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Evanescent

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''Hey, mind if I join you?''

Derek shrugs and points with his hand at all the empty seats around him. He can't help glancing at the guy, curious, and takes in his full shoulders, freckles and warm eyes.

Even Derek can place him as a student, so he must be fairly popular. It's the first warning that something's wrong.

The guy catches Derek's look and smiles – the second warning. He appears friendly, even though all the good souls have given up on Derek long ago, and that's the third warning. The realization hits Derek and he stifles a groan. For fuck's sake, he doesn't need another person who wants him to integrate. It's just so tiring. Sure, he's quiet, but he isn't shy or missing human contact, he doesn't need any fucking help.

''So,'' the guy starts, ''do you have a partner for the history project?''

Of course not. He is alone all the time, how would he have a partner already? Besides, he's still kind of hoping the teacher will let him prepare the project by himself. ''No.''

''Great.'' The guy shoots him this friendly smile again. ''Can we work together?''

Still somewhat surprised, Derek watches him, wondering if it's a joke. ''Okay,'' he shrugs. He doesn't really care either way.

''Awesome,'' the guy nods. ''Are you good at history?''

Wait, does that mean that the guy is really bad and he's searching for someone to prepare the project for him? Derek perks up a little. It would be interesting to get threatened by him, Derek would have an excuse to fight. He hasn't fought with anyone for a long time now, either physically or just with words, mainly because he doesn't get in anyone's way, because there are no people to get in their way, and because Malia's dead.

''I'm fine,'' he replies blandly.

The guy grins. Derek has trouble understanding where the way too happy expression came from but stops himself from raising his eyebrows.

''So, what do you say, think you can come over today after school?''

Derek snaps his eyes to him, startled. ''Today?''

''Yeah,'' the guy nods easily, still smiling in an all too amicable manner. ''We have to divide the tasks.''

We may as well do it now, thinks Derek, already suffering from the prolonged human contact. He weighs pointing it out versus appearing nice. ''Uh, okay,'' he says, uncertain. No need to be an asshole just yet. ''Sorry-'' he pauses, only now realizing he doesn't know the guy's name. ''You're...?''

The guy keeps looking at Derek and quirks an eyebrow, not understanding.

It's the middle of the school year. Derek should probably know the students' names by now, especially the popular ones, but he doesn't feel like pretending. ''What's your name?''

The guy's eyes widen in surprise. ''You don't-'' he cuts himself off and clears his throat. ''Stiles,'' he says instead. ''Stiles Stilinski.''

''Ah,'' says Derek, recognizing the name. ''You play lacrosse, right?''

That's it. That's all he knows about Stiles – that he is a high school student like Derek, plays lacrosse and is popular. That's actually a lot of information to have about someone else by Derek's standards.

Stiles smiles at him, self-confident again. ''Derek, right?''

Derek nods and steels his expression. ''Derek Hale.''

He watches Stiles' face for the reaction, but it doesn't come. He must have heard of the Hale fire, though. Everyone's heard about it, although it's nice to pretend it's just a surname.

Stiles leaves with a completely unnecessary clap on the arm that freezes Derek and adds so much tension to his body he feels like a string close to snapping. Slowly, he lets out his breath and stands up to leave the cafeteria. Once outside, he decides to face the consequences of his agreement.

''Laura, I'll be back home later. I need to work on some stuff.''

''Oh, is it the history project?'' asks Laura in what Derek would like to call a rare clarity of sight but it's not actually rare. ''Who are you working with?''

Derek grimaces. ''Stiles Stilinski,'' he says unwillingly.

''Ah, Stiles? Doesn't he play-''

''Lacrosse, yeah,'' finishes Derek, tightening his hold on the phone. The change in Laura's voice is unmistakable. She wants him to have friends, to be sociable and cheerful and when he's none of those, even one fucking paired project is suddenly amazing.

''Okay, no problem,'' she chirps.

Derek reels in the urge to hang up without a word in a sudden flirt with passive-aggressiveness. ''Thanks. Bye,'' he says tonelessly instead.

He ends the call without waiting for her reply, a small outcome for his annoyance, and regrets it immediately.

***

Once the school is finished, Derek drives after Stiles to his home. He steps inside Stiles' room, not really sure what to expect. On the first glance, Stiles has more stuff than him but that should be obvious; Derek doesn't have much left because of the fire.

He notices some video games close by and looks through them, not sure what else he can do. He recognizes Tony Hawk's Pro Skater – Cora loved this game. She kept on playing it so much that Derek has the whole soundtrack memorized. Whenever he'd start singing along, Cora would glare, flip him off, kick him, but she'd never turn the music down.

''You okay?''

Derek jerks away from Stiles' hand and nods, turning away. ''Sorry. I'm just thinking that I haven't played this game in a while.''

Close enough to pass as a truth.

''Oh, you want to play it later?''

Fuck.

''I can't really stay long today,'' he lies. ''And I suck at computer games.''

Stiles grins. ''All the more reason we should play.''

Derek kind-of-smiles in the answer. It's better if he doesn't hear this music again. He should be able to handle it but sometimes his thoughts spiral out of control. ''Maybe another time,'' he suggests half-heartedly.

When Stiles keeps looking at him, Derek says, ''You wanted to divie the tasks.''

That's basically how the whole visit goes. Stiles derailing from the topic on hand to suggest playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater or just talk with Derek, just to be nugded back into working by Derek again.

As soon as they are finished, Derek leaves. He's had enough of human contact for one day and doesn't trust himself around people anymore after the fire.

***

Derek, because that's his luck, sees Stiles in the morning the next day. He is talking with some people and gesturing as they focus on his words, then start laughing. Derek almost thinks he'll be able to just walk next to him and not even make eye contact, except that's when Stiles turns and calls, ''Hey, Derek!''

All the people around are staring at him. Fucking thanks.

''Hey,'' he replies and starts walking away, careful to keep the same pace and not hurry up, as much as he wants to be left alone.

''Dude, wait,'' says Stiles, catching up to him. Derek reins in the urge to look at him incredulously because the guy has just left a group of people, clearly enjoying talking with them, to talk with him. ''What class do you have now?''

''Math.''

''Oh, that's not too bad, huh?''

It's not. What is too bad is that Laura asked him if he had fun at Stiles', smiling as she was preparing dinner. Yeah, he replied, wondering if the lie was as obvious to her as it was to him. It was nothing. People work in groups and meet with others all the time. It shouldn't be different just because Derek's weird.

''I guess,'' he replies, his face blank, and rearranges his grab on the backpack.

Stiles opens his mouth to say something but is interrupted by the bell. Saved by the bell and it's not even class time, that's Derek's life.

''See you later,'' Stiles calls instead and walks off to his class.

Derek feels like sighing heavily and bumping his head against the wall but catches some people shooting him curious glances.

He liked being unseen at school. It was so simple.

***

Derek spares a single thought for Stiles before a lunch break. Will he appear and ask Derek to sit with him and his friends? He dismisses the question easily. Of course not – Stiles doesn't seem to want him to integrate, and even if he did want him to have friends and just be happy (fuck you, by the way, he's okay without friends), Stiles would invite him to sit down with someone of a similar social standing.

Actually, Derek has already tried that, but he didn't like having people around just to have people around. He didn't really care about them, they didn't really care about him. The only thing they had in common was being unpopular, unseen. Maybe if he had given someone a chance it would've turned out different but he hated all this pretending. Sharing the lunch table when having nothing to say to each other, being project partners because who else would I work with, and all those sad going-outs: wanna see this movie? A shrug instead of asking doubtfully, you want to go with me? And plastering a smile instead of a truthful: not really, but I don't want to seem pathetic, going alone, so.

Yeah. Derek would rather be alone.

He sits down at an empty table and starts eating.

''Dude.'' Stiles extends his hand to him with a clear invitation for a high-five. ''How's it rolling?''

How come that people like him can say the most ridiculous stuff and yet everyone accepts that, even laughs?

Derek stops himself from turning to glance at the populars' table and high-fives Stiles without cheer. ''Fine,'' he answers, looking away.

Stiles' smile dims a little and for a second he seems hurt, and crap, Derek can't handle hurt. He is a mess when it comes to making friends so he doesn't make friends, but he can't handle hurting people. He searches for something to say.

''I have trouble with math,'' he speaks up finally. ''We started quadratic equations today.''

''Quadratic equations?'' asks Stiles. ''That's easy.''

So much for trying to be nice.

''Thanks, asshole,'' replies Derek calmly.

''No, seriously, what can't you understand? Show me.''

Derek regards him for a beat but then takes out his notebook and points to one of the equations.

''Oh, okay.'' Stiles nods and starts explaining the calculations. Derek makes some notes, finally understanding the outcome.

''Thanks,'' he says, for once completely honest, glancing at Stiles and hoping to convey how much he's helped.

''Don't worry about it,'' Stiles smiles. ''Oh, think you could come to the game this Friday?''

''Game?'' asks Derek with a frown.

''Well, yeah,'' nods Stiles. ''Lacrosse. It's kind of a big deal. You haven't heard?''

Derek shrugs. From who would he hear?

''We're playing against the Kanimas. You should come and do some cheerleading for me.''

Derek gives him a flat look. ''There is nothing cheerful or leader-like about me,'' he says.

Stiles grins. ''Don't worry, Erica can transform people.''

''Erica?''

''Yeah, Erica Reyes, the captain of the cheerleaders?''

Derek nods as if he knows her. He doesn't, of course, but thinks he could have heard of her. Doesn't she have blond hair? That's the only thing his mind supplies, so he stays silent on this topic. ''I guess I can come,'' he says instead.

''Great!''

There was no need for the exclamation mark.

''I will have to introduce you two actually,'' continues Stiles and narrows his eyes, smirking. ''You will hit it off immediately.''

Derek doesn't even try to hide the way his face darkens. ''I'm not looking for a girlfriend.''

''No, sorry, I didn't mean it like that,'' interrupts Stiles with raised hands, his expression earnest, though surprised. ''And she has a boyfriend anyway.''

Derek nods, not looking at him. ''Okay.''

***

Derek does come to see the game. He is sitting at the back, hoping to remain unseen in the crowd. He watches the game mindlessly, none of what he sees making sense. He kind of regrets not taking a book with him to read but then again, reading a book during a game would only attract attention to him. He tries to learn the rules through observation when he sees Stiles shooting the ball, followed by a great cheer.

So that's like a goal, huh.

When it's finished, Derek watches the field for a while. Stiles is grinning, laughing with the others, always somewhere with the people. He looks great with his cheeks pinked from the exercise, hair messy, eyes glistening. He has broad arms.

Derek doesn't feel physically inadequate. He goes for a run every day, knows that he isn't bad looking. He does know, though, how alone he is. How bad with people. He's never really been outgoing, but after the fire it only got worse.

He hates that Laura worries about him, his complete lack of social life, lack of talking about girls and parties, no secret outings to clubs, experimenting with alcohol or weed, because there is nothing – there is no one. He hates how happy she was about him going to see the game.

He decides to use the commotion to exit the game quietly, but can't choose stairs other than the ones close to the group of players.

''Oh, Derek! You made it!''

He can feel the way people look between him and Stiles, who is smiling brilliantly and waving at him. Seems like the weirdness of it still hasn't worn off, even after a few days. Derek manages a tight smile and averts his eyes, focusing on the steps.

''So you've watched us playing?''

Stiles is suddenly at the bottom of the stairs, looking at him expectantly.

''Hey, Stiles!'' shouts one of the guys from the team.

''Just a sec!'' he calls back and turns to Derek, waiting for an answer.

''Yeah, although I think watching polo would make more sense to me than lacrosse,'' he admits. ''You scored some, right? Congratulations.''

Stiles snorts as if Derek has just told a joke, not sadly attempted one. ''Thanks,'' he says, grinning. ''Did you know that there's actually a game called polocrosse? Well, never mind. I wanted you to meet Erica,'' he remembers and takes a hold of Derek's arm.

Uncomfortable with the contact, Derek avoids someone going the other way and slips away from Stiles' fingers, hoping he won't try touching him again.

''Shouldn't you be with your teammates?'' he asks, glancing at him.

Stiles shrugs, unbothered. ''It's okay, I'll get back to them later.''

Derek wants to say that it's okay if he gets back to them now but isn't sure if he won't accidentally hurt Stiles again and decides to stay quiet.

Erica is still in her uniform. Derek feels somewhat bad, looking at her. She isn't cold yet because of the earlier cheering, but he has the urge to give her his jacket, if only to hide all the skin. She'll catch a cold with such a big cleavage.

''Hey Erica, this is Derek.''

Erica glances at him, smiling like a predator. ''Hey, sweetie,'' she winks.

''Hey,'' he says lamely with a blank face.

Erica doesn't seem to mind his not exactly enthusiastic response and turns to Stiles. ''Great job, Batman.''

''Thanks, Catwoman,'' grins Stiles.

Oh, the nicknames. Derek remembers Laura calling him Bunny Teeth during junior high school, how Cora and Malia would join in just to make him mad.

Now, though, he is only Derek, if he is anything at all.

He shifts his weight, wishing Stiles would hurry up with whatever it is he wants to do.

''So, are you going anywhere with the girls?''

''No certain plans, why?''

''I thought we could go out with you, Derek, Boyd, Scott, you know,'' he shrugs. ''The usual.''

Derek's eyes widen and he turns to look at Stiles, taken aback.

''We want to grab something to eat,'' Stiles explains to him. ''You know Heather's diner?''

''Yeah,'' nods Derek. He doesn't really want to spend time with a group of obviously close people – he is no one's usual – but he doesn't have any excuse to leave, either. And Laura would want him to go.

''Sounds good,'' he says.

It sounds terrible. He will end up depressed. He always does, when there are people involved.

''Great!'' Stiles sends him another smile. ''We'll meet in twenty, okay? I just need to take a shower and change.''

''Sure,'' he says with no intonation, already fearing the prospect of staying with Erica for twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes.

He knows music albums that are twenty minutes long.

Stiles leaves and Derek turns back to Erica, who watches him with narrowed eyes. ''So, do you want to be a cheerleader?''

Derek frowns at her. ''No.''

''You sure?'' she asks and steps closer, smirking. ''You don't want to cheer Stiles on?''

Derek can feel himself blushing involuntarily, either because of the words or the proximity. ''Not really,'' he says, grimacing and turns his face away but stops himself from taking a step back. That would be a sign of a weakness, or so says Peter in his head.

Erica eyes him for a moment and snorts. ''Stiles is an idiot,'' she says, shaking her head. ''Okay, I need to find Boyd.''

Derek nods, relieved when she leans back. ''I'll stay here.''

''No, come with me,'' she suggests at once. ''I wouldn't want to leave you here alone.''

Oh, for fuck's sake.

''Okay,'' he agrees, weary.

***

Erica is an extravert. During the 15 minutes it takes to look for Boyd, get him to wait with Derek so Erica can change (they stood in an awkward, but at the same time blissful after the noise of the game, silence), go back outside and wait for the rest of the group, Derek learns quite a lot about her. She talks, and Derek can just listen, offering hums of understanding and questions to get her going. He feels like he knows her somewhat, after that. If he sees revealing clothes, hears about dancing and choreography, notices someone flirting, it will make him think of Erica.

Flirting, thankfully, is directed at Boyd, not him. Boyd takes it with quiet calmness, only at times smiling slightly and turning to Erica to say something that either makes her laugh out loud or grin, ducking her head. There is this sweetness about their interactions that makes Derek think they've just started dating.

***

''Okay, let's get going,'' calls the brown-haired guy. He smiles at Derek and Derek is instantly wary of him. Too nice people always want him to socialize.

''Uh, I won't be able to stay for long,'' he says as the groups starts walking. He already feels tired from being around the people for so long.

''Aw, dude,'' Stiles' eyebrows are drawn together, as if he actually gives a fuck whether Derek is with them or not. ''Why?''

Derek glances away and opens his mouth, trying to think of an excuse, when one of Stiles' teammates that looks like a typical jock scoffs.

''Two months, Stilinski,'' he smirks and honestly, what's with those people smirking all the time? How can they be this self-confident?

Probably something to do with good looks, intelligence, and social skills, he answers himself. Derek has okay looks, mediocre intelligence, and zero social skills. No wonder he doesn't smirk. It's not like he has anyone to smirk at either.

Derek frowns at the guy, who ignores him in favor of watching suddenly angry Stiles. His mouth is tilting downwards, hands in fists as he glares at the jock. ''Fuck off, Jackson,'' he spits viciously, and spares a glance at Derek, blush rising on his cheeks. Derek lets himself watch the curious reaction for a beat, then turns away. Not his business.

''What an asshole.'' Stiles takes a breath and looks at Derek again. ''Sorry, can you wait for me for a minute? I need to talk with him,'' he says, pointing with his head to Jackson.

''Sure,'' shrugs Derek.

''Great, let me just-'' Stiles looks around and spots Boyd. ''Do you like listening to music?'' he asks Derek suddenly.

Derek's mind fills with the memories of Peter and his huge collection of CDs, vinyls, cassettes. He blinks, trying to go back to reality. ''Yeah.''

Stiles nods and turns away. ''Boyd, my man,'' he calls out, ''come here and tell Derek about this awesome dead musician you mentioned the other day.''

''Who?'' Boyd asks flatly. ''Elvis Presley?''

''No, the black one.''

''Right,'' Boyd nods. ''Michael Jackson?''

''Oh my god,'' groans Stiles, exasperated, ''no, the more recent one!''

''Fats Domino?''

Stiles hesitates for a second, then clasps Boyd' arm. ''Sure, that one.''

As Stiles leaves to talk with Jackson, Derek turns to Boyd, thoughtful. ''Didn't he sing the Blueberry Hill?''

Boyd glances at him, the only sign that he may be surprised, and nods. Then, he takes out his phone and Derek wonders if the guy's decided to blatantly ignore him, but suddenly, he can hear the song.

He sees Peter sitting comfortably in the armchair, an open book in his hands as Derek comes in with an apple and flops down on the couch.

''What's this?'' he asks.

''Fats Domino, the pioneer of rock and roll you should be ashamed of not knowing,'' replies Peter, and starts talking about the musician, looking at Derek with disdain. Derek eats, listening to his words but doesn't mind them. Peter has a very broad definition of common knowledge, especially when it comes to music and art. It's calm, his parents and sisters somewhere else in the house, and he feels content, good.

''...The Platters as well?''

Derek blinks and snaps his eyes to Boyd, who regards him coolly. ''Sorry?'' he croaks out and winces at his voice.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. He can feel his cheeks burning with embarrassment and fists his hands, trying to calm down. He takes in a slow breath and clears his throat. ''What did you say?''

''Do you like The Platters as well?''

''Uh, I don't think I know them,'' says Derek and clears his throat again. It's obvious that it's not just a throat ache, that he's reacted emotionally to the stupid sounds.

Boyd just nods and plays another song, when Erica comes closer.

''Isn't that doo-wop music?'' asks Derek once the song's finished.

''Yeah.''

Erica frowns at them. ''Doo-wop music?''

''It's like gospel,'' says Derek, his lips curling up at her look. He already feels better, grateful that an extravert appeared to take over the conversation.

''Or, you know, barbershop music,'' explains Boyd.

Erica gives them both a narrow-eyed look. ''You're shitting me.''

Boyd shrugs. ''Check this article,'' he says, showing her a Wikipedia page on his phone.

Erica frowns, reading the text. ''It says it's nonsense.''

Boyd snaps her head to her, scandalized. Derek lets out a laugh and sees Stiles glancing behind at the sound, watching him for a beat before turning back to Jackson.

''It's nonsense syllables,'' corrects Boyd, shooting her a glare.

''There is a guy called Godfather of Doo-wop. You want me to call you that?''

Derek ducks his head, grinning for a second. Just then Stiles returns and brightens, seeing Derek. He turns to Boyd and puts his hand on the guy's arm. ''I knew Erica chose well,'' says Stiles, nodding sagely at them.

He looks at Derek again. ''You should do this thing,'' he starts, wiggling his fingers in some weird motion around his mouth, ''with your teeth more often.''

