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One Door Closes

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When the pack splits up and leaves Beacon Hills, everyone stays in touch with Derek except for Stiles.

For a while, Derek had thought he would be able to keep the pack together. He wasn’t the best alpha, but he was still their alpha. Some of them make token noises about staying close to home when they look at colleges, but he knows that they don’t really mean it. In the end, it goes exactly as he’s always known it will go.

Scott goes to some college in San Francisco, and so does Allison, because they’re joined at the hip like Siamese twins. Erica wanders in the general direction of Los Angeles to capitalize on her good looks, awesome body, and newfound self-confidence. Isaac gets a scholarship to play lacrosse in Sacramento, but transfers to a college in Nevada after his first year. Lydia goes to MIT and drags Jackson across the country with her to play pro lacrosse in New England. Boyd goes to trade school in nearby Modesto and ends up getting a job in Seattle.

Stiles goes to Columbia to study criminology. Derek sees him around on occasion during the summer, but they never really connect.

Not that he can blame Stiles for that. They didn’t exactly part on the best of terms.

Derek never really figured out why Stiles liked him. It didn’t compute. They argued every time they saw each other. Stiles never thought Derek was right about anything. He knew that Derek found him annoying and frequently said things like ‘yeah, the pest has a question again’. And yet, the more time they spent together, the longer things dragged on with the kanima and the alpha pack and the million other things that happened after that, the more he started to smell the interest on Stiles.

He calls it interest because he can’t even call it lust, which is what it really is. The very idea of it freaks him out and makes him want to move as far across the globe from Stiles as is physically possible.

He’s content to ignore it at first. It’s just a crush, he reasons. It’s natural for teenagers to fixate on someone for a while, but they get over it. Surely, with some time, Stiles will realize why Derek is a great candidate for Worst Possible Boyfriend Ever, and decide he’d be much better off dating somebody else. Anybody else.

And it’s not that he doesn’t like Stiles. He does. Sort of. Sure, he’s annoying sometimes; he doesn’t know when to shut up. Derek gets sick of hearing about World of Warcraft and Stiles’ frequent, offhanded self-deprecating remarks (if he hears ‘because I’m just the human kid over here’ one more time he may pop a vessel), and the way that he insists everyone eats his stupid vegetable sticks is obnoxious, but seriously, Stiles is likable, at least some of the time. Despite himself, Derek admires him. He’s got a lot of amazing traits that he doesn’t even seem to realize he has. He’s loyal beyond a fault, he’s willing to stand up for what he believes in, he’s more intelligent than he gives himself credit for, and he’s brave, truly brave, in a way that someone like a werewolf just can’t be, because they can’t be hurt the same way. Stiles never backs down, even when he should, and sometimes Derek is insanely jealous of him because he has simply never believed in himself the way Stiles does.

So yeah, sometimes he thought about it, but Stiles was sixteen, so it just wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t the only one aware of Stiles’ little crush; Sheriff Stilinski took to cleaning his shotgun whenever Derek was around, a message that Derek received loud and clear. And whenever he found himself thinking things like ‘Stiles is actually pretty mature for a sixteen year old’, he remembered Kate, and remembered how mature he felt, with his older-woman girlfriend, how he was puffed up with his own ego and on top of the world. When he was done throwing up, he looked in the mirror and swore to himself that he would never, ever treat Stiles the same way, that Stiles might think he’s mature enough for a relationship with a twenty-four year old, hell, Derek might think Stiles is mature enough, but he was sixteen and that was the end of the story right there.

The problem was that the little crush didn’t go away.

In fact, it got worse.

Stiles took to hanging around Derek a lot more often, even when nothing was going on. Sometimes Derek would hear his heartbeat speed up and he would glance over to see Stiles watching him. He could tell that Stiles was working himself up to something. Then Stiles would talk himself out of it and go back to whatever he had been doing. But Derek knew that wouldn’t last forever. Hell, given Stiles’ typical level of self-control, it probably wouldn’t even last very long.

He also started doing the same sort of thing for Derek that he had earlier done for Lydia. Things like “oh hey I saw you didn’t have a blender so I brought you our old one and now you can make milkshakes” or “seriously when was the last time you ate anything besides pizza, I brought you some groceries” or even “does this place even get cable, here, you can borrow my Buffy DVDs and that’ll give you something decent to watch”. It was muted a little, because he seemed to have actually learned from the mistakes he made with Lydia, but it was still very much in evidence.

It was also a way for Stiles to insinuate himself into Derek’s life even when there wasn’t any wolf stuff going on. Stiles started just showing up on random occasions, because he had nothing to do or Scott was hanging out with Allison or his dad was always at work and Derek started to realize for the first time how lonely Stiles was.

The worst part was that he liked Stiles’ random visits. He started to look forward to them, to recognize Stiles’ footsteps on the way up to his loft and hear his own heartbeat pick up in response. They watched TV or talked about football or sometimes Stiles just curled up on the bench underneath the big window and did his homework. But when Stiles got caught up in lacrosse fever at the beginning of his junior year and didn’t come visit for a week, and Derek found himself staring at the door to the loft, just waiting, he realized it was getting way too serious. He had to put a stop to it. He had let it go on far too long.

So the next time Stiles showed up, Derek got off the sofa and went over to the door to answer it before Stiles could just waltz in the way he usually did. He opened it and used his body to block Stiles’ way into the loft.

“Stiles, you can’t come here anymore,” Derek said, and Stiles just looked at him, a mixture of confusion and hurt. “I know what you’re trying to do, I know . . . how you feel. And it isn’t going to happen. So you just . . . you need to stop.”

Stiles’ jaw set angrily, and he said, “I’m not stupid, you know. I’ve seen the way you look at me sometimes. You can’t tell me that you don’t feel the same way. You can’t tell me that you don’t want me, too.”

Derek steeled himself up to it. It was going to hurt, but it was a ‘rip off the Band-Aid’ sort of hurt. Better to get it over with, put an end to it, quick and clean. So he looked Stiles dead in the eye and said, “I. Don’t. Want you.”

And then he shut the door in Stiles’ face.

Stiles never came to his loft again. Even when there was pack stuff going on and Derek called a meeting, Stiles never showed. If he had something to say, he would tell Scott beforehand, and Scott relayed it to everyone else. When they did have to deal with each other, Stiles treated him with cool civility and nothing else. They didn’t even argue anymore. If Stiles had a problem with something Derek said or did, he took it up with someone else who could then take it up with Derek personally. It was like a life-size game of ‘telephone’.

Derek hated it, but he could look himself in the eye in the mirror and know he had done the right thing, that he might have hurt Stiles but Stiles would thank him later, when he was old enough to understand.

Stiles graduated high school and went to Columbia and they never really saw each other after that.

The pack drifted apart because they had never really bonded the way they should have. Derek had never been able to give them a home, a family, the way an alpha was supposed to. He was too damaged to be an alpha. Looking back at it, he realizes that he should have known that. He never should have tried.

But he keeps in touch, because whether they built a pack together or not, these people are the only family he has left. And when he leaves Beacon Hills because he just can’t stay there anymore, it’s too much pain and too much memory, he gives them his forwarding address. He moves a few times and finally ends up in Wyoming. He gets a job as a ranch hand, because being outdoors suits him, and the hard labor takes his mind off things and helps him sleep at night.

There’s no pack up there, but that’s fine. He doesn’t want to be part of a pack anymore. He stopped being an alpha the day the last of his pack left Beacon Hills, not that he told anyone that. He woke up the day after Boyd left for Seattle and he knew it then. When he shifted, he saw the old familiar silver-blue shine in his eyes.

He was okay with it, far more okay than he would have thought he would be. He had never wanted to be an alpha, and he knew he hadn’t been a very good one. He’s omega now, like he was after Laura’s death, and it suits him just fine.

The horses aren’t too sure about him, but they get used to him after a while. The ranch’s problem with coyotes vanishes within a few weeks of his arrival, much to the mystification of the owners. It’s a small town, only about a thousand people, and he likes that, as well. He keeps to himself, is always polite but firmly aloof. The ranch’s owners give him one of the cabins on the property. He can run to his heart’s content, get out and move, run until he’s left his demons behind, even if they always catch up when he stops.

But he keeps in touch, because the wolf in him is omega but the human is still a human. He e-mails with Boyd and Isaac, and loans Boyd the start-up capital when he decides to open his own business as an electrician (paid back in full within five years, no interest). Scott and Allison invite him to their wedding, but he doesn’t go because the Argents are going to be testy enough about Allison’s choice in men without him showing up (or at least that’s the reason that he gives, but a certain no-longer-a-teenager with a buzz cut is sure to be the best man, and that’s another excellent reason to mark the RSVP ‘decline with regrets’).

He reads the articles Lydia publishes in scientific journals even though he doesn’t understand them, and occasionally he’ll see the results of one of Jackson’s games on the internet and send them a congratulatory note if he deserves it. He sees Erica on TV strutting her stuff and even attends a movie premiere with her once because she’s got a stalker and she wants someone big and buff and handsome on her arm who can take care of himself. He flies down to Los Angeles for the weekend. She tries to get him to stay longer, but Monday morning, he’s gone.

He talks to Scott and Allison over skype and gets introduced to their daughter that way, a beautiful, raven-haired baby with gold eyes. “Argent must be shitting a brick,” he says to Scott, who laughs. He’s never quite sure why Scott has kept in touch with him despite all the times they fought and argued and worked at cross-purposes just because they were both too proud and stubborn (and by ‘both’ he mainly means ‘himself’) to talk to each other. But Scott does and Derek likes seeing his little werewolf baby and hearing about how Chris is unbending because he wants to be a part of his granddaughter’s life.

The few times he asks about Stiles, he thinks he’s being very subtle, even though he’s not. He says casual things like, “Oh, you haven’t mentioned Stiles lately, how’s he doing?” Scott always answers, but he never brings Stiles up himself. He’s content to wait for Derek to express interest. Stiles just graduated from Columbia magna cum laude, Stiles is in the police academy, Stiles moved back to Beacon Hills for a while because his father broke his leg on the job, Stiles is looking for a job but hasn’t found one yet. Derek’s surprised that Stiles decided to go into regular law enforcement instead of something like forensics or profiling, but he realizes later that he shouldn’t be, that above everything else Stiles has always idolized his father and wants to follow in his footsteps. Someday, Stiles will be the sheriff in a small town just like Beacon Hills, and that will be his dream come true. He’ll have an entire life that will have nothing to do with Derek or werewolves.

He’s been in Wyoming for four years when he comes into the main lobby of the ranch to find Stiles standing there.

It’s early October, so the mornings are chilly now, and tourist season is pretty much over. The ranch has a few guests, and he’s still leading trail rides every day, but it’s only once a day now rather than twice. Once winter sets in – which can be as early as Thanksgiving; they’re not high in the mountains but they’re not exactly at sea level, either – everything on the ranch will shut down. He’ll still have his daily chores to attend to, but other than that, he’ll mostly be sitting around his cabin, heating it up with his little wood stove, and brooding. He’s still exceptionally good at brooding.

He doesn’t recognize Stiles at first, and sees only the uniformed deputy standing, chatting with Carol, who’s at the desk. Every inch of the uniform is perfect: beige pants perfectly pressed and neat, clean white T-shirt showing just a little at the collar of the perfectly matching beige shirt, patch sewed onto the olive green jacket perfectly straight. They’ve known for a while they’ll be getting a new deputy. Carnes, the previous one, had retired at Christmas almost a year before. Nobody had been in a rush about hiring a new one, it’s such a quiet place. Sheriff Benson checks in occasionally, but Cedarville is one of the smaller towns in the county, so he doesn’t need to stop by very often.

Carol glances up as he comes in from his early morning chores, thinking of heading to the kitchen for some breakfast, wearing a dirty gray T-shirt, jeans, and his boots. “Oh, Derek,” she says. “Come meet the new deputy. It’s . . . am I saying this right? Stilinski?”

“It’s phonetic,” Stiles says, and turns and looks at Derek, spinning his sunglasses around by the stem. “Hey, Derek.”

Stiles?” The word rushes out of Derek along with all the oxygen in his body.

“The one and only,” Stiles says. The tone is somewhat wry, but there’s still that polite indifference to it, and he’s not really smiling.

“Oh, do you two know each other?” Carol asks.

“From back in the day,” Stiles says. He turns back to her and says, “Anyway, like I was saying about the traffic light . . .”

Derek just stares at him, trying to process the way Stiles looked at him and then just . . . dismissed him. Completely, utterly dismissed him. Nothing about how long it’s been or how he’s glad to see him (why would he have even hoped for that?), not even a comment about how he smells like horse manure. Nothing. It’s like he’s not even there.

All of which is hard enough to accept on his own, but now he’s trying to deal with a surge of human lust and a sudden, snarling wolf instinct that proclaims Stiles is his, Stiles is pack, and he wants to simultaneously kiss Stiles until he’s blue in the face and rub his scent all over the other man. Both of which he is very, very sure that Stiles would not appreciate.

Because Stiles . . . looks good. He looks amazing. His bony frame has filled out; he’s not and never will be as solid as Derek, but he doesn’t really look shrimpy next to him anymore, either. He’s grown his hair out so it stands up in loose brown spikes now. Time in the sun has graced his skin with a few more freckles and moles, and Derek wants to nip at every single one of them, wants to wind his hand through that hair and . . . and the uniform, damn, there simply aren’t words in the English language for how good Stiles looks in that uniform and what it’s doing to Derek.

He shakes himself. Stiles isn’t sixteen anymore, that’s for damned sure, but he’s also very clearly not interested in having this conversation with Derek. Still, he can’t help himself. The words just fall out of his mouth. “What are you doing here?”

Now there’s a trace of irritation in Stiles’ face. “I work here,” he says, tapping the patch on his jacket. “New deputy. Weren’t you listening?”

“Of all the gin joints in all the world!” Carol says brightly. She’s not exactly nosy, but she . . . no, Derek corrects. Carol is nosy. She’s just not malicious about it.

“You knew I was here,” Derek says. “You weren’t surprised.”

“Scott told me,” Stiles says.

“So . . . you knew I was here when you took the job?” Derek says. “You . . . came to see me?”

Carol’s eyes light up. She’s clearly thinking that this is the most interesting day of the year so far. Derek has, of course, attracted his share of female suitors, but he’s always turned them down. Rumors about him have swirled for a long time, but this could be actual confirmation.

“No,” Stiles says, folding the sunglasses and hooking them on his shirt pocket. “I came here because the job was the kind of job I wanted, the benefits package was good, there was a house in the area I could afford, and it’s only a day’s drive from Beacon Hills. Your presence didn’t outweigh those factors.”

Derek flinches away from those words. Carol’s mouth is slightly ajar. After a moment to recover, Derek swallows and says, “Uh, Carol. The stables are done. Can you let Wyatt know the first tour is at eleven and I need him to check on Daisy before then. She’s favoring her right foreleg a bit and I don’t want to take her out until he’s seen her.”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Carol says, trying to keep up.

Derek takes a deep breath. “Thanks.” He turns to Stiles and reaches for that cool indifference. “Deputy,” he says, with a nod.

Stiles nods back, and Derek leaves the lobby as quickly as he can without actually breaking into a jog. He has to take several minutes to have a quiet nervous breakdown before he manages to get into the kitchen for breakfast. That’s unfortunate, because it means by the time he manages it, Carol’s already told Sally, the cook, all about what just happened.

“Old flame, huh?” Carol asks, staring at Derek with googly eyes as he looks at the breakfast menu. The restaurant at the ranch is limited; they only have a few options for each meal that change every day. “Must’ve been one hell of a break-up.”

Derek glowers at her and says, “Corned beef hash, Sally.” He doesn’t need to say anything else because she already knows how he likes his eggs and that he wants country potatoes rather than hash browns, with lots of peppers and onions. To Carol, he then adds, “Seriously? Can you not see that he’s like ten years younger than me?”

“So?” Carol asks, with a shrug. “Willow is twelve years younger than Hector,” she adds, naming the owners of the ranch.

“Yeah, but they met when Willow was in her thirties,” Derek says. “I met Stiles when he was sixteen.”

“He’s not sixteen now,” Sally says, and lets out a low whistle. “Damn, why are all the good ones gay?”

Derek doesn’t want to dignify that. “Breakfast, Sally.”

She just laughs at him. Carol says, “Well, Sally, if you want to take a crack at him, I invited him to the contra dance tomorrow.”

Derek chokes on his coffee. “What? Why?!”

“Why do you care?” Carol asks, amused. “You never come to the dances.”

“Because – ” Derek scowls at her. “Because you don’t even know him.”

