It started as a mandatory art class. It was a requirement for all majors, even in the FBI training. Stiles had already taken a very terrible adventure into drawing and painting freshman year of high school in an attempt to spend more time with Lydia so he didn’t want to try and suffer through that again. He pondered over his choices, completely out of his element. He didn’t even know what half of these things were, so he turned to the trusty google machine.
Watercolor painting looked like a horrible experience of splotchy frustration waiting to happen. Woodcarving gave him visions of cutting off his own fingers. Jewelry making didn’t hold much appeal to him, considering he rarely wore anything considered jewelry. Figure drawing just seemed really difficult and awkward. He sighed, dreading the next semester already, when he looked at ceramics.
It was terribly cliche. He knew it was cliche. But his brain went right to Ghost and the scene with the wheel. It just looked… honestly ridiculously easy and probably a bit relaxing. If Demi Moore could make pottery and bad decisions, then so could he.
He ended up getting lost on youtube for a few hours watching pottery porn(it was a Thing that existed apparently). He signed up for the class and patted himself on the back for making a stellar, easy choice and then went back to his pottery youtube.
After finals and all the craziness of studying and holidays and feverishly getting ready for the next semester, Stiles forgot about his class choices until he was seated in a huge, open, dusty studio with a bunch of art majors talking about their own classes and other professors. He had no idea who most of the professors even were and he immediately felt a bit out of his element. Several of them were already covered in charcoal or paint and wearing ratty jeans. He was glad he had opted for his khakis and plaid versus his FBI attire of slacks and a white button down for the day. He also balked because the class was three hours long. What could they do that would possibly take three hours?
The professor came in a minute later holding a sea green mug full of steaming black coffee. He was an older guy, probably upper 50s or early 60s, with a long scraggly grey and blond beard and an honest to god manbun that he’d probably been growing since the 70s. He had on a pair of stained jeans and an equally stained white shirt over his lean frame. His arms were skinny but wiry with muscle and he looked the exact opposite of any other professor Stiles had ever had.
“Alright everyone, grab a stool. I’m Professor Harper. You can call me Doctor Harper, Mr. Harper, Harper, Harp, H.I don’t really stand much on ceremony. We’re going to talk a bit about pottery today and start with some basics on the wheel.” He explained between sips of coffee. The wheel was in front of Stiles, low to the ground with a pedal on the floor. Everything was just this side of clean, not quite pristine but a little dusty, sometimes with splatters of mud on the edges. The stools were all metal and pretty low to the ground as well and tilted on an angle that made it hard to sit up straight. The studio was on the cool side of comfortable and smelled strongly of cleaning supplies and something earthy.
Mr. Harper got up and walked around as he talked about the basics that the syllabus all covered; materials, expectations for projects, grading scale, the usual. He walked over to a wall full of shelving. “These will be where we will dry pottery before bisque firing. If you don’t know what bisque is, don’t worry, you’ll learn. There will be different types of clay and firing temperatures, and then two step glazing. But drying will be the most important part. This is when things could dry too quickly and crack, not dry enough and then explode in the kiln. Don’t explode stuff in the kiln unless you want your classmates to stab you with the shards of their work.” Everyone laughed and Stiles just blinked a bit, feeling overwhelmed and a little betrayed. But the youtube videos made it look so easy!
Mr. Harper kept talking, standing next to two machines called pug mills and reclaimers and then a large rolling machine called a slab roller. Stiles scribbled notes feverishly, almost immediately regretting his life choices. How was he supposed to remember all of this, let alone make something with it?
“Alright, let’s get to the wheel now.” Mr. Harper came over and sat on a stool at the head of the table with a ball of light brown clay. “Basics of throwing; the most important part? Centering your clay. If it’s not center, your work isn’t going to be center or it won’t work at all. You want to start with about a pound or a pound and a half of clay. Your first assignment is going to be to make ten cylinders that are about a foot tall. This sounds easy but be patient with yourself. This will take a lot of learning.” He then leans forward. “You need to find about the center of the wheel. Some of them have little marks, but we’re going to use bats, which usually don’t. I don’t mark them because you do need to feel it out for yourself. It’s a skill you need to have.”
Then he slapped the clay hard down into the mark he said was the center. He got a wet sponge, ran it over the clay, and then forced it up into a cone shape and then pushed it down into a squat little shape like a hockey puck but fatter. Mr. Harper went through several steps with the smooth clay and then somehow just pinched it up and pulled it right up into a perfect cylinder and trimmed a little around the bottom.
“Your turn.” He replied and then got everyone grabbing premade balls of clay, measuring cups of water, and sponges. Stiles stared at his wheel, more than a little intimidated but oddly excited as well. He rolled the sleeves of his plaid shirt up to his elbows before he put the bat on his wheel. He shifted on his stool to get comfortable and feeling sturdy, trying to remember everything Mr. Harper had just gone over. Then he leaned over to put his nose in the air over where he thought the center of the wheel was and then slapped his clay down.
It did not stick.
He glared at it and then slapped it down a little harder and smiled when it did stick this time. He pushed the wheel down to top speed, wet the clay and put his hands on it. He was immediately shocked at the coarse texture of it against his hands. In the videos it always looked smooth and soft but it felt a bit like sandpaper on the sides of his hands against the bat. He started trying to manipulate the clay and felt his biceps tense up, his stomach pull into the motion of it as the clay started to become a cone in his hands. It was wobbly, uneven thickness, and leaned slightly to the right, but he fucking did it.
He hadn’t been this proud of something in a long time, and he hadn’t even done it perfectly.
He kept going, pushing the clay back down into a puck, and pulling it into a cone again. He grinned as he stopped the wheel and looked up. Several of the other students were still going but some of the girls in class were just staring at him. “What?” He asked a bit, self conscious. They just shrugged a bit and smiled and then got back to their own wheels.
“Alright! uh… Meeuhchay slaww?” Mr. Harper tried, squinting at his roll. Stiles winced a bit and laughed.
“No, no! Just… Stiles is fine.”
“Stiles! Good job, there! Try and get it a bit more center this next pull, and tighten up your pinkies. See how it’s pretty wide at the base?” he gestured at the area where his cone widened out at the bottom.” Get that straight and then you can try a cylinder. If it doesn’t stand, the clay might be a bit too wet, but we can reclaim it and get another ball.”
