposed to air and his own fingers after barely taking the thing off for two weeks. But he couldn’t keep it, not when it was literally made for Derek. Though he does stick a folded up note in the pouch of it with a fairly standard custody arrangement worked out for the next five years.

After that, he figures they’ll see where they’re at, as noted. He texts as he’s walking home later the same day:

I might need to swap weekends with you. Something came up, which is that I want it and am default impatient so. Give it.

He doesn’t get a reply.

 


 

The next time—the last time, is because it’s three a.m., there’s a landfill left of ‘unsaid’ between them, and the ache hasn’t dulled any. Which is what really decides it. Because after a month, Stiles is pretty sure he’s not meant to still be living in that same second of realization, trapped in that moment of knowing it was over and that there was nothing he could do about it, the pain as fresh as possible.

He’s supposed to be banging Derek out of his system or something by this point. Instead, he’s listening to dirges on his iPod and tearing up at gum ads.

You know, I realized that I never actually got the words out and I know it doesn’t matter and it’s not what you want to hear but I need you to know anyway.

Nothing changed for me that day. I don’t care if you’re a mythical creature or an extraterrestrial or even a Belieber. I still want to be around you all the time. You could even make ‘Baby’ our first dance and I’d still show up to make an honest man out of you.

Stiles swipes at the wetness on his cheeks, phone propped up on his chest, the screen washing his face in nearly that same odd blue light of Derek’s eyes – his real eyes. He bites down on his lip, snorting to himself. He really can’t stop mentioning marriage to a guy who couldn’t make it clearer he doesn’t want a commitment.

Time to wrap it up, Stiles, come on.

I miss you.

Kind of all the time.

And I just thought I should make sure that you… y’know, that you KNEW that.

He deletes Derek’s number from his phone as soon as the last message goes through, which is more symbolic than effective since he knows it backwards and frontwards and slantways and longways and likely will until the day he dies. He’s pretty sure he’d even hang on to it in a reanimated zombie-brain-type situation at this point, but he can be okay with that being the end of it.

He said what he needed to say and now he can let Derek live his life without interrupting it, but also without feeling like there was something left unfinished between them.

 


 

That conviction doesn’t really last all that long.

Epiphanies? Surprisingly short-lived as it turns out. Who knew, right?

Three-a.m.-Thursday-night-Stiles is sage and wise but midnight-Saturday-night-Stiles is lonely and full of bad decisions.

Basically as soon as Scott and Allison are up to dance, Stiles is fumbling for his phone, only interrupted from his quest by—“Stiles? Hey.”

Stiles glances in the direction of the voice. Locates it. Snorts to himself, chewing distractedly on his straw. “Well that’s a kick in the fucking bean bags.” Because he’s pretty sure if he wanted a message, he just got one. In the form of Travis. With his lip ring stretched on an easy-going smile, and his still multi- and brilliantly-colored hair on his head. And his tattoos. And friendliness. And attractiveness. Stiles looks up and finger guns at the ceiling. “Not the answer I was looking for, Universe, but thanks for playing.”

Travis squints at him. “What?”

Stiles snorts louder and asks the only question there is, and with a butt-ton of irony behind it, “Why are you here?”

Travis thumbs over his shoulder. “My band just finished a set up the road and Chaz’s girlfriend is the bartender here.”

Stiles is still muttering under his breath about coincidence and Fates and James Woods when Travis slides into the booth with him. And his next words make it obvious that he’s heard everything. “I’m not a metaphor,” he says and he doesn’t look amused, “or a sign or a revelation or whatever. I’m just a guy looking to get hammered at discount prices.”

“Sorry,” Stiles offers, and he kind of is.

Travis nods once. Then glances back at Stiles. “The asshole, right? What’d he do now?”

Stiles sighs. How, oh how, to put it into words. “Considerably lowered the production value on my life? I’m in a straight-to-DVD feature now, full of cardboard cutouts and shallow plot lines.”

“Ouch.” Travis perks an eyebrow. Stiles can’t remember if that was pierced before too. It is now. He takes a swig of his beer. “Can I at least be an unexpectedly thrilling guest spot?”

Stiles shrugs, poking at his melting ice with his mangled straw.

Travis pushes his nearly full beer across the table between them and says, “Here, you need this more than I do.” He sits back for a second. “I also think maybe I actually should’ve gotten you that sugar glider. It’s hard to be sad with one of those things living in your house.” He throws out casually, almost like it’s a code phrase, “You’ve seen their ears.”

Stiles stares at him, waits until he’s done talking, and says bluntly: “I’m not going to have sex with you.”

