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Stiles hadn’t been in Beacon Hills in five years, hadn’t seen Derek in nearly as long, when he got the text:

  New number: (+530) 365-2421

He’d just been about to take a sip from his coffee cup, made of recycled paper and with one of those slip-slidey sleeves on it, when his phone buzzed next to his elbow.  He broke away from gazing at the arrows chasing each other’s tails, his brain imposing an ouroboros over it, to stare blankly down at it.  He could’ve sworn it was on silent, the way it always was when he was in class.  Luckily it’d been sitting on the blank page of his spiral notebook—the one he’d been aimlessly tapping his pen tip against—so the vibration was muffled.

He had every intention of ignoring it when he saw the name, ‘I’M BATMAN,’ pop up on the screen and his heart seized, stuttered, and lodged itself in his throat.

Shit, shit, shit.

It couldn’t be anything good, not for Derek to be texting him.  But he would call if it were really bad, wouldn’t he? 

The resulting message left him completely bewildered.  They hadn’t spoken in five years; what was Derek doing texting him his number?  Stiles contented himself with the idea that he’d probably checked all his contacts and not unchecked the ones he no longer spoke to – even though there couldn’t be that many.  Stiles doubted he’d changed all that much; he had that kind of I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude though.

He considered deleting it but then thought better of it, shrugging to himself as he saved the new number under: ‘Derek H.’  (Yeah, he’d met another Derek during undergrad.  Weird as fuck, still.  Especially since that Derek hadn’t even slightly looked like he might have a cave of brood filled with ten percent bats and ninety percent self-loathing.)  If he ever needed to pass along information to someone that could take down a threat though, it was better to have it than not.  After all, their parents all still lived in Beacon Hills.

Stiles would much rather his first line of defense there was Derek rather than his dad.

Maybe Derek knew that and had somehow evolved his forward-thinking ability enough to be proactive about it?  Or maybe Cora was poking him about not being as much of a douchey loner now.  That thought made Stiles grin.

The droning sound of his professor’s voice stopped and stalled, effectively drawing Stiles’ attention away from half-smiling out the window at the quad.  He sighed, glancing at the clock overhead that showed there was still forty minutes left of this monotonous hell.

 


 

“I really think this class is designed for you to fail,” Stiles whined over Skype.  “Why else would you have some fossil incapable of tonal inflection teaching a Cladistics course, which is already half-common sense and half-boring as shit?”

Scott threw the squishy, multi-colored pleather ball up in the air for roughly the six hundredth time and caught it.  He was still reclined back in his desk chair so Stiles could mostly just see up his nose.

It was cool, the nostrils were clearly the part he’d missed the most.

Scott snorted.  It made his nostrils contract.  “Dude, I swear, every time I talk to you it’s just the slightest bit harder to understand you.”  He paused for a moment, the foot that was precariously balancing his chair on two legs shifting slightly on his desk’s edge.  Stiles was convinced if not for the whole werewolf-agility thing, Scott would’ve been dead at least sixty-eight times over by now.  (Stiles knew, he’d been keeping a journal.  For science.)  This was a broken neck waiting to happen.  “I’m mostly convinced it’s because you’re just making up words to mess with me.”

Stiles exaggeratedly snapped his fingers.  “Damn.  The jig is up.”  He pulled up a playlist on the side of the window with Scott’s nostrils in it and skipped down to the fifth in the list to give them some waiting room music.  He tilted his head at Scott.  “So how’s your last-last year at UC Irvine going?”

Scott frowned at him.  “Harsh,” he reprimanded.  “And you had better not let my mom hear you talking like that.  She does not need any reminders of how this whole Alpha thing has stretched my college career.”  He winced a tad.

Stiles chuckled at that.  Melissa was a ballbuster and her favorite balls to bust were still her own kid’s.  He sat up straighter as he remembered.  “Oh hey, speaking of people who didn’t get out of B-Hills while the gettin’ was good, how freaking blast-from-the-past-ish was that text from Derek?”  He said ‘Derek’ a little more sharply than he used to, like he was remembering how to form the word all over again.  “I mean, if we’re going Brendan Fraser roles, I would’ve much preferred he channeled O’Connell.  Though, shit, then Derek probably would’ve been texting about mummies.  Wait.  Are mummies real?”  He wrote on a Post-it next to his desk, ‘Mummies????’ and stuck it on his monitor next to Scott’s face.

Who’d stopped tossing the ball, dipped his chin and was now staring at him unblinkingly.  “What text?” he said slowly.

The look Scott was giving him reminded Stiles of the looks parents gave kids when they knew they were lying.  He’d seen it a lot those first couple of years after lycanthropy made its debut in his life.  For some reason, it made Stiles feel oddly guilty even though he had nothing to feel guilty over.  He shrugged awkwardly.  “The one that had his new number in it?”

Scott came down hard, slamming all four chair legs into the floor, and scooped up his phone on the desk next to him.  He tapped a few times on it then held the screen up so Stiles could see it.  Under the heading of, ‘Derek,’ there was zero activity.

Stiles did the same with his, showing Scott the only text left under, ‘I’M BATMAN:’ the number Derek had given him.

Scott stared at it, mouth hanging open slightly, before he snorted and leaned back.  “I don’t know why I’m surprised, you were always his favorite.  He liked you better than his own pack.”  He frowned, fiddling with his phone, fingers bumping across the screen.  “Though, to be fair, you probably liked him better than his own pack.”

Stiles rolled his eyes.  “You were the one who was his, ‘brother,’” he intoned, making air quotes around the last word.  “You were the one he kept trying to make drink the Kool-Aid.”  He said in an eerie, drawn out voice, “Join the inner circle, Scott.”

Scott busted out with laughter and shook his head.  “Yeah, but I’m mostly convinced that was because he knew that if he got me, he’d get you too.  I didn’t realize it then but over the years it was kind of obvious.”  The weird thing was that Scott didn’t look like he was joking.

At all. 

Stiles felt his stomach flip over in a slow roll.  It was accompanied by an uneasy, half-sick feeling.  “I’m sure he just went through too fast and managed to uncheck everyone but me.  It was probably an accident.”

“Unless it wasn’t,” was Scott’s sage wisdom.  The phone in his hand lit up and he grinned knowingly, not bothering to look up.  “Isaac didn’t get a text either.”  He fixed Stiles with his Alpha eyes, red phosphorous all aglow.  The same Alpha eyes he always pulled out when he was trying to get Stiles to submit (read: believe/do something stupid).  Stiles made a show of scoffing at him, which got Scott smiling like it always did.  “Look who’s special,” Scott quipped.

“It was an accident.”  Stiles said it like he knew for sure, because he sort of did.  People didn’t go around texting their new numbers to not-pack members they hadn’t spoken to in years.  It just wasn’t done.  And Stiles was fairly certain even socially stupid werewolves could figure that one out.

Scott shrugged, unconcerned.  “And if it wasn’t?”  Scott peered at him.  “I think it’s an opening, Stiles.”  Stiles thought he couldn’t be more surprised by anything Scott said until he added, “And I think you should take it.”

Stiles grinned to cover the sudden explosion of nerves he was feeling.  “You’re okay with me talking to stray wolves then, Dad?”  The joke fell flat.

It was Scott’s turn to look uneasy.  “I never liked the way we left things with him.  Practically forcing him to become an Omega.”

“You offered him a place in your pack,” Stiles argued, too defensive, because he’d always felt guilty over it too, and Scott knew it.  Derek had done a lot for them and it hadn’t felt right, leaving him on his own, but they couldn’t make him be pack – much as they tried.

“I know,” Scott said.  He shrugged and tossed the ball up into the air again.  “Whatever you want to do, you know I’ll support it.”

“I know,” Stiles agreed.  “I have to go.  Topics in Allometry and Macroevolution essays are glaring at me.”  Stiles glared right back at the space where his course books were sitting, trying to seem innocuous, on the corner of his desk (and looking at him accusingly, it went without saying).

“You can’t put me off with your made-up words forever, Stilinski,” Scott said with faux-gravitas before grinning, ruining it, and disconnecting the chat.

Stiles was still grinning back when he dragged his phone into his hands and stared at the text.  He backed out, pulled up the new, ‘Derek H.’ contact and typed:

  So.  If this was a sign, you were about as subtle as a billboard… that’s large enough to be seen from space.

Hitting the ‘Send’ button was automatic muscle memory and he stared in horror at what he’d just done.  He stamped down a visceral, half-formed compulsion to pound his phone into his desk until there was nothing left but twisted circuitry.  Knowing it wouldn’t undo the text was really the only thing that stopped him.

Fuck.  What was done was done, right?  This was totally a zen, Kai’idth fucking moment.

Even so, he spent the next six hours jittery and distracted, rereading as much as he was reading and darting suspicious/doe-eyed looks at his phone, until it became clear that Derek wasn’t going to text back.  Whatever Scott had tried to convince him Derek’s text had meant, it hadn’t.  Some mix of disappointment and relief melted warmly in Stiles’ gut, sloshing back and forth like soothing waves, and he breathed deeply for the first time since he’d sent the text.

This was better.  Who actually liked change anyway?

 


 

Stiles played with the recycled cardboard sleeve on his coffee cup, shooting it up and down with accompanying sound effects – the seventeenth cup of coffee he’d had since he’d texted Derek – his foot tapping along to the muzak playing in the hall.  His phone interrupted, tinkling the preset text tone at him.  Which was strange because who, in his phone, didn’t have a personalized ringtone?  He was clearly a no-good slacker and he’d fix that as soon as he knew to whom the text belonged.

He dragged out his phone from the bottom of his bag, humming Say My Name under his breath, and checked the screen.  1 New Text Message from ‘Derek H.’  Stiles was glad he hadn’t just taken a sip of his coffee as he almost certainly would have spat it back out.

He debated shoving his phone back into the open pocket without looking at it but his curiosity won out.

As it usually did.

  Large enough to be seen from space and yet you’re not sure it was a sign?

Stiles gawped at it because there was literally no information there.  None.  On why Derek had texted, on if it was a mistake, on what he wanted.  Nothing.  Stiles read it over again and pulled up the text he’d first sent back.  Derek had used the exact same phrasing as him.  Stiles wondered if he’d read it over and over, enough that it’d gotten ingrained, if it’d taken him this long to reply because he’d agonized over it the same way Stiles had his.

Well.

As he would have if he hadn’t sent it off after the first stupid attempt because of his damn rote actions.

Or maybe Derek wasn’t a teenaged Belieber and had just accidentally messaged Stiles his new number and then couldn’t decide if it would be ruder to reply or not to, hence the wait.

Stiles berated himself for trying to romanticize Derek Hale of all people.  He tapped his phone against his thigh, biting his lip before locking it and shoving it back into his bag.  This time he was going to actually think about his reply.  If he did end up replying, that was.  Derek’s text had ended in a question mark but it was pretty much rhetorical so Stiles could just end it there, clean conscience.

He shrugged the strap of his messenger bag over his shoulder and stalked off to Research Rotation in Functional Anatomy and Evolution.  Whatever choice he made, he wasn’t going to make it right now so he could at least stop worrying about it for the next few hours.

 


 

Professor Cleghorn, because he hated his students and wanted nothing more than to break and then devour their spirits—probably, Stiles knew how monster-things worked, thank you very much—assigned a sixteen-page critical essay on the relationship between body mass and instinctual behaviors in prehistoric mammals that was due in less than a week’s time.  Stiles planned to hand him his broken, twisted soul on a silver platter at pencils down.  He figured that would please the guy as much as a sixty page essay on why the Woolly Mammoth’s average size decreased over only a few centuries’ span because of the changing of the tides or some other improvable reasoning.

Dude was obsessed with the mammoth.

He didn’t bother going back to his apartment, instead stopping by the coffee cart for his third time that day – juggling his new cup when the slip-slidey sleeve conspired to try to make him drop it – and hoofed it to the library.  It was going to be a long couple of days.

 


 

At the end of the fourth day, Stiles was fairly certain that higher education, literature and evolution were all massively overrated.  He was functioning primarily on hour-long power naps and wishful thinking and he was never going to read anything again, ever.  He’d decided that on the third day.  Being literate just wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  He wasn’t even that bummed about it really.  He’d already read all the Harry Potter books anyway.

He stumbled over his own feet in front of Cleghorn’s cubby thingy, but he had a twenty-three page paper in his hand to show for his half-lidded eyes and lack of balance.  He saluted the slot and managed to make it back to his apartment in record time before collapsing in a heap.

He face-planted into his bed and didn’t even get a chance to take off his shoes before he was deep into unconsciousness.

 


 

Nineteen hours later, he stretched awake from his fantastically dreamless sleep and checked the clock on his bedside table.  A little after six in the evening and time to start functioning like a normal human being again.  He halfheartedly tidied the place as he dragged himself into the kitchen, tossing his clothes in the hamper and arranging his books and papers in his desk chair.  He scrubbed at his chin.  He needed a shave and a proper shower that lasted longer than twenty seconds and, yep, he ran a tongue over his slimy teeth, a toothbrush and half a tube of toothpaste, too.

He haphazardly dumped Frosted Flakes into a mostly clean bowl (that he wiped out with a paper towel just to be sure).  A few flakes with escapist notions flung themselves out across the counter but Stiles scooped them up and deposited them in his mouth mercilessly for their disobedience.  He eased the milk out of the fridge, over half the gallon left and, hmm, two days past the ‘use by’ date. 

He unscrewed the lid and took a cautious whiff.  It didn’t smell totally right but, he shrugged, it probably wouldn’t kill him and the sugary sweetness of the Frosted Flakes would hopefully cancel out any taste that was… off.  He dunked his plastic spoon – the kind the hippies at Whole Foods would look down on him for buying – in the cornflakes that were quickly becoming soggy and took a massive bite.  It tasted like heaven.

With a souciant of sour milk.

Worth it.

He wolfed down the rest (it was sad when no one was around to appreciate his punning genius) and dropped the bowl in the sink, half-assedly running water into it to make sure none of the sugar flecks could cement themselves to the cheap ceramic sides.  He yawned, stretched, scratched at the obnoxious trail of bristly hair beneath his navel, and trooped off towards the shower.

He turned on his heel, remembering to pull his phone up from the depths of the gum-wrapper, lead-shavings strewn bottom of his bag and plug the way-past-dead thing into his charger.

He offered it a nod of solidarity, like it was a brother in arms lost in combat, and then whistled off in the direction of the shower.  He was going to linger until his hot water ran out, put on some Ke$ha and fucking shake it.

He distantly heard the blip of his phone as it whined back to life, meaning he had a message waiting.  He ignored it in favor of turning the water to hot-Hot-HEAT.

He remembered that he was a desired man when the water had been frigid for at least a few minutes and Ke$ha was whining nasally, ‘It’s disgusting how I love you, God, I hate it, I could kill you.’  He assumed it was his dad because he was fairly sure he had missed a scheduled call in the research/writing haze there.

His phone perked up at his touch.  He tried not to dribble on it as he wound puddles in his wake and dripped a lake under his feet, towel slung low on his hips.  Sure enough, there was a voicemail from his dad and two from Scott.  He was pretty sure it said not so great things about your life when your Alpha was keeping more tabs on you than your father.  There was a text message from Isaac, a handful from Lydia, and one from ‘Derek H.’

Stiles in no way scrambled to open it nor did he nearly drop his phone in the, now, small sea of water below him.  He’d forgotten all about Derek and the fact that he hadn’t replied in the wake of correlating the dietary habits of the African Wolf to its larger stature for his spirit-breaking professor.  How could he have GD forgotten?

He pulled up ‘Derek H.’ and under messages it now showed two total.  Under the newest:

  Large enough to…

    (5 days ago)

Shit.  Had it really been five days already?  Stiles touched the pad of his finger to the still-bolded new message.  It was only four words and yet they completely fucking winded him.

  It was a sign.

    (2 days ago)

Stiles’ eyes widened and he shook his phone, half-trying to strangle it in his grip as he stared at it accusingly.  “No.  No.  Not two days ago,” he moaned, sinking to his knees in his ocean of phone-failure and wet.  “Oh fuck, no.”  He dragged the fingers of the hand that wasn’t trying to throttle his phone for not telling him sooner down his face and groaned louder.  What the fuck was he supposed to do now?  What the hell was the etiquette after someone who hadn’t spoken to you in five years and whose issues had issues poured their heart out to you and you didn’t.   Even.  Fucking.  Respond?

(Because—for Derek—that was pouring his heart out and Stiles wasn’t about to pretend otherwise.)

He knocked the books he’d just put in his desk chair barely an hour earlier onto the (now damp) floor all over again and plopped down, pulling up his search engine.  He spent the next twenty minutes glued to the screen but there was nothing.

Abso-fucking-lutely nothing.  

Miss Manners did not even address the situation.

Goddamn it. 

He snatched up his phone.  He’d just have to reply.  That was all there was to it.  He’d reply and hope.  Not that Derek forgave him, oh no.  But that Derek believed him.  Stiles could just imagine the thoughts he was going to have when Stiles explained what happened.  That Stiles hadn’t wanted to reply but finally realized (or was even talked into realizing by Scott or Isaac) that leaving Derek hanging like that was mega-dick, even for him, and so Stiles decided to make up a story to ease the pain to his poor broken heart.  And, no, Derek could not think anything like that.  Stiles wasn’t going to let him.

A text message wasn’t going to cut it.

Stiles was going to have to call him.  And hear his voice.  For the first time in years.  Almost instantaneously, Stiles’ heart started beating a wild tattoo in his chest in case he wasn’t aware that just the idea of that was panic attack material, buddy.

Stupid, unhelpful organs.

He clicked ‘Derek H.’ and pressed the option to ‘Call.’

He could barely even hear the ringing of the phone over the roaring of his own blood in his ears.  His chest was heaving and his eyes were having trouble focusing.  His sweaty fingers twisted into the fabric of his towel where it covered his knee.  It was only when the seventh one came that he realized how unlikely it was that Derek would pick up.  And sure enough, as the ring died, the voicemail swooped in to replace it.  Derek hadn’t personalized it at all.  It was just the standard message saying he’d reached the voicemail box of Derek’s number and did he want to leave a message?

Beep.

“Uh, hey.  Derek.  It’s Stiles.  Which, I guess you probably know that since it’ll be my number that comes up as your missed call but, uh, phone etiquette?  They haven’t beaten it out of us yet, right?”

Why, in Thor’s name, was he mentioning beatings in this voicemail message?  Oh my Norse God, if he’d known that was even in the realm of possibility he never would have chanced it.

“So, anyway, my phone’s been dead for I don’t even know how long.  I saw your reply and I, uh, I wanted to answer it but I didn’t want to rush into it.”

There, that had to level the playing field a little, admitting he agonized over what to say to him and how to say it.  He ruffled the back of his too-long hair.  It was starting to creep down over the tops of his ears.

“But yeah, I shoved it in my bag and then I got a sixteen-page assignment in the course I was running off to next and it was due in four days because of some epic sedimentology conference my professor was attending—he leads a charmed life and, yes, I do live with a constant, low-level jealousy of him; we don’t need to talk about it.  Anyway, naturally, I had to sublease my apartment and move into the library for the next half a week.  I wouldn’t recommend it honestly, it’s spacious, sure, but they’re not big on privacy there and don’t even get me started on the looks I got while setting up the tent and fire pit.  Right, so, anyway, my mind kind of wasn’t focusing on anything that wasn’t prehistoric, the size of a truck, and home to epic aggression issues.” 

He really fucking hoped Derek didn’t somehow think Stiles was alluding to him because that could be bad.  Epically bad.   God, his major was esoteric at the best of times and this was hardly that.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  He was still jabbing the heel of his palm into his forehead over and over when he started up again.

 “Um.  But I just saw your message after waking up from the world’s shortest hibernation-slash-the world’s longest nap and I wanted you to know that I, um, I’m heeding the sign and I’m.  I’m actually really, really fucking glad you offered me one.  So, yeah, bye and, uh, maybe we’ll talk soon?  I hope we’ll talk soon.  Even if it’s just to hash out the pros and cons of library-living once and for all.”

Stiles hung up and let his forehead crash semi-lightly onto the desk in front of him.  He’d totally and pathetically sounded like that cult-ish, poppy Ace of Base song.  Derek had been making a declaration and Stiles had been drunkenly singing a crappy, nineties one hit wonder to him.  Karaoke-style.

Holy hell, he sucked at this.  And if he sucked at this worse than Derek then that was really saying something.  He untwisted his stiff fingers from the now impressively wrinkled terrycloth and tried his very hardest not to outright panic.

 


 

He was on campus, waiting for his advisor’s office hours to reopen, when the generic ringtone on his phone blasted out from his pocket.  Stiles fumbled for it, having a good idea of who it was this time.  He beamed at the flashing screen when he saw ‘Call from Derek H.’ stamped at the bottom.  Which quickly slipped from his face when he realized he was getting a real live call from Derek right now.  He had not mentally prepared for this.  There had been no drills or dry runs, there was no military-grade helmet on hand, and he was going to crash and burn and for sure mention beatings again.

He could always let it go to voicemail—he stared warily at his phone like it might attack him into answering—but he had already left Derek hanging once.

He pressed ‘Answer,’ held the phone up to his ear and made a croaky noise at the speaker.

Yep.

That was his level of suave.

He had not disappointed.  Or impressed.

Derek didn’t seem to notice the complete and total ineptitude.  In fact, he hadn’t even paused long enough for a proper greeting.  Not that Stiles had been capable of offering one, but the opportunity hadn’t even been presented before he was admitting easily, “I didn’t know you still had classes.”  His voice punched Stiles in the solar plexus and vibrated outward.  It was familiar, but not.  Anything too harsh had been scrubbed away over time, like it had been worn down by the elements.

Stiles felt twitchy and half-stupid and he couldn’t believe they were so out of sync with each other’s lives that Derek didn’t know what he’d been doing the last year.  The last five.  “Yeah,” he said, too loudly.  “Grad school.”  He added in a self-deprecating tone, “Decided to put off being an adult by another three years.  Plus, student loan debt—it’s oh so sexy.  Everybody's wearing it these days.”

The line was quiet enough to hear Derek breathe in once and then: “You’ve been an adult far longer than that.”  It sounded sad and regretful and choked with bad memories. 

And Stiles realized, with a knot of dread forming in his gut, that this Derek was so different from the one he’d left behind.  Stiles didn’t know him.  Not at all.  He simultaneously wanted to mourn the old Derek and clean house to impress the new one.  “Um, yeah,” he agreed blankly, because it’d been too long and he had to say something and all he could think about was that they were not talking about the fact that Derek wanted to talk to him.  That five years later, Derek was still thinking about him.  Offering him signs.  And he couldn’t bring it up but he also couldn’t not focus on the not talking about it.

“Stiles.”  Derek’s voice was softer than it ever had been before, careworn and rough-hewn.  Stiles didn’t want to think about what he’d been through for that defiant edge to’ve been sanded down. 

“Yeah?”

Derek’s voice was warm and it made Stiles feel like he was sinking into the world’s most luxurious bath, with, like, petals and bath salts and Enya playing in the distance.  “How’ve you been?” Derek asked with the barest hint of amusement.

“Mr. Stilinski?” was called down the hall just as Stiles opened his mouth, smiling.  He was more than content to ignore that his advisor was finally back from ‘lunch’ and ready for him.  She went back to peering at his name on the clipboard where he’d signed up as the next appointment, as though checking she’d pronounced it correctly.  She turned her head, glancing to the left and right of her office door.  The owlish blinking and semi-curious glance at him meant she didn’t remember him in the slightest.  He could totally just pretend he was there for someone else and keep talking to Derek. 

He would have too, if Derek’s inconvenient wolfy senses hadn’t ruined it.  “Somewhere to be?”

Stiles bit his lip and adjusted the strap of his messenger bag on his shoulder.  It was brown canvas and had a big black ‘X’ stamped on it inside a circle.  Because not that much had changed since he was sixteen.  “Nothing that’s… dire,” he hedged.

He could hear a smile in Derek’s voice and wondered if he was actually wearing one to go with it.  Stiles might pay good money to see that.  “We can catch up later.”

“You sure you’ll still want to talk to me in a few hours?” Stiles joked, only he was pretty sure they could both hear the very embarrassing not-joking, wholly vulnerable undercurrent to his voice.  It shook; he was trying not to be outright mortified.

“I’ve already waited five years.  I don’t think a few hours is going to put me off,” Derek said, like it was an off the cuff remark, like it hadn’t just completely fucking blown Stiles’ mind.  Because that was talking about it, that was head-on addressing it and, last Stiles had checked, they both had the, ‘ignore it until it goes away,’ style of conflict resolution.