Stiles nodded a bit, frowning in concentration and then pulling the cone up again before pucking it back down, still not super pleased with his center but determined to try anyway. He pushed his thumb into the clay, again surprised by how much pressure he needed to go through. It was harder than expected and then lighter than expected at the same time. He tried to make the bottom thin but not TOO thin, trying to push just hard enough but not too hard. It was a lot of balance.
His mind was oddly focused on the clay, and oddly quiet about everything else. He tried positioning his hands to the side, left hand inside the little hole he had formed in the clay and right hand on the outside. He slowly moved his hands up and got a little bit of height on it but it was still very thick. He went to pull again, pushing harder to try and thin it out, and it almost immediately went too thin in one spot and folded in on itself like a weird, abstract flower.
He took the bat off the wheel like Mr. Harper said and moved it over to be reclaimed, grabbing another bat and another chunk of clay. He felt a little better because some of his classmates were on a second or third chunk of clay too. It was going to take a lot of practice but Stiles found himself wanting to give it the time.
** ** **
The first of the two most surprising things that had happened since Stiles started college, after his rescue and run with Derek back to Beacon Hills, was that he and Derek stayed in touch. The second was that Derek was a nurse at Beacon Memorial with Melissa.
They had started calling once Derek got a permanent cell phone, keeping each other updated on the happenings of Stiles college experience and Derek’s dealings in Beacon Hills.
Surprisingly, another pack, led by Deucalion, came in after the big showdown with Monroe and Gerard and just cleared them the fuck out. Stiles’ dad and Derek mentioned it but were purposefully vague on what actually happened, trying to keep Stiles focused on his actual school work at Georgetown. Stiles just assumed the worst and tried to put it out of his mind.
The majority of Beacon Hills still knew about the supernatural but a lot of them were really chill about it. A couple kitschy stores even opened up, selling werewolf memorabilia and basically making it seem like a crazy joke that the whole town was in on. Stiles absolutely loved that.
It was a phone call night, and Stiles usually worked on homework while he talked to Derek, the multitasking helping him focus and Derek often being a sounding board when Stiles got stuck on a problem or a question.
“I got roped into reading story corner.” Derek grumbled, sounding entirely put out even though Stiles knew he probably loved it. Despite being a giant, scowling werewolf, the entire hospital was enamored with him. Stiles snorted at him.
“Tell me you at least do the voices.” Stiles teased gently.
“Stop enjoying this so much.”
“Never!” Stiles replied with glee, making a new pot of coffee.
“Are you making more coffee? Stiles, it’s ten pm.” Derek shot back reproachfully.
“I’m aware.I want to go back to the studio tonight becauseI finished my paper.” Stiles snorted, pouring his cup and taking a piping hot sip, careful not to burn his tongue.
“Studio?” Derek asked, a bit of confusion in his tone, only slightly distracted.
“Oh!I forgot to tell you!” Stiles paused for another gulp of coffee as he pushed his feet into his shoes. “I have a mandatory art class for this semester so I’m taking ceramics.”
“Yeah?” Derek said leadingly, a couple soft hospital noises in the background.
“I’m actually really enjoying it. There’s like…I dunno. Something really satisfying about it. I’m not super great at it but I’m doing okay according to my professor.” Stiles rambled on for a while more as he walked while Derek made encouraging sounds, probably doing charts or paperwork. He ended the call as he made it into the quiet studio, popping on the lights and setting his half finished coffee near the wheel but not where his mud could splatter into it before settling in to work.
Derek sighed, rolling his neck as he got off his shift. It had been a long one and even werewolf healing wasn’t enough to compensate for the muscle strain. One of his patients had a rough time, came in with a severely broken leg after falling out of a tall tree. She was only six and completely distraught, screaming and shaking from the pain. He couldn’t let himself leave until they had set the bone and she had fallen asleep after her pain medicine kicked in.
He checked his phone and saw his missed call from Stiles, and called him back.
“Hey, sorry, had a shift run over.” he said when the call picked up.
“Everything okay?” Stiles asked, voice sounding oddly echoey in the background. Derek explained the shift and he could practically hear Stiles smiling as he replied.
“You big softy. Who woulda known there was a marshmallow center to a sourwolf?” He chuckled at his own joke and then there was a whirring sound in the background. “So guess what!I actually made a mug! I’m trimming the bottom now. It’s not half bad if I say so myself. It’s a little heavy, according to my professor but it’s got a good foundation.”
Derek smiled a bit as Stiles kept talking about the mug work and ceramics in general. “You seem really into it.”
“Yeah. It’s kinda surprising.I didn’t think I was really artistic. I’m bad at sketching and painting but this feels pretty natural.”
“You’re talking to me about surprising?” He scoffed a bit, looking down at his scrubs as if Stiles could see him.
“Valid point, big guy.” Stiles laughed, low and warm over the speaker in the phone.
“I think I get it though. It’s like nursing for me.I like helping people. Feels like it makes up for some of the mistakes I made in the past.” He said it and then immediately wished he could snatch it back out of the air. It was easier to slip up, over the phone, where expressions and scents didn’t mix him up or make him feel self conscious, to say more than he meant to. Stiles made a noise of understanding and that alleviated the sudden anxiety Derek had.
They talked for a while more, less about homework, more about the comings and goings of town. Derek filled him in on the latest, Melissa and Chris still dancing around each other and pretending no one knew they were dating, Peter sending him postcards from whatever corner of the world he was currently inhabiting, Scott and Malia getting an apartment down near the vet’s clinic, and making sure the Sheriff was following his diet. Derek got lost in his thoughts after they hung up.
The truth was that after his family died, Derek had felt detached and more than a bit lost. His last remaining anchor had been Laura and losing her broke him in ways he was still learning how to repair.
The first pack after becoming alpha had been his clumsy attempts to make a surrogate family. He chose people who needed him, who would benefit from the bite, and that would be willing to stay with him because they were honed through years of struggling with their own lives.
The sense of normal he had cultivated had always been interrupted by more tragedy and pain. It was exhausting and he just needed to get away from it for a while. He finally understood why Laura had rushed out of Beacon Hills so quickly after their parents had died.