Travis rolls his eyes, then affects a faux-shocked expression. “Really? But your complete and utter desolation is such a turn on,” he says, really slathering on the sarcasm.

Stiles actually laughs under his breath and Travis pauses in standing up to replace his drink when Stiles says, “Sometimes I wish I’d met you first.”

Travis slumps back down and says, horrified, “I don’t. Watching you drool after him as soon as he sauntered on set? That would’ve sucked.”

Huh. Stiles hadn’t really—uh, yeah. There is that. “Okay. Yeah. Hang on. Yeah, I would’ve had to meet you and then never meet him to make that work.”

Travis winks at him, pleased that Stiles figured that out too. Then he’s up and away.

Stiles is more than half-surprised when he comes back rather than using that as an excuse to get the hell out of the depression shanty town Stiles is currently populating, but he’s not displeased. Because now he can tell him what he’s worked out. “I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to tell me something that resonates with my life while not actually talking about my life, but still helpfully crystallizing what my next move should be,” Stiles circles his straw next to his head, spraying drops of watered-down vodka over the table and himself, “eventually bringing this whole thing home in a crowd-pleasing happy ending for me and the hummingbird. And then you can hook up with, like, a, uh… Ginnifer Goodwin-type.”

Travis blinks at him. Awed. He clears his throat, leans his elbows on the table, and says, “Um, first of all, thanks for that. Big of you. I am gay but, yeah, great, super digging that. Second,” his brow furrows and he says, slightly concerned, “you know that your life isn’t actually a big or small budget rom-com, right? This isn’t even an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, nor am I a Tolkien eagle. Other people aren’t going to come in out of nowhere and fix your life for you. People don’t… meddle that much, despite what, like… all fiction would lead you to believe. Because most people literally could not care less about shit that has nothing to do with them. Like now. I’m barely listening to you. Mainly I’m eye-sexing that guy three stools down from the end of the bar.”

Stiles glances in the direction of the guy Travis had pointed the neck of his beer bottle at. He frowns. “That’s definitely going to upset Ginnifer. She’s loved you since you were very small beans.”

Travis shakes his head, grinning, and moves to stand up. “I’m going to go now.”

“Travis?”

Travis stops and perks an eyebrow at him.

“A male Ginnifer Goodwin-type,” he amends seriously.

Travis laughs and says, “That I can work with.” He salutes with his beer bottle, moving towards the guy at the bar but not before offering a warm, “See you around, Stiles.”

 


 

It’s spectacularly disappointing, but Stiles thinks Travis might actually be right. About the lack of real world deus ex machinas. Also that he’s maybe not even in so much as a TV movie, just real life and all its un-pretty… realityness.

Meaning the only two people with insight and agency in his and Derek’s relationship are… him and Derek.

And they’ve both exhausted all their moves.

And while that might be the truth, it’s not at all what Stiles was hoping to hear.

He shuffles onto the subway, positively glum, but better for accepting his situation – probably – and is nearly shocked back out again. He stumbles backwards unconsciously, Derek’s nonsense-colored eyes open and staring right at him. He doesn’t move so much as get shouldered into stumbling forward, averting his eyes away from Derek’s without conscious thought behind it.

Because looking at him fucking sucks.

Instead they land on the woman next to him who’s leaning forward, gathering up her scarf and briefcase and standing and, fucking really, how many Norse Gods had he promised Scott and Allison’s first-born to over the past few months just so this would happen and today, today, the seat next to Derek is empty.

Norse-God-fucking-dammit.

Derek swallows visibly in Stiles’ periphery, lowering the beanie from where he’d been pressing it to his mouth. Even though it’s still got to smell like Stiles. He’d been wearing it non-stop for ages before he gave it back, which wasn’t that long ago and—Stiles feels like he just got pelted in the lung with a paintball because that’s why Derek has it, isn’t it? Because it smells like Stiles.

He’s all for Stiles’ aromatic molecules as long as they’re not attached Stiles himself.

And Stiles is lucky he’s already sinking down into the seat at Derek’s side because his knees just went from Eiffel to Leaning to Siloam Tower.

He clears his throat, reflexively tightens his hand on the strap of his messenger bag—the one Derek went out of his way to get back for him and then deliver to him for reasons Stiles still doesn’t understand since his entire game plan after that seemed to be to try to forget Stiles ever existed.

Stiles glances over at him, at his loose and crumpled hair, his longer beard, his wool-lined leather jacket and combat boots. There’s paint on his neck, charcoal on his hands, dust on his patched jeans, and Stiles feels his heart wedge itself up into his throat, trying to choke him on his own feelings because that’s one-hundred percent preferable to having to sit here and act like he’s still in one piece for another second.