Okay, who the fuck was this Derek and what had he done with the surly bastard who only knew how to frown with his eyebrows and come up with terrible plans?  And, really, it should have been a silly thought, but they’d dealt with weirder shit than a pod-person Derek over the years so it was a sadly viable scenario that this Derek was not Derek.  “We’ll talk later then?” Stiles said, hoping he wasn’t betraying his thoughts with his tone.

Derek still sounded amused and warm.  “I’ll call you tonight,” he said firmly. 

Stiles let out a shaky breath as the line disconnected.  He hoped Cora hadn’t changed her number.  Hopefully it was a Hale trait to text the new one along if she had.  For all he knew she was a pod-person too, but whatever. 

  Is there any chance your brother has been supplanted by a kinder, cuddlier version and he’s really tied up with wolfsbane ropes in some hunter’s basement somewhere?

It took almost two hours to get the dry response: 

  Seems possible.

Stiles might have laughed for a good few minutes before saving the text to his SIM card.  Damn but he’d forgotten how much he missed Beacon Hills and all the people that came along with it until a few days ago.

 


 

Stiles clicked through his backlog of emails.  Over five days of being AFK (AWOL for nerds) had led to him getting a bit overrun.  He organized them the way he always did:

Grabby Hands, which meant he wanted in personally.  Those were fairly rare in the grand scheme of things.

Egghead, which meant he had relevant info he could pass along that would help.  Those were the bulk.

Landfill, which meant he wasn’t even going to bother with a reply.  Usually internet trolls or Alphas or other supes that had gotten on his banned list.  Those made up a little less than five percent.

He pulled up his website – stopdropandlycanthrop.net – and added a few things to his public lexicon and at least a small novella to his private bestiary, that the pack and very few others had access to.  He’d been slacking hard on updating it, leaving his notes spread out over his coffee table or crumpled down the sides of his couch cushions or, on one memorable occasion, in a half-eaten box of Triscuits.

Only a year ago he’d had maybe a hundred hits a week on the thing.  After he’d helped out that Pack in Nevada, his server had crashed no less than six times until he’d upped the bandwidth to Threat Level Orange.  Now he had at least twenty emails a day through the website alone.

Apparently, this past week, a lot of people had scrolled past the more innocuous links in his sidebar:

   Lexicon

        It’s got six arms and it’s eating me – call it if you know it. 

   Photo Gallery

        You won’t believe it ‘til you see it.

   In the Know and In Your Area

        The International Supernatural Buddy System. 

   Donate

        I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me.

And gone straight to the links that led to his email:

   SOS

        Pick your Seasoned Traveler Into the Land of Everything Supernatural’s brain.  Just call me STILES, baby.

   Contract Killer

        Stiles goes merc.  If the price is right.

The hyperlink embedded in the word price led to a spreadsheet of how he tallied his fee.  The headings included:

   Travel  (per mile)

   Time Spent  (per day)

   Research (per hour)

        Three-hundred dollar surcharge per day past time allotted.  (The surcharge was really per missed class but he tried not to give away any personal information through the site.)

        If injured, half the total cost of hospital bills falls to you.

He had thirty-seven with the heading CK on them.  He ignored those to come back to later.  There were six emails from the Alpha in Oregon from two months ago and Stiles angrily banned that email address too.  Danny had already blocked his personal IP but dude was not getting the message.

Eight of the emails were alerting him to donations made through the site.  All-fucking-right.  Most of them were for five or ten dollars but one was for sixty and another was for three-hundred and twenty.  Which meant Stiles could afford boxes upon boxes of Frosted Flakes this week.  Sugary goodness in his tummy for the win. 

He made sure to message back a, ‘thank you,’ to all of them.  The one to TheApexAlpha, his high-rolling donor, the gushiest.

He scrolled back to the mercenary emails and dismissed twenty-seven of them through location alone.  (He didn’t have his home base of Baltimore listed anywhere on the website as a security precaution so people messaged him from half a world away regularly and often.)  He added another six to the pile due to disinterest but made sure to give them his top picks for werewolves/hunters/helpers, whatever they needed, in their area.

The last four were on the reasonable side in terms of distance and involved something Stiles was either ace at dealing with – so it felt cruel to pawn them off onto someone else who might not be – or were descriptions of supernatural creatures that he couldn’t peg from the details given.  Those always intrigued him as expanding his bestiary was never not in the top five of his life goals.

Stiles messaged them all back.  The poltergeist one he scheduled the earliest, on Saturday afternoon – four days away, the one that sounded like an intulo run amok—Stiles was almost certain there was an unchecked nest somewhere close by—he scheduled for Saturday evening.  Yeah, so he was cocky, all right?  The other two were mystery beasties and Stiles set them up for Sunday and Wednesday.

He caught his tongue between his teeth and finally clicked through the eighty-some SOS emails, which were easily the most time-consuming.  Nearly a third of them were answered in the lexicon, the very first link on the site.  Stiles answered them anyway, because he was a nice dude and someone might want to pay it forward and donate.  All but two of them were in his private bestiary, those he forwarded to Chris.

He was copying the passages from his entry on ‘Barghest’ for one of the emails when his phone started vibrating in his pocket.  Stiles yawned and yanked it free, surprised yet not when he saw ‘Derek H.’ was calling him.  He blinked at the clock.  He kept forgetting about the time difference between them now (something that irked his dad to no end).  It was already two in the morning for him, which meant it was eleven for Derek.  He wondered how well Derek slept and rubbed at his own chest as the thought centered.

The aftermath of what they had done for their parents all those years ago, his ‘darkness,’ had never been worse than it was in Beacon Hills.  As soon as he’d moved across the country, he’d become convinced that it was the town itself that had amplified it because it was a destructive force all its own.  He blamed Derek less than ever for leaving.

He honestly couldn’t understand why he’d come back.

“Hey,” Stiles said sleepily, something content and happy curling through him while he mindlessly copied and pasted and sent out emails.  “There’s no chance you’re not you, is there?” 

There was a stilted pause.  “I haven’t had to try to wind my way through your thought process in a long time.  A little help?”

Stiles chuckled a little.  “There’s a good example right there.  The last time we talked you would’ve known exactly what I meant and you would’ve called me an idiot.  Plus, asking for help?  Very un-Derek-like.”  He aimlessly roved his mouse over his, ‘Have you tried turning it off and on again?’ mousepad in odd ellipticals.  “You’re, like… nice now.  Patient.  Honest and confident.  Wholly unlike the Derek I knew so I’m just wondering if you’re not some sort of pod-person and the real Derek has been whacked over the head with an eighty-pound sturgeon and is unconscious in some basement somewhere and smelling of fish and, shit, this sounds really bad.”  

This pause was painfully longer and Derek’s voice was tight when he answered.  “It’s been a long time.”

Stiles winced because, yeah, he’d totally sounded like a dick.

But he still wasn’t convinced it wasn’t a legitimate concern.

He was glad Derek was willing to brush it off either way, even if he sounded the slightest bit wounded by it.  “It has,” Stiles agreed in a whoosh of breath, trying to curb the impulse to ask Derek to tell him something only the two of them would know.  That was a bridge too far… wasn’t it?  Also, what the hell was Derek going to say that wasn’t recalling a shitty memory for one or both of them?  God, they really didn’t have any fluffy moments to choose from.

He suddenly understood Derek’s comment of, ‘you’ve been an adult far longer than that,’ a thousand times better.

“Miguel,” Derek said, apropos of nothing.

Stiles laughed and breathed back with serious gratitude, “Thank you.”  And maybe there was more between them than just shared shit because Derek had known what he was thinking and had been big enough to assuage his doubts, even though it had to have gutted him (even if only a little) to know Stiles was having them.  “I mean it.”

Derek’s voice wasn’t nearly as frosty, warmth shining through the chinks in his armor, when he responded, “You’re welcome.”

“So, five years.  Summarize, go.” 

Derek laughed, properly.  And, wow, that was a new sound for them.  Stiles liked it.  A lot.  “Uh.  I’m an Alpha again.”  Stiles let out a shocked, somewhat wounded noise unconsciously.  “Apparently when you lose the power the way I did, it’s not permanent.  It came back so slowly that I didn’t even notice it at first.  I haven’t bitten anyone else,” he added quickly, almost like he thought he owed the information to Stiles somehow.  He didn’t.  “It’s just Cora and I.”  His tone soured.  “And Peter on the fringes.”

Stiles wrinkled his nose.  “That sounds like Peter.”

“I work a construction job not far outside of town.”  And there was self-consciousness to his tone now, like he thought Stiles might judge him for not being a brain surgeon or something.  But Stiles thought he got it.  He could understand Derek wanting to build something rather than see another thing destroyed and, Alpha or not, he was only ever meant to be a Beta.  Taking direction must soothe some need in him.  “Cora’s going to BHCC and she’s doing pretty well.”

And that had to be like Derek was in classes, too.  Cora had a ten-year interruption in her formal education.  Stiles couldn’t imagine how much help Derek had to give her to bridge the gap.  “What’s she studying then, One Liners Sure to Make You Crap Your Pants?”

“Nothing so ambitious as that,” Derek said, wry.  “She’s going for a Math degree.  She was always good at it,” and Stiles could be wrong but he was pretty sure there was a glimmer of brotherly pride there, “she likes the logic of it.”

That made sense, too.  Stiles couldn’t think of anyone who’d want a constant more than Cora.

“What about you?”

Stiles snorted.  “We’ll move on to me but there’s no way I’m buying that that was five years worth of information, just FYI.  Let’s see, I went to Towson for undergrad and got my degree in Biochemistry.  Then I got into Hopkins, since I might’ve been a bit homesick and threw myself into academia with an almost feral overzealousness, so my grades were good enough.”

Derek chuckled a little at that, soft like he was loathe to interrupt.

“Now I’m going for my Graduate degree in Functional Anatomy and Evolution.”  Stiles screwed up his face, trying to think of what the hell he’d been doing with himself for the past five years.  And what Derek would care about knowing.  And what of those things Stiles was actually willing to share.  “I’ve been working an unpaid internship at the genetic research lab in Lutherville for the past two summers and, hopefully, it’ll be paid this summer since Betty and Bombay Mike love me over there and they seem to have some sway over Boss Man Porfirio Peter.  Seriously, what is it with guys named Peter?”

“I didn’t think subjects held much sway over their dictators, isn’t that sort of the point of them?”

Stiles laughed, pleased.  “Way to keep up, dude.  And that’s why I went with Diaz and not Pol Pot.  Still an asshole either way, but not, like, personally mass-murdering people either.  We’ll say he learned from his namesake and that’s why he’s willing to let his minions have a voice, because the last thing dude needs is a revolution on his hands.”

“It’s nice to see that not too much about you has changed.  Unrelated tangents are still a common occurrence.”

“We’ve got to ease you into the actual adult, refined-Stiles behavior.  Wouldn’t want to send you into a state of shock by being irresponsible and just tossing out my newfound, classy-as-fuck state of being.”

“I appreciate the concern, truly.”  Derek’s voice was half-indulgent, half-dry as hell.

“So, not that I’m not enjoying this – because I definitely am,” Stiles hurried to add, “but this all came a bit out of nowhere.  Why the sudden lifeline?” 

There was a long, breathless pause from Derek’s end before he said, “Does it matter?”

No, Stiles decided, it didn’t.  It grated on his curiosity but he wasn’t going to push.  So maybe more had changed since he was sixteen than he was giving himself credit for.

He didn’t have classes on Wednesday, so the numbers on his alarm clock that were purposefully climbing higher had no effect on him.  To his immense surprise, it wasn’t an effort at all to keep Derek talkative and engaged and he seemed to notice the late hour as much as Stiles did – which was to say, not at all.  He was almost eager to catch up and he hung on Stiles’ every word – even when all he did was talk about the rum and coconut-flavored coffee at the cart on campus and how Starbucks had never put anything so delicious in his mouth and he tried to understand Stiles’ major and why he’d chosen it.

It was nearly the best token effort Stiles had gotten so far, second only to his dad.  Who had actually bought his own used copy of Stiles’ Intro textbook so he could bring something to the table when he went off on his rambling tangents about it.

Stiles wasn’t sure he’d ever been more touched by anything his dad had done.

It was past six by the time he started yawning.  Derek summarily sent him to bed not even a minute later.  Stiles was too tired to even protest, much.  He was soothed further by Derek promising to call the next day.

This was apparently going to be a thing they did then.  Which meant Stiles was going to have to change Derek’s ringtone and contact info – he was far more than just another Derek in Stiles’ life.  He was the first, the original, the best.  Derek Classic.

Stiles grinned as he typed it in.

 


 

He didn’t even manage four hours before he was reacquainted with daylight and consciousness.  And it was as sudden and jarring as if he’d been hit in the face with a shovel.  Or a sturgeon.  He groaned and rubbed a hand over his face.  His phone told him it was ten twenty-three.  It also told him that Scott had finally beaten his old Halo 3 score – a victory three years in the making, the loser.  Stiles wished his phone could adequately convey his sarcasm when he texted back, ‘Congratulations.’

The other three texts were from Mace, aka Stony, whom he’d roomed with for half a semester before they’d found out that – while they made awkward, but genuine friends – they were not at all suited to living together.  The first was:

  Get up.

    (6:53 today)

The second was:

  You had Marchbanks, right?  Is she a sadist?  She’s a sadist, isn’t she?  I knew it.  She assigned Nichols.  NICHOLS.  Hasn’t it been legit proven that he’s a soul-sucking Dementor by now with an impressive stash of Polyjuice potion?  Can Dementors even use Polyjuice actually?  You probably need a digestive system, not that we even know that Dementors don’t have digestive systems.  Whatever, the point is: his prose is a ploy for my ever-living soul and she’s playing right into his hands, the sadist.  I know you have notes.  I remember the notes, the glorious notes, the notes that harmonized with the angels and shone like the motherflippin’ sun.  I will bribe you with all the coffee in the WORLD from that dinky campus cart you worship for said notes.  I don’t want to blow your mind here, but I have almost twenty-five bones.

    (7:14 today) 

The last just said: 

  Stiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiles.

    (7:37 today)

Stiles grinned and typed out:

  I was planning to ignore you but I’ve got to give it up for the Harry Potter references.  That gets you an hour with the notes, then my time becomes dependent on the caffeine drip you’ll be funding.  Where you at?

  Also, yes, Marchbanks is a sadist, in cahoots with the dean – who’s been possessed by particularly violent platypi with some seriously diabolical machinations in the works – and getting most of her pointers from Satan.  Condolences.

  Also also, massive failure on your part.  My mind is totally blown.  What thirteen-year-old girl’s allowance did you steal?

Stiles yawned and scratched at his stomach before stumbling out of bed and into the shower.  He fumbled around on the sink’s counter, leaning half-out of the curtain while the spray pitter-pattered down on his shoulder and the cold air suctioned itself to his wet skin.  He shivered, finally zeroing in on where his toothpaste and toothbrush were stacked carefully on top of one another.

He managed to yank them back into the warm shower without dropping either.  He brushed his teeth while he turned around under the water and leaned his head back.

When he hopped back out, there were two messages waiting for him on his phone.

  Student Union, mon frere.  Be there or be rhombus.  Don’t forget the heavenly, heavenly notes though, dude!  We are not about to have another Vampire Weekend situation on our hands.

One time, one time that had happened!  That was back when they’d thought they might be hipsters anyway.  They’d quickly found out they weren’t – despite Stiles being able to seriously rock thick, black-rimmed glasses.  (He still had fake ones he wore on occasion.)  Forget your ticket to a concert on the other side of town one time and no one would ever let you live it down.

He opened the next text and snorted.

  Be honest, you just wanted to use the plural of ‘platypus’ and you jumped at the first (and weak) opportunity presented, didn’t you?

Stiles quickly typed out, shrugging back into the jeans and t-shirt he’d been wearing on Monday:

  Be honest, you’re just mad you didn’t think to use it first, aren’t you?’

He added, fumbling through his desk drawers for his notes from two semesters back:

  Be there in ten.

He scratched at his earlobe, looking at the impressive mess he’d made both in the drawers and out of them in less than five minutes.  “If I were Stiles’ super secret notes, where would I go to be super secret?”  He squinted and looked around his apartment.  It was times like this that he hated how much space he had to himself.  The cost of the place was steep and, if not for his website, he’d never have been able to afford it.

Stiles bit his lip, trying to remember the place he’d known he’d remember.  Light bulb!  He tore over to his bookshelf and found the thick tome labelled Biomechanics of the Ectothermic Skeleton.  He flipped it over to the back cover and, sure enough, the manila folder with his notes from Marchbanks’ class spilled out.  Stiles had hidden them there back when he and Mace been living together due to Mace’s inability to keep anything in the condition he’d found it – whether that meant spilling coffee on it, his turtle—Chassis—somehow eating half of it or things ‘accidentally’ being set on fire (as seemed to happen an inordinate amount).  He simply couldn’t be trusted with anything so important.

Which was why Stiles intended to supervise this meeting, while he gorged himself on Jamaican Me Crazy coffee at someone else’s expense.

He awkwardly danced around, tugging on his shoes, the ends getting stuck under his heel while he tried to crook his finger under the curl of them and pull them on.  He nearly fell over twice.  He slipped on a plaid over-shirt, the one that had been resting on the round face of one of his kitchen stools, and grabbed his jacket.  Hopefully he could wrangle a pastry or two out of this in addition to the gallons of coffee.

 


 

He and Stony – from Mace to Stonemason to Stony, of course, and a nod to the epic love between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark (not that Stony appreciated that reasoning as much) – fucked around for the better part of two hours.  Stiles did manage to finagle a truly delicious-looking quiche out of him that was all surface as it turned out, because it tasted like asphalt.  Stiles was just hungry enough to eat it anyway, plus Stony flat-out refused to finance any more of his poor decisions.

They moved over to the library, stopping for two cups of coffee – both for Stiles – at the campus cart.  He half-heartedly worked on his Applied Statistics assignment due next week while Stony grumbled under his breath about evil platypi and Satan-toadying professors.  He angrily shifted back and forth between notes and book while Stiles hummed to himself, sipping his coffee and watching Stony more than anything else.

Stony didn’t seem to mind, absorbed in hating the world as he was.  He had an ugly spider web tattoo on the side of his neck that took up almost all the space between collar and jaw and Stiles honed in on that.  He could vaguely remember licking it, tracing it with his tongue, back when Stony had thought maybe he could be more than a heteronormative hipster.  He wasn’t the latter, he was the former, much to his liberal disappointment.  They still made out sometimes, and Stiles suspected half the joy of it was being able to tell his hippie parents about how interesting he was when it came to the Kinsey scale.

They couldn’t be prouder.

Stiles didn’t mind.  Stony was genuinely weird, like him, and they accepted that about each other rather than hid it and that was a pretty big fucking deal in Stiles’ mind.

He got bored of staring at the spider-less spider web and fiddled with his phone, which got shit signal down in the basement level where they were, so he crushed some candies (maybe a tad obsessively, but intermittently) when he couldn’t make his brain focus on Statistics either. 

Stony didn’t end up packing it in till half past five with an explosive breath and a hateful crinkling of his textbook’s pages. 

“All good?” Stiles asked, grinning cheekily when Stony looked up at him with a pinched expression.  He dropped his voice to an obnoxious and patronizing tone, like he was talking to a big pooch.  “What a happy face you have on.”

Stony flipped him the bird, shoved everything haphazardly into his bookbag and mumbled tiredly, “Thanks for the notes.”

Stiles saluted him, sipping from his fourth recycled paper coffee cup.  Which was a lot, even for him, but he wasn’t about to look the gift horse of free coffee in its buck-toothed mouth.

He packed up himself and parted ways with Stony at the bus stop with a perky wave, practically skipping across campus.  Another thing that ratcheted up the price of his apartment was that it was less than five minutes from the quad.  Which meant Stiles wasn’t going to let it go without clawing someone’s face off first.

He was down to the last dregs of his cup, which was lucky as it was just beginning to get cold, when he saw boots.  He frowned, looking up from his key ring, and realized the boots belonged to someone who was sitting outside his door.

“Is it okay that I’m here?”

Stiles blinked.

“Scott told me where you were staying now and I was between projects so I thought—”

“Derek?  You’re here.  In Baltimore.  You’re in Baltimore.  Do you know you’re in Baltimore?”

Derek stopped looking like he might upchuck his guts and grinned, a little lopsidedly and, fuck, Stiles had never seen an expression even close to the one Derek was wearing on his face before.  He was handsome, more so than he’d ever been – which was a feat, because he no longer looked like it was an effort just to put one foot in front of the other.  He looked almost… happy, oddly enough.  He rolled his eyes.  “Yeah, Stiles, I know I’m in Baltimore.”  His grin went the slightest bit uneasy as he stood up, shifting the bag from his lap onto his shoulder and picking up a paper cup of coffee that perfectly matched the one in Stiles’ hand.  “Is that all right?”

“All right?” Stiles parroted weakly.  “That’s fucking awesome!  I can’t wait to show you around.  Oh shit, how long have you been sitting out here?  I was down in the bowels of the library where you can only communicate by carrier pigeon and, wouldn’t you know it, mine died of tuberculosis last week.  Nasty death, it was, I was wearing the black band up till yesterday.  Short mourning period, I know, but Old Birdy wouldn’t have wanted me to wallow.  You can also try throwing your phone at the head and neck area of the person you want to contact – since that’s all it’s really good for down there – but you were out of range for that.  Fuck, did you fly here?  You must’ve.  As far as I know werewolves, badass as they are, can’t break the time-space continuum.  Physics, it’s a life ruiner.  Are you hungry or anything?  I’ve got Frosted Flakes or, well, Frosted Flakes, but only because it hits all the major food groups a growing boy needs – sugar, breakfast and cornflakes.”

One of Derek’s hands dropped down onto his shoulder as they stepped inside his apartment door, as if trying to ease him into a gentle stop.  It was strong and warm and weirdly comforting.

Stiles closed his jaw with a snap.  There were few people around that could keep up with him when he got up to full steam.  Derek had always been one of them.  Stiles felt a bit like an ass for jumping all over that.  For all he knew, Derek was exhausted out of his mind – they had been on the phone until three-some Derek’s time and then he’d apparently pretty much instantly hopped on a plane – and jet lagged to boot.

“How was it flying into the future then?”

Derek snorted.  “No crying babies.”  He offered a sharp grin, showing off the white of his teeth.  “At least not by the time the plane landed.” 

Stiles laughed outright.  “When the hell did you get funny?”

Derek shrugged and turned around, eyes roving over every inch of his surroundings, but he was still smiling so Stiles didn’t think he’d put his foot in it too badly.

His place was still a sty, the books he’d picked up and then pushed down again were spilled all around his desk chair and the contents of the drawers had joined that.  His desk was cluttered with notes and assignments and textbooks, clothes were everywhere even though Stiles had picked up not that long ago, his comforter and a few pillows had fallen onto the floor next to his bed and there were dishes in various, strategic places.

Stiles could feel embarrassment trying to choke him but Derek was the one who’d come by unannounced so it’s not like he’d had time to prepare.  So, yeah, it was Derek’s fault his place was a wreck.  That felt like logic he could stand behind.  He was pretty sure the universe could get behind it too, with Derek’s track record.

“Sorry about the mess,” he said anyway, even though it was really Derek’s doing.  Because he was fairly certain it was what grown-up-type individuals said in these situations.

Derek’s lips quirked, like he knew Stiles was faking his way through it.  He turned back suddenly and thrust out the coffee cup he’d been holding towards Stiles.  “That was the one you liked, right?  The rum and coconut Jamaican one?”

Stiles took a sip.  Derek looked the slightest bit self-conscious, like he’d just realized it might not be drinkable still.  Or maybe like he’d just realized he was admitting to listening to Stiles as he rambled on about completely inconsequential things – like his favorite flavor of coffee – and then gone to get it before he showed up here at Stiles’ door like the best damn package anyone would ever get.  Stiles swallowed; it had gone a little cold.

It still warmed him all the way through.

He couldn’t bite down on his smile as he looked back up at Derek, taking in the heavier scruff of a not-quite beard, his softer green eyes and easy expression.  “It’s perfect.”

Derek cleared his throat and the tips of his ears pinked.  And, holy hell, was that how Derek blushed?  No.  No, there was no way in hell Derek Hale was in Baltimore, in his apartment – looking pleased to be there, and blushing.

Stiles took a mental picture of him, standing with his head down, a restrained smile pursing his lips and flushed ears.  It was an effort not to bring up his fingers and say, ‘click,’ the way he usually did.  But he wasn’t looking to embarrass Derek further and he feared it would, or that Derek might think he was making fun.  And Stiles so wasn’t.