“Uh, that’s why I invited him to the dance, Derek, to get to know him. That’s what we do when new people arrive in town. Anyway,” she continues brightly, “he’s not actually living in Cedarville. He’s the deputy for all three towns in the cluster, and his house is in Aspen. He says he just moved up over the weekend and this is his first day on the job. He – Derek, where are you going? What about your breakfast?”

“Forget it,” Derek snarls, and storms out of the restaurant.

He’s grown to love the ranch over the years he’s lived there. It covers vast acres of land at the foothills of the Teton Mountains. He works with the horses and does general groundskeeping, so there’s always plenty to do. He also leads some of the trail rides and teaches a horseback riding class in the autumn and in the spring. He’s not the best teacher, but nobody’s ever complained about him.

What he really needs right now is to be outside, not to be pinned down. So he takes his tools and goes to mend one of the fences that needs a few posts replaced. He barely makes it back in time to lead the trail ride he’s taking out. There are about half a dozen guests at the ranch right now. He’s not the most chatty of tour guides, but his looks make up for it. Willow has mentioned that the number of young women in the area who have suddenly become interested in horseback riding has doubled in the past two years since he started taking groups out.

He manages to spend the entire day out on the property before going back to his cabin and making himself a sandwich. He checks to see if Scott’s online, and he is, so he dials him up.

“Hey, Derek,” Scott says, or at least Derek assumes it’s Scott, because the webcam has been knocked askew. It’s straightened a few minutes later and Scott’s face comes into view. He’s got Annie in his lap. She’s wearing a little jumper with frogs on it.

“Unka Derek!” she says, waving. Nobody has ever told her to call Derek that; she seems to have come to the conclusion that Derek is her uncle all on her own, despite the fact that they’ve never met in person.

“Hey, sweet pea,” Derek says. To Scott, he says, “This conversation may involve profanity.”

Scott gives a snort and then says, “Go see your mom, okay?” and lets Annie out of his lap. “What’s up?”

“Why the hell didn’t you warn me that Stiles was coming here?”

Scott blinks at him. “You mean he actually took the Wyoming job?” he asks. The surprise on his face is genuine. Scott’s never been very good at lying or faking things. “Jesus, I didn’t think he would.”

“You told him I was up here?”

“Yeah, yeah, he was telling me about his different job offers. He said that he’d gotten one in Wyoming that was the best so far, and I said, ‘oh, where in Wyoming’ and he told me and I said ‘holy shit, that’s where Derek’s been hiding himself’. And he just said ‘oh’ and then he didn’t say anything else about it. I figured that was an immediate ‘okay, I guess I won’t be taking that job’ or I would have warned you, seriously. But I guess he decided he wanted the job bad enough that . . .” Scott sees the look on Derek’s face, the way he looks like he’s slowly bleeding out from some internal wound. “It, uh, it didn’t go well, I take it.”

“He wouldn’t even look at me,” Derek says, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

Scott rubs a hand over the back of his head. “Yeah . . . I guess he’s still pretty pissed.”

“No shit, Sherlock,” Derek says. “Have you got any other helpful advice?”

Scott lifts his hands in surrender. “Hey, I’m staying out of it. I stayed out of it then and I’m staying out of it now. You’ll just have to find the mature, responsible adult that I know is in there somewhere, and deal with him like he’s a mature, responsible adult.”

Since Stiles’ mature-adult status is half the problem, Derek declines to prolong the conversation. He tries to remember how long it’s been since they all left Beacon Hills. Seven years? Eight? He didn’t keep track of the time very well. Either way, Stiles is well into his mid-twenties, and in theory that places him squarely in adulthood.

He watches a movie without seeing any of it and then goes to bed and stares up at the ceiling for a long time.

Weekends are the busiest time at the ranch. He doesn’t really get days off, per se, because the horses always need tending to, but some days are busier than others. It’s a ‘work until the work gets done’ sort of job during the week, and he doesn’t mind. But on the weekends they’ll see the most tourists, do the most trail rides and tours, and have the most lessons.

The dance on Saturday night is something that Willow had introduced about a year previous, and has become very popular. They host it once a month, and it alternates between contra dancing and square dancing. Derek has never gone to one because he can’t dance, has no desire to learn to dance, and doesn’t want to watch women eye him speculatively for an entire evening. And he’s certainly not going to go to this one. He doesn’t care that Stiles was invited.

Unfortunately for him, Carol has other ideas. She shows up at his cabin at seven, half an hour before the dance is scheduled to start. “C’mon, chop-chop!” she says. “You can’t go wearing that. Get in the shower!”

“What?” Derek asks. “Carol, I – ”

“Nope,” she says. “Absolutely not. If you don’t go, you’ll spend the next week moping about how you didn’t go. You should at least try to talk to him.”

“Because that went so well yesterday,” Derek says.

“You were taken off guard,” Carol says. “I know you’ve spent the last twenty-four hours thinking of all the things you wish you could’ve said. So, here’s your chance to say some of them. Shower. Now.”

“God, fine,” Derek says, mostly because he’s worked with Carol long enough at this point to know that she won’t back down, and that going along with her is by far the easiest way to get her out of his cabin. He jumps in the shower and comes out ten minutes later to find her looking through his wardrobe. “Get out of there.”

“Do you own anything besides jeans and T-shirts?” she asks.

“I work on a fucking ranch,” Derek snaps. “What else would I own?”

Carol heaves a sigh. She reminds him of Laura sometimes – bossy and with an ‘I know better than you’ attitude – although Laura was much better at handling him. He can admit that now, looking back on things. “This one,” she says, thrusting a maroon V-neck at him. Then she takes a second look. “Shave! What’s wrong with you?”

Derek rubs a hand over his stubble. “What’s wrong with my face?”

“You look like a bear that just finished hibernating for the winter. Razor.”

Grumbling, Derek goes into the bathroom and shaves. His face looks strangely unnatural to him afterwards. He can’t remember the last time he was clean shaven. He dresses in the maroon shirt and the worn black jeans that Carol gives him, and laces up his boots. She stands and examines him. “You’ll do,” she finally says, and grabs him by the wrist.

The dance is in full swing by the time they get there. Derek scans the dance floor for Stiles but doesn’t see him anywhere. He’s not sure whether he’s relieved or disappointed. Either way, it’s short-lived, because a minute later he spots Stiles standing at the refreshments table. He’s casually dressed now in one of those plaid shirts that he always wore in high school, and a pair of jeans. He’s smiling – correction, he’s laughing – and the sight of it makes sudden, inexplicable pain flood Derek’s chest.

“Go talk to him,” Carol orders, pointing sternly. “You don’t know how to dance, anyway.”

Derek sighs but heads over. He picks up a glass of lemonade from the table and considers getting a beer. Surely this conversation would be better with alcohol. But he approaches Stiles because, hell, he’s an adult, they’re both adults, and it probably can’t be worse than the way Stiles slammed the metaphorical door shut in his face the previous day.

“Hey, uh . . . hey, Stiles,” he says, and winces at his own attempt to be casual. “So, uh . . . how do you like Cedarville?”

“It’s nice,” Stiles says, tone completely neutral.

“I guess you just moved here, huh?”

“Last weekend,” Stiles agrees.

Derek wracks his brain for a conversational topic that might warm Stiles up. “How’s your dad doing?”

“Fine,” Stiles says.

The one and two word answers are starting to freak Derek out. He’s never known Stiles to be so uncommunicative. If this is Stiles’ idea of behaving like a responsible adult, it’s more painful than sticking his tongue instead a hornet’s nest. He thinks maybe bringing up a mutual friend will help. “So, uh, Allison’s pregnant again, I heard.”

“I know,” Stiles says.

Derek looks for a bridge to leap off of. “What about you? Are you, uh, are you seeing anybody?”

“Maybe,” Stiles says. “Maybe not.” There’s a significant pause. “Maybe go fuck yourself.”

That at least was an answer of more than two syllables. Derek is thinking maybe he should just be glad for that. At least the answer is somewhat Stiles-esque. “Okay, I shouldn’t have – ”

“No,” Stiles says, “you shouldn’t have.” For the first time, there’s actually emotion in his voice. “Yeah, I’ve had boyfriends. I’ve had girlfriends. I’ve had lots of them. Do you know why? Because after you slammed your door in my face, I was so desperate to feel wanted that I dated anybody who asked me and fucked anybody who was willing to touch me. Okay? Are you fucking happy now, Derek?”

Derek takes a step backwards. “I didn’t mean – ”

“You know what, I don’t give two fucks what you ‘meant’. I don’t want to have a God damned thing to do with you. I came to this stupid dance to meet people who aren’t you, now get the fuck out of my face before I pepper spray you.”

Derek swallows and nods. “I – okay, yeah,” he says, and turns away.

Carol catches up with him as he’s fleeing for the door and he turns and snarls at her, and it’s a miracle he manages not to shift. Even so, she lets him go, taken aback by the look on his face, and lets him storm out of the room. He starts running as soon as he hits open air and doesn’t stop until he’s a mile away, and then he lifts his head and howls.

Wolves howl to signal their pack, but Derek never gets any reply.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

Later, much later, Derek realizes that Erica Reyes is really the last person he should have gone to for sympathy. The problem is that nobody else was offering. Isaac and Boyd aren’t chatty, Lydia’s always too busy, Jackson would look at him like he’s from another planet. As for Scott and Allison, when Derek had tried to bring the topic up, Scott had said, “Whoa, whoa, I am not talking about Stiles’ college sex life with you, and don’t even ask why I never said anything because the words ‘absolutely none of your business’ leap to mind.”

So Derek calls Erica, because screw it, he has to talk to somebody, and Erica immediately starts laughing at him like this is the funniest thing she’s ever heard. “How could you not know how pretty Stiles grew up?” she asks. “Didn’t you see the pictures from Scott and Allison’s wedding?”

Derek winces and tries not to think about Stiles in a tuxedo. “No. Scott emailed them to me, but I deleted it without opening it.”

“You are such a jerk,” Erica says, still laughing. “Seriously? Do you not even realize how bad you’ve got it?”

“Erica, damn it,” Derek growls into the phone. “You’re not being helpful. He said . . .” Despite his best efforts, Derek’s voice falters. “He basically said that I screwed him up for life. That after I rejected him, he went around having sex with anyone who would touch him.”

“Yeah. So?” Erica asks.

“So?” Derek echoes. “I need to find every single one of these people and break their fingers.”

“Slow down, sunshine,” Erica says. “Yeah, Stiles went a little nuts in college. So what? Back in Beacon Hills, even after he started being the attractive badass he is today, nobody realized it because everyone was so used to spastic scrawny buzz-cut Stiles. So he went to school and was like ‘hello, ladies’. He basically did the same thing I did after the bite, and I didn’t see you freaking out about that.”

Derek isn’t sure what to say to that, since he’s pretty sure that his gut, instinctual response of ‘you’re not Stiles’ is only going to start Erica laughing at him again. “You don’t seem screwed up by it.”

“Yeah, neither was Stiles until he ran into you again. Jesus, Der, you talk about Stiles having sex like it’s the tenth sign of the apocalypse or something. Lighten up.”

Derek forces himself to take a deep breath. Several deep breaths. “It’s not my fault. That’s how he presented it.”

“Yeah, ‘cause he knew it would bug you. It’s not like he went out drinking himself unconscious at frat parties and being passed around like candy. He had some good times, that’s all. I mean, he only got Chlamydia once – ”

“Erica,” Derek growls.

“What? You wanted to know.”

“Yeah, well, he has no right to be so pissed off at me,” Derek snaps. “So I refused to date him when he was sixteen. He acts like that’s the end of the world! If I’d had sex with you when you were sixteen, I would’ve been ostracized. And arrested.”

“Uh, no, Derek, he’s mad at you because you were an asshole. Like, a gigantic asshole. They don’t make dildos big enough to accommodate what an asshole you were.”

Derek hangs up on her. He fumes for a few minutes before dialing her back and launching right back into it. “Come on! This was Stiles we’re talking about. I had to be really fucking clear! For Stiles, yes means yes, maybe means yes, and no means ‘I’m going to seriously consider your proposal’. If I hadn’t been a complete asshole, he would have kept trying!”

“Oh, and the answer of ‘come back when you’re eighteen’ would’ve just been soooooo difficult for you,” Erica says.

“He wouldn’t have waited – ”

“Are you fucking for real? Stiles-at-sixteen would have waited until the sun crashed into the earth if you told him to. That’s how much he was in love with you.”

Derek winces. “He would have said he was waiting, but he still would’ve been giving me those, those looks, and I – ”

“Oh, so the problem was that you didn’t trust your self-control. That’s good to know,” Erica says.

“What? No!” Derek protests.

“God, you really haven’t changed, have you,” Erica says. “You’re still the same magnificent idiot you’ve always been.” And this time she hangs up, slamming the phone down in his ear.

Derek spends some quality time banging his head against the wall before he goes to chop some wood. He needs to move, needs to get some of the snarling wolf out of his system. There’s a chopping block out in front of the ranch. (It used to be in the back, but Derek’s habit of chopping wood when he’s frustrated draws visitors.) He drags what feels like an entire tree over and gets to work. Later, much later, he’s finally exhausted himself enough to shower and to sleep.

He tells himself it doesn’t matter. He needs to let it go. Stiles obviously isn’t going to forgive and forget, so their relationship from now on will basically be non-existent. It’s not like he’ll have to deal with the sheriff’s deputy on a regular basis. He only saw Carnes once a month or so, if that. He’ll just pretend that Stiles isn’t even there, and Stiles will obviously be glad to pretend that Derek is a stranger, and they won’t have to see each other.

Of course, that’s ruined two mornings later when he comes in from his early chores to find Stiles in the restaurant, digging into an enormous plate of steak and eggs. He does a double take, then carefully creeps back into the kitchen, hoping to go unnoticed. “What’s he doing here?” he asks Sally.

“He’s eating breakfast,” Sally says. “What does it look like?”

“Yeah, but why? Why here?”

Sally arches her eyebrows at him. “Derek,” she says, “how many restaurants are there in Cedarville?”

“Two,” Derek mutters.

“So if the deputy decided he would like to treat himself to breakfast, what are the odds he will wind up here?”

“Fifty-fifty,” Derek says, growing more sour by the minute.

“Great. Now that you’ve grasped that basic concept, you want some breakfast?”

“No,” Derek snaps, and stalks out of the kitchen.

The problem is, in a town as small as Cedarville, it’s virtually impossible to avoid anybody. He bumps into Stiles at the hardware store. He has to walk past him on the corner of Main and Cedar, where he’s standing and chatting with a few of the residents. They wind up in line next to each other at the corner store. (Cedarville doesn’t have a grocery store. The closest one is in Rock Springs, which is a good forty-five minute drive away.)

And every Tuesday morning, like clockwork, there’s Stiles in the ranch restaurant, eating breakfast. Derek can’t help but view this with some amusement. After watching Stiles pester everyone to eat healthy, particularly his father, he certainly doesn’t seem concerned about his own cholesterol. He always orders the least healthy thing on the menu, whether it’s the stuffed French toast or the sausage and cheese omelet. Of course, Stiles is young and fit and can obviously get away with this, but it’s still funny.

He eats that with two cups of black coffee and then chats with Hector for a few minutes, about the weather, business, sports. Then he says goodbye and leaves. Derek always finds himself hovering on the other side of the restaurant, ostensibly eating his own breakfast while his face is buried in the newspaper, but really, he’s just watching Stiles.

They don’t wind up exchanging more than two words until after Stiles has been in town for a month. Derek still has the Camaro, and sometimes he’ll go driving late at night, just to get out of his cabin for a while. the roads are usually empty, and he can burn off some steam without putting in much effort. He’s on his way back home from one of these drives when he sees red and blue lights in his rearview. “Shit,” he mutters, and pulls over.

He’s hoping, really, really hoping, that it’s not Stiles. There are a few other cops in the area, and of course there’s the highway patrol. But it’s Stiles who walks up to the window, glances down at Derek, and says evenly, “License and registration, please.”

Derek sighs and forks them over. Stiles goes back to his cruiser without a word. Derek stares at the ceiling of the Camaro and tries not to think about Stiles in that damned uniform.

Stiles returns a few moments later. “So,” he says, “I assume you know why I pulled you over.”

“C’mon, Stiles,” Derek says, trying not to sigh again. “Don’t be like that. It’s the middle of the night, the road is totally empty. Everyone speeds out here.”

Stiles gives him a hard look for a minute. He must have been practicing his cop-face, because it’s actually a little intimidating. He also sweeps the flashlight around, shining it into the back of the car, and come on, Derek knows he’s probably trained to do that, but it’s still a fucking insult. “Proof of insurance,” he says.

“What? Stiles – ”

“Do you have it or don’t you?”