He flexes his toes in his sneaker, the silence starting to strangle him, and says stupidly, “You’re awake.”

Derek sighs heavily, rubs the beanie between his fingers, and thrusts it towards him. “It’s your day,” he says gruffly, withdrawing his hand to shove both into his pockets as soon as Stiles takes it.

Stiles feels disappointment drop like a stone and settle all the way in the soles of his feet. He holds it up and croaks, “Is this why you’re here?”

Derek shakes his head, pushes his jacket in at the waist with his hands still in the pockets. “We need to talk.”

Stiles feels anger burn up his spine. He snorts, shakes his head. That’s actually the last fucking thing he needs to do. “I don’t—” he cuts himself off angrily. “You mean you finally need to, right?” he clarifies. “Because when I needed to, you had no problem going all Julian Morrow on me.”

Derek perks an eyebrow at him.

Stiles huffs impatiently. “You know how he knows everything going on except the one thing that matters because he’s basically choosing to put it in a blind spot the size of the Loch Ness mons—” he waves a hand, “You’ve never read The Secret History, fine, cool. Your life is a little bit grayer for it but whatever. Anyway, it’s always me regardless, right? I’m some terrifying combination of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore on coke and uppers compared to you. You’re an even more terse Luke Dane on a good day so—” he takes a deep breath and says again, “You need to talk is what you mean.”

Derek flinches, grumbles, “Yes.”

Stiles tightens his hand on the strap of his bag again. He’s got nothing to feel bad about. He doesn’t. Derek fucking iced him out rather than talk to him. He deserves whatever he gets now.

And Stiles instantly feels like shit for even having that thought.

Derek’s nostrils flare, his shoulders rising and falling heavily, and his hand tightens in his coat pocket, knuckles rasping against the leather. “I need you to promise that—you can’t run,” he snarls. The leather slackens and his voice goes softer. “Not until I finish. You—” his eyelids shutter and he glances to the side, “you’re always walking away from me. So just—just stay still.” His voice gets even quieter as he says, “I’d like to not have to chase after you, for once.”

Stiles’ eyes widen in complete disbelief. “You chase me?” he parrots dumbly, blinking. Is Derek fucking serious? Stiles pokes him in the shoulder angrily. “Hah-fucking-hah, opposite, dude. I’m one hundred percent sure that’s not what’s happening h—”

Derek catches his hand and holds it down between them, his fingers warm and firm and his thumb pushing up, parting Stiles’ fingertips, drawing up from the heel of his hand to the top of Stiles’ palm, pressing hard.

Stiles should pull away.

He doesn’t.

He doesn’t even want to.

“The gallery,” Derek says hoarsely, “you were leaving when I caught up to—” Stiles had been, after he’d been verbally smacked in the face by Bernice and before he’d been physically smacked in the face by a door. Derek huffs, interrupts himself, “The full moon, I had to—just to make sure I wouldn’t—and you weren’t only just fucking gone, you’d already moved on to someone else by the time I came back.” Outside Caffiend, when Derek had kissed him for the first time and Stiles had thought he was cheating on Cora. Derek rubs at his eyes with his free hand and snorts, unamused. His thumb strokes, hard, up and down the line in the center of Stiles’ palm. “That night, at my apartment, you, we—when you woke up, you couldn’t get away from me fast enough.” Because he’d thought that Laura was—“You left me your name and I kept trying to give you mine back and you wouldn’t even acknowledge it until Cora—” On the subway, when Derek had painted his name onto that t-shirt and Stiles had forgotten to respond in his excitement. He lets go of Stiles’ hand, shoves both of his back in his pockets. “You’re always running and I just—I need you to stay. For now,” he amends quickly, likely catching on to how that sounded.

Stiles swallows. He’d never realized—he hadn’t thought of it like—“I’m here.” He licks his lower lip, says earnestly, “And I want to be here. I didn’t—I thought you were already with someone, I wasn’t running from you, not really.”

Derek nods minutely, like he’s been telling himself that same thing. Stiles had no idea he’d felt so… rejected. Derek breathes in once, deep, and gets to the crux of it: “I didn’t want you to know.”

Stiles slumps back into the seat, turning his hand over in his lap. There’s a black smudge of charcoal in the center of his palm. “I know,” he says. And maybe they could get past the rest of it but Derek had never wanted to share the werewolf revelation with him and that’s not going away.

Derek sighs. “On some level, I knew—I knew I couldn’t keep it from you forever. I wasn’t hiding it that well to begin with,” he admits ruefully, “but I thought… I don’t know what I thought.”