Besides, that was just for him, impressed in his memory forever.

Stiles smiled to himself while Derek set his bag down near the coffee table and walked to the far side of his apartment.  It was an open floor plan, a lot like the loft Derek’d had for a year or so actually, Stiles realized – and he was resolutely not reading anything into that.

The kitchen was to the left of the door, and bigger than Stiles would ever need considering his repertoire of meals didn’t extend past his beloved Frosted Flakes.  Though sometimes he sat on the counter by the fridge, leaned his back against the white ash wooden cabinets, kicked his feet up on the island – pot rack full of copper pots that had never been used hanging above it – and chowed down.  So it’s not like he didn’t spread out occasionally.  A low wall ringed it with an opening rather than a door, the top of it fat enough to serve as a bar of sorts so Stiles kept two stools shoved up against it on the outside in case he ever wanted to sit down and eat properly

Meaning not up on the counter with his fist shoved down a box of Tony the Tiger’s best and a glass of milk.

To the right of the door was one long wall that ran the length of his apartment, along which were three bookcases, his entertainment center and his crappy desk, which he’d gotten from IKEA and put together like he’d never used his hands before, so the top of it was the unlacquered underside and one of the legs was shorter than the others somehow.  The rolly chair in front of it was the most uncomfortable invention known to man and was likely used as a torture device in North Korea but Stony had given it to Stiles for Stiles’ last macaroon and a nickel he’d found in his pocket.

Stony had come out far ahead on that deal.

He had a squishy, floppy green couch that he’d found out by a dumpster on campus that was heaven to sit on across from his plasma TV.  The couch was broken and tired and it had given up completely and gone flabby.  Stiles loved it like someone else might love a puppy or a child.  The coffee table in front of it was one Scott had found him as an apartment-warming gift in a thrift store for three dollars and fifty cents.  It was nicked, sagging at the center, its black paint chipping, and on the lower bar were stacks and stacks of back issues of Wired, Popular Science and The Economist (a gift from his dad when he’d turned twenty).  Two black leather armchairs sat, slouched, at the short ends of either side of it.

His bed was up on a raised platform in the next ‘room,’ barely even a step up on the wood floors, and it was the single most expensive thing in his apartment.  It was huge and pushed right up against the wall on one side, sandwiched in a corner of the little cubby the walls created.  Only a small nightstand sat next to it with its one drawer.  It had a hollow underneath that and an alarm clock, a picture of his mom and a lamp on top of it.  The far wall the bed wasn’t quite pressed to was one huge expanse of grated windows.  Stiles had had to get the heaviest curtains in the known universe to block out the amount of sun that streamed through in the early morning.

There was one hall that led off the main room, down which was his bathroom on the side and his laundry room at the end.  The latter looked like it had once been a makeshift prison cell that the makers of Saw would pretty much cream their pants over.  It was stone walls, always twenty degrees colder than the rest of the apartment, and couldn’t quite fit his washer, dryer and Stiles in all at once with the door closed.  Which was lucky.  Because the second the door closed, Stiles was immediately struck by the certainty: I’m gonna die here.  It had one shelf for his detergent and dryer sheets, which had been put up by someone who had a) clearly found the wood they’d used washed up on a beach somewhere by the smell of it and b) had a lot of extraneous nails they were trying to get rid of.

His bathroom was tiny, especially when contrasted with the rest of the apartment.  But he could reach everything from the shower, which helped as he was pretty much constantly forgetting things or deciding to double up on his ablutions so as not to be even later to wherever he was going.  The light in it was a bit… hospital-y and it was tiled in the ugliest salmon color in existence but Stiles had found this bath mat that felt like what Stiles thought clouds were made of so, even with all its drawbacks, it was one of his favorite rooms.

Some days he would just kick off his shoes, walk into his bathroom and stand on the mat in front of the shower while he played Fruit Ninja for fifteen minutes.

Or an hour.

Derek explored all of it while Stiles heated up his gift of coffee in the microwave, humming Ho Hey under his breath.  He was already halfway through it, drinking from his travel mug, when Derek wandered in to meet him in the kitchen.  His brow was furrowed, like he was trying to figure out how to phrase what he wanted to say.  Eventually he huffed and decided, “It’s not what I was expecting.”

Stiles grinned over his coffee, the clinging heat warming his nose.  “Been thinking about my apartment a lot, have you?” 

Derek’s ears reddened and Stiles considered taking a mental picture of it again but his brain’s SD card was bound to run out of memory if he kept that up.

“You’ve got to be ravenous, right?  I mean, wolfy metabolism, upwards of five hours on a plane, the laws of nature say you’re hungry now.  It’s a biological fact at this point.  Which is lucky because all I’ve had to eat was this rancid quiche that looked like all the good things in the world – Mass Effect 6 being released a month early, season four of Sherlock finally starting, Chris Hemsworth coming back to play Thor in Avengers 4 - and instead it was like Eric Bana and Edward Norton in the Hulk reboots.  Total letdown.”

Derek shrugged, lips twitching up as he watched Stiles get up to monologue-levels of ramble.  “I could eat,” he said easily.

Stiles perked a brow at him, throwing back the last of his coffee and grumbling as he set the mug in his sink.  “Your succinctness tends to highlight and accentuate how ridiculous my babbling gets.”

When Stiles turned back around, Derek was standing right in front of him, hands shoved in the pockets of his jacket.  “The babbling is very Stiles,” he said, gaze soft.  “Missed it more than I thought.”

Stiles’ blushing wasn’t anything so contained.  Instead it was a flush that slowly flooded the apple of his cheeks, dripped down his neck and really took pride in completely drenching his chest in heat and pink.  Even Derek’s blush was succinct-ish while Stiles’ rambled.  Stiles cleared his throat and snatched up his keys off the counter.  “Awesome, there’s this Italian deli a few blocks up that’s somehow bottled pure joy and glazes its pastrami with it.  It’s that Doctor Who episode come to life, I swear, only this is super unlikely to cause an airborne virus that’ll kill everyone in seven minutes.”  Stiles opened the door for Derek, who was looking a bit bemusedly at him, and locked it behind them. 

Derek easily fell into step next to him while Stiles detoured a bit to wind through campus and point out the buildings he lived in part-time, using his hands to narrate.  “Sciences building, where I spend roughly seventy-three-point-two percent of my time.  There’s a dragon in human skin as head of the department, Professor Calder, who is always there and who terrifies me way more than even, like, post-dead Peter.  He collects animal teeth… and I suspect human teeth as well, he just doesn’t keep those on display.  Would give him away, you know?”  Stiles affected a shiver.  “If at any point I’m murdered horribly and my hair’s singed or I have a talon in my stomach,” Stiles jerked his thumb towards the third-floor window, “I’m giving you a major clue as to who done it.”

Derek rolled his eyes.  “Noted.”

Stiles skipped past the coffee cart.  “This you found already, the closest thing to heaven on earth.”  He saluted Caitlyn, the girl who worked it on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and kept going.  She dutifully returned the gesture.  “This huge building here that looks like it might eat you is the library.  I have very fond memories,” he said wistfully.  “There’s a vent on the lower level that is like sleeping in the mouth of a chimera.  Can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up curled up next to it.  By the way, chimeras?  Totally ran into one of those my second undergrad year.  Man, do those things look like a five-year-old’s imagination run wild.  You know, if your five-year-old also had sociopathic tendencies.  Well, conduct disorder tendencies since you can’t call ‘em sociopaths until they’re all grown-up and murdering people.”

He waved an uncaring hand at the AMR.  “Those are the dorms I lived in for about a month before I moved out and got my apartment.  My friend Stony still lives there.  We are not compatible roommates,” Stiles added darkly.  “Too many of my clothes ended up tossed out of the window and buried in the snow to put out the flames.  Don’t ask.”

“Wasn’t going to,” Derek said, raising his brows.

Stiles nodded approvingly.  “This is the quad.  It is glorious, as you can see, with the brown patches and desperate air of Frisbee broness-slash-AXE body spray.  It is, however, perfectly located near the Student Union.”  They crossed to the other side of campus but Stiles didn’t run out of stories he wanted to tell Derek and he kept up a steady stream of them as they walked the three blocks to the bistro.

“This is the bus stop I was at when the wind blew my notes for my Primate Evolution exam out of my hand and then the bus, which was thirty minutes late, chose that extremely poorly timed moment to show up, drive over them and simultaneously spray me with slush.  Good day.  I would also like to add, as a footnote to that story, I totally got a ninety-two on that exam.  I am an epic beast, much like early haplorhines.” 

“Impressive,” Derek murmured, gaze never straying far from Stiles even as he pointed out his own personal landmarks. 

“This is where my friend, Lea—our almost-space princess—decided she was, in fact, better off without her dick ex-boyfriend, came dangerously close to succumbing to alcohol poisoning before vomiting on a stranger’s Chucks, thus alleviating that threat.  I tried to make an upchuck joke, naturally.  It did not go over well.”

“Some people,” Derek said sagely, “no senses of humor.”

“Exactly!” Stiles said brightly and slightly vehement, momentarily caught up in making his point all over again.  He motioned to a gray stone building.  “This is not a record store as I thought for the first two years I lived here but instead some hippie place where everything is made of hemp and smells like pumpkin spice.  You will be sorely disappointed if you think it’s a record store for two years, finally remember you want to go in it and find a bunch of unshowered people talking in floaty voices about rainsticks.  Let me save you that disappointment.”

Derek smirked.  “Much appreciated.”

Stiles pulled open the door to the deli and Derek let him order whatever he wanted for him.  Stiles couldn’t pretend not to be tempted to pick the grossest thing on the menu – if he’d been with Scott, he probably would have.  But this Derek was capable of smiling and Stiles found there was nothing in the world that would be worth taking that away.  He ended up ordering him the joy-glazed pastrami sandwich too.  Which Derek agreed was, indeed, soaked in happiness.

Stiles ate his in seven minutes flat while Derek savored his, not even halfway through.  Stiles may have resented him a bit for still having something so delicious within easy reach while Stiles barely remembered shoveling his into his mouth.  It must have shown on his judgmental face because Derek pushed his other half towards Stiles.

“I am not literally taking food out of your mouth, Derek,” he said, staying strong, even as he stared forlornly down at the sandwich that his stomach wanted more than Imagine Whirled Peace ice cream and Jamaican Me Crazy coffee combined.

Derek shrugged.  “Either you eat it or I’ll throw it away.” 

“You wouldn’t dare,” Stiles said in a scandalized voice, taking an ambitious bite of it before Derek could insult it again.  He didn’t even bother to swallow before he remembered.  “Oh man, there’s an art gallery just a few doors down with a perfect portrait of,” he waved his hand over Derek and said soberly, “the animal behind the man.”

Derek perked a questioning eyebrow, already ninety percent skeptical, but still followed behind Stiles as he led them to it after they'd (he'd) finished eating, jumping from cement slab to cement slab so as not to step on the cracks.  “I'm not sure whose back I'd be breaking these days but seems like a dick move to risk it just because I couldn't be bothered to take the time to watch my step, y'know?"

Derek wisely chose not to comment on his ridiculousness and Stiles shoved him in, palms  flat on Derek’s back, steering him through the labyrinthine set-up until they stopped in front of the painting he’d been talking about.

“This?”  Derek raised both incredibly gymnastic eyebrows.  “This is what you think looks so much like me?”

Stiles patted him on the shoulder and gestured to the painting in his best Vanna White impression.  “Like looking in the mirror, huh?”  The painting was done in simple style, all clear, broad lines.  It showed a thin man in an avocado-colored pinstripe suit, the perspective growing narrower as the eye worked down the body.  The head was largest and then the shoulders until it tapered down to the ankles, which were pressed together and about a fifth the span of the shoulders.  It ended in huge, thin feet in brown Oxfords.  The hands were clasped in front of the crotch and the head was that of a wolf’s, the human grin that bared its teeth the most eye-catching thing about it.

“My entire world has been up-ended,” Derek said so dryly that Stiles was surprised the plant in the corner didn’t immediately brown up.

He grinned and nudged Derek with his shoulder, hissing out of the side of his mouth, “Cover me.”

Derek’s forehead furrowed.  “What?”

Stiles didn’t bother to say it again as he slipped in front of Derek so his front was up against the ropes that separated the patrons from the art and his back was pressed to Derek’s chest.  He ninja-grabbed his phone from his pocket and covertly looked around before snapping a picture of the painting.  He grabbed Derek by the wrist, leading him out with a nod to the curator as they passed the front desk, adrenaline making him huffy.

He fist pumped when they reached the sidewalk without being chased or shouted after and lovingly set the picture as Derek’s contact photo on his phone.  “Spitting image of you, it is.”

Derek snorted, but he didn’t seem all that put out.  He shoved his hands in his jacket pockets.  “Where to now, Stilinski?”

Stiles cleared his throat, affecting a posh accent.  “As your tour guide, I recommend one of the great, nearly lost theaters of Baltimore.  Built in 2012, it has two IMAX theaters and a rug without too much gum smooshed into the fibers and floors that are only ninety-seven percent sticky spot.  Saw XII is currently showing and it promises to be one of the best terrible films of the year.  I suggest buying a tub of popcorn, at least three boxes of Sno-Caps, a diet pop and settling in for the best sixty-seven minutes of our week.  Napping is permitted after your long flight or you can watch me stuff my face while I enjoy this next installment in a long series of films that get exponentially shorter run times, plots that left ridiculous behind a few hundred miles back, and more delectable gore scenes.  Either is sure to be a hoot.”

Derek chuckled, a low rumble in his chest that made Stiles’ internal organs vibrate.  “I can probably handle that.”

Stiles grinned from ear to ear.  “Excellent.”  He grabbed the sleeve of Derek’s jacket since his hands were still buried in his pockets and tugged him along.  “It’s only a few blocks up.  You’ve probably noticed that I’m centrally located to just about everything good in the world?  Strategic real estate hunting at its best; I’m basically a detail-oriented wizard with expert levels of patience.  It was not at all stumbled upon and accidental.”  Stiles stopped, turned, and pointed a finger in Derek’s face.  “Do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise.”

“How could I when a face like that inspires such confidence in your abilities?” Derek asked seriously, eyebrow perked.

“I like you, Hale,” Stiles said with a smile, brows furrowed but approving.  “Remind me again why I ever let you out of my sight when you’re clearly Team StiStil all the way?”

Derek shrugged, rather than comment on ‘StiStil’ the way Stiles knew he was probably dying to.  “Beats me,” he said easily, still looking unbothered.

Stiles liked him like this, a lot.  Unrufflable.  Was that a word?  Stiles made a mental note to Google it later, expanding his vocabulary one (potentially real) word at a time.  He was still pulling Derek along when they pushed open the doors to the huge, air conditioned lobby of the theater and got in line.  The electronic board overhead said they were less than twenty minutes away from the next showing of Saw XII.  Stiles fell to his knees in front of the glass barrier between the box office girl and himself and threw up his hands.  “It’s fate, Derek, the Thorian gods have decided we should see Saw on this day.  Our destiny is sealed.”  Stiles stood up so he could look the ticket lady in the eye with a sober, slightly recriminating expression.  “Not seesaw, okay, lady?  This is a serious moment and I don’t appreciate your shenanigans or your wordplay.”

Derek’s chest was shaking with silent laughter as he brashly pushed Stiles out of the way, reaching into his wallet already.  “Two for Saw XII at seven forty.”

Stiles forced his shoulder up against Derek’s, who held his ground so they were basically, and lamely, fighting over who had greater access to the hole between them and the ticket agent.  Stiles thrust out his student ID for the girl to check.  “Student discount for me, hombre.”

She perked an eyebrow at him, likely unimpressed by his use of the term ‘hombre’ to describe her, and looked down at the ID in her hands, the fingers of both framing it while she popped her gum.  She handed it back and knocked two dollars off Stiles’ ticket price. 

Derek paid before Stiles could thrust money at her.

“You didn’t have to do that, considering – if I recall correctly – you hate these films.”

“Don’t call these things ‘films,’” Derek admonished, shoving his wallet into the back pocket of his jeans again, “it makes them sound like cinematic achievements.  They’re movies, and grotesque ones at that.” 

“The best kind!” Stiles put in brightly.

Derek rolled his eyes.  “I am the one who showed up without warning and am making you play host though, so it’s the least I can do.”

Stiles considered that.  It wasn’t like Derek wasn’t getting a place to stay out of the whole dealie, which was worth way more than movie tickets.  He liked Derek’s reasoning, mostly because it brought guilt-free entertainment along with it.  “In that case, you’re getting the snacks too.

Derek’s lips twitched up and he saluted. 

Stiles ate at least half his body weight in Sno-Caps and popcorn and recoiled a total of two times – which meant there was good gore to be had because he was pretty much undisgustable at that point.  That one definitely didn’t sound like a word.  He added it to his mental list of ‘words’ to Google.

Derek took his arm and Stiles stood up, popcorn kernels and nonpareils flinging themselves from his person like lemurs jumping stupidly and haphazardly to their deaths.

“I think the soles of my shoes are cemented to the floor,” Stiles said with a groan, his stomach full to sloshing.  The sharp, suspenseful music accompanying the credits made that feel even more perilous.

He could just make out the shine of Derek’s eyes in the dark while the lights took their time coming up.   “Werewolf strength, remember?  I don’t think we’ll have to hack off any limbs just yet.”

Stiles grinned.  “That’s good, because we’ve both seen how terribly that can go.”  He piled his cup and empty boxes into his half-full bucket of popcorn and dropped it in the trash on the way out.  “That was just as spectacular and awful as I hoped it would be.”  Stiles jabbed Derek amiably with his elbow.  “Thanks for the company.  All my friends are squeamish losers who refused to nut up and spend eighteen dollars on the best hour of their puny lives.  It’s like they didn’t spend their teenage years in a constant state of near-death.”

Derek snorted because, happily, yes, that was a thing they could joke about now.  “No problem.  And it’s nice to see your tastes haven’t matured over the years.”

“I maintain it’s because I’ve known excellence since day one,” Stiles said, thrusting out his chin.  He walked backwards out of the theater, using his expressive hands as he outlined their next adventure.  “Okay, so the thought of food kind of makes me want to gag right now, but later I will be ravenous like I’ve never eaten before and possibly never will again and there will be no food besides Frosted Flakes in my apartment so I suggest we walk the six blocks – which might help me to not feel so much like Violet Beauregarde – to this kick-ass Greek place that’s going to close in like an hour.  We get some mouth-meltingly brilliant souvlaki and spanakopita and seafood saganaki and other ‘S’ words and take it back to my place, watch Firefly, which is all queued up and ready to go, and then sleep like we never have and possibly never will again.  Sound good?”

“Definitely doable,” Derek agreed. 

Stiles was actually happy about his stretched-to-its-limits stomach as they left the Greek hole in the wall with about a third of his usual haul.  It still merited two brown paper bags.  He unlocked his door and shoved inside, setting his mountain of food on the kitchen counter before plopping himself down on the couch and using his controller to bring up Netflix. 

Derek sat down next to him on the floppy, cushy thing so their thighs were touching, his own take-out in his lap.  They got through half an episode before Stiles noticed Derek had set his container on the coffee table and that his head was lolling, all adorable-like. 

Stiles nudged him with his shoulder and Derek’s head snapped up.  “Hey, I hear the bed’s free.  You’d better take it before someone realizes what a bananas bargain you’re getting here and tries to talk Wacky Stiles out of his super wacky deals.”

A slow, lazy smile spread over Derek’s mouth.  “I’m not taking your bed, Stiles.”

“Damn straight, you’re not,” Stiles agreed.  “I’d tackle you before you’d dragged it an inch.  You can sleep in it however.”

Derek huffed out a laugh, more breath than sound.  “The couch is fine.”

Stiles perked an eyebrow at him.  “One, it is so much more than fine.”  Stiles petted the poofy cushion beneath him.  “The bad man didn’t mean it, baby.  And two, uh, the couch is taken right now, big guy, and I don’t plan on ceding the territory any time soon.  So, it seems like the bed’s the only safe haven you have left to you.”

Derek’s lips curled at the edges and he patted Stiles on the knee, tired and gentle.  “Thanks.” 

Stiles pulled a Derek and saluted him – or maybe Derek had been pulling a him then? – while Derek dragged his feet over to the bed, pulling off his leather jacket and hanging it up on the back of Stiles’ desk chair.  He sat on the mattress and carefully unlaced his boots, placing them at the end of the bed in an even line, before rolling up his socks and shoving them down into the toe of one of them.  He took off his belt, rolled it up, and placed it between them but otherwise flopped face first in his t-shirt and jeans into the pillows and on top of the comforter. 

Stiles picked up Derek’s unfinished food and sealed it back up, putting it in his basically empty fridge along with his own full bag of yummy goodness.  He plopped himself down in his torture chair and Googled his mental list of words – unrufflable: borderline, no legitimate definition site popped up on the first page but at least there was no Did You Mean condescending to him.  Undisgustable: the height of nonsense and not even close to the realm of word-dom.  He also answered his emails for the day, which were almost uniformly SOS messages.  Meaning it was simple but time consuming.

He dragged his phone out of his pocket when he was done with that, realizing there was definitely someone he owed a call.  He glanced over at Derek, who was so flat on the bed it looked like he was mid-osmosis with it.  He stepped outside his door without latching it.  He left it open a few inches just in case Derek woke up, that way he would be able to hear and see him and know he hadn’t been abandoned.  He scrolled down to his Hungry Eyes contact.

Scott did not appreciate the reminder of the time he’d tried to eat Stiles.  Stiles was pretty sure he appreciated it enough for the both of them.

“Hey, man.”  Scott already sounded like he was grinning so wide he probably looked demented when he answered.

“You sent me a Derek,” Stiles accused.

Scott made a pleased humming sound in the back of his throat.  “That’s what you get for not telling me you took my advice and went for it – a surprise Derek sighting.”

Stiles smiled to himself.  “Dude, I should keep things from you more often.”

Scott made a faux-appalled noise and then said after a minute, “You should probably call your dad, let him know you’re going off grid.  I imagine your next few days are going to feature impressive laser-focus on one individual for a kid with poorly controlled ADHD.”

A laugh took Stiles by surprise.  “Hungry Eyes and the ADHD kid.  Why don’t we have a buddy movie-slash-Western based on us yet?”

“Ugh,” Scott groaned, “I hate you.  One time I decide you look tasty and you can’t let it go.  This qualifies as ‘obsession,’ by the way.  You should contact a therapist.  I’m hanging up.  Call your dad, schedule an appointment and go easy on Derek – I got the feeling he’s been building up to this for a while.”

Stiles swallowed but managed to get out without much of a crack in his voice, “Aye, aye, O Alpha Mine.” 

Stiles called his dad as soon as Scott was off the line, happy for the time difference as it was working in his favor for once, and let him know he might not be around for the next few days.  Without giving the reason why.  His dad knew better than to ask if the information hadn’t been offered and instead bid him good luck in all his undoubtedly foolish endeavors.

His dad really did know him too well. 

He stepped back inside, closing the door with a quiet snick.  Derek was out cold.  Stiles was still riding the high of him being there and settled in to play a few levels of Plants vs. Zombies while the giddiness wore down.  Two hours later, he leaned back and rubbed at his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.  He stretched and yawned, looking over at the wall of windows.

The moon was half full and the stars indiscernible in the light from the city.  Derek’s face was smooth and serene and awash in the warm, yellow glow from the loft across the street.  He looked deep into sleep, flattened on the bed and uncovered but somehow still seeming warm and snug.  His hair was spiky, tousled and messy, his features soft and lax and not hunted like Derek had always seemed to be when Stiles was younger.  He was imperfect in all the most perfect ways and Stiles felt utterly and in all ways content looking at him, warmth filling him from his chest and snaking outward.

 


 

Stiles groaned and pulled the covers over his head.  He’d stupidly forgotten to draw the curtains last night and the sun was strong and orange on the backs of his eyelids.  A strip of something heavy weighted him down, a diagonal line across the small of his back that ended at his hip.  He thought it might be Derek’s arm, once he’d surfaced from sleep enough to realize it was likely not the world’s tiniest tree felled on him.

No one had yelled ‘timber’ besides, so strike two against the tree idea.

He rubbed his nose, scrunching up his face against the ball of comforter in his hand and turned his head to meet Derek’s sleep-stupid smile.  He was drenched in early morning sunshine, the comforter twisted up around his hips, their bodies kind of mirroring one another’s – both pressed chest first into the mattress – but not touching apart from Derek’s brazen arm placement.