Derek's smile tightens as Stiles keeps watching him. He makes an effort to deepen the grimace for a second, feeling horribly self-conscious, just to show that he's heard the words.

''No, seriously,'' says Stiles again, ''you're good looking just as you are, but when you smile like that you're positively gorgeous.''

Derek nods, feeling his ears turn pink, his eyes on the ground, hoping Stiles won't notice the flush if Derek just continues staring at the ground, praying for Stiles to drop the topic.

Stiles must take his silence as disbelief, because he pushes on. ''I'm being honest here. You have all those muscles, and your eyes are real pretty-''

Derek snaps his head to him, all tensed up. ''If you don't stop right now I'll make this thing with my teeth,'' he says, then tightens his lips.

Stiles looks at him, puzzled. ''Okay?''

Derek doesn't smile anymore, his hands in fists and posture rigid. ''I'll rip your throat out with my teeth.''

He turns away from Stiles, his jaw clenched so hard it hurts.

He went too far.

He went too far and destroyed whatever Stiles tried to build these past few days. Honestly, he should be surprised it lasted as long as it did. The whole thing is strange – Stiles' history project excuse, the way he kept talking with Derek, trying to get to know him.

Just like that, the anger is leaving him, giving way to regret and self-resentment. His arms drop and he keeps his eyes on the ground. If he was tired before, now he's exhausted.

Well, it doesn't matter now anyway. Derek will say that he's sorry, leave and have this thing over with. Stiles will know that he is weird but the whole school already knows that. It shouldn't make any difference.

Fuck, Laura will be disappointed but she can deal if Derek has to.

''So,'' says Stiles all of a sudden, ''like bloodplay?''

''What?''

''You know,'' he glances at Derek, narrowing his eyes in contemplation, ''throat, teeth? That's some kinky shit, man.''

''What?''

''I mean, I'm not judging, but you'd have to take me out somewhere nice first, then-''

''No,'' Derek blurts out, his eyes widening at the realization. ''No, that's not- I- you don't-''

Stiles just keeps watching him and Derek finally turns to him, completely bewildered.

''You're adorable,'' Stiles decides, grinning. ''Just cute.''

Derek snaps his head away from him and stares at the ground. His cheeks are flushed and his ears pink, but somehow, he is still there.

***

''This is so greasy,'' says Jackson, looking at his burger with disdain.

''You don't even know,'' replies Stiles, showing him one of his curly fries, dripping with oil, and putting it in his chocolate milkshake. Then, he eats it, keeping eye contact with Jackson.

''You're disgusting.''

''You only live once, Jackson,'' replies Stiles, all serene. ''But seriously, what's your problem? Is this burger too common for your delicate palate?''

Jackson narrows his eyes. ''Yes. It is.''

Stiles snorts. ''No, it's not.''

''I doubt you know my boyfriend's palate that well, Stiles,'' the girl sitting next to Jackson speaks up.

The Too Nice Guy sitting across from Derek grimaces. ''Can we not talk about things that are inside Jackson, please.''

''No, I like it,'' says Erica with a grin, leaning forward. ''What else can you tell me about Jackson's body, Lydia?''

Boyd smiles a little, looking at her.

''Jackson is a real person with feelings, not only a body,'' says the girl sitting next to the Too Nice Guy, frowning slightly. Derek is a little tense from trying to remember their names.

''Nah, he doesn't have feelings,'' says Stiles dismissively, shaking his head. ''He isn't actually human, only humanoid. What we can see over there?'' he points at Jackson. ''It's just a piece of meat.''

Lydia, who's apparently Jackson's girlfriend, snaps her eyes to him. ''Should I be concerned with the way you keep mentioning Jackson's body?''

Derek smiles to himself and takes another bite of his burger, listening to their discussion. It's clear they are close to each other, their conversation flowing easily. After an hour he's ready to go. He hasn't said a word after they'd entered the diner and ordered the food, Stiles kept talking with the others.

Derek notices the Too Nice Guy and his girlfriend smiling at him and he freaks out, not used to such an easy way of making a contact and confirming that he's there, with the others, that they haven't forgotten about him even if he doesn't talk. He looks away immediately, tries to smile back even as he can't keep the eye contact, but instead feels his face change with some odd grimace. He ducks his head, staring at the table before him. He reaches to drink his Coke to hide himself behind the glass and think of his possibilities. There are seven people here aside from him, three of whom he somewhat knows – well, he knows their names, it's got to count for something.

He sighs. That's way too many. He can barely get through a conversation with one person, how is he supposed to deal with a whole freaking group?

The only person he can imagine having a conversation with is Erica, and that's pretty much because she'd do most of the talking. She is on the other end of the table, though, with Boyd. Derek wouldn't want to talk to Boyd anyway after reliving his memories of Peter. On Erica's other side is Jackson with his girlfriend, neither caring about Derek if their uninterested slides over him when looking around are anything to go by.

That leaves him with the friendly couple and Stiles. He chooses Stiles, because he really doesn't want to use their kindness. He'd rather be left alone than know he's only accepted because someone in the past acted as a fucking good Samaritan.

''How long have you played lacrosse?'' he manages. It feels like he has a whole dissertation in his head on the topic Is This Question Okay.

''Four years,'' replies Stiles. ''I started in middle school, but I was terrible back then. All weird and gangly,'' he says and shoots Derek a quick smile.

Derek glances at him, trying to imagine Stiles as an awkward teenager but he can only see him the way he is now – handsome and cool. He wonders how Stiles must see him. Always alone and so quiet, one of the two Hales who survived. He contains his grimace. He isn't stupid or ugly, he's never been bullied and he isn't at the bottom of the school's social hierarchy. In fact, it feels like he isn't even inside the hierarchy – he is just that unimportant.

Soon, Erica and Boyd stand up, preparing to go back.

''I'll go with you,'' says Derek, standing up as well.

''You too?'' asks Stiles, genuinely surprised.

''Yeah, I should be leaving,'' replies Derek, avoiding his eyes.

''Wait, I'll walk you back.''

What?

''No, you don't have to,'' says Derek, frowning at him.

''Nah, you're right, it's getting late,'' nods Stiles, shrugging on his jacket. ''I'll accompany you.''

But why, moans Derek in his thoughts, trying to mentally prepare himself for the awkward way back, full of silences, weak jokes, and frantic searches for something to say.

''I haven't even started doing anything for the history project,'' Stiles adds.

''Me neither,'' shrugs Derek. ''Can I mail you about it over the weekend?''

''Yeah, that'd be great.''

''So what's your address?''

Stiles glances at him and frowns. ''You don't have it?''

''I don't,'' agrees Derek, taking out his mobile, somewhat surprised at Stiles' reaction. After all, before Stiles started talking to him, there was no reason for them to be in contact. ''Can you write your address here and I'll send you a message?'' he asks, handing Stiles his phone, still hoping it'll somehow convince Stiles to stay behind in the diner.

''Okay,'' says Stiles. He looks at Derek oddly but types in his name. ''Done, together with my phone number. Let's go,'' he returns the phone and smiles.

Derek sighs and takes his jacket, going out, Stiles right behind him.

And let the awkward silence begin, thinks Derek with a sinking heart. Erica and Boyd are walking ahead of them, lost in their world, arms around each other.

Stiles hums next to him, rearranges his coat, rolls his shoulders, and sighs, letting out a soft puff of air. He's so good-looking, realizes Derek again.

Suddenly, Derek's mind is hit with something to talk about. ''Uh, you mentioned something about polocrosse?'' he asks, frowning at Stiles.

''Yeah! It's a polo version of lacrosse,'' says Stiles and starts explaining it in detail, all enthusiastic. Derek's pretty proud of himself.

''Did you know that they have this thing called giving wood?''

Derek huffs out a laugh.

Stiles cracks up as well, looking at him excitedly. ''I know, right? It's when a player gets a ball from the opposing team,'' he finishes, grinning. After a second, his smile dims a bit. ''Sorry,'' he says suddenly and chuckles awkwardly. ''I'm rambling.''

Derek glances at him, surprised. ''It's okay,'' he assures. ''It's interesting. But how do they carry the balls? With their sticks or?...''

Stiles starts laughing. ''Do they carry the balls with their sticks, oh man, so many sex jokes and you didn't even notice,'' he grins at Derek, whose eyes widen and cheeks start burning.

Stiles laughs even more at his reaction and claps his arm, but this time, Derek doesn't retreat from the contact. When Stiles is quiet again, Derek clears his throat. ''So, do they carry them with their...?''

Stiles snorts, but then glances at Derek with an unreadable face. ''Yes, sticks,'' he replies finally, just to grin at Derek again, wiggling his eyebrows. ''They are called crosses.''

Surprisingly enough, it's the best time Derek's had all evening – he can hear about something interesting, he doesn't worry about uncomfortable silence because Stiles keeps talking and he even speaks up sometimes as well, asking questions.

***

Just like last week, on Monday Stiles talks with him in the morning and joins him during the lunch break.

Derek gives him a tight smile at first, but then sets his fork down and looks at Stiles again.

''It's not that I don't want to talk with you,'' he starts carefully, frowning slightly, ''but why do you sit here and not with your friends?''

''I like talking with you,'' Stiles shrugs.

''You like talking to your friends better.''

Stiles frowns. ''I don't-''

''I saw you last week. I was with all of you on Friday, remember?'' asks Derek. He isn't angry or jealous, just – confused. The whole situation's weird.

''Then why don't you sit with us?''

Derek stares at him, taken aback. ''Because it would make no sense for me to sit with the popular people,'' he says finally, looking at Stiles like he's an idiot.

Stiles shakes his head. ''I don't care about that.''

Derek raises his eyebrows, still regarding him, unconvinced.

Stiles huffs. ''Fine, I do care about that, but it's okay. You're better looking than Jackson, and if he can stay popular with his horrible personality, you definitely can get popular.''

Derek frowns. ''I don't want to get popular.''

Stiles rolls his eyes. ''Sure,'' he drawls, standing up. ''Let's go.''

Derek wants to press the issue as he was telling the truth, but there is another, more important thing. He follows Stiles and asks, ''Why did you even start talking to me?''

''I needed someone for the history project.''

''Yeah, but why did you want to-''

''Guys,'' Stiles interrupts him, sitting down at the table with his friends, ''Derek's decided to join us.''

Derek scowls at him. ''No, you've decided that I should join you.''

''Laying it on thick, Stilinski,'' sneers Jackson.

Stiles narrows his eyes and leans forward, suddenly tense. ''Shut the fuck up,'' he snarls.

Derek stares at him, startled. ''Stiles, it's fine,'' he says. ''I know it's not,'' he pauses for a second, searching for a word, ''serious.'' When Stiles looks at him, not understanding, he adds, ''I know you don't want to date me or anything.''

Jackson snorts and Derek frowns, looking between him and Stiles. He wonders if he can ask what's going on but stops himself. It could be just something between Jackson and Stiles and not his business at all. They would have told him if he was a part of it, right?

He remembers suddenly Jackson mentioning two months, Stiles and Jackson arguing about the dumbest shit, the mentions of Jackson's body, and now Stiles appears with Derek-

Oh, wow. Derek slowly raises his eyes to Stiles, then to Jackson. They are still arguing.

''Jesus, you're both so dumb,'' says Lydia, annoyed. ''Shut up and eat.'' She turns to the girl sitting across from her. ''Where did you find this dress, Allison?''

The Too Nice Guy's girlfriend, Derek managed to forgot the pair's names since Friday, smiles and they start talking. Derek doesn't listen to them, too busy wondering if Stiles was dating Jackson earlier, let's say two months ago. Lydia doesn't seem like a girl to get swept into such a drama but it explains Stiles' behavior towards Jackson and Derek.

He starts eating, not looking at anyone, and decides to keep the thought in mind. He won't say anything for now, he doesn't know enough yet. Stiles isn't forthcoming with the explanations, either – but Derek doesn't want to sit at the populars' table just to sit at their table and get dumped when he's not needed anymore. He'd rather be alone, be left in peace than used for something he doesn't even understand.

''Come on, Derek, say something,'' speaks up Stiles suddenly.

''No.''

''Why?''

Derek stops his sigh before it can escape him. ''Because I don't like talking to people.''

Stiles actually pauses for a second and regards him with an open expression. ''You don't like talking to me, or you don't like talking to people?''

Okay, he won't fall for this one.

...although, now that he thinks about it, popular people have self-confidence issues too, sometimes. Or it's just him being too soft.

Peter would know what's the deal with Stiles, he was great at assessing people, but Peter's dead.

''With people,'' he answers finally. It's easier to go with the truth, as long as he doesn't say much.

He wonders if he's just lost his way out.

''How can you not like talking to people?'' asks Stiles, incredulous.

Derek raises his eyes to catch his gaze. ''Because I'm a special fucking snowflake,'' he replies calmly, not changing his expression.

Stiles stares at him for a second, then starts laughing, his head falling back. Derek looks at Jackson, but he talks with Lydia and doesn't spare a simple glance at Stiles.

He sighs and rolls his shoulders, straightening. People are too fucking complicated. Always bring problems with themselves.

''Hey, wanna come over today?''

Derek turns to Stiles, quirking an eyebrow. ''Why?''

''History project.''

''You know, that's a really bad excuse,'' says Derek flatly. ''We don't even need to meet to prepare the presentation.''

Stiles punches his shoulder. ''Because I want to spend time with you, then.''

Derek shakes his head a little, looking at Stiles. ''Why?'' he repeats.

''To be friends with you,'' replies Stiles with a straight face.

Derek gives him an unimpressed look. ''Why the hell would you want to be friends with me?''

Stiles pauses for a second, then smirks. ''Because you're a special fucking snowflake.''

Derek can't help a small smile in answer but keeps Stiles' gaze, waiting for an explanation.

''Well?'' Stiles asks. ''We can play Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.''

For whatever reason, Stiles won't give him an honest answer, so Derek just shrugs. ''Okay.''

***

''And then he tells us that there are three states of matter, which is complete bullshit. So I'm doing him a favor and tell him that no, there aren't three states of matter, but about 200 if we accept a broad enough definition, and anyway talking about three states of matter is overly simplistic if not plain stupid,'' says Stiles. ''Harris got mad and gave me a detention for calling him simplistic and stupid, which I didn't even do and which I also – helpfully – pointed out, and he got me another detention for a supposed lack of respect and arguing with him.'' Stiles shakes his head. ''Dick.''

Derek huffs out a laugh, thinking over the story. He pretends to be focused on the game – Stiles has thankfully turned off the sound to complain about their chemistry teacher – and keeps a smile on his face as his heart sinks.

Stiles is smart, more so than Derek, but he already knew that. What he just realized is that he is also defiant, won't recognize the authority unless his respect is earned. That just makes him more interesting, though. He will end up in all kinds of situations because he's not afraid of calling out bullshit. He is already engaging, but with all the stuff he'll be a part of?

He will be unforgettable.

Having that in mind, there is no longer use for lying to himself. Derek is inadequate. Not as good looking, not as intelligent, not as popular, not as anything.

***

He may have a better stamina, though.

Derek raises an eyebrow at Stiles, who's flopped on the seat next to him, groaning. He looks back at Derek, making a face. ''Don't make me change desks. I can't imagine moving for the next few hours after today's practice.''

''You'll have to change the classroom once History's over.''

Stiles groans again. ''You'll have to carry me.'' He suddenly turns to Derek, giving him an assessing look. ''You could totally lift me up, huh?'' he muses. ''With this stuff here,'' he adds, groping Derek's arm.

Derek doesn't say anything, just looks at him, wary.

''I'm too wiped out today, but tomorrow we've got to have an arm wrestling match to see who's stronger.''

***

Apparently, Derek's stronger. He spends his Spanish class hearing from Scott, now sitting next to him, exactly how amazing that is. And yes, he now knows that the Too Nice Guy's name is Scott. You can remember a lot with enough repetition.

***

''Can you give me your coordinates?''

''What?'' Derek frowns. ''Why?''

''Because I got lost in your eyes,'' says Stiles, grinning, and wiggles his eyebrows.

''Awww,'' three girls sitting nearby sigh in unison and start giggling, talking among each other.

''That was fucking dumb,'' says Derek, grimacing.

Over the last few days, he's developed a love-hate-like relationship with Stiles. He hates that Stiles can say the dumbest shit and yet people will still laugh and smile at him, will still want to spend time with him just because he's popular. Derek hates that he's one of them. Stiles does get ridiculous, but it's just – cute, in a way, and he's interesting.

Well, exactly. He's the most interesting thing that's happened to Derek since – too long – and he loves spending time with Stiles, listening to his stories and opinions and even his freaking lectures.

''Shut up and let me see your eyes.'' Stiles gazes at him, leaning closer.

Derek tries to keep still, feeling uncomfortable as Stiles keeps watching him. ''What are you doing?''

Stiles frowns slightly and touches his chin, moving his face even closer. Derek can feel himself blushing involuntarily. He has no idea where to look, and he doesn't have much of a choice when Stiles fills almost his whole field of vision. Stiles' eyes are a beautiful shade of brown, but Derek makes himself look away after a moment, focusing on his moles. When he realizes it he draws his gaze away from them, watching Stiles' messy hair, but honestly, how long can you watch hair, that's just creepy.

''I'm trying to figure out what kind of color your eyes are.''

Derek huffs, impatient, and leans back, away from Stiles' face, fingers, and warm breath. ''Just green,'' he says, rubbing his forehead and failing at hiding his flush.

''They are nothing like just green, you savage.''

''It's nothing like important, you dumbass,'' snaps Derek and clamps his mouth shut, realizing who he's arguing with.

Stiles blinks and laughs, startled.

''Don't do stuff like that,'' says Derek, his eyes somewhere on the floor.

''Why?''

Derek shrugs. ''Because it'll make Jackson jealous.'' He is only half joking.

Stiles again only watches him before laughing out loud, his head falling back. ''Oh my god, that was a good one,'' he says, grinning.

''Because you trust each other,'' ventures Derek, wanted to hear something more about it.

Stiles laughs so hard there are tears in his eyes. ''This is beautiful,'' he says. ''Yes, Derek that's exactly it.''

Derek doesn't reply. He isn't sure how to react anymore.

Still, in situations such as this one, the most common, normal, it's hard not to just like Stiles, even if Derek's pretty sure half the students suspect they are dating. It's hard to stay angry at Stiles, or at least carefully uninvolved.

***

Derek talks with Erica when Scott smiles at him.

''Stiles told me that you're good at sports. Do you want to join the lacrosse team?''

Oh god, this is like a social nightmare come true. It's not Stiles, but Scott who wants him to integrate.

''No.''

He winces internally at the unmitigated response, afraid that Scott will take it the wrong way. His smile does waver a little but he doesn't give up.

''What about basketball? I know some of the guys. Danny's nice,'' he suggests.

''Thanks, but I don't really like team sports.''

Derek meant it as a way to let him down gently, however, Scott brightens up suddenly and glances at his girlfriend.

''Then archery! Allison's the president of the club,'' he says proudly, giving her a smile.

Of course she is, thinks Derek. What the hell am I doing here?

His uncertainty must show on his face because Allison dimples at him. ''Just think about it,'' she says easily.

Derek immediately feels bad. ''Thanks,'' he says quietly, looking at both her and Scott. It's a great thing that they want to help people. There are some shy students who only wait for a chance such as this one, or people who just wait for such a chance because no one's given them one, the rest already having made up mind about them, like Isaac. The whole thing with him was fucking stupid but Derek liked, and still likes Isaac.

''Oh, but you should come to the party next Saturday,'' adds Allison.

''Wait, what?'' Stiles stops his discussion with Erica and turns to Allison. ''Party?''

''At Lydia's.''

Stiles looks at Derek. ''You're coming with me,'' he states.

At such times, Stiles makes him think of his mom. She was strong-minded like that, the one to decide about stuff. If Derek wanted to go out with his friends during the weekend, he'd go ask her. After the fire, he felt completely lost without her presence. He's lucky Laura's still with him.

Derek realizes he's been quiet for too long as Stiles regards him, his eyebrows drawn together.