He went completely off the grid for a while, spent some time with Cora and met the family she had made in South America, and then ended up stumbling into more trouble, as usual.
After everything with the hunters and then Stiles coming with the FBI and getting him out, bringing him back to beacon hills, he hadn't felt the need to leave again. It was painful at times remembering what he had lost here but he felt like there was a future here as well. The pack he had here wasn’t one he had made but that had embraced him just the same.
Derek had taken initiative to get his life in order and live a life where he felt like he could be doing something good. He sold the loft, unwilling to subject himself to living somewhere he had been hurt again and used the money to buy a modest house in a suburb near the pack. Stiles had cackled over it on the phone for a while ( “SuburbanWolf!” ) but still sent him a giant gift basket. With the majority of the town in The know about The supernatural, he had been able to start therapy and learn had to manage his past in a healthy way.
When he started talking about getting a job the sheriff had tried to get him to apply to be a deputy. Derek thought about it but he didn't know if he wanted to do a job where he had to deal with crime every day, especially in a town like beacon hills. His record had been cleared of all charges after Argent had surrendered the hunters responsible for the murders to the FBI with a little help from Stiles, so he would be eligible for the position, but it seemed daunting and unappealing. Melissa had been the one to hesitantly suggest Derek look into nursing.
Scott had surprisingly been supportive of it, grinning widely and clapping Derek on the shoulder, saying he would be great at it. Derek had thought they were all insane for it. His bedside manner alone would have sent people running for the hills. He’d been more surprised than anyone else when it turned out that he was actually really good at it.
Stiles had bought him a hideous sexy nurse costume for Halloween after that and laughed so hard at Derek's reaction over the video chat that Derek thought he would make himself sick.
Derek found himself smiling fondly to himself and tried immediately to quash it. He didn’t know exactly when his treacherous heart had decided to set its sights on Stiles but he was trying to keep it under control. There were too many things that could go wrong if he let it happen. Stiles was a little shit but he had a way of working his way into the heart of someone. He understood Derek better than almost anyone else.They were friends, and Derek treasured that friendship. He needed to be content with that.
** ** **
Stiles came back into the studio and immediately went to the reclaiming bin, pounding out his frustration on old clay as he mixed it up by hand, getting muddy up to his armpits and all over his shirt. He actually hated reclaiming clay because they used so much of it in the ceramics studio that the giant trashcan they used to put it all in smelled pretty god awful and was always difficult to get into the bottom of. But he grabbed giant handfuls all the same and threw them into the pug mill, catching the pugged log of clay and getting it into bags so it didn’t dry out again.
Class had set him off today and it honestly made him feel sick to his stomach. They were learning about serial killers and behavior analysis, which was fine, honestly. But…. The crime scene they were studying wasn’t done by a human. Stiles knew. He knew exactly what had done it and it was not a knife. And he couldn’t tell his professor that. He couldn’t rationalize it.
He finally understood why his father struggled so much, clinging to the law as he knew it. The law as Stiles knew it was dealing with the problem before more people died. He didn’t have that luxury and that burden anymore. It was a lot more restrictive than he thought it would feel. It was like being caged in by rules he couldn’t even bend. Stiles was not good at rules that didn’t bend.
After that case they’d moved on to another one. Stiles had felt relieved for a scant minute before some of his classmates had actually gagged and a couple other had just gotten up and walked out of the room. That case? Completely human caused to Stiles eye.That was the worst part.
Werewolves? Dread Doctors? Hell, even wendigos? Stiles could handle those instances. It wasn’t really done by someone completely normally human when those happened. Unpowered humans turned out to be the scariest monsters of all.
Stiles looked at a future of being horrified by humanity and felt something in his soul shrivel and shrink from the idea. He hefted more clay from the bottom of the trash can with a grunt and then wiped his sweaty forehead with the back of one grimy forearm.
He tried to remember back to that feeling, that moment of saving someone and feeling like what he did made a difference, but it was too elusive, slipping through his fingers too quickly to remind him that he was doing this for a good reason.
In the sober light of the FBI classrooms, it didn’t feel like such a good reason anymore.
He leaned back into one of the tall counters with raw glaze materials in tall canisters beneath it and tried to catch his breath when his phone vibrated in his back pocket, jangling against the counter. He wiped the worst of the slip off his hands and pulled it out, Derek’s name and contact picture lit on the screen. He swiped his thumb up and answered it, still panting a bit.
“...Everything alright?” Derek asked after a beat. Stiles chuckled a little, breathlessly, and nodded even though Derek couldn’t see him, and even though everything wasn’t quite alright.
“Yeah, just pugging clay.I gotta dig it out of this big ass trash can and it’s a workout. I’m getting some nice biceps though so it’s not all bad. How’s it going with you?”
“The usual. Just got off shift.” Derek replied. Stiles could hear the din of the hospital behind him before it went quiet in the background.
“Yeah? Kinda early for you.” He frowned at the clock.
“24 hour shift actually.” Derek sighed a bit. “Keep me awake so I can drive home and not wreck my car.”
“Gotcha, extra annoying and impossible to ignore coming your way.” Stiles laughed a bit, wrapping up the last of the pugged clay and shutting off the mill so he could talk without grunting in Derek’s ear. He perched up on one of the stools and rested his elbows on his knees.
“Are you required to pug a bunch of clay by yourself?”
“Nah.I was kinda trying to distract myself.” he frowned a bit, picking at some dried slip over his knuckles. Why was Derek so much easier to talk to than literally anyone else in his life?
“Want to talk about it?” Derek asked after a moments silence.
“Yes but at the same time, not really. But at the same time, I think I need to.” He squinted a bit and licked his lips where they felt dry. He heaved out a sigh before continuing. “They showed us some crime scene stuff in the serial killer lesson today.I knew it was coming but… one of the crime scenes? It was a werewolf kill.I could tell. But I can’t just say that.” Derek hmmed a bit, prompting Stiles to continue. “It wasn’t just that either. Dude, humans… Humans are messed up. Some of my classmates just straight up gagged or left just seeing pictures of what this guy did.”