Stiles swallows, smiles weakly, and finishes the thought for him, “You thought we’d be—be done, before you had to deal with it.”

Derek’s head snaps towards him and Stiles can see the edge of fangs pressing into his lower lip, his voice a low growl. “You honestly think it’s that easy for me to just let you go?” On every opposite rock of the train, the light catches the crazy blue shine of Derek’s eyes. “Even before I saw you, I was trying to fit you somewhere, in paint or stone or glass or—something. I still am, or I was,” he stares down at the chalky knees of his jeans, “but you’re too… much, there’s no containing you or confining you.”

Stiles has no idea what that means. Or what part of Derek still wants him. If he’s here because of Stiles’ scent? Well. That’s not fucking good enough. And Stiles kind of hates that it’s not good enough, but it isn’t. Not now, not after—Stiles is in fucking love with him and he doesn’t want to be something that Derek can’t not choose. His voice sounds warped and weird but he makes himself ask, “Is it some, I don’t know, primal or animal thing, do you even really want me or is it just… biological? I mean, it was my scent, right? That’s why you wanted me even before you knew me?”

Derek stiffens and he looks—wow. Motherfucking offended, if Stiles had to name it. “Really,” he grinds out, “is that what it was for you?” Stiles shakes his head quickly since that apparently wasn’t rhetorical like he thought and Derek snaps out, “It’s not supernatural, Stiles, it’s the same as being attracted to someone’s laugh or the way they can’t sit still.” He glances over and Stiles stops fidgeting with the strap of his bag. Derek deflates and asks, already defeated, “Will you ever trust me?”

“I—”

That one was rhetorical though because Derek says, “You already thought I was with Cora, that I would flirt with you while I was supposedly dating her.”

“She made more sense!” Stiles bursts out, because she did. If not for the whole related-thing, she still would. “She’s attractive and speaks Spanish and French and—”

Derek raises an eyebrow and says, “Cora doesn’t speak French.”

Stiles’ mouth yo-yos for a second before he narrows his eyes. “Oh that little—”

Derek cuts him off. “You don’t think you’re good enough for me. That’s it, isn’t it.”

Stiles shrugs. Mutters, “Look at you.”

Derek half-laughs. “Yeah, look at me. Until recently, I had to get Laura to, she’s my—”

“Alpha. Yeah, I figured.” When Derek just continues to stare at him, Stiles shrugs again. “I looked into some stuff.”

For the first time since Stiles stepped onto the train, Derek’s eyes get that crinkle that’s all smile while his mouth softly mirrors it. “Right. The love of random subjects and aversion to degrees, I remember.” He shakes his head fondly and explains, “She had to sink half of me into unconsciousness just so I wouldn’t lose control. I don’t,” he tenses, “do well with confined spaces or crowds or casual brushes from strangers.” He looks back at Stiles. “Until you. You smell—”

“Like what?” Stiles asks cagily.

“Safety,” Derek says.

And that’s not what Stiles was expecting at all.

They sit in silence that’s not uncomfortable as the train empties around them and Stiles isn’t sure how long it’s been since someone said something when Derek opens his mouth again. “Everyone who’s ever known about me, aside from Cora and Laura, they’re dead now. That’s the reason I wasn’t going to tell you. The only reason.”

Stiles sits with that rather than respond to it right away. He waits until he’s integrated it into his wealth of Derek-specific knowledge before he says quietly, “I’m sorry.” Derek grunts and Stiles tightens his hands on the beanie and the strap of his bag. “You keep making decisions for me. I’m not okay with that.”

Derek’s shoulders droop slightly but he says back, “You think there’s a power imbalance between us. I’m not okay with that.”

Fair enough.

Stiles sighs and rubs a hand over his face. It’s the one Derek had rubbed charcoal into. Awesome. He turns to look at Derek and he grins back, not wide but noticeably. Leans in and smooths a clean thumb over the bridge of Stiles’ nose. Over the arches of his eyebrows, the curve of his lower lip.

They’re not fixed, Stiles can admit that, but they are on the same page. And considering that took what felt like twenty years’ worth of angst-ridden self-doubt, roughly a warehouse full of misunderstanding, and two very misleading family members, Stiles feels it’s fair to say that they’re officially together now.

For better or fucking worse.

He rests his forehead on Derek’s shoulder. Shifts into the hollow of his neck and rubs his nose into the streak of green paint on his skin, Derek’s stubble rasping against him. “You know,” he huffs out, partly just to feel Derek shiver against him (he doesn’t disappoint), “I meant to reply, the shirt,” he clarifies, gesturing down at Derek’s front, “but I was too busy walking on air, or sunshine, or some other Katrina and the Waves lyric about the fact that you even knew who I was that I sort of, er, forgot to say anything.”