''Why?''

Stiles shrugs. ''You're like my boyfriend.''

Taken aback, Derek keeps staring at him, his eyebrows slowly raising. He's acutely aware of all the people sitting around them, looking between them, waiting for whatever will happen. It makes for a good drama, he supposes. He hates being a part of it.

''We're not dating,'' he says carefully.

Stiles rolls his eyes, but there is a tension in his shoulders, a sign that he's not completely at ease with whatever Derek's going to say now. ''You're my plus one, what's the difference?''

''I can't be the only one to do something here, Derek,'' said Kate. She looked beautiful that night in a red dress, did something with her hair. ''You can't just think of yourself all the time.''

Derek tried to get a grip, again, but the image of smoke kept coming back to him. He blinked, desperate to stop his tears.

''Are you-'' Kate looked at him, incredulous. ''You're crying? I can't believe this,'' she said chuckling darkly. ''You're so egoistic,'' she added, exhaling the air and shook her head. ''Well, that's enough. I'm breaking up.''

Derek blinks. He doesn't know what Stiles sees on his face but it makes him frown, leaning back slightly in his chair. ''What? I'm a pretty good catch, if I do say so myself.''

Derek sits completely still, eyes glued to the table. He feels trapped with Stiles keeping his gaze on him, same as Erica, Boyd, Scott, Allison, Lydia, Jackson-

''That's not- It's not that I-'' he tries, his cheeks burning. ''I'm going now,'' he says suddenly and stands up from the table, not looking at anyone. It feels like the whole cafeteria's watching him go out, which is ridiculous. He knows he is exaggerating, but can't calm himself down, blinks back the tears as he hurries down the corridor.

He skips the rest of the classes, coming back home earlier, trying to find comfort in Kashmir. He clutches to himself Led Zeppelin's album, one of the few things from Peter's collection that survived the fire.

***

He has no idea what to expect the next day. Stiles sent him some texts, first apologizing, then a gif of a cute dog, a funny meme and a photo of pizza with the text, ''pizza makes everyone happy''. Derek doesn't know what to think of it. He goes to school, wondering if Stiles will talk to him or if he should just sit by himself again at lunch, stay by himself all day like earlier. As soon as he enters the building though, Stiles is suddenly next to him, apologizing.

''I'm so sorry, dude, really, we don't have to go to the party if you don't want to,'' he says without a pause, gazing at Derek with his big eyes. Everything about him screams earnest, like he really cares about Derek, cares if he's forgiven – which makes no sense. Derek doesn't want to be in a situation of a forgiver, he doesn't want that kind of power over Stiles. There is a tension in the air that makes it hard to think it over coolly and Stiles continues gazing at him, searching his face for something.

''It's okay,'' Derek blurts out without thinking. He has no idea who's more surprised with his easy forgiveness, him or Stiles.

Stiles keeps looking at him and Derek shrugs, awkward. ''We can go to the party,'' he adds. It's not a big problem. He'll talk with Stiles for ten minutes, then drink coke and listen to music for the next two hours, and finally leave bored, stupidly disappointed, and depressed.

It's not that bad.

''Really?'' asks Stiles, his eyes widening in clear surprise.

''Yeah,'' says Derek and shrugs again. ''I don't have any plans for the weekend.''

Okay, he should have kept that to himself. Stiles' expression changes with a flash of pity for a moment and Derek looks away, keeping his face blank, acts like he didn't see it. Of course he doesn't have plans for the weekend, he never has any plans.

He doesn't even know what he's gonna do once the high school is over – he just needs to go through that for now. Laura will probably want him to go to college, but maybe he should just start working. At least he'll get money and stop being a burden to her.

''Awesome'' says Stiles with a beaming smile, stepping closer. He feels warm and alive and too bright next to Derek. ''I can't wait.''

***

Derek sits down during the lunch at his now-normal seat, with the rest of Stiles' friends, and starts eating. Stiles is immersed in a discussion with Scott and Allison, so he braces himself for the awkward fifteen minutes of silence.

''You like dancing, Derek?'' asks Erica, turning to him suddenly.

''No,'' he replies without thinking.

''Well, too bad,'' she says. ''I need you for the show during the Halloween party. I'm in charge of the dance.''

It's like those people are involved in everything, he can't help thinking. Lacrosse, archery, cheerleading, and now Halloween party. Is there someone here in a student council? He glances at the other end of the table. Right. Lydia Martin.

''I'm not good at dancing,'' he says.

''Watch me,'' Erica says, standing up. She takes a step to the right, moves her hands, takes another step, spins and does something funny with her legs.

''Can you do that again?'' he asks, surprised at the grace with which she moves. She nods and he focuses on the steps.

Erica repeats the sequence – step, hands, step, spin, legs. ''Think you can do that now?''

Derek goes over the movements in his mind, nods, and stands up. When he's finished, Erica stares at him, then turns to Lydia. ''Did you see that?'' Derek looks at her, not sure if he's done something stupid but Erica grins hugely. ''You're fucking amazing at dancing,'' she says, clapping his arm.

''You're totally Patrick Swayze,'' calls Stiles and some people sitting around snort, looking at Derek. He sends him a glare. ''That just confirms it,'' smirks Stiles.

***

Stiles continues to seek him out.

''Come over tomorrow,'' he says in a passing and smiles at Derek, confident he'll be heard.

What, Derek can't help thinking, again?

But he'll come.

***

''I'll be late tomorrow, I'm going to Stiles' after school.''

Laura smiles at him warmly and that's exactly why he was wondering if he should lie to her, saying he wanted to go to the cinema or whatever. At this point she is going to think that Stiles is becoming a permanent element in Derek's life when all of this is temporary. Stiles only talks with him because of – something, some kind of plan, it doesn't even really matter because nothing lasts long enough to count on it – people change or die and in the end, you're always alone.

''You can invite him here sometime,'' she says.

Derek hums but doesn't say anything even as Laura continues looking at him, waiting for a proper answer.

''Yeah, I'll see,'' he gives in finally.

This is becoming a mess. She'll be so disappointed when whatever Stiles wanted to achieve is over.

***

They are playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater again. Music is on, but Stiles keeps talking, steering his attention away from the sounds.

''Dude,'' says Stiles, frowning at the screen before turning to Derek. ''You're hopeless.''

Derek nods. ''I know,'' he admits easily.

Stiles is silent for a while and Derek wonders if this is the thing that will tip him over, make him give up on Derek. ''Oh well,'' he sighs and sends Derek a sunny smile. ''You'll get better.''

So that failed.

''I mean, look at me,'' he continues. ''Finstock has stated today that I'm an example to follow-''

''What,'' Derek interrupts him, incredulous.

''-and not so long ago I got detention for disrespecting the teacher-''

''That was just last week.''

''-and in the past I even got called to the director's office for wearing an offensive T-shirt.''

Derek raises his eyebrows at him. ''Really?''

''Oh yeah, wait a second, I'll show you,'' Stiles says and turns to search his wardrobe. ''Here,'' he grins, holding a black tee with I take dicks in writing.

''You wore this to school,'' says Derek. He probably shouldn't be surprised.

Stiles beams at him, nodding enthusiastically.

''Pink 'dicks','' Derek states dumbly.

Stiles laughs out loud and takes out his mobile. ''Can you repeat that? I need you to repeat that.''

Derek stares at the voice recorder app open on Stiles' phone and gives him a withering look.

***

The next day, Derek has English classes together with Isaac. He finds him in the classroom and pointing to the seat next to him, asks, ''Can I sit here?''

Isaac gapes at him before nodding jerkily.

''So,'' starts Derek and sighs, having no idea how to approach the topic. ''I wanted to talk to you about this thing-'' he pauses and frowns at Isaac. ''Why are you looking at me like this?''

Isaac's wide eyes and blank face doesn't change. ''Like what?''

Derek grimaces. ''I know it's kind of strange for me to appear now-''

''You're fucking popular, Derek,'' says Isaac flatly just for his eyes to grow even bigger.

Derek smiles a bit, seeing that the Isaac he knew is still there. ''I'm not,'' he replies. ''I have no idea what Stiles wants from me.'' He frowns and glances at Isaac. ''Do you know if he was dating Jackson Whittemore earlier?''

''No,'' Isaac furrows his eyebrows. ''Not that I know of. Whittemore's been dating Lydia Martin for a while now. Why?''

Derek shrugs. ''They argue a lot.''

''Nah, that's normal for them. Hiding their insecurities with sad alpha posturing.''

Derek smiles again. Yeah, that's Isaac for sure. ''Anyways, I thought you may want to go to the party this Friday. Lydia's organizing it.''

Isaac's shocked face is worth all the raised eyebrows at them sitting together. Still, Derek can't stay for too long with him. He doesn't like the gossip, but it's just unpleasant, something to grimace at and turn away from. However, Isaac was hurt much more because of some shitty stories, because of his father and Derek's past – none of which were his fault.

''Well,'' sighs Derek and ignores another look from a girl passing them. ''I should go now, the class will start soon.''

Isaac grimaces. ''You know I don't care-''

Derek already shakes his head. ''It's not okay. Besides,'' he smiles without cheer, ''I don't want to make Stiles jealous.''

''He does seem like an overbearing guy,'' says Isaac, making a face.

''No, he's okay,'' replies Derek at once. ''Apart from the fact that I have no idea what he's thinking spending time with me like that, he's been really okay.''

''You're too nice for him.''

Derek almost disagrees but manages to stay silent. Stiles is – too colourful for him. Derek may seem interesting as well but in truth, he's just weird, parts of him fucked up. The thought's too heavy, though, and too revealing. He doesn't want to face it himself and sharing it with someone else will just show how pathetic he is. Liking this much the first person that talks to him, the first person to show a little care for him, kinder with Derek's odd behavior than Kate – and he's gone.

So Derek just gives Isaac a small smile and changes the desk, choosing an empty one as always.

***

Laura is way too happy about the party, much more than Derek, and it makes him kind of sad that it's not her going instead.

Still, she is so excited she decides they need to go shopping so that he has some new great clothes. Derek doesn't have the heart to fight her off, remembering her shopping trips with Cora. Malia would rather stay home because after just an hour of walking from one store to another she used to get so frustrated she'd start a fight with anyone and anything. That's why Derek usually ended up with them, trudging after his sisters, defeated.

He can't believe how little he appreciated it back then.

''This one,'' states Laura.

''Huh?''

''Try this one,'' repeats Laura, giving him a green shirt. ''It'll bring out your eyes.''

''What's the deal with my eyes,'' grumbles Derek, mostly to himself.

''What about them?''

''Uh, no, just-'' Derek flushes, remembering Stiles' gaze and touch. ''I was wondering what color they are.''

''Hazel, maybe,'' says Laura, looking at him thoughtfully. ''Why?''

Derek shakes his head, taking the shirt and turning to the changing rooms. ''Just thinking.''

Laura gives him a small smile but keeps him from leaving with her hand on his arm. ''I'm really happy that you're going to this party,'' she says.

Derek nods, not looking at her.

''I know that you don't mind being by yourself but,'' she sighs softly. ''It's good to have friends, you know?''

When Derek doesn't respond, not daring to even glance at her, on a verge of spilling everything, the way he doesn't understand what Stiles' doing, what's the reason behind all of this – because it sure as fuck isn't real – but then Laura smiles and claps his arm.

''Come on, I want to see you rocking this shirt.''

Normally, Derek would give her a flat look at that but now he's just relieved to escape to the changing room.

***

Derek isn't sure what's the point of the parties. He can understand that people want to meet with the others sometimes and spend time with them – but inviting more than twenty people seems just stupid. You won't be able to truly talk with all of them, so why bother?

Not to mention the shitty, loud music that makes the talking impossible. You can only dance, which Derek doesn't like, feeling too self-conscious.

Still, he spends this party differently than expected. Erica notices him just as he enters and drags him to the dancefloor. They aren't really dancing, though, it feels more like a tutoring session. When Boyd gets Erica to dance with him, Derek's immensely grateful for a break.

He finds Isaac and offers to introduce him to Scott and Allison. Isaac turns white from stress but nods.

Derek frowns at him. ''Why do you care about that so much?''

''Because they are nice,'' moans Isaac. ''Scott's always nice to everyone, he gets along with everyone, and he is kind of naive, annoyingly so, but he does his best,'' explains Isaac.

''Don't worry,'' says Derek, shaking his head. ''Scott's just one of those people that like to help people, you know? And Allison's okay. You'll be fine.''

Isaac nods jerkily. ''Think I can talk to them about joining lacrosse team?''

''Yeah, that's a good idea,'' agrees Derek. ''Scott actually invited me but I declined, so he should be happy to get you.'' Derek looks around and walks through the crowd with Isaac. Soon, he quirks a small smile to Allison. ''Hey, this is Isaac, he wants to join the lacrosse team.''

Scott turns to Isaac and beams at him, and that's enough for Derek to know that they'll be fine.

He leaves them talking and goes to find something to drink. He doesn't really know anyone around, so he stays in the same spot, leaning against the wall until he can't stand the music anymore and goes outside. There, he sees Stiles talking with Lydia, Erica, and some other people. Suddenly, they start laughing, Stiles grinning at them, then opening his mouth again-

''Hey,'' says Boyd, suddenly next to him. ''Want to go play some good music?''

''God, yes,'' agrees Derek readily and Boyd actually smiles at him.

They come back inside and finally play something worthwhile. It starts easily, with The Beatles, cause everyone loves The Beatles (''shut up, Jackson, everyone loves The Beatles,'' Boyd keeps on saying), then goes Papa Roach, Queen, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin – Derek manages to clench his fists strong enough to avoid the breakdown during Kashmir – there is time for My Bloody Valentine, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Yeah Yeah Yeahs... Of all the things, they are stopped because of Pixies.

''You're mixing the music too much,'' explains Lydia.

Boyd and Derek glance at each other. ''You mean we're eclectic,'' decides Boyd.

''That's actually a compliment,'' Derek points out.

They are ready to argue more but Erica wants to dance with Boyd some more, so Derek looks around, making sure Isaac's okay. He is talking with some guy, still blushing. He seems to be in a good mood, though, so Derek leaves them be.

''Dude, you're here! You look great!'' calls Stiles, beaming at him.

Derek smiles weakly in response, acutely aware of people shushing nearby to watch the two of them.

''Come on, let's go dance,'' says Stiles and takes his hand, already dragging him to the middle of the floor. Stiles puts his hand on Derek's arm and another on his hip, Derek already flushed at how close they are.

''I have no idea what I should do,'' he says.

''You mean you don't know how to dance?'' asks Stiles. ''Just follow me,'' he smiles and starts moving along the music. Good thing that something slower is going on, otherwise Derek would be completely lost.

''You can always move like the others,'' says Stiles. ''Look at Erica. I call that pole dancing,'' he grins and Derek's lips curl up as well. ''Erica is the dancer and Boyd is the pole.''

Derek observes them for a while. ''Actually, that's surprisingly accurate.''

''I know, right?'' They turn and Stiles points with his head to Scott. ''That's Spaghetti Style. You move as you like, no coordination, no understanding of music or rhythm.''

''He looks really dumb.''

''I know, but he's having so much fun as a human noodle no one has the heart to tell him that.''

''What about Jackson?'' asks Derek, pointing with his chin at the boy, hugging Lydia and barely swaying.

''Yeah, this is a Hanged Up Piece Of Meat.''

Derek snorts. ''I thought you'd say something like Robocop Style, what with him being barely humanoid, not human.''

''Nah, though there are some people with that mechanical thing, like Greenberg.'' He turns to Derek, suddenly thoughtful. ''Robocop Style. I like the name,'' he says approvingly.

***

Derek gets a text from Stiles the next day.

Stiles: found music AND dancing style that you're gonna love:

Stiles: shoegazing

Derek: Yeah, Slowdive's not bad.

Stiles: omg i need you to have a discussion about music with Boyd i'll give you his number

Stiles: no wait i need to hear that

Stiles: and Erica too this is gonna be amazing just wait till monday

Stiles: though now that i think about it Boyd prefers older music

Derek: I believe in equal opportunity.

Stiles: :D where is the winky face to that?

Derek frowns and rereads his text. His ears feel hot when he thinks of what should be his response. Part of him wants to reply, 'I'm actually pansexual' but it still feels too early to come out, and he's not even sure if that's the right label for him. In the end, he chooses a much safer response.

Derek: No, I was just talking about music, really, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that.

Stiles: ...uh huh ;)

Derek stares at the reply for a beat, still flushing. Does that mean Stiles is bi? Derek mildly thought of him as gay because of the shirt Stiles has shown him. Also, Stiles is flirting with him, isn't he? But does that mean that Derek has actually a chance or-

He shakes his head.

Derek: How did you find out about shoegaze anyway?

Stiles: venus in furs

Derek: What

Stiles: velvet underground has a song inspired by Masoch's book and the group was an inspiration to shoegaze

Derek: I can't believe you wrote Masoch but velvet underground instead of The Velvet Underground. What's wrong with your priorities?

Stiles: oh god i can't wait till monday

***

On Monday, Derek isn't as quietly resigned with coming to school as he normally is. He isn't excited about the day like Stiles, but he's not really opposed either. He feels odd, almost fidgety in the morning.

At lunch, Stiles peers at him, then at Boyd and Erica. ''So what do you think about shoegaze music,'' he says.

Derek gives him a flat look.

''You know I don't really care for music after the 1980s,'' answers Boyd.

Derek turns to him, incredulous, doesn't even care about Stiles' self-satisfied smirk and starts listing off all the amazing groups that he knows are younger.

Boyd shrugs, unperturbed. ''Old music just has this different sound.''

Derek frowns slightly, thinking about it and nods. ''Okay, yeah.''

''It does?'' asks Erica, clearly surprised.

Stiles shushes her down, staring at them like a hawk.

''I still think you should give a chance to some new bands. Try The Raconteurs, they have this older feeling even though the band itself is new.''

Erica turns to Derek, interested. ''So you agree that newer music is better?''

Stiles tries to shush her again but Erica just shakes her head. ''This is more important, Batman,'' she says, Boyd nodding at her words, his face completely serious.

''Not really. I just like music, old or new.''

''Like, you know,'' starts Stiles and coughs, ''normal people.''

Boyd glances at Derek and narrows his eyes. ''Led Zeppelin or AC/DC?'' he asks suddenly.

''Led Zeppelin,'' replies Derek without thinking.

Boyd looks at Stiles. ''We can keep him.''

Derek huffs out a laugh and glances at Stiles, who doesn't reply. He seems startled, his smile hesitant. He opens his mouth, about to answer but Erica's faster.

''We keep him whether Stiles wants that or not. Remember his dancing?'' She turns to Derek. ''We keep you whether you want it or not.''

''What if I like AC/DC more?'' asks Stiles, avoiding Derek's gaze.

''Leave,'' replies Boyd coldly.

Stiles rolls his eyes. ''Yet you want to keep Derek, even against his will. You know what it makes me think about?''

''Oh, we know,'' answers Erica with an odd expression on her face.

Stiles ignores her. ''Venus in furs,'' he whispers dramatically, finally looking at Derek, and they both snort.

***

In the afternoon, Stiles finds him again. ''We need to finish up the history project for Wednesday. Want to come over?''

Derek hesitates for a second, thinking back to Laura's proposition. It's only fair for him to invite Stiles this time, but on the other hand, it still feels too soon. For all he knows, everything could have happened for this one shitty project. Erica and Boyd mentioned 'keeping him' but it was just a joke. Wasn't it? No, even if it wasn't, why should he trust them? They aren't his friends. He doesn't even know them that well.

It could all be gone tomorrow because of something. This is not real, Derek reminds himself.

''Yeah,'' he nods, avoiding Stiles' eyes. He can pay him back some other time, if there is some other time at all.

***

''Hey, Derek.''

He turns around, hearing his name and squishes down the urge to look around, checking for some other Dereks, when a girl he doesn't know keeps looking straight at him.

He keeps her gaze, wary, as she smiles and steps closer to him. ''Hey,'' she repeats and tucks some hair behind her ear. ''What are you doing this Friday?''