Derek growls, gets out his wallet, and pulls out the card. Stiles takes it out of his hand and examines it with far more attention than it’s due. When Derek takes it back, he says, “Will you just write me a fucking ticket and get it over with?”

There’s a definite pause after that. Then Stiles says, “Step out of the car, please, sir.”

“What?” Derek says again, feeling stupid. “Jesus Christ, Stiles. What’s your problem?”

“I’m going to administer a field sobriety test, because you must be drunk or high if you think that saying things like ‘just write me a fucking ticket’ is a good idea. Out of the car.”

“I can’t even get drunk, you know that as well as I do.”

“Is this you refusing to step out of the car? Because if so, you’re going to be arrested.”

Derek undoes his seat belt and gets out, slamming the door shut so hard that the noise makes him flinch. “Look,” he says, “you’re pissed at me, I get that. I’ve done my best to avoid you because that’s what you wanted. But you can’t arrest me just because I pissed you off when you were a teenager.”

Stiles’ eyes narrow. But then he takes a deep breath. “Okay,” he says. “You’re probably right. At least in that I don’t care about arresting you so much that I want to get investigated for abuse of authority when I’ve only had this job for a month. But I’m still writing you a ticket. You were going eighty-two in a fifty-five, for Christ’s sake. Get back in the car.”

Derek does as he’s told. He fumes and stares straight ahead until Stiles returns with the ticket, which he takes from him and shoves into the glove compartment. Then, as if deliberately rubbing salt into the wound, Stiles says, “Have a nice night, Mr. Hale,” and turns and walks back to his cruiser. Derek practically chokes on the rage, but he manages to swallow it down until Stiles has pulled back onto the road and passed him as he continues to sit there.

He drives straight home and calls Scott even though it’s eleven PM. “You have to talk to him,” he snarls.

“What?” Scott says, clearly half-asleep. “Who?”

“Stiles!” Derek shouts. “You have to talk to him!”

Scott moans. “No,” he says. “I really don’t.”

“Convince him to move somewhere else! To get a different job!”

“Okay, the last time I convinced Stiles of anything, he was eight years old, and what I convinced him of was that licking a frog would give him superpowers. It’s not going to happen. He’s stubborn as fuckall. Why don’t you just avoid him?”

“I can’t! You seriously don’t understand how small this place is. It’s like a quarter of the size of Beacon Hills. He’s everywhere I go!”

“I take it ‘treat him like an adult’ didn’t go anywhere?” Scott asks, yawning, clearly nowhere near as concerned as he should be. “Why don’t you try something radical like apologizing?”

Derek growls. “I refuse to apologize for doing the right thing.”

“Maybe you should try apologizing for doing the right thing in the meanest way possible,” Scott suggests.

“You’re fucking useless,” Derek says, and hangs up. He’s still worked up about it the next morning, when he goes down to the restaurant and – of course! – Stiles is there, eating a plate full of Sally’s famous bacon-scrambled-eggs. Since being rational and mature isn’t getting him anywhere, he marches right over to Stiles and says, “Why do you keep coming here?”

“The food’s good,” Stiles says. “It’s a free country, isn’t it?”

“Are you doing it just to bother me?” Derek demands. “Are you fucking stalking me?”

“I’m doing it because the food’s good,” Stiles says. “And because it’s part of my job to check in with local businesses and make sure there haven’t been any disturbances. Why are you here? I know you don’t normally eat here. You eat at your own place. Sally told me. But every Tuesday, like clockwork, here you are, watching me eat my breakfast. So who’s stalking who?”

Derek flushes red, because Stiles is absolutely right. His idea of breakfast is normally a couple pieces of toast or some Pop-Tarts, which he eats in the privacy of his cabin before he goes out to do his morning chores. Hell, he’s up at five, sometimes even earlier, which is an hour and a half before the restaurant even opens in the mornings. By the time Sally’s serving breakfast, he’s already been up and working in the stables for an hour or two. He’s only started going to the restaurant to eat when he realized that Stiles was there.

He takes a deep breath and tries to remember the advice that Scott and Erica had given him. “Look,” he says, “we need to talk. This is stupid. If we’re both going to live in this town, we need to at least be able to be civil to each other.”

“I’m being civil right now,” Stiles says. “You’re the one with a problem.”

Derek’s jaw tightens. “You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, you mean you don’t want me to be ‘civil’, you want me to be friendly and act like I used to and pretend that none of what happened ever happened. Which isn’t something I’m seeing in the cards, to be honest.”

“Damn it, Stiles,” Derek says, “why did you take this fucking job? You can’t say it wasn’t because of me!”

“Oh, I can’t, can’t I?” Stiles snarls, and Derek sees it coming but it still hurts like hell anyway. “It. Wasn’t. Because. Of you.”

He slams back from the table so hard that his chair hits the wall and stalks out of the restaurant, leaving his meal behind half-eaten. Derek stares after him, then slowly pulls out his wallet and drops a twenty on the table to cover it, since Stiles had left without paying in his fury. Then he goes to find Hector. He feels like he’s moving through a haze.

Hector, the owner and manager of the ranch, is out in the field, grooming one of the horses. “What’s on your mind, son?” he asks, as he sees Derek approaching.

“I . . .” Derek reaches out and strokes the horse’s mane. “You know I really love it here, right?”

“Sure,” Hector says, surprised. “I know that.”

“Then . . .” Derek swallows. “I’m really sorry to do this, but uh, I have to leave.”

Hector doesn’t look at him, combing through the knots in the horse’s mane. “Because of that handsome new deputy, hm?”

“Jesus,” Derek says. “Is there anyone in this town who doesn’t know?”

“Small-town gossip,” Hector says with a shrug. Derek supposes he’s luckier than a lot of people. Small towns are often rife with bigotry, but he’s never encountered anything like that here. The bakery downtown is run by a gay couple, and everyone has always treated them with respect and kindness. “You know how it goes. But I think that running away would be a mistake.”

“Oh, no, I’m pretty sure that running would be the smartest thing I’ve ever done,” Derek says. “Some things just . . . can’t be fixed, you know? And I’m pretty sure that what I did to him was one of those things.”

“Look, I don’t want the details,” Hector says, “but it’s obvious that you’re still crazy about him. Trust me. I’m an old man now and I’ve made my share of mistakes.” His eyes twinkle a little. “Maybe you just need to give him a little time to settle in. Get his feet underneath himself. Tell you what. Stay the winter. If nothing has changed, move on.”

Derek scowls at him and says, “If I try to leave in the spring, you’ll say ‘you can’t leave now, it’s the beginning of tourist season’.”

Hector smiles at him. “Can’t blame me for not wanting to lose the best ranch hand I’ve ever had.”

Derek’s scowl deepens. “Fine,” he says. “I’ll stay the winter. But if things still suck this bad in April, I’m leaving whether you like it or not.”

“Agreed,” Hector says.

From then on, he doesn’t try to talk to Stiles. Let him get settled in, he tells himself. Sure. It makes as much sense as any other piece of advice he’s gotten. So if they bump into each other, he just nods and says, “Deputy,” and Stiles nods back but doesn’t say a word. There are varying degrees of awkwardness depending on their company and what Stiles is wearing, but fortunately winter is coming on, so he tends to be wearing more clothes rather than less. Derek still has to squash that base impulse whenever he sees Stiles to just pounce on him and rub his scent all over him. It doesn’t make sense. He didn’t have that impulse with any of the other pack members. It’s just something about Stiles.

Much to his surprise, Hector’s right. It does get better. It’s painfully, terribly slow, but as long as he doesn’t push things, it does.

He’s rounding a corner in the hardware store and sees Stiles frowning at some pipes and asks, “You need some help?”

“Yeah, uh . . . we’re supposed to get the first freeze tonight. Someone said something about making sure my pipes are insulated.” Stiles shrugs. “Not a problem we had in California.”

“Just get some heat tape,” Derek says. “Wrap up anything you can see.”

“Heat what?” Stiles asks.

“Here, I’ll show you,” Derek says, and gets him to the right part of the store. Bobby, the manager, comes over then and starts talking to Stiles about how to use it, and Derek says, “Uh, see you later, deputy,” and Stiles nods a little and waves as he walks off. It’s their first conversation in he doesn’t know how many years that actually doesn’t make him want to curl into a fetal position.

A week and a half later they get their first real snowstorm. Eight inches overnight. Derek, as is his habit, goes around with a snowplow to help out the older residents. He’s somehow not surprised to run into Stiles doing the same thing. Old widow Swanson invites them in for some hot cider, and tells them all about her cats. They spend an entire twenty minutes not hating each other.

Some time after that, the corner store’s shipment of goods gets delayed because of weather and Stiles has to ration things like water and potatoes because otherwise people start arguing. Derek winds up staying at the store until ten o’clock helping out, and then he and Stiles reach for the last bag of oranges at the same time and their hands actually touch. Derek pulls away as if he was burned and said, “You take it,” and then they have one of those ‘no, you,’ ‘no, you,’ discussions until Stiles says, “Let’s split it” and that’s what they do. Three oranges apiece.

Over Christmas vacation, Stiles goes home to Beacon Hills to visit his father, and decides to leave his dog at the ranch for the week. Derek has seen a German Shepherd tagging along with him around town, but didn’t realize the dog actually belonged to Stiles. She’s named Wrecks, because, to quote Stiles, ‘that’s what she does: wrecks things’. She’s a little wary of him, but they learn to get along. Hector takes care of her most of the time that Stiles is gone, but Derek’s the one around when Stiles comes back to pick her up, on New Year’s Eve. Wrecks jumps up on him, and Stiles laughs and they have an impromptu wrestling match.

“She didn’t give you any trouble, I hope,” Stiles says, rubbing the dog vigorously behind the ears.

“No, she was fine,” Derek says. “You should bring her by more often. I think she liked chasing the barn cats.”

“The circle of life,” Stiles says, amused. He sees the New Year’s banner up behind the desk and says, “So, anything exciting happen around here on New Year’s Eve?”

“Yeah, I stay up ‘til nine thirty instead of nine,” Derek says. “Then I drink a glass of ginger ale in a plastic champagne flute.”

Stiles lets out a snort. “Wyoming night life, huh?”

“Yeah, you came to the wrong place if you were looking for a happening scene.”

“That’s okay,” Stiles says. “Ginger ale and bed at nine thirty sounds fine to me.”

“Well, I’ll uh . . . see you around, then,” Derek says.

There’s an unseasonable warm spell mid-February, and Derek decides to walk down into town to get some lunch. Halfway there, he sees Stiles’ cruiser parked on the side of the road, along with several other cars. Stiles is just getting out when he gets there. “What’s up?” Derek asks, but the answer quickly becomes obvious when he sees the elementary school teacher, Mia Coughlin, standing at the foot of an electric tower, crying. Derek looks up to see her daughter clinging to the tower about halfway up. “Oh, Jesus.”

“She was trying to get to her balloon,” Mia says, crying. “It slipped out of her hand. She thought she could reach it.”

“Okay, it’s going to be okay,” Stiles says soothingly, grabbing one of the handholds.

“Stiles, wait,” Derek blurts out, before he can think better of the idea. When Stiles’ eyebrows arch, he says, “Shouldn’t we call the fire department or somebody?”

“They wouldn’t be here for twenty minutes at least. She could fall,” Stiles says.

Derek is suddenly reminded of fighting kanimas and rogue wolves and angry alphas, all those things he’s put out of his life, and the fact that Stiles has never backed down from danger. “Let me go,” he says.

The underlying message is clearly ‘because I won’t be hurt if I fall, and you will’. Stiles narrows his eyes at Derek for a long moment, then says, “Who’s the deputy here?” before he starts to climb up the tower. Derek paces around it in tight little circles, his eyes glued to Stiles as he climbs. By the time he gets up to where the little girl is holding on, Derek’s a nervous wreck. Stiles stays there almost five minutes, calming her down and convincing her to hold onto him, he’ll get her down, it’ll be fine. Then, with the girl clutching at his chest, he climbs back down. When his feet touch the ground, Derek lets out a breath that he hadn’t realized he was holding.

Mia is crying and grabbing her daughter, and it takes all of Derek’s self-control not to do the same to Stiles. Stiles sees the way he’s staring at him, and just gives him another ‘are you kidding me’ sort of look. Derek turns away and stalks down the road. But that night, in the privacy of his own cabin, he calls Stiles and initiates a conversation for the first time since the disastrous meeting in the restaurant.

“Don’t do things like that,” he greets him.

“Hello to you too,” Stiles says, which is snark, which is amazing. Derek nearly cries.

“I’m serious,” he says. “I was standing right there. If there’s something dangerous to be done, let me do it.”

“Derek, you’re not thinking this through,” Stiles says. “What if you had fallen? What would you have done when your neighbors all watched your broken bones heal?”

“Told them I was a lucky bastard?” Derek says.

Stiles just lets out a snort. “I’m a cop, Derek. You can’t make me into something I’m not and you never will.”

“I know that, I know that helping people is important to you, but just – not at risk to yourself.”

“Man, you should be glad you missed the bank robbery,” Stiles says casually, and hangs up, leaving Derek sputtering.

All in all, things are getting better, but as winter drags on through March, Derek thinks about leaving anyway. Things aren’t agonizing anymore, but they’re not exactly great. Every time he sees Stiles, it’s still a metaphorical kick in the nuts. He can’t explain why he wants Stiles the way he does, can’t understand it, can’t change it. He just does.

And sometimes he’s still pissed at Stiles, wants to grab him and shake him and say, ‘I turned you away for your own sake, why are you still so angry at me?’ There’s a part of him that feels like Stiles should understand now, he’s older, he should be forgiving of the fact that Derek had to turn him away. But he isn’t, and Derek can’t understand why. The solution seemed so simple to him at the time.

But he doesn’t want to bring it up, doesn’t want to say anything, because he’s pretty sure that as soon as he does, Stiles will start being a jerk to him again. So he just rolls with it, tries to stay out of Stiles’ way, and thinks about maybe going to Montana or Idaho, or maybe somewhere in the southwest. He’s kind of sick of winter at this point, anyway.

On the last day of March, Derek comes into the lobby to get some dinner only to find complete chaos. “What is it, what’s happening?” he asks Carol.

“Got to get to the lake!” she shouts. “Come with me!”

He runs after her and gets into her old pick-up truck with her. As it turns out, a family had gone out ice fishing on the lake and gotten stranded when a portion of the ice had broken. They were okay for the moment, but everyone knew the ice underneath them could go at any minute. Carol burns rubber all the way to the lake, and Derek already knows what he’s going to see when he gets there. Of course, there’s Stiles, standing as close to the break in the ice as he can get, coaxing the family into handing their children across. They’ve made a chain back to shore, and they’re passing the younger kids along.

Derek wants to go out and help, but Hector won’t let him. “You’re too heavy,” he says, and Derek knows that he’s right. Most of the people on the ice are actually women or older teens. He outweighs Stiles by a good fifty pounds, and he’s the heaviest person who’s actually on the ice. Everyone else is just ready with ropes and blankets and hot cocoa. Derek hates it, hates just standing there waiting, but things are going smoothly, and as the father hands the last child over, he actually starts to relax. Then an entire section of the ice just gives way and almost a dozen people fall into the water, including Stiles.

Derek moves without thinking. He just runs out onto the ice, yanking off his coat as he does so, and dives into the inky black water. His hands grasp fabric and he pulls at it, tugging someone up out of the water and dragging them over to where the ice ends. Other people are gathering now, lying on their stomachs to distribute their weight more evenly, and they grab the person he’s carrying and help pull them to safety. Derek just turns and dives right back in, looking for Stiles. He finds the mother and hauls her up onto the ice, then the father, but he’s not finding Stiles, he doesn’t see the younger man anywhere. He’s not as badly affected by the cold as a human would be, but he is affected by it. He can’t feel his hands, and his joints are starting to lock, but he fishes out person after person and still no Stiles.

“Derek, Derek, I’m here!” someone shouts, and Derek whips around to see Stiles on the edge of the ice, kneeling there with his arms outstretched. He’s dripping wet and his lips are blue from cold, hair plastered to his forehead, but he’s there, he’s safe. Someone else must have pulled him out. Derek reaches out and grabs his hands, and Stiles drags him onto the ice.

He can barely get to his feet, but he manages, the wolf in him sending blood rushing hot through his veins, combating the damage. Stiles gets an arm around his waist, although he’s shivering just as badly. “Is that everyone?” he shouts.

“That’s everyone, Deputy,” somebody else calls back, and they stumble towards the shoreline.

“G-Get your wet things off,” Stiles says, his teeth chattering, hands pawing uselessly at Derek’s belt, and it’s a damned good thing that he just took a dunk in thirty-three degree water or that would probably do horrible things to him. Several people are rushing over to help, hands reaching out to strip Derek out of his clothes so efficiently that it doesn’t even bother him. Within a minute, he’s completely naked and wrapped in a thick blanket, sitting on the tailgate of Carol’s truck while she holds a mug of steaming hot coffee to his mouth.