Derek’s chest rumbles under Stiles’ hand. “That was the second attempt.”

Stiles sits up part of the way. “What?”

“You slipped that receipt with your name on it in my pocket, I kind of assumed that’s where you’d look for—”

Oh you cannot be fucking serious. Stiles smacks a palm into his forehead. “Odin’s feathery-ass ravens, I did not even think of—neither one of us is very smart, huh?”

Derek’s eyes crinkle and then he’s rubbing away the charcoal that Stiles has just gotten on his face. Again.

Well. Point proven at least.

“I think we’ve made this as unnecessarily difficult as possible,” Derek agrees kindly.

Stiles’ eyes track Derek’s face and he doesn’t want to mess this up again. To let things get missed because he’s assumed his own fantastical unappealing-ness at every turn. “I know you’re a werewolf now. Are you okay with that?”

Derek frowns, admits, “I’m trying to be.” Stiles sighs. It’s not exactly what he wants to hear but it’s better than—“It’s a lot easier than trying to be okay without you,” Derek finishes.

Stiles beams at him. That’s the best though. “Yeah, you’re not fucking kidding.” He leans against Derek’s shoulder again, picks up their messy hands and fits them together, rubbing his thumb against Derek’s knuckle. “You’re my wendigo and I’m your unstable FBI special agent.”

“Hannibal,” Derek says, lifting an eyebrow and staring down at him proudly, “I got that one.”

Stiles gives him a fond grin and pokes him in the chest. “That means boyfriends, stud. For keeps too. Like, you’re only my wendigo.”

Derek’s eyes scrunch up further. “I promise if you get encephalitis, I’ll let you know right away.”

Stiles smiles and catches Derek’s mouth with his own, kissing him firmly and saying against his lips, “Yeah, this is gonna work.”

Derek hums back his agreement. It makes Stiles vibrate with the feel of it.

 


 

Derek’s hand clamps down on Stiles’ ass, hitching him closer, higher, and Stiles can feel divots from his nails—claws—even through the thick fabric of his jeans and groans. He leans back, rips off his hoodie, plants his palms on Derek’s shoulders, pressing him harder into his bedroom door, then smooths up his neck, into his dumb, messy hair and tugs at his stupid beard until their mouths are clashing and crashing and Derek’s pulling him in again. A moan beats up Stiles’ throat, tears him away, and Stiles drops his forehead onto Derek’s shoulder, clenches his hand around the back of Derek’s neck, still riding the crests of his hips and pants out, “How are you so stupid hot, you stupid hot hummingbird idiot?”

Derek looks up at him, blue-eyed, crumple-faced, eyebrows furrowed in confusion or disbelief or pure, unadulterated randiness—Stiles can’t exactly read his facial expressions when he’s being all mythical. His dick gives a harrowing twitch regardless of the emotion being expressed because Derek’s so into him that he can’t keep his cool even a little.

And it’s literally written all over his face.

Stiles smirks and digs and grabs and accidentally scrapes his nails hard against Derek’s abdomen in an effort to yank his jeans apart and down. The red scratches on Derek’s skin disappear almost as quickly as they appear and Stiles snorts. “You are every bit as unreal as I thought you were. Like a Drop Dead Fred that you bang.”

“He and Phoebe Cates do make out,” Derek pants back into his mouth.

Stiles pulls away. Blinks. Shakes his head. How did he get so fucking lucky? For real? “You’re just my favorite person, you know that?”

Derek’s lips start to kick out in a breathless smile and then he’s grabbing Stiles close again, arching his hips, running his hand up into Stiles’ hair and tugging his head back so he can look into his eyes and crush their mouths together again. His teeth butt up against Stiles’ lips, smooth, sharpen, invade and withdraw as different parts of Derek all blend together, every part wanting closer.

Stiles slides his hand down into Derek’s pants, wraps his fingers around his perfect penis and then Derek’s pushing him back, off, reaching down his own back and pulling off his shirt, sitting on the edge of Stiles’ mattress and using one shoe to kick off the other.

He grabs for Stiles’ wrist when he only continues to stand there like a shell-shocked dumbass, staring at the motion of Derek’s chest, the dusting of hair, the tight nipples and darker trail of hair beneath his navel. Claws scrape but don’t dig against the soft inside of his forearm and then he’s being tugged into Derek, standing and kissing and stroking through his hair, down his neck, over the backs of his shoulders and following his spine and then up to do it all over again because his hands just can’t find enough of Derek to touch.