Derek’s eyelids were heavy and his scruff had gotten even thicker overnight.  An odd part of Stiles, the main ninety-three percent actually, wanted to bite it but his mouth tasted like decomposing rodent and probably smelled at least half as terrible.  Plus, one didn’t just go around biting people’s beard hair.  He was pretty sure his mom would’ve agreed with that one and offered advice along those lines if she had known that Stiles was going to be weird enough to warrant it.

He finally tore his eyes away from the wrinkles in Derek’s t-shirt, the tangled hair, and the creases in his arms and cheek put there by the pillow and sheets from sleeping hard to check the alarm clock.  It was six fifty-three.  He had to be on campus by nine for his first class.  His first alarm hadn’t even gone off yet.  He snuggled back down in the comforter and turned to look at Derek.  “Morning,” he said, his voice more gravelly than it could ever go otherwise and fading from strong to weak like an old timey radio.

The corners of Derek’s lips pulled in opposite directions, a soft smile spreading over them.  “Morning.”

Stiles shrugged his shoulders, which wasn’t all that easy since he was still actively trying to become one with his mattress.  “I hope you don’t mind that I crawled in with you last night but the bed’s the size of my old room, the one you were constantly violating – uninvited might I remind you, so I figured you could suck it up either way.”  Stiles had never actually intended either of them to sleep on the sofa with a bed the size of a football field – hyperbole! – enticing them from the other side of the room.

“I have a feeling I’ll survive the intrusion,” Derek said, putting on a brave face.

Stiles knocked his knuckles into Derek’s shoulder with a snort.  “Big of you, man.”  He made a whining noise and rolled over onto his back, rubbing his eyes.  “I’ve got class at nine.  I’m kind of a scheduling ninja so I have three pretty much back to back today, but I won’t get out till about five since my last one only meets once a week and is long as fuck.  I figure we can meet on campus around then since I’ll be well into the process of starving to death by that time, as a real sit-down lunch is impossible to squash in there – I know, I’ve tried – and then go from there?” 

Derek nodded, yawning.  “Sounds good.”

Stiles hopped out of bed, feeling far more awake – which he knew wouldn’t last – now that a plan was in place, and slipped on his comforter, his heel sliding over cotton and hardwood, but he managed to only give a dignified wobble and stay upright.  Derek snorted behind him.  Stiles flipped him off.  “It’s time for the greatest meal of the day, Derek, and, for that, I may not even share it with you.  It’s that special time when no one will judge you for eating Frosted Flakes until your mouth tastes of nothing but sugar and magnificence.”

“You’ve gotten stranger,” was Derek’s only commentary. 

Which, yeah, point.  College had been kind of eye-opening in that regard.  Not only were you allowed to let your freak flag fly, you were encouraged to.  Some people got him and some people didn’t and, either way, it was just what it should be.  He’d always have Scott and Lydia and Kira and Isaac and so nothing else really intimidated him.  “I know, they – the mole-people who lurk in the Hollywood hills and secretly control what gets made and what collects dust in their burrows – are bound to make an odd indie film about my life any day now.  It’ll give I Heart Huckabees a run for its money in both strangeness and star power.  I think Idris Elba should play me.”

Derek laughed outright.  It was glorious.  He rolled out of bed and held up his thumb, closing one eye and staring intently at Stiles.  “I could see that.”

Stiles grinned.  “Like looking in the mirror, huh?” he echoed himself from the day before, raising his brows.

“I regularly get the two of you confused,” Derek said dryly, following Stiles into the kitchen, who graciously set them both up with a bowl of sparkly happiness, sharing the closest thing he had to pirate treasure in the world.  He would keep it in a safety deposit box but then he’d have to visit the bank upwards of six times a day and it would close at five, effectively cutting off his three a.m. rendezvous with a tiger named Tony.  Which was patently unacceptable.

He had two bowls before ruffling up the back of his hair, the grease making his skin feel like he’d stuck his hand in a vat of bacon fat.  “I think I’m due for cleanliness,” he said, pulling a face as he rubbed his fingers against his palm, disgusted but also unable to stop feeling it.  He looked back at Derek, who was still on his first helping like there was no chance Stiles was going to take it from him.  He clearly wasn’t getting the memo about the prey signals Stiles’ brain was currently sending out.  “You can head back to bed, it’s still early yet, or watch whatever on Netflix.”  Stiles waved his hand towards the TV halfheartedly.

Derek smiled, soft and tired.  He did that, the smiling thing.  Like, a lot.  It was getting disconcerting how not-disconcerting it was becoming.  “I’m sure I’ll figure out something to do with myself,” he said, voice deeper and more growly – a drowsy, warm growl – than Stiles had ever heard it.  His eyelids were drooping again.

The sight of Derek half-asleep in his kitchen was something Stiles could easily get addicted to and he turned away from it.  He shook his head, ran water into his bowl in the sink and trooped off to the shower, grabbing clothes out of the dryer, where they mostly lived, after running it for a few minutes until they got warm.  He pressed them to his face as he stepped into his cold bathroom.

He stood on his bath mat made of clouds and kittens and undressed, setting up his iPod in the dock to play some old school Beyoncé, setting it to repeat XO and a few others on a loop.  He hoped Derek wouldn’t kill him for it.  He remembered to grab his toothpaste and toothbrush and shove them onto the shelf in the shower before getting in this time.

He placed his clean clothes on the lid of the toilet and piled up his dirty ones in the sink before belting out the chorus and stepping onto the suction cup mat on the bottom of his shower.  After nearly braining himself a dozen times with his more risqué dance moves, he’d finally given in and bought the shower safety equivalent of a walker.  He figured living to sing some GaGa the next day was worth sacrificing a few cool points. 

He washed his hair while doing some impressive hip rolls and fought the noise of the shower to sing Love Game so it was crystal clear to his own ears.  Derek hadn’t burst in and strangled him yet so all appeared to be good on the pop-western front.

He took a long shower, lingering for a whole half hour before emerging into a curtain of steam.  He killed another fifteen minutes simply waiting to cool down enough to feel like he wouldn’t die of heatstroke if he put clothes on again.  He pulled on jeans faded by his washer – which took its job a little too seriously.  Stiles suspected it had no life outside of work and went a little anal due to its isolation in the murder-room.  He added to that ensemble a Killers t-shirt and a plaid over-shirt.  He finger-combed his hair, dragging it from side to side and spraying everything with water droplets.

Derek had already washed both their dishes and was intently studying his bookshelves, one of which was all fiction, the next nonfiction and the last all his supernatural compendiums and resources.  That was predictably the one Derek was standing in front of.

Stiles tilted his head and smacked his palm into the side of it, trying to get the water out of his ear.  He shook his head, feeling it dislodge, and said, “Hey, there’s a bakery down the street and I’ve still got about forty-five minutes until I need to get to class.  You up for it?”

Derek nodded easily, already grabbing his jacket off the back of Stiles’ torture chair.

Stiles stretched out as they moseyed down his street, lifting his arms over his head, crossing his wrists and wiggling his fingers.  He yawned, feeling Derek’s hand ghost across the small of his back as they turned to walk in, sending a shiver up his spine.  He ordered for the both of them again, handing Derek a muffin that was moist and crumbled into rainbows and cartoon hearts in your mouth, and a coffee.

“It’s not Jamaican Me Crazy, but so little is in this world,” he warned.

“I’ll try to put on a brave face,” Derek offered sagely.

Stiles saluted him with his own coffee cup.  “Good man.”  He was too tired to talk much and was only working on his first cup of coffee.

He didn’t become a real person until at least his third.

Derek didn’t seem to mind, his gaze lingering on him, tracing the curve of his ear and the line of his barely-stubbled jaw like he was trying to remember the shape of him.  It suddenly occurred to Stiles that he hadn’t asked how long Derek would be staying – it hadn’t seemed to matter at the time because why would he think of Derek leaving when he’d only just gotten there?  Maybe Derek was trying to memorize him because he wouldn’t have all that many opportunities left to do it?

Stiles’ shoulders pulled in and he hunched over.  He didn’t ask.  He didn’t want to know.  Not yet at least.  Derek hadn’t mentioned leaving so Stiles certainly wasn’t going to be the one to broach the subject.

He shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and left Derek in front of his apartment building with a promise to meet up later while he veered off towards campus and the coffee cart of unconditional love.

Classes seemed to drag their feet like a protesting four-year-old in the world’s best and most amazing toy store and Stiles’ stomach got progressively louder in protest to the inhumane hours.  When he finally staggered up to the Student Union, Derek was waiting for him with a brown sugar soft pretzel and a cup of coffee with the slip-slidey sleeve.

“You are the best person to ever live,” Stiles whimpered gratefully, shoving half the pretzel into his mouth and not even bothering to finish chewing before taking a huge sip of the coffee.  “Where did you even get this, man?” he asked, mouth half full and thrusting the mangled pretzel out towards Derek to indicate the subject of his inquiry.

Derek shrugged.  “There’s an Auntie Anne’s in your mall and I forgot my cell phone charger.  I figured it wouldn’t fill you up all that much so as not to ruin whatever plans you’ve undoubtedly hatched.”

“Egg plans indeed, I have them,” Stiles agreed, sipping his coffee – the pretzel flopping back against the cup – and grabbing Derek’s forearm to lead him to the bus stop, not giving him any clues as to their next adventure despite Derek asking more than once.  If he were Scott, Stiles probably would have made a lewd joke about how he may get wet, but this was Derek.  Who knew how his clock ticked anymore?  Stiles could be sensitive to whatever potentially broken pieces he had.

Derek sat close on the bus, close enough that their thighs were squashed together and Stiles turned to grin his approval.  He pulled the stop almost twenty minutes later and hustled an agreeable Derek off the bus.

“Wow.”

Stiles grinned.  The days were short and dusk was already upon them so the neon was lit up, the waves glowing blue on the side and the glass triangle roof displaying a multitude of other colors.  It was a jumbled mix of glass walls and concrete and absolutely breathtaking whether you liked the design or not.  Stiles grabbed Derek’s wrist and paid for the both of them at the front before dragging him inside.

Derek’s head tilted back and he stared up through the building to the upper floors, huge walkways criss-crossing from one side to the other while tanks the size of Stiles’ apartment and then some decorated every wall.  “We can skip the bird enclosure entirely,” Stiles said, pointing in the opposite direction Derek was now looking.  “Birds are squawking dicks, proven fact.  We’ll put off the amphibians and reptiles to the very last since it’s so much less important that we get there.”  Stiles held up a finger and then pretended to pull a train whistle.  “Right now, we’re off to the Blacktip Reef shark exhibit.”

Derek was pretty much the perfect aquarium buddy.  He wanted to see everything Stiles did and was willing to spend stupid amounts of time on some things while completely blowing off others.  They did stare at that sloth for a good half hour but it was a sloth.  You didn’t get much cooler than that.

Stiles drank his diet pop, chewing on the straw a little as they looked into the small tanks holding different invertebrates and random animals that didn’t fit anywhere else – it was an island of misfit creatures thing going on.  There was a low row that they sometimes had to crouch to see properly and one that was closer to eye level.  Stiles was watching the Peacock Mantis shrimp intently and wishing it was about six thousand times bigger – preferably Mothra size – when a huffy little breath from around his knees drew his attention.

Standing next to him was a boy who couldn’t be much older than five.  His face was red and screwed up and he looked close to tears.  Stiles craned his head around and figured he belonged to the woman who was holding up a girl even younger than the boy.  Stiles caught her eye and nodded to the boy and then to the top row.  A look of grateful relief bloomed over her face and she nodded back.

Stiles handed his drink to Derek and rolled up his sleeves.  He pursed his lips and said in a loud, carrying voice to Derek, “It’s too bad they put the best ones up on top, not really fair to the vertically challenged, is it?”

Derek seemed to be considering it.  “Nope, not too fair,” he agreed, darting a glance at the boy.

“Well,” Stiles swiped his nails on his sleeve, “if anyone were ever brave enough to ask for help, I'd totally do it.”  Not even a second later, something was tugging on his jeans and the little boy was pointing up at the tanks he couldn’t see.

“Can you help me look?”

Stiles blinked overlarge eyes at him but didn’t crouch down, he’d always found that condescending when adults did that to him when he was a kid.  “Oh, well, when did you get there, Sneaky Pete?”  Stiles thrust a hand out towards him.  “I’m Stiles,” he pointed over his shoulder with the hand that wasn’t being weakly squeezed and shaken, “this is Derek.”

“Toby, not Pete,” the little boy piped up, wrinkling his nose and now looking far less angry.  He had instead transitioned into fearlessness.

“Toby,” Stiles said, pretending to test it out, “Toe-bee.  It’s a good name,” he decided and Toby beamed at him.  Stiles held up a hand so it covered one side of his mouth and said, “Psst, Toby, want to see a green shrimp with purple eyes?”

Toby nodded so hard that Stiles was half-afraid he was going to give himself a neck injury.  He lifted Toby up under the armpits before that could happen and he squealed with delight at the sight of the Peacock Mantis shrimp.  “Next to him are all the jellies,” Stiles told him covertly, shifting to hold him in one arm so he could point out the animals with the other.  “This is the Spotted Lagoon Jelly, and that’s a Comb Jelly.”

“It glows,” Toby said in an awed tone of voice.

Stiles scratched at his earlobe, like he was gauging whether to tell Toby this or not.  “You know why?”

Toby shook his head seriously.

“Magic," Stiles whispered.  "All the best things in the world are magic, you know?  Little things, even.  Like you know when you think about your mom and then a minute later she walks through the door?”

Toby nodded tentatively. 

Stiles poked him gently in the chest.  “That’s your magic.  You brought her there.  It doesn’t always work but, when it does, it’s the best feeling in the world, huh?”

Toby blinked at Stiles, looking for all the world like Stiles had just blown his mind.  “I’m magic?” 

Stiles nodded stoutly, as though the idea of Toby not being magic was borderline ridiculous.  “Of course you are.  Can I tell you a secret?  Kids are about a gajillion times more magical than adults.”  Stiles walked over to the next tank and covered Toby’s eyes with his hand.

Toby pushed at it, laughing and whining, “Stiles.”

“It’s a huge, hairy spider.  You don’t want to see that.  Eight furry little legs trying to crawl all over you.”  Toby squirmed in Stiles’ arms.  Stiles trailed his fingers lightly up the back of Toby’s hand while Toby squealed in delight and horror.  Stiles leaned close and lowered his voice.  “You don’t want to look but you kind of do, don’t you?”

Toby nodded vigorously. 

Stiles made a thoughtful face and said seriously, “We’ll take one quick peek and then never look at another one again.  Deal?”  Stiles stuck out his pinky finger and he was pleased to find that Toby knew exactly what to do, curling his own pinky around it and tightening, dropping their linked hands once before letting go.  “Okay.”  Stiles took a deep, preparatory breath, flashing in front of the tank so quickly that there was no way either one of them were going to get a good look at the tarantula.

“Stiles, I didn’t see!”

Derek snorted from right next to them while Stiles tried to rally himself.  “All right, I was too scared on that pass.  Try again?”

Toby nodded, his little face determined, and his fingers dug into Stiles’ arm.  It took Stiles another five tries, each time building up Toby’s anticipation more and more until he finally saw it and let out a gleeful little scream.  “It’s so ugly!”

“It’s monstrous, Tobes, and… it’s broken loose and gotten in your hair,” Stiles said, horrified, while he tapped his fingers on the crown of Toby’s hair

Toby twisted out of Stiles’ arms and pawed at his hair, trying to get it out, huge grin on his face when his mom and the little girl came over to take his hand.  “Did I get it?” he panted out, looking pleased with himself.

Stiles forcibly dragged his head around, tilting it up and back and to each side while Toby laughed himself silly.  “Yep, no giant mutant hairy spiders in your hair.  You’ve got a job as an intrepid tarantula fighter in your future methinks, little man.” 

The mom mouthed, ‘Thank you,’ while she led Toby away, who was saying happily, “Did you hear that, Mom?  Stiles says I could fight monsters!” 

Stiles was still watching them, grinning, when he felt a hand slide into his own, Derek’s fingers nudging his own apart so he could curl his hand around Stiles’.  Warmth spilled out over Stiles’ cheeks and ambled down his neck.  Derek’s expression was basically the very definition of fond as he handed Stiles back his drink, which was now mostly melted ice and mangled straw.

Stiles squeezed Derek’s hand before using it to drag him off to the touch tank.

“Wow, we killed a crap-ton of time,” Stiles breathed out, impressed, when they were finally kicked out of the aquarium.  He checked his phone.  “I know an Italian place that might still be open that makes this scampi that is,” he kissed his fingers, “bellissimo.”

Derek had resnagged Stiles’ hand for the third time and he nodded.  “Can’t wait.”

They got in just under the wire and Stiles made a mental note to tip big as they both ordered the scampi and talked about what Cora was going to do with her Math degree.  Stiles suggested NASA and Derek suggested world domination.  Either sounded plausible when it came to her, while Stiles caught him up on Scott, Isaac, Lydia, Kira and even Danny.  He peripherally knew some about Ethan too and shared all he had there.

They had just asked for a box from the relieved waiter when Derek said, “You seem more at home here than you ever did in Beacon Hills.”

Stiles shrugged.  “I fit better here.  It’s big and loud and there are a thousand different things to do at any given time.”  He rolled his lower lip into his mouth and bit into the side of it.  “Baltimore’s home, I think.  Beacon Hills, though, that’s family.”

Derek’s gaze shot up, piercing and curious, before a smile softened it, as though he’d found whatever he was looking for in Stiles’ face.

They walked back to Stiles’ apartment, Stiles slightly leaning into Derek, with his arm threaded through the crook of his elbow.  Stiles put away their leftovers and then flopped down on the couch next to Derek while he put on some indie film with Jason Segel in it on Netflix.  He only made it through about twenty minutes before he was yawning and Derek paused it.

They struggled into pajamas, brushed their teeth, and Stiles fell into bed next to Derek.  He landed half on his side and felt Derek shove his forehead into his shoulder.  He was asleep barely a minute later.

 


 

“It’s the end of the world as we know it.  R.E.M.  Circa 1987,” Stiles garbled the words as he popped up in bed, still half-asleep.  The hammering on the door was ping-ponging around inside his head.  “I am not feeling fine though.  Why with the knocking?”  He dug the heels of his palms over his closed eyes.  “Why with all the knocking?”

Derek shoved him in the side, pushing him towards the door.  “Make it stop,” he grumbled into the comforter before pulling it up over his head and it took Stiles a full minute to make the grumbles be words.  The knocking only got more intense as he sat frozen rather than dropping off like it would if a normal person were behind it.

The clock on his nightstand said it was five-oh-six a.m.  Which was a time that only existed for high-powered, perma-stressed people who said things like ‘habeas corpus’ on the regular or new moms.  Stiles was fairly certain he was neither of those things.  Like seventy-three percent.

“Stiles!  Stiles.”

Stiles’ eyes widened and he dove back under the covers, shouting back, “No!”

Please, Stiles, I have dark roast coffee and the new Star Trek movie and he’s on different medication.  Totally docile, no potential sprains or torn ligaments in your future here.”

“Lies,” Stiles hissed.

Derek’s head lifted.  It was still covered by the comforter so he looked like a monster who wanted you to nap more.  “Who is it?” he asked, a low growl rumbling under the words.

Stiles flicked the comforter back, red eyes staring up at him and teeth bared.  “A neighbor who’s trying to have me murdered through the architect of a St. Bernard who, I believe, is housing the reincarnated soul of Andrei Chikatilo.”  At Derek’s raised eyebrow, Stiles added, “The Butcher of Rostov.  I am not smiles times.”  To the door, he only called back, “No!”

“Stiles, please, I don’t have anyone else to look after him.  I already walked him this morning.  You’d only have to take him out once you got home from classes.  He eats everything if he doesn’t get walked.  Please, please, please.”

Stiles hopped out of bed and stormed across the apartment.  He yanked open the door and glowered at Ness, crossing his arms.  “He ripped my arm out of the socket the last time.”

She winced.  “The way I hear it, he saw a squirrel.  You can understand that kind of excitement.  I saw you at the Deadpool 2 premiere.”

Stiles’ face frowned even harder.  “He kept trying to chase cars.  In the middle of intersections.”

Ness chewed the inside of her cheek, trying to push her hair back behind her ear – a nervous habit that failed as her hair was already pulled up into a high, tight bun for work.  She was one of those high-powered, perma-stressed people who said things like, ‘I’ve just sold New Zealand for twenty points on the back-end.  Drinks all around.’  “New medication.  Docile,” she rattled off quickly.  “Stiles, please, I would owe you so much.  I have a cab waiting downstairs so I really need an answer.  It’s an hour of your day for an unrestricted favor, from me, at any point in the future.”

Stiles wrinkled his nose.  “I hate that dog,” he said, defeated.

Ness broke out into a wide grin, almost fearsome in its victory.  “Totsie loves you.  It’ll be great, you’ll see.”  She bounded forward, kissed him on the cheek, and then took off to meet her taxi.

Stiles wiped her blood money kiss away.  He closed the door and turned around, scowling.  “Will you eulogize me later?” he grumbled.  “Make sure to say really nice things.  Mention the swoopy thing my hair does and how endearing that is.”  He crawled back into bed with Derek, feeling sullen.  

“I’m killing all your neighbors,” Derek told him grumpily, staring down at Stiles with intense, yet slightly unfocused eyes.  His scruff was especially thick this morning.  Stiles wanted to bite it again.  He didn’t, because it would still probably qualify as ‘weird’ or whatever.

He made an approving humming sound in the back of his throat.  “Start with Greta, real name redacted, the old woman who lives at the end of my hall and who looks remarkably like the Greta-archetype.  She’s always creepily staring at me with her black, beady little eyes.  I’m pretty sure she’s just, like, a Constantine-esque half-demon who thinks I’m helping badass exorcists do some badass exorcising.  I’m totally Hennessey in the film-version of my life.  I don’t want to be Hennessey.  And not only because I’m super bad at drinking.”

Derek blinked.  “I followed the entirety of that.  It’s disturbing being able to understand you.”

Stiles grinned.  “I’m not giving you any points for that.  I only made you watch that about seventy-thousand times.”  He rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling.  “The upstairs neighbor should be a close second.  She has children that she lets run around willy-nilly at all times of the… afternoon.  When normal, Odin-fearing human beings are napping or in need of an intense Call of Duty concentration.”

“The nerve,” Derek said dryly.

“Exactly.”  Stiles nodded purposefully.

Derek reached out carefully with his hand, almost like it was in slow-motion, and brushed his thumb somewhat firmly over the skin of Stiles’ cheek, right where Ness had pressed her lips.  “Much better,” he said, gaze gauging.

Stiles swallowed and cracked a weak smile.  “Lipstick?”

Derek’s eyes seemed to glitter.  “No,” he said, voice low.  He went strangely alert, breaking the odd heaviness of the moment, and Stiles blinked at him.  He relaxed and said, “Car accident on the corner.”

Stiles’ mouth spread into a slow grin.  “Let’s go gawk at it.  I don’t think I’ll get back to my imitation of death until about five minutes before my class starts.”  He pulled on his most worn pair of Chucks, the rubber of the left heel starting to peel off.  He didn’t bother changing out of his thin t-shirt or his plaid, flannel pajama bottoms.

Derek made him feel less like a bum by staying in his own t-shirt and jampants, all black of course.  He shoved his feet into his boots and agreeably followed Stiles out of the apartment, after grabbing his jacket off the back of the torture chair.

Stiles’ feet dragged down the stairs because even if his brain was stupidly alert, his body was still back in bed.  It was foggy out on the street and Stiles suspected it was because the world was still half-finished at this hour of the morning and the fog was the way the people who programmed the matrix hid it.

“Stop referencing Keanu Reeves movies,” Derek grunted.

Stiles blinked.  He hadn’t even realized he was talking out loud.  The accident on the corner was someone who had driven nose-first into the lamppost.  A guy and a girl were yelling at each other over whose fault it was.  Stiles looked to Derek.  “So, referee this, I’m betting you heard the whole of it.  Whose fault?”

Derek pursed his lips, glanced between them, and said flatly, “Cypher.”

The deadpan delivery made Stiles snort.  He stared back at Derek with newfound appreciation.  “Seriously, why did I ever let you out of my sight?  Careless, Stilinski, impossibly careless,” he chastised himself.  He shivered violently as they passed the accident, walking down the street with no real aim in mind.

Derek took off his jacket barely a second later and placed it over Stiles’ shoulders.