“S-S-Stiles,” he says.

“Over there, he’s fine,” Carol says soothingly. Derek turns to look and see that Stiles has received similar treatment and is swathed in blankets as well.

The ranch is closest, so that’s where everyone heads. Derek is completely recovered by the time they get there, but can’t show it, so he lets himself be pushed over towards the fire that Sally is building up in the ranch’s common room. Outside, snow has started to fall, thick and fast. Stiles is on his feet, still wrapped in the blanket but doing a head count, asking fathers about their children, making sure everyone from the lake made it back safely.

Hector hurries in with clothes for everyone who fell in the lake to borrow, and before long everyone is dressed again, although Stiles is still wrapped in a blanket. Apparently, Derek finds out, he spent almost as long in the water as Derek did himself, because like Derek, he was helping other people to safety. He was the second-to-last person out.

“You seem fine, though,” Carol says.

“Just hot-blooded, I guess,” Derek replies. He’s trying not to look at Stiles, at the way he’s so adorably swimming in Hector’s clothes, because Hector is six foot five and almost two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle. He’s trying not to think about Stiles, about the panic that clenched around his heart when he saw him disappear into the water.

Sally passes out sandwiches and apples as the snow starts to pile up, and they realize they’re going to be there for a while. The atmosphere turns into an impromptu party, with everyone talking and laughing, a little giddy from the close call. Hector stands up and taps a spoon against the mug of coffee he’s holding. “Hey, everyone,” he says, “just want to let y’all know the ranch is at your disposal ‘til the snow stops . . . and also I’d like to propose a toast. Let’s hear it for our new deputy’s first ice rescue!”

“Hear, hear!” several people shout, and Stiles is propelled to the front of the crowd. He’s blushing and rubbing a hand over the back of his head, clearly embarrassed.

“Uh, you know . . . we all worked together, we got it done, it’s all good even though I have no idea where my pants wound up,” Stiles says, and everyone laughs. “But if we’re going to be toasting, I’d just like to propose one myself. It was really awesome watching people work together today, but when things really went bad, one guy stepped up and risked his life to save a bunch of other people. So: to Derek Hale.”

There’s a lot of cheering and back-slapping at this, but Derek doesn’t care, he doesn’t care about any of it, because Stiles, Stiles was there thanking him, acknowledging him, that maybe he’s not a terrible person after all, and it’s better than anything else could have been. He looks over at Stiles and sees Stiles raise his glass slightly, then take a drink. Derek does the same, and he finds himself smiling.

By now it’s dark out, and the ranch employees are dragging in blankets and mattresses like they’re all just going to have a slumber party in the common room. Derek goes to help out, and there are games to entertain the kids, and beer to entertain the adults. Almost an hour has passed before he sees Stiles sitting in front of the fire, still wrapped in a blanket. He walks over and sits down on the floor next to him. “How’re you feeling?”

“Cold, still,” Stiles says, with a wry smile. “Kinda scary, that.”

Derek moves without thinking. If he had stopped to think, he would have realized what a terrible idea it was. But he doesn’t think, he just reaches out and pulls Stiles into his arms, against his chest. Stiles goes stiff for a few moments, but then relaxes, leaning into his embrace. Derek wraps his arms around Stiles’ waist, letting the warmth of his body soak into the younger man. After a minute, Stiles lets out a content little sigh and nestles closer. “You’re very warm,” he mumbles.

“Werewolf,” Derek murmurs back.

“Mm,” Stiles says, leaning his cheek into Derek’s shoulder. “You were an idiot today.”

“I know,” Derek says. “When I saw you go in the water, I . . . I panicked.” His arms tighten around Stiles. “Damn it, Stiles, do you have any idea what it would do to me if I lost you?”

“No,” Stiles says. “Not a clue. You’ve never said anything even remotely like that before.”

Derek closes his eyes and rests his forehead against the top of Stiles’ head. “You didn’t seem to want to hear anything I had to say.”

Stiles is quiet for a long time. “It’s not easy to forgive something like what you did.”

“I know,” Derek says. “Damn it, Stiles, I know, but . . . but can’t you see why I had to do it?”

Stiles shifts a little like he’s going to pull away, and Derek winces, but then he settles back down. “Let’s stop talking about this,” Stiles says. “I’m kind of enjoying this moment and I don’t want to have to get up and punch you in the face.”

“Okay,” Derek says. Then, softer: “Okay.”

They sit in silence and eventually Derek realizes that Stiles has fallen asleep. Having Stiles sleeping in his arms for the first time isn’t at all like he thought it would be, but somehow it’s more than he would have hoped for.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

Derek has to admit to a childish hope that what happened on the ice will magically fix everything. It doesn’t. The next day, Stiles is back to being polite, even friendly, but still not Stiles. Derek knows the teenager he grew up with is still there, because he sees Stiles laughing with Hector and Willow, he watches as Stiles chatters with Carol about how excited he is about the new Star Trek movie, he can see his Stiles under the surface. But as soon as he walks over, Stiles just . . . shuts down.

Even so, the connection they forged at the ranch that night is still there, tentative, subtle, but there. Derek sees Stiles looking at him sometimes, when he thinks he won’t notice. And he starts to smell the desire on him again, which hadn’t been there before. That slight, restrained interest when the two of them are close.

He thinks that will make it better, but somehow it makes it worse. Because the fact that they talked about it – only a little, but still, they addressed it – and the fact that Stiles is interested in him, but still not engaging with him, is even more torturous than Stiles flat-out hating him. Because every time Derek sees him, he wants Stiles so badly, wants to hold him, to beg his forgiveness, to scream at him. He doesn’t know what he wants. He just wants, and the hope is killing him.

Stiles starts taking the horseback riding class the ranch offers starting in May. He just “thinks it might come in handy”, which, to be fair, Derek can’t argue with. Ranching is a way of life around here, and there are still places that are difficult to get to by car. If a hiker were stranded in the woods, for example, Stiles would have better luck joining a search party if he were familiar with horses.

They’re hardly alone together – the class has its usual flock of young ladies – but still, Derek can’t help but devote just a little more time and attention to the deputy. If anybody asks, he’ll just say, truthfully, that he figures it’s more important for Stiles to know what he’s doing. Still, the first day he comes out of the stables and sees Stiles standing there in a flannel shirt and jeans, riding boots, and even a cute little cowboy hat, he nearly has a coronary incident. He has to take Stiles’ hands to show him how to hold the reins, and they’re adult hands now. The same size, but rougher, callused, a working man’s hands. It sends an electric shock through both of them. Derek has to take cold showers for the next three days. Even in his sleep, he can still hear the way Stiles’ heartbeat sped up when they touched.

But it doesn’t matter, and that’s the worst part. That no matter how much they become comfortable in each other’s presence, how they start to work together, respect each other, Stiles still won’t give him an inch when it comes to their relationship. He simply refuses to go there, and Derek just doesn’t know what to do about it.

It’s a sunny, gorgeous day in mid-August when everything changes. Derek is standing at the desk, chatting with Carol and Hector, when Stiles comes into the ranch with a duffel bag slung over one shoulder and Wrecks on a leash. He’s pale despite the day’s warmth. His lips look bloodless, and the smell of him is all wrong. Derek smells fear on Stiles, who never smells of fear, and without missing a beat he demands, “What is it, what’s wrong?”

“I – my dad has been shot,” Stiles says, a little breathless. “I have to go to California. I – I don’t have time to make arrangements for Wrecks, so I thought – ”

“Jesus, Stiles,” Derek says.

“I talked to Sheriff Benson already, he’s going to have Deputy Wilkins cover for me.” Stiles is practically swaying on his feet. Hector’s already taken Wrecks’ leash and is accepting the duffel bag. “Some – there’s some toys and her food in there, her favorite blanket and stuff, like – like last time. I – ”

“Go, go,” Hector says. “We’ll take care of her.”

Derek grabs him by the wrist. “I’m going with you.”

“Derek, I’m not – ”

“You shouldn’t be alone right now,” Derek says firmly. “And you’re probably not safe to drive anyway.”

Stiles can’t argue with that. He just gives a little nod. “We – I got a ticket on a commuter flight out of Rock Springs,” he says. “If you call ahead, you can probably fit on it, too.”

Derek nods. Then he realizes that maybe he should have cleared it with his boss before deciding to take off. He turns to Hector and says, “I – ”

“Go on, get out of here!” Hector says, waving at them. “Wyatt and I can handle everything for a few days.”

Derek nods and jogs after Stiles. He’s already got the engine running. Derek hops behind the driver’s seat. They use the lights, but not the sirens. There’s so little traffic that they don’t really need either. “What – what do we know?” he asks.

“Someone tried to rob the liquor store,” Stiles says. “Dad was, was trying to talk him down, another customer tackled the guy, and his gun went off. That – that’s all I know. The hospital said he was in surgery. I didn’t get a lot of detail.”

Derek nods and concentrates on the road. There are several seats left on the commuter flight that’s taking them from Rock Springs to Salt Lake City. He calls ahead and gets them two seats on the soonest flight they can make to Sacramento. All in all, it’s going to be mid-day by the time they get there.

They don’t talk very much, but Derek knows that Stiles is comforted by his presence, knows it by his scent and his heartbeat. He knows it when Stiles starts worrying himself into a tailspin and Derek reaches over to grip his forearm, listens to his pulse slow and relax a little. Still, he’s a nervous wreck by the time they get to Beacon Hills, and he hasn’t eaten all day, although he’s had plenty of coffee. He’s too antsy to wait for Derek to get a rental car, so they just hop in a taxi and take it down to the hospital.

Beacon Hills looks the same. It smells the same. Derek can’t help but stare. He hadn’t missed it, and it hurts to be back more than he would have expected.

They’re greeted by a nurse he doesn’t know, who says that Sheriff Stilinski is out of surgery, and shows them up to his room. After the hours on the flight, Derek’s tense and keyed up and prepared for the worst. What they get is a bright-eyed and alert Sheriff sitting up in his hospital bed. One leg is in traction, but other than that he looks completely fine. “Stiles!” he says, greeting his son with a wide smile. “Hey, kid.” Then he spots Derek and his eyebrows go up in surprise. “Hey, Derek. Long time no see.”

Derek gives a nod and Stiles rushes forward but then checks himself at the last minute, like he’s afraid to breathe too hard lest his father break into pieces. “Are – are you okay?” he asks.

“Had better days,” his father admits. “Fortunately it got me right in the meaty part of the thigh and missed my femoral artery. I’ll be laid up for a while, but it could’ve been a lot worse.”

Stiles sits down heavily in the chair next to the bed. “Jesus, Dad, I . . . I thought . . . when they called me, I thought . . .” He chokes on the words, tears sliding down his pale cheeks, and his father reaches out to get an arm around his shoulders and pull him in for a hug. Derek slips out of the room, because he isn’t needed there.

He calls Hector to let him know that Stiles’ dad is okay, and then calls to get himself a flight back home. Stiles won’t need him around. Hector or Carol can pick him up from Rock Springs. They won’t mind.

Stiles had grabbed things for his dog but nothing for himself, and Derek had left with only the shirt on his back. He’s pretty sure that Stiles will have some spare things at his father’s house, but he doesn’t have anything, not even a toothbrush. He gets a room at the Motel 6 on the edge of town, then stops by a Wal-Mart to buy a change of underwear, socks, and T-shirt. He can wear the same jeans. He buys deodorant and a toothbrush and toothpaste. That’ll be enough for a short stay. He also buys himself a bottle of water and one for Stiles, since he’s guessing that Stiles won’t be leaving his father’s hospital room any time soon.

But when he gets back, he doesn’t go into the room, because Stiles and his dad are talking and he doesn’t want to interrupt them. He sits down on the floor in the hallway and listens to them talk about Allison and Scott’s new baby (Alyssa, another girl; Scott was mildly disappointed but this gives them an excuse to try again), and how Stiles likes riding horses (he could barely walk after the first trail ride), and how Stiles is going to beat the shit out of the helpful guy who tackled the suspect in the liquor store (seriously, dude, what the hell), and whether or not Sheriff Stilinski has been eating his vegetables (he hasn’t).

Their conversation lapses in and out, and Derek zones out while he waits, not sure if he should interrupt or bring up the subject of dinner or what. Finally, after nearly an hour, Sheriff Stilinski says, “So . . . you brought Derek with you, huh?”

“What? No,” Stiles says. “He just came along. I didn’t ask him to.”

There’s a pause. Then Stilinski huffs out a sigh. “Stiles. Really? You’ve been there what, eight months now? And you two still haven’t worked it out?”

“There’s nothing to work out,” Stiles says.

“Oh, please,” his father says. “You think I don’t know you better than that? What was the point of taking the job in Wyoming if you were just going to dance around the issue being the stubborn SOB you’ve always been? I can say that, I’m your father.”

“I liked the job in Wyoming,” Stiles says stiffly.

“Do you think I’m senile? You do realize that I was there while you were pacing around the kitchen, muttering to yourself about the pros and cons, right? And that I did in fact notice that Derek was in both categories?”

“Dad,” Stiles says, “I don’t want to talk about this. Okay?”

“No,” Stilinski says. “I’m pretty sure it’s not okay.” He lets that sit for a minute. “Still mad, huh?”

“Let me rephrase: I really don’t want to talk about this.”

“Look, kid,” Stilinski says, “I know that heartbreak is not easy to get over. And I know that Derek really hurt you. But aren’t you old enough now to accept that, even if he was a jerk about it, at least he had your best interests in mind?”

It’s all Derek can do not to leap to his feet and shout, “Exactly! Thank you!” The fact that somebody understands makes him want to cry.

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles says, “by telling me that I had no chance in hell of ever landing a guy like him, that was totally in my best interests.”

“You’re not being fair to him,” Stilinski says, “and I know that’s not what he said to you. You were sixteen, Stiles – ”

“Seventeen,” Stiles says loudly. “I was seventeen when he shut his door in my face, and he didn’t even know it.”

“It’s not like you invited him to your birthday party,” Stilinski points out, “or like it would have made that big a difference. You were still a lot younger than him. An age gap like that, it’s not a big deal when you’re in your fifties or even in your thirties, but at the age you were at . . . if he’d ever laid a finger on you, I would’ve gutted him.”

“Thanks, Dad. Way to be supportive.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I know that we were friends. He was the first friend I’d ever had besides Scott. And he told me I couldn’t be in his life anymore without one fucking word of explanation, without giving me any credit that even though I had feelings for him, maybe I could still be his friend without acting on them. He treated me like a fucking child and he lied to my fucking face! I know that even if he didn’t think he could have sex with me, he still could have been my friend!”

Stilinski chuckles. “You have no idea of the effect you have on people, do you,” he says. “Especially him. You think if he’d let you worm your way into his heart, he would’ve been able to say no to you? Idioms about inches and miles leap to mind. He would’ve been wrapped around your little finger within a week.”

“That is so unfair.”

“It’s not that I doubt his self-control,” Stilinski says. “Clearly, it was pretty damned good. But he’s crazy about you, Stiles. Seriously, he just dropped everything in his life to fly down here with you? And I heard about what happened on the lake.”

“What! How did you hear about that?!”

“You told Scott, Scott told his mom, and Melissa told me,” Stilinski says. “Specifically, she told me that Derek dove into the water to look for you.”

“Oh, come on, everyone’s making a big deal out of that like he’s not a werewolf – ”

“Werewolves can’t drown? Or freeze to death?”

Stiles responds with sullen silence.

“Not only that,” Stilinski says, “but that he wouldn’t leave the water until he knew you were okay. But you know what, Stiles? That’s not what I actually find interesting about this tale. None of that surprises me in the slightest. What surprises me is that you actually told Scott this. Which means it was important to you. That you understand the significance of it, that . . . it touched you.”

“The guy risked his life for me, I’m not supposed to be touched by that?”

Stilinski huffs out a sigh. “Stiles,” he says, “will you do me a favor and pull your head out of your ass?”

Stiles growls at him.

“It’s been nine years, son. Did it ever occur to you that maybe you need to let this go? That by holding onto it, you’re just hurting yourself more than anyone else?”

“Jesus, Dad, I don’t know what you want from me.”

“I want you to be happy,” Stilinski says, “and as long as you’re harboring this, you won’t be. Have you even talked to him about it? Did you let him explain? Or did you just punch him in the face.”

“For fuck’s sake, I did not punch him in the face.”

“So you threatened to punch him in the face.”

“Maybe,” Stiles mutters.