Derek parts his lips and blinks, surprised. ''Nothing.''

Her smile widens and she looks at him from under her lashes. He realizes suddenly how flirtatious it appears – but manages not to grimace, feeling almost sick.

''Then how about a date with me?''

He shakes his head, his face expressionless. ''I'm not looking for a girlfriend.''

''Oh,'' she says, her pink lips turning downwards. ''So it's true that you're dating Stiles then?''

''What? No,'' he frowns, glancing at the people watching them, and shifts his weight. He fucking hates high school at times.

She regards him for a beat and smiles again. ''Well, think about it and let me know if you decide to come,'' she says finally and walks away, brushing their arms. She looks behind with smile as Derek frowns after her.

***

''I think one girl flirted with me today,'' he says, still mostly confused.

Stiles snaps his eyes to him. ''I knew it would happen! Who was it?''

Derek stills, then looks at him guiltily. ''I don't know her name,'' he admits.

Stiles snorts. ''Just show me who it was.''

Derek looks around. ''The one with long, dark hair, she's in a dress, sitting over there.''

''Jennifer, huh,'' muses Stiles, eyeing her.

Derek turns to her as well and suddenly, she locks eyes with him, then smiles and waves.

Derek flits his eyes to Stiles. ''What do I do?'' he asks frantically. ''Do I wave? I don't want to make her sad but I don't even like her.''

Stiles watches him in amazement. ''Just smile and wave,'' he says simply.

Derek plasters some kind of grimace on his face and raises his hand tentatively, feeling like an idiot. Jennifer's smile grows bigger and she lets her hair fall on her right shoulder, turning to a girl sitting next to her.

''You've done well,'' says Stiles, clapping him on his arm.

''Don't make fun of me,'' groans Derek. ''Interacting with people is so fucking exhausting.''

Stiles laughs at that and regards Derek with a smile, then shakes his head and goes back to eating his lunch. It strikes Derek that by now, he knows Stiles' expressions.

***

For example, he can recognize when Stiles' smile is fake.

''Stiles, come hang out with us. We're going bowling,'' says one of the guys after the history class, his name was probably Greenberg.

Stiles turns to Derek instead and smiles at him. ''Nah, I already made plans with Derek to get some cheesecake. You know, for finishing the project and the As we got,'' he says and shoots Derek meaningful look.

''Yeah,'' nods Derek, unconvinced, wondering why would Stiles want to escape the group. He'd rather not say that he doesn't want to spend time with Stiles – he'd only made enemies of the guys here.

On the other hand, sticking with Stiles may not be the best idea, either. ''But we can go some other time,'' he suggests.

''No, it has to be today, we're celebrating the end of the project, right?''

The end of the project? The history project or the me-project, or both?

''Right,'' repeats Derek.

***

God, but this strawberry cheesecake is worth it all, he thinks, sitting at the cafe that afternoon.

''You didn't want to go with those guys?''

Stiles shakes his head. ''I'd rather spend time with you.''

Derek gives him a flat look. ''Sure.''

Stiles frowns and leans forward, eyeing him. ''Is it so strange that I'd want to spend time with you?''

Yes, Derek answers in his head at once. Stiles is interesting. Almost enchanting, with his intelligence and humor. Derek, on the other hand, is boring, closed-off, and weird at times with his flashbacks. It makes no sense for Stiles to want to talk with him.

''Yes,'' he replies. He may as well try to find some answers.

Stiles frowns at him, taken aback. ''I like you. Even arguing with you,'' he says, narrowing his eyes.

Derek doesn't reply at first, confused as to what should be his reaction here. It'd be easy to just dismiss Stiles' words, asking him how does that make any sense?. He could also try to joke, raise his eyebrow and ask, is this a love-hate relationship?.

Or he could just nod, because he does like spending time with Stiles as well but can't make himself admit that out loud.

He kind of expects Stiles to pressure him more, try to understand why would Derek say what he did, why doesn't he trust him. However, when he looks up, Stiles is deep in his thoughts, sitting completely still, his cheesecake forgotten.

When he catches Derek looking at him, he winces and turns away, straightening. ''You don't like talking to me?'' he asks suddenly.

Derek raises his eyebrows. ''Of course I do. Everyone does,'' he shrugs.

Stiles stares at him, then tries to smile, tense. He glances away and still avoids looking at Derek when he asks, ''What about your date on Friday?''

Derek grimaces. ''I'm not going. I don't even know that girl,'' he explains and frowns. ''What was her name again?''

''Jennifer,'' says Stiles and his lips curl up. ''You know, that's what dates are for. To get to know someone.''

Derek shakes his head. ''I'm not looking for a girlfriend.''

Stiles shrugs, unbothered with his decisive tone. ''You don't look for love; love looks for you,'' he says sagely.

''What the hell's wrong with you,'' groans Derek, his face contorting with the mental pain.

''Well, how about a boyfriend?'' suggests Stiles, wiggling his eyebrows, and gives Derek a small grin.

Derek just glares at him, eating his cheesecake. Seriously good, this thing.

Okay, so maybe he didn't really get any new information, but he got to spend time with Stiles. Still a win.

***

''Danny asked me to sit with him during lunch,'' says Isaac.

''Danny?'' frowns Derek.

''Yeah, Danny Mahaelani, the captain of the basketball team?''

Derek keeps frowning. He vaguely remembers a guy with a friendly smile but no details beside that.

Isaac sighs. ''I've spent some time with him during the party at Lydia's.''

''Ah, okay,'' Derek nods. ''And?''

Isaac looks at him oddly. ''Danny is the most popular guy in school. Do you know who he usually sits with?''

''No.''

''There is no one he usually sits with. He just ends up at whichever table because everyone's happy to have him.''

Derek turns to Isaac, surprised that such people even existed. ''Really?''

Isaac nods, biting his lip. ''And when he saw me hesitating, he said that we can sit with Lydia, Scott, Stiles, you know, your group.''

''It's not my group,'' Derek denies immediately, grimacing.

''It's your Stiles, though,'' bites Isaac, not missing a beat.

Derek makes a face at him and ducks his head, hoping it will hide his blush.

''You're totally crushing on him,'' says Isaac, disbelieving. ''Why?''

Derek shrugs, not looking at him. ''He is okay.''

''Okay,'' repeats Isaac flatly. He eyes Derek for a moment but relents, shaking his head. ''Anyways, is that alright with you? Danny suggested it because quote, 'you're friends', unquote.''

Derek tenses. ''Do you want me to talk to h-''

''No,'' interrupts Isaac. ''No, he really just wanted to be nice. He's a good guy.''

Derek glances at Isaac but doesn't say anything.

''Still,'' continues Isaac, shooting him a tight smile, ''be ready for threesome/foursome rumors.''

Derek makes a face but huffs out a laugh.

***

''The Kinks?'' asks Boyd, sitting next to him during the lunch.

Derek barely manages to keep a blank face at Stiles' expression. ''All day and all of the night,'' he replies.

Boyd smirks. ''And lazing on a sunny afternoon.''

''And here I took you for A Well Respected Man.''

''Well, we are not two, we are one. On this.''

Stiles gapes at them, then snaps his eyes away and drinks some water.

Derek smirks, glancing at Boyd. ''Victoria.''

***

Stiles starts talking about something but Derek doesn't really listen to him, immersed in a book.

''You hear me?'' asks Stiles and kicks Derek's shoe. ''You need to go on a date.''

Derek sighs and takes out his mobile to send a text, then comes back to reading. He can see from the corner of his eye Stiles frowning at him and preparing to kick him again, but he is interrupted by the sound of an incoming message.

Stiles checks his phone and reads aloud, '''Go away, I'm reading'.''

Now, though, Derek is only pretending to read, too interested in Stiles' reaction.

Stiles gives him a flat look, which stays ignored, and sits down next to Derek.

''You should go on a date,'' he repeats.

Derek grimaces and sighs, long-suffering, before closing the book and turning to Stiles.

''With Jennifer? I told you I don't want to.''

''No, you should go with someone you like.''

Derek grimaces internally. He's never been okay with lying.

''I don't have anyone I like.''

''Oh my god,'' groans Stiles. ''It doesn't have to be your big love, just – someone you find attractive, maybe?''

''No,'' replies Derek flatly, even when it costs him what feels like too much to keep eye contact with Stiles, ''there is no one.''

''Oh come on,'' Stiles makes a face at him, ''not even me?''

It's meant as a joke, so that's how Derek takes it, giving Stiles an unimpressed look and turning back to his book. It doesn't matter what he really thinks.

Instead of groaning again and standing up, grumbling about teenagers not being teenage enough and not living their teenagehood to the fullest, before walking away, Stiles shuffles a bit closer to Derek.

''On which part are you now?'' he asks, nodding at the book.

Derek doesn't reply, just places it closer to Stiles so that he can read as well. Stiles hums and again, Derek expects him to leave but he stays, continues reading.

Well, Catch-22 is rather compelling.

Derek guesses this also explains why Stiles slings his arm around Derek, leaning closer, neither taking his eyes away from the book. It's just that compelling, Derek repeats to himself again and again.

It doesn't explain why Stiles gives up on reading once they reach the end of the chapter. He actually frowns and turns to Derek, who's so confused at the sudden proximity he imagines Stiles' eyes flicking to his mouth.

''Want to go to the cinema tomorrow?''

Startled, Derek looks at him for a beat. ''Is there something you want to watch?''

Stiles takes his arm back to take out his mobile and says, ''I'll check what's playing now.''

Derek freezes, staring at the book before him. He doesn't know what films are on now. He doesn't know what films are on now, but wants Derek to go with him to the cinema – like it's a date or something.

Derek keeps still for a while longer, then slowly starts to relax. Like it's a date – or something.

And since this is Stiles, it's just something.

***

They approach the lunch table, Stiles giving Derek a lecture on how Babylonian mathematicians could solve quadratic equations.

''Stiles, that was 4000 years ago,'' he says, taken aback.

''I know!'' says Stiles with a feeling. ''They were so amazing!''

Derek nods in agreement, ignoring the looks from the others, keeping his eyes on Stiles. Stiles opens his mouth to continue when suddenly Jackson speaks up.

''You'll fail, you know that, right?'' He sneers. ''Five weeks? You're too cocky for your own good.''

''How many times do I have to-'' starts Stiles but Derek can't keep it in anymore.

He snorts.

Everyone's looking at him so he turns to Jackson. ''Sorry, just – cocky? Really?''

There is a beat of silence and Derek flushes, averts his eyes, regretting the dumb joke.

Erica suddenly bursts out laughing, her head falling back. ''Oh my god, I can't believe I didn't notice that!'' She grins and turns to Derek. ''High five!''

Derek claps her hand, his ears pink.

''Good job,'' says Boyd with a nod, glancing at him, his face straight.

''You,'' starts Stiles, gazing at him seriously, ''have an amazing sense of humor.''

''Stop it, please,'' groans Derek, hiding his face in his hands. ''I regret everything.''

***

Derek catches himself humming Hey now now by The Cloud Room and stops immediately.

It's just a nice song, he tries to reason with himself. Besides, today's Wednesday, and Wednesday's good, because he doesn't have physics or chemistry, just English, mathematics, biology, Spanish. Then he'll practice with Erica and in the afternoon he meets with Stiles, and he'll have fun, like when they went for a movie.

He pauses again, having started humming unconsciously earlier, realizing he's happy about this day. He's actually looking forward to living through it.

He isn't sure when was the last time he felt this way.

***

The test on English went worse than he expected, it seems like he is the only person who doesn't understand the biology class, and he has more trouble than usually with Spanish grammar.

At lunch, Derek sits down at lunch, watching Erica's flirting with Jackson, who's so bewildered at how forward she is, he can only stare at her. He realizes he's happy to be here. Nevermind the classes, he can always try to study more. Maybe ask Stiles for help. But making friends is hard. He can't do that, yet he still has those people, even if it all started with Stiles for a reason he doesn't entirely understand.

Erica looks at him. ''Boyd won't stop listening to Steady, As She Goes,'' she says.

Derek manages to keep up the tension for a few seconds.

''I'm guilty,'' he admits, breaking.

Erica points at her eyes with her two fingers, then directs them at Derek's eyes. ''Dance practice is in two days,'' she reminds him, her gaze steely.

Derek smiles.

***

Stiles is oddly insistent about going to the amusement park, won't hear anything about being busy this weekend, other plans, just not feeling like it, and finally convinces everyone to come. Jackson's behaving a bit differently today, glancing at Derek, his face unreadable, but Derek can't worry about it – he has an amazing time.

Stiles keeps talking to him, smiling, even holding his hand at times.

''He is a good friend,'' says Lydia now, looking ahead, where Stiles is competing with Jackson for the most ridiculous teddy ever. Derek only pointed to it and said, who'd even fight for something like that, and knew his mistake immediately seeing Stiles' grin.

''He is protective of his friends, but also protective of himself,'' she continues, still not looking at Derek.

He wonders if she's giving him an equivalent of a dad talk you-hurt-him-I-hurt-you.

''He should,'' says Lydia with conviction, ''he went through a lot in middle school.''

Bullying? Derek can't quite imagine that, but who knows. In any case, it's good that Stiles has this group of friends now.

Lydia's lips tighten a bit as she pauses.

Derek realizes with a sudden jolt that there is just Laura left to give dad talks for him. She didn't even get a chance with Kate, though. Oh, god, if his family were to meet Kate everything would have gone so differently. His mom would have this cool smile on her face and ask questions in an even cooler voice, his dad would send him worried glances, Peter would threaten her and let Derek put whatever music he wanted after their breakup.

But they are all gone. It's just Laura and him.

''He's an asshole too,'' adds Lydia.

Derek blinks, turning back to reality. ''Stiles?''

She nods, her eyes on Stiles, still competing for the teddy. Stiles doesn't quite hit the target and Jackson laughs meanly at him, so Stiles shoves him away, Jackson reciprocates and soon Scott and Allison need to keep them away from each other.

Lydia finally turns to him, her expression completely serious against the scene. ''I just want you to know that even if he makes mistakes, he's not evil, he's not cruel.''

''Okay,'' says Derek, having no idea what she means. However, Lydia seems to be satisfied with his answer because she nods and walks away, steering Jackson to another stand for a teddy she actually wants to get.

''Sorry,'' says Stiles, giving him a pink teddy fish, ''I only got this.''

Derek looks at the fish's huge eyes and lashes. ''It's horrible,'' he says flatly. ''And now I have to carry it everywhere for the rest of the day.''

Stiles nods enthusiastically, beaming at him.

Derek sighs and takes the fish under his arm. ''You want to eat something?''

Stiles' smile turns softer then, feels more private as he looks at Derek. ''Yeah.''

***

They are slowly coming back in the late afternoon, both relaxed after the whole day in the amusement park.

''We should really part ways here,'' says Stiles, stopping. ''I'll end up going to your home trying to lengthen the time we spend together.''

He smiles at Derek, who huffs out a laugh and glances at him, suddenly shy.

Stiles steps closer, then leans in, his eyes flicking down to Derek's mouth. Derek wants to push him away and close the distance just as much, so he doesn't do anything, can't do anything.

Stiles kisses him, the touch of his lips barely there, and leans back. After a beat, Derek dares to take a breath and opens his eyes. Stiles is watching him with a small, confident smile. He touches Derek's lips with his two fingers. ''Come on,'' he says softly, aligning his body so that they are touching everywhere.

It feels too hot and Derek takes a step back. Stiles follows him, Derek retreats again, unsure if he wants to be let free or trapped further. But Stiles is there again, doesn't let him decide until Derek's back is pressed against a nearby tree. Trapped.

Stiles kisses him then once more, harder now, demanding for Derek to open his mouth and comply, so that's what he does, confused and barely managing to catch up to Stiles.

When he finally leans back, Derek is struggling for breath, flushed, completely turned on and feeling like he is falling fast, without any means to stop him, to calm down. He realizes he's dropped the teddy fish.

There is an odd expression on Stiles' face until he suddenly settles on a smirk. ''You're cute,'' he says and leans back, keeping eyes on Derek.

Derek doesn't understand what it means, feels too hot and dizzy, like when Kate made out with him to help him forget another flashback but it wasn't helping at all and only made her angry and Derek kept apologizing again and again and again-

Derek focuses on his breathing, closes his eyes for a few seconds. Then, he looks at Stiles, having calmed down a bit, who is still just watching him.

Stiles opens his mouth to say something but hesitates, then shuts his lips tight. He straightens his back, his face unreadable. ''You're a good kisser,'' he says finally, turns, and walks away.

Derek stares after him, suddenly feeling cold without Stiles' warmth, his breathing still uneven. He searches the words for some hidden meaning but he's too confused to focus on anything.

Stiles disappears at the end of the street, the pink teddy fish is still on the ground, and Derek blinks, not quite believing he's left alone.

Just as he needs someone in his mind, it's empty.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

''Hey,'' says Jackson, somehow finding Derek just as he enters the school, ''Did Stiles kiss you yesterday?''

Derek blushes involuntarily at the memory and looks away. ''Uh, it's not your business, Jackson.''

Jackson sighs. ''Actually, it is very much my business.''

Derek frowns at him. ''Isaac said – and Stiles didn't really behave like that – but where you dating Stiles earlier?''

Jackson looks at him, incredulous. ''Jesus, no,'' he says, offended. ''Stilinski – god, no.'' He pauses for a second and suddenly gives Derek a once-over. ''No offense, man,'' he says with narrowed eyes but almost apologetically, ''but you're not my type.''

Derek's simply frozen at first but manages to clear his throat after a beat, self-conscious. ''None taken,'' he says weakly.

''See, I had this bet with Stilinski, about which you probably haven't heard,'' says Jackson, looking at Derek.

He shakes his head, frowning slightly. Jackson nods and opens his mouth to continue, but suddenly glances aside and smirks, seeing Stiles approaching them.

''What are you doing?'' asks Stiles. He seems tense, not angry yet, but wary, keeping his eyes on Jackson.

''Why, we were just talking about the fact that you kissed Derek yesterday,'' replies Jackson and leans back against the lockers, his posture completely relaxed. ''Really, I have to admit I didn't think you'll be able to win,'' he continues with a soft chuckle.

''Stop it,'' says Stiles coldly, his eyes widening and snapping to Derek.

''And in exactly five weeks at that.'' Jackson briefly shakes his head. ''So yes, I admit that you're popular, and here is twenty dollars for your win,'' he says, leisurely reaching for his wallet. He gives Stiles the money, his smirk growing. ''Exactly as we agreed-''

''Shut up,'' snarls Stiles, stepping closer to Jackson.

''-in our bet. You manage to kiss Derek, you prove your popularity.''

Stiles takes a quick breath, narrowing his eyes, focused only on Jackson. ''That's between me and you, Derek has nothing-''

''Is that true?'' asks Derek, interrupting Stiles, his face perfectly blank.

''No, Derek, listen-''

Jackson grimaces and shows Derek the notes, then gives them to Stiles, who snaps them away from Jackson and puts them in his pocket, his mouth twisted down.

Derek raises his eyes to look at Stiles, unblinking. ''You started talking with me because of this bet.''

''Yes, but that's not-''

Derek nods. ''At least it makes sense now,'' he says, feeling oddly empty. He ignores both Stiles and Jackson, instead watching the bird flying outside the window.

Stiles stares at him, wide-eyed, his mouth hanging open before he closes it.

Derek grimaces and looks around the corridor. There are fewer people now.

His next class is English.

''Guess I'll get going,'' he says.

''Wait,'' Stiles blurts out, grabbing his hand. ''What do-''

Derek steps back from him. ''Leave me alone,'' he says and just this once, deliberately lets the anger surge inside him. He looks at Stiles. ''I fucking mean it.''

He walks away.

Derek can't quite find the energy to stay angry. It's only the first period but he's already so tired, he just wants to go back home and sleep. He has an essay due tomorrow.

Well, he'll get through the day. It's not like something really bad happened. He can get back to how it was, earlier, he can be left alone and live in peace and just get through it.