“That bad.” Stiles confirmed, rubbing the back of his hand over his forehead again. “I could handle it.I mean. All the stuff we’ve seen.” He gestured to the empty studio like Derek was there and was met with a scoffing, humorless laugh. “But… doI really want to do that? DoI want to stare at this terrible nightmare shit the whole rest of my life? All these dead bodies piling up in my brains and all these damn rules and stress… What if I can’t do it?”
“Then you can’t.” Derek replied firmly, as if it was just that easy.
“But my dad--”
“Your dad wants you happy. He would be proud of you no matter what.” Derek cut him off. “If the FBI doesn’t make you happy, don’t do that. You wasted so much time being miserable already, running around after things out here.”
Stiles paused for a minute feeling his eyes tear up and felt totally embarrassed, his neck and face flushing hot. He managed to croak out, “I really thought I could do it.”
“That’s not what I'm saying at all.I know you could do it.I just don’t know if it will make you happy.I bet your dad will say the same thing. Have you talked to him yet?”
“I haven’t.I just… What else am I supposed to do with my life?” Stiles looked at his shoes, splattered with slip and dried clay, as if they might hold the answers.
“Something else. Your career doesn’t have to be your only happiness either. You could come home, do something for work here. Be with the pack.” Derek replied. Stiles heard his car door shut in the background and nodded a bit. “Talk to your dad about it.”
“Do you remember when you sucked at this whole planning and advice thing and I made all the good plans?I miss that, let's do that again.” Stiles said after a moment, feeling lighter than he had in a weeks at just the idea of not struggling through the FBI courses anymore.
“Shut up, Stiles. Go play in mud.” Derek scoffed a bit before hanging up the phone on him. Stiles poked his tongue out at the black screen in retaliation before going back into pugging the remaining clay.
Derek stretched a bit as he sat in the break room to eat lunch, nodding at Melissa when she came in.
“Noah’s on his way too if you’ve got a minute.” Melissa smiled at him.
“I have exactly 42.” He glared at the doorway for good measure, daring someone to try and interrupt his lunch. He had been interrupted during his breakfast for a simple IV change and there had been Hell to pay.
Noah arrived a couple minutes later, uniformed and holding a container full of whatever Stiles had bullied him into eating that week. He and Melissa talked for a few minutes, catching up as Derek sat and listened.The well trodden path of their friendship was a calm surety and it helped settle Derek.
“So, Derek. Have you talked to my son recently?” Noah asked, getting that squint around the eyes that never failed to remind him of Stiles.
“We talk pretty often.” He replied with a nod, before taking another bite of his own lunch.
“He’s seemed a little squirrely in his emails with me. He started off with pottery and ended up with ecological systems of the everglades. Did he manage to join a pottery cult ?”
“No cults.” Derek reassured him and Noah nodded, thinking it over as he crunched on a carrot thoughtfully.
“it is a bit strange though.” Melissa replied, gesturing with her fork a bit. Derek shrugged a shoulder up. “Scott’s been talking to him as usual and he noticed he seemed a little preoccupied?”
“I told him to talk to you, Noah. But until he does,I don’t really want to say anything.” Derek spread his palms a bit. “If it was really serious or something bad, you know I’d tell you.”
“Hell, son, I know you’d be in the car driving out to Georgetown.” Noah scoffed and then relaxed a bit. Derek tried not to flush or be too visibly pleased at that. “Hopefully he finishes chewing on the idea and calls me soon.I haven't seen him go on that big of a tangent since he wrote that paper on the history of male circumcision for economics.”
“I can't even imagine what coach had to say about that.” Melissa chuckled a bit. They devolved from there into stories from Stiles’ and Scott’s childhood, as they often did, laughing about the past and reminding Derek in a bittersweet pang of his own parents.
Derek’s forty-two minutes went by too quickly for his liking but he was glad to get back to work. He was always busy but the kids seemed to like him, despite his natural frown and serious nature. He didn’t have to pretend to be peppy or upbeat for them, and they seemed to be amused by his dry humor. Derek would never admit it but he loved that they found him funny.
He had an arm break in one room, kid fell off the swings at school. He went in to check on her and found her giggling over a book and gave a slight smile and he checked her vitals again and made sure her arm was ready for the doctor to splint it. Her mother smiled at him but didn’t pay him much attention, which was a relief.
He ended up getting roped into reading in the long term wing again. It was both rewarding and painful. The children came in, sunken eyed, several balding or bald, skinny and sad, and he worked extra hard to make the most ridiculous faces and voices for them, trying to get a low pitched growl for the big bad wolf and going a high falsetto for the red riding hood, smiling to himself when the children all giggled. He went through and patted their shoulders or hands, tugging the long sleeve of his undershirt down to make sure that the black veins wouldn’t show up as he pulled their pain a bit. His heart broke a bit every time at the obvious relief but he helped the other nurses tuck them in before getting called back to the ER for a child with vomiting. Joy.
The rest of his shift was a quick, stressful blur. With the flu season and the weather changes bringing in feverish children and worried parents, they were short staffed and packed with patients. He sighed as he finally got to clock out and stretched his sore neck muscles before getting out his buzzing phone
“Hey, Stiles.” he answered, rubbing at one shoulder before he got into his car, flopping against his seat and wincing as his feet ached. Some things, even werewolf healing didn’t touch.
“Hey, big guy. How’s the shift?” Stiles’ cheerful voice came through. There was an odd echo in the background, a couple voices and a mechanical whirring.
“Flu season.” Derek groaned as he started driving home. It was thankfully a short drive.
“Yikes,I bet that was crazy busy.” Stiles chuckled at his pain. The little shit.
“It was. Your dad came for lunch with melissa and me today. You still didn’t talk to him.” Derek replied with just the right amount of reproachful in his voice and smirked at the sound Stiles made, imagining his cringing face. If someone had told him three years ago that he would miss Stiles’ crazy facial expressions he would have thought they were out of their minds, but here he was, missing Stiles’ face.
“Not yet.I just…I want to come to him with something concrete I want to do, not just a random ‘I don’t wanna be here’, you know?” Stiles sighed a bit. There was a wet sound in the background that Derek couldn’t decipher but sounded a bit… sexual.
“What are you doing?” He asked and he sounded more scandalized than he intended apparently, because Stiles immediately cracked up, laughing loudly in his ear.