Stilinski sighs. “Son,” he says, “holding onto the past never did anyone a hell of a lot of good. You two need to settle this. And if you need to punch him in the face, hell, punch him in the face. I’m sure he deserves it for something. But if you don’t think you can get over it, then at least tell him that so he can stop mooning around after you. Pun not intended. Because I hope you realize, if nothing else, that you’re now doing to him exactly what he did to you. Cutting him off without a word of explanation and treating him like a child.”

“Yeah, well, he’s now doing exactly to me what he seems to think I did to him,” Stiles snaps back. “Acting like I’m fucking obligated to have a relationship with him even if I’m not comfortable with it. Even though that’s totally not what I was doing! Because he seems to have missed the fact that he brought it up, not me. That I was okay just being friends with him. He’s the one who threw me out because he presumed I was going to act on my feelings. Just because he could fucking smell them. Fucking werewolves!”

“Well, maybe that makes you a bit of a hypocrite to be pissed off at him, then,” Stilinski says, “and maybe it makes him one too. You could try something revolutionary like maybe admitting you’ve both screwed up and calling it even.”

Stiles is quiet for a long minute.“I just . . . it’s not easy to let something like that go. I loved him. I really did.”

“I know, kid,” Stilinski says. “I do.”

Derek gets up at that, because he’s heard all he needs or wants to hear. Because Sheriff Stilinski is right, and he should have realized that a long time ago. It isn’t easy to let go of the past. But sometimes it has to be done. Just like with Stiles in the first place, what hurts most is what’s necessary.

He walks for a little while around town, aimlessly, by places he remembers for one reason or another. The high school, Deaton’s clinic, the police station. Beacon Hills holds so many memories for him, and he wishes he had never come back. He had done it for Stiles and he doesn’t regret it, but he doesn’t want to be there.

Inevitably, his legs take him out of town and to the old Hale property. It doesn’t belong to him anymore. He sold it to the city before he left, for the sum of one dollar. They added it to the nature preserve. They hadn’t asked his opinion on what should happen to the house and he hadn’t offered it. They could do whatever they wanted, and he didn’t want to know.

So he’s not surprised to see that the house has been torn down. It was condemned anyway, and not fit to live in or stable enough to rebuild. What does surprise him is that someone has planted a memorial tree. There’s even a plaque to commemorate the people who died there. Derek kneels next to it and reads the names of his parents, his siblings, running his fingers along the metal. Everyone has been included. Even Laura. Even Peter.

He sits down with his back against the tree, watches the sun slowly setting through the leaves, and just turns his brain off for a little while, letting his mind wander. He doesn’t know how much time passes, but it’s fully dark by the time he hears footsteps. A familiar step, a familiar heartbeat.

“I thought I’d find you here,” Stiles says.

Derek gives a little nod. “Was this . . . did you do this?”

“What? No,” Stiles says, waving a hand. “I wouldn’t have known what would have been appropriate. Scott and Allison put it together. Chris paid for it. He said . . . it was the least he could do.”

Derek just nods again. He can’t articulate why that hurts, why he had seen the tree and assumed, or at least hoped, that Stiles had been the one responsible for creating the memorial. It’s the type of thing Scott would do, he should have known that, but it still hurts.

“So uh . . . Dad’s gonna be okay,” Stiles says. “Just a flesh wound,” he adds, in a Monty-Python voice. Derek tries to smile. “I’m gonna stick around until he’s out of the hospital, make sure he gets settled back into the house okay, has everything he needs. But, uh, you don’t have to stay. I know that it’s busy at the ranch right now.”

Derek nods, feeling like his head is on a string. “I already got myself a ticket home,” he says.

“Oh,” Stiles says. “Do you, uh, do you want to stay at the house tonight?” he asks.

This time Derek shakes his head. “I booked a motel room.”

“Okay.” Stiles shifts from foot to foot. “Uh, okay. Tell Hector and the others I said hi, and thanks, and . . . I’ll be back in a week, I guess.” He falls into awkward silence for a moment and then says. “Look, uhm . . . when I get back . . .”

Derek cuts him off. “I won’t be there.”

Stiles stops. He looks over slowly. “What . . . what do you mean?”

“I can’t do this anymore, Stiles,” Derek says. “I can’t keep hoping. It hurts too much. I made my mistakes and now I have to live with them. Things are never going to be the way they were between us, and . . . I have to accept that. Holding onto things is just making it worse for both of us.”

Stiles swallows. “Where . . . where will you go?”

“I don’t know,” Derek says. “Wherever the wind takes me. I have money, you know. I only work for Hector because I needed something to fill my time. I’ll find something else, I guess. I just need a day or two to get my stuff together.”

“Derek . . .”

“Don’t,” Derek says. “Please don’t. I know that you can’t just forgive me for what I did. I tried to do what was best but I fucked it up, just like I fucked everything up back then. No matter what I did, it was always the wrong thing. And now here I am, still fucking up, trying to rebuild this relationship we can never have again. Wanting you to be sixteen-year-old-Stiles, just like you were, which is the stupidest thing ever because sixteen-year-old-Stiles is who I could have had but pushed away. I missed my chance. And the sooner I accept that, the sooner both of us can move on.” He gets to his feet. “I’m really sorry about the way I hurt you, Stiles,” he says. “I know that doesn’t make much difference now, but I am.”

Stiles makes a little noise in the back of his throat as Derek walks away. A hurt, lost, desperate sort of noise. But Derek keeps walking, closing that metaphorical door for the last time.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

Derek never bothers to go to the hotel. He just sits at the airport all night. He thinks about not even going back to Cedarville, but in the end decides there are things there, some of his books or gifts Laura gave him, that he doesn’t want to give up. So he just boards his flight, takes the same commuter plane back to Rock Springs, and calls Hector to pick him up.

They don’t talk much. Derek just says, truthfully, that he and Stiles talked things over and he thinks it’s better if he leaves. Hector sees right away that he won’t be talking Derek out of it, so he just says, “Well, we’ll miss ya,” and continues to drive down the narrow two-lane road.

It’s evening when they get back. Derek apologizes for not giving a two-week notice, but says he agreed to be gone by the time Stiles got back. He spends a few hours packing up his things. The cabin came furnished. There are only a few boxes of books, clothes, and other personal belongings that actually belong to him. He sets out a change of clothes for the next day and packs the rest of it away into the Camaro. By then it’s late. Scott rings him three times on skype, but Derek never answers. He pulls a blanket over himself and sleeps restlessly.

The next morning, he gets an early start, but Carol talks him into having breakfast and he can’t really bring himself to argue with one last meal of Sally’s amazing cooking. He sits at his usual table by the window, and she brings him steak and eggs. Carol comes over and sits across from him.

“I’m sorry you two couldn’t work it out,” she says.

Derek just gives a little nod.

“You’re sure it’s better this way?” Carol asks.

He nods again.

“You’re sure he thinks it’s better this way?” Carol persists.

Another nod.

“You’re, like, really sure?”

“Damn it, Carol, why are you on me about this?” Derek demands.

“Because, uhm,” Carol says, “he just walked in the door.”

Derek twists around so quickly that he nearly falls out of his chair, and sure enough, there’s Stiles. He’s wearing the same clothes that Derek had last seen him in, and from the look of him, he’s been wearing them the entire time. He clearly hasn’t showered or slept. Derek manages to get to his feet and say, “Stiles, I – ” before Stiles punches him right across the face. It’s hard enough to send him staggering backwards, although he doesn’t fall. “Ow, Stiles, what the hell – ”

“You colossal jackass!” Stiles shouts, loudly enough that everyone in the restaurant looks over. “What the hell is wrong with you?! Did you seriously think I was going to let that be our last moment together?”

“Stiles, you – ”

“Don’t ‘Stiles’ me, you fuckin’ jerk!” Stiles yells. “If you try to say ‘I thought that was what you wanted’ or ‘I was trying to do what was best for you’, I will take that fork and shove it up your nose!”

“This maybe isn’t the best venue for this,” Derek mumbles.

Stiles punches him again. “Shut up! You’re an idiot! You’re the biggest idiot on the planet and yet you persist on making decisions about my life like you’re the one who should be in charge of it.” He turns and addresses the restaurant at large. “Does that seem right to you?”

“No, Deputy,” Carol chirps.

“You stay out of this,” Derek growls at her. She just beams at him from the safety of the kitchen.

“Did you seriously interpret ‘we both need to let the past go’ as ‘I should ditch Stiles’?” Stiles asks, tone incredulous. “How the fuck does your mind even work? You seriously listened to that entire conversation I had with my dad – and don’t even tell me you weren’t eavesdropping, you motherfucker, I smelled your aftershave in the hallway – and you interpreted that to mean I wanted you to leave? God!” Stiles flails at him, and it’s good, old-fashioned, vintage Stiles. “Did it ever occur to you that when I came to find you in the woods, it was because I was planning on throwing myself at you and having hot forest sex?”

Derek blushes bright red. “Uh, no, I’m pretty sure that never occurred to me.”

“Good,” Stiles retorts, “because it isn’t what I had in mind. I went out there to apologize for having been a motherfucking asshole for the last eight months. I went out there because I’ve been a shithead to you, and I thought maybe, just maybe, we could sit down and talk about this like adults. You know, because I’m a fucking adult now. But apparently you still aren’t!”

Derek winces.

“You had the gall to think you were more mature than me,” Stiles continues to rant, oblivious to their audience, “despite the fact that your idea of turning me down gently was to shut your door in my face!”

“God damn it, Stiles,” Derek says, rallying, “I said I was sorry! What the hell do you want from me?!”

“I want you to admit you lied to my fucking face that day,” Stiles says. “I want you to admit right here, right now, in front of God and witnesses, that you had the hots for me when I was sixteen.”

Derek’s stomach turns. “I can’t,” he whispers.

“Yes, you can, you asshole, because you know that it’s true.”

“I can’t!” Derek repeats.

“Why not?!”

“Because of Kate!” Derek shouts.

Stiles just stares at him blankly, and Derek sees something in his eyes that he hadn’t expected: utter confusion. He’s bewildered. A little frown furrows his face and he says, “Huh?”

“You . . . you didn’t know?” Derek asks.

“Didn’t know what?” Stiles asks, still frowning.

“About Kate and I . . . I thought you knew.” Derek’s so flustered that he starts babbling. “I mean, you seemed to know everything. You read all the case files. You figured out on your own Kate had started the fire, I, I thought you had put everything together.”

“You and Kate?” Stiles frowns. “Before the fire? Derek, you were only . . .”

Then it sets in. Derek sees it, the change in his eyes, his expression, he can even smell Stiles’ sudden comprehension, hear the spike of his heartbeat. Stiles presses one hand against his mouth and takes a few steps back, then starts to pace in tight, little circles as he struggles to regain his composure.

Finally, he sits down. He has to clear his throat several times, but then manages, “Sally, can I get some coffee?”

“Sure, honey,” Sally says. She comes over a minute later with a mug for him, and refills Derek’s while she’s there. Since the fireworks seem to be over, the diners are returning to their own meals.

“Jesus, Derek,” Stiles finally says, rubbing his hands over his face. “Way to make me feel like the asshole.”

“I thought you knew,” Derek says helplessly.

“If I had known, I would have said something,” Stiles says. “Something like ‘I’m not you and you’re not Kate and the situation is totally different’. Or ‘it’s okay if you don’t want to do anything, I know how much she must have hurt you’. Or ‘I’m really sorry that happened to you’. Or maybe ‘you really should be in therapy’.”

“You told me the latter anyway,” Derek points out, his tone somewhat dry. “Often. Repeatedly.”

Stiles rubs a hand over the back of his head and sips his coffee. “My dad’s pissed at you,” he says.

Derek sighs. “Because I was going to leave?”

“Yeah. He was pissed at me too, if that helps. He told me that if I didn’t get on a plane and come after you, he was going to get out of the hospital bed and beat me to death with his crutches.”

Derek manages a smile. “Sounds like your dad.”

“Yeah, he was super pissed, like, Hulk levels of pissed,” Stiles says. He takes another drink of his coffee. “I didn’t know, Derek. God, I wish I had. It makes everything make so much more sense.”

Derek looks away. “It’s not your fault.”

“I know, but . . . shit. If we’re gonna be honest with each other . . . I should probably admit that I totally took this job because I wanted to be near you.”

At this, Derek can’t help but smile. “Shit, Stiles, I know that.”

Stiles makes a face at him, and it’s Stiles again, and Derek actually chuckles a little. “I don’t even really know what I meant by it, when I did it, I mean, part of me wanted to torment you by making you see what you had missed out on, and part of me wanted to just climb you like a fucking tree. Uh, the former impulse won out, obviously, but . . .”

“Stop beating yourself up about it,” Derek says. “I made it pretty easy for you to hate me.”

“I guess. Man, we really made a mess of this, didn’t we,” Stiles says, his voice glum, as he leans against the table.

“Yeah,” Derek says, and he doesn’t know what else to say, because he’s full of regret and remorse, things he can’t take back that he did or didn’t do, and he wants to make it better but he can’t. He knows that Stiles is just as tangled in the emotions as he is, the pain of rejection and betrayal.

Stiles just stares off into space for a minute before he gives a brisk nod and says, “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. Let’s say we’re meeting each other for the first time.”

“Oh . . . kay?” Derek says.

Stiles holds out a hand. “Hi. I’m Stiles.”

Somewhat warily, Derek takes it. “Derek Hale.”

“Nice to meet you, Derek,” Stiles says.

“Nice to meet you, too,” Derek replies. He manages a hesitant smile. He’s not at all sure this will work, because they can’t change the past and they can’t just forget – but it does give them a chance to forgive, to put it behind them and move on, start fresh.

“I don’t suppose you’d like to go out some time,” Stiles says casually.

“Actually,” Derek says, “I’d like that very much.”

“Great. Friday? Seven thirty?”

“Say six thirty,” Derek says. “It takes an hour to drive anywhere worth going around here. I’ll pick you up. Dress nice,” he adds, and Jesus, he shouldn’t have said that because now he’s thinking about Stiles in a suit and tie and wondering if he wears it anywhere near as well as he wears the deputy’s uniform. He’s betting that the answer is yes, and that? That is fantastic.

Stiles smirks at him. “A take-charge kind of guy. I dig that.” When Derek just stares at him, he says, “So . . . see you then?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, nearly choking on it. “See you then.”

Stiles stands up and turns to go. He’s made it two steps before Derek is on his feet and reaching for him, because he can’t not reach for him, he can’t put this off any longer, he’s put it off long enough. He snags Stiles by the wrist and pulls him back, into a kiss. Stiles goes rigid in his arms for a few moments, more out of surprise than anything else, but then he relaxes into it. He lets Derek coax his mouth open to deepen the kiss, one hand coming up to clutch at the back of Derek’s shirt, just a little, and the kiss goes on until they can hear Carol and Sally wolf-whistling from across the restaurant, and then it goes on longer because who cares what they think anyway.

Stiles pulls away first because he needs oxygen, and he looks glorious, face flushed and lips a little swollen, anxiety and lust mixing in his eyes. “Damn,” he says. “You always kiss people you just met like that?”

“No,” Derek says, and now he really smiles. “Only you.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

The problem with telling Stiles to ‘dress nice’, Derek quickly realizes, is that now he has to dress nice, and that’s not something that comes easily to him. As Carol had discovered shortly after Stiles’ arrival in Cedarville, all Derek owns are T-shirts and jeans, along with a few sweatshirts or flannels for the winter. Even so, she’s surprised when Derek spends most of Thursday afternoon pacing around before marching up to her at the desk and snarling, “I need clothes. Take me shopping.”

Carol stares at him for a moment, then lets out a burst of laughter. “Oh my God,” she gasps out. “You’ve really got it bad.”

“Shut up! You’re the one who made fun of my wardrobe.”

“You’re adorable,” she tells him. “Okay. Willow’s coming to man the desk at five thirty. We’ll grab a quick bite to eat first.”

Derek paces around the common room for the next forty minutes, until Carol is ready to go. By then, every woman at the ranch knows that he’s nervous about his date, and they’re all trying to offer him advice.

“Be a gentleman,” Willow tells him. “I mean, I know you’re going on a date with a guy, but still, open the car door for him. Things like that.”

“Let him decide when it’s time to go home,” Sally says. “Don’t try to call it a night early if he’s having a good time. I know you.”

“Think about what you’re going to say on the car trip,” Sally’s daughter Abigail tells him. “Because otherwise you’ll sit in awkward silence, and that’s not a good start to the evening. Plan ahead.”

“Don’t shave,” Willow says. “Stiles thinks your stubble is hot.”

“How do you even know that?” Derek asks her.

“He said so,” Willow says, grinning at him. “He said to me, and this is a direct quote: ‘Willow, don’t let Carol make him shave. He has no idea what that damned stubble does to me.’”