***

He gets through until lunch break.

Which table did he always eat at? Oh, there it is. Thankfully empty. Derek sits down and swallows a bite of his sandwich. It tastes bland. He drinks some water. It's so quiet, even as people talk all around in the cafeteria.

''Hey,'' he hears and raises his head, tensing. It's Boyd. ''Can I?...''

''I-'' starts Derek and shakes his head slightly. ''Sorry, but why would you want to sit here?''

Boyd doesn't answer and keeps his eyes on him.

Derek grimaces. ''Look, if you feel sorry or – whatever,'' he says, his hands curling up into fists, ''then just don't. It's not the first time-'' he cuts himself off. ''I'll be fine.''

After regarding him for a beat longer with an unreadable expression, Boyd sits down across from him. ''The White Stripes are okay,'' he says and starts eating.

Derek stares at him for a while, wondering how to respond to that. He can't decide and finally starts eating as well without replying.

''Hey,'' says Erica and sits down next to Boyd.

Derek wills himself to swallow the food and drink water, giving them time to explain themselves. They don't. Derek straightens, looking at them. ''Okay, what the fuck's going on?'' he asks. ''Should I change tables or what?''

Erica's face scrunches in confusion. ''What did Boyd tell you when he sat down here?''

''That white stripes are okay,'' says Derek.

Erica frowns further at him. ''What?''

Derek rubs his face. He is supposed to be alone now but instead, Erica tries to draw him into a conversation, a dumb one at that. He wonders if he should just ignore both of them and look for another seat, but that seems overly dramatic.

He glances at Erica, still frowning at Boyd's words, and takes pity on her. Would Peter say that he's being too soft? He can't tell. Would Derek even explain what's going on to Peter if he were alive? He probably wouldn't have to. Peter would just look at him and ask, what's the matter?, and wait for his words, calm and composed, his huge music collection just behind, another open book next to him, and Derek would break.

But Peter's dead, and Cora's dead, and-

He takes a breath.

''The White Stripes are a band.''

''Well, that was his olive branch.''

''I figured as much,'' snaps Derek. ''What I didn't figure out is why would he do that.''

Erica looks at the table between them, then glances at Boyd, who ignores both of them, still eating like it's just another lunch break.

''We knew what Stiles was doing but we thought that he'd forgotten about the bet, or called it off, because you were getting along so well. But honestly, I didn't really care either way,'' she says, shrugging. ''It's better to be popular because of some shitty stuff than completely invisible.''

Derek shakes his head. ''I'd rather be completely-''

''I wouldn't,'' Erica interrupts him, ''and I thought you'd be like that, too. I thought you were just waiting for your chance, and if it was to come under Stiles being an asshole?'' She shrugs again. ''Who cares in the end?''

Derek sighs. ''I'm not angry at you,'' he says quietly. ''But I'd rather you leave me alone anyway.''

Erica straightens in her seat and narrows her eyes. ''I'd rather sit here, with you, than with Stiles.''

''What the fuck,'' he speaks sharply and shoots her a glare. Boyd stops eating. ''You don't even really know me. I've no idea what you want to achieve here but it's-'' he cuts himself off, seeing Lydia and Jackson sitting down next to him. He stares at them, disbelieving, and stands up, shaking his head. ''I'm done. I'm just-'' he tightens his lips and walks away, throwing away the rest of the food. He wouldn't be able to finish it anyway.

***

At least he didn't have to ask Stiles to find another seat during History like he has to do on Spanish.

Scott looks at him like a wounded puppy and tries to argue. Derek isn't sure what he says exactly, not bothering to listen, just repeats that he wants to be alone and it startles Scott so much that he shuts up and leaves.

Derek feels almost bad for him. Maybe his voice was too rough, he could have said that he's not angry with him, like he assured Erica. But honestly, Derek feels worse for himself than he does for Scott.

***

The next day, Derek still feels bad for himself. It's so fucking stupid, he knows that, yet he can't help it. It's been some time since he was this angry and frustrated with himself.

''What has he done?''

Derek looks up from above his lunch and is met with Isaac's murderous face, as he sits down across from him at the otherwise empty table.

Derek shrugs. ''It's nothing, really.''

Isaac narrows his eyes, his jaw tense and lips pressed together.

''Look, at least I know now why Stiles started talking with me. It was just a bet he made with Jackson.''

Isaac holds his fork so tightly Derek's eyes keep sliding to it, wanting to catch the moment it breaks. ''A bet?''

Derek nods. ''If Stiles manages to kiss me in five weeks' time, Jackson will give him twenty dollars and admit that he's popular.''

''Popular?'' repeats Isaac, his lip curling up. ''Pathetic. And five weeks is a lot of time,'' he adds with distaste. ''What does that even prove?''

Derek shrugs. ''It wasn't a lot of time for me,'' he says.

Isaac doesn't reply but his anger seems to steadily grow together with the whiteness of his knuckles. He looks over at where Stiles is sitting and Derek can't help following his gaze. ''Danny's sitting with them today?''

Isaac nods. ''He suggested sitting with you but I thought it would be better if it was just me.''

Derek nods, his gaze cast downwards. ''Thanks. And sorry. I know you like him.''

Isaac rolls his eyes and kicks him under the table. The fork is saved. Isaac reaches to eat again but suddenly freezes and glances up at Derek again. ''But why was it you?''

''Huh?''

''Why did Stiles have to kiss you?''

Derek looks back at him and opens his mouth just to realize that he has no idea. ''I don't know,'' he says finally. ''I didn't ask.''

Isaac's face contorts with anger and he puts down his fork forcefully, standing up.

''Wait, what are you-''

Isaac's already walking across the cafeteria.

Derek can't tell if it's just his imagination or if the noise subsides as Isaac approaches Stiles. He catches some people glancing at him and schools his features to neutrality. He glances down at his tray but refrains from eating – he already feels like throwing up. He looks at Isaac, who's now standing before Stiles, saying something quietly. He can't see Stiles' expression but the boy suddenly snaps his head away, talking back angrily. Isaac steps in and lowers his head, glaring at Stiles and starts speaking again until Stiles shrugs and replies, not looking at him. Isaac says a few more words and finally, Stiles gives him a jerky nod, obviously reluctant.

Only then Isaac straightens and comes back to sit back with Derek, who catches the impressed look Danny sends after Isaac.

''They'll all think you're my protective boyfriend.''

Isaac shrugs with one arm. ''Are the rumors the worst that can happen? Hale's new rebound – Isaac Lahey. Hale, Stilinski, Lahey – a love triangle? Hale and Lahey – old love never dies.''

''Those all sound like articles' titles.''

Isaac starts eating. ''Good thing we don't have a school newspaper, then.''

Derek clears his throat, regarding him. ''So?''

Isaac grimaces. ''He's an asshole,'' he says. ''Don't worry about him.''

Derek keeps looking at Isaac, who relents after a while and sighs. ''It was you 'cause you're handsome and always alone. But first and foremost, it was because Stilinski is an asshole.''

Derek nods, his eyes dropping to the table, and wonders if he can leave this much food on his plate.

It's dumb. He shouldn't be that sad just because everything's back to normal.

He closes his eyes.

***

He wishes his eyes could stay closed.

''Hey, Derek,'' starts Laura and pauses suddenly. Derek looks at her and sees her grinning, staring at the pink teddy fish he forgot to hide after cleaning yesterday. ''How did you get this?''

Derek manages a tense smile. ''It's from Stiles, he won it when we were in the amusement park.''

''It's cute,'' she comments. Then she glances at Derek, leaning on the doorframe. ''How are things between you two?''

''Okay,'' he shrugs, averting his eyes.

Laura keeps looking at him. ''You seem sad.''

He shrugs again, thinking of an answer. ''Stiles and Isaac don't like each other, they were fighting today,'' he says finally. ''I got caught in the crossfire.''

Passable, he grades his lie.

Laura gives him a supporting smile and just like that he feels bad. ''Want some cake?''

***

The next day, Isaac appears next to him again.

''You know, if we're going to sit together during English now, everyone's really going to think we're dating. Again.''

''Fuck that,'' shrugs Isaac.

''Well, what about Danny?''

Isaac grimaces. ''If he can't ignore the rumors and ask me directly then he sucks anyway,'' he replies.

Derek watches him, impressed with his decisiveness.

Isaac keeps quiet for a while, staring down at his desk, completely still. Derek waits, his head propped on one hand and finally, Isaac looks at him, breaking the tension, his eyes wide. ''You think he'll care about this?''

Derek stops himself from huffing out a laugh, aware of how he'd feel in Isaac's place. ''He seemed to admire the way you stood up to me yesterday.''

Isaac's eyes grow even bigger, hopeful. ''Really?''

***

The next week, there is a change, again.

Stiles meets his eyes from across the corridor and something in his expression makes Derek stay in place, waiting as Stiles approaches him.

''You should sit with us during lunch,'' he says and, as if he can't quite help it, grimaces slightly.

Derek doesn't answer, looking and him and trying to squish down the hope because Stiles is talking to him, he is here and could just say-

''Those guys,'' Stiles makes a brief gesture with his hand, ''want you to come back.''

After a beat, Derek manages a nod, his eyes flickering downwards, blinking. He opens his mouth to answer but nothing comes out, so he just nods again and turns around, going back inside the classroom.

The break isn't finished yet and having nothing else to do, Derek checks his mobile and waits for the lesson to start, staring at the clock. At least then he'll have something else to focus on than this mess he is himself.

He really didn't expect it to hurt this much.

***

It fucking hurts, though.

Derek is sitting on the corridor, waiting for the class to start, not listening to music or reading, he feels too tired for any kind of focus, just waiting, when Jackson slides down the wall and sits next to him.

Derek glances to his left but Jackson stares somewhere ahead.

''The bet was shitty,'' says Jackson finally. When Derek doesn't answer, he adds, ''Well? Aren't you angry?''

That gives Derek a pause. He thinks back to it and shrugs with one arm. ''Not really. I knew that something was off.'' They sit in silence for a while and Derek glances at Jackson. ''Twenty dollars? Really?''

Jackson grimaces and it's enough to satiate Derek's need for revenge, if there was any.

''You were so alienated I gave him two months,'' says Jackson. ''He changed it to five weeks.''

''Why?''

''He kept having a problem with me.''

Derek smiles weakly. After a while he realizes Jackson's watching him, so he looks back and is met with Jackson's unreadable face.

''You probably don't want to hear that but Stiles was different with you. He was more like himself, the way he was in middle school, with his lectures on quadratic shit or whatever.'' Jackson turns to stare before himself again. ''But if you want to leave it at that, and stay away, we can do this. I don't fucking care what Stilinski says.''

Derek doesn't answer at first, too surprised with the offer. ''Thanks.'' He takes a breath. ''I'll think about it.''

Jackson nods and stands up without a word.

***

Derek nods and sits down without a word. He did agree to Stiles' request to sit with the group during the lunch.

This time Isaac and Danny are with them as well. Derek's not sure what he's doing here. He feels awkward, out of place, like at the beginning.

''Are you going to the dance, Isaac?'' asks Scott, smiling at him brightly.

''I don't plan to.''

''Oh, really?'' Scott can't quite hide his disappointment. However, suddenly his face brightens again and Allison opens her mouth to stop whatever he wants to say next but she is too late. ''Then you should go with Derek! He doesn't have a partner as well,'' he says, his expression unbearably open, convinced that's a great idea.

Isaac's face is completely blank and at this moment Derek understands why he said that Scott was annoyingly naive at times. He starts thinking fervently for any reason he shouldn't go with Isaac aside from the obvious one. If It can't be Stiles – there is just Boyd and Erica who are close enough to him.

Oh, fuck that. He can pretend to go with them and be in a threesome if it means Isaac's back to normal. Erica and Boyd will understand.

Derek takes a breath when another thought strikes him. Actually, why not just tell Scott the truth? Everyone here besides him must know about the gossips.

''How about you go with me?'' asks Danny.

Derek snaps his head to him. Danny is gazing at Isaac openly, smiling. ''As friends, of course.''

Isaac's face melts with relief as he looks at Danny. ''Yes,'' he agrees with a nod.

Derek's so grateful he could kiss Danny at this moment-

no, on the second thought, no. He really doesn't like touching people he isn't close with.

Danny still looks at Isaac and Isaac keeps watching him back before they both turn away, busying themselves with lunch.

Well, that was meaningful.

He was right, he couldn't kiss Danny at that moment.

Derek straightens and sighs as the tension breaks. He catches Stiles' gaze and turns away, drinks some water. He resolves to finish his meal as soon as possible when Stiles' eyes linger on him.

***

Stiles keeps glancing at him until it reaches its climax at History.

Apparently, Derek has taken too long packing after the class because Stiles is suddenly standing next to him, regarding his desk.

''Hey,'' he says.

Derek gives him a look full of conflicting emotions – surprise, obviously, but also a slight pang of stress, the flash of anger, and through all of those, a flat, really? 'Hey'?

''Hey,'' he replies, finally zipping his backpack. He's not any better.

He slings his backpack over one arm and shoots Stiles a quick glance again, going out of the classroom.

Stiles doesn't look back but follows after him, his face unreadable.

They go down the corridor in silence, then get down the stairs, then reach the lockers and Stiles walks away to put off his stuff.

So, that was weird. Derek tries coming up with any explanation for Stiles' behavior, comes up empty, decides to not give a shit. He changes the books, looking inside his locker. But seriously, what was that abo-

Right. Ignoring. He closes his locker and turns around, already thinking about Stiles again, starts walking towards the exit.

''Hey, uh...''

Derek looks to his right and Stiles is next to him again, licking his lips nervously.

Okay, at this pace they may get to a full sentence sometime next week.

He debates prompting Stiles but decides against it, finding he'd rather not hear anything from him. Still, ignoring him completely when he seems this different now, rubbing his face with a grimace, avoiding looking at Derek, nothing about him the usual level of confident – it's too much.

In his head, Cora gives him a disappointed look.

They are outside already and Derek starts walking towards his house, wondering if he should point out that Stiles needs to go the other way, when Stiles finally takes a breath and stops walking, looking at him.

''I'm – sorry,'' he says and makes a face. ''I really am. It was a shitty thing to do, this whole bet, to anyone, and to you especially.''

And to you especially, repeats Derek in his mind. Because what, he is sad? Depressed? Pitied?

How fucking nice.

''But I really enjoy talking with you,'' says Stiles and the words go straight through all Derek's defenses. He wants to dismiss them. He needs to dismiss them before they get buried deep in his mind, among other memories to which he comes back again and again. Stiles enjoys talking with everyone, he repeats to himself desperately. He can't fucking hope. Oh, god, please don't let him hope more.

''So, just,'' Stiles pauses and makes a face again before looking up at Derek with his brown eyes, brows drawn together. ''I hate to ask that of you, but can you give me one more chance?''

If Derek had some self-respect he'd say 'no'. Isaac's Style 'fuck you no' or more his style 'I can't deal with you right now.' As it is, he tenses up knowing that again, he has this power over Stiles he has no idea what to do with. He's never been the one to decide things.

''Okay,'' he blurts out. Stiles seems to sense that the forgiveness came way too easily and watches him, waiting for an explanation. ''I mean,'' adds Derek and shrugs, ''we'll see how it goes,'' he says, feeling dumb.

Stiles is already nodding in agreement, his eyes unbearably wide, hopeful. ''Yeah, totally,'' he says and keeps looking at Derek for so long Derek starts feeling uncomfortable. ''Thank you,'' he adds, softer now. ''I really appreciate it.''

Stiles still watches him with this softer expression and Derek hates it, hates how it makes him feel, how he knows he will keep remembering it.

He gives Stiles an odd, jerky nod, grimacing at his own awkwardness and turns away without a word, going back home.

***

Derek really is awkward.

He goes down the corridor, having just finished Physics and thinks again about today's topic, realizing he just doesn't get it. Maybe he will ask Stiles for help. Yeah, or maybe not.

He frowns slightly as there is a guy going different way ahead of him, looking at him. When their eyes meet, the guy smirks and his gaze slowly goes lower, to Derek's neck, arms, chest-

Derek snaps his head away and continues walking, his hands sweating. He wishes Stiles was here – he squishes down the thought. His whole body is tense when he passes the guy, and it's gone. He's fine.

He draws in a breath, feeling disappointed with himself. The guy was just looking, didn't do anything, and did he really look that way at Derek – never mind. Never mind.

***

He knows he can be socially awkward and during the bad days, he simply avoids people in general.

Today, Derek went outside to spend his lunch break alone, listening to music. Stiles didn't get a clue and now points at his ears and Derek obediently, although unwillingly, takes off his headphones.

''If you don't want me here, I'll go back,'' says Stiles, raising his hands defensively.

So maybe he did get a clue. Derek thinks of sending him back, imagines Stiles' hurt expression, and shrugs. ''It's okay.''

Stiles gives him an uncertain smile but Derek's not forgiving enough to return one, or maybe – exactly, just that socially awkward. ''So,'' Stiles bites his lip, ''what were you listening to?''

''Fats Domino.'' At Stiles' frown, he adds, ''That dead awesome musician Boyd told you about.''

Stiles smiles at the memory. ''Can I?'' he asks, gesturing at Derek's mobile.

Derek nods and plays the next song, Ain't That A Shame.

''You made me cry when you said goodbye,'' they hear and Derek winces at the lyrics. He stops the music immediately.

''Well,'' says Stiles. ''So that's awkward.''

Derek snorts, startled. ''Sorry,'' he says and bites his lip. ''I didn't mean-''

''It's fine, it's fine,'' repeats Stiles, shaking his head. ''It's just a song.''

Derek turns to him, already opening his mouth to argue – it's never just a song – when he notices Stiles' smile. He huffs out a laugh.

They still know each other.

Derek glances down, notices how close their hands are, almost there but not touching. ''Can you help me with Physics?'' he blurts out. He wants Stiles' attention somewhere else than on him. ''I don't really understand the Ohm's Law.''

''What's there to not understand?''

Derek looks at him, disbelieving. ''You're such an asshole.''

Stiles shrugs. ''I'm just surprised. So, basically...''

***

He missed Stiles. Of course, he wishes for something more but he's happy with having anything, Stiles' dumb jokes, lectures, his energy and smiles, it can be enough. It is enough if the alternative is nothing.

Even though he's been alone for so many months before, those few days without Stiles and his group felt far more lonely. He doesn't want to cut ties with them but can't imagine behaving like nothing's happened either. Now, they are at a school dance, the occasion calling for lightheartedness and cheerfulness, but Derek just doesn't feel that.

''Come on, let's go dancing,'' says Stiles and takes his hand, already bringing him between the other moving people. Derek is so surprised he doesn't say anything and lets himself be led.

Stiles keeps him close, watching his face all the time. It makes Derek flush and he averts his eyes, feeling shy and uncomfortable – even if it's Stiles and Derek has his attention, just for himself.

The melody's slower now and Stiles pulls him in even closer, it's almost impossible to look any other way than at him. There is this expression on Stiles' face, this confident smile as if he knows exactly what Derek goes through, how he feels.

Derek can see clearly how slowly, Stiles comes closer, so close Derek can feel his warm breath on his lips. Still, he can't quite overcome those few inches between them and it leaves them almost there, but not touching, not kissing. Stiles reaches with his hand to Derek's face and finally, gently pulls him in for a kiss.

It's surprisingly small and sweet, just brushing their lips. Derek doesn't know how much time has passed, probably just seconds yet he's feeling completely dazed.

He blinks at Stiles and takes a small breath. ''What does it mean?'' he asks softly, his eyes half-lidded, trying to not look at Stiles.

Stiles shrugs, still smiling, unconcerned. ''Does it have to mean anything?''

Derek opens his eyes further to look at him questioningly but Stiles is already turning, his attention elsewhere. In a moment, he twists to Derek again and looks at him in a way that freezes Derek in place. He doesn't know what it means, this focus, but it makes him feel too hot. He can't tear his eyes away from the way Stiles smirks and wets his lips.