Stiles beamed at him as he shrugged into it.  “Thanks.”  He yawned while Derek watched him with a soft, easy gaze.  “The jimjam pants totally help me pull this leather look off, huh?”

Derek huffed out a laugh.  “Seamlessly,” he said with a roll of his eyes.

Stiles stopped mid-motion as he went to put his hands in the jacket pockets.  He aborted the movement and held out the one closest to Derek between them, waiting.

Derek tilted his head to the side before sliding his hand into Stiles’ and notching their fingers together easily.

Stiles grinned from ear to ear, staring down at his shoes and biting into his lip to try to stay his sudden and wild joy.

“What?”

Stiles shook his head.  “Derek Hale is holding my hand.  I can’t even begin to tell you how odd and fantastic and un-fucking-believable that is.”  Derek was looking at him curiously and Stiles cleared his throat.  “For years, you were this closed off and unapproachable beast of man-pain and anger.  The novelty of the opposite still hasn’t worn off yet.  I kind of hope it never does.”  He glanced back at Derek.  “You’re something I happen to like marveling at, Hale.”

Derek stared down the street, squeezing their hands together lightly.  “Feeling’s mutual, Stilinski.”

Stiles’ grin grew to slightly demented proportions.  He swallowed and leaned into Derek a bit.  “I have no idea what still exists at five a.m. but we can walk a few blocks down, see if coffee is a thing that happens at godawful o’clock.”  He was glad Derek had thought to take his jacket since Stiles could feel the weight of his wallet in the pocket.

“You’re serious about staying awake then?”  Derek groaned and rubbed the hand that wasn’t gripping Stiles’ over his face.

Stiles offered him an apologetic look.  “Sorry, class at nine.  If I fall asleep now, I won’t get up again until two.”  Derek’s expression said that sounded like heaven.  Stiles bumped Derek’s shoulder with his own.  “Only one today though so I’ll be home around quarter after ten-ish.”  He shrugged.  “I was thinking maybe we could go down to the harbor, take Rostov with us and hope the barrage of people and national landmarks distracts him from his vendetta against my insides.  I figure instead of just trying to murder me, he’ll be trying to murder everything.”

Derek squared his shoulders and said with faux-gravitas, “I’m game.”

“Perfect,” Stiles said, yawning widely as they found the coffee shop was, indeed, open.  The smell of roasted coffee beans was present almost half a block away even to his puny human nose.  He’d been to this particular place only a handful of times because it closed at noon.  And the days of existing before noon in anything other than a near comatose state were few and far between for him, and usually only occurred because he had an appointment to keep that he was already five minutes late for.

Derek held the door open over his head while Stiles ducked inside.  He ordered himself a black coffee and a grape-filled pastry that looked rich and delicious and a little bit alien and Derek got himself a pumpkin spice thingy and a muffin.

They were the only customers who opted to stay, sitting at the small table in front of the window so they could stare out at the empty street and sleepily smile at each other like idiots.  Stiles tapped his fingers against the table in an irregular rhythm and bit into his grape pastry, which was beyond perfection.  “I want you to know how rare this is, because this is pretty much so good I want to stuff it in my face so no one can even look at it too hard, but you have to try this.”  Even saying it, Stiles’ hand still pulled it back a tad before pushing it over to Derek.

Because sometimes Joey Tribbiani was his spirit animal.

Derek took a bite and his eyes went wide.  “I thought the muffin was good,” he said, lips twisting, while he traded Stiles.

Stiles took a bite and, true, it was moist and mouth-wateringly yummy but it was nothing compared to his.  “I am a better chooser than you.  I have all the choosing powers.”  He hummed victoriously to himself as he popped the whole rest of the thing in his mouth.

Derek rolled his eyes, sipping from his cup.

Stiles stared out at the deserted block, tapping his coffee but waiting for the steam to drop off before even trying to drink it.  “This totally looks like we’re in a period piece,” he said, tipping his head towards the window.  “If I were a well-dressed prostitute, I’d be worried about Jack the Ripper right now.”

Derek snorted.

“This is totally a ‘date with death’ type atmosphere.”  Stiles pinned Derek with a sharp stare.  “Don’t let me get murdered horribly on the way home.  It will totally ruin Rostov’s day if I’m killed before he gets the chance to do it himself.”  When Stiles looked up, Derek’s ears were pink and he was gazing down at the table with a small smile.  “What?”

Derek looked up, slightly caught out.  “Nothing.  Anti-murdering brigade, I’m on it.”

They spent the next hour or so at that little table, not-talking more than talking and letting their knees bump together more than strictly accident could account for.  Stiles got a coffee to go and Derek bought them out of all five of the grape pastries they had ready-made.  They shared one on the trek back, the dented car and arguing couple gone and the fog starting to lift, replaced as it was with early morning sunlight.

Stiles’ feet had a little less drag to them and Derek’s eyes weren’t drooping as heavily.  He opened the door to his apartment, threw back the last of his second coffee and no longer felt like he might pass out before he could get through a whole shower.  Derek veered off towards the kitchen, placing the saran-wrapped pastries on top of Stiles’ microwave, and slumped against the counter with a yawn.

Stiles rested his forehead in the dip between Derek’s shoulder blades, leaning against him because it was early and the world was half-made and Derek was warm and soft and he could get away with it.  “I have to shower,” he mumbled into Derek’s back.

Derek made a contented sound.  “If you think I’m not commandeering the whole of your bed the second you’re out of the room, you’re in for a surprise.”

Stiles chuckled and pulled away, blinking heavy lids.  “So jealous of you right now,” he said before going off in search of fresh clothes from the dryer. It was a little after seven thirty by the time he was dressed and stumbling out of the bathroom.  Derek was true to his word and starfished out flat on Stiles’ bed, buried under comforter and pillows, and sleeping soundly.  Stiles kind of wanted to kick him.

Instead, he made himself another cup of coffee and sipped it slowly, leaning against the counter and breathing deeply.  He was bound to fall asleep if he tried to kill another hour and change in his apartment with Derek looking like the poster child for everything in the world he’d rather be doing – and wasn’t that the frightfully scary truth – so he went off to class early.

He got coffee from the cart, which made four before eight a.m, which was a count that should win him some kind of medal.  Or doctor visit.  He found a bench in the sun on the quad and read The Demon-Haunted World for the fourth time before class started.  It didn’t drag on interminably for once and they actually got out a full two minutes early.  Stiles grabbed another cup of coffee and moseyed back to his apartment.

It was ridiculously nice out and the leaves were just going orange and it smelled autumnal.  Stiles snapped a picture of the trees changing colors with his phone and texted it to Isaac with the caption: ‘Actual scarf weather.  See and note the earmarks for future reference.’

He got a Snapchat photo of Isaac giving him the finger in return, while wearing a scarf, barely a second before he entered his apartment.  At the sound of the door closing, Derek popped up in bed, hair wild while he looked around frantically.  Stiles grinned at him.  “Morning,” he said, adding slyly, “been up long?”

The red gleam faded from Derek’s eyes and he rubbed a hand over his face, then used it to flip Stiles off.  All of his friends were rude, Stiles decided.  Derek yawned.  “How was your, um,” he paused, trying to find the word, “class?”

Stiles smirked.  “My, ‘um, class’ was good.”  He set his messenger bag down in the leather armchair and then went into the kitchen for one of those grape things from that morning.  He grabbed one for Derek too, who was setting himself up on the couch and bringing up Netflix.  Stiles also got two orange Fantas from the fridge before plopping down next to Derek.

Derek took both offerings with a pleased tilt to his lips and settled in close to Stiles.  He’d started up the Jason Segel movie again and Stiles kicked up his feet on the coffee table, pushed down a yawn and leaned his shoulder up against Derek’s.

 


 

He opened his eyes to his familiar ‘It’s a Nap!’ Admiral Ackbar pillow cover and groaned.  “We are never going to see that whole movie,” he bemoaned.  A warm whuff of breath brooked against the back of his neck as Derek chuckled, nuzzling into him a little.

“Mm,” was all he said in return, moving his hand unhurriedly over Stiles’ back, following the curve of his arm until it found his fingers buried under his pillow and tangled them up with his own.

Stiles smiled into his sheets, squeezing their hands together.  “Fucking hell, I like you.”

Derek chuckled, still warm and soft.  “Feeling’s mutual, Stilinski,” he said again.

Stiles rubbed his nose into his pillow, closing his eyes and lounging for a long few minutes before finally sighing and checking the clock on his bedside table.  It was a little after one.  “The hellhound will start destroying things for lack of having living things to terrorize if we don’t take it out soon.”

Derek’s eyebrows sounded like they were halfway up his forehead.  “We?  I don’t remember caving to hot neighbor girl.  That was all you.”

Stiles perked an eyebrow, dislodging Derek and levering himself up on his elbow – all the better to stare at him.  “You think she’s hot?”

Derek looked away, stared hard at the wall.  “Don’t you?”

Stiles grinned.  “Wow, so we’re doing this?”

Derek stared up at him, brow furrowed.

“I know this is probably going to come as a massive surprise to you so, prepare yourself, because I have no idea what the medical protocol is for when a werewolf has a heart attack, but – just now – when I said I like you, it’s kind of because,” Stiles took a deep breath, “you know, I like you.  I know, your mind is blown, huh?  Put your head between your knees or something.”

Derek leaned forward, resting his forehead against Stiles’ shoulder, and said grumpily, “Sometimes I have no idea why I like you too.”

Stiles smiled and shrugged, making Derek pull back.  “Me neither, buddy.  Now, we have a reincarnated serial killer to loose on the world at the request of hot-neighbor-girl-who-I-am-not-remotely-romantically-interested-in.  You ready for this?”

Derek’s eyes crinkled at the corners.  “Ready.”

Stiles found the keyring with Ness’ key on it after a bit of searching and reluctantly opened the door to her apartment.  Captain Deathsquad hadn’t gotten so riled up about not being able to bathe in the blood of fluffy little creatures that he’d started destroying inanimate objects yet, which was a plus.  He went off in search of his leash while Derek awkwardly hung around near the door, hands in the pockets of his jacket, which he’d reappropriated at some point.

Stiles eventually found the lead on the edge of the bathtub after taking an impromptu tour of Ness’ apartment in search of it.  She needed to vacuum more, Stiles had decided during said search.  He really couldn’t understand the appeal of this dog, it was inhabited by the soul of a dead cannibalistic murderer and it also shed like a fucking fiend.  Those were some major downsides and that was without even mentioning the fact that it was still actively trying to homicide you every chance it got.

“You really don’t like this dog?”

Stiles rounded the corner and gaped at Derek.  He was kneeling on the floor in front of the door while Rostov headbutted him in the side of the face with happy and deep, booming barks.  “Are you kidding me with this?”  Stiles gestured at all the 'this' currently occurring in front of him.

Derek’s hands were scratching around Rostov’s neck and behind his ears while he turned around in a circle to alternate between licking Derek’s cheek and whacking him with his tail.  Only in order to tenderize him, Stiles knew.

He pointed at the huge, joyous St. Bernard that wanted everyone to believe it wasn’t evil and likely to lead you out into traffic or sprain your ankle.  At least until it did those things.  “That dog is death and destruction made furry, adorable canine.  It’s illusion and trickery so you’ll love it before it decides to eat your insides and you are falling for it.  You do not have the will of a warrior.”

Derek stared up at him, frowning.  “You are so odd,” he decided while he petted Rostov.  Even knowing it was all a ploy so he could get Derek's guard down in order to bite his face off later, it was still markedly heartwarming to see this dog, who was nearly the same size as Derek, trying to sit in his lap and lick him.  While Derek let him.

Stiles thrust out the leash to him.  “Fine, then you can be the one who leads him because I like my shoulder in its socket and Rostov, here, does not.”

Derek clipped the leash onto Rostov’s collar and scrubbed his knuckles over the crown of his head.  “He just doesn’t know his own strength, do you, boy?”

Stiles stared at him, bug-eyed.  “You’re taking the dog’s side.  He tried to kill me and you’re totally taking his side even though you know his real name is Andrei and that he eats people for sport.  I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so betrayed,” he said in a deeply wounded voice.

Derek stood up and swore solemnly, “I won’t let him eat you.”

Stiles tilted his head, assessing.  “I suppose that’s some comfort.  If you’re even sure you could take him in a fight.   You don’t have the greatest track record, just putting that out there.  And also, y'know, I’m just pretty sure he could kick your ass.”

Derek frowned, staring at Rostov, considering.  “Me too, actually.  We’ll just have to find someone slower and juicier to distract him with.”

“Nefarious,” Stiles said, assessing.  “I love it.”  He grinned.  “That’ll be my job then.  I’ll keep a look out for obese children who’ve wandered away from the herd in case Rostov gets any ideas.”

He shooed Derek out, Rostov bounding around his legs, clearly trying to wrap him up in the leash and crack his head open.  Derek just seemed to find it amusing by the look on his face.  Will of the warrior, Derek did not have it.  He was fooled by a furry face, which maybe made some sense in the grand scheme of things.

Stiles locked Ness’ door behind them and followed Derek as he was tugged down the stairs by a galloping Rostov.

Derek, somehow, managed to make Lucifer-Lite sit and wait on the sidewalk (probably through Alpha-dom, or crying – though in Stiles' experience, Rostov was coldly immune to tears) while Stiles closed the door to his building.

“So, the harbor’s a few miles but I figure it’s just more of an opportunity to see this lovely, vaguely polluted city in all its lovely, vaguely polluted glory.  Plus, you’ve got preternatural stamina, we’re both coming off dead sleep, and I’ve already had five cups of coffee – technically – today.  We’re going to need every bit of those aces up our sleeves to keep up with this,” Stiles waved his hand in the direction of Rostov, who was panting happily (and, probably, statistically, also psychotically), “thing.”

“Your lack of hyperbole thrills me,” Derek said, deadpan.

Stiles grinned exaggeratedly wide at him, baring his teeth.

He made Derek wait while he stopped in at the coffee shop on the corner and got him and Derek two cups to go.  He came back out to find Rostov growling at people’s shoes, only Derek's iron grip keeping him from randomly attacking unsuspecting feet.  Apparently he had a thing about the sound high heels made on pavement.  Stiles thought it incited some not-so-buried psychopathy in him, like Hook with the ticking clocks – only more violence-inducing than insanity-producing.  Derek said it was simply justifiable hostility towards a remarkably obnoxious and repetitive noise.  Stiles made a verbal, mental note to not wear high heels in Derek’s presence and Derek looked at him sideways, raising his eyebrows unsubtly.

Stiles smirked, feeling accomplished.

Derek glanced down at the pizza Stiles had also snagged and said,  “I don't think your love affair with food is not as secret as you think it is.”

Stiles paused with the vegan slice halfway to his mouth.  He pulled it back, frowned.  “I was going to share this with you.  Now you can fend for yourself.  You’ll have to eat whatever Rostov kills.  You better hope it's not people.”

“There’s artichokes on it,” Derek pointed out, nose scrunching.

Stiles gave him a quick once over.  “You can just admit you’ve already eaten a little girl and her grandmother today.  The brothers Grimm schooled me on what appeals to a wolfy palate.  I’m not judging either, I'd like to point out.  And I’m totally on the lookout for people in plaid with axes.  Why do you think I wear so much of it?  Know thy enemy, my man.  I'm Sun Tzu-ing this shit.  We’re trading off actually, you’re protecting me from grizzly canine deaths and I’m protecting you from having your abdomen sliced open by menacing dudes with outmoded weapons, win-win.”

Derek rolled his eyes.  “Reading with you is never a good thing.”

“Nope.”  Stiles popped the word happily, even as he tore the wide slice in half and handed a side to Derek.  “S’good,” he explained.

Derek squinted at it, promptly picked off all the artichoke pieces and dropped them into Rostov’s waiting mouth while they stood on the corner at a traffic light, his big tail thumping wildly.

Stiles glared at him, appalled.  “I feel like I just gave you a classic car and then watched you sell it for scrap.”

Derek shrugged.  “I don’t like artichoke.  Most people don’t.”  He looked over at Stiles and added, “Because it’s a documented fact that it’s disgusting.”

Stiles nodded condescendingly.  “Or because you’re un-American.  What do you want to do next then, go give the bird to the Star-Spangled Banner that Miss Pickersgill worked on until her poor fingers bled?  That’s her real name, by the way, Mary Pickersgill.  Would you still talk to me if I changed my name from Stilinski to Pickersgill?”

“No,” Derek said flatly.  “But I’m barely willing to talk to you now.”

Stiles considered that, taking a bite that consisted nearly half his entire pizza slice.  It was perfection, due especially to the artichoke.  He made a thoughtful sound and said, “I think I’m gonna do it anyway.”

The walk down to the harbor was unhurried and easy.  Because Baltimore was pretty much a pedestrian’s wet dream.  In fact, it was really only complicated by Rostov.  Rostov, who tried to eat garbage, particularly tin foil and napkins and cigarette butts.  Derek would just nudge it away from his mouth with his boot and say things like, ‘You’re better than this.’  He really wasn’t though, because Rostov normally ate organs.  Also Derek was so going to lose a foot that way and Stiles wasn’t even going to feel bad about it.

Mainly because he’d already warned him about it eighty-seven times.

They stopped in front of a table with used books on it and Rostov took the opportunity to growl at a three-year old until she burst into tears.  When she was confirmed to be sobbing hysterically with no signs of stopping any time soon, he looked back at them, tongue wagging and chest puffed out proudly.  The mom gave them a dirty look, like they’d purposefully trained him to make little kids cry.

Stiles sneakily side-stepped both Derek and Rostov and looked helpfully affronted while Derek glared at him.

Derek didn't seem otherwise bothered though.  Taking the  dog’s side.  Again.  He raised an eyebrow, staring at the woman and looking unimpressed, like it was the little girl’s fault she couldn’t handle a two-hundred pound cannibalistic dog snarling in her face.  Stiles would've sworn he heard Derek mutter, “Weak constitution,” under his breath as they moved along.

“You get that the murder-dog was in the wrong there, right?  Tell me you got that.”

Derek frowned and reached down to pet Rostov’s head, who immediately started licking and nipping at Derek’s fingers.  “He just looked so pleased with himself,” he said slowly.

“Because he made a little kid cry,” Stiles burst out.  “Your animal and his, they’ve totally bonded.  I know what’s up now and I no longer feel pleased with this little arrangement here.”  He gestured between the three of them.  “You would totally defend him when the cops showed up and found him standing over my half-eaten corpse, blood in just all his fur.  ‘Well he just looked so pleased with himself,’” Stiles said in a deep voice that sounded zero percent like Derek’s.  He was really beginning to feel genuinely sour about this.

Which was stupid.

Because it’s not like he was jealous of Derek and the dog.

Stiles frowned down at Rostov, who was no longer straying too far from Derek’s side, preferring to walk plastered all up against Derek's legs except when he was darting forward and yipping at birds until they took to the sky in pure and birdly terror and then bounding back as though checking to make sure Derek had seen.  And Derek would look at him fondly and smooth a hand over his back and fuck.

Stiles was totally jealous of Derek and the dog.

He moodily finished his pizza slice well before they reached the harbor, but he was still sliding the grease between his fingers while Rostov yanked them down the boardwalk.  The sun was high and strong in the sky and it reflected prettily back off the gentle rocking of the waves, dark orange and reds and deep blues.  The city was calming as the day wore on, late lunchers going back to work and schools not out for another hour or so.  No one was running this time of day or scurrying to be anywhere, tourists were grinning excitedly and couples were walking arm and arm and it generally seemed like everyone was exactly where they were supposed to be.

Derek was staring out at the horizon, breathing deeply, and Rostov was laying down at the end of the walk, head on his paws, panting happily.  It was the first time Stiles had ever actually witnessed him be still.  “This is nice,” Derek said.

Stiles was oblivious to the profundity of all of this.  There was pizza grease on his hand.  There had been for the last mile or so.  He pulled a face and slid the slickness between his fingers.  He didn’t want to have to do laundry and he wore these jeans all the time, so if he wiped them off on them he would have to do it, and like right away too, before he forgot.  His shirt was kind of nice.  Not like ‘get into a fancy restaurant’ nice but ‘I didn’t find this under my bed, shake off the dust, scrape off that Velveeta stain with my thumbnail, and throw this on’ nice.  Which was enough to give him pause about wiping them off on the shirt too.

Derek huffed, grabbed the hand Stiles was staring at and swiped it against the hip of his own jeans.  “Better?”

Stiles’ hand had been kind of awkwardly curled, unprepared for that as he was so, no, not really.  But he had totally just touched Derek’s hip and upper thigh so, yeah, complaints?  He had not them.  He uncurled his fingers and grinned.  “Well, if you’re offering.”  He turned so he was facing Derek and purposefully wiped his fingers, firmly, from the waist of his jeans to halfway down his thigh.  Which was strong and flexed under his touch and made him want to drop to his knees and lick along the muscle as it tensed.  He was using Derek as a human napkin and it was totally the sexiest thing that had happened to him in months.

That wasn't lame at all.

Derek’s eyes went dark, pupils dilating, so at least he wasn’t alone in the lameness happening here.   Which almost made it not-lame.

Still was though.

“Stay here,” Stiles said, holding up his hands before taking off down the boardwalk.  When he returned, he was awkwardly juggling everything – though thankfully his short stint as a waiter had taught him how to maximize his carrying capacity – and Derek was sitting down, dangling a leg over the end of the dock and lazily petting a dozy Rostov.

Stiles handed him a cardboard basket he’d gotten from the vendor a half a block down while Derek raised an eyebrow at it. He took the extra off the bottom of his own food tray and filled it with half the bottle of water he’d bought for Rostov, who instantly lapped it up, spilling as much as he was drinking.  He yanked the Fanta for him and Derek to share out of his back pocket.

“What is this?”

Stiles beamed at him.  “It’s a crab-pretzel stick.  Your taste buds will thank you for your blind faith in me, so start doing that.  The blind faith thing.”

Stiles watched Derek take a bite.  He still looked iffy on the whole crab + pretzel combination but he tried it out anyway.  His eyes widened and he stared at Stiles like he was some kind of wizard.  “Yeah,” Stiles said smugly, “told you.”  He shoved at least half of his own into his mouth, cheese and crab and pretzel flavor bursting over his tongue.

He leaned against the other end of the dock so he and Derek were facing each other, one leg dangling over the edge.  He nudged Derek’s toe with his shoe.  “Not bad, right?”

Derek untwisted the cap to the water bottle and poured out the rest in Rostov’s makeshift bowl.  He went at it a little slower this time.  Derek turned back and looked at him, the left side of his mouth quirking.  “Not bad,” was all he said.

They sat there for a while longer, staring out at the bay, sharing their Fanta, before Rostov started to get antsy and was pouncing after imaginary lint or butterflies or whatever other fictitious junk his cracked brain was imagining.  Human hearts maybe.

Derek helped Stiles to stand.  He was feeling pleasantly full and fuzzy and the day had just been edging towards uncomfortably warm anyway, starting to coat the roots of his hair and upper lip with sweat.  Derek didn’t let go when Stiles was successfully steady on his own two feet, even though his palms were sweat-lined and clammy.  

“You like him.”  Derek perked a brow at Rostov.

Stiles scoffed and refuted, “I live in healthy fear of him and try not to upset him by cowering too often.  Not the same.”  He was still the one who held Rostov's lead all the way back to Ness'.

He only tried to lead Stiles into traffic twice.

 


 

"Would you, kind sir, have any objection to a second nap?" Stiles asked, closing the door to his apartment behind them after tricking Rostov back into Ness' with good intentions and a fake-ball throw (well, he was probably imagining it as a kidney but Stiles couldn't control his homicidal little brain).  It was only a quarter to four.  He held up a finger and added, "And let me preface that by saying, the only acceptable answer is: no, governor."

Derek grunted, stripping off his jacket.  "No, governor."

"Thank all the Kabbalah Monster Gods," Stiles whimpered gratefully, collapsing into bed and kicking off his shoes, not even sure if he managed to knock them all the way off the mattress.

Derek crawled over him and whumped down into the comforter.

Stiles closed his eyes and that was all she wrote.

 


 

Well.  For two hours at least.  He rolled over under Derek's arm, which was draped over his side, with a droning moan, eyes creaking open.  "It's not even six yet," he told the pillow over Derek's head.

Derek nodded under it and said, muffled, “I should shower.”  Several minutes passed before he added gruffly, “Am I doing it yet?”  Like his personal hygiene was terribly inconvenient.  

Stiles felt that on a spiritual level.

