The sign looks cheerful enough, as much as a sign can when composed of entirely letters in a sturdy black frame, but Stiles doesn’t know why he’d stopped to stare at it. Okay, that’s a lie. He does know. College isn’t exactly what he’d hoped. What he’d expected, sure, but hoped? Not so much. He’d already known that their differing interests, as well as Scott’s only barely passing GPA, would mean they’d have to part ways for their educations. Lydia is at MIT, of course, and everyone else had scattered like leaves on the wind. Stiles’ dad is at home, where he damn well should be, protecting Beacon Hills for another few terms, and… well, that’s about the extent of Stiles’ social circle.
What he’d hoped for, when moving to New York, had been a new life, new friends, maybe even some lovers. What he’d gotten instead was endless all-nighters, trying to keep up a job alongside his studies, zero social life, and no expectations of that changing anytime in the next few years.
So yeah, he knows why he’s looking at the sign. He’s lonely. He hasn’t felt the touch of another person in months, and he’d never really considered himself that much of a tactile person, but it’s starting to feel like a physical ache, how much he needs to just feel another living being against him. Hell, he’d take a handshake or a fist bump. But a hug sounds… really fucking good.
It might be a joke. It is outside a fire station, after all, and if they’re anything like law enforcement they love a good prank. Sending in a long row of strangers for free hugs definitely sounds like something that could happen at the Sheriff’s station. The impromptu kissing booth debacle of 2011 kinda proved that. But Stiles passes this place several times a week, and there’s only ever been positive and liberal messages on the board, so maybe…. maybe.
Oh, what the hell. It’s not like his life is brimming with excitement these days. So either he gets to watch some firefighters have a good chuckle, or he gets a hug. Win/Win, really.
So he goes inside, and at first all he can see are the trucks. Eventually, though, a very muscular black guy comes through a door at the end, and greets him with a friendly smile. ”Hey. Can I help you, man?”
”Uh…” Stiles feels supremely silly all of a sudden, but he’s also not the type to back out once he’s started something, no matter how ill-advised, so he tries to look more confident than he feels, and points towards the exit. ”The, uh… the sign outside?”
”Oh, you’re here for a hug? Hang on, lemme get Hale, it’s his turn.”
Stiles blinks, but steps closer when it does indeed seem like a hug might be in his near future. ”Wait, you take turns? Why?”
The guy pauses in the doorway to what is apparently a rec room, and does an impressive eyeroll. ”Because we kinda had to after the same three shitheads came in every five minutes to get up close and personal with Reyes, but they didn’t seem nearly as enthusiastic when me or Hale stepped up.” As he talks he points through the door to a blonde bombshell who could no doubt break Stiles in half, but who could also probably have a lucrative career modeling lingerie. And Stiles gets it. It’s a shitty move, but he can’t say he wouldn’t have been tempted to try for seconds himself.
”Yo, Hale!” the big guy yells, and Stiles forgets all about seconds or even firsts with Reyes, because holy shit, the guy coming out of what looks like a kitchen could have walked off the page of any number of skin mags or porn sites Stiles has perused over the years.
”Yeah, Boyd, what?”
Boyd points a thumb at Stiles. ”Emergency hug.”
Hale blinks, like that wasn’t the response he’d expected, and Stiles quirks an eyebrow at him in challenge. ”Oh. Oh, uh, lemme just set the timer.”
”Oooh, did you bring your dad’s meatloaf again?” Reyes asks from the couch, perking up, and Hale nods before darting back into the kitchen, but quickly coming back out, wiping his hands on a towel.
”Meatloaf, huh?” Stiles asks stupidly, because what do you even say to a ridiculously handsome stranger whom you might get to hug in the very near future.
Hale grins in a bashful sort of way, dropping his gaze and tucking the towel into his back pocket, and oh god, it’s horrible. Because he’s cute. Not only is he hot like a house on fire, (geddit) but he’s also adorable. Shit, Stiles might actually copy the douchebags, and come back for a round of hugs with every single person in the station, just to be allowed to cycle back to Hale. ”Yeah. My dad is a worrier. He likes to feed everyone.” The smile Hale sends him makes Stiles’ stomach go flippy flop, but he swallows it down, because he didn’t come here for a hug with a heaping side dish of pathetic awkwardness in the face of extreme attractiveness. ”So. Wanna step into an office? Most people feel a little weird just hugging in the middle of the room.”
Stiles shrugs, because frankly he’d completely forgotten there was even anyone else there. ”Doesn’t matter to me.” And just like that he feels awkward again, dammit. ”So… how does this work? Exactly.” He wipes his suddenly sweaty palms on his jeans, because fuck, the pathetic side dish is obviously the main course instead. What kind of loser comes in for a hug, just because a sign offers, jeez.
”Depends,” Hale says calmly. ”If you like, you can pretend I’m someone you care for, and just go for it. Or I can give you one, if you don’t feel like going first.” As if sensing Stiles’ awkwardness, he tucks his hands into his jeans pockets, and takes on a relaxed stance, looking as unintimidating as possible for someone that muscular and eyebrow-gifted. ”We get all kinds of people coming in. You’re definitely not the first.”