Derek shifts back on the bed and Stiles follows mindlessly, pulling Derek’s thighs up around his waist and humping him into the mattress. Derek’s still all motion, reaching behind Stiles and hooking a finger into his socks, pushing him back by his chest so he can slide out of his jeans and boxers and then he’s dragging Stiles back, rubbing his cock against the sweat-damp thatch of hair on Stiles’ stomach, his mouth open and catching on good, broken sounds and Stiles reaches for his nightstand and Derek says, “Don’t—don’t need it.”

Stiles blinks at him, says blankly, “What,” and Derek presses up into him and Stiles barely manages to brace himself against the trembling that tears through him. Derek’s hand grabs him tight around the vein-popped forearm that Stiles is using to prop himself up, holding onto him like Stiles is all that’s grounding him.

Derek’s teeth literally chatter as his body shakes and he says, “Condom, lube—don’t need—don’t want it.” His hands slip on the sweat on Stiles’ arm, the back of his neck, grabbing and twisting and tightening and doing everything to hold on as their bodies rise and fall against each other’s.

Stiles swallows and presses into Derek’s chest to stop him for all of a minute because he can’t think, not with Derek surging against him like that, fucking him without fucking him. He rears back enough that he can press the heel of his palm to his dick and perk an eyebrow curiously. “So what am I supposed to believe here? That you, like… self-lubricate?”

Derek stares at him. He’s debauched, mouth red and swollen and chest rising and falling rapidly and his hips still hitching slightly, perfect penis having left a slick smear across his abdomen, thighs gripping Stiles’ tight. He cocks his head, raises a disbelieving eyebrow. “Really.”

Stiles holds up his hands defensively. “Hey, fanfiction is a scary place, okay.”

Derek’s eyebrows raise even higher.

“Hah, it was Harry Potter and not Twilight,” he says victoriously, answering the unsaid accusation, “thank you, Judgmental Judy.”

“Sure it was.” Derek rolls his eyes, grips Stiles around the back of his neck, and drags him down so their foreheads are touching. He rubs their lower lips together. “Has more to do with saliva and the world’s highest pain tolerance.”

Stiles grins against his mouth, huffs out a laugh. “Seeing as you don’t go around letting every random yahoo in on the fact that your people ate Little Red Riding Hood’s granny, how do you ever convince dudes to go along with this?”

Derek’s eyebrows stay up, waiting.

The penny drops.

Stiles swallows. Grips Derek tighter to him. Kisses him hard. He pulls back and says softly, “There are no other guys.”

Derek’s eyes crinkle at the sides, warm with the smile his mouth barely lifts over.

“I’m the guy.”

Derek’s mouth almost widens to match the expression in his eyes. “You’re the guy.”

Stiles laughs properly, buries his face in Derek’s neck, and says, muffled, “How did I ever think you weren’t into me?”

He raises up on this palms again and Derek gives him a baleful look but the words don’t sound nearly as mocking as the expression when he says, “I genuinely have no idea.”

Stiles shoves down his jeans haphazardly, strokes Derek once, twice, precome slicking his fingers and then he moves to himself, rubbing the hollow of his palm over the head of his cock, getting himself fucking slippery. He presses up against Derek, who grits his teeth and says, “Fast.”

Stiles takes a deep breath, can’t help himself and smirk-smiles. “Finally a guy who wants that.”

Derek looks like he might punch him, opens his mouth, and Stiles (meanly, he’ll admit) presses inside in one quick motion. Derek gasps, back arching and hands snagging at him, grabbing Stiles’ bicep, slipping against his side, over his back, up onto his shoulder and pulling him down, down, down and then he’s scraping down his spine, grabbing his ass, pulling him deeper, yanking at the small of his back, thighs and knees hooking around Stiles’ hips and Stiles can’t tell if it’s just sweat drenching him or if Derek has actually managed to draw blood but Derek pants out, “Fuck, sorry, Sti—’m sor—”

And Stiles pants back, “Shut up. Just—fuck,” because he’s almost there, he’s right on the edge of fucking orgasm and he has to stop. Derek’s fingers curl into his hair, drag him down against his shoulder, air hot and thick between them, so much so that it’s hard to actually breathe it, his other hand is tight on the ball of Stiles’ shoulder, ankles hooked around Stiles’ ass and he’s barely letting Stiles move at all and Stiles isn’t sure whose benefit that’s for. If Derek knows how fucking close he is to losing it already.

They breathe against each other for a long moment, fit together in ways that shouldn’t be possible and then Stiles tilts his hips and Derek whimpers and just like that he can’t stop, there’s no fucking stopping, he’s fucking Derek like he’ll never find a way to be deep enough inside and Derek’s hands are digging into his everything, fisting his hair, grabbing at his back, squeezing his ass, pulling at him like if he can’t get Stiles closer he’ll drown and the sounds he’s making, only interrupted by whispered punctuations of, “Fuck, fuck, fuck me.”