He steps closer to Derek and kisses him once more. It's as if Stiles is teasing him, his hot breath on Derek's cheek, his fingers curling around his neck. Derek can just close his eyes and try to bear in all the emotions, all the sounds that want to escape him. He still gasps softly when Stiles brushes his lips against his earlobe, then touches it lightly with his tongue.

He wills himself to open his eyes and shakes his head mutely. ''Not here,'' he manages.

Stiles chuckles but steps back and gives him a teasing smile. ''Feeling too shy?'' he asks, starting to walk towards the exit.

Derek doesn't know what he's doing. It feels wrong, somehow, but he wants this. He wants this. He's wanted to be with Stiles so much, and now it's as if Stiles wants him too, so he follows.

Stiles glances at him but seeing Derek's blank face – a defense mechanism against all the stares and his confusion – Stiles' smile diminishes and he turns back, going out to the corridor.

Stiles leads them to an empty classroom and closes doors after Derek, smiling at him again in this heated way that makes Derek catch his breath.

He starts walking towards Derek, who's rooted to the spot, staring at Stiles, his lips slightly open. Stiles touches his face again and Derek's eyelids flutter as he takes a small step back, suddenly questioning his choice to come here. Stiles doesn't give him a chance to think it over again, following Derek until he's pressed against the wall and kissed.

It's different, Stiles' mouth is hot, he kisses him deeply, determined. It leaves Derek shaky, gasping for breath, but Stiles doesn't stop, touching his arms and neck, his back and kissing his earlobe, wetting it with his tongue. It's filthy and Derek moans, but the sound is cut off when Stiles kisses him again, their bodies flushed together.

His hand reaches lower, down Derek's back when Derek jerks and manages to gasp out, ''N-No.''

He hates how unsteady is his voice, how obvious it is that Stiles affects him so much.

Stiles stops moving his hand and smiles, kissing him sweetly. ''Okay, no touching below the belt. But, this is fine?'' he asks, his teeth grazing Derek's neck.

Derek' head falls back and he moans again, helpless.

Stiles lets out a breath, his hand in Derek's hair. ''You're so cute,'' he says, kissing Derek's neck.

The words make Derek remember something – he is not quite sure what – it was bad. He still has this feeling that it's wrong, it's wrong, and when Stiles takes his earlobe between his teeth he lets out a breath.

''No,'' he repeats. ''I can't -''

Stiles steps back gracefully. ''Okay,'' he says simply and smiles at Derek again.

He is aroused as well. His cheeks are flushed, lips pink, pupils dilated – but Derek understands finally why he feels so unbalanced.

It's because of Stiles' easy smiles, the way he led him here, gave him those looks, asked 'does it have to mean anything' - it's just fun for him. It's pleasant, working out the tension. Derek's good looking enough, apparently, but he already knows that he isn't interesting, or funny, or even smart enough for Stiles to give him anything more than this – this fun.

Now, Stiles' lips curl up in a teasing, amused smile. ''Need a minute?'' he asks, his eyebrow quirked.

Derek doesn't answer and doesn't even really react to the words, too occupied with his realization. He should keep up the appearances, avoid Stiles' eyes with a nod, ignore the way Stiles' chuckle makes him feel colder inside, but can't find enough energy for that, and just stands there, waiting for Stiles to leave.

Stiles doesn't understand the sudden shift, his smile faltering on his face, but nods and turns away. Before he goes out of the classroom, he pauses to look at Derek again. ''I'll wait for you at the table,'' he says with a small smile.

It's enough to make Derek question himself, as he stares after Stiles. The expression he had just now was softer somehow -

the air that was pushed in with the opening and closing of the doors now hits Derek in a cold wave and suddenly, he can feel the spit left on his earlobe.

''Fuck,'' he says softly, blinking back the tears.

He takes a few calming breaths, just enough to not break down before reaching a bathroom.

Finally, he leaves, passes two girls on a corridor who ignore him. Derek feels so shaky he's almost surprised by that, even though the huge majority of people he sees every day ignores him.

He doesn't dare raise his eyes to the mirror, doesn't want to see himself.

Derek opens the tap and for a second just watches the clear streak, his mind perfectly blank. He shakes his head and washes his hands, the bathroom's oddly empty around him. Then, he washes his ears, disgust rolling through him.

He can't believe he felt so much, wanted all of it so much when clearly, it meant nothing to Stiles. He remembers Stiles' easy smile, the one just after they've kissed, and he almost cries again.

Derek rinses his face harshly, changing the water to a colder one.

Fuck. Fuck.

He feels horrible. Used. But that's stupid – they didn't – it was agreed – what's the word – consensual. Yes. It was consensual.

He still feels like shit.

Derek lets out a shaky breath. It's okay. He'll be fine. He just needs to – find Erica, and she'll talk about Gangnam Style, make him watch the video (again. Laura was first) and then make him reenact it together.

He smiles weakly and finally meets his eyes in the mirror. They are still a bit red but that can be from tiredness. Or allergy, or drugs, or anything but crying.

Another breath and he goes out, walking towards the music. It's really ironic how he decided to ignore Stiles, yet it's him that he finds first now. He wills himself to not look at him and searches around the table. Erica's immersed in a conversation with Allison and Lydia, talking animatedly and making the girls laugh.

So much for his plan. He is momentarily surprised Lydia found the time to be with them since she was the one responsible for the school dance.

Boyd's nowhere to find, probably getting drinks. There is just Jackson and Scott left, sitting next to Danny and Isaac. Derek watches them, coming closer to the table. Isaac is saying something that makes Jackson let out a harsh laugh and Scott make an odd expression, one where he agrees but really doesn't want to admit it. Derek knows it by heart – it's a common reaction to Isaac's opinions. Danny, however, nods slightly and responds seriously, turning to Isaac. Then, he pauses and smiles a little, adding a few words. Isaac glances at him, his eyes widening, and starts laughing, his cheeks pinkening.

It's fucking sweet and so different on Isaac, Derek's completely thrown for a second. Surprised, he forgets about not-looking-at-Siles policy and meets his eyes accidentally.

Stiles smirks at him – and it's enough to turn Derek's insides completely cold. He snaps his head away and fuck pretending, I can't do this.

He takes his stuff from one of the chairs at the table and ignores Lydia turning to him, concerned. Just as she opens her mouth, he looks away, willing himself to stay indifferent for just a few more minutes.

Walking away, he sees Erica turning to Stiles and hears her cold voice.

''Pardon me asking, but what the fuck have you done again?''

''You know, adding 'pardon' doesn't actually make your question polite,'' says Allison. ''But seriously, what the fuck, Stiles.''

The words still manage to get a wobbly smile on Derek's face and people give him odd looks as he hurriedly leaves the school.

***

The next day he keeps listening to music as much as he can, taking off his headphones only when a teacher starts the lesson properly – not earlier.

When he sees Stiles on a corridor, he changes his way. He's lucky the first time, but the second time it happens, Stiles notices him and starts walking after him. When he realizes Derek deliberately ignores him, turning around, he calls out, making people around look between them.

Normally, it would make Derek stop and deal with Stiles, but now he doesn't want to talk with Stiles more than he worries about the people, gossips, high school drama, and keeps on walking away. It must surprise Stiles enough to let him go – but he is cornered at lunch break. Stiles appears next to him suddenly and says, ''Come on, come in,'', nudging him to walk into an empty classroom.

''What?'' manages Derek but he's already inside, the noise from the corridor muted here.

Well, he knew it would happen eventually.

''Derek,'' says Stiles, his eyes big and almost pleading, before sighing and biting his lower lip, ''have I done something wrong yesterday?''

''No,'' says Derek. And this is the worst part, he adds in his mind, avoiding Stiles' eyes.

Stiles steps closer – don't react, says Cora, be fucking awesome and cold and out-of-reach, they like itshit, Cora, it's not like that.

Watching Derek, Stiles touches his chin gently, lifting his face to meet his eyes. ''Please, Derek,'' he says softly. ''Just tell me, please.''

Stiles' eyes bear into his. They are standing close to each other like they always somehow end up, Stiles seems worried for him and Derek should really, really tell him what's going on, but he won't.

He can see Peter's disappointed look. Not the slightly exaggerated one when he didn't recognize another artist, but the one with concern for Derek, the worst kind of disappointment. Everyone's looking at him like that, his mom, dad, Cora – and Laura, too – except Malia.

She just wouldn't understand him. If you don't like it, why do you do it?, she'd ask. It was a pure, simple, and beautiful philosophy – one that also got her in a lot of trouble with school. Still, she was the one to make Derek realize there is always more to people than he may think.

But Derek starts forgetting those things. He is a mess. There may be too many fucked up parts about him. He might be too much to deal with.

''You haven't done anything,'' he says to Stiles.

Stiles leans a bit closer. ''Are you sure?''

Derek nods, not looking at him.

There is a beat of silence, an odd kind of tension between them before Stiles exhales. ''Fuck, Derek, I really want to kiss you, but if you don't-''

''Okay,'' says Derek.

It doesn't end with just a kiss.

Stiles is pressing him against the wall again, kissing his neck, his hand in Derek's hair. He gives him another long swipe with his tongue, ending with his ear, and Derek exhales harshly.

Stiles leans back a little, just enough to catch his eyes. ''You know you can touch me too, right?''

Derek nods, although no, he didn't know that, and tentatively places his hand on Stiles' cheek, looking at his red mouth. He kisses him slowly, focusing on the softness of his lips, the way Stiles' tongue reaches so deep inside him.

He can't think of anything else this way. There is just Stiles, his touches, his breaths, the sounds he makes.

When he leans back, Stiles finally seems too lost in the sensation to come back to himself at once. ''You really are a good kisser,'' he says and smiles oddly, retrieving his balance.

Derek hides his face in the crook of Stiles' arm and neck and kisses him there, focusing on now and not anything else.

***

That doesn't mean he wants to spend each and every lunch together with Stiles again. He sits alone outside, reading a book, tearing his eyes away from the text when he searches for his water.

He notices Coach Finstock and Mr. Harris talking further on his right. He opens the bottle of water and comes back to the book.

He freezes, almost choking on the drink, realizing he just saw Coach Finstock and Mr. Harris talking.

He lowers the bottle and the book, finding them again. Finstock's saying something that makes Harris raise an eyebrow at him, but he doesn't leave, he doesn't even turn away, just smirks slightly and says a few words to Finstock.

Finstock laughs and claps his arm, leaning closer for a second before walking away. Harris stares after him, a barely-there smile on his face.

Derek gapes at the scene with wide eyes, having no idea what he has just witnessed.

***

Derek likes routine. As such, he doesn't particularly like surprises.

''I was thinking about going to the cemetery sometime soon.''

Derek's hand stills and he wills himself to move again to not burn the shirt he is ironing.

Laura sighs softly, looking at him. ''You know you don't have to come with me.''

Derek nods, focused on the shirt. He irons the creases on the sleeve.

And suddenly, Laura's hugging him. It's so unexpected he freezes for a second before she takes the iron from his hand and puts it down, away from him, petting his head.

This small gesture and her warmth make him feel this huge ball down in his throat and he can't swallow, can't breathe, and he cries.

Once he starts, he can't seem to stop, tears running down his face because of the whole mess with Stiles, because of the way he pushed Erica, Boyd, and Scott away from himself, because he can't forget Peter, Cora, Malia and their parents but he does, can't remind himself of smaller things that were so obvious earlier.

***

Derek knows he's weird – the months spent alone has shown him that – but he's never realized how weird other students can be.

He goes to meet Erica for dance practice and glances at the group of girls passing him by on a corridor when they look at him, smiling, and frowns when he hears them giggling after a beat. He glances at himself, but he isn't dirty anywhere, he looks normal.

People are so odd.

***

But Derek's making an effort. He wills himself to join everyone at lunch and immediately takes the easiest route, finding Boyd.

''Look, I need you to listen to this song, you'll love it. I can't stop listening to it. It has oboe,'' he says, catching Boyd's gaze.

Stiles sits next to him, his hand in Derek's hair. ''You're so cute,'' he coos.

Derek frowns and turns to him. ''I only said 'oboe'.''

Stiles' face splits in a grin. ''Adorable.''

He hates himself for blushing this easily when Stiles' watching him.

''Normally I'd say you're gross and disgusting,'' speaks up Isaac, expressionless, ''but I've no idea what's going on.''

''Twist In My Sobriety,'' says Derek, clearing his throat. ''By, uh... I forgot her name.'' Derek frowns, taking out his mobile and starts playing the song.

''It's a woman?'' asks Stiles, incredulous, listening to music.

Boyd shoots him a dirty look for interrupting the song.

***

Honestly, who cares at this point?

With this, Derek can finally stop thinking, focusing just on the way Stiles' tongue traces his lips. He can forget everything, feeling Stiles' hand sliding down his back. He can moan softly, his thoughts shut down as Stiles squeezes his ass, bringing him closer.

Stiles suddenly takes in a breath, stepping back. ''Sorry,'' he says wide-eyed to Derek. ''I'm sorry, I forgot you don't want any below the belt action-''

''I want,'' Derek interrupts him. Jesus, anything to stop thinking about Peter's corpse – there was only his and Cora's left because the fire was- ''Please, Stiles, just-''

He moans again, Stiles cupping him through the jeans. It should be better.

Stiles touches his sides, kissing him messily, then tweaks his nipples which makes Derek arch his back, gasping Stiles' name. Stiles trails his hand downwards, scratching at his stomach.

Just – forget – Stiles doesn't know – think about something else anything-

''No,'' he chokes out, snapping his head to the side. He struggles to take a breath, Stiles already away from him, startled, watching him with this fucking concern.

Oh, god, why does he have to be a concern for people. Why won't they all just leave him alone before he can make them worry.

''It's – Kate,'' he manages to get out, as if it means anything to Stiles.

''I'm so sorry, Derek, I-'' he cuts himself off, licking his lips, ''just – tell me what do I do? What can I do for you?''

Those are the wrong words. Derek watches Stiles' face, his brown eyes, his moles, lips, his broad arms, the way he comes back closer again. He lets out a soft breath.

Opens his mouth.

The words won't come out.

He doesn't know how to start, how to form the right sentence, isn't sure what he even wants to say, and ends up silent.

''Nothing,'' he finally settles on. ''It's nothing.''

Stiles stills, staring at him. ''What do you mean...'' he starts, shaking his head slightly.

''I don't want to talk about it,'' says Derek.

He's never shut out Stiles away this obviously before. Stiles looks like he doesn't even know how to react, watching Derek, his mouth slack in surprise.

Derek rearranges his clothes and reaches for the doorknob, hoping to slip away before Stiles can object. Of course, that's when Stiles speaks up.

''We're friends. I want to help you if I can,'' he says, concerned.

It was supposed to be a love-hate-like relationship, not a fuck-fuck-fuck one.

''Sure,'' replies Derek, wincing at how bitter he sounds.

Stiles frowns at him and opens his mouth, but sees Derek's hand gripping the doorknob, the other one clenched, the way he stares at the floor, his posture rigid, and thankfully changes his mind.

The silence stretches between them and Derek leaves.

***

There's been people looking at him. Glancing his way during the classes, regarding his movements during P.E., smiling as he passes them on the corridor. He isn't sure what the attention is about, but guesses it's related to being so close to Stiles. Why it's only happening now, he has no idea.

''You know, I've overheard one conversation today and you're quite popular now, Derek,'' says Stiles, looking at him thoughtfully.

Derek frowns at him, not understanding. ''I'm popular?''

''Well, yeah.'' Stiles raises an eyebrow at him. ''The attention you're getting? Rings any bells? People glancing at you, asking you about stuff?''

Derek stares at him, considering. ''Oh,'' he says finally. ''But why?''

Stiles shrugs. ''You're gorgeous, good at sports, and okay with your studies.''

Derek feels himself start blushing. ''I mean, I did notice those people, but – it's not like that, right? They were just looking. It doesn't mean that-'' he cuts himself off, staring at the table, the whole view of what has been happening changing in his mind.

''You're so pure,'' says Stiles, watching him with an oddly soft expression.

''No,'' says Derek and grimaces when everyone turns to him. ''No, it's not because I'm – naive or something,'' he explains. ''It's just, it doesn't make any sense. I look the same, I do everything as I did earlier yet no one – people just ignored me. The only difference is that I'm spending time with you.''

''That's a huge difference,'' replies Stiles. ''You're in a popular group now. It's enough.''

Derek looks at him. ''People aren't like that.''

''Oh, believe me, they're exactly this shallow,'' says Stiles with an unpleasant laugh.

''Even if they are, I'd rather not think that,'' says Derek after a second. ''I'd rather be called naive.''

Stiles blinks at him startled, then shrugs, looking away.

''Did you think of dating someone? I know some nice guys.'' Erica speaks up suddenly.

Derek grimaces. ''No.''

''I know even more girls that would be more than happy to talk to you,'' she continues, unbothered by Stiles' 'what'.

Derek's already shaking his head. ''No, thanks.''

''If it means Derek breaking up with Stiles I'm all for it,'' says Isaac.

Stiles snaps his head to him, glaring. ''We're not dating in the first place, asshat.''

''I think Derek should try dating too,'' Boyd speaks up suddenly.

''Why?'' gasps Stiles. ''We need to protect Derek's innocence,'' he says, turning to Derek and patting his hand on the table.

Derek stares at it and then at Stiles, unblinking.

Boyd raises his head and suddenly, Derek feels like he'll say something too heavy for this conversation.

''Because Derek's too good for you.''

That's enough to silence all of them. Boyd returns to his food, unbothered by the sudden drop in the mood.

''It's not that simple, Boyd,'' says Lydia.

''I don't care about Stiles' past. What he's doing now is not okay,'' answers Boyd without looking up.

Oh, god, this feels horrible. Derek should react in an over the top manner, sniff, turn to Boyd and clutching his heart, say 'bro' in a breaking voice, but it's so completely different from the way he acts normally he can't make himself speak up and turn their attention to himself. It's not even that funny, Derek really cares about Boyd's friendship and doing this-

''I thought it was like that,'' says Danny, nodding his head, serious. ''The way Derek dances with Erica and keeps talking with Boyd,'' he continues, thoughtful.

Isaac's eyes widen as he turns to Derek, regarding him in shock. ''You're – in a threesome?'' He pauses for a second, making a painful face, ''Foursome with Sti-''

''No, stop talking, no,'' Derek cuts him off, exasperated.

''And there were rumors involving us,'' continues Isaac, now staring at Danny.

Derek rolls his eyes, then glances at Boyd and Erica to catch their reactions. However, Boyd's stoic as ever and Erica's lost in thoughts, frowning slightly as she looks up at Boyd.

''Is not okay?'' she repeats, eyes narrowed before her face clears. ''My Chemical Romance!'' she calls. ''I knew I'll catch you someday!''

They all turn to her, startled.

''I'm Not Okay (I Promise) by MCR,'' she repeats, her eyes shining. ''And it was definitely published after the 1980s!''

Boyd cracks a small smile and kisses her.

At the very least all of it breaks the tension.

***

It doesn't change things between Stiles and him.

''Hey, you're getting better!''

''I've just died.''

''You've made five tricks without hurting yourself, not just two like earlier.'' Stiles claps him on the back, smiling brightly.

Derek makes a face, leaning away from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game still playing on the computer. ''Can we do something else now?''

Stiles turns to him, his smile shifted into a smirk, watching Derek closely, unmindful of how close they are. ''What do you want to do?''

His voice is a bit lower – or it's just Derek's imagination.

Imagination, he decides, snapping his head away from Stiles. ''We could do chemistry's homework,'' he blurts out.

Stiles doesn't even grace that with an answer, just looks at him, disappointed. ''Oh, but speaking of chemistry,'' he perks up, ''I thought that Harris would finally expel me today. Doesn't matter he's not a principal.''

''What happened?''

''Well, I said that if we have to stick with this three phases bullshit, can't we at least talk about plasma, because Sun is a plasma, and stars are a plasma, so many things are a plasma and Scott'll never know that if he doesn't hear it here,'' says Stiles. ''And then I added, 'who even plans those lessons?'''

Derek winces.