He picked up the pillow on top of Derek's head and he scrunched his eyes shut tightly as soon as they were exposed to the light and Stiles decided that this, right here, was goddamn heartwarming.  “You’re like a hibernating bear.  You're channeling the wrong animal," he pointed out.  "I just want to watch you build a nest out of warm clothes and pillows and shimmy up a tree for honey.”

“Why do I get the feeling the only experience you have with bears is Winnie the Pooh?” Derek asked, the crinkles on his face smoothing out to something more relaxed.

As if there were a better example of a bear than Winnie the Pooh?  Hah.  Stiles sincerely doubted that.  “I’m surprised you even know what Winnie the Pooh is.  It doesn’t mesh with the whole, ‘I live off the land and eschew modern conveniences,’ vibe you’ve been cultivating since I met you.”

Derek grumbled out something in a sour tone against his own arm that Stiles didn’t catch and then he was halfheartedly climbing over Stiles, lazy enough that his chest dragged heavily against Stiles' back.

Stiles held his breath while Derek's weight hovered over him because that might be something he wanted.

Like a lot.

But dwelling on that was bad for his brain.  And balls.

He only dared to breathe again once Derek was standing, swaying a bit as he finally got to his feet.  He tugged at his own scruff.

“The iPod’s still charging on the dock in there,” Stiles told him generously.  “Feel free to rock out.”  He added as Derek turned away, “I will be judging your choices based on a rigorous twenty-three point scale, which includes genre, release date and danceability.”

Derek scratched at his throat.  “I’m not going to play any Beyoncé,” he warned, perking a dark brow.

Stiles shrugged, refusing to be embarrassed by his own Beyoncé-heavy shower mix.  He had his own Stiles Fierce alter ego that wouldn’t let him feel anything but diva-tastic when it came to Ms. Knowles.  “Then you are missing out on one of the great, small joys in life.”

Derek rolled his eyes.  “I’ll be sure to make time to mourn that later.”

Stiles picked up Derek’s phone where it was resting on the nightstand, still charging, and opened it with a swipe.  “I’m marking it on your calendar so you won’t forget.”

Derek pointedly ignored him, stumbling off into the bathroom like a newborn foal still trying to find its legs.

It was grotesquely adorable.

Stiles wasn't sure how yet, but he was pretty decided on the idea that he was keeping Derek forever.

The shower wasn’t even on when Derek started up the iPod and the song Gypsy Woman blared out raucously from the speakers.

Stiles couldn’t even pretend composure, hunching over, abdomen aching from holding in laughter as he squeaked out, “Oh great Freya, you could not have picked a better fucking song.  Out of twenty-three points, I award you eight-hundred and seven."

“It was on shuffle!” Derek shouted desperately from the bathroom, killing the song as quickly as he could.

"Sure it was," Stiles called back, disbelief mockingly apparent.

“This is not embarrassing for me,” Derek insisted, sounding embarrassed.  “This is embarrassing for you.  You’re the one with it on your iPod.”

“Zeroed right in on it, didn’t ya?” Stiles called back happily.  “You saw Hildee and you couldn’t resist it.  There’s no shame in that, buddy.  She’s a quadruple threat.  Actress, singer, entrepreneur, author.  There's nothing she can't do  – including tug at Derek Hale's heartstrings.

Derek growled something that was a bit muffled due to the distance between them but Stiles thought it might be: “I hate you.”

He took great pride in that, really he did.

He settled into his desk chair gingerly as Derek started up the shower – it crunched his vertebrae into several uncomfortable positions despite his careful efforts – and pulled up his email.  He shuttled off a few return messages that he knew from memory and shelved the rest for later, then dragged up his search engine.

Derek wandered out of the shower ten minutes later and stood behind Stiles.  He leaned in, resting his palm flat on the desk in front of Stiles' chest, his armpit fitting over the ball of Stiles' shoulder.  He smelled clean and warm and familiar, Stiles' soap on his skin.  It took maximum effort for Stiles not to turn around and bury his face in Derek's neck, dragging his mouth against damp skin that smelled like his and that he bet would thrum beneath his lips, but he managed to say instead, only slightly hoarse, “There's an Orioles game tonight, if you’re interested.  The bus right at the corner stops at Camden Yards and, at this point in the season, the tickets are pretty much priced at, ‘we’ll pay you five dollars to make it look like we still have fans.’  You up for it?"

Derek gave him a skeptical look.  "You like baseball?"

Stiles furrowed his brow.  “Um, no one likes baseball.  Fact.  I have an abacus and a triangle graph under my bed that proves it if you don't believe me.  But it does still manage to combine three of my favorite things: nachos, yelling, and public intoxication.”

Derek pursed his lips, considering, and decided,  "As long as there's no face-painting involved, I'm in."

Dammit.

Stiles sighed.   "Well there goes my elaborate and long-range, 'scam Tony the Tiger's lawyers,' plan."  Derek stared at him blankly.  "Hello, the Orioles colors are black and orange, right?  I was going to pretend to be a distant relative, slowly poison Tony once I confirmed I was in the will, get a decent cut of the profits and probably, like, at least six warehouses full of frosted goodness and then flee to Beirut before I could be found out as an imposter."

Derek stared at him carefully, seriously.  "You're aware Tony the Tiger is a cartoon character, right?  Tell me you are.  Please."

Stiles patted his cheek and shook his head in a sympathetic, 'you poor fool,' manner.  "Oh, Derek, so naïve.  You just believe whatever Kellogg's tells you, don't you?  That's a dangerous game, mon frère."

Derek bared his teeth.  "It's a real effort not to walk very far away from you right now."

Stiles thought on that for a second and then said honestly, "I can appreciate that."  He tugged his shoes back on, shoved his wallet into his back pocket and waited for Derek to slip his jacket on again before they left to catch the bus.

There was no line at the window surprise, surprise when they got to Camden Yards and Stiles squinted up at the overcast sky warningly while Derek bought their tickets.  "Oi, Zeus, you fuck with me and I fuck right back with you, bucko."  He shook his head.  "That dude, like the epitome of no self-control.  Obviously if I wanted rain, I would've danced for it."

Derek passed him his ticket.  "Obviously."

"See, you get me."  He checked the seat and section then saluted Derek.  "I'll meet up with you at the end, soldier.  With liquid cheese and a beer."

Derek rolled his eyes.

The line was a whole one person long and Stiles took a good fifteen minutes deciding what should join his beer and nachos.  He thrust out the final addition at Derek as he sat down next to him.  “You get me pretzel, I get you pretzel.”

Derek didn't look impressed.   “Why?”

“No, it’s cinnamon,” Stiles corrected.  Since obviously what Derek meant to say, 'thank you, what flavor is it?'  Stiles could read the guy like a book.  Derek tore off a piece of pretzel and chewed it noisily and, okay, he was clearly already not enjoying his baseball experience.  Which was fair, because baseball but now it had dough and butter along with it too.  What more was there in life?  “You look annoyed," Stiles said around a nacho, "how can you be annoyed, the game hasn’t even started yet.”

That made Derek look at him.  Like he was worried about Stiles' mental health.   “Stiles," he said slowly, "they’re in the second inning.”

Stiles considered that, then jerked his elbow up at the scoreboard.  “The score’s zero to zero, though.”

Derek's eyebrows lifted.  “Welcome to baseball,” he said neutrally.

Stiles froze, then snorted.  “I really do not understand why people come here if it’s not to acceptably overeat.”  He jabbed Derek in the side with his elbow.  “Why are you annoyed then?”

Derek glanced to the side and muttered, “Them.”

Stiles craned his neck around him and noticed the line of guys next to them who had thought it was a good idea to paint their faces.  And chests.  Stiles shrugged.  " They’re, ah, exuberant.”

Derek pulled a face.  “They spelled ‘homerun’ with two ‘M’s.”

Stiles double-checked and their chests did indeed spell out, 'hommerun.'  “Huh," he started thoughtfully, "So they have.  Hey, maybe they’re French and they’re saying ‘man run.’  Oh!  Running man," he hit himself in the forehead with his palm, "duh.  Derek, do the running man.  They’re foreign, you should appease them.”

Derek tried to smother it, but he let out a few laughs and shook his head.  "I don't want to bring the rain," he added soberly.

Stiles, on the other hand, laughed so hard he nearly spilled his beer.

By the fifth inning, Stiles had finished his nachos and replaced it with a hot dog.  Which he waved around, sauerkraut flying.  “I can’t believe there’s not more bunting going on in this game," he said heftily.  "That was my signature t-ball move.”

Derek looked at him.  “You played t-ball?”

Stiles shoved a finger in his face.  Mustard dripped off the end of it onto the armrest between them.  “One, your disbelief has been noted and will be working against you for the remainder of your stay here.  Two, they gave out popsicles after every game.  Though I had to quit when I got two grapes in a row."  He sniffed, haughtily.  "Everyone knows grape flavor always and inevitably tastes like cough syrup.  They were singling me out because I was too good, there were whispers about my bunting technique and possible reverse-steroids.  Anyway, I wrote my congresswoman about it.”

“I don’t think they regulate that,” Derek pointed out.

“She didn’t either,” Stiles agreed, glowering.

By the seventh inning, Stiles had concluded that baseball was even more horrible than he'd first suspected and he definitely needed a tiny plastic helmet full of flash frozen ice cream to make this at all worthwhile.  He slapped his knees, turned to Derek and crowed happily,  “Dippin’ Dots time!”

Derek pulled his gaze away from the game.  (He was pretending like any of this mattered; it was adorable if utterly delusional.)  He blinked at Stiles blankly.

Stiles blinked blankly back.   “Dude.  Tell me you know what Dippin’ Dots are?”

Derek blinked.

Stiles' jaw dropped.  “The ice cream of the future, you know, like, Jetsons-style.”  Derek didn't look any more clued in and Stiles threw up his hands exasperatedly.  “Seriously, what was your childhood?  I’ll be back, totally rethinking hanging out with you though.”  He left muttering under his breath, "Raised by wolves takes on a whole new, utterly surreal meaning today."

He slam-slid back into his seat from the row above them and shoved a plastic cap with a spoon in it at Derek.  He stared at it, asking the dubious question,  “What is this?”

“I have already told you it is the future of ice cream," Stiles said, rolling his eyes.  "If you can’t remember it, I’ll be forced to pin a note to your chest about it."  He took a huge bite of the little balls of ice cream and then flashed on the other thing he'd gotten Derek.  He tugged the hat out of his back pocket, where he'd been forcing the bill to bend.  "Oh, also, I got you this," he said.  "We’re blending in.”

It was an Orioles baseball cap, that had been marked down seventy-five percent.

Derek was dubious about that too.  Then he glanced at Stiles and yanked it down over his hair.

Stiles beamed at him.  He looked ridiculous and he was going to wear it for the rest of the game anyway.

By the ninth inning, the other team had actually scored.  The Nationals, and Stiles wasn't even sure who they belonged to.  The Orioles were still just thinking about playing baseball and hadn't actually gotten around to it.

They still hadn't by the time the game ended.

Stiles was, rightfully, appalled by this.  “So you’re telling me that they just… never scored a point?" he asked Derek again as they left the stadium.  Derek was just looking at him, amused.  "That’s allowed?  Because I’m close to seventy-seven percent sure that’s illegal.  Or it should be.”

“You should write your congresswoman,” Derek said in solidarity.

Stiles shook his head, slamming fist into palm.  “I’m going straight to the P-rez with that.  Why tussle with low-level hooligans when I know it’s the Madam who gets shit done?”  Then he thunked his temple to show he knew how government-crap worked.

Rather than argue (and probably win), Derek just caught his hand when he dropped it, still wearing his totally unbroken-in and ridiculous-looking Orioles cap with pride.

Well, maybe not pride.

Grudging acceptance, more like.

They walked a few blocks up to the next bus stop since it wasn't due for another half hour and it had cooled down since the afternoon, and Zeus had wisely decided to heed Stiles' threat and it had only sprinkled for a minute or two during the fourth inning.  Surprisingly, most of the shops were still open and Stiles almost tripped Derek by stopping abruptly in front of the,  Bookstore," he breathed, pressing his nose up against the glass, "I want to go to there.”

Derek shook his head, tugged on his hand and led him inside.

They were closing in fifteen according to the lady behind the counter, but considering Stiles only ever wanted to go stand in one section, try to channel Willow Rosenberg and absorb all the books into himself, they likely wouldn't even be there that long.  It hadn't worked yet but that was clearly just because he wasn't dedicated enough to the idea.  

Derek glanced up at the sign above the row they'd stopped in and said curiously, “Marine biology?”

"Dude, have you read Spirals in Time," Stiles thrust out a book on mollusks towards Derek, "it'll change your life.  No joke."  At Derek's askance look, he added excitedly, "It’s like regular people’s supernatural intrigue though, right?  I mean, they are discovering newer, bananas-ier stuff all the time that couldn’t have existed yesterday but totally exists today."  He yanked Pink is for Blobfish off the shelf and tapped the cover.  "Case in point: blobfish.”  He took both books back from Derek and re-shelved them.  “There’s this lab in Crisfield, a couple hours from here, and, I mean, it’s ridiculously cut-throat and there’s not even an open position right now but, you know, by the time I finish my Masters, who knows right?"  He shook his head.  He was rambling, and he was rambling about stuff he hadn't even told his dad about yet.  He had no idea why he was telling Derek.  Especially since there was just no fucking chance he'd get that job, even if it was what he preferred career-daydream these days.  "Anyway, they have this whole wing that’s just books.  So you get to go out on these exploratory dives or to newly discovered tide pools and then slosh back to this massive library and identify it all.  It’s exactly like going into space and finding aliens, only in the polar opposite direction.”  He knew he was grinning like a complete dork and he pretended to be interested in Sex in the Sea even though he'd read it twice already.

When he glanced back up, Derek's expression was tight.  Pinched.  When he noticed Stiles looking, his face shuttered and he attempted to quirk his lips.   “You in a white lab coat," his voice sounded strained, "there’s a thought.”

Stiles' jubilation deflated.  Yeah.  It wasn't ever going to happen.  He huffed.

Derek cleared his throat, said sincerely, "You should start looking for a place there now, since you're all about strategic real estate hunting."

Stiles smiled at him slowly.   “I will need a place to hang my lab coat.  I’d totally and finally get to have my J moment and say with equal parts cockiness and gravitas, ‘I make this look good.’  I've been working towards that since I was seven.”

Derek laughed, properly, and whatever weirdness had been going on with him before seemed to be gone.

When they got back to Stiles' place, Derek pulled out their Greek and scampi from the past few nights and spread it out on the coffee table, pulling up the Jason Segel movie again.  Stiles got them plates and they ended up eating out of the containers and off each other's anyway.

They finally got to the end of it and Stiles decided, half-slumped into the cushions and feet stretched out under the table, “I liked that movie.  I think the three-bazillion interruptions only helped it.”  He looked over at Derek for his take and saw him frowning, not necessarily like he was upset but more like he was contemplating something.  Stiles kicked him in the shin.  Gentle-ish.  “You okay?”

Derek nodded, confirming,  “Thinking.”

Stiles raised his eyebrows at him.  He didn't have the level of eyebrow game that Derek did but that didn't mean that his were totally useless to him.   “Anything good?”

Derek looked over at him, waited until Stiles was meeting his gaze to say, “Yes.”

They barely cleaned up, tossing dishes in the sink and their stubborn leftovers back in the fridge.  They stood in the kitchen and split one of the grape pastries, listening to Rostov bark in Ness' apartment after the door opened across the hall.  Stiles brushed his teeth first and collapsed into bed after shedding his shoes, jeans and overshirt.

Derek climbed over him in boxer-briefs and a t-shirt but his weight didn’t settle fully.

Stiles pried open a curious eye to look up at him.

Derek was propped up on his elbow, staring at him.

Stiles rolled over onto his back and closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath and letting his chest expand out fully with it before falling again.  When he opened them again, there was something in Derek’s eyes, something on the edge of being realized.  They were bright and crinkled at the sides and Stiles thought he looked well and truly happy.

He hadn’t realized how badly he’d wanted to see that on him until he finally had.  He smiled involuntarily at it.

His eyelids fluttered again and he felt fingers hesitantly touch the line of his jaw, dragging fingerpads down lightly stubbled skin, crooking under and tilting up, and then damp lips were just barely brushing against his.  It was like an electric shock passed through his body, creating an inverse reaction, locking down his brain but opening up his mouth.

Only part of his body had gotten the memo about this apparently.

Derek's tongue slipped into his mouth, sliding down the length of Stiles' in a way that made his spine itch.   Their kissing went beyond the sophomoric wet and plipping sounds of teenagers going at it.  Instead he and Derek were all slow, languid strokes of their tongues and easy, groaning slots of their mouths.  Derek’s hands curled against and then around his sides, slipping the tips of his fingers under Stiles' back.  It should have shocked Stiles stupid, should have made him want to squawk and demand explanations, should have left him blinking stupidly.  Should have, should have, should have.

Instead his mind felt clear of all the clutter for once and the end of his nose was being rubbed by soft skin and he was breathing in the clean, sharp scent of Derek, that was half-him because of the soap and the sheets and Stiles leaned up on his elbows, not even consciously realizing he was pursuing Derek as he pulled away.

Derek pressed a hand to Stiles’ chest, over the heady hammer of his heart to hold him at bay.  His eyes were heavy-lidded and he was staring down at Stiles’ navel rather than his face.  “I don’t want to fuck this up,” he said, tone weighty.

Stiles brushed a hand over his cheek, fingers playing in the scruff along his jaw.  Stiles smiled at him, with a soft, deep curve to his lips.  “Couldn’t even if you tried,” he told him honestly.  Because that could not seriously be a legitimate concern Derek was having.  “I’ll be riding the high of you just being here so long after you’re gone.  This is—” Stiles shook his head with an amused huff of breath, both eyebrows bouncing, “This part is even better and I really wouldn’t have thought that was possible.  I would’ve called it perfect before, and maybe it still fits because I don’t think they’ve invented a word for what this is yet.”  Stiles smoothed his hands down Derek’s neck, over his shoulders – without commenting on the slight trembling they were doing, and flattened his palms against Derek’s stomach.  He glanced up into Derek’s face and he was pleased to find he was staring right back.  “Probably because there’s never been anything like it before this.”  And, yeah, that was a horrifically romantic and shmoop-filled sentiment but Derek was shaking, shaking like he’d broken something he hadn’t even realized he’d been in possession of, and that was worth the cavity.

It also had the added bonus of being true.

Derek found his mouth again, pulling him close even as he was pushing him back, trapped Stiles beneath his weight, moaning into his mouth.  Stiles' thighs came up around him, hips and  hard-ons nudging against one another and Derek's hands grasped at his t-shirt, fingers clenching in the fabric.  His hands inched up higher and  when he reached the cage of Stiles' ribs, he pulled back long enough to yank the whole thing off.  Then he reached halfway down his own back and tugged his off over his head too.

Stiles bit his lip, dragging his thumb down the dark happy trail beneath Derek's navel.  He had to close his eyes as his cock gave a painful throb.  “You know," he said, trying for nonchalant, "there was a lot of shirtlessness going on when I was a teenager.  In fact, the main things I remember from sixteen to eighteen are Finstock, werewolves and your naked torso.”  Stiles smirked.  “I swear, it’s only gotten more impressive.”

Derek smirked back, rolling back down into him and slotting their mouths together.  He barely pulled back enough to mumble, “I wasn’t sure you were paying attention.”

Stiles laughed into his mouth.  “Granted, the lot of you did seem to be infected with the same disease that made you allergic to shirts in general but, yeah,” Stiles pulled Derek in closer, his palms greedily venturing over smooth, warm skin, “you weren’t exactly easy to ignore.”

Derek’s lips stretched into a smile even as he pressed them more firmly to Stiles’.  Their mouths slipped open and tongued and tasted and bit and sucked, all exploratory and warm and eager and unhurried.  Stiles' mouth was already tender but he was pretty certain he owed it to either himself or the universe to try to make a career out of kissing Derek.  Maybe both.  All he knew was that he was willing to train for the potential interview as long as it took.

Derek shifted their hips together and Stiles dragged his nails down Derek's back as they started rocking against each other.  The drag of cotton and cock making his insides go fucking haywire.  He was beginning to think he couldn't possibly be more turned on when Derek pulled away from him and expertly found his condoms and lube in his nightstand.

Stiles perked and eyebrow at him.  “Found that, did you?”

Derek shook his head then changed his mind and shrugged, clarifying, “Used it.”

Oh holy fuck.  Stiles dropped a hand to his cock and tugged on his balls to stop from coming, unable to get over how  stupidly fucking hot that image was—and the implications of—and had Derek been in his bed when—“Jesus,” Stiles breathed, feeling his semi-patient cock give a rather wholly-impatient throb.

Derek flicked open the condom box with his thumb and  Stiles cleared his throat purposefully.  “We don’t need those,” he said.  “Scott told me all about the benefits of werewolf genetics years ago and I haven’t been with anyone since I was last tested.  That was another one I aced, by the way.”  Stiles winked and Derek snorted and Stiles abruptly realized that he had never smiled so much in bed with someone before or been so much… himself.  He knew Derek, though, in a way he’d never really known anyone else he’d had sex with.  He suddenly realized how presumptuous what he'd said was and added quickly, “I mean, if that’s kosher on your end.”  He frowned.  “Also, this is very likely the first time I’ve used ‘kosher’ in bed with someone.  You’re just privy to all kinds of firsts here.”

Derek dropped the condoms back in the drawer, head lowered but clearly smiling so wide that even that couldn’t hide it.  “Lucky me,” he said quietly but there wasn’t even a trace of insincerity behind the humor.

Derek slotted their mouths together again, fingers clenching in the back of Stiles' hair as he tilted his head back and reached deep and intense and mind-numbing with it.  Stiles’ thumbs skimmed Derek’s sides while his other fingers ghosted over him, kissing him even more deeply before letting his fingers clench over his sides, sink down to ghost over the tent in his briefs.

He palmed Derek’s dick and the reaction was immediate.  At the first brush of Stiles’ hand through the fabric of his boxer-briefs, his fangs were descending, claws lengthening and hair sprouting from his cheeks.  “Fuck,” he hissed, eyes dropping away from Stiles' but not before he caught the red in them.

Stiles’ smile ran away with his mouth as he wrapped his palm more firmly around Derek’s cock through the cloth, which was hot and heavy and pulsing between his thighs and fit Stiles’ hand perfectly.  It made his mouth fucking water.  He pumped Derek once and grinned dopily at him.  “Well that’s new and exciting.”

Derek still wasn’t looking at him, his face turned away as though that would negate what had just happened, even as his hips helplessly rolled into Stiles’ hand with each slow pump he gave.  “Or embarrassing,” Derek finally managed through clenched fangs, his fingers curled into his own palms and planted on either side of Stiles’ shoulders.

Stiles laughed and buried his face in Derek’s neck.  “You clearly have no idea what this is doing for my ego right now,” he admitted, licking a fat path with his tongue up a protruding vein on Derek’s throat.  He eased his hand past the elastic of Derek’s boxers and wrapped it around flushed and soft skin.

Derek's response was a groan, low and deep, as his hips gave a violent jerk forward.  “If you—” he stopped to pant and Stiles wasn’t even jerking him fast, instead following the rhythm of their earlier kissing.  It certainly seemed like it was the idea of Stiles’ hands on him that was more than half the thrill of it for him though.  And Stiles both didn’t want to think about that and only wanted to think about that.  “If you stop I could probably pull it back,” he said tightly.

He was still looking away.  And that was not on.  Stiles brushed his fingers down the side of Derek's face, scrubbing through the furry sideburns perfectly.  He rubbed his thumb over the protrusion of his lips over fangs and then kissed him, passionately, until Derek couldn't help but open his mouth and meaningfully kiss him back.  His teeth were sharp but avoidable since Stiles mainly focused on sucking on his lips.  “You had better not be hiding from me,” he said seriously, knowing his heartbeat would bear him out.  Because Stiles didn't give a shit about any of this.  This was about Derek, not about what Derek looked like.  Besides, how shitty would Stiles have to be to shun him over something he was born with?  It'd be like Derek brushing Stiles off because he had moles.  He wasn’t about to let Derek think he didn’t want this every bit as much as he did the rest of him.  He fisted Derek's hair and brought their mouths together again before biting at Derek's jaw.  “You know I love Scott to death, right, but his wolf?  Just competely butt-ugly.  Yours though…”

“Mine?” Derek prompted, finally looking at him, when Stiles only trailed off.