“You’re serious,” Derek says, giving her a suspicious look.

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Willow says.

So that’s a relief, at least he can stop trying to remember to shave now. Oh, he can’t let it go more than a week or then he does start to get a little unkempt, but trying to do it every day or every other day was a pain in the ass.

“Where are you taking him?” Carol asks, as they drive to the single clothing shop downtown.

Hesitant, almost cringing at the judgmental look that’s sure to follow, Derek says, “Bobby C’s. It’s a jazz bar.”

“Oh, that’s a great idea!” Carol says, and Derek lets out a sigh of relief. “Nice atmosphere, good music, and a few drinks to loosen you both up, ‘cause you’re gonna need it.” She laughs and adds, “Just make sure you don’t drink so much you can’t drive home. I’m pretty sure our deputy frowns on DUI.”

“I’ll be careful,” Derek says, knowing it won’t be a problem. Werewolves can’t really get drunk; their metabolisms are too high.

“Hm, their dress code is like . . . dressy casual,” Carol says, thinking this over. “Okay, let’s go.” She shoos him out of the car and into the store. “No short sleeves, I don’t care that it’s summer. You’ll look like an accountant. Long sleeves, rolled up part way. That’ll be a good look on you.”

She spends nearly forty minutes trying to decide what color is best on him, with the help of what seems like every woman between the ages of twenty and forty that lives in town (plus a few older and younger) who just happens to be wandering by the shop that day. She likes him in the dark gray shirt with black pants and tie, but Derek doesn’t want to look morbid, so he makes her pick something else out. “Black is classy,” she says, but bows to his demands. Eventually he winds up in a forest green shirt with the same black slacks (Carol makes him try on eight different ‘styles’ which all look identical to him, but she gets him to do it by telling him about how much Stiles stares at his ass when he thinks nobody’s looking), and a gray tie with a silver shine to it. She adjusts his sleeves and unbuttons the top button of his shirt, then spikes his hair to the most attractive angle.

“There, you’re perfect,” she finally decides. “Sit in that chair and don’t move until six o’clock tomorrow.”

It’s a sign of how desperately Derek wants this date to go well that he nods and says, “Okay,” and Carol starts laughing at him.

“I’m kidding, I’ll come make sure you look good before you pick him up tomorrow. Not too much cologne! You’ll be in a car together.”

“With the windows down.”

“What if it rains? Besides, if you drive with the windows down you can’t talk to each other.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Carol just rolls her eyes at him. “Not too much cologne.”

“Okay, fine,” Derek says. True to her word, she comes to his cabin the next day at five thirty and makes sure he’s all spiffed up. He’s too nervous to eat, but forces a sandwich down anyway because the jazz bar doesn’t really serve much in the way of food and a growling stomach would be embarrassing. Then he gets in the Camaro and drives to Stiles’ house in Aspen.

He’s never actually been to the deputy’s house before. It’s a nice little one-story on the outskirts of town, with a big yard, well-kept. Derek takes a deep breath or three and then goes up to ring the bell. Wrecks barks, just once to alert her master of someone’s presence, and then Stiles opens the door. He’s wearing a tan button down shirt with a black vest and a thin black tie. Every line of the suit seems designed to accent his natural body shape.

“Hi, uh, hi,” Derek says. “You, uh, you look good. Really good.” Really good like ‘let me pin you up against the wall and rub my scent all over you’ good, but Derek remembers at the last minute that he probably shouldn’t be saying things like that.

“You clean up pretty nice yourself,” Stiles says, closing the door and locking it after him.

Derek opens the car door for him, which gets him a look with a tiny amused smile, but Stiles doesn’t actually argue. Then Derek gets back in the car and starts down the road. He hasn’t talked to Stiles at all since their last meeting in the restaurant, so thankfully, there are one or two topics that are perfectly natural. “How’s your dad doing?”

“Good,” Stiles says. “Really good. Mrs. McCall is going to stay with him for a while, sort of as a live-in nurse, while he gets back on his feet. He’s already complaining about her cooking. I told him those green leafy things are vegetables but he still claims that they’re alien leavings . . .”

The awkward silences that Derek had worried about never happen. Stiles starts talking with that and never once stops in the entire forty minute drive. It’s as if he’s been holding it all inside desperately, not wanting to be himself while Derek was around, and now he literally can’t stop himself. He talks incessantly about any manner of things that Derek is and isn’t interested in: the cuteness level of Scott and Allison’s daughters versus that of Jackson and Lydia’s children, how Boyd is getting married next month but not to feel bad that he’s not invited because they’re just doing a small civil ceremony so they don’t spend a lot of money but does Derek want to go in with him on a gift because he saw a great kitchen thing but it’s a little outside his price range, how excited he is that there are going to be new Star Wars movies and all the different reasons he hopes they don’t suck, how he thinks he might be messed up because he cried harder at the end of Marley and Me than he did at the end of Brokeback Mountain, how Erica managed to beat an incubus at its own game, like seriously, she had sex with a sex demon until it got tired, and on, and on, and on. Derek just sits there and listens and occasionally slips in a question but mostly just listens, and loves every moment of it.

“Jesus, I’m thirsty,” Stiles says, as Derek parks outside the bar, and Derek can’t help it, he leans his head on the steering wheel and just laughs. “What? What’s so funny? You asshole, you’re laughing at me – ”

“C’mon,” Derek says, and the two of them head inside. He gets them each a drink and they settle at a table in the back. Stiles’ knee bumps into his and he nearly jumps out of his skin.

“Okay, tell me the truth,” Stiles says, “did you pick this place because it’s the most adult-like place you could think of?”

Derek frowns. “Do you not like it?”

“No, it’s great, the music is really sweet,” Stiles says. “But did you?”

“I picked this place because I like it,” Derek says. “And because it was the most adult-like place I could think of.”

Stiles smirks at him. “Okay. Just so we’re clear on that.”

They have a few drinks and eat some finger food and Derek tries really hard not to look at Stiles’ hands because they’re amazing, seriously, how had he never noticed before how amazing Stiles’ hands are? And after a while Derek tells Stiles about how he got the job at the ranch, how he met Hector and Willow, and why he stayed there after moving on from everywhere else, because they had never pushed him for more than he could give.

By eleven, Stiles is a little tipsy, but Derek is stone sober, so he drives them home. Stiles leans his head against his seat and stares over at Derek in the darkness. “So . . . you don’t have a pack now,” he says.

“No,” Derek agrees. “I’m omega.”

“Scott’s’n alpha now. J’know that?”

“Yeah, he told me a little while back,” Derek says. Scott and Allison had moved to New Mexico not long after Annie had been born. Allison teaches archery and hunts chupacabras. Scott, who had collected a few omegas along the way by virtue of being the person he was, took control of the local pack, which was being abused by their alpha. It’s hard to picture Scott killing someone, even if it was for everyone’s welfare. Derek supposes that Stiles isn’t the only one who grew up.

“Isaac gotta job down there too. So now he’s part of Scott’s pack.”

“Mm hm,” Derek says. It doesn’t surprise him. Isaac and Scott had always been close, and Isaac isn’t suited to be omega, the way Derek is.

“Boyd’s pack is nice. Met ‘em two years ago. Was interviewing for a job. Crashed on his sofa for a week. Nice people.” Stiles yawns. “Not as nice as you.”

“I’m not nice,” Derek says, amused.

“You’re super nice. You don’t act like it but . . . you’re all soft and squishy on the inside.”

“Squishy.” Derek arches an eyebrow at Stiles. “How many cocktails did you have?”

“Does it bother you?”

“The fact that you had too many cocktails?”

“No.” Stiles flaps a hand at him. “Not having a pack.”

“Not as much as it probably should,” Derek says.

“Erica e-mailed me,” Stiles says.

Derek blinks, trying to keep up with drunk Stiles’ train of thought. “Okay. She e-mailed me, too.” He hadn’t said anything to the rest of the Beacon Hills crew about his and Stiles’ reconciliation, but apparently Stiles had, because the next day Derek had gotten an e-mail from Erica that said, in all caps, ‘it’s about fucking time, you magnificent idiot’. He had not dignified that with a reply.

“She called me nasty names.”

Derek lets out a snort of laughter. “Wouldn’t be Erica otherwise.”

“They miss you, you know,” Stiles says.

“Yeah, right,” Derek says, and laughs again, but it’s not really a happy laugh.

“Don’t be like that. They do. You maybe weren’t the best alpha, but that doesn’t mean that you weren’t a good person.”

“This from you?” Derek asks, arching an eyebrow at him.

“Shut up. I just met you, remember?”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

“And this is crazy,” Stiles sings.

“Do not,” Derek says.

Stiles snickers. “Those were some really good cocktails,” he says. “You’re gonna kiss me on the front step, right? Like in the movies?”

Derek swallows. “If you want me to.”

“I definitely want you to kiss me on my doorstep,” Stiles says.

“Okay, then I will.”

“That’s how you know a first date went well. By the kiss-on-the-doorstep routine. And I think this date went well.” Stiles’ eyelids droop and he drawls, “Verrrry well. Don’t text me tomorrow. That’ll be too soon. Wait ‘til Sunday. Then you have to text me saying you had a good time. That’s date etiquette. I’m telling you this because you probably don’t know. You can text as soon as Sunday but you can’t call ‘til Monday. You don’t want to seem like a creeper. Okay?”

“Okay,” Derek says, amused despite himself.

“Okay,” Stiles says, and then he dozes off. Derek sticks to the fifty-five mile per hour speed limit the entire way home, just to prolong the drive. He reaches over and gives Stiles a gentle shake when they reach his house. Stiles seems to have sobered up somewhat, and gets out of the car on his own steam with only a little bit of a wobble.

“I, uh . . . I had a really good time tonight,” Derek says, as they stand on the doorstep.

Stiles smiles goofily at him. “Me too.”

Derek leans forward and gives him a kiss on the mouth. It’s soft, gentle, nothing at all like their desperate lip-lock in the restaurant earlier that week, but it lingers, and it’s nice. “Good night, Stiles,” he says.

“G’night, Derek.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Derek manages to hold off until one PM on Sunday, when he finally breaks down and texts Stiles to say, “I had a really good time on Friday night.” Then he valiantly tries not to check his phone every forty seconds, which proves to be virtually impossible. He still hasn’t gotten a reply by the time he takes out the afternoon trail ride, which takes him outside cell service.

All the rides have two guides, and this time Willow is going along. He leads and she brings up the rear, but when they take their break in the middle, allow everyone ten minutes to get off their horses and admire the isolated lake that the trail goes to, she trots up next to him and sees him staring at his phone. “That bad, huh?”

“He said he had a good time,” Derek snarls. “Why didn’t he reply to my text?”

“Well, one of two reasons,” Willow says. “Either he doesn’t want to appear over-eager, or he was busy.”

Derek sighs. “Not that I know what I’ll do when he replies. When is it okay to ask him on another date? Can I do that now?”

Willow bites back a smile. “Probably better to wait a few days.”

“Fine,” Derek grumbles, “but even then I don’t know where to take him.”

“You’re in early stages,” Willow says, “so nothing too private, nothing too intimate. Movies, restaurants, concerts, et cetera. Granted, it’s been a while since I was on the dating scene, but you seem to be looking to take it slow. That means you should probably give it about a month before you actually invite him over to your place. Then you should cook him dinner.”

“I can’t cook,” Derek says.

“Drive to the nearest city with a Chinese place,” Willow says. “Bring home the food, put it in a pan, and stir it as he’s arriving. He’ll never know the difference.”

Derek doubts that very much, but the trail ride is resuming so he doesn’t have time to argue. He tries not to think about Stiles on the way back, on how it would be nice to have him over at the cabin, nice and cozy, they could curl up on the sofa and watch a movie together, and he could finally, finally, press his face into Stiles’ neck and mix their scents together.

Day-dreaming about that gets him all the way back to the ranch, whereupon he grabs his phone to see that he does, in fact, have a text from Stiles. Several texts, actually. The first just reads ‘me too :)’. But then the second reads ‘got tickets to the Cowboys game next Saturday’ and the third is ‘you wanna go?’

Derek practically fat-fingers his casual ‘sure, sounds like fun’ reply before turning to Willow and saying “who the hell are the Cowboys?” and she laughs at him for about ten minutes.

As it turns out, the Cowboys are a baseball team. Derek isn’t a big sports fan, but it’s the type of date that Willow had suggested – public – and Stiles wants to go, which of course means the world. Carol and Sally both agree that it must be nice to be gay, where both members of the couple can suggest outings, pay for things, and take the lead without it being awkward. Derek is totally happy to surrender the lead to Stiles, who clearly knows more about dating than he does.

Of course, in a town as small as Cedarville, there aren’t a lot of ‘date’ options. There isn’t even a movie theater. So almost every date involves an hour or so in the car. But Derek doesn’t mind. It’s a chance for them to talk, to catch up, without it being too awkward. Derek thinks about asking Stiles to go riding with him, but then decides that’s too private – the two of them out in the wilderness, all alone together. But they go hiking with Willow and Hector and Carol and her husband Jim, and they go to the lake as the last of summer fades away.

In the autumn there are movies and sports games and Derek even tries the Chinese food, which is both a huge success and a spectacular failure in that Stiles doesn’t believe for a moment that he cooked it himself, but still loves it, and demands that Derek take him to the restaurant later that week because he hasn’t had good Chinese food since leaving New York. At Halloween, Derek dresses up as a police officer and Stiles dresses up as a cowboy, and they go to the party at the ranch and are greeted with a great deal of laughter. Several pictures are taken. On a whim, Derek e-mails one of the best ones out to Scott, Erica, Isaac, and Boyd.

Erica e-mails him back the next day to say, ‘That’s so fucking unfair, it’s awkward to masturbate to you, you know.’ Derek resolves to never send her pictures again.

Winter starts to set in with a vengeance not long after that, and Stiles is kept busy with traffic accidents and weather causing problems with roads or deliveries or schools. But there’s still time for him to stop by the ranch in the evenings, which he does almost all the time now. He and Derek sit in the common room and talk, or play chess, or even just curl up in front of the fire and read. It’s a little less intimate than being in one of their houses, but still gives them a chance to be together.

It’s awkward sometimes, and painfully hesitant at others, but Derek knows that first and foremost right now, they’re rebuilding a friendship. Both of them have changed in the intervening years, so in a way, they’re just getting to know each other again. And the more he sees, the more he realizes that twenty-seven year old Stiles is just like sixteen year old Stiles, just with more things layered on top. He’s still absolutely ridiculous, infuriating, interesting, unpredictable, unstoppable, amazing.

So he doesn’t push, even though there are so many times that he just wants to grab Stiles around the waist and kiss him until he’s gasping, push their bodies together and finally give Stiles what he couldn’t when they were both younger. All of himself. And sometimes he thinks that Stiles wants it, too, but he always pulls back.

Derek teaches Stiles how to ice skate and he nearly breaks his neck; they go sledding together like they’re children and come home with red noses and beg Sally for cocoa. Stiles falls asleep in front of the fireplace in Derek’s cabin, his face pressed into Derek’s neck, and Derek just lies there and listens to him breathe and doesn’t really care a bit that Stiles drools on him a little.

There’s a lot of snow that year, and in late March they get a bunch of rain on top of it and half the town floods. Derek spends days in the field with Stiles, piling up sand bags, rescuing travelers from cars when they’re stupid enough to drive through flooded roads, smeared in mud and dirt. At the end of every day, they’re both blind and stupid tired and just collapse in whoever’s house is closest. That first morning at Stiles’ place, Derek wakes up to an empty bed and a note that reads ‘Got an early start, didn’t want to wake you. There’s coffee, help yourself, lock the spring lock before you go.’ It’s not exactly romantic, but it’s comfortable, and it affords Derek the opportunity to just roll around in Stiles’ bed and leave his scent all over it. The mornings after that, they wake up together, and there’s cuddling, but Stiles always gets out of bed before Derek can start anything more than that.

“I just don’t get it,” Derek complains to Erica, because despite her jokes, she’s the only person he can talk to about his sex life, or lack thereof. “We . . . we’re friends now, like, we’re actually comfortable with each other in a way we weren’t, you know, even back in Beacon Hills. But . . . physically, it’s like he just doesn’t want to go anywhere.”

“Oh, he wants to go places,” Erica says. “He wants to go all sorts of places. He wants to do a fucking world tour of sexual activities.”

Derek narrows his eyes at her. “Do you know that because he told you? Because if so, that’s a betrayal of his privacy. Do you tell him the things that I tell you?”

“No, for fuck’s sake,” Erica says, rolling her eyes. “I’m the soul of secrecy. I know he wants you because he’s wanted you for half his natural life. But did it ever occur to you that maybe he’s holding himself back for your sake?”

“What?” Derek asks, dumbfounded.