''Yeah. Scott tried to intervene and said that he's okay with not knowing what plasma is, but Harris silenced him and then just stopped moving. Like, you know? He just froze, staring at me for what felt like five hours-'' Stiles cuts himself off, noticing Derek's shock, and rolls his eyes. ''Danny measured the time and it was one whole minute and six seconds.''

''Danny measured the time?''

Stiles nods. ''I wish I could say that's Isaac's bad influence showing, but it's just that Danny has a dark side.''

Derek smiles and waits for Stiles to continue.

''And then Harris says, 'you're right, Mr. Stilinski, but that's an advanced issue that you don't need to know at this point'. And he turns away and I think that maybe I won't get expelled, maybe I needn't had to plan my goodbye party – I still planned to see your Halloween dance in that case, don't worry – maybe I didn't actually overstep-''

Derek gives him a flat look.

''And he says, 'stay after the class, please'.'' Stiles turns to Derek with wide eyes. ''Stay after the class, please.'' He takes a breath and shakes his head slightly as if going through the experience again is taking a toll on him. ''So I stayed, and he told me that if I'm interested in chemistry this much, there is a chemistry competition soon. I was so shocked I kind of said that I'm honored and touched but no, just nope.'' Stiles pauses and leans back, straightening. ''He said that I should think about it, and that's all.''

Derek watches him, thoughtful. ''Why won't you participate? You're good at chemistry.''

'''Cause I'm not a nerd, asshole,'' replies Stiles and shoves him.

Derek keeps upright, not breaking eye contact. ''You are good at chemistry, though. I think you should at least try, especially if even Harris thinks so.''

''It's because of Harris I don't want to participate. It's one thing to suffer through his classes, I don't want to have to deal with him even more.''

Derek makes a soft sound of understanding, looking down, and nods. If he were in such a situation, he'd go for it, if only for Laura's surprised cheer.

***

The next morning he opens the drawer just to see the shirt Laura bought for him for the party, the one matching his eyes.

Oh, well.

In the afternoon he thinks he should have paid more attention to his outfit, looking at the girl standing before him.

***

He understands why people don't see the boundary when it's so blurry, Stiles kissing him on the lips before heading to his class, the way he turns to Derek when Jackson stains his own shirt, asking excitedly did you see that? Did you see that? Someone needs to take a photo! Is someone taking a photo? No, wait! Me! I need to take a photo!, the way Derek leans his head on his shoulder as they sit next to each other on the corridor.

But the boundary is there.

''What's wrong?''

Derek blinks at Stiles. ''Nothing.''

''You're so quiet today.''

Derek shrugs, then frowns at Stiles. ''There was this girl that asked me out. You think it's because of my shirt?''

Stiles stops moving for a while, just stares at him. ''What?''

''Because it's green,'' explains Derek. ''You said something about my-'' he stops himself, gesturing around his eyes, but Stiles just keeps looking at him.

''You agreed?'' he asks after a beat.

''No, of course not,'' answers Derek. ''I didn't even know we were in the same school.''

Finally, Stiles nods. ''Okay.''

Isaac narrows his eyes at Stiles. ''You know, your boyfriend could get frustrated with all the drawbacks of your possessiveness and no benefits.''

Stiles' mouth tilts down and he shoots Isaac a glare before straightening. ''Good thing I don't have a boyfriend, then.''

There, again.

They don't go outside, on dates.

***

But they spend so much time together.

''Wait,'' says Boyd, interrupting Stiles' excited storytelling, ''you made Derek pause the music and take off the headphones?''

''Yeah, and then we see Harris and Finstock, you know, just talking-''

''You don't bother people when they are listening to music unless it's an emergency,'' Boyd interrupts Stiles, looking at him like he can't believe he even has to explain that.

''Am I an emergency?'' asks Erica. She looks up at Boyd, genuinely curious, her head propped up on her arms, which lay flat on the table.

Boyd shakes his head. ''We're not on this level yet.''

''When will we get on this level?''

Boyd doesn't answer, thinking about the answer, and after a while, Erica wiggles her eyebrows suggestively.

It makes Boyd smile, one of those rare, open smiles that Derek managed to get out of him a total of two times. The realization, as dumb as it is, makes him feel closer to Boyd.

***

He doesn't like how much he thinks of Stiles' smiles, the small ones when he looks at Derek. Of the way he touches Derek's hair, his voice low and rough as he repeats Derek's name.

He eats outside during the lunch break, doesn't bother to even listen to music or to read a book, just sits there alone, looking at the leaves turned yellow, orange, red with glimpses of green. He's finished the food. He still has fifteen minutes before the classes start. What do people do with all this time? Do they really talk to each other so much? He thinks back to the lunches with Stiles. Yeah, apparently, they do talk all the fucking time. He sighs and takes out his phone, earpieces already attached.

Derek closes his eyes and stops the music after a while. It's all a mistake, what he's doing. It's all wrong. He can't even tell when it has exactly started. He knows that he'd always take Stiles' apology, thinking that he maybe shouldn't, but he'd take it, always, in the end. Was it when Stiles asked him to dance? It was just a dance, though. He danced with Erica. But later on, there is just Stiles taking him to the empty classroom and-

oh, fuck that. It's not – it's not good, exactly – but it's not so important. Just stuff, he does, and Stiles is there-

he'll just take what he can, for now. Stiles will get bored eventually and it'll all be calm and normal and boring and so empty, he can't even think about it – but later on, later, he'll think of it as just this. Twist in his sobriety. Funny thing, I thought I had this group of friends-

oh, god, just shut up, Derek.

***

''You two are dating, right?'' asks Scott apropos nothing.

''Nope,'' replies Stiles. ''We're fuckbuddies.''

Everyone at the table beside him and Stiles freezes.

''Ah, so that's it,'' muses Derek and takes a bite of his apple. He ignores the incredulous look Isaac gives him.

Scott frowns at Stiles. ''But you like Derek, and Derek likes you. So you're dating.''

Derek watches the table, his face neutral. Scott, he thinks. One name and it explains so much.

''I love you, man,'' says Stiles, ''but it's one of those moments where you should shut up and we'll forget it happened.''

Scott makes a face. ''But why? I don't like this. It's,'' he pauses, searching for the right word even as Allison shifts in her seat, Lydia hides her face with her hand, Jackson rolls his eyes, Isaac mutters what the fuck, Danny has this perfectly blank face, Erica giggles uncontrollably because of the stress and Boyd just keeps eating, ''it's making both of you unhappy.''

So Scott must have sensed that something was wrong between them and now tries to make it better, just speaking up like that. God, it's hard to stay mad at Scott when you understand him. It's just, yeah. Scott.

Neither Stiles nor Derek can answer him and the group stays quiet for a minute longer. Then, Isaac narrows his eyes at Stiles and tries to steal his chocolate muffin, which starts a whole battle.

***

Honestly, Isaac can be such a good friend.

''Why are you eating outside so much?''

''I like being by myself.''

''I know, but you've never left this often before.''

Derek weighs in his mind telling Isaac the truth versus trying to think of something and grimaces. Why's he so bad at lying?

''It's Stiles.''

He expects Isaac to take in this harsh breath, gasp what, almost shaking with anger already, and stomp over to Stiles to demand they finish and clear this situation right this fucking second, Stilinski.

Instead, Isaac's silent for a long while, his hands in fists until he relaxes them. He turns to Derek with a serious face, his gaze steely with conviction.

''Derek, it's not good for you.''

Derek shrugs. ''I know.''

Isaac narrows his eyes and steps closer. ''Then why are you doing this?''

Derek grimaces, looking away. He tries to find the right words, doesn't, and just shrugs again.

''If you need me to talk with him, I'll do it,'' says Isaac, eyes straight on his, unblinking.

''What? No,'' frowns Derek, taken aback. ''No, that's too much, you can't-''

''I don't care,'' interrupts him Isaac, decisive. ''If it makes things better for you, I'll do it.''

Derek stares at him for a second, before letting out a soft huff of a laugh, shaking his head. ''I've done nothing to deserve your friendship.''

''Bullshit,'' responds Isaac readily. ''You talked to me right after my father went to jail, when I was getting my minor's emancipation and when all the people did was shoot me weirded out glances.''

''That only got us into the gossip. How did it go again? Gay predator Derek feeds on another innocent, lost soul after Kate Argent.''

Isaac leans back, relaxing a bit, letting out the air, finally even smiles, and nods. ''Yeah, I liked that one.''

Derek looks on the ground, his face darkening again. ''I shouldn't have just left like that.''

''I could have tried to convince you to stay,'' shrugs Isaac. ''I also thought it may help.''

Derek gives him a weak smile.

***

He smiles openly as he sees Stiles coming closer to him.

''What time do you finish today?''

''Three,'' replies Derek, like he doesn't know what Stiles is really asking about.

Stiles gives him a slight grin, showing him a key to the boys' locker room, and brushes with his thumb the bare skin just over Derek's jeans, his eyes never leaving Derek's.

Feeling hot, Derek stares after Stiles as he turns and goes to his class.

***

Stiles closes the door and Derek goes to the bench to put down his backpack. He straightens, and not knowing what else he could do, takes out a bottle of water to drink.

Stiles comes closer, standing right behind him, and Derek twists the cap shut and puts the bottle down. Stiles touches Derek's back with one hand, the other on his hip, and slowly flushes their bodies together.

Derek exhales softly as Stiles starts kissing his neck, licking the skin there, and he tilts his head to the side. Stiles bites him in the neck and he moans, his eyes shut, head falling back on Stiles' arm. At once he can feel Stiles' hand on his Adam's apple, keeping him in place, as Stiles kisses his more, reaches to his nipples, tweaking them. His hand goes down slowly, intently, stopping just above his belt.

''Can I?''

Stiles' voice is low, husky, and it brings a shiver down Derek's spine.

''Yes,'' he manages, almost breathless, and moans again, louder when Stiles finally cups him through the material. He can't decide where to push harder, into Stiles' erection on his back or into his hand, and rolls his hips, trying to feel as much as he can.

God, he loves those moments when he doesn't care about anything else, just tries to get off, take as much as he can. His mind is blank, ears filled with the sound of his moans and Stiles' harsh breathing, and he can't think, doesn't have to focus on anything, he just is.

Stiles keeps kissing him, licking the exposed skin, biting at his neck, his breathing hot when he takes his earlobe between his teeth. He thrusts into Derek, small, stilted movements, in time with Derek's rolling hips. Derek is moaning again, doesn't even register it until the sound's out of his lips and Stiles groans in answer, suddenly gripping Derek's sides and pushing him slightly away, his face hidden in the juncture between Derek's neck and arm.

''If we continue to do this, I'll cream my pants,'' he gasps out.

Derek lets out a breathless laugh and turns to face Stiles, his head still on his arm, tilted back. His eyes are closed but he knows that Stiles is just watching him for a while before kissing him slowly, his hand cupping Derek's cheek.

He likes forgetting things.

***

A few days later, Stiles doesn't speak much, walking with him to the dance practice. Derek feels this awkward need to ask what's wrong but stops himself each and every time, because it may be better to not know. If he doesn't ask, he doesn't know, and if he doesn't know, whatever's between them is still there, unchanged.

Finally, they get to the boys' locker room, Stiles stops walking before Derek can leave, his hand reaching to Derek's hair, tugging a bit to bring his face closer for a small kiss. Stiles leans back and smiles softly at Derek's surprise. Then, he brushes Derek's neck with his thumb two times and lets his hand fall back to his side, looking away, his body tensing up. ''We should go to the cheesecake place tomorrow,'' he says.

Derek's stomach drops, realizing what Stiles means, and he fights to keep his expression unchanged. To break up, he finishes in his mind. So that's how it ends. With a cheesecake. He'll have to take this strawberry one, it was so good last time. Or maybe check something else, who knows if he'll be able to handle going to the place later on but then again, who knows if it'll be as good as strawberry one and he needs it to be good if-

this is ridiculous.

''Why?'' he asks, the answer obvious in his mind. You knew it from the beginning, moron.

Stiles shrugs, still not meeting Derek's eyes, his fingers drumming on his leg. ''You like their desserts, don't you?''

Derek nods, his eyes dropping to the floor. ''Yeah.''

Stiles gives him one last tight smile and leaves.

Slowly, Derek slides down the wall. He still has some time before Erica comes to demand what happened. He doesn't know what he'll say.

Trying to think as little as possible, he takes out his phone and looks through his music collection, choosing The Beatles.

Everyone loves The Beatles.

He takes a breath and slowly lets it out, the sounds filling his mind.

''Derek, you're still not ready? Come on, I've prepared awesome exercises. I know that we should train for the Halloween dance but I found those great belly dancing videos – hey, are you okay?''

***

Derek should be more than okay. He tries to focus on his cheesecake, there's chocolate, marshmallows, and caramel, and cheesecake, but Stiles' so quiet and sad across from him he can't just ignore it.

He leaves his cheesecake after only two bites, giving it the last, longing glance, and looks at Stiles with a sigh. ''Just tell me already what is it.''

Stiles glances at him, startled. He sort of stops there, just regarding Derek, before snapping his eyes away. He licks his lips and pressing his hands together, says, ''We should end this.''

Derek stares at him so long his eyes start to hurt and he blinks forcefully. ''Why,'' he manages through his tight throat, even though he already knows the answer.

Stiles is popular, funny, smart, good at sports and handsome, and just interesting, and Derek is just this – this sad kid that's in every school.

Stiles watches his hands. ''It's not good for you,'' he says.

What a bullshit excuse.

For a second, Derek's overwhelmed with anger. The words scream Isaac all the way, it's not something that would concern Stiles.

But Stiles, as it seems, couldn't care less about Derek, shooting random excuse at him just to have it over with.

''Fuck you,'' he spits, all the anger he can muster in one phrase.

Stiles doesn't even look at him, his head held low, gazing at the freaking floor. He doesn't answer at first and Derek takes a breath, trying to calm himself down.

''I'm sorry,'' says Stiles finally, his voice soft. ''I can't even believe you're still talking to me.''

All the air in his lungs leaves Derek with a gentle whoosh. Now, he just feels confused and powerless. He keeps looking at Stiles.

When the silence stretches between them, the words all but slip from his mouth. ''Just what's going on.''

If it's possible, Stiles seems to curl up into himself. He is not a person to appear vulnerable with his wide smiles, full arms, his confidence, but that's what Derek's mind supplies now.

''You already know that I wasn't popular in middle school. I was just this guy everyone forgets later on.'' Something flickers through Stiles' face, but he reels it in and continues. ''I had a crush on this one jock, his name was Matt. There were a few times I thought he watched me. I've joined the lacrosse team for him and sometimes, when we had face-offs, he'd keep my gaze, completely unmoving before the signal for the start. He'd glance at me when we were changing.'' Stiles swallows thickly, rubbing his face with his hands. ''But he never said hi to me or even looked at me on the corridor at school or when I'd see him in the mall with his friends, so I didn't know what to think. But once, I finally got the courage to approach him after the training, and he agreed to like, go on a date with me.'' Stiles pauses and shrugs with one arm, his eyes pinned to the table. ''So we went out, twice. It's not,'' he licks his lips, ''he hasn't done anything bad to me. I was just nervous, and kept on rambling, going on tangents, and he'd just sigh, turn to me and say shut up. He wasn't mad, just – tired of me, I guess. Why the fuck would you think that I want to hear about Czech lacrosse?'' Stiles smiles tightly at that, the expression foreign on his face. ''We made out. I wanted to.'' Stiles pauses again and suddenly snaps his head to the side, standing up and walking towards the vending machine. He buys himself a can of coke, opens it and drinks a bit before coming back to their table.

All this time, Derek sits completely still, following Stiles' every move.

''The next day the rumors that I take the dicks started. Soon after that Matt was sent to the youth detention center, there was some issue with him stalking some girl, imprisoning one guy for two days and beating another so hard he'd ended up at the hospital – I dunno. I didn't pay attention.'' Stiles takes the small fork from the table and watches it for a moment, then starts knocking the table with it in an odd rhythm. He stops himself and puts it back.

Derek remembers Stiles' T-shirt, the one that got him a visit to the principal.

''It didn't last long. The bullying, I mean. Somehow, people have realized it was Matt that spread the rumours and it stopped eventually. But I knew already what I needed to do. Exercise, find friends and shut up. Be confident, an asshole if needed.'' He shrugs again, his knee jittery under the table. ''Is it weird that I still wish he told me something nice at least once?'' Stiles huffs out a laugh and shakes his head in disbelief.

Derek remembers all the compliments he's heard from Stiles. He hated them. The comments about his body, his smile, his good looks only made him more self-conscious.

''I guess it worked, more or less, but then you come and say, 'it's interesting.''' He looks up at Derek. ''I tell you about polocrosse rules and you say 'it's interesting', and you want me to talk, and you're obviously attracted to me, and you're just cute. You're so fucking cute.'' Suddenly, Stiles huffs out a mirthless laugh, shaking his head, his mouth twisted into a sneer. ''But I already had a bet with Jackson.''

Derek's frozen in his chair, doesn't dare to move. His heart is beating too fast when Stiles raises his head, looks right at him and finally keeps his gaze.

''I can't believe you're still here.''

Somehow, it makes Derek shift a bit in his chair, feeling uncomfortable after sitting so long motionless. He glances downwards, on the cheerfully pink napkins. ''I didn't know-''

''How would you?'' asks Stiles tonelessly and reaches for his fork, finally taking a bit of his cheesecake.

''But you started talking with me,'' says Derek quietly.

Stiles doesn't look up at him.

''If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have met Boyd, Erica, and the rest. I'd still be alone.''

Stiles starts shaking his head at that, then grimaces for a second and swallows with difficulty, pushing the plate away from himself. ''I can't eat,'' he says.

''Why?'' asks Derek. He feels dumb. He has no idea how he should react, the whole situation just slightly beyond him. He feels like there is the right thing to do now but he can't quite manage to find it.

Stiles takes a harsh breath and makes a face at him, but stops himself from whatever he wanted to say and slowly lets out the air. ''I like you,'' he says, looking at his cheesecake.

For one ridiculous second Derek wonders if Stiles is talking to him or the dessert.

''Jesus, you should be mad at me, Derek. And I understand if you can't stand me anymore, after this fuckbuddies craphole – I thought it would be better. To be only friends, but you were just looking at me like this and I thought, if you want to-'' Stiles cuts himself off and rubs his face. ''I don't know what I was thinking.'' His voice is empty again. ''But I asked you to come here today because, yeah. I wanted to ask if you would date me, but I know that's-''

''Okay.''

''-just too much-'' Stiles breaks himself off and stares at Derek, who watches him in turn, having no idea what will happen now.

''You know, you agree way too easily to the things I ask you for,'' says Stiles.

''I know,'' replies Derek. His answer startles the laugh out of Stiles and Derek can't tear his eyes away from him. He stands up slowly from his chair and leans over the table to gently kiss Stiles, his gaze never leaving the boy. It's small, just brushing his lips, and after a few seconds, Derek sits back, both of them smiling.

''Sorry, just,'' Derek looks at the table, and then at Stiles, his cheeks pinkening, ''what was that about Czech lacrosse?''

***

The next day, they are again immersed in a conversation.

''Did you know that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was supposed to reflect Tony Hawk's real style, the way he skateboards?''

''Wait, Tony Hawk's a real person?''

''Yeah,'' nods Stiles, looking at him excitedly as he sits down at the table and pauses for a second. ''You know, I think you should go to a college.''

Derek frowns slightly at the change of the topic. ''Why?''

''You like learning new stuff and in college, you can actually choose all your classes so you won't end up with physics.''

Derek shrugs, unsure.

Stiles gives him a soft smile. ''Think about it.''

''Okay, Stiles, it's not just odd, what's happening is fucked up,'' interrupts Lydia, gazing at them.

''Dude,'' says Scott, watching Stiles and Derek with a worried expression.

''It's all fucked up,'' states Isaac, his head propped on his hand, looking down at his plate as he sadly pushes the food around.