That does help a little, and Stiles nods, crossing and uncrossing his arms over his chest, not sure what to with them all of a sudden. ”Okay. Okay, that’s… good. That you guys do this, I mean.”
Hale nods, and sends him an encouraging smile. ”Want me to do it?”
”Yeah,” Stiles manages after a long moment of hesitation. ”Yes, please. Just… make it a tight one?”
”Sure,” Hale says, and just like that he steps in, slowly opens his arms, and it feels surprisingly non-awkward to meet him half-way, and step into the hug. And, god, Stiles asked for tight, but this is heaven. He melts into the strong grip, and he doesn’t realize he’s scrabbling for grip on Hale’s back until his tight black t-shirt makes a tiny creaking noise, bunching in Stiles’ fist.
”Sorry,” he says, muffled against a strong shoulder, but Hale just hugs him a little bit tighter.
”It’s not called emergency hugs for nothing,” he murmurs, and Stiles heaves a sigh of such deep relief and contentment that for a moment it’s his entire world. Just the pressure of skin and flesh, the subtle movements of breath in their chests, and the amazing warmth of this man who holds Stiles like he’s worth something.
”Oh, god, you’re amazing at this,” Stiles moans, and there’s a snort nearby that he doesn’t even bother to find the source of. He’s too comfortable.
”I’m… glad you think so.” It’s the first time Hale sounds even remotely uncomfortable, and Stiles considers pulling away, but then Hale starts rubbing a hand gently up and down his spine, and he forgets what pulling away even means.
Some time later there’s a not so subtle cough from somehwere in the room, and Stiles startles into sudden awareness. ”Oh, uh…” His front is deliciously warm, and he’s lost track completely of how long he’s been clinging to Hale, a guy he’s literally does not know at all. Which is awkward all over again. So he eases away carefully, and Hale gives him one last squeeze before letting go, like he’s making sure Stiles gets his money’s worth or whatever. ”I’m, uh… that was…” Stiles sighs, running a hand through his hair, already missing the connection mere seconds after ending the hug. ”That was great, actually,” he admits. ”Thank you.”
”You’re… you’re welcome,” Hale says, sounding a little rusty for a guy who’s apparently been doing a lot of hugging and re-assuring lately.
If the pointed cough made Stiles feel awkward, it’s nothing compared to the intense weirdness descending along with the sudden silence, and he shuffles his feet for a few seconds before deciding he can handle this like an adult, dammit. ”No, seriously, dude, thank you. I really needed that.”
Hale smiles at him again, that same soft smile that makes Stiles think of puppies and snuggling rather than jerking off, and it’s some kind of torture, definitely. ”It’s what we’re here for. That and the fires.”
Stiles barks out a laugh, and mentally applauds Hale for defusing the tension. ”Good to know you guys can multitask,” he tosses back, and gives one final nod of greeting before turning to leave. He really does feel better, so the awkwardness was all worth it. He’s half-way to the garage door he came in through when Hale comes after him.
”What’s up?” Stiles asks, putting his own hands in his pockets this time, aiming to look casual, even though he’s kinda skipping around happily in his mind that he gets another few words with his beautiful man.
Hale looks supremely uncomfortable, though, carding a hand through his hair and moving restlessly like Stiles somehow rubbed off on him during their hug. ”This is… this is maybe out of line, but. Would it be rude if… would you mind… would it be really awful of me if I asked you out? On a date?”
Stiles has to just stop and gawp for a long, glorious moment, because whatever he’d imagined Hale might have to say, this had definitely not been on the list. ”Me?”
”Yeah,” Hale says, that same soft smile back on his lips now that Stiles hasn’t said outright no. ”You’re cute. And you… this sounds creepy, but you smell really nice.”
”Pheromones, it’s probably a thing, science is looking into it,” Stiles blurts, before remembering what he was asked. ”I mean, yes! Wait, no, you asked if you were awful, and that is like, so much no, all the no in the world, man, there is not a shred of awful anywhere on your beautiful form, dude.”
Hale looks vaguely dazed, and Stiles physically forces his lips shut until the urge to babble goes away. ”What I’m saying is, yes, please, do ask me out.”
”You like coffee?”
”Tina’s on the corner?”
Stiles groans, because that’s the issue right there. ”Ugh, I have like an hour, tops, of personal time on any given day right now. But if you’re cool with meeting on my lunch break, then maybe tomorrow at eleven thirty? Unless that’s too desperate?” he asks with a wince, but Hale looks delighted.
”Lunch break date sounds perfect.”
They smile at each other like goofs for a moment before Stiles remembers that, shit, he was actually on his way to work and he’s probably late by now. ”Fuck, I gotta go,” he rushes, and Hale waves him off at first, but reaches out to grab Stiles’ wrist before he can leave.
”Shit, wait. What’s your name?”
”Stiles,” Hale says on a sigh, and shit, this is gonna be some whirlwind romance drama plot line, Stiles can feel it already. ”I’m Derek.”
”Derek. Awesome. See you at lunch tomorrow?”
”Yeah,” Derek agrees, and slowly lets go. ”Unless there’s a fire. If there is, please leave your number here.”
”Promise,” Stiles says, and skips away. Literally skips. And he doesn’t even fucking care who sees.
Things are finally looking up.