Stiles brought his hand back to Derek's dick, shrugged on an upstroke, twisting his hand over the head of Derek’s cock.  Derek gave a full-body shudder, which only made Stiles’, er, literal head swell even (not literally) more.  “You don’t look that different really.”  He thumbed the smooth skin of Derek’s forehead with the hand that wasn’t fisting his cock and grinned.  “I mean, the eyebrows go somewhere I’m sure only Pablo Picasso could figure out but you just look… fierce and wild and untameable.”

Derek’s eyes went bright, the red in them rising and fading from vibrant to dull as he moved them over Stiles’ face.  His voice caught in his throat before he dragged it back up.  “I can’t kiss you like this,” he reasoned.

Stiles went back to slowly stroking Derek’s cock, dropping his palm down to rub over his sac before coming back up.  His own eyes twinkled cheekily.  “So do something else to me,” he said.

Derek made a distressed, whining sound in the back of his throat and his skin broke out in goosebumps as though the sensations were overloading him.  He nudged his nose into Stiles’ jaw and then parted his mouth slightly, dragging the blunt end of one of his incisors down the column of Stiles’ neck.

Stiles shivered when he reached the hollow under his collarbone and licked along the length of it.  He took his time dragging his teeth over sensitive spots of him.  Spots where Stiles thought he might have considered biting him before.  His breath was hot and damp against Stiles’ skin and Stiles’ hand on Derek kept faltering when he'd stop to arch into the press of his teeth or tongue.  Only the rabbiting twitches of Derek’s hips reminded him to keep his hand moving.

Derek finally shifted entirely out of reach so he could drag his elongated teeth down the center of Stiles’ torso above his navel.  He fitted his mouth over Stiles’ sides without putting any force into it, though he sometimes tilted so the edges became sharp rather than dull.  He was careful but the indulgence of this animal side of Derek was still fucking exhilarating.

Stiles dug his hand into Derek’s hair, clenching his fingers into the strands while his cock throbbed between his legs.  It was the reminder of what Derek could do, the power he had, and what he chose to do with it.  Or rather, what he chose not to do with it.

Derek licked wetly over the pulse of Stiles’ dick and Stiles made a desperate, gasping sound before Derek pulled away.  And then Derek’s mouth was back, teeth blunt and human and covered by his lips as he swallowed Stiles' cock.

Stiles choked and yanked him back up before he could embarrass himself by blowing his load too early.  He  got a hand back on Derek’s dick, realizing Derek had chucked his boxers entirely, and ground himself into the joint where Derek’s thigh met his groin.  He stopped long enough for Derek to get him out of his last bit of clothing too and then Derek’s hand was smoothing over the outside of his thigh, dragging it up against his hip, grinding against him, and it shouldn't have been enough to make his eyes roll back in his head.

But it was.

It crazily fucking was.

He thrust up again and again while Stiles' fingernails dug into his shoulders, lower lip dragging against the sweat on Derek's neck, mouthing marks into him that faded in the next few seconds.  Derek's hand left his thigh and fumbled at his side and then—oh fucking fuck—there was lube between them and the slide of their cocks was even more debilitating and Derek's claws were digging into his thigh slightly and he pulled them away.   He swallowed and his throat worked hard to get it down before he said, eyes red and gleaming, “Is it okay that I want—”

Stiles licked his lip, breathing hard and staring at Derek like he’d just suggested Ryan Reynolds hadn’t been the best casting choice for a superhero since Christopher Reeve.  “‘Okay’ is so not the word.‘Okay’ is the inferiorest of inferior words.”

Derek smirked a little at that.  Mouth still all punched out but that weird and elusive… happiness was back on his face and it looked more genuine on him than Stiles had ever seen anyone else manage.  It left him feeling slightly dazed.

Derek surged up to catch Stiles’ parted mouth again, crashed into it but the fangs weren't near as prevalent and Stiles knew why as he used that same momentum to breach Stiles’ hole with a slicked finger and, thank fuck, those had been de-clawed.  It was the only thought Stiles had that was clear in his head as his brain had slightly short-circuited at the boldness and unexpectedness of the move while Derek carefully worked him open, using his free hand to cradle the back of Stiles’ neck and pull him up so they could slot their mouths together even more firmly.

Fuck, he was good at kissing.

Derek twisted his finger, learning him, finding out what made him whimper and moan until he could play Stiles like a fucking fiddle and his cock was getting to be something of an issue.  Derek seemed to have the patience of a saint whereas Stiles as bordering on insane with the need to come.  His toes had curled into the sheets and his neck was arching, stomach tightening, hips lifting as he chased the press of Derek's finger.  He felt winded and wanting and he need Derek in-fucking-side of him already.  "Not fragile, you know," he pointed out, hole twitching and demanding as jolts of pleasure darted up his spine.

Derek muttered something under his breath, staring at the contracting muscles of Stiles’ stomach unblinkingly before smoothing his hand over them, seeming awed by the clench and pull.

Stiles gaped at him.  Whatever this was, it wasn’t just an isolated moment in time for them.  It wasn’t solely a blip on either of their radars.  This was a long time coming, something Stiles hadn’t even realized he was waiting for until it was delivered.

The look on Derek’s face though—it was one that said he’d been aware of every minute without it.

And how and when the fuck had that happened?

Derek thrust back in with two fingers and Stiles gasped, the sound coming out like he’d been punched, arching into it.  He pulled Derek back down and into him and closed his teeth on the scruff on his jaw, biting it like he’d wanted to the last few mornings.  He tugged and Derek nosed into his cheek, pointing out, “You are exceptionally strange.”

Stiles grinned in a way that bared his clenched teeth.  He opened them and leaned back.  “I would’ve done it to the sideburns too, buddy,” he told him, stroking the back of his hand over the place they would have been if Derek were still half-shifted.

Derek’s palm curved over Stiles’ hip, encouraging the rise and fall of it while his fingers opened him further, curving inside him, making Stiles’ eyelids flutter when he found his prostate but Derek still didn’t back off.  He wanted to know Stiles, every last fucking bit of him, lay him completely bare.

And Stiles had no idea what to do with that.  He lived in a world of sarcasm, always carefully and ever-so-slightly removed from anything getting too real, and Derek wanted more than that.  The impossible bit of it was, Stiles kind of wanted to give it to him.  Because when did Derek Hale ever get what he want?

Stiles’ eyes rolled back in his head and there was his dick again, shoving to the front of the line and demanding attention.  His chest was heaving, the muscles in his thighs straining while Derek twisted and corkscrewed three fingers inside him.  Stiles bit into the side of his cheek, trying to use the pain to stave off his orgasm.  “I’m getting close,” he forced out and, fuck, words were hard.  All things brain and not the sensations thrumming through him were fairly impossible actually.

Derek’s eyes snapped up to Stiles’ face and Stiles realized he had been staring at everything else.  He licked his lower lip.  “I know,” he said blankly, "your thighs are trembling."

Stiles smiled tightly, smoothing his hand over the back of Derek’s neck and feeling how tense the muscles there were.  Derek left him empty and cold for only a moment before he was pressing against him with something larger, wider.  He held for half a moment before he buried himself in one quick roll of his hips.  

He yanked Stiles’ hips up off the bed, dragged him back onto the shelf of his thighs and bent over him, thrusting deeper.  Stiles supposed that was a benefit of being fucked by a werewolf, superior strength and the willingness to use it.  Derek kept up the same slow, punishing pace but he knew Stiles now, had spent so long learning what made him moan and arch that he didn’t have to work to find the best angle.

Stiles had time for a full, deep breath before every new plunge of Derek’s hips made him whimper.  He matched Derek’s rhythm with every flex of his torso and Derek watched every stretch and pull of muscle under skin, his gaze focused and intense.  His hands smoothed up Stiles’ sides and he said, voice gravelly, “Is this okay?”

Stiles let out a strangled laugh, ending it in an agonized sound of pleasure.  The stimulation was fierce and Stiles’ whole body felt like it was ready to burst apart with it.  He was going to come without Derek touching his dick and that had never happened before.  Stiles had always kind of assumed it was the great myth of butt-loving.  His eyes blurred slightly and he found the words in broken and panting fashion.  “Again, ‘okay’ doesn’t really do it justice.  We’re going to hook you up with a thesaurus after this.”

Derek’s lips curved into a small smile, relieved and not smug and, really, he was treating this whole thing like Stiles was doing him some grand favor.

That was so not what was happening here.

Stiles pulled Derek down and into him and, God, but Derek inside of him, deep and driving, it was beyond anything he had ever experienced.  He slotted their mouths together, mimicking the slow rolls of Derek’s hips with the slide of their tongues and he was going to come without having to even chase his orgasm.  He was on the edge of it, riding the fringes of his control, when Derek folded himself over him further, his weight bearing down on Stiles and Stiles fell headlong into it.

It shouldn’t have been so overpowering.  He’d had guys and girls, work a lot harder, a lot longer and a lot more ferociously to bring him to orgasm rather than ease him into one but his mind actually blanked out completely, vision blowing wide and he was left with nothing but a fuzziness in his head, and limbs that tingled and went utterly boneless.

Derek slammed into him a bit harder, arms wrapped completely around Stiles' back and holding him close to his chest, his pace was still steady even as Stiles tightened and then loosened around him.  Stiles was still catching his breath, feeling broken of the ability to do anything but stare at Derek with wide, wet eyes and want.  Derek fucked into him, pushing Stiles back with forceful slides of his mouth while Stiles buried his fingers in Derek’s hair.

They kissed until Stiles’ lower lip was threatening to split from all the attention.  They kissed until Derek thrust deep, grabbed Stiles’ ass cheek and came inside him.  It actually made Stiles’ cock give a weak twitch and that kind of turnaround hadn’t happened in something like three years but Stiles was beginning to realize that Derek was a whole new category of sex and want and relationship.  Derek collapsed on top of him and Stiles octopused around Derek’s back and dumbly breathed out, “Derek.”

Derek groaned and flattened himself against Stiles and Stiles let out an ‘oof’ as his weight settled.  He poked him in the side but Derek only grumbled and failed to move.  Stiles grinned, smile gone slightly wobbly.  He stroked a hand over Derek’s hair, ruffling it up.  “See, untameable.”

Derek laughed into Stiles’ neck before gingerly pulling out of him, rolling off and saying, “I’m pretty sure that’s not what just happened here.”

Stiles shoved his shoulder into Derek’s and blinked up at the ceiling, dazed and trying to sort out anything past, “Wow.”  He failed.  “Wow.”  He blinked more, turning to look at Derek in awe, who was sweaty, chest heaving and perfect.  Fucking perfect.  “Dude, we are, like, really good at that,” Stiles told him.  “I mean, if they made that into an Olympic event, we would take home the Gold and then some.  They’d have to give us all the colors just to make sure we knew how much we won.  Or make up new colors entirely.”  Derek laughed a little next to him while Stiles’ brain failed to come fully back online.  “Wow.  I feel kinda bad for all the sex that isn’t that.  We might be prodigies, prodigies that are dependent on their prodigal partner because I have never been that good or had that much good thrust on me.”  Stiles rolled over onto his side and said with his mouth resting against Derek’s shoulder, “We should have been doing that ages ago.”

Derek snorted.  “I don’t think your dad would agree with you there.”

Stiles considered that, deciding, “Fie on my dad and his superior-orgasm-hating existence.”  He flopped back over onto his back again, his limbs all… stringy and his mind floating in a stupefied haze.  “Oh my God, I am really, really bonelessly happy right now and I think a few circuits blew in the old brain box because, yeah, I am just stuck on ‘wow’ and ‘tingly’ and saying phrases like ‘old brain box.’”  It took Stiles a moment to catch up with the reality of the situation.  It had been worth all the praise for him but Derek hadn’t really shared the sentiment and now Stiles was pretty sure he’d sucked and Derek was just too nice to say so.  “Er, it was good for you too, right?”

Derek turned over to look at him, lips permanently twitching up and gaze gone soft and warm and liquid.  “It was that word they haven’t invented yet because the description for it didn’t exist until now,” he said.

"Oh."  Stiles beamed at him.  “Good,” he said, yawning.  “That is really, really good.”

Derek nosed into his neck before lifting up and dragging their mouths together and Stiles didn’t think his cock was going to quit any time soon.  Not now that it knew what Derek was capable of providing it, at least.

 


 

A sharp knock banged and echoed between Stiles’ ears.  The arm and shoulder draped over his back twitched.  Derek’s fingers curled around his hip and dragged him closer.  Stiles groaned, his mouth feeling fuzzy, and cracked one eye open to check the time.  He’d, of course, forgotten to draw the blinds again and the light was unbearable and hiss-worthy.  So Stiles did.  “Oh my God, death to the world of sun and sound.”

Derek’s head lifted too.  “Who is at your door at eleven-thirty on a Saturday?” he said grumpily, pulling Stiles in further under the shelter of his chest.

Stiles scowled, shimmying away from him, and tried to find his pants.  “Someone trying to find their own grisly murder behind it,” he bit out, shoving one leg forcefully into his jeans.  “Seek and ye shall find, motherfucker.”

Derek grumbled and trailed his fingers from Stiles’ shoulder blade to the small of his back.  “Don’t get out of bed.”

Stiles turned back to look at him.  “I have death to deliver,” he said firmly.  He buttoned his jeans, not bothering to drag on a shirt too and crossed the apartment to angrily throw open his door.

Stony was standing on the other side of it, looking a bit dopey as he chanted, “Notes, notes, notes,” and thrust out a cup of coffee towards Stiles.

Stiles groaned.  “Dear Lord, Stony, why?” he whined, snatching the cup out of his hand.  “Why so early?”  He took his hand off the door, where he had been prepared to slam it in whomever’s face, and rubbed at his forehead.  “What side of this morning are you even coming from, because I doubt it’s the one diurnal human beings could relate to.”

Stony waved a hand and blew a half-assed raspberry.  “Time is an illusion and I refuse to let it dictate my schedule.  You wish you were so free.”  His smile widened to creeptastic proportions.  “So, can I—” his eyes grew to the size of golf balls and he let out a shocked, “Whoa.”  Stiles’ brow furrowed in confusion before he turned his head and saw that Derek was behind him in nothing more than his boxer-briefs.  “Dude, are you planning to steal one of Stiles’ kidneys, or identity?”  Stiles glared at him but Stony was still in interrogating-Derek mode.  He frowned.  “Have you already done either?”  He pointed at Stiles, refocusing.  “Show me your stomach and your credit score.”  Stiles sucked his teeth unhappily and Stony shrugged.  “What, man, he’s totally out of your league.”

Well.

Point.

To Stiles ever-growing surprise, Derek actually started up a low-level growl that seemed to rumble in Stiles’ own chest.  Stiles turned the glare on him because what the hell?  He wasn’t even trying to curb the creature in it.

Stony wasn’t oblivious enough to miss it either.  “Is he growling?”  Stiles offered him a cringing smile and a shrug.  Stony frowned.  “That seems ominous and—holy shit!”  Stiles whipped around and Derek’s eyes were phosphorous and blood red.  Like an Alpha idiot would do.  What was happening?  Stiles turned back to Stony, who was staring at Derek, eyes huge.  His gaze flicked to Stiles before zeroing in on Derek again.  “He just went, like, real-life CGI in the face area,” Stony said, motioning to his own.  “His eyes turned red,” he told Stiles.  He pointed an accusatory finger at Derek, “Your eyes turned red.”

Stiles floundered slightly and Derek was still standing there like a monster out of a fairy tale because he was a giant douchenozzle.  Stiles was tempted to throw something at him.  Instead, he deflected with words, as was his specialty.  “Stony, how much pot have you smoked today?”

Stony wasn’t to be derailed.  “That depends on both your definition of ‘today’ and ‘a lot,’” he said dismissively.  “Which doesn’t change the fact that I just saw some badass special effects that were not effects.”  He glanced back at Derek.  “Totally special though so kudos, buddy.”

And Stiles could keep trying to convince Stony of something even a conspiracy nut would never believe or he could just lean into it.  He sighed and said with almost bored disinterest, “Oh,” he waved a hand dismissively, “Derek’s a werewolf.”

Stony lit up.  “What, that’s awesome!”  He held up his hand, palm out, to Derek and grinned.  “Rocking the mythical creature lifestyle, I can dig it.”

Stony stood there for a full two minutes while Derek glowered at him, red-eyed and unmoved.  Stiles dragged a hand down his face and sighed.  “Derek,” he said tiredly, “just high-five him.  He will stand there until his arm gets tired and he literally cannot hold it up anymore.  And he has freakishly strong arms for a person who tries to use them as little as possible.”

Stiles could feel Derek’s eyes on him before he raised his hand, carefully curving his claws up and out and gave Stony the most grudging and unhappy high-five Stiles had ever seen.

Like, people attending a funeral could've done better.

Derek’s fangs weren’t crowding his mouth yet but it didn’t seem like that was all that far off.  He caught Stiles’ gaze, his own still glowing.  “I need to leave,” he said tightly, reaching to grab his jeans.

Stiles turned and grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to plant him exactly where he was.  “No, I just—stay there.”  He found his notes exactly where he’d left them in his messenger bag and held them just out of Stony’s reach, glaring at him.  “This is a one time offer and if anything happens to them I will let Derek use his werewolf powers to turn you into a carnivorous giraffe,” Stony made a grab for them and Stiles pulled them away before he could close his fingers over them, “which means you would starve to death slowly and humiliatingly because evolutionarily giraffes would make the worst carnivores.”

Stony glanced between Derek and Stiles, raising a questioning brow.  “Dude, can he do that?”

Stiles shrugged.  “He’s a werewolf, he can do anything he wants.  He’s already breaking the universe just by existing.”

Stony seemed to consider that solid reasoning.  He pressed his palms together in a pleading fashion and made his lower lip protrude in a mock pout.  “I will guard them with Chassy’s life,” he held up three fingers, “on my I-camped-in-the-woods-one-time-and-cried-until-my-dad-took-me-home honor.”  Stiles pulled a face and Stony shoved up a shoulder.  “What?  I wasn’t exactly a ‘scout,’ man.  That’s the best I got.”

Stiles carefully released his notes into Stony’s hands.  He wrapped them up in his own as soon as the transfer was complete and said with exaggerated solemnity, “Good night.”  He shook their clasped hands once.  “And good luck.”  Stony saluted him, the British way because he was a strange dude, gave Derek one last overly curious once over and then took off.  Stiles gratefully closed the door behind him, whirling on Derek instantly.  “What the hell was that?”

He was pleased to find that at least the eyes were back to normal and the claws and fangs had receded.  Derek rubbed at his eyes and huffed.  “Besides humiliating?” he derided himself.  He looked up at Stiles, eyes apologetic and slightly cold.  “I’m sorry, Stiles.  I thought I had better control than that.”  He went back to frowning at himself.

Stiles stepped up to him, settling his hands on Derek’s shoulders, and said quickly, “Hey, I’m not playing the blame game.  Mostly because I suck at it and I can’t get the accent right.”  Derek’s lips twitched a little so Stiles barreled on.  “I just want to know if I need to start worrying the fangs are going to show up in really inopportune blow job-type moments and, yes,” he grinned, “my concern is unrepentantly narcissistic.”

Derek breathed out an amused huff.  “Predatory instinct,” he said in a low tone.  He made an agonized face and ground out, “We have a… den and I,” he clenched his hands at his sides and rolled his neck, “wasn’t exactly pleased to have anyone else in it before it’d been solidified as,” his mouth tightened, “ours.”

Stiles’ mouth spread into a huge grin and his eyes glittered as he took in the hunch of Derek’s shoulders.  “Aw, you have caveman animal brain that wants to lick everything so no one else will want to touch it.”  Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek’s neck.  “You’re as weird and broken-y as I am.  This bodes very well for our future dealings, Hale,” Stiles told him seriously, leaning further into him when Derek’s hands settled invitingly on his hips.  Stiles screwed up his face in a caricature of deep thought and said wonderingly, “Now, I think we were still trying to earn a yelple medal at the Sex Olympics.”

Derek grinned and lifted him up off his feet, hands grabbing his ass cheeks.  They only got as far as they couch before Stiles was sinking down with his knees on either side of Derek's hips and grinding down against his cock, letting Derek's tongue blaze its way up the arch of his throat.  Stiles was pretty sure things that sailed this smoothly plowed into icebergs before long.  Which just meant he was going to enjoy the ostentatious and opulent bit that came beforehand as much as possible.

Derek’s hands smoothed over the top of his jeans, almost ticklish in their teasing, drawing in towards the front, when Hugo Weaving’s voice said solemnly from across the room:

  Remember, remember, the fifth of November

  the gunpowder treason and plot

Derek groaned and dropped his head back, hard, against the back of the couch.  “Why?”

“It’s the reminder thing on my phone.”  Stiles frowned, waiting for it to click.  It did.  “Oh crap.  I scheduled a job for today, two actually, because I didn’t know I would have a Derek or a sex life at the time.”  Stiles dropped his forehead onto Derek’s shoulder and made a dying hippo sound.  “This is why time travel should exist.”

Derek decided to take the opportunity to nose in behind Stiles’ ear and breathe him in.  “Can you call in sick?” he murmured and his lips tickled and a chill stole down Stiles’ spine.  Derek pressed his palm to it and smoothed his hand up his whole back, following the arch of Stiles’ back.  “Prove your excellent mimicry with the coughing and stuffiness.”

Stiles grinned at him, pulling away to stop his phone from continuing to repeat the alert.  He jabbed his finger into the obnoxious thing a little harder than necessary.  “It’s not that kind of job unfortunately.  There’s a whole… people might die,” he twirled his hand in the air, “get significantly maimed or at least potentially be annoyingly inconvenienced if I don’t show up thing.”  Derek stared at him in confusion and Stiles explained with a shrug, “You know, the freelance stuff I do through the website.”

Derek only managed to look more lost.  “Website?”

Stiles’ forehead furrowed and he walked over to his computer, saying, “Okay, I know I sent one of you, either you or Cora, the link to it because you totally have access to the bestiary.”  He pulled it up, Derek leaning over his shoulder, and made a ta-dah motion with his hand.

Derek blinked.  “That’s your website?”  His eyes went hard.  “I thought Cora had stumbled onto it.”

Stiles snorted.  “She wishes.”

Derek’s tone was tight.  “Are you telling me you go out and find all these things?”

Stiles frowned, his spidey senses were totally pinging, 'danger, Will Robinson,' (he might've fused a few things there) though he hadn’t sussed out why yet.  “Not always personally,” he said slowly, “no.”

Derek’s hand clenched so hard on the back of Stiles’ chair they he heard it give an ominous crack before he forced himself to let go and take a few steps back.  He breathed a long breath through his nose as though trying to center himself.  When he looked up at Stiles again, his eyes were flashing furiously, though not supernaturally.  “I thought you’d gotten over the death wish part of your adolescence,” he said, voice shaking.

Stiles’ eyes widened and he popped up, turning to face Derek.  “Hey, wow, okay, no,” he said quickly.  The anger was slow to build but all the more virulent for it.  “I’m good at this and I know what I’m doing and it’s not about a death wish, it’s about doing something that genuinely excites me.  You’ve been out of my life for five years.  You don’t get to swan in and criticize the way I’ve lived it.  You don’t get to disparage my choices.  Okay, Derek?”  Stiles huffed and ran a careless hand through his hair.  “I’m not going to lie and say I wouldn’t like you to be a part of them in the future but I don’t want you to equate that with you getting to make some sort of judgment about them.”

Derek seemed to be just as angry.  “It’s dangerous and you could die doing this, Stiles.”  He scoffed and said sarcastically, “I’m sorry if I don’t think that’s worth the thrill it gives you.”

Stiles closed his eyes, drawing in a deep and calming breath.  “Okay, I’m trying to remind myself that this is coming from a good place.  A place where you’re concerned about my well-being and general safety but it’s difficult,” Stiles glared at him, “when you’re being such a stubborn tool about it.  I could die stepping off the sidewalk tomorrow.”

“This is different,” Derek insisted, thrust behind the words.  “This is courting danger.”

Stiles rolled his eyes.  “You could argue that every time I get out of bed I’m courting danger.  And who even talks like that, by the way?”  Derek’s jaw clenched to an unholy degree and Stiles hated everything.  Derek was supposed to be done with that, he was trying out happiness and all the accessories that came with it – grinning and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes and the lines around his mouth – and he looked damn good in all of it.  Stiles took a step closer to him and swallowed.  Derek didn’t move back.  “I really, really don’t want to be fighting with you.”

Derek’s mouth tightened and then relaxed.  “Then don’t go,” he said simply.

Stiles resisted the loud groan of frustration he wanted to give at that and instead he suggested tentatively, “Or you could come with me?”

Derek’s head snapped up and his gaze flitted over Stiles’ face, searching, before he jerked his chin once in a sharp nod.