“Oh my god you sound like an 80 year old man!” Stiles laughed. “It’s nothing bad, dirty mind. I’m making a teapot.”
“Oh.” Derek felt his whole face flush up, embarrassed at himself. “Anyway. You don’t have any ideas about what you want to do?”
“....I have one.” Stiles said after a moment. “It’s kinda crazy though.”
“It’s you.” Derek replied flatly. Stiles made an outraged sound and Derek couldn’t help but grin.
“I resent that, sourwolf!” Stiles spluttered a bit. “In all seriousness,Ii had a thought but I don’t know if it’s just a hipster day dream or if it would be an actual good idea.”
“What’s the idea?” Derek asked as he parked and went into his house, locking the door and kicking his shoes off into their usual resting spot before heading to the kitchen to get a drink and slouch into the couch. He’d resisted getting a big TV, bullied by the sheriff and the pack and now it was his favorite thing in his living room.
“So…I thought about opening a pottery studio.” Stiles said hesitantly, voice smaller than Derek was used to. “Maybe a studio with a coffee shop? We could serve all the coffee in handmade pottery.”
Derek blinked a bit. He knew that Stiles was very invested in the pottery now but he hadn’t realized how serious it was. He thought back and realized pretty much every time they talked, Stiles had been in the studio since class had started.
“Well? Dude, say something!” Stiles squeaked at him.
“Some of us like to think before we say things.” Derek retorted. “I was thinking that you’re in the studio a lot. You’re there now, you said.I can hear the wheels in the background most of the time.”
“Creepy.” Stiles interrupted.
“Does the pottery make you happy?” Derek asked, propping his feet up.
“Not a normal happy.” Stiles said after a second with another wet sound in the background and a hard slap onto a surface. “I feel… calm. Focused? It’s interesting. There’s a lotI can experiment with and learn.I kinda use my whole body to do it. It makes me feel really accomplished when I’m done, like I did something awesome.” Stiles voice changed a bit again, getting lower and calmer, more confident and less nervous. Derek got a little shiver from it but ignored it to process what Stiles was saying.
“ThenI say go for it. And talk to your dad!” Derek said after a minute and nodded.
“Alright, alright.” Stiles chuckled a bit, low and warm, before they said their goodbyes.
Derek pressed a hand to his chest, holding in the feeling swelling behind his breastbone.
Stiles was putting handles onto some mugs, adding some slip and carefully smoothing the join into the body of the mug, when his phone went off. He tapped it with his one remaining clean finger.
“Y’ello.” He said, not bothering to check who it was.
“Hey, son.” his dad’s voice came. He smiled a bit at the phone.
“What’s up, pops?”
“Not too much. Decide you’re gonna talk to me yet?” He came back, dry as dust. Stiles winced a bit, cringing away from the phone.
“Maybe.” he muttered a bit, smoothing the last mug and then setting it to dry.
“Reassuring.” his dad snorted a bit. “No more kanimas?”
“There was only the one!” Stiles shook his head. “No, just… actual normal life stuff.” he picked at some clay nearby to fidget with, smoothing it beneath the pad of his thumb. His stomach shrivelled a bit in fear at the idea of disappointing his dad. It was the worst form of torture.
“Well, I’m your normal life dad. I’m here for that.”
“I know.” Stiles sighed a little bit and then gnawed on his lip. “I’m thinking about coming home.”
“What now?” His dad replied after a second, sounding taken aback.
“Yeah.I don’t… The FBI stuff isn’t working.I can’t handle it like I thought I would be able to.” Stiles admitted.
“Can’t handle it how?” His dad asked. Stiles sighed as he cleaned up his area.
“I’ve been getting nightmares again. Uh…I dropped some weight, too. Some of the pictures…I know what happened in them and they weren’t serial killers and I hate not being able to say anything about it.I can’t do anything.” He told his dad about the worst cases, the ones where humanity made people sick and the jaded faces of the FBI agents teaching them about them, as if it were completely normal for them now.
His dad was silent as Stiles spoke and then for a long moment after Stiles’ finished, long enough for Stiles to panic. “Dad?” He asked softly. “Are you...mad at me?”
“Mad?” His dad came back a moment later. “Stiles, that…That’s damned natural, son.I forget that you’re coming at this from the other side of our furry problem. It helped me make sense of some of the things I’d seen here in Beacon Hills but on a country wide scale?” His dad blew a slow breath out, crackling over the line of the phone.
Stiles legs went watery and he had to sit, crouching onto one of the squat stools in the studio. His face went hot with tears and he couldn’t help sniffling a little.
“Stiles? Son, what’s--”
“Sorry, dad, sorry,I just… I’m really relieved.I was so scared I was going to let you down. You were so proud.”
“You listen here. You don’t have to do anything and I would still be proud as hell.I know what kind of man you are, Stiles, andI couldn’t ever be anything but proud of you.” his dad said firmly. Stiles lost his battle against tears, sobbing a little and rubbing his sleeve over his face. “If you want to come home, then you come home. I’ve always got a room for you.”
“Thanks, dad.” Stiles managed, rubbing at his nose and trying to stop the tears.
“Nothing to thank me for.” His dad insisted, a tell tale sniff telling Stiles he wasn’t alone in his tears. “Let me know when you get things worked out with school. Do you want to finish a degree at Beacon Community? Malia’s going there too, you guys could carpool.”
“Maybe. I’ll look at it when I get back to my dorm today and let you know.” Stiles nodded, feeling the chasm of stress and loneliness slowly close up. “Love you, dad.”
“Love you too, son.”
** * **
Stiles winced a bit as he bit the bullet and called up Scott.
“You didn’t lose my number, it’s a miracle!” Scott’s voice answered almost immediately. “I’m wounded, you’ve been talking to Derek but not me?”
“In my defense, the phone goes both ways and Derek calls me a lot.” Stiles chuckled, falling easily into his familiar friendship.
“That’s true. Things have just been crazy around here! Malia’s got a new job and I’ve been getting swamped with classwork.” Scott rambled for a bit about his classes, the professors, Malia working as a cashier and trying not to snarl at nosy customers. Stiles wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about Scott and Malia being a couple but he was at least glad they seemed so happy.