Derek’s moans are deep and hoarse and occasionally he’ll open his mouth, clench his teeth, and nothing will break free at all, just a silent yell as Stiles fucks him deep and thorough and intense and non-stop. Derek’s dick is caught between them completely and he has Stiles’ arm in his grip still, dragging him closer, uncaring that it’s all Stiles has to support himself so they crash even further into each other and then Derek’s kissing him, tongue searching out its own place in Stiles’ mouth. The hand that’s dug into his hair flexes and claws spring up around Stiles’ bicep and Derek rips his mouth away and roars as wet and heat spreads between their stomachs and Stiles’ answering orgasm is so strong, so sudden, so overwhelming that it nearly makes him black out.

Might’ve if Derek didn’t immediately roll them and slam down to make sure Stiles was as deep as possible inside him when he came. His hands leave Stiles’ shoulders and slide across the bed next to Stiles’ neck, which crushes their chests together. He rubs his forehead into the hollow of Stiles’ throat.

Stiles drags his lips against his sweaty, perfect, greasy, messy hair and mouths at it slightly.

Derek disentangles them slowly, gingerly, and slips down onto the bed next to him and there’s damp patches of sweat, come, and random streaks of thin red on the bed. Derek frowns at that and nudges at Stiles to roll a little.

Stiles does and Derek lets his fingers gently stroke over the skin of his back and it feels raw and exposed and alight.

He’s frowning even more heavily when Stiles rolls back. He looks startled when he realizes how widely Stiles is grinning. Stiles can’t help it though. “I have sex injuries.” He sounds drunk. He feels drunk. He touches Derek’s face, drags his fingers over his forehead, down to his temples, up the arch of his cheeks, through the stubble on his jaw and says, “I am never fucking letting you go again, got that?”

Derek closes his eyes but not before Stiles can see the way he’s fucking beaming with them first.

 


 

Stiles’ entire body is sore when he wakes up again. Derek’s eyes are crinkled and warm and he shifts closer, which makes Stiles shift back. “I’m going to have back problems so fast with you,” he says, stretching. Hip problems too, probably. They feel like someone has been popping his legs in and out of socket all night. Jesus Christ his muscles are fucked up. Fucking Derek took literally everything he had.

Derek gives him a knowing look and says unrepentantly, “Suck it up.”

Stiles’ eyebrows bounce twice. “Now there’s an idea I can get behind.”

Before he can even start to put thought into action, Derek’s already moving, spreading Stiles’ thighs and sucking down his cock in one quick bob of his head. Stiles groans, buries his fingers in Derek’s hair and rides out the relentless attention.

He barely lasts three minutes.

He fingers Derek to orgasm, which—Stiles is gleeful to note—hardly takes him one and then they’re stumbling out of his bedroom—

and into Lydia.

She sniffs at the both of them, nose wrinkling up. She taps her knuckles against the wall. “These walls are exceptionally thin,” she says with a squint, pointing at Stiles like it’s his fault and he should, like, architect better or something. “That’s going to be a problem if we’re going to be living together.”

“What. You’re not moving in, Derek is,” bounds happily out of Stiles’ mouth. Like—like it’s just a fact of the universe. The same way that Empire is undeniably the best Star Wars film, Derek’s also going to live with him because the stars and the Fates and Mushu said so.

He can see Derek giving him a surprised look in his periphery and, despite coloring so red he rivals Superman’s cape, he doesn’t acknowledge it. He refuses to.

Lydia stares at him, unimpressed. “Allison already promised me the room.”

Stiles throws up his hands. It wrenches basically every unhappy muscle in his body and he swallows down a whimper. “Allison doesn’t even live here!”

Derek’s still looking at him, like he wants to say things, like he is saying things with just his eyes and Stiles scowls, doesn’t turn to meet his talkative gaze and says, “Stop looking at me with your magic eyes, okay.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “It’s a step up. I have a hamper and curtains that I would be willing to let you enjoy the use of for a very small fee.” He waggles his eyebrows, licks his lower lip, and looks down. “Hint: it’s not a monetary fee.”

Derek looks reluctantly amused and Lydia interrupts again, cheerily, “Well there, see, it works out then, doesn’t it?”

“Howzat?” Stiles says dumbly.

Lydia rolls her eyes, gesturing between the two of them. “Derek can move into your room, which means…” she’s clearly waiting for Stiles to pick up the thought but Stiles has no idea what she’s talking about so she finishes with a huff, “you still have a spare bedroom. That’s not even elementary math. How do you manage to tip at restaurants?”