''It's all magnificent,'' corrects him Stiles. ''This Derek here is now my boyfriend.'' He pauses and looks around. ''My boyfriend,'' he repeats, and grips Derek's arm, ''all these muscles and his shoulders and his eyes-''

''Stiles, please,'' chokes out Derek, hiding his face in Stiles' neck, blushing furiously.

''You're so sweet,'' says Stiles, stroking his cheek.

''Gross and disgusting,'' comments Isaac, shaking his head.

***

It was raining earlier and the cemetery remains wet, gray and cold. Visiting is mostly just a simple physical work, taking the leaves from the graves, cleaning them, putting the flowers. It's alright – just unexpectedly simple – until Laura doesn't want to leave Cora's grave and Derek can't wait anymore to see Peter's.

Cora should've been able to meet Isaac with his biting sarcasm. And Erica, and Stiles-

the anger flares in him until he takes a deep breath, his hands in fists. In a minute, he feels miserable. His shoes are dirty from all the decomposing leaves on the ground.

And Peter should've been able to meet Boyd and Stiles, and to listen to Twist In My Sobriety – though he probably did – but listen to it and remember about Derek liking it, but he won't ever think of anything again, ever.

It's the little things. Laura taking the knife to cut the cake and pausing just before with a sad little chuckle, I guess I won't do it as well as mum. Derek listening to two guys arguing with each other and thinking that his dad would know how to reconcile them.

Coming back home, Derek listens to Kashmir, can't help thinking how strange it was that he thought about visiting the cemetery so much, dreading it, and how little it actually changed. He feels better now, if only for the fact that he did come and didn't break, but aside from this – it was just taking the leaves. Putting the flowers. Thinking.

I'd gladly stop thinking now with Sti-

he attacks himself for the thought immediately.

***

''How do you get a person to like you?''

Derek gives Stiles an odd look. ''Shouldn't I be asking that of you?''

Stiles waves his hand, impatient. ''Just – what do you think?''

Derek shrugs. ''Well, you need to talk to them,'' he starts, hesitant.

Stiles makes a face. ''Right. And?''

''Uh, tell them compliments?'' he tries.

Stiles nods, his face unreadable, and turns to Isaac. ''Nice scarf,'' he shoots.

Derek can see Isaac glancing at Stiles, his face turning from a slight smile from his conversation with Danny to an outright hostility as he meets Stiles' gaze. He raises his eyebrow, waiting for the second part of what he expects to be another biting joke, but it doesn't come. Isaac stares at Stiles, completely tensed up, and blurts out, ''What the fuck is wrong with you?''

***

''I said 'fuck you' to Danny.''

Derek widens his eyes and turns to Isaac, his mouth already opening to offer some comfort, wondering if The Beatles will have the same effect on him as on Derek – but Isaac is, more than anything, thoughtful. ''Did you think that we were dating?''

Derek shakes his head.

Isaac nods, still lost in his thoughts. ''That's good, I was careful to appear as just friends. No touches, no leaning into each other's space.''

Derek blinks, surprised. He's never thought to actually plan stuff like that, doesn't it just – happen?

''You know there are people who don't like me,'' says Isaac, playing with his pen, then putting it down. ''I'm not exactly a sweet person. I'm not like Danny,'' he adds, making a grimace that could pass as a smile. ''And honestly, I didn't think that far when I started talking to him but I guess I should have.''

Isaac leans back in his chair and sighs. Derek keeps watching him with wide eyes, unmoving.

''I saw his practice yesterday and he was talking to this guy. As soon as Danny mentioned my name this guy tensed and, you know, I could just see the way his expression changed.'' Isaac glances at Derek and gives him a tight smile. ''And it's not just him. Danny comes closer to the group of people, they perk up, smile at him. I appear behind him and they catch my gaze, turn away and grimace.'' He glances at Derek again. ''Like they want me to know they don't like me but won't say that to me, that's a step too far,'' he says, rolling his eyes. ''I don't really care about that but it affects Danny. So I go to him and tell him that we don't have to eat lunch together every day, he needs to bond with his team and I can argue with Stiles about lacrosse, and anyways he's so sociable I can't possibly keep him to myself, and over all of that he just says he's in love with me.'' Isaac pauses and knocks his desk with the pen three times before putting it down again, careful to not let it roll off to the floor. ''And you know how I get,'' he says finally, biting his lower lip. ''It made no sense and I tried to think it over but I kept remembering what Stiles did to you, and I blurted out 'fuck you'. And left.''

Derek allows himself to swallow, glancing down at the desk. He clears his throat.

''Uh, are you asking for my advice?''

Isaac quirks an eyebrow at him. ''No offense, but you're not exactly the person I'd turn to for advice.''

Derek sags with relief, nodding his head. ''That's sensible.''

Isaac shifts in his chair. ''Sensible would be to talk with him now,'' he says, then rubs his face and stands up, clapping Derek's arm. ''Guess I'll go and talk, then. Thanks.''

Derek nods again, not entirely sure how exactly he helped but happy about it nevertheless.

***

''Guys! Listen to me! Guys!'' Stiles flails his hands, looking around, his cheeks flushed and eyes wide.

''Calm down,'' says Derek softly, touching his arm with concern.

Stiles glances at him, grateful, and takes a breath before turning to the rest of the group.

''I've just seen Harris and Finstock kissing.''

The only person to react appropriately is Derek. He gasps, shocked.

''Did you take a photo?'' asks Erica, staring at Stiles intently.

''Uh, no.'' He frowns at her. ''I was too surprised! And they wouldn't want someone to take a photo of them.''

''You can always ask about that later,'' points out Isaac.

''Oh, come on, there is no way they would want anyone to-''

''But what if that was their first kiss?'' suggests Danny. ''The photo would commemorate it.''

Stiles makes a face at him, betrayed.

''It wasn't their first kiss,'' speaks up Lydia. ''I saw them last week.''

''And you didn't say anything?''

''It's their business,'' states Jackson, frowning at all of them. ''I was more surprised with Hale and Stilinski.''

''Yeah,'' Stiles grins at Derek. ''We had a whole love story, huh?''

Derek smiles, ducking his head.

''Anyway, I hope they will be happy together,'' says Scott, always the good soul.

''They'll be so cute,'' agrees Allison.

Okay, that may be going too far for Derek's taste.

''Which raises a question – was that a cute kiss? Or more like-''

''Don't finish that sentence, Erica, please.''

''But where there sounds? You know-''

''Jesus, don't imitate the sounds either!''

''You could've just taken a video,'' says Boyd.

''Right, then we could've added a music to it,'' says Derek, turning to Boyd.

''Only You (And You Alone) by The Platters?''

''Yes, that'd be perfect.''

''Well, what are you waiting for, Batman? Go back and record their kiss!''

Stiles glares at Erica. ''They aren't kissing anymore. They stopped when they've noticed me.''

''Are you okay?'' Derek leans closer again.

Stiles nods, his head hanging low. ''Harris made me sign up for chemistry's competition in revenge.''

Derek winces in sympathy. ''We'll think of something if you don't want to take it.''

Stiles shrugs. ''Harris wasn't that bad recently. Maybe Finstock's changing him.''

''Aww,'' sigh Scott and Allison in unison.

''On the bright side, Finstock blurted out that I'm staying as the team's captain,'' grins Stiles.

''Co-captain,'' corrects him Jackson with narrowed eyes.

***

A few days later, Derek approaches Isaac.

''I didn't know you started dating Danny.''

Isaac freezes and frowns at him, narrowing his eyes. ''I didn't.''

Derek watches him, slightly surprised. ''Well, it's those things you told me about,'' he starts. ''Leaning into each other's space, the touches-''

''No,'' Isaac cuts him off, shaking his head. ''No.''

Derek raises his eyebrows. ''I saw you holding hands.''

''It was for less than a minute, it doesn't count.''

''He kissed you.''

''On my cheek! Do you want me to kiss your cheek?''

Derek leans back a little. ''No,'' he says. ''Thanks.''

Isaac glares at him. ''We're just – exclusive friends with a possibility – possibilities – and I know what you think, but it's not like that – it's just a different kind of friendship.'' Isaac continues looking at him, completely tense. ''Okay?''

''Okay,'' repeats Derek, not at all convinced. ''...but you know that it's totally fine-''

''Not listening.''

***

That afternoon, he enters Stiles' house.

''Huh, seems like my dad's already left,'' says Stiles, coming in. ''You'll meet him next time, then,'' he adds, shooting Derek a grin.

Derek tries and fails to answer with a smile, his eyes wide. It's like he'll never stop meeting new people. It was supposed to be just Stiles, he thinks, coming back to their first conversation. But Stiles' friends, then Isaac, Danny, and now Stiles' dad – he's never imagined it would go that far.

Still, next time.

They go upstairs and Stiles closes the door to his room after them, finding Derek's lips immediately. When he leans back, he gives Derek a grin, staying close. ''You don't have to be shy,'' he says, watching Derek, ''we're not inside the school anymore.''

Derek realizes how passive he was just now, letting Stiles take as much as he wanted, too surprised to do anything more. ''Sorry,'' he replies, inclining his head, feeling his cheeks pinkening in embarrassment.

Stiles doesn't do anything for a moment, and then he attacks Derek's mouth again without any warning. It's so deep and sudden Derek has no chance to react in any way again, letting Stiles pin him against the wall behind, one hand tweaking his nipple, the other squeezing his butt.

He gasps for a breath, blinking at Stiles once they're apart again. He's already hard, but Stiles just watches him, smirking.

''Don't be sorry,'' he says, and dives to Derek's lips for a short, sweet kiss. ''I like you this way too.'' He leans back to regard Derek for a moment. ''I've been thinking – are you asexual?''

Derek frowns at him. ''What?''

''Are you asexual? Or demi, or something?''

Derek shakes his head, not undersatanding. ''What does it mean?''

''When you don't feel sexual attraction,'' replies Stiles. At Derek's look, he adds, ''That you don't really have this want to have sex with a specific person.''

Derek stares at him. It's the first time he's heard of the term. ''I, I don't know.''

Stiles shrugs. ''Read up on it. I just had a feeling.''

''How have you heard of it?''

''On the Internet.'' Stiles huffs out a laugh. ''I was checking if it's normal to be gay.''

Spontaneously, Derek hugs Stiles. It feels odd to initiate such close contact but Stiles is warm against him and Derek finds it nice, soothing. He leans back after a moment and takes a breath, closing his eyes briefly. ''I should tell you about Kate,'' he says quietly.

Stiles doesn't react in any visible manner, just continues to look at Derek, as he tries to find the right words to start with.

There is nothing, though. It just happened, and then it was gone, and he can't quite believe it still affects him.

When the silence stretches, Stiles leans a bit closer, putting his hand on the side of Derek's face. ''You don't have to,'' he says softly, looking right at Derek's eyes, stroking his cheek.

Derek wets his lips, averts his eyes. ''It's not,'' he starts and shifts his weight, ''it wasn't anything...'' he trails off, shrugging. ''She was just impatient with me,'' he says finally. That much he can be sure of. ''I didn't want to think, it was soon after the fire-'' he cuts himself off and shrugs again.

Stiles still looks at him without changing his expression, just attentive.

''We didn't have sex,'' Derek blurts out suddenly. The silence is deafening. ''And I just wanted to forget everything. I know that was stupid-''

''It's not stupid,'' interjects Stiles gently, catching his gaze. ''It's okay to forget for a while to get your strength back and deal with your life later.''

Derek looks at him, not replying. He's never thought of it that way. ''Thanks,'' he says softly. ''But I didn't deal. I just kept not thinking. Once, Kate took me to the club – I don't know, she got fake IDs – and there was this smoke, you know, the one they use in the clubs, and I freaked out,'' he pauses to let out a sudden laugh, ''and she broke up with me.'' He shrugs, trying to be unbothered with the silence. ''We didn't date long anyway.''

Stiles is cupping his cheek again, gazing at him, looking so sad for Derek that he can't meet his eyes.

''It's okay,'' murmurs Stiles, leaning closer and touching Derek's lips with his own. ''We'll do whatever you want, okay? Just tell me.''

Derek shakes his head, still not raising his eyes to Stiles. ''No,'' he says. ''Tell me what to do. I mean,'' he wets his lips and finally returns Stiles' gaze, ''guide me.''

Stiles takes in a sharp breath, his eyes widening at the request. ''If you want it-''

Derek nods, watching him. ''I want.''

''Yeah, okay,'' Stiles breathes. He looks up to Derek and demands, ''Touch my neck and kiss me. You can tug on my hair.''

Derek leans in to kiss him gently but Stiles moves back. ''You can be rough,'' he says and waits for Derek to come closer again.

This time, he lets himself be harsher with a kiss, grabs Stiles' hair and pushes him away, watching with interest as Stiles closes his eyes and gasps. ''Touch my arms,'' he says, still breathless.

Derek's hands move down and he kisses Stiles again. One of his hands go lower, to his back, and he pauses just above his belt, circling the area with his fingers, unsure.

''Come on,'' says Stiles, ''you can touch me, my butt, just-''

Derek slips his hand under Stiles' shirt and grazes with his nails the vulnerable skin. He can feel Stiles shudder and dives in to kiss his neck, his hand splayed on Stiles' butt.

''Derek,'' moans Stiles, and suddenly grips his neck, keeping Derek in place. ''Give me a hickey, I want people to know you did this.''

''God, Stiles,'' breaths Derek and sucks the skin, biting it and soothing with his tongue. Stiles plasters himself completely to Derek and he can feel his erection.

The arousal makes it easier to slowly push his thigh between Stiles' legs and squeeze his butt with both hands this time. Stiles moans again, gripping Derek's shirt, panting into his neck, his hips moving irregularly until he is coming with a groan. Derek kisses him again, slower this time, deep, languid. He blinks, watching Stiles. He's never seen him like this.

Stiles palms Derek's length through the material and looks at him. ''Do you want me to give you a handjob?'' He bites his lip and smirks. ''A blowjob?''

Derek averts his eyes, suddenly embarrassed. He licks his lips, tensing up slightly. ''Sorry,'' he says shaking his head. ''I don't really want to go that far.'' He grimaces and glances at Stiles. ''I'm sorry, it doesn't even make sense-''

''It's okay,'' soothes Stiles at once, giving him a small kiss. He leans back and narrows his eyes at Derek. ''What if you masturbate? And I won't touch you if you don't want me to.''

Derek lets out a shaky breath, nodding. ''Okay.''

Stiles smirks at him, enjoying Derek's reaction, then steps away. Derek keeps his gaze and touches his dick through the jeans. His lips are parted, his breathing too shallow. He slides down his jeans and palms himself through the boxers, closing his eyes briefly. When he opens them again, Stiles is staring at his crotch, his cheeks red. He isn't smirking anymore.

Derek tugs down his boxers, keeping his dick in his hand and starts moving, his pace unhurried. He wants to get off soon, but Stiles doesn't look away, his gaze kept on Derek, and it makes him feel strangely powerful. He lets his other hand wander to cup the balls, touching them and weighing, keeping his eyes on Stiles, watching the way he follows Derek's movements.

He squeezes his cock a bit harder and moans Stiles' name. Stiles looks up at him, his lips parted and pink, matching his blush. ''Fuck, do that again,'' he says, his eyes focused on Derek. Having Stiles' undivided attention, Derek can't help moving his hand faster now.

''Say my name again, Derek,'' demands Stiles, his hands gripped in fists, then relaxing at his sides.

Derek lets his pace grown even more, breathing heavily. He moans, closing his eyes for a while and blinking again to look at Stiles. He can see the way he barely constraints himself from moving, all his attention on Derek, his eyes completely dark-

''Stiles,'' he gasps, touching himself, and watches as Stiles stares at him coming, dirtying his hand.

Although his body is taut, Stiles keeps himself in place, doesn't tear his eyes away from Derek. He opens his mouth. ''Can I-?'' he asks, his hand coming up as if to touch something.

Derek doesn't know what he is asking for but he nods nevertheless, and at once Stiles is next to him, kissing him, his hands on Derek's neck and in his hair.

Derek closes his eyes and returns the kiss, relaxing. Just for a while longer, he lets himself forget, before he'll need to think about Halloween dance, Laura, everything else.

***

Next week, Derek notices Isaac sitting at the tribunes.

''Oh, you came to watch us practice?''

Isaac glances up at Derek, surprised. ''No,'' he replies bluntly. ''I'm waiting for Danny.''

Derek takes pride in himself for not saying anything.

''We're going to the cinema later.''

Derek opens his mouth and slowly closes it, just nodding.

The basketball team finishes their game and he can see Danny coming this way, so he retreats strategically to Erica, helping her with a CD player.

He can't help glancing over at Danny and Isaac but they are just talking – until Isaac laughs, his eyes wandering downwards, to the floor. He flushes.

Danny angles a bit closer and – Derek can just nudge Erica to look at them – they are kissing.

A few seconds pass and they lean back, smiling at each other. Gross and disgusting, remembers Derek, you just wait, Isaac. He turns to the basketball team to see their reaction but no one is remotely interested, some guys glancing at the pair. In a minute, Danny is leaving, turning back to see Isaac one more time. Derek regards the scene with narrowed eyes as Isaac dazedly stares after Danny, still blushing.

Derek gives him a while to come back to himself and approaches him again. ''Just in case,'' he starts, ''I don't want to be kissed like that.''

Isaac kicks him without turning his eyes away from where Danny disappeared.

''You know that it looks like you're-''

''I'm not talking about it,'' says Isaac, still not turning to Derek.

''Okay. But the guys from the basketball club didn't seem bothered.''

Isaac smiles a bit, still without looking at Derek. ''Thanks,'' he says softly.

He is totally crushing on Danny, thinks Derek, but doesn't say it aloud, he is better than Isaac like that.

''So do you want to add that Only You song to the video?'' asks Erica, waving her mobile.

This time Isaac snaps his head to the side immediately.

***

If Derek was supposed to describe it, he'd say it's like feeling there is another dimension to human life in which you are less than everyone else. All those glances, smiles, and touches he's noticed but never fully understood, hearing agreements that of course personality is more important, yet paying so much attention to others' appearances.

Although he finds himself drawn to the look of certain people as well. Falling in love with Kate and then Stiles made sense when he thought of himself as pansexual. It explains even more when he identifies as panromantic asexual.

Still, he can't be sure of his asexuality. His trauma might have influenced this as well, even if he can't remember ever thinking about anyone in a sexual way. It had been weird with Kate. And with Stiles, even when it comes, it's not natural or easy, but stilted and hesitant.

But it's good to have the words to explain what he feels. It's good to know he's not less or extremely shy, he's just slightly different.

***

Just before the Halloween dance Derek is stressed out of his mind.

''It'll be fine, really,'' repeats Stiles and Derek keeps nodding, completely unconvinced. His eyes are wide and glued to the floor.

''We're going to Heather's diner after you're finished. I'll get you a chocolate milkshake,'' suggests Stiles, his hand on Derek's arm. ''And tomorrow we can go to the cheesecake cafe you love.''

Derek pauses and nods again.

He has future plans now. Not really important ones, not anything concerning his after-high-school-time, but it's already much more than he had.

''We can go back to my home later and I promise I won't make you play Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.''

Derek stills for a second. ''We could,'' he licks his lips, ''we could go back to mine,'' he says. ''It's closer,'' he adds, having no idea whether it's true, and raises his eyes to watch Stiles' reaction.

Stiles' lips are partly open in surprise as he stares at Derek, before his whole face brightens with a smile. ''Yeah,'' he says, keeping eye contact with Derek and looks so earnest and happy Derek can't help thinking, it's like it's real.

He still tries to stop himself from hoping too much, from believing that Stiles genuinely cares, because people change, people die and everything's evanescent – but with each and every Stiles' smile, touch, kiss, he finds himself believing it more.

But believing leaves him vulnerable. Sooner or later, he'll get hurt again. And even that doesn't stop him, because he'd rather have his parents, Peter, Cora, and Malia gone than never have had them in the first place.

Stiles leans in, pausing as if to say something but in the end, he just smiles at Derek, helpless, and kisses him. Everything's evanescent – yet Derek finds his belief growing a bit stronger again.