“Sounds like things are going pretty great for you.” Stiles smiled at the phone as he mixed up some new glaze.
“What’s been going on with you?I was honestly wondering when you were going to call, dude. Your dad has used the term squirrely to describe your behavior like three times. Last time that happened you hijacked an FBI investigation and ended up back here with Derek. “ Scott laughed. Stiles snorted a bit, curling over the glaze bucket.
“Oh man. That’s hilarious but valid.” Stiles dipped a couple mugs in the glaze and then set them aside. “Yeah, a lot changed. I’m going to be coming home after this semester.”
“What?!” Scott yelped and Stiles could hear Malia in the background making surprised sounds as well. He let out a bit of a chuckle at their antics and then filled them in after they calmed down.
“.....So do you need a cashier because I hate the grocery store. It smells like fish and old people.” Malia replied as soon as he talked about the business.
“I probably will but I don’t know if I’d be able to pay you for a while.” Stiles snorted a bit.
“Oh man,I can’t wait to see you again.” Scott said and Stiles felt something settle at the idea of being home again.
***** ** ***
Derek rolled his neck to try and loosen up his tight shoulders as he made it out of the grocery store after about twenty more minutes than anticipated. Mrs. Bruskin did more gossiping than ringing things up and was slow enough to make Derek have a form of road rage. She kept fussing over him, reminiscing on his family despite his severe discomfort, and dropping not so subtle hints about her single granddaughter who was just so pretty and wouldn’t he like to meet her? No. He would not.
He turned into the police station, heading for the break room with the sheriff’s lunch, full of all the vegetables and terrible cardboard food Stiles made him promise to buy.
“Derek! Didn’t think you were coming after all.” the sheriff smiled as he came in but it looked a little guilty.
“If you ate fast food, Stiles is going to smell it all the way in Georgetown.” Derek raised an eyebrow at him.
“Well,I would have had to if you hadn’t made it.” Noah replied, clearly trying not to appear as disappointed as he felt. Derek snorted a bit and handed over his food, getting out his own salad with quinoa and whatever was the new health thing.
“Solidarity.” Derek replied. “I also braved Mrs. Bruskin for these. You have to eat them.”
“I’m surprised you made it out as quickly as you did if she was working,” Noah chuckled, clearly enjoying Derek’s torment at the hands of an old lady. Derek chose to ignore it for the moment. “I talked to Stiles yesterday.”
“Did he actually talk or did he go off on a rant about the four new kinds of wolfsbane he found?”
“He found four new kinds of wo---... Not the point.” Noah shook his head for a second. Derek knew it happened often but it was so strange to watch those moments when he could see exactly where Stiles got it from. “No, he actually talked to me.I can understand why he was so squirrely about it for a while. Even though he apparently told you.”
Derek tried not to shrink up. He was a grown werewolf. He was not at all intimidated by the way Noah could stare directly through him and make him feel 16 again.
“We’re going to start making plans for him to come home. He wants to start up a business, did he tell you?”
Derek took a moment, nodding to himself. “He told me about it.I think it’s a good idea, for what it’s worth.”
“I think it might be. Depends on the execution, obviously.” Noah nodded a bit. “Scott was making noises about helping find a location in town for him.”
“I’ll look into it too.I thought about offering to purchase a place for him until he gets on his feet and could pay me back.I sold the loft’s building a while ago and the money is just sitting there.”
Noah had that look again, like he could see right into Derek’s mind and pick him apart. It made the back of Derek’s neck feel hot and he tried not to squirm and look away.
“So that’s how it is, huh.” The sheriff said quietly and gave a crooked smile before tucking into his salad. “You’re a good man, Hale.”
Derek couldn’t find any more words and hid it by taking a huge bite of salad.
***** ** ****
The end of the school year seemed like it took both forever and no time at all to arrive. Scott had helped Derek find a building that would work downtown in what the younger pack members called the hipster district. Some of it was a surprise for Stiles too, like the two kilns Derek had found previously owned for sale, and the french press Isaac had shipped over, and the tables Malia and Liam had thrifted for. Derek was pretty sure Stiles knew he wouldn’t be coming into an empty studio with nothing but a potter’s wheel his dad had bought but they did their best to keep it a secret as a surprise for him.
Derek was quietly freaking out. He took three days of his vacation and specifically told the head nurse that he would only come in for the apocalypse. Or if flu hit again. Same thing.
So now he was at the airport, holding a frankly terrible sign that Liam and Mason had slathered glitter glue all over with the Sheriff, waiting. It was strange to think that he hadn’t actually seen Stiles in months and now they were going to be face to face again. He fought not to look as nervous as he felt.
What if it was awkward? What if they didn’t get along in person again, despite talking on the phone all the time? Derek rationally knew it had been years since they were truly antagonistic towards each other but what if…. What if…
“I think that’s his plane.” Noah interrupted his brain’s whirling. “Try not to make that face. I’m not sure if you’re excited or going to puke.”
“I’m not sure either.” Derek muttered a bit, under his breath. Despite not being a werewolf, Noah still heard him and quirked up an eyebrow.
“Go for excited.” Noah clapped a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “Stiles is going to be happy to see you.”
Derek took a big breath and nodded, still unsure just how Noah was able to see through all the gruff exterior and bullshit Derek put on as defense mechanisms and even more unsure as to whether he liked it or not.
The wait ended abruptly with a shouted “DAD!” and the rush of Stiles slamming into Noah’s arms, bags dropped where they were. He smelled like airplane and stale coffee and Stiles and Derek had missed him so damn much. He grabbed the bags in his free hand to make sure no one got any ideas and brought them over to where Noah was rocking Stiles a bit. Derek smiled at them, pretending he didn’t smell the salt of their tears or the rush of relief in their scents.
He put the sign down by the bags to pull out his phone and tell the pack that they had Stiles and so he missed Stiles letting go of the sheriff and launching at Derek until he had two warm armfuls of Stiles and two strong arms hugging his middle tightly.
“Derek!” Stiles grinned into his shoulder and rocked him a bit as Derek got his head together and hugged him back, trying not to look as overwhelmed as he felt.
“Hey.” he replied lamely and patted Stiles between the shoulders, trying to ignore Noah snorting with laughter.