“Look,” Erica says, “he didn’t give me a lot of detail, and I didn’t ask, because shocker, I do actually know how to mind my own business. But he said he forgave you for what you did when he was a kid because you had showed him you had a really good reason for doing it. Add that to the hints you’ve dropped about you feeling guilty as fuck about the fire – which is stupid by the way – and I put a few pieces together. You and Kate, right? And that’s what you told Stiles.”

Derek’s jaw sets, but he can’t be angry. Erica’s not exactly book smart, but she’s extremely savvy about some things, and interpersonal relationships is one of them. “Yeah. So?”

“So? Der, you basically told him that you were sexually abused as a child. Don’t start with me!” she says, as he opens his mouth to protest. “I don’t care if that’s how you categorize it. That’s how it sounded to him. He’s got reason to think you might be hesitant to initiate any sort of sexual contact with him. Jesus, it must be killing him not to have had your cock in his mouth by now.”

“Erica,” Derek growls, “stop talking about my dick and tell me how to fix this.”

“Gee, you could try something novel like talking to him about it,” Erica says. Her eye roll is practically audible.

“I . . . I wouldn’t know what to say. What if he really doesn’t want to? Then it seems like I’m trying to guilt him into it.”

Erica heaves a much-put-upon sigh. “Okay. Get a pencil.”

“Uh . . . okay.” Derek goes through his things until he finds one. “Okay. Got it.”

“I want you to say this exactly. Read it off fucking notecards if you have to. ‘Stiles, we’ve been together for a while now, and I really want to take this relationship to the next level.’”

“Slow down,” Derek says, scribbling away.

Erica obligingly does so. “ ‘I feel like maybe you’re holding back for my sake, so I want you to know that you don’t have to do that. If you’re not ready, that’s totally okay. I just wanted to let you know that I am.’” There’s a pregnant pause. “‘Now can we fuck already?’”

“Erica!” Derek snarls, and she bursts into giggles. “Bitch,” he says.

“You’re gonna owe me big time,” Erica says. “You won’t need to say that last part because he is gonna say it. He’s gonna melt into your arms like chocolate on a hot day and then he’s going to say ‘oh my God Derek, can we fuck already?’”

“No, he won’t,” Derek says.

“I’ll bet you fifty bucks he will.”

“You’re so on.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

For three weeks, Derek talks himself in and out of having the conversation. He even thinks at one point about writing it down inside a card and leaving it inside Stiles’ car for him to find, but then he’s terrified that Stiles might just stop speaking to him again. Only the thought that Stiles is actually doing this on his behalf, and moreover suffering from it, finally spurs him on to talk about it. Even then, he decides he wants some measure of privacy. Complete privacy. The nearest person is ten miles away privacy.

So now he poses the idea of a private trail ride, which Stiles says would be nice, and they take a blanket so they can have a picnic, and ride a few miles out of the ranch and into the woods. They spread out the blanket and tether the horses and eat their sandwiches, then they lie down together and watch the clouds and just enjoy being together.

“Why are you so nervous?” Stiles finally asks. “You’re tense.”

“Yeah, I . . . I need to talk to you,” Derek says.

Stiles lets out a breath and sits up. “Oh boy. I guess I should be congratulating you, but . . .”

Derek sits up as well. He thinks back to the speech Erica gave him that he’s rehearsed so many times now. He can’t remember a single word of it. Something about the next level? What does that even mean? Stiles arches his eyebrows at him, and that, that gets Derek talking because he’s starting to realize he can’t not have Stiles any longer, just the idea of it is making him crazy. “Stiles, I, I want to have sex with you,” he stutters out, and then realizes what he just said, sees the way Stiles’ jaw just drops a little, and thinks about jumping off a cliff. But he forges on bravely, because really, he can’t make things much worse after an opening like that. “Really, I, I just, if you don’t want to that’s okay, but I think that you do want to but you’re not saying anything because you think I don’t want to, and that, that is just all wrong, because I’ve wanted to have sex with you since you were sixteen, you were totally right about that. And I had this whole speech planned out, Erica helped me with it, but I don’t remember it anymore because you drive me crazy, Stiles, when I’m with you all I can think about is pinning you down and getting my hands all over you, making your scent mix with mine, hearing the noises you make – ”

“Oh Jesus stop,” Stiles blurts out. “I’m gonna come in my pants if you keep talking like that.”

Derek stops. He gives Stiles what can only be described as a hopeful puppy expression.

Stiles has to take a breath to even himself out. “You’re right. I . . . I guess I didn’t want to push. I figured, after what happened with you and Kate, you probably wanted to take things slow. And I . . . didn’t know how slow I should take things and I just didn’t want to ruin this, after we had to work so hard to get this far.”

Derek leans over and puts a hand under Stiles’ chin. “Let me tell you something that I should have figured out a long time ago,” he says. “I’m not Kate, and you’re not me, and the situations are nothing alike. I want this, Stiles. I want you. You’re the only thing I’ve ever really wanted. I just wasn’t smart enough to know it.”

He leans forward, a little tentative, and then Stiles leans the rest of the way and they meet in the middle. Derek moves his hands so he’s cupping the back of Stiles’ neck, fingers twining in the shorter hairs there, and Stiles’ mouth opens underneath his, the kiss growing so enthusiastic that it becomes a little sloppy. Derek doesn’t mind a bit. He just pushes them over and rolls them so Stiles is pinned against the blanket, leaning down to mouth at the pulse point in Stiles’ neck, listening to Stiles pant for breath, enjoying his scent as it changes from that mild repressed interest to completely unrestrained lust.

“Jesus,” Stiles gasps out. “Okay, wait. Wait.”

Derek growls a little in the back of his throat, unable to help it, but allows Stiles to push him away.

“There’s a fucking branch in my back,” Stiles says, and then Derek starts to laugh despite himself. “Hot forest sex isn’t actually that hot. I’ll wind up with twigs in my hair and bugs up my ass. No. If you’re going to do this, you’d better fucking do it right. There had better be a bed involved, and you had better carry me over the threshold like I’m some kind of motherfucking princess.”

“I think I can arrange that,” Derek says, and starts working at the buttons of Stiles’ shirt with his teeth, because he wasn’t really listening and the damned shirt is preventing him from getting to Stiles’ skin.

“And . . .” Stiles twists a hand in Derek’s hair and holds him there, keeping him from venturing lower. “And I feel I should warn you that this, this is not going to be some slow, tender, lovemaking session. I have waited years for this and once you get your hands on me I’m going to last about two minutes and I refuse to be ashamed of it. We can get to the tender lovemaking tonight, after you have fucked me so hard that I’m screaming your name. Is . . . is that perfectly clear?”

“Oh my God, Stiles,” Derek groans, pressing his face into Stiles’ stomach. “You do realize we still have to ride horses to get back, right?”

“Fuckin’ Christ,” Stiles agrees. “Maybe we should just each – no, never mind. This is gonna be fuckin’ magical, Derek. Get on the horse.”

By mutual agreement, they take a breather. Just walk away from each other for five minutes. It takes some deep breathing and very unsexy thoughts, but after that, they each manage to get back on their horses. Derek refuses to let them go any faster than a trot, because the trail really isn’t made for it, and if they wind up stranded in the mountains after laming one of their horses, they will both feel exceptionally foolish.

So it’s mid-afternoon when they get back, and the stables are quiet. Derek dismounts and then gives Stiles a hand down, and then he can’t fucking help it, he just pushes Stiles into the stable wall and kisses him. Stiles groans into his mouth and grabs at his shirt, yanking it out of his pants so he can slide his hands underneath it. “Your abs are fucking unfair,” he manages, tilting his head back to look at the ceiling as Derek nips and licks at his neck, his ear, the crook of his shoulder. “Bed,” he says, feeling his knees start to give. “Now. Right fuckin’ now.”

“The horses – ” Derek can’t quite forget his duties. “They need to be untacked and groomed – ”

“Oh you bastard,” Stiles says, and retaliates by pressing his thigh up into Derek’s groin. Derek makes an undignified noise and lets his forehead rest on the wall behind Stiles, trying not to think about all the ways Stiles is obviously planning to make him pay for everything that’s happened over the last decade.

“Hey, anybody around?” he calls out, his voice cracking a little. “Wyatt? Hector?”

For a minute it seems like hope is lost, but then he hears one of the doors open and close. “Yeah, what’s up, Derek?” Hector calls back. Derek has just enough time to untangle himself from Stiles before the older man rounds the corner, although from the disarray of his shirt and the look on Stiles’ face, it’s pretty obvious what they were doing.

“Could you, uh, could you do me a favor and get Ash and Mr. Chips groomed and, and back in their stalls?” Derek says, trying to ignore the fact that Stiles has moved up behind him and is reaching around him in an embrace that comes dangerously close to his belt buckle. “I have, uhm, things I need to do. Urgently.”

Hector is obviously having trouble biting back a smile. “I think I can probably manage that,” he says. “But you’ll owe me!”

“Worth it,” Derek says, as Stiles grabs him by the wrist and pulls him away. “Totally worth it.”

The cabin is only a brisk walk across the property. Derek is so turned on he can barely walk, but they manage it. It takes him two tries to get it unlocked, and then he turns and scoops Stiles up before the other man can protest. He laughs something about having not really meant it about the princess carry, but Derek doesn’t care, he carries him in and kicks the door shut.

“Boots – ” he says.

“Fuck that we can undo our boots after round one,” Stiles says, pushing Derek up against the door.

“Thought you wanted to do this right – ”

“We’ll do it right later, you have no idea how much it’s been killing me not to have your cock in my mouth – ”

Derek barks out a startled laugh despite himself but then forgets all about it as Stiles just drops to his knees and starts fumbling with his belt. The younger man yanks his pants down a moment later and Derek’s boxers get tangled up and go with it, and he lets out an undignified grunt at the feeling of the cloth dragging over his erection. That’s nothing compared to what happens a moment later when Stiles just lunges forward and takes Derek into his mouth. Derek starts swearing fluently in multiple languages between gasps for breath. Stiles pulls back a moment later, long enough to gasp out, “Jesus, been a while, forgot how – ” but whatever he’s forgotten, he doesn’t let it slow him down. He gets his mouth around Derek again and takes him all the way in. Derek keeps his hands on the wall because he can feel his claws digging into the wood, shredding it, and he doesn’t want that to be Stiles’ skin. He feels like he can’t control anything, his entire body shuddering, but Stiles has both of his hips in a tight grip, enough to keep him still unless he really tries to break free.

It’s a good thing that Stiles had made the earlier comment about not lasting very long, because otherwise Derek would have been embarrassed less than a minute later when he felt himself start to tip over the edge. There’s nothing except the wet heat of Stiles’ mouth on him and the way his fingers are digging into Derek’s hips; he’s forgotten that there’s any sort of world outside the cabin. “Stiles,” he pants. “Stiles, I – I – ”

Stiles pulls away, and Derek makes some kind of desperate little noise, but then Stiles’ hand is on him, fingers wrapping around him, those amazing hands of his, and Derek is so far gone that one stroke, two, and he’s gone. He resurfaces a moment later, sitting on the floor of the cabin and still leaning against the door. Stiles is making whimpery little noises in the back of his throat, and Derek looks over to see him with his pants undone, and he’s got one hand wrapped around himself.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Derek says, regaining some of his speaking ability. Without further thought, he coils and pounces. Stiles lets out a breathless little laugh which quickly turns into a moan as Derek pushes his shirt up to bare more skin and starts licking his way down. He’s really not at all sure of what he’s doing – Kate never let him have a lot of leeway in the bedroom, to be honest, and even if she had that was a lot of years ago – but it’s easy enough to judge from Stiles’ reactions what works and what doesn’t. He quickly realizes he has absolutely no idea how one goes about giving a blowjob, because Stiles’ dick is much bigger than his mouth, to be honest (not that this is a bad thing). He makes a mental note to ask about it later, but for the moment settles for wrapping a hand around Stiles, stroking him slow and gentle while Stiles whines and writhes beneath him.

“If – if you don’t go faster – I will hurt you,” Stiles pants, as Derek licks and play-bites at the inside of his thigh. Derek thinks about drawing it out regardless, but the threat sounds genuine, and they do have all afternoon and evening. So he shifts his grip slightly and strokes faster, rubbing his thumb over the tip of Stiles’ cock and then leaning down to lick there, tasting him, and Stiles lets out a shout, his fingers digging into Derek’s shoulders as he comes.

They lay there and catch their breath for several minutes afterwards.

“You sold yourself short,” Derek finally says. “That was at least three and a half minutes.”

“Only because you tortured me,” Stiles grumbles.

Derek shifts a little. “So . . . boots?”

“I’m gonna need a minute,” Stiles says.

Derek sits up anyway and starts working on unlacing Stiles’ boots, because that’s far more fun than working on his own. “I like your legs,” he says, tugging the first one off. “I always have. Even when you were sixteen and skinny.” He pulls off the sock and then slides his hand up underneath Stiles’ pants, fingers tracing over the muscle of his calf. He’s forgotten about being self-conscious. When he looks up at Stiles, he sees Stiles just watching him. He starts on the laces of the other boot.

“Mm, keep talking,” Stiles says, tucking his hands underneath his head.

“I like the longer hair,” Derek says. “Never was a big fan of the buzz cut. And your hands, Jesus, those hands shouldn’t be possible, I’m not even sure what it is about them. I love your mouth. Not just because you talk so much. I just like to look at it. And apparently you know how to do really dirty things with it.”

“Really dirty,” Stiles agrees. “You haven’t seen the half of it yet.”

Derek gets his second boot off and then peels off the sock as well. He slides Stiles’ pants and underwear down and off, and tosses them away. Then he crawls back up and leans in for a kiss. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Stiles says, one hand curling lazily around the back of Derek’s neck.

“I know we agreed to the whole ‘we just met’ thing, so we could get beyond the fact that we’d hurt each other and maybe both acted like assholes, and so . . . I haven’t brought up any of this stuff. But I think maybe . . . I just want to ask . . . about what you said. Back when you first got here. About . . . the way you let other people touch you.”

“Oh, that,” Stiles says, and winces. “Yeah, that . . . that was mean, wasn’t it?” He sighs. “I’m not gonna lie to you, Derek. It was true. I went to college and realized hey, people actually found me attractive. I got, uh, pretty experienced pretty fast. And yeah, I think part of the reason was because of the way you rejected me. Because I needed to prove something to myself. But when I said that, I said it to hurt you, because I knew it would hurt you. It doesn’t really . . . bother me. All the sex was consensual, most of it was sober, some of it was awesome, some of it was boring, the break-ups ranged from amicable to messy, and I learned a variety of interesting techniques which I am now going to put to excellent use on you.”

“Okay.” Derek lets out a breath. “I just . . . didn’t want to think of it . . . that way.”

Stiles looks at him for a minute. “You’ve never had anyone else, huh?” he asks. “After Kate.”

“No,” Derek says. “I dated a couple people, but I never . . . got that far. Never wanted to. Maybe that was why it scared me so much, when I realized how much I wanted you.”

“That’s okay, though, you know? I don’t mind that you don’t have much experience.” Stiles gives him a rather wicked grin. “It means you don’t have any bad habits. I can transform you into a sex slave of my own design.”

“Oh, Christ.” Derek’s breath wavers out of him. “Yes, please.”

Stiles laughs again and stretches, while Derek stares at him. “So yeah, I had some good times, I had some mediocre times, but I’m disease free, I promise, and werewolves can’t get STDs anyway – ”

“Jesus, why do you even know that – ”

“Erica – ”

“Okay, I don’t need details.”

Stiles snickers. “She gave them to me in glorious detail, but I’ll spare you. The long and the short of it is that we don’t need condoms. Which is good ‘cause I don’t have any.  Actually I do, at my office – I give them out to the high school kids in the area, God, their parents would kill me if they knew, but they’re all afraid to buy them themselves – but I don’t have any with me.” He sits up now, and starts on Derek’s boots.

“I don’t really,” Derek begins, but then cuts himself off abruptly.

“What?” Stiles asks.

Derek looks away, feeling awkward and uncomfortable. “I want . . . to give you everything that you want,” he says. “But I’m not feeling really confident about that. Especially given how much you know versus how much I know.”

Stiles mulls this over in silence while he pulls Derek’s boots off. “So you want me to be in charge, is what you’re saying?”

Something in Derek’s stomach flutters, and he feels that little tingle of pre-arousal. “I know you said you wanted me to . . .”

“Hey, I’m flexible,” Stiles says, his breathing a little more rapid than before. “And shockingly, I have learned some patience over the years. Hell, we don’t even have to have actual sex tonight, if you don’t want to. I’d be happy sucking you off pretty much all night long, if you’d rather.”

