Stiles is an asshole and the first time he ever says he loves Derek, it’s because Derek brought him coffee during a late research night.
"Oh, God, I love you," Stiles says gratefully, making grabby hands at the hot coffee in Derek’s grip, "Dude, you are literally the best, I can’t even."
Stiles doesn’t really notice that he’s said anything (much less anything incriminating), he’s just riding a wave of gratitude because caffeine has been bestowed upon him like a heavenly light. He does notice that Derek gets quiet after that, though and he doesn’t nag Stiles the rest of the night as he had been doing up until he left to get coffee.
Derek keeps his hands tucked in his leather jacket and looks somehow small and awkward. It’s endearing, but strange to Stiles. He happens to like that despite being about the same height as Derek, Derek always seems larger. He exudes power and that’s something Stiles admires greatly. That’s why he notices when Derek looks shy.
He shrugs it off and keeps Derek busy by putting him in charge of perusing a few ancient scrolls that are laid out on his bed.
He smiles while he sips at his coffee and occasionally feels Derek’s eyes on him.
The second time it happens, Stiles is on the ground and his foot is turned at an unnatural angle. He gets nauseous anytime he looks at it, so he keeps his eyes shut and face turned away. He gasps when Derek’s hand comes to gently brush his exposed calf. He doesn’t really know why he knows it’s Derek’s hand; it’s just too broad and warm to be anyone else’s.
He’s about to ask Derek to not touch the wound anymore, but then he groans in relief as the pain is suddenly stripped from him. He lolls his head back and moans out,
”Oh, man, I love you — I forgot you guys could do that.”
He opens his eyes to slits to see Derek and, rather than thinking about what he’s just said, he becomes fixated on the blood still splattered over Derek’s face. There’s a wound by the top of his head that doesn’t look like it’s closing as quickly as it should. He leans forward and touches Derek’s face with his fingertips.
"Shit — are you okay?"
Derek nods and says gruffly, “I’m fine.”
"Thanks for saving me," Stiles chooses to say, taking his hand back to lean his weight on his palms.
Derek grimaces and mutters, “You still got hurt.”
Stiles rolls his eyes and shoves Derek’s shoulder amiably.
"Get off the pity-potty. You saved my life. I can recover from a broken bone."
Derek sighs and only seems to concede when he catches Stiles smiling warmly at him. He goes back to looking at where he’s taking Stiles’ pain from and Stiles closes his eyes again to soak in the relief.
The third time it happens, it hardly happens at all.
Stiles is asleep on Derek’s couch, his head cushioned on Derek’s thigh. Scott is asleep in the armchair, Kira also asleep in Scott’s lap. The main DVD menu is still glowing on the tv screen and the scent of microwavable popcorn and melted butter still hangs heavily in the air. The room is quiet, private and safe.
Derek looks down at where Stiles is drooling on his jeans and he feels a rush of overwhelming fondness. He runs his hand over Stiles’ head, gently combing his fingers through Stiles’ hair.
Stiles stirs and turns his face more into Derek’s thigh. He breathes in deeply and sighs out,
Derek smiles humbly to himself, his eyes crinkle at the corners. He pets his thumb back and forth over Stiles’ scalp and listens to his resting heart.
Derek is on top of Stiles before the wall can come collapsing on him. The Lammasu the Pack had cornered just plowed through the side of an abandoned building, knocking the wall down. Stiles had been right by it and when the ceiling caved in, he was pretty sure he’d die covered in bricks.
His head hits the linoleum floor pretty violently and he might need stitches. When he blinks his eyes open and up, Derek is holding himself up above him, his hands planted on either side of Stiles’ shoulders. Derek’s back is supporting the weight of the entire wall that would have come crashing down on him.
His eyes go round and white and Derek seems relieved. He exclaims,
"I love you, dude, holy God, are you okay? How are you even doing that? You have the reflexes of a goddamn cat! Are we both gonna get crushed in like two minutes? How long can you keep that up?”
"I love you too," Derek replies.
Stiles’ brows spring up and he looks wild-eyed, soot and dust spotting his face, his hair mussed.
It occurs to Derek finally that Stiles hasn’t been paying attention to what he’s been saying; it’s just part of his stream of consciousness. There’s no mistaking that confusion and amazement in his eyes.
Derek swallows a lump in his throat, waiting for shame to open up like a hole in the ground consume him.
"You love me?"
Derek figures he’s already dug himself a grave, so he tosses himself in.
He nods back to Stiles, dropping his gaze.
Then he feels Stiles’ hands coming around his face. He meets Stiles’ eyes hesitantly, then he’s completely floored by the radiant smile he finds spreading over Stiles’ face. His heart starts bumping like it did when he was in high school.
Stiles leans up and closes the small space between them, meeting Derek’s lips gently. They both sigh against each other and Derek’s sore muscles stop shaking under the weight of the wall.
When Scott digs them up and the Pack looks upon them, they’re still too busy gazing into each other’s eyes to be bothered with rescues.
No one asks about Derek twining his fingers with Stiles’ on the walk back to the cars.