“Where’s the rest of the pack?” Stiles asked as he pulled back, grinning wide and sleepy eyed from the flight, his hair longer and falling in a soft wave over his forehead.
Derek’s heart skipped a beat.
“Can’t tell, it’s a surprise apparently.” Noah grinned and gripped Stiles’ by the back of the neck. “I missed you, kiddo.” He tugged Stiles into another hug and then patted him as they gathered his things and carried them out to the car.
Derek hung back a little, watching them. Stiles was broader than Derek remembered, shoulders rounded with muscle and stretching his maroon t-shirt around his biceps. His shoulder blades pushed against the back of his shirt and Derek swallowed hard around his heart, which was suddenly in his throat.
Stiles turned and grinned at him again as he sat in the front seat of Noah’s car. Derek waved at him and immediately felt awkward and stupid but Stiles just smiled a little harder and waved back. Derek clutched the steering wheel of his own car a little too hard when Stiles shut the door to Noah’s car and they started to drive.
He took the drive as a moment to breathe and called Malia’s phone to tell her that they were on the move. He knew the Sheriff was going to stop and get Stiles something to eat that didn’t come from an airport or a vending machine, so he headed straight for the shop.
Liam and Mason were already there, with entirely too many balloons and what looked like confetti. Malia was making sure that the counters were all clean and dusted, and the ware shelves Stiles had made noises about getting were all positioned just so.
“There had better not be glitter in those.” Derek growled at Liam and Mason and smirked a bit when they fell all over themselves to assure him that there was not. At least someone was still scared of him.
Scott came in from the kiln room and grinned.
“How is he?” He asked, moving to sit in one of the squashed armchairs they had found at a consignment downtown.
“Smells like airplane and needs a nap but he was happy.” Derek replied and fought the urge to pace a bit.
“I got Lydia on skype!” Mason beamed and then set the laptop up on a counter so she could see around the shop.
“Looks good, everyone.” She commented, far away and tinny through the speakers but smiling prettily on the screen. Scott checked his phone again and grinned.
“They’re almost here!”
“Should we like hide and yell surprise?” Liam asked. Derek winced a bit and Lydia pursed her lips, shaking her head. Malia just scoffed.
“Yeah if you want him to panic and attack us with a baseball bat.”
“He gave me that bat, actually!” Mason chimed in. “that doesn’t mean he didn’t get another one, though.”
“Never underestimate a Stiles.” Scott replied and then perked up just as Derek heard the car pull into the front parking space.
“Is this--??” He heard Stiles’ ask from outside and then shout happily and run up to the doors. He made it a good three steps inside before he was snatched up in a giant hug, Malia picked him up off the ground and spun him for a second as he laughed. Liam and Mason shot off the confetti and laughed, cheering a bit and basically making a racket. Scott got Stiles next and they patted each other on the backs and rocked back and forth for a minute.
“Oh man, babywolf is so big now. It’s like he’s all grown up.” Stiles simpered at Liam and messed up his hair. Liam scowled at him.
“I changed my mind, he can go back to Georgetown.” He muttered and Mason just laughed, head tossed back and loud.
“I’m over here on the laptop.” Lydia called loudly. “Derek can give you a hug from me.” She replied. Derek felt his ears go hot and the back of his neck, which he knew would be bright red. He obligingly hugged Stiles again and tried not to let his heart thump too loudly.
“Derek hugs are very different from Lydia hugs.” Stiles laughed a bit. “Still good though.” He winked and Derek bit down on his cheek hard to not say anything ridiculous.
Scott tugged Stiles away to go look at the kiln room and the moment is broken.
“You guys even got clay in for me?” Stiles gasped and just grinned at them.
“Yeah, now you gotta make us all a mug or something.” Liam replied. Noah pointed out to his new potter wheel.
“Wanna give it a spin? Electricity and water are all turned on.”
“This month’s lease is on Derek.” Malia piped in, making Derek flush again up the back of his neck and ears.
“Dude, that’s so awesome.” Stiles smiled at him and then tugged him into another hug. Derek had a moment of weakness and pressed his cheek to Stiles’ temple before he pulled back.
“I figured you would want some time to make the cups, like you said you wanted to do.” He replied and tried to keep a straight face. Liam grabbed a bag of the clay out and set it on a table near the wheel. “Here! Anything else you need?”
“I got it.” Stiles shot him a quick smile and then got some water in a container and grabbed a couple of the tools that were on the shelves nearby. “You guys really got everything!” He marveled a bit and his eyes went a bit glossy with emotion. “This is really great. Thank you.”
“I will take mugs and free coffee as payment.” Scott teased. “Maybe a bowl if you feel fancy.”
“I want a vase!’ Lydia chimed in from the laptop.
“Alright, alright.” Stiles flailed a hand in their direction before setting up the wheel. “Man, it’s so clean.” he snorted a bit and peeled the plastic off a bright green square of plastic before he stuck it onto the wheel. “You guys wanna learn?” He asked, looking back up at his audience.
“Nah,I wanna watch.” Malia replied, perching on a stool nearby, and the others nodded along sheepishly.
Stiles cut off a chunk of the pale cream colored clay and slapped it down hard into the middle of the wheel. He dipped his hands in the water and brought them to the clay, making everything slick and shiny, coating his fingers with it. Derek’s mouth went dry and his heart skipped along.
Stiles hands were one of Derek’s favorite things in the world to watch, though he would be pressed on pain of death to tell anyone that. His hands were quick, constantly moving and deceptively delicate looking. His bones were fine, knuckles jutting out against his skin but Derek knew they were strong and capable. He remembered them holding him up so many times over the last several years that they almost blurred together.
Watching Stiles work was entracing. He went very still and calm, his eyes sharp and focused on his work. He moved slower than Derek had thought he would, carefully pushing and pulling the clay with both hands until he had a cylinder. Stiles slowed the wheel and looked up, scraping the slip off his hands.
“Got any particular shape you want for a mug or just a standard size?” He asked Scott, smiling easily. The corners of his eyes crinkled up and Derek cleared his throat when the rest of the pack’s heads swiveled to him, heads tilting in confusion.
“Surprise us.” Derek said, trying to glare at them enough that they would stop looking in his direction. Noah looked impossibly smug for someone who couldn't possibly have heard what Derek’s heart did.