“Oh, Christ, Stiles, why are you doing this to me?” Derek groans, as Stiles strips his pants off.

“Because I love it when you say shit like that,” Stiles says, smirking. “Seriously, I don’t think my jaw could handle that agenda, although I’d certainly be willing to give it a go. Up,” he adds, tugging Derek into a sitting position. He crawls into his lap for a kiss, then starts undoing the buttons of Derek’s shirt. The kisses starts as gentle and easy, but quickly moves deeper, and Derek’s arms come around Stiles to rest on his back, pulling him closer. Their bodies grind together and they both have to stop kissing just to catch their breath.

“Do you trust me?” Stiles asks, sliding his hands underneath Derek’s T-shirt and pushing it over his head.

“Yeah, I . . . I definitely trust you,” Derek says, trying to remember what words mean as Stiles’ mouth moves along his collarbone.

“Tell me if you’re not having a good time, okay?” Stiles says. To Derek this seems like an impossibility, but he does have to admit to being a little nervous as Stiles crawls out of his lap and gets him to move over so he’s on his knees, leaning against the bed. “Lesson one: why the spine is a weapon of mass distraction,” Stiles says, and then leans down and just runs his tongue up the center of Derek’s back. Derek nearly jumps out of his skin, and he knows the noise he makes is much less than dignified. “I like your tattoo,” Stiles continues, fingers lightly tracing over the triskele. “I don’t think I ever told you that when we were teenagers. I used to see this damned tattoo in my sleep.”

Derek groans a little as Stiles leans over to kiss the tattoo and nip at the skin on the back of Derek’s neck. He can feel Stiles’ fingers on the inside of his thighs, feather-light touches that are making his entire body tremble, easing his legs apart. “I don’t suppose you thought to buy lube,” Stiles says conversationally, and Derek wonders how he can be so casual about all of this.

“As a matter of fact I did,” Derek says, trying to catch his breath. “Or I should say, Erica thought of it. Top drawer.”

Stiles snickers. “It really amuses me that she’s your confidant about stuff like this.”

“She’s honest,” Derek says. “That’s what I need. Now get back to what you were doing,” he demands.

“Sir, yes, sir,” Stiles says, leaning over to press another kiss against the small of Derek’s back, right against his spine. Derek feels his legs turning to jelly and leans against the bed for support. His hands clench down in the pillow and he flexes them, trying to keep his claws in so he doesn’t tear it to shreds. He feels Stiles’ fingers slide into him, and it’s a little odd, but just the thought of those nimble, flexible hands is enough to make him groan. “Relax,” Stiles whispers, right into his ear, and then gives it a quick little nip. His mouth traces random patterns on Derek’s back and shoulders while his other arm holds Derek steady. Derek tilts his head back, baring his throat to Stiles without even consciously realizing he’s doing it. Stiles swears softly underneath his breath, bracing himself as he pushes into Derek, keeping his movements slow as possible. Derek lets out a little wolf whine, pushing back against Stiles without thought. He’s glad that the bed is there to support his weight, because he’s not sure he could hold himself up otherwise. He rests his forehead against the edge of the mattress, panting for breath.

“Okay?” Stiles asks, his voice somewhat strained.

“Uh . . . uh huh,” Derek manages, and Stiles pulls away. There’s a moment of emptiness before he thrusts again, harder than before. One of his arms rests against the broadness of Derek’s back to steady himself. The other hand curls around his hip, fingers pressing in hard enough to bruise. Derek closes his eyes and moves back against him, lets himself get lost in the sensations. It’s agonizingly slow and yet amazingly good, nothing he ever could have imagined on his own. All that matters is the feeling of Stiles inside him, Stiles’ breath in his hair, the little noises Stiles is making, desperate and eager. It goes on and on for what seems like forever, long past the point where he would have thought he could last.

“Stiles,” he chokes out.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, his voice a little raspy.

“Stiles, I want – ”

His voice breaks off, but Stiles encourages him. “What, what do you want, tell me,” he pants out. “Tell me.”

“Your hand,” Derek says. It seems silly, but it’s true. “Give me your hand,” he adds, and Stiles’ free hand comes up against his side, then his shoulder. Derek holds out his own hand to the side and Stiles takes it, twining their fingers together. Derek squeezes down hard, and Stiles makes a little noise and then starts moving again, thrusting into him even faster. Derek looks over at where their hands are joined, then buries his face in the mattress and comes so hard that everything goes fuzzy.

He’s vaguely aware of Stiles moving inside him for another minute, and then the other man chokes out, “oh, Derek, fuck,” and his hand squeezes Derek’s hard enough to hurt.

Gradually, he lets go, and they untangle themselves, and wind up sprawled out on the floor. Derek’s feeling too boneless and sated to move, so he just pulls Stiles against his chest, gives a hum of pleasure as Stiles presses his face into the crook of his shoulder, runs a hand over his hair and down his spine. Stiles shivers a little but doesn’t manage much else than that.

Minutes trickle by. Derek’s not sure how many. His breathing eases out and he can hear Stiles catching his breath as well, so he nuzzles his cheek against Stiles’ temple.

“Mm,” Stiles says. “S’good.” He gives a little sigh. Another minute or two passes, and then he sits up and starts fishing around for his clothes. “I’m starved. Let’s go get some dinner.”

“What? No!” Derek protests, startled back to full coherency. “I’m not setting foot in the restaurant right now. After the show we put on in the stables? Are you kidding?”

“You know, they’re going to laugh now or they’re going to laugh tomorrow morning, so unless you intend to spend the rest of your life in this cabin . . . besides, they might tease a little, but they won’t be mean. They’re happy for us, you know that.”

“Yeah, but . . .” Derek cringes.

“Besides, there’s nothing to eat here. Got to keep my strength up. When we come back here I intend to take a shower, and you’re going to take it with me.”

That sounds awfully tempting, so after a few minutes of grumbling, Derek crawls back into his clothes. They’re a little rumpled and they smell like horse. “If you say so,” he says.

“I do say so. Sex slave of my own design, remember?” Stiles asks, eyes glinting, and Derek leans over to give him a kiss. He can’t even help it. It’s like a compulsion. Stiles laughs at him as he pulls his boots back on, and the two of them head to the restaurant.

It’s a Tuesday night, so it’s quiet, but they aren’t greeted by a ‘congratulations’ banner, which Derek had half expected. Nobody laughs at them. If Sally’s grin is a little more wide than usual, she doesn’t say anything about it. “What can I get you gentlemen?” she asks after they plop down at a table.

Stiles glances at the menu. “I’ll have the pork chops. Mashed potatoes, green beans, ooh, and bring us a basket of your rolls. And an iced tea. No sugar.”

Derek opens his mouth to say something when he feels Stiles’ hand on his knee. He nearly chokes. “I, uh, I’ll have what he’s having.”

“Okay,” Sally says, then frowns. “You don’t like green beans.”

“I, what?” Derek asks, as Stiles’ hand rubs small circles on his thigh.

Sally looks between the two of them, sees how only one of Stiles’ hands is visible, and chokes back a laugh. “I’ll just go with your usual, shall I?” she says, amused.

“Double it,” Stiles says, smirking. “He’s going to need to keep his strength up.”

Sally has to put a hand over her mouth as she heads back into the kitchen, to keep from cackling. Derek just stares after her as Stiles’ hand slides up his thigh. “You’re a terrible person,” he says.

“The absolute worst,” Stiles agrees.

“I love you,” Derek says, and Stiles knocks over his glass of water. “I do. A lot. Maybe even more than I can handle, but I wouldn’t give up a single inch of it.”

“Oh, uh,” Stiles says idiotically, flushing red all the way to the tips of his ears and apparently oblivious to the water that’s gone everywhere. “Me too. I mean, I love you too. Obviously. Or maybe it’s not obvious, I don’t know. But I do.”

“Okay.” Derek gives him that soft little smile.

Sally interrupts when she comes back over to bring them their drinks. She looks at the spilled glass of water and their dopey smiles with an incredulous expression, then shakes her head and cleans it up. “Food will be out in a few minutes, boys.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. Once she’s departed, he says, “So, guess what’s next month.”

Derek thinks about it. Not their anniversary – although he supposes they should have a talk about exactly when that would be. Their first date, he guesses. That was in August, and it’s only May. Stiles’ birthday was in April, so it can’t be that either. “No clue.”

“Beacon Hills High tenth reunion!” Stiles says.

“Oh,” Derek says. “Okay. Are you going?”

“Well, I was planning to,” Stiles says. “But I want you to come with me.”

“Uh,” Derek says. “How about I don’t.”

Stiles sighs. “The others miss you, Derek,” he says. “I know that you don’t believe that, but it’s true. Don’t you want to actually meet Annie and Alyssa? Or Lydia and Jackson’s son? Boyd’s wife? I know that those people were important to you. No, you weren’t the best alpha in the universe, but you still taught them a lot of things, helped them through some really rough times.”

“I’ll think about it,” Derek finally says.

“Which means yes,” Stiles says, satisfied.

Derek scowls at him.

“You know, my dad was right about one thing,” Stiles says. “Well, actually my dad was right about all the things, but I mean, he was the one who said if you ever let me in, you’d wind up wrapped around my little finger. I’m sure he’ll be happy to know how right he was.” He takes a drink of his tea. “Besides, don’t you want to help me live out my high school fantasy where you suck me off in the locker room?”

This time it’s Derek who knocks over his glass of water.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“I feel like an idiot,” Derek says, giving Stiles a sideways glance.

“Well, you look fine,” Stiles replies, looking in the mirror and straightening his tie.

Derek just scowls. He had, of course, wound up going to the reunion. He just couldn’t argue with Stiles on the matter. He doesn’t want to go, but it’s hard to deny Stiles anything. What he doesn’t get is why Stiles is telling him he shouldn’t dress up. Stiles is wearing a nice suit and looks absolutely gorgeous, but he’s stubbornly insisted that Derek stay in jeans and a Henley.

“If you show up in a suit, the others won’t know who the hell you are,” Stiles says. He runs one hand through his hair to get it spiked to his liking. “C’mon, let’s go.”

Derek sighs but doesn’t ask ‘must we?’ since the answer is obvious. They’ve agreed to meet the others for dinner before the reunion proper. Lydia got them a private room at their favorite Chinese restaurant.

“Wait,” he says, as the meaning of Stiles’ words sinks in, “they don’t know I’m coming, do they.”

“Of course not,” Stiles says, smirking. “It’s a surprise.”

“Stiles . . .” Derek gives him a narrow-eyed look. “They do know we’re, uh, together, right? I mean, you’ve told them that?”

“Even if I hadn’t, I’m sure Erica has, and I know that you’ve told her all about it,” Stiles says, smirking a little. “And Scott knows, you know that. I don’t keep secrets from my bro. It’s gonna be fine, Derek. They’re happy for us, remember?”

Derek is still feeling incredibly unsure about everything, and he’s not at all surprised to see that Stiles has managed to finagle things so they’re late to the dinner and everyone else is already there. He hangs back a little while Stiles enthusiastically greets his friends, some of whom he hasn’t seen in years. Scott seems bigger somehow, not taller but with broader shoulders and more muscles. Allison is all lean, wiry muscle, just as beautiful as she was the last time Derek saw her, so many years ago. Jackson’s grown a mustache and goatee that doesn’t suit him at all. Lydia’s strawberry blonde hair is done up in a fantastically complicated series of braids, and she smiles broadly as Stiles greets her with a kiss on the cheek.

Boyd is there with his wife, and Isaac is hovering in the background, a little apart as he always was. Then there’s Erica, wearing a slinky, low-cut dress that has even Derek looking on in admiration. She spots him first, and her face splits into a broad smile. “Hey, stranger!” she says, and everyone looks over. Derek resists the urge to press himself into the wall, or just flee altogether.

“Derek!” Scott says, and before Derek can run away, Scott has seized his hand and is pumping it up and down like they’re old friends. Boyd and Isaac come over and are both giving him half-hugs, slaps on the back, smiling and saying it’s good to see him like they actually mean it.

Somehow, Derek winds up sitting at the table with Stiles beside him, their fingers laced together, and Stiles is completely unselfconscious about the entire thing. Conversation resumes, and Erica’s teasing them, asking for all the details (“if you know what I mean,” she says, and Stiles is quick to assure her that everyone in the entire restaurant knows what she means).

To Derek’s relief, however, the conversation doesn’t focus entirely around them. Annie just lost her first tooth, and Lydia and Jackson’s son just started taking high school courses, despite the fact that he’s only six years old. Erica’s new movie co-starred one of her childhood crushes, and she’s gushing about being able to work with him. Isaac’s working as a guard at a high-security prison now, and just got a promotion. Boyd’s business is doing well; he just hired two more people. One of Allison’s archery students qualified for the Olympics. And of course Stiles, Stiles is talking a mile a minute, about Cedarville and the ranch and the horseback riding lessons.

Erica can’t even contain herself, there are so many jokes she wants to make about riding lessons that she doesn’t even know where to start. Derek scowls at her. Lydia rolls her eyes and says, “Why don’t you just ask ‘who gets to be on top’ and have done with it?”

“Well, if you insist . . .” Erica says.

Derek sighs and signals the waitress. He needs another beer.

“Am I the only one who’s not having all the sex?” Isaac asks plaintively.

Jackson looks around the table. “Pretty much, yeah.”

“We should get Isaac a girlfriend!” Erica says, and then this becomes the focus of the conversation, because apparently there’s a woman in Scott’s pack that Isaac is interested in, but is too shy to actually ask on a date. Naturally, everyone wants to help with this, and this takes the attention off Derek.

They eat massive amounts of Chinese food and drink way too much, and by the time the reunion itself is scheduled to begin, the few humans at the table are pleasantly toasted. They load back into their cars and head for Beacon Hills High.

Derek is almost relieved to see that it’s undergone a complete makeover. There’s no lingering memories, no traumatic flashbacks, because it’s practically walking into a different place. The building was old, he knows, and God only knew that they destroyed parts of it enough during their various misadventures. Even the smell is different.

“I told you that they’d be glad to see you,” Stiles remarks, as Derek parks their rental car.

“Yeah, you did,” Derek says.

“I’m always right,” Stiles says, “and you should never question me, ever.”

“Uh huh,” Derek says.

“By the way, you’re having dinner with me and my dad tomorrow,” Stiles says, “and no, you can’t get out of it, Dad wants to grill steaks and interrogate you on how you’re treating me.”

Derek smiles a little. “I know that you’re expecting me to run screaming, but that I think I can actually handle. Your dad thinks I was the one in the right all along.”

Stiles makes a face at him. They get out of the car and head towards the gymnasium, which is where the reunion is taking place. “When I was a kid,” he says, “I used to have so many fantasies about you cornering me in various parts of this school and doing amazing, dirty things to me.”

“I know,” Derek says, amused despite himself.

“It’s almost too bad that they remodeled, but then again, a locker room is still a locker room,” Stiles says cheerfully. “Let’s go check it out.”

Derek shakes his head a little but allows Stiles to take him by the hand and drag him around the gymnasium to the doors that lead to the locker rooms. “Won’t the others wonder where we are?”

“Sure,” Stiles says, “but I can absolutely promise you that they won’t send out a search party.”

There’s a pause while Derek considers. “What about Erica?”

“We’ve got at least half an hour while everyone compares her ‘this is what I looked like when I graduated’ picture to her current face and oohs and aahs over her. I know for a fact that there are at least ten members of the football team that she plans on seducing and then turning down. That’ll take her some time.”

The locker rooms are, indeed, just like locker rooms. Stiles gives a positively wicked grin while he leans against a locker and pulls Derek in for a kiss. Derek allows this, but then pulls back. “I’m sorry,” he says.

Stiles frowns. “Why?”

“Just – we could have had this a lot sooner, if I hadn’t screwed up.”

At this, Stiles sighs. “Okay, putting aside the whole ‘we’re going to pretend all that shit didn’t happen’ for a minute. Real talk. Maybe we both screwed up. I mean, we definitely both screwed up. But life in general just has way too many maybes and what ifs. I mean, what if we had gotten together back then? I’d give it fifty-fifty odds that it would have crashed and burned. Because maybe we just weren’t ready. And then we wouldn’t have what we have now. And I wouldn’t give this up for anything. So even though getting here sucked in a whole lot of ways . . . maybe this is exactly how things are supposed to be.”

Derek thinks about that. Then he nods. “Okay,” he says.

“Okay?” Stiles asks.

Derek nods. “Yeah, okay,” he says, and smiles, because it is okay. He wouldn’t have thought it possible, but it is.

“On the other hand, we have a lot of lost time to make up for,” Stiles remarks, as Derek leans against him, pressing him into the locker and nuzzling his neck and ear. “So you’d better get started.”

 

~fin~