Derek’s shoulders stayed tense while Stiles took advantage of his age and they rented a car so they could drive out to Lochearn and meet with the poltergeist lady.  She was in her sixties, didn't have a single laugh line hiding in the crags of her face (Stiles, naturally, called her Grandma Hale in his head) and she was fed up with the cap being left off the toothpaste every morning.

Seriously.

That was her biggest complaint.

They sat on her pickle-green couch while the lights flickered nauseatingly overhead and her sentences were interrupted by faucets randomly turning on in other rooms.  The carpet had enough of their feet on it at one point and angrily snapped close, rolling away to the far wall.  In the five minutes they chatted, the temperature had yo-yoed dangerously by about twenty degrees in either direction and the blinds had risen and lowered themselves twice.  Grandma Hale would like them to focus on the toothpaste cap, which was where their attention belonged.  She'd been married to George for forty years and she'd be goddamned if he didn't leave the cap off the toothpaste every damn morning.  She'd almost filed papers once, she had.  The guy finally croaked (God bless his heart – her words) and now she had some damn spiritual cockroach in her house, leaving the cap off the goddamned toothpaste again.

Grandma Hale was kinda badass.

Stiles wanted to adopt her.

He took care of the poltergeist in half an hour with minimal effort while Derek mapped out the route to Olney on his phone.  Really the hardest part of the whole dealie had been consoling a depressed poltergeist about his inability to even qualify as a proper nuisance these days.  Stiles felt for him.  Kinda.  Grandma Hale paid Stiles far more than she owed and gave him a plastic bag full of cookies that looked like they were relics from her childhood and hard as granite.

Stiles tried to convince Derek to eat them since they would likely crack Stiles’ jaw if he tried.

Derek looked reluctantly amused as he refused.

Intulos were kind of like the world’s most benign and agreeable monster.  Stiles even knew a few people he’d met through the website that kept them as pets until they inevitably got too big.  They lived in time that could be counted in centuries, never really stopped growing and looked like komodo dragons the size of a large SUV, none of which Bucky – the man who’d contacted Stiles about it – had a problem with.  It was just that this one kept lumbering into his backyard and scaring off his business.  He rented out fishing poles, tackle boxes, canoes, kayaks and paddle boats for use on any of the nearby lakes to tourists and while he was open to ‘radioactive, mutant monsters,’ (as he assumed ‘Scale-asurous’ was) most people weren’t so open-minded.

Stiles took in Bucky’s potbelly, dirty tank top stretched tight over it, his uneven beard and trucker hat and decided he liked him despite the misleading name.  (Stiles might have been expecting someone who looked more like a Sebastian Stan double.  What could he say, the name ‘Bucky’ inspired a certain archetype in his head.)

There wasn’t any danger in dealing with intulos.  They didn’t even have teeth and would only awkwardly mouth at skin when they found a human they liked.  Which happened fairly often.  They were unfortunately amiable things, considering they weren't really supposed to exist in polite society.  Stiles found ‘Scale-asurous’ without much trouble while Derek trailed curiously behind him.

It was clear from his wide eyes that he’d never seen one before.

Stiles patted it on the crown of its head, manually turning it around by its cheek while it snuffed at the ground and then the hem of Stiles’ overshirt.  Eventually it caught the plaid in its mouth and chewed absentmindedly at it, following Stiles at a plonking pace on the leash it had given itself.  Intulos were actually a bit too friendly and simply kept coming around when they found a place or a person they liked.  It took a Spark to change its habits once it’d decided on a location it fancied.

Stiles led it out into the woods behind Bucky’s, talking all the while about how it had to expand its horizons and find greener pastures because the one Stiles had found it in was dry and browning up and not even that cool, besides.  This was an age of rediscovery and exploration and Pokemon Go and it had to grab on to that with all its claws.  Go back to school, learn a new language – preferably English so it could contribute to the society it was currently living in, not to mention their current conversation, be spontaneous, seize the day, get a 401k.

The intulo stared balefully at him the entire time and chewed on his shirt.  Unsuccessfully, of course, because it still didn't have any teeth.  Stiles chose to believe that meant it was paying the strictest attention.  Derek was clearly enjoying the hell out of the entire spiel, with the amused huffs of breath he would give.  Stiles waited until they’d gotten fairly deep into the woods to gently tug his shirt out of Burt’s mouth (Stiles had renamed him within two seconds of meeting him.  He’d never met a more obvious ‘Burt’ in his life, in his defense).

Burt let it go agreeably, head swinging around on its short neck so it could take in its new surroundings.  It didn’t seem any more impressed by these than it had been by its earlier ones.  Derek walked up to it with a tilt of his head.

He reached out a hand and the intulo knocked its head against it, before deciding Derek was boring and mouthing at a pine cone instead.  Derek made a slightly disbelieving sound in the back of his throat and murmured, “Odd.”

Stiles shrugged.  “They’re basically giant, scaly cats, only not purposefully douchey.”  Burt looked up at him like he knew he was being talked about, looked down at the ground and promptly let each leg splay out to the side so his stomach impacted with a woof into the earth.  He ripped up a patch of grass happily.

Derek stared.  Strove not to appear affected but what was the most ridiculous and adorable giant monster anyone had ever seen; it really could not be denied.  And folded his arms over his chest.  “Why couldn’t Bucky just do this on his own?”

“I’m sure he has,” Stiles told him patiently.  “They don’t stay put though.  He’ll just wander right back from whence he came.  You can’t really blame him.  Bucky’s kind of the shit even if he does think Burt’s the result of, ‘scientists playing God.’”

Derek snorted and Stiles hugged Burt around the neck while he abandoned the grass to chomp harmlessly at Stiles’ hair and then started making his way back, Derek falling in step behind him.  “Where I come in is that I can put up a ward around the entirety of the forest.  Time consuming but as painless as possible.  And, thankfully, intulos can swim so he’s only stuck here as long as he wants to be.”  Stiles smirked at Derek and winked.  “Watch me make the easiest two hundred dollars of my career.”

Derek caught up to him, fell into step, seemed to be considering, then reached over and nudged his fingers in between Stiles’.

Stiles shot him a relieved smile and squeezed back.

It took about two hours to cover the entire boundary of the woods and Stiles chatted at Derek in much the same way he had Burt.  Bucky thanked them and paid them even more happily when Stiles told him that he could still see Burt as often as he liked.

It was only a little over a half hour from Olney back to Baltimore and Derek drove this time, looking much more at ease.  Stiles really did try to leave the dangerous stuff to the adrenaline junkies and just do what he knew he could to help and he was pretty sure he'd just proven that without having to jump down Derek's throat to do it.

All the points to the Stiles.

They got stuck in traffic on the ninety-five and Derek bit his lip and said, “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Stiles nodded, releasing a hefty breath.  “I know, and right back at you, big guy.”  He turned to look at Derek, who was still focused on the back of the hatchback in front of them that was at a dead stop.  “If it makes you feel any better, most of the jobs I take are things I’ve dealt with a thousand times and that I could handle in my most drooling and lucid sleep.  That’s what both of them were today.”

Derek’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel and the plastic creaked.  “Today?” he barked.  “You have more of these lined up.”

It wasn’t exactly a question but Stiles confirmed it anyway.  He wasn’t looking to lie to Derek.  “Just one tomorrow and one on Wednesday.”  Stiles shrugged. “Some new beasties that I didn’t recognize so I can add it to the lexicon.”  Stiles played with the still damp end of his shirt, sticky with intulo spit and piped up, “You could come with me to those, too?”

Derek’s eyes were half-lidded and his mouth tightened.  “My plane leaves at eleven tomorrow morning,” he said flatly.

And Stiles hoped that had been planned in advance and wasn’t because of… all this.  He stared down at his knees, offering a blank little, “Oh.”

Derek looked over at him finally and he made sure to catch Stiles’ eye.  “I don’t want to leave,” he told Stiles seriously, “and I don’t…” he let out a harsh breath, “I’m not judging you for this.”  He stared up at the rental car’s freakishly pristine ceiling and said, “I just finally thought I was done with this.”

Stiles frowned.  “This?”

“Worrying that every time I saw you would be the last.”

Stiles stared at the pained expression on Derek’s face, turned his head forcefully and slotted their mouths together.  Derek responded instantly, opening his mouth and getting a hand on Stiles’ leg, thigh, hip to pull him closer.  Stiles said against the dampness of his lips, “Still here, Wolf Man.”

Derek slumped back against the door and rubbed a hand over his face.  “I’m sorry.”

Stiles shook his head, grinning.  “Weird and broken-y and overprotective, now we really are matched at levels that are totally that word that hasn’t been invented yet.”

Derek laughed, loud and genuine and leaned in to kiss him harder.

 


 

The morning sex was as mind-blowing as yesterday’s sex and last night’s sex and this morning’s still-technically-middle-of-the-night-depending-on-how-you-judged-those-things sex, only this time it would be punctuated by Derek packing and getting on a plane and Stiles was trying not to frown himself into aging a decade.

Derek got out of bed around eight.  Or he tried to.  Stiles ended up shoving a hand down his ass pocket and biting onto his scruff forcefully.  Derek didn't exactly protest.  “I don’t want you to go yet,” Stiles told him, amending it to, “Ever,” after a second's careful consideration.  “It should be impossible how well you fit here, in my life, in my apartment, in my bed.”

The look on Derek’s face was inscrutable but eventually he said, “Don’t you have a break coming up?”  He quirked a brow.  “I think I remember Isaac mentioning something like that.”  He shrugged with all the nonchalance of a super-bad-at-nonchalance guy.  “You could see your dad and catch up with Cora.”

Stiles stared at him, pursing his lips.  “In almost two months, Derek,” he said, trying to impress the words, “and only for a week.”

Derek pulled away from him and sat on the edge of Stiles’ mattress while he pulled on his boots.  His back was a tense bundle of knots when he grunted out, “I’ve waited longer than that, and lived off less.”

 


 

Stiles' phone rang in his hoodie pocket, the song Gypsy Woman only managing to get out a few happy beats before it died.

Derek scowled, walking up to him outside the airport.  "I hate you," he grumbled, taking Stiles' duffel from his shoulder.

"Hey, helped you find me, didn't it?" Stiles said brightly.  He flicked the brim of Derek's Orioles hat so it half-lifted off his head.  It was fraying along the edges and there was a dark stain on one of the corners.  It looked rough, like it'd been through an identity theft and an eviction in the past two months and come out the other side with a drinking problem.

Derek yanked it back down over his hair.

"You know what sucks about you?" Stiles asked him cheerfully, leaning into him, arms wrapping around his neck.  "That you insist on not living in my apartment always.  You left and it acted out in all the most melodramatic ways it could think of.  My dryer's on strike and my pipes keep groaning in this long, sustained expression of pure misery at random intervals.   They said to say,” he made a sound like a creaking door that was being sawed in half behind Derek's ear, rubbing his nose into his skin, “which I’m assuming means, ‘watch your back, traitor.’  I have been handling it like the consummate adult, just so you know.”

Derek let his knuckles brush up against Stiles' stomach before he tapped twice over his heartbeat and tsked knowingly.

And, okay, so that had been a total lie but only a werewolf butthead would point that out.  "Hey, unlawful lie detectoring over there.  I'll totally get my dad to arrest you," Stiles said in a lazy voice, already half-drunk on Derek's presence.

"Am I dropping you there?" Derek asked, tone all-too-carefully neutral.

"It's cute that you think he wouldn't be here with a homemade sign and a prepared song if he could be.  He's working grave tonight, luckily for my pride."  Stiles squinted at Derek, trying not to grin like an idiot.  "Which means I'll have to make do with you somehow."

The guarded expression dropped from Derek's face and he was smiling, smirking, somewhere between the two.  “I want to show you something.”

Stiles stared at him, eyes wide.  "Derek, come on, there's a time and a place."

Derek rolled his eyes, muttering, "I amend that to: I hate you so much," as he climbed into the driver's seat of his ugly-ass Toyota.

"I still maintain we could blow this thing up and go begging back to Chevy for the Camaro.  You're hot, they might bend a little."  Derek didn't seem moved by that argument so Stiles tried a new tack.  "We could do it Michael Bay-style too, lots of angles, lots of slo-mo, little advancement to the plot."

Derek ignored him, except to pat the dashboard reassuringly a few times.

He drove the familiar roads out to the preserve, cleared some brush aside and walked them up to where the Hale House used to be.

Still was.

Newly was.

Half was?

"Whoa."

 Derek grinned over his shoulder at him.

The old skeleton had been torn down and a new skeleton had been erected as a monument to it.  Gone were the burned beams and haunted vibe and in its place were the beginnings of a better memory.  Stiles walked up onto the mostly-complete porch and asked blithely, “Did Ty Pennington get shot halfway through the project?”

Derek flipped him off.

It was still in the beginning stages, to be sure, but there was enough of the bones to see the idea behind it.  "When did you start doing this?" Stiles asked.

Derek shrugged.  "Before I came out to see you.  What do you think?"

Stiles beamed at him.  "I think it's going to be epic, obviously."

There wasn't a lot to it, floorplan that was more plan than floor, and random tools and odds and ends strewn about but it wasn't until one of the piles shifted that Stiles realized —"Jesus fuck, oh hey there, Cora.  Thanks for the mini-stroke.  I'd been feeling a little too heart healthy these days."

Cora looked up, smudge of charcoal on her jaw and hair in her eyes.  "Stilinski," she said, jerking her gaze back towards Derek.  She smirked.  "I was half-sure he was making it up.  Gone delusional in his whole woe-is-me therapy spiral."  She stood up, a drill that likely would've made Stiles fall over if he'd tried to pick it up balancing on her shoulder with ease.  She nodded to something on the floor and said, "That can finally go, then."

Stiles followed her gaze and saw a phone.  Or well, what used to be a phone lying on the bare wooden floor.  There was a huge crack down the middle that was crusted over with brown stains.  Which was probably dried blood, taking into account the Hale track record.  He couldn’t pretend not to be surprised that Cora was keeping it on life support rather than pulling the plug already and trading it in for a younger model when Cora derailed that train of thought, her smirk widening as she added pointedly, “The screen’s only been busted like that for about a year and a half, still he’s kept it fully charged for every day of it.  Just in case."

Derek did that pink-eared blush thing and didn't deny the obvious implication of—and whoakay then, Stiles just needed to lay down for a bit.  He snow-angeled down onto the floor and blinked.

"Scott was right then.  You were building up to it."

Derek touched a few things on one of the steps of a ladder and didn't answer, pretending to be very absorbed in staring at inanimate objects.

Stiles rolled over onto his stomach and looked at the plans next to his head.  "Are you really doing all of this?"

Derek shrugged.  "Not all of it, some of the electrical and structural aspects are beyond me, but it's my design."

Stiles blinked at it and was tempted to ask, 'Really?'  Because it was.  Well.  Impressive.  Not that he thought Derek couldn't do impressive things, it was just—he'd never gotten to see it for himself before.  He rolled over onto his back again and held the blueprint up over his head, squinting, trying to see it as a finished project.  He wasn't sure how long he'd been doing that before his arms got tired.  "Maybe you should leave it like this, with the stars and all," he said, waving his hand toward the sky while he looked up.

Derek laid down next to him, shoulders squashed together.  "I know I don't have to explain the importance of roofs to you."

Stiles rubbed his nose.  "Totally overrated is the newest science on that actually.  There was a History Channel special on it last week."

Derek shifted onto his side and Stiles bumped the brim of his hat out of the way and he leaned in to press their lips together, mouths slotting and tongues sliding and hearts hammering and Stiles barely managed to hold onto the thought long enough to ask, “What about Cora?”

Derek brushed his hat all the way off and said between biting at Stiles' mouth, "Left hours ago."

Hours?  No way he had been laying there for hours.  He checked in with his ass cheeks and, actually, yes, that was entirely possible.

Stiles groaned and rolled on top of Derek and Derek said, "Want you to fuck me," and Stiles said, "Yeah, yes, we should—that," and then they were fumbling for the lube that they'd left in the fucking car in a pocket of Stiles' duffel and Derek stomped off, frustrated, showed back up panting and pissed and angrily flinging off his shoes and Stiles found Derek's belt buckle and dropped to his knees and sucked the head of his cock through his jeans and Derek dropped the lube he'd just gone all Saving Private Ryan to get.

And, okay, maybe it hadn't been that dramatic.

But it had definitely felt like it in the heat of the moment.

Stiles would make a movie about it.

And it would win Oscars.  And Tom Hanks would sign on to play the part of the store owner Stiles had bought the lube from.

Matt Damon would be the Toyota.

Derek yanked off his shirt and his knees mostly gave out when Stiles dragged his jeans partway down, spread Derek's thighs and sucked a ball into his mouth through the fabric of his boxers.  He sank down to the floor and shed the rest of his clothing in record time and it was weirdly thrilling, Derek being naked while Stiles was still completely dressed.

Stiles panted out, leaning over Derek and saying mostly into his mouth, "Get the lube and I'll stretch—"

Derek shook his head, not even bothering to let him finish, desperate and dumb.  "Just fuck me."

Stiles stared at him.  "Okay, just 'cause you can do pain, doesn't mean—"

Derek shook his head harder.  "It'll be too fleeting to even register.  I promise you.  Fuck me."  Derek gripped Stiles' biceps tightly—tightly enough that there'd be bruises and why the fuck was that a turn on?—and gritted out through clenched teeth, "Please," while his cock bobbed against his belly and, okay, there was seriously only so much resisting Stiles could do.

He pushed down his jeans uncoordinatedly, half-yanked down his boxers, grabbed the lube and coated his cock in a liberal amount.  "Say it again, promise me again that this won't hurt you."

Derek gripped at the small of Stiles' back, the slope of his shoulder, pulling him closer and there was a little scrape accompanying the drag.  Stiles' eyes flew over his face but he didn't see any fangs or crimson, just the sharp dig of almost-claws.  He shivered while Derek flexed his hips into the weight of Stiles' body over him, mindless and needy.  "You won't hurt me, won't hurt, I promise.  Just please, Stiles, fuck."

Stiles gripped himself by the base, held up Derek's thigh with his other hand and eased in slowly, his chest feeling like all the air in it was compressing into an inaccessible volume the size of a pinprick.

Derek groaned low in his chest, panting when Stiles was finally seated inside.  "Are you—" Stiles started, breathless.

"Stiles, for fuck's sake, fuck me," Derek growled, eyes flashing, and there would definitely be scores down Stiles' back, over the hill of his shoulder and to the right of his spine and fuck if it didn't make his cock even harder.

"Okay, fuck, by Thor's fucking hammer, you're a bossy bottom."  He planted his hands over Derek's shoulders, wriggled his hips so he was pressed a tad more flush to Derek's ass and blinked.  "I hope you're okay with a lot of eye contact."

Derek huffed out a laugh and said in a tight voice, "As long as it comes with actual fucking."

It did.  A lot of it.  Enough that Derek lost his voice twice in the middle of trying to tell him, 'More,' and, 'Harder.'  Stiles was very in sync with that as it turned out.  He soon found that if he kept Derek's knees in the crook of his elbows and hefted forward, he literally couldn't be near as talkative in that position and he was more grunting huffs and whines and Stiles much preferred that type of vocal appreciation.  He dropped one of Derek's legs, letting him stretch it out over Stiles' thigh while he brought his right one almost up to his shoulder and ground in deep against his ass, giving short thrusts of his hips and Derek whined, "Stiles."

"Oh, did you want me to go deeper?" Stiles asked with a cocky, winded grin.  He pulled out further and slammed back in while Derek gasped.  It nearly killed him too but he recovered quicker than Derek did.  "Or faster?"  He snapped his hips forward and Derek's head fell back, eyes glazing over, even as he angled his hips up to meet Stiles'.  Stiles wrapped a hand around Derek's cock and he hadn't even stroked him twice, thumb rubbing slow over his slit, before his breath was stuttering rapidly, his stomach muscles tightening, and he was coming all over his chest.  And Stiles tried to ride that out like he wasn't going to come too but it was no fucking use.  The way Derek had arched under him, the broken sound he'd made and the drugged out look in his eyes would've been enough without the crazy-fuck contraction and jerking shift of his hips.

Stiles moaned, loud and long as he emptied himself inside Derek, collapsing uncaring and directly on top of Derek, burying his nose in the side of his sweaty face.

Derek let out a gut-punched breath but didn't even try to make him move.  His skin almost like it was burning against Stiles' it was so warm and his breath still coming short and quick.  He stroked up Stiles' spine while Stiles mouth-breathed against Derek's damp hair, nuzzling into the softness.

Stiles wasn't sure how much time had passed before he offered lazily, “I’m glad you’re rebuilding it.”

Derek made a soft, agreeable 'mm' sound in his throat.  "Me, too.  Cora wants the connection to that past even if she can't admit it and it'll be a good place for her to settle.  A good place to come back to."

Stiles got an arm under himself and leaned back so he was looking down at Derek, blinking heaily.  "You're not going to stay here too?"

Derek glanced off to the side, staring at something Stiles couldn't see.  "My hat has an 'O' on it," he said slowly, almost defiantly, as though that was the only obvious answer and Stiles was just being an asshole by making him say it.  He snatched up said hat and crushed it back down over his sex hair.  He raised his chin, challenging.

Stiles was trying not to go straight to giddy.  Since he might be misunderstanding this.  But he didn't think he was.

He really fucking didn't think he was.  

"That's true," he said back just as slowly.  "And you don't really have much of a choice but to relocate the way they've been playing lately.  You can't get away with that hat unless you were duped into wearing it by some sort of real or adopted hometown nostalgia.  And it only makes sense to get your – my – money’s worth out of it.”

“Wasn't really left with much of a choice," Derek agreed, seeming pleased Stiles was able to see the corner he'd been nefariously backed into.

Stiles swallowed, giving small rabbiting shifts of his hips as his cock tried to resurrect itself, “Don’t tease me with this if you don’t—” he started growling.

Derek shut him and his doubts up by slamming their mouths together.

 


 

Stiles managed to get home before his dad got back from his shift and collapsed into bed without doing anything about the fucked-out hair, finger bruises and scratch marks.  He wasn't really sure he could do about some of those things even if he wanted to.  He didn't wake up again until a sleeping bag had already smacked him in the face and his dad was saying from the doorway, “We’re going camping.” 

Stiles yawned, scrubbed at his eyes until he was somewhat awake and pointed out, “I’m pretty sure that’s the first line of about seventy percent of horror movies.” 

Hid dad shrugged, adding nonchalantly, “You can bring Derek with you.”

Stiles froze, blinked, and scowled at him.  “Oh well you just know everything, don’t you, with your super special detective skills?”

A smile creeped up one side of his dad's face.  “I keep telling you I didn’t land this job just because of the pretty face, son.”

As it turned out, when Stiles' dad said: you can bring Derek.  What he meant was: I've already invited him, so suck it.  Derek showed up halfway through waffles looking uncomfortable but determined.  He sat down next to Stiles at the kitchen table, followed the sheriff with his eyes, straightening up every time he looked like he might be turning towards him, prepared for the inevitable lecture.

That never came.

Because, as it turned out, that was reserved for Stiles and not Derek.

His dad was gracious enough to wait until they had the tents up and Derek was sleeping (or faking it) in theirs to say, “I’ve been wondering when you two would get around to this."  He gestured with a marshmallow from Stiles to the tent Derek was in.  He tested it with his fingers.  "Got to admit, my money was on a few years earlier."  He made a thoughtful sound.  "In retrospect though, I'm glad that’s a bet I would’ve lost.  You had a tendency to be impatient when you were younger, and clumsy because of it, and he was already broken.  Even if you hadn’t meant to, you would’ve broken him some more.”

Stiles couldn't exactly deny that.  Even though he wanted to.  He really hoped he wouldn't do that now.

His dad snorted, like he was surprised by Stiles' surprise at all this.  “You really never saw how he used to look at you, kid?”

Stiles frowned.  “How did he look at me?”

His dad contemplated then said, “For a long time, it was like you were… unreal.  Like he couldn't wrap his head around the reality of you. Then he finally bought into the idea that you existed and then he looked at you like he would do everything in his power to make sure you kept on doing just that.  Helped put my mind at east a bit," he added, "with the big werewolf reveal and all.”

Stiles swallowed.  He'd really and genuinely had no fucking idea.

“Go easy on him, all right?" his dad said gently.  "The kid’s been through a lot and he looks at you like maybe you could make up for all of it.”

Stiles licked his lower lip and glanced back to where Derek was sleeping.  “This—this me and Derek thing—it could be really good, huh?” 

“Yeah, kiddo," his dad said sagely, "it could be really good.”