Stiles brightens up. “Oh I got this card in the mail for it! It has a chart on the back for how to tip fifteen or twenty percent. It was one of those free gift thingies ‘cause I donated to the WWF.” Both Derek and Lydia stare at him and he deflates, admitting, “I thought it was the wrestling thing.” He adds in a mutter, “I wrote ‘for the Rock’ in the memo line.”

Derek snorts almost like it’s against his will and Lydia opens her mouth, closes her mouth, shakes her head, opens her mouth, closes her mouth, waves him off over her shoulder and walks away.

Derek waits an extra few seconds to raise his eyebrows and say with disbelief: “I’m moving in.”

Stiles clears his throat, turns on his heel, and continues on his way to the kitchen. “That’s awfully presumptuous of you to just decide that all on your own, Derek.” He coughs. “I’m pretty sure those things generally come with, like, a heavy-duty conversation and then some but, after some careful and lengthy consideration,” he screws up his face and says with gravity, “I think I could get on board.”

Derek considers him, gaze searching his face, and then he says, “I’ve got a few months left on my lease. We could try it until then,” he says tentatively, “trial run. If it doesn’t work then no harm done, right.”

Stiles glances back down the hall towards his room and says seriously, eyes exaggeratedly wide, “How are we ever going to fit all your stuff in there?”

Derek punches him lightly in the shoulder, biting the inside of his cheek in order to pretend like he doesn’t find Stiles hilarious. (Stiles knows better.) “Asshole,” he mutters under his breath but his eyes give him away, like always.

 


 

Stiles leaves class half in a daze and Derek hops off the bench he’s been sitting—waiting—on the back of. “How was it?” he asks, giving Stiles’ jacket a look. Yeah, yeah, Stiles will accept the spring when it manages to pry winter out of his happily ice cold hands.

He blinks at Derek, clenches his fingers around the strap of his bag, and says, “I think I’m actually… into it?”

Derek laughs, out loud.

Stiles punches him. It hurts him way more than Derek but it’s the principle of the thing. He shakes his head, still in complete disbelief over this turn of events. Derek stops walking and so does Stiles. “Pollination, entomology, weed science?” His mind is still boggled but he knows enough to know: “Scott’s never gonna let me hear the end of this.”

Derek shrugs and says, “If anyone could make that bee suit hot—”

Stiles grins because that is definitely true enough. Apiculture? Who the fuck knew? Besides his teenage self (who also thought he was going to tattoo Bowie’s lightning bolt on his face) and Scott (who encouraged that idea one-hundred-million percent). He lets Derek lead, pestering him for Runts or gum or something at least semi-edible, when Derek suggests stopping in for a pie or something. Stiles wags a finger at him, clicking his tongue. “Nuh uh, I think that counts as a date,” he admonishes.

Derek’s brow furrows grumpily and he digs his hands into his jean’s pockets. Stiles tries to peek around to see if he’s got the beanie hanging out of his back one like he sometimes likes to do so he can steal it (it is technically his day) but there’s too much pedestrian traffic to get a good look. “It doesn’t,” Derek grumbles.

“It totally does,” Stiles chirps back. He pokes Derek in the shoulder and says, “And I’m just saying, I might be more on board with the whole date-type plan if you’d just sac up and put a ring on it already.” He does half the Single Ladies dance as they’re crossing the street. Derek pretends not to know him. “I mean some reassurance surely wouldn’t go awry, right? I don’t think I’m asking too much here,” he adds with a grin.

Derek stops walking abruptly and Stiles perks an eyebrow at him, waiting for a response, but Derek just eyebrows right back at him and really? Does he not think Stiles will do this all day? Because he will totally do this all day. There is no competition he can’t win when the question is: who can be more stubborn and/or annoying?

Derek sighs exasperatedly, grabs Stiles’ chin, and hauls it around so he’s looking behind him.

Stiles falls back a step into Derek’s chest and says blankly, “Derek.” He turns back around, blinking, because he can’t be serious.

He can’t be.

Derek shrugs. Then his mouth is twitching, widening, smiling, his nonsense-colored eyes almost glittering with it. He juts his chin back towards the courthouse and says, “Laura would get us everything we needed before our names were called.” Stiles believes that eight-million percent. Laura makes Paris Geller look like an underachiever on her best day. Derek’s mouth breaks out into a full-on grin and he says, “Wanna get married?”

Stiles watches him for a long moment and then asks the only question that could possibly matter right now, or ever: “Do you have your beanie on you?”