“There’s something I’ve been experimenting with.” Stiles replied, obliviously, and then put his hand back into the mug form and pushed and pulled somehow, creating a slow and even spiral up the side of the mug. They gasped a bit and Malia even clapped, making Stiles duck his head on a smile and chuckle a bit.
Derek was so screwed.
** ** **
Stiles was not prepared for seeing Derek again. He just wasn’t. He thought he was, but then he saw him, relaxed and wearing soft sweaters with his hair soft and pushed back from his face and smiling and his heart thumped painfully in his chest.
He didn’t have time for an emotional crisis right now. He just finished the last one!
Stiles threw himself into work instead, getting mugs made and measuring how much water they could hold so he could set up sizing for the coffee. He wanted to have about a hundred mugs so he went with a plain design and a single set of glaze for the first round. He figured he could get fancier with more practice and time when it came to that.
Malia helped out with getting machines set up and registers working for when they can start taking customers. Scott stopped by every day when he was done with training and work at Deaton’s to help load the kilns after Stiles taught him how.
And Derek… Derek would come and sit in the armchairs nearby, quiet and reading books or watching Stiles throw, talking about the plans for the shop and just… existing. With his beautiful pale eyes and his beard grown out from stubble to something soft that Stiles wanted to touch. With his face.
He was going to have to have that emotional crisis afterall. Fuck.
His dad came in with Melissa and dinner, setting it up on one of the tables that Liam and Mason cleared their homework off of. Stiles felt something settle as he finished washing off his hands and smiled at them. He’d missed this, the close easiness of pack and family. Derek bumped his shoulder against Stiles and smiled at him as he headed to the table, dimpling a little. God. Derek Hale had dimples. Why was life so unfair?
Dinner went quickly and loudly, the pack all talking about school and what they set up in the shop and enthusing about the grand opening. Scott bragged to his mom about running the kilns and getting to give animals their shots in the same breath, and Derek asked how the kids in the long term ward were doing. Mason talked about his classes in anthropology and history and the paper he was writing on the historical significance of fairy tales, and Liam talked about his english professor being crazy.
Stiles just soaked it all in for a while, basking in the easy familiarity and relief that came from knowing he was here to stay.
The pack cleared out with hugged goodbyes after dinner, leaving Stiles and his dad in the empty shop. Stiles enthusiastically showed off some of the new mugs and talked about glaze choices for a minute. He picked a grey and seafoam green color mixed together for the first batch of cups that he really liked.
“So, Derek hung around again today?” His dad asked after the appropriate amount of fawning over Stiles’ work.
“Yeah, he brought some books and helped Malia with the registers for a bit.” Stiles nodded and internally swore as he felt his face flush blotchily on his cheekbones.
“He’s a good man. I’m glad you both take care of each other.” His dad replied carefully, as if he was measuring what he was going to say next. Stiles frowned in confusion and gnawed on the corner of a nail as he waited.
“...And?” Stiles prompted after a moment.
“You have no idea, do you?” his dad squinted at him and then scoffed a bit.
“About what now?” Stiles squinted at him, confused.
“Aw, Hell.” His dad scrubbed a hand down his face. “Derek cares about you, Son.”
“I know he does? I care about him too.” Stiles replied, a little baffled and a bit nervous that his dad knew about his crush and was warning him off.
“No, son. He cares about you. He’s got it bad.” His dad replied and squeezed one hand on Stiles shoulder. “It’s probably not my place to say anything but with the way life treated him…I just don’t want you accidentally stepping on his feelings.”
“....Derek has feelings? Not friend shaped feelings?” Stiles asked, feeling his brows soar towards his hairline.
“You had to have noticed. Everyone has noticed. He thinks he a lot more stealthy than he actually is.”
“I had not.” Stiles replied, blinking slowly and feeling a couple puzzle pieces fall into place in his mind. “Huh.” He marveled a bit as his dad watched carefully.
“...For someone so smart, you can be pretty oblivious.” his dad snorted and then tugged him into a half hug on their way out to the car.
Stiles’ mind was still churning during the drive. He knew he had his own feelings but he wasn’t sure enough about what they were to do anything with them yet. He knew he trusted Derek, even more than he did Scott. Hell, almost more than he did his own father, which was a sobering thought.
He knew Derek was kinder than he thought, that he hid behind his gruff exterior to hide that, that he had a dry sense of humor, that he was a good listener, that he settled something inside Stiles and made him feel comfortable.
Oh god. He was totally in love with Derek Hale.
He sat up in a bit of panic and blinked at his dad. “Hey. Can you drop me off at Derek’s house, actually?” His dad just arched one eyebrow at him and nodded, taking another turn. Stiles bounced his knee rapidly in impatience as they pulled up outside Derek’s new suburban house with his suburban car and his soft sweaters and a neat lawn. Stiles practically tumbled out of the car and up to the door quickly. The door opened just as he reached it, Derek frowning in confusion, with his soft hair and shirtless in a pair of worn grey sweatpants and Stiles whole heart lurched in his chest.
“Stiles? Wha--” Derek started but Stiles cut him off by cupping his face in both hands and leaning in to kiss him. It was softer than he had planned to be, just a gentle, chaste kiss. Derek made a soft sound and tugged Stiles’ closer, kissing him back a little more firmly. They parted after a moment and Derek looked stunned, eyes wide and his ears bright red.
“I uh.I realised some things and so... I had to do that.” Stiles nodded. Derek smiled a bit, ducking his head and chuckling.
“Are you sure? Maybe we should try it again. See if you were right.” He replied and Stiles felt himself nodding rapidly before Derek leaned in and caught his mouth in another kiss, nibbling a bit on Stiles bottom lip. Stiles melted against him and buried his hands into Derek’s hair, sighing softly into the kiss.
“Yeah.I would say I’m right.” Stiles muttered as he pulled back and then pressed his forehead against Derek’s. “I kinda love you.”
“Only kinda?” Derek asked. “I kinda love you too.” He replied softly.
The moment was broken by Stiles’ dad honking loudly and flashing the lights, leaning out the window to shout. “FINALLY!”
He couldn’t help but laugh as Derek leaned in to kiss him